I went back to St. Sauveur at half term to visit my sister for the first time in 5 years with my boys. I was astonished when I realised that it had been that long since I’d visited. Such is life! We didn’t have an auspicious start to the journey. I’d planned on getting up early and having a tasty cooked breakfast to keep me going for the long day ahead. As it was, I was abruptly woken by John nudging me saying, “You need to get up, it’s quarter to nine!” Yikes! The next hour was a mad rush as we showered, breakfasted, made some sandwiches and caught the train to London.
Reaching Euston, I wrestled our heavy suitcase up and down escalators while the boys shouldered their backpacks, Daniel’s violin and the picnic. They are already seasoned travellers and negotiated the Underground with ease.
The Eurostar terminal was packed as lots of people headed off for their half term break. Boarding the train we encountered our first problem; there was no space for our rather large suitcase. Eventually another passenger took pity on me, as I became increasingly agitated at the lack of room and the difficulty of maneuvering the case up and down the aisle. “Stay here, I’ll find space for it somewhere”.
Sure enough after a short time he came back and said he’d found space for it a couple of carriages up the train. I deposited the case thankfully and returned to my own carriage for a much needed drink. After that, the journey to Paris passed uneventfully. We played rummy and a few other games, read and ate our lunch. A pack of cards is such a boon on holiday! I bought a tiny card game book years ago and we take it everywhere with us; needless to say, the children’s section is very well read.
Reaching Paris, we faced our second problem; we only had an hour to get from the Gare de Nord to the Gare de Lyon. When I told Dad that I had an hour to change trains in Paris, he commented that it was going to be tight. Nonsense I thought, I’ve done it before, it can’t take too long. As we pulled into the station, I told the boys to wait on the platform for me while I fetched the case. I thought I remembered where it was but I must have walked right passed it. Eventually I found it and heaved it off the train, by which time the platform was almost deserted, apart from a group of tourists photographing their arrival in front of the train.
We hurried into the terminal and looked for signs for the RER. They are small and not easy to spot, which hindered our progress. There were also no escalators anywhere and the few lifts we could find didn’t go far enough. Cursing, I carried the case down endless sets of stairs, getting hotter and hotter.
At last I saw a sign for the correct line. We made our way down to the platform and I looked up at the information board and read that the train wasn’t going to the Gare du Lyon. I better check I thought and asked another passenger if it was stopping there. “No”, he said, “it’s going in the other direction, you need to go back up the stairs and cross over to the other platform.” My heart sank, more stairs to negotiate. As we made our way over the bridge, a train pulled in briefly and departed. That’s not good I thought, hopefully there will be another one soon.
Well there wasn’t. I stood there with the minutes ticking by, knowing that we were likely to miss our next train. Eventually we arrived at the Gare du Lyon and ran towards the “grandes lignes” (the main line trains). We looked around wildly for the correct platform but it was too late the train had gone.
Now the boys were getting worried. “What are we going to do Mum?”. “Let’s ask at Information, there must be another train”, I replied, sounding calmer than I felt. I was a little worried that we were going to be stuck in Paris for the night, as it was already well past four in the afternoon. I explained my predicament to the friendly man at the counter and he directed me to the ticket office, telling me there was another train in two hours.
Having bought some more tickets (only another 30 euros) we decided to go and buy some food for dinner and I rang my sister to explain what had happened. “Please ring the lady at Valence station and tell her I’ll be late picking up my car”. The thought of not being able to pick up the hire car was too much; my sister’s place is in a tiny village that is not served by public transport and is a good 45 minutes’ drive from the TGV station. I’d already had a lot of trouble booking a car and it was entirely my own fault. I booked the train on the spur of the moment, having decided I was going to visit only a couple of weeks beforehand and then tried booking a car, not realising that the car hire place closed at 5 pm on a Saturday and my train was arriving at 6.20 pm. In the end my sister booked a car for me and arranged for the keys to be left at Reception at Valence station.
“Mum, I’m cold”, my youngest son, Daniel, said. I looked at him in disbelief. I was still sweaty from carrying the case around and the fact that I was wearing jeans, when actually it was pretty warm. I zipped up his sweatshirt and wrapped my cardigan round him too. Feeling his forehead I discovered that he had a temperature. I congratulated myself inwardly on packing the Calprofen and swiftly administered the correct dosage.
As soon as our platform was announced we made our way over and found our way to the correct coach. The boys’ eyes lit up when they discovered we were on the top deck. I was less impressed; more stairs to negotiate with the by now hated suitcase! At least there was a space for it this time. Settled in our seats, we pulled out right on time for the two hour journey. (This is the continent, not England).
Such a short time! I have driven down to St. Sauveur many a time and it takes hours and hours to drive from Pairs. Train is definitely the way to go. I read some Harry Potter to Daniel to take his mind off the fact that he was feeling unwell and in no time at all we were pulling into Valence.
We found our way to the “Accueil” and I explained that I had come to collect the car keys. She knew who I was at once and swiftly produced all the paperwork and explained where the car was. I listened carefully, for my French is no more than adequate, despite all the time I have spent there. “Come on boys, this is the last stretch, we’ll be there in a hour at the most”, I said as cheerfully as I could manage, knowing they were flagging. They followed me to the car and helped pile all the luggage in.
There then comes that moment of slight panic, when you have to drive an unknown car on the wrong side of the road. “Drive on the right and go the wrong way round the roundabouts I told myself”. Driving slowly up to the barrier, I expected it to lift and let me out; it stayed firmly shut. “Oh now what!”, I thought, getting cross. Looking around for someone to ask for help, I suddenly remembered that on the back of the paperwork I had seen the word “code” followed by a number. “Ah, that must be for the barrier,” I thought. I got out, grabbed it out of my handbag and handed it to Joe, my eldest son. “Read that out to me”, I demanded. I keyed in the number and finally the barrier raised itself and we were on our way.
With Joe reading out instructions to me and by following the signs we made our way out of Valence, heading south and then east; me driving quite cautiously as I got used to the car. Nearing Crest, I could feel myself becoming excited as the landscape started to look familiar. “It’s alright Joe, I don’t need the map anymore, I know where I am”.
As dusk was falling, we turned up the hill to the village and soon we could see St Sauveur nestling amongst the vineyards, with the Trois Becs towering behind. After 11 hours we had finally arrived!
The following morning we decided to go to the market in Saillans, even though the children wanted to stay at home and play together. We coaxed them out and drove down the hill to the valley. We wandered around eyeing up all the produce and salivating over the cheese and the olives.
After we’d bought everything we wanted, we decided we needed a drink and went to L’Oignon, a community run bar where there was some music playing. On the way there, we were constantly bumping into people my sister knew and occasionally some that I knew as well. We exchanged the customary kisses and greetings and people exclaimed over how big the boys had got. Discovering that Daniel’s temperature was up and he needed medicine, we had a quick drink and then went home for lunch.
Tucking Daniel up in bed with a film and with his cousin, Airelle to keep him company, the rest of us went to our field to look at the teepee my sister has been building. It’s a short walk out of the village, one of the few fields not cultivated among all the vines. The weather wasn’t with us though and by the time we’d got the material over the teepee frame it had started spitting with rain. At least the kids got to play on the tree swing!
The next day, Monday, the girls were at school and the beautiful weather was enticing me out again. We took a walk behind the village, up past the ruined house (there are a lot of them in the area), admiring the orchids and picking cherries off a beautiful old tree.
The following day, Tuesday, we went to a safari park and zoo near Vienne, with Kay’s pre school. Of course we watched the sea lion show!
That evening, once the children were all in bed, we sat down and talked about what we should do the next day, as it was going to be a sunny day. I said that I wanted to climb up the Trois Becs (the mountains behind the house), as I hadn’t done it since we were kids and the views from the top are wonderful. So the next day, we packed some snacks and plenty of water and put the kids in the car. You take the Col de la Chaudiere, which winds up steeply through the forest, past isolated farms and a hamlet, Les Auberts and park on the side of the road once you have reached the summit. Then you take the track that climbs steeply upwards to the top of the mountain. It’s the only route that isn’t through thick forest, so the views are spectacular.
Thursday already and we decided to take the kids out to Arbo Magic, where they can do the obstacle course high up in the trees. They all loved it and didn’t want to stop!
Joe had been nagging me all week about swimming in the river, so after a picnic lunch we let them have a dip. Despite me having warned him that it would be cold, he was still shocked just how cold it was and instantly got upset and blamed me. Of course he did, such is a mother’s lot, it’s always our fault! Joe and Clarita eventually made it over to the other side. Daniel got about halfway and then turned back and Airelle thought better of it (sensible girl!).
It was beautiful weather again on Friday, so we decided to pack a picnic and head out as it was my last day. This time we went north into the Vercours to the Chute de la Druise; a spectacular waterfall flowing over a limestone cliff. It is a beautiful drive winding up and up the mountain until you reach the plateau and the little village of Plan de Baix. Then you turn off the road into another valley where the waterfall is.
We walked a long way down a steep, narrow path through some pretty woods and eventually reached the bottom of the gorge. I don’t think I managed to get all of the waterfall in the photo, it was so large. The picture really doesn’t do it justice either. You could hear the sound of the water tumbling over the edge long before you could hear it and the light and the colours were magical!
After the long, hot climb up and a picnic, we headed to the cafe that you pass on the way to the waterfall, to treat the kids to ice creams. Poor Joe really struggled to climb back up the gorge, as it was now his turn to have the virus that Daniel arrived with. I stayed with him and coaxed him to the top, while the others raced on ahead. A nice long cold drink helped him feel better!
In between trips out, the kids played out in the square at every opportunity; taking it in turns to race downhill on the bike and scooter and gathering quite a collection of grazes from the unforgiving tarmac, or playing hide and seek or sardines. I also taught my nieces to play rummy and we played music together too. We are Hatfields after all!
Guess what the first thing I did was when we returned home? I went out and bought the boys a suitcase each; so now they can wheel their own. What’s that expression about an old dog and new tricks……