Saturday 16 July: the journey
2.50am: The light goes on. Ten minutes earlier than planned. Dennis has gotten up from our make-shift bed in the middle of the lounge floor and decided that now is the time to start making a move. We empty the fridge of our picnic, finish loading the van and wait nervously for all the cats to show. Meena is already prowling around the kitchen, aware that something is happening but not quite sure what. Blackbeard appears, closely followed by Zebede. Now we just need Pip. Eventually the tiny tortoiseshell kitten appears through the cat flap. Phew! Neither missing our Shuttle or leaving a cat behind were particularly appealing.
The cat baskets are placed on the dining table and we attempt to coach them in. As per usual, the cats resist – associating the baskets with their annual trip to the vets. Only Zebede voluntarily walks into his, only realizing his error when the door is closed and locked. He paws furiously at the door to no avail. All four are wailing as we leave the house.
4am: We are all in the van. The street is quiet save for the odd taxi dropping off a late-night reveler. My head full of cold (typical!), my heart full of emotion and my stomach full of knots, it feels strange as we head down the A406 at first light, Canary Wharf twinkling in the distance, knowing that we’re not just moving house but moving country. Will we like it? Will we pick the language up? Will we make friends? So many questions…
5.30am: We have passed the grey industrial plants of Deptford, the lush green fields of Kent and have made it to the first check point – Le Shuttle at Folkestone. Some 15 minutes later and we are being herded into the long silver container that is going to take us under the Channel and into France. The shutters close around us and we’re off. It’s a good job this journey only takes 35 minutes. I’m not sure my claustrophobic self could cope with it for much longer. I distract myself with Facebook.
6am (7am local time): We’re on the continent! Hurrah!
7am: The first stop of the day. The cats are not happy with their enforced captivity. We try and bribe them with some cat treats but nothing will stop their mewing.
10am: The cats are still mewing. It’s now about 25 degrees and the front cabin of the van is sweltering. Gawd only knows what it’s like for the two poor cats in the heat box at the back. We get twitchy and pull over to check they’re ok. Turns out the back of the van is cooler than the front. We get going again.
2pm: Shortly after our first pit stop, we discovered that the Sat Nav wanted to take us into the middle of Paris, which neither of us was happy about. So we’ve gone way off route to try and avoid it, which has set us back at least an hour, if not longer. A totally counter-productive move. There is no way we are going to make it to Perigueux for 6pm. We’re both feeling a bit knackered and over it all now. And it’s so bloody hot!
4.30pm: Another pit-stop to water the cats and stretch our legs – this time in Poitiers. Google maps is telling us there is two and half hours to go. Not sure I can keep my eyes open for that length of time but will give it my best shot. At least we have fuel (unlike the last time we did a major road trip in France – a story for another time).
6pm: Dennis is exhausted. The sun is still beating down on us. Google maps is still saying there is an hour and a half to go! Argh! At least the cats are quiet now. Oh gawd, hope they’re not dead. Maybe we should stop and check? Dennis insists they will be ok. We keep going…
7pm: Hurrah! We’ve seen a sign for Sainte Eulalie d’Ans. Not much further now. Thank goodness. We’re out of water, are both dehydrated and poor old Dennis is about to drop. This is one hell of a drive!
7.30pm: Loving the instructions to find our way to the house. No such thing as a street name in Dordogne, instead it’s all about the directions: “In Eulalie turn right at the now closed restaurant Tallet. Keep left. Go up 1 mile until passing cattle farm. Make a left turn at the cross road (garbage cans). Few yards, make a left at the big pine on the dirt road. House with blue shutters.” We find it. At last. The lovely Patricia shows us to our new home. It’s beautiful. And cool. And there is a bottle of French cider chilling in the fridge. The cats are still alive. The world is good. We sit down – and breathe…