Bonjour, les Vacances!

Well, it finally happened. The last holiday we went on was to a very beautiful but very wet Lake District. ‘Never mind!’ I said to my raincoated family. ‘Next year we’ll go somewhere gorgeously sunny!’. That was in 2019, and we all know what happened next.

After the Covid years, this summer we finally made it to the holiday we booked at the end of 2019. The one that had to be rescheduled twice. It was worth the wait. As I write, the cicadas are creaking away and the sun is blazing fit to crack the stones around the swimming pool that beautifully matches the aquamarine necklace Husband bought me to mark our 19th wedding anniversary.

The teenagers are huddled in a shuttered room watching Hangover III. As we have travelled by train to Nice, through Antibes and onto our final destination, just outside Avignon, they have managed to watch all three of this series. Ah well, nice to see them doing something together.

With all the horrors facing anyone travelling by plane this summer, I was feeling very smug that I’d thought ahead and booked all our travel by train. Oh, the glamour! I have a real thing for trains and was looking forward to watching the countryside slip past our window moving from Kent to Calais through the rolling hills of Burgundy onto the sun-drenched glamour of the Côte d’Azur.

My smugness proved rather premature as we faced just as long queues at St Pancras. The only smugness that day was from Rob who kept saying ‘good job we got the early train’ until I wanted to smack him. The teenagers and I had not enjoyed leaving the house at 5.50 am to catch the 6.21 train, but Rob was right – good job we did as it took two hours to queue to reach the train (twice, as the first time we got sent back as we were in the queue for Lille, not Paris).

Once on the train the journey was smooth, tarnished only by the look on Rob’s face at the price of four ham and cheese sandwiches and four drinks at La Gastronomie restaurant coach. Careering across Paris from one station to another was entertaining; nobody spoke – we gripped the window handles, trying to stop ourselves flying from the cab as the grizzled taxi driver made sure we got to the Gare De Lyon in time to catch our TGV.

But there it was! At last! After eight hours of travel, we were greeted by the glittering sea of Nice. Airbnb was fine – but beds weren’t made grrr – and we sailed off to meet my old uni friend who lives there. (After I had sworn to teenagers not to spend ‘years talking to her and getting drunk while we hang around like lemons, mum.’)

Much rosé was drunk, sunny seas swam, and over €120 spent on two sun loungers and a niçoise salad with a bowl of frites. We would have got four loungers, but the cost was so astronomical Rob promptly took his towel over to the pebbles further down the beach. The waiter guy tried to say that as there were four of us we had to buy four loungers but I told him I had no idea who Rob and Son were and that they were nothing to do with me and Daughter. He finally acceded and we had to lob bits of salad and the odd chip over to the other half of the family whenever he turned his back.

Son and Daughter are at odds over the beach. Both love to swim in the sea but Daughter hates sand. I toyed with the idea of carrying her down and throwing her into the water but she’s taller than me and can fight me off. For one, breathtakingly joyful moment, the two of them swum to some distant rocks and we could see them chatting with each other. I took a million pictures of their little pin-like figures. It didn’t matter you couldn’t see their faces in the photographs, just the fact that my two children were hanging out together was enough to make my heart burst with maternal delight.

It all went wrong twenty minutes later when Daughter saw Son using her now-no-longer-sand-free-towel, but for a moment they were in harmony. I have the proof.

Oh, and we saw Iggy Pop! This was at the Nice Jazz Festival. He was brilliant, but half an hour late, and I was slightly alarmed by his eagerness to strip down to his pants, revealing a 73 year old beef jerky strip of body (but at least we were saved the infamous see through trousers). As Iggy got into his groove (around midnight) my watch kept flashing the message ‘Noise level over 110 db! Any exposure at this level can cause permanent damage to hearing!’ so I kept my ears blocked for the rest of the concert.

Iggy Pop, before he took his trousers off.

Then on to Antibes! GOD it’s the most beautiful place. Also, all research as Angie has to go to Antibes to look for Mrs B who has done a runner in my next book. I spent a lot of time studying the landscape from my (€20 rip off tourist beach shop) towel lying on the beach enjoying the sun as it attempted to burn through the five layers of factor 50 I had smothered on. I was desperate to stay in the old part of Antibes and every Airbnb cost a fortune but I managed to nab a gorgeous place that was the size of a dining table but we seemed to manage.

Rob was having a wonderful time. We’d gone to see Hockney at the Matisse Museum and the Picasso at Antibes. He ate one of the best swordfish dishes of his life …

Rob’s swordfish

and discovered the joys of the cassis gelato in a hot square at the Nice market. It took me a while to get him to take off his shirt, despite the 37 degree heat.

There was a reason for this. Before we left the UK Rob decided to neaten up his chest hair. Something he does every now and then. Unfortunately, he hadn’t checked the setting of his clippers and instead of achieving a light trim, he managed to swipe a narrow bald stripe from stomach to collar bone. The roars of fury brought the family running but we all had to run straight out as our hysterical laughter did nothing but make Rob even more angry.

‘I can’t leave it like this!’ he yelled after us. With an exasperated sigh, he clipped the whole lot off. I think it looked quite nice, but he was worried people would think he was one of those bodybuilders keen to show off all the muscles.  Luckily the heat in France was so fierce he gave in, and took off his shirt on the beach, exposing his shining, hairless pecs to the world.

After a hectic week sightseeing and walking over 6 miles a day EVERY DAY as we didn’t have a car in Nice and Antibes, we jumped on the train looking forward to a week in a villa just outside Avignon overlooking the Luberon mountains. The villa we booked in 2019 and had been paying for in chunks over the past three years.

As the train pulled out sending us towards Avignon, everyone buried their faces into their mobiles and I double-checked the hire car I had booked. The train got in at 10.53 and I had another look at the rental voucher to check we could collect the car between 10 and 11.

My stomach suddenly filled with ice. The warm, golden pastry of the croissant I was chewing turned to dust in my mouth.

Not between 10 and 11.

10.

The original email from the third party company said between 10-11. The official rental voucher said collect at 10.

We had to collect the car by 10 it said, otherwise we’d lose it.

I reassured myself. It’s fine! I thought. We’ll be there only a little past that …

Just in case, I got hold of trip.com, the company we’d booked the car through. Using the chat feature I asked if they could let the car hire place know we were going to be late.

The customer service woman seemed very alarmed. Ten minutes later – at 09.50 she messaged me back to say she couldn’t get through. ‘OK,’ I typed. ‘I’m sure it will be fine.’

‘You don’t understand,’ she wrote back. ‘If you’re not there by 10am they will cancel the booking and you will lose the £770 you paid.’

‘What?’ I replied, looking over nervously at Rob who was gazing happily out the window.

‘You need to cancel it NOW, Madame,’ she typed furiously. ‘Otherwise you will lose EVERYTHING!’

Sweat stung my brow, my stomach lurched again.

I stared at the time on my phone. 09.56. As it clicked over to 09.57 the phone sprung to life in my hand.

‘Madame!’ a frantic woman’s voice greeted me without preamble. ‘You have to cancel NOW! You will lose all your money!’

Rob looked over and lifted an enquiring brow.

‘WehavetocancelthehirecarasIthoughtwehaduntil11butwehavetogetitat10andthetraindoesn’tgetinuntil10.53wewillloseallourmoney!’

‘What?’ he said.

‘ButifwecancelwemaynotbeabletogetanothercarandwillbestrandedinAvignon!’ I shriek whispered, conscious of the amused glances from nearby train passengers. It was 09.58

‘Wait. What?’ Rob said.

‘Madame!’ I heard from the speaker, ‘you have two minutes!’

‘OK!’ I yelled down the phone. ‘CANCEL IT!’

‘What,’ said Rob with a voice that could crack glass, ‘the HELL is going on?’

I shook my head, scrolling frantically through my phone. ‘I need to book another hire car!’

Thank goodness for the customer service woman. Well done to trip.com, a company I shall use forever more. She managed to cancel the car at 09.59 and we got sent a full refund. Even better, I managed to hire another car to be collected at 11.30 (probably the one I just cancelled) for £399. Bargain!

Almost worth the ten minutes of panic/what-felt-like-a-heart attack on the train.

The rest of the journey went without incident until we collected the hire car and set off for the villa. Being a bit early, we decided to stop for provisions. A mistake, we realised very soon, as we were already stuffed to the gunnels with luggage. The boot was chock a block, Rob’s rucksack was squashed between the teenagers each of whom had their suitcase on their lap.

The Super U had everything we needed. We filled the trolley with bread, ham, tomatoes, cherries, chicken, strawberry tarts and cereal – all the food groups. At one point I found Rob staring into a trolley holding up a long, unrecognisable vegetable. ‘What is this and why did you get it?’

‘Rob!’ I hissed across the aisle. ‘That’s not our trolley!’

It was only the next day when my chèvre chaud salad was without chèvre, and the teenagers’ cheeseburgers were without cheese slices, did we realise that Rob had put all the cheese he’d chosen in the strangers’ trolley.

My grandmother always swore bad things happened in threes. I’m hoping what with the chest hair incident, the missing cheese and the fact I just managed to throw Son’s phone into the pool when I shook out a towel, means we have had our fill of unfortunate events.

Happy holidays!

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