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Monday, 15th July 2013

The distance between Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage, where we stayed overnight, and Darlington is some 1100 miles, with a further 60 miles for Stuart to get back to Blyth. We were due back at work on Wednesday morning so we just had Monday and Tuesday to cover that distance. Time, therefore, was of the essence and we had not a moment to lose. This was a great pity, as Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage was such a pretty enough seaside town on the Mediterranean that we could happily have spent a day or two relaxing, exploring and soaking up the French culture. But that was the story of the whole adventure, and we’re both determined to go back at a more leisurely pace. Andrew’s sons Sam and Will would love it, if only for the ferry trip, and Lyn is a French speaker (as well as German, Spanish, Russian – you name it!)

So it was with heavy hearts that we once more loaded Sara and headed down the A8, La Provençale, which brought us from Italy to Monte Carlo. This time we were heading west to Aix-en-Provence then north-west to Avignon where the A7, l’Autoroute du Soleil, would take us north along the Rhône valley to Lyon. Yes, the trip has improved our knowledge of French geography no end.

Our first priority was to refuel so we pulled in to the Aire du Canaver just past the Fréjus turn-off. Stuart filled up whilst Andrew wandered off. When he came back he said he’d drive so we set off again with Andrew using his own key (we had one each) to do so.

The trip was uneventful. It was just a case of “keeping the pedal to the metal” and eating the miles as we made good progress to our overnight stay in Troyes. Thus we had to pass by Toulon and Marseille, familiar names to Stuart who is an avid reader of Napoleonic Wars naval fiction, Aix-en-Provence and Avignon (where Stuart had hoped to be “sur le pont”) without stopping.

We were mildly surprised to see signs for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is about 10 miles north of Avignon. Andrew was quick enough to get the photographic evidence:

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Our next stop was at an aire near Montélimar where we had lunch and where Stuart could buy some nougat more or less at source – which was delicious. It was at this point that Stuart couldn’t find his car key, despite a thorough search.

Soon we were in the port (yes, port – almost 200 miles from the sea) of Lyon at about 15:30, where the A7 runs right alongside the Rhône for a short distance. The disadvantage of taking a motorway through a town is that it becomes congested with local traffic, and so it was. As we crawled along we became in convoy with other rally cars, including Team Tow Mater, 952. Apparently it’s a cartoon character named from the American pronunciation of “tomato”:

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As the lanes were moving at different speeds we would become separated again, only to find another returnee.

Eventually we turned left, heading west and away from the river, whereupon the A7 became the A6. We again made good but uneventful progress.

Safely past Lyon we could enjoy as much of the French countryside as is possible whilst doing 75mph on a motorway. It was around this time we stopped to refuel – and solved the mystery of the missing car key. Not only was the key missing but the locking petrol cap, too! Back at the Aire du Canaver, Stuart had placed the cap with the key in it on Sara’s roof whilst refilling. We had then simply driven off, Andrew using his own key and depositing the petrol cap and key on the forecourt. There followed a series of frantic ‘phone calls which established that – yes – Aire du Canaver had the petrol cap and key and would send them on. The mystery was solved. It was inconvenient but not a disaster, so we bought a temporary petrol cap to tide us over.

As we had earlier seen signs to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the morning, so this afternoon we passed Nuits-Saint-Georges as we approached Dijon. No time to revisit Dijon, however, as we passed by on the east using the A31, Autoroute de Lorraine-Bourgogne, heading north. Soon we picked up the A5 which brought us to Troyes and our overnight stay at the B&B hotel, conveniently just off the D610 at its junction with the D319. This proved to be the only disappointment of the trip as our rooms had a definite musty smell, but as Andrew said, “It’s only for one night”.

Asking at Reception for a recommended local restaurant we were given a card for La Boucherie Restaurant which had the added advantage of giving us a 10% discount. It was right next to the local Citroën dealership, too, but no-one was at home at that late hour to admire Sara and what she’d accomplished. It looked like the restaurant knew the Hatches were coming – or is that just wishful thinking and poor French?

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And so to bed.

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Monday, 15th July 2013 from Monte Carlo - or bust!
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