It wasn’t that long ago that I last blogged from the Calgary Airport. To be honest I’m not sure how many hours ago it was. We thought we were getting the great bargain by taking the late afternoon flight from Calgary direct to London. Summer is a weird time to fly, especially east, as you speed towards morning, and with the parabola over Greenland, you never actually see darkness. Everyone had their shades drawn, and our kids would open them to see what was going on down below, a blinding spotlight would pierce through the plane.
While neck pillows do help stabilize the head in flight, it’s tough to tell your body to sleep when it’s only 9:00 pm local time, so most of the family watched movies (In Time with Justin Timberlake isn’t all bad) or read – none slept.
It was incredible to land at Gatwick, the picturesque puzzle-pieced farmland bordered by cute hedges and stone walls, and we all high-fived on our Commonwealth common ground. After getting the worst possible border/customs agent (grumpy that we didn’t hand all six passports in together) we still felt welcome in England. The goal was to make it to Paris, where we’d pick up our rental van. Good idea? In theory. We jumped on a train, and headed into London. After missing our transfer to King’s Cross, we got off at Victoria station (after taking up 14 seats with our giant amount of luggage) and bought tickets for the Underground which took us to King’s Cross/St. Pancras station, where we thought we’d pick up cheap train tix to Paris. Not cheap. VERY expensive. But a high speed train through the Chunnel is kind of cool. Kids had a good little lunch and Spencer slept for 2 and a half hours.
We came to a stop in northern Paris at Gare du Nord station, where our rental van was waiting…
After a well-deserved bathroom break, we headed to the rental pick-up. Unfortunately it was roped off, and surrounded by dozens of police, soldiers, firemen and even a couple of sniffer dogs. Through broken French and overheard conversations, we pieced together that two vehicles had completely burned up (whether intentional or accidental is still open to debate and police investigation). The parkades had to be ventilated, water mopped up and things sniffed.
After three and a half hours, we were finally able to claim our van – making an already long day very much longer. Chris proceeded to stall the standard nine passenger Mercedes in the parcade on the slight uphill leading out to the busy Paris streets, but quickly got the hang of it. Driving in Paris was at times very slow, at times very fast, and always bumper to bumper. Thankfully, the rental dude gave very good instructions on evacuating the city, and the whole clan made it to Arras for the night.
We are currently holed up in two cute little rooms in the Holiday Inn. Not surprisingly, a hot shower felt incredible, and there isn’t even need for air-conditioning, as it was only 15 degrees with rain. For their first official European meal, the Kooman/Siebengas chose…McDonald’s!
Brutal but true. It was late and honestly the only thing open.
We are incredibly grateful to be here, and will begin our first ‘holiday’ day exploring the battle sites that Canadians contributed to in WWI tomorrow. Arras looks like a quaint little city, but it’s still dark.