The next day started well with weak sunshine coming into the motel unit windows. Our destination is Futuroscope outside of Poitiers. We had packed a breakfast and lunch for on the highway reaching our goal by 2.00pm.
We stayed at a Campanile Hotel in Futuroscope Park and whilst Doug and Nerida rested Kerry and I took a walk to the Park and back. Just as I remembered it – and just as empty of people as the first time we came. Winter just before Xmas – not a popular time for theme parks.
We had purchased a 5.00pm pass as we wanted to particularly see the evening show. There is a bus running from the hotel precinct to the park so we waited for the bus at the bus stop – the wrong bus stop until a banana bus pulled up on the other side of the road to say the bus ran in the other direction and we were waiting at the wrong stop. So obviously we caught the bus and arrived at the park just as the sun was setting. The weather continued to be kind – Cool and clear.
The park is both children’s theme park and a learning park. Adults can learn about cinema and photography plus a variety of subjects and the children have the rides to enjoy. Secretly the adults enjoy the rides as well. The presentations are in a variety of unusually shaped buildings as befits the subject. The subjects vary from the galaxy to forest spirits. Unfortunately at this time of year and time of day not all of the 17 shows are open and not all of the facilities such as food are open so by the time of the evening show we were torn between queueing for food and getting a seat for the show. The show won.
The show is played out on the water using holograms water fountains and music (plus songs in French of course). Spectacular is an overused word but not in this case. This is a secret the French want to keep for themselves. I can recommend it. Start by visiting the website at en.futuroscope.com/
Futuroscope, a different kind of leisure park experience for all the family! France – Poitiers – Poitou-Charentes.
The show finished about 9.00pm. I hurried to return the audio guides and collect my security (they usually want your driver’s licence) whilst the others made their way to the bus stop. After catching the bus back to the hotel it was 10.00pm but the restaurant at the hotel was still open and pumping – we had to wait half an hour to get burgers and the buffet.
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Calais is grey and wet but I have time to affix our “GB” sticker identifying our place of registration on Thistle under an umbrella outside of the hotel. We have an early start for Chantilly amidst continuous rain gusting wind and heavy trucks. By the time we reach Chantilly the rain has lessened to a constant drizzle but not enough to dampen our visit to this icon of French art and history – Chateau Chantilly and the Musee Conde. The chateau is a recent invention of the Duc d’Aumale combining two earlier chateaus after they had been destroyed by revolutionaries of the first republic. The Duc was the son of King Louis Philipe of France and served in the Foreign Legion until his father was dethroned by the third republic when he went into exile in the UK and started collecting. Once he was able to return to France, he selected this site because of its connection to Prince Conde the son of the Sun King Louis the XIV (and Dauphin of France) and he dedicated the art and library to this distant relative – Musee Conde.
This is grand as only the French can do grand. The library is second only in importance in France and the Art is second only to the Louvre so when the Duc in his Will left the estate and its treasures to the Institut de France he was gifting invaluable treasures of France’s history in manuscript and Art to the people of France plus a piece of his own history in the house, his taste, style and personal effects. Worth a visit. Check it out on http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Chantilly
Within the estate is the Musee Vivant du Cheval (Living Museum of the Horse) directly alongside the Chantilly Race track. This building is built in the same grand style as the Chateau and again by the Duc. In fact he could view the stables from his study window (across the moat and up the hill). Today the stables are a monument to the horse and its relationship with men through the centuries. On entering you are met by the sweet smell of horse poo as there are live animals in the stables representing some of the 52 recognised breeds in France.
The stables are built in a square with a large court yard in the middle. The museum meanders through the building giving you everything from the original breeds giving rise to the thoroughbreds we know today to the attire ladies wore when riding side saddle. Again well worth a visit and have a look at its history here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_Museum_of_the_Horse
After the museums we retired to our rooms for a nanna nap before dinner. Dinner at the hotel was enjoyable as our host was a chirpy little Frenchman prepared to welcome the non-french speakers. The only other diners that evening was a table of 18 gendarmes some bearing their automatic weapons. They all had burgers and frites so it must be some outsourcing arrangement to feed the troops.
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Calais has for many centuries been the gateway to France from England. Our arrival was without incident with Kerry very quickly adjusting to driving on the right hand side of the road (in fact I think she enjoyed being able to line up on the right hand white line). Tommy soon had us at our hotel. The Hotel Mercuire is behind the Musee de Belle Arts Calais and a very fine hotel it is. We actually parked in front of the front door of the hotel and parking is free. We unloaded Thistle greeted our French host then took a walk through the city square. The wind had subsided to occasional gusts but the showers persisted as we walked through the squares of the city. The Xmas lights made this damp atmosphere much brighter. There is a lighthouse shining its warning from inside the city, the remains of what appears an ancient lighthouse in the square and a cathedral obviously called Notre Dame Calais.
It was not really that pleasant weather so we retired to the hotel where we found the Bishops ensconced in the bar with the receptionists dog keeping them company. Doug had researched the history of the hotel by interrogating the receptionist/bar keeper. It had been damaged during WW2 and rebuilt in the same style after 1945 so it appears an elegant turn of the century hotel. We were very comfortable and well rested by the next morning when we had breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice and a hot breakfast so very good value. Our goal today is to travel to Chantilly and the weather is not improving.
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We set off this morning with the weather mild and sunny. Our planned route would take us through Northamptonshire and down to the M2 avoiding most of the dreaded M25. We have to use the Dartford Crossing and that is on the M25 – no avoiding it.
Our trip through Northamptonshire was very relaxing with little traffic and clear weather. “Tommy” predicted that we would have a trip of 4 hours to Canterbury and we were on target until coming close to London where we moved onto the M11 headed towards Docklands. Blue lights and sirens – a good indicator that things are not going to be smooth sailing. The traffic came to a stand still and for over an hour we crawled along the M11 until we reached the lorry stalled in the left hand lane blocking completely half of the freeway. At least we knew the cause. So often the blockage clears like stale water in the sink when the blockage is cleared and you never see the cause.
Even so the traffic jam had lost us 1 hour. We then moved along again with free flowing traffic until meeting the M25 and chaos. All we could see was red taillights to the horizon. This is the usual chaos at the Dartford Crossing so now we just had to be patient and navigate to Canterbury rather than any other one of a dozen destinations. We lost another hour finding our way through this chaos.
Having made the crossing we had the choice of the A2 (presently backed up to the M25) or the M25 which strangely cleared as traffic scurried like rats down other exits. The M25 is the obvious choice and our journey is underway again but we are still an hour from our hotel. Our expectation had been to arrive at sunset but these delays had changed our ETA to 1900 hours two hours after sunset.
Now I don’t know what Tommy had been smoking but from that point forward it seemed to find every narrow country lane and go around in circles until out of the blackness of the night a service station appears and Tommy says “you have reached your destination”. Our hotel is one of those freeway motels lurking behind a service station. Despite its location the hotel proves to be fine. The standard of the Holiday Inn Express has proven to be excellent everywhere we travel and we can recommend that chain.
Refreshed we are on the road to Dover early in the morning. No hassles getting to Dover where we visited the local museum with its 12,000 year old salvaged boat and its bronze age history then a quick trip to Deal (Yes a place called Deal and certain evidence of pre Aussie travellers) and back to line up for the ferry. Now a word of warning to all those intrepid travellers using their own car to travel through Europe – it has to be compliant but you can buy the kit on board the ship (Yeah right!). Well we bought the kit and now we are compliant – its not a gag.
The weather has turned decidedly grey and wet. We line up an hour before boarding and the wind picks up. The ferry is delayed by high winds in Calais so our departure is set back 1 and 1/2 hours meaning we arrive in Calais after sunset. Just makes driving a right hand drive car in the right hand lane a little more difficult. Although the crossing was not rough the ferry pitched sufficiently to cause Kerry some discomfort (not a good sailor).
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