As we hadn't been to France yet this year, we had run out of all sorts of things that we normally buy there, either because they are cheaper (coffee, wine) or difficult/imposisble to get here. And when I discovered that I could use my Tesco vouchers to get up to £30 off a Shuttle crossing, it was a bit of a no-brainer. You can stay overnight for the same price as a day-return, so we decided to do that and have a mini-break.
Due entirely to my own innumeracy, we left slightly later than we meant. The drive was not very pleasant, as it had been raining, and then the sun came out, which was in exactly the wrong place as it dazzled up from the wet road, and cars and lorries were sending up clouds of spray and the sun was catching them, too. We were thankful when it went behind a cloud again! We just made it to the crossing we were booked on - no time to go into the terminal, or even to stop in the loading queue! The train left earlier than we expected and we arrived in France at about 11:45 local time.
First stop was at the garage just off the exit, as we wanted to buy yet another holder for our satnav, the one that the Swan Whisperer bought to replace the broken original had, in its turn, broken on our way to Folkestone (yes, we do know the way; the satnav in this instance is mainly for traffic purposes - it knows when there is a mega hold-up and will send you round a quicker way, if possible). That duly bought, plus coffee, we set off cross-country to St-Omer, where we found a random restaurant to have lunch in. The SW had pork, chips and salad, and I had an omelette with chips and salad - massive amounts of chips and almost no salad, but never mind!
We drove to Arras and parked in the town square, which was very beautiful. It was, I think, rebuilt after the first war, but not sure what was destroyed in the 2nd. We were beginning to need petrol, so I cleverly programmed the Satnav to take us to a petrol station in a shopping centre en route to our hotel - last time I'd asked it where the nearest petrol station was, it had taken us to one in the opposite direction to where we had wanted to go, which was totally my fault, not its. But I thought there must be a way, and there is - you click on "Browse maps", and then "Find" and one of the options is POI en route, so you click on that to find petrol or hotels or whatever that you want. It also cleverly tells you how much of a detour, if any, it is, and then you click on "Navigate to" and it takes you there!
The hotel, however, turned out to have been a mistake. It was a Campanile - we had so loved the one we stayed at in Luxembourg last year, we thought it would be nice to stay in one again, and given the price I was able to get, it was just about worth it. But we were greeted by a very unfriendly young man at the check-in, who grunted something in French - I can usually follow well enough, but he mumbled! Eventually realised that the reception and restaurant were in a separate building from the rest of the hotel, which was a kind of barrack-block across the car park.
There was a kettle, which was nice, but no tea-bags, only sachets of instant coffee and tisanes of various kinds, and disposable cups so you could only use them once. Fortunately I had brought my own stash of teabags and our travel cups! In the bathroom there were no hand-towels, and nowhere to put your used towels - there was one hook, but it was obscured by the notice telling you to hang up your towels if you wanted to re-use them. There was no hair-dryer, either. There were no heavy curtains, only net ones and shutters (I hate shutters), and although we were not overlooked, people probably walked past. And being on the ground floor your couldn't have the window open overnight, either, and I couldn't see if there was air-conditioning or how to make it work. Not doing that again!
We ate in the hotel restaurant; the starter buffet looked a bit meh, so we ordered the plat du jour, which was blanquette de veau. Quite nice. Then we had the dessert buffet, which was lovely, and the SW had coffee.
Breakfast next morning was good, although I could have wished for a hard-boiled egg with mine. Still, bread and cheese and ham and stuff like that.... not bad!
We set off at about 09:00 and first went into the centre of Douai, being amused by how very quiet everywhere was once people had gone to work or school or wherever. The centre was okay, but we didn't linger. Instead, we drove to Cambrai.
Now, that is a lovely town! I should have liked to have done more of the tourist-walk they provide (we picked up guides from the tourist-office), but my leg isn't up to much walking. We did see the old belfry, one of the city gates and the cathedral, though. The cathedral is not the original cathedral, not built as such, so it is as small as Southwark cathedral. Apparently the original was torn down during the French revolution! And the present building was all but destroyed in both wars. Sigh....
We discovered too late, too late that it is free parking on a Monday morning! Still, that came in handy when, just as we pulled away, we saw signs for a public loo, so we were able to park again and use it before heading off to Lens.
Lens was a very disappointing town after Cambrai, so we didn't bother to linger but headed to the nearest commercial centre for shopping purposes. And bought up most of Cora.... which didn't have any harissa or buckwheat flour, so we had to go to Carrefour in Cité Europe to get those, what a hardship!
We had a rather late lunch in the local Flunch (mistake, really, as lunch was obviously Over, and they had very few choices left, although we had a very nice steak), and then it was time to head back to the coast. As I said, we popped into Carrefour and bought the last few things (and some more wine!). We had wanted to go to the Tesco there to get some wine, but it had changed hands and is now a fairly posh wine place.
We had half an hour to spare in the Eurotunnel terminal before our shuttle, which we spent eating ice-cream and relaxing, and then home.
But, tragically (well, not really, but sad, anyway) when we got there we found that somehow the rhubarb tart the SW had bought for himself, and the strawberry tarts he'd bought for me, hadn't come with us! Nor, alas, had the cream cheese.... oh well, don't know what happened, they must have been left at the checkout. But what a waste, and what a sad ending to a pleasant weekend!