Cheesed Off: Our Turbulent Journey to Get Through France
After our Eurotunnel journey we arrived in France just before dusk and given that we didn’t want to drive in the dark, we bundled up at a great free aire near the tunnel entrance. We had no real plans for our route down to Spain, just a general idea that we wanted to get south, and that we would pass into Spain on the west side of the Pyrenees so we could visit San Sebastian and Bilbao.
We had over 30 days to get to our month long stay just south of Valencia so we planned to take each day as it came. We tend to limit our driving to a couple of hours a day. If we want to do more then I’ll take a turn at the wheel. We like France and we especially like cheese, so we were looking forward to a couple of weeks meandering through some French towns and villages, seeing parts of the country we were unfamiliar with.
It started off well enough, the weather was bright and pleasantly warm. We stayed for a lovely autumnal evening on the banks of the Seine watching cargo ships pass by in a small village called La Mailleraye-sur-Seine. But then the fog started to roll in and the weather turned decidedly chilly so we decided to move along as quickly as possible. Visibility was poor so there was no lovely countryside to view and the driving was a little more tiring than it would have been on a less gloomy day. We started to realize that we were definitely too far north for November. We vowed not to let that happen again.
The aires in French towns are super convenient places to stay, often free with services. We welcomed the respite from driving, but most of the towns were kind of sleepy and we were keen to get south to better weather. Then we hit another roadblock… a literal roadblock. The french protesters, or Gilet Jaunes, as they have been dubbed were out in force protesting at the increase in fuel prices. As we wanted to press on south, we elected to head out on the day that they had decided to act. For the most part it wasn’t too bad; it added an hour to our journey, the protesters were good-natured and as long as you displayed your yellow vest on your dash in solidarity they waved you through.
We got to a free aire that night in the pretty village of Crissay sur Maines, which was deserted except for us. But despite the lonely location we were happy to have made it through the day of protest and looking forward to getting to the coast a little north of Bordeaux the next day. As we headed out the next morning we realized that the protests were not going to be confined to one day when we met more Gilet Jaunes on the road. We didn’t get very far before we decided to rest for a few days and get some laundry done in the pleasant town of Rochefort. But a few days later when we set off to Bordeaux the protesters were still out causing mayhem. Each day the protesters became less friendly, setting fire to palettes and closing off roads and access to towns completely. We found ourselves having to take long, long detours to get away from the roadblocks, and in some cases having to navigate tiny little villages. Fortunately we followed all the gigantic Spanish trucks / 18-wheelers who were similarly trying to find a way out of the road network hell, so were confident we wouldn’t get stuck.
We were very lucky to not get delayed in some of the 5 and 6 hour hold-ups that we know others did. In fact, in Bordeaux people were stranded on bridges overnight. We are not unsympathetic to the protesters anger but we were so happy to finally get to our campsite in Bordeaux. It had been a stressful week navigating horrendous delays. Once in Bordeaux we could stay for a few days and plan our final push to the Spanish border. With a mix of good old fashioned mapping skills and some friendly guidance from friends who were a day ahead of us in traveling we managed to get through it all and into Spain.
Although our lovely meander through France didn’t quite work out as we planned, we did manage to spend a lovely few days on the Southwest coast before we headed over the border, and the sun even came out for us. But I’ll save those adventures until the next blog post.