So we’d got as far as Dijon, found our hotel by hook and probably crook, and I was crossing my fingers that the car and everything in it would still be there in the morning.
Did I mention that Inky, the hamster, was travelling with us? Well, he was. I hadn’t thought until rather late in my organisations about any restrictions as far as taking pets across Europe was concerned. We’d shipped two cats from New Zealand to the UK, and naturally I’d looked into that, got rabies vaccinations and proper carrying boxes and what not. I mean – they were going long haul so naturally there was a formal process to go through. But just driving across Europe was – well, Europe. The UK hadn’t even triggered Article 50 (let’s not go there…) so we were all one happy family. No?
I think I briefly mentioned the puss. One of the NZ ones. The other sadly passed away a year or more ago, but the brother was alive and well and about to stay with a friend. Long story short, I took him for a quick check up before taking him to his lodgings, vet looked concerned, talked about kidney problems, I panicked, decided cat should come with us, vet said he couldn’t due to no current rabies vaccination and some kind of necessary time lag after such a vaccination – which we hadn’t time for. Then vet did tests, cat not dying, just ageing, cat got rabies vaccination ready for future EU trip, went to stay with friend as planned.
But what of hamsters? Well, long story short again – it appeared, as far as I could tell, the vet could tell and DEFRA could tell, that you could drive into France with your hamster. So Inky was put in his carrying box, his cage kind of disguised, not because we were hiding him, but we didn’t want to draw attention either, and off we went. As it turned out we were pulled over at Calais and I purposely made sure the hamster’s travelling box was visible just in case (didn’t want to be accused of smuggling anything), but no one batted any eyelids or anything else and on we went.
At the Ibis Budget we did, to be honest, smuggle him in. They’d said they were pet friendly when I enquired about the cat, but just in case a rodent raised any issues we agreed he could stay under the radar. He much enjoyed his exploration of our linoleoumed hotel room floor – safely in his ball.
So, after a comfy night together in the double bed because no one wanted to be Billy No Mates in the single bunk above it, we found the car and everything in is was still there, and off we set.
There was traffic. Not something we were all that used to in France. We always revel in the empty roads, fewer people (way, way fewer) and avoiding the cities. But of course – it was the last weekend of French school holidays in the region and everyone was heading home. I was really glad we’d driven as far as we had the day before. We had time to spare – mostly planned in case it was blizzarding and I had to stop and get the snow chains on. I’d watched a video, made sure I had everything I needed – black heavy duty rubber gloves, an old mat to kneel on, dark coloured fleece and a warm jacket I didn’t care too much about (likely to get oily). Then I’d practiced putting a couple of chains on outside my mother-in-law’s house, ensured I knew where the emergency triangle was and that the hi-vis vest didn’t get buried in the boot. I was good to go for chains. But sending the universe all the vibes I could to not need them.
In spite of traffic we were making good enough time for me to make a planned stop to buy ski boots and a new down jacket at a Decathlon right by the road. I’m not one to fuss too much about shopping, and luckily there were only really two options of boots and one was clearly better. Job done. Likely sicky child was popped into the front seat ready for the windiest of windey drives up and up the upcoming incline, and off again. Then a quick petrol fill-up and dash round our familiar large supermarket at the bottom of the mountain for WINE, and a few bottles of wine, a frozen dinner, some pesto, a few tins to keep us going, some wine and a bottle of wine for me. And we were off up the hill. Okay, the mountain. A really very big one actually. And no snow visible falling from the sky. Phew.
Slowly slowly. I don’t need an up-until-now well child chucking up over the car do I? Sod’s law we’d be needing the chains at the same time and one of those things would be quite enough, thanks. It’s been a good trip and it would be nice if it finished that way. I’m stuck behind a bus. Perfect. That means it’s not my fault there’s a trail of cars building up behind me. And I’m leaving space for them to overtake me if they want to. I’m not that French yet…
Up, up. We rejoice at the first ‘paravalanche’ – it means we’re nearly there. Here we are at the Lac de Chevril and driving across the dam. Yay!
Not my pic – this one is from Wikipedia, by user ‘Semnoz’ and reproduced under Creative Commons licensing. It’s the barrage (the hydro-electric dam) across the Lac de Chevril.
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=673184
Up and more up. There’s snow. Plenty of it. So beautiful. No one’s been sick. The window’s open and it’s a bit chilly but that’s ok – she’s breathing, she’s fine.
Oh shit – snow. On the road. Not coming out of the sky. But snow on the road. Quite a bit A solid layer of it. We’re so nearly there. Chains? What’s everyone else doing? Not stopping. Do they have winter tyres? Nah – they look normal. Really – what the hell would I know, but I’m not stopping, I’m just going to keep creeping along like this, like everyone else, and hope.
Damnit, I’d forgotten about that last hill up to our apartment building. Carefully round the roundabout – do I go round again and stop to do the chains? Nah – it looks okay – no one else is sliding backwards. I’ll just keep driving. What is this stuff on the windscreen now? Snow? Yes – big fat soft gorgeous snow. Ploofing down. Onto the road. Onto the car. Onto all these big piles of snow in the car park you’re not allowed to park in out front of our apartment building. Onto those cars already covered in lots of snow. Shit! But also YAY! We’re here – we made it!
I dash the girls and a couple of bags upstairs – it’s so good to be here, To be wh`know what I’m doing and where I’m going. Except for where to park the car, quickly, when there’s lots of snow falling on it. Thank goodness for the husband. He answers the phone, tells me where to go – I tell him I have to move the car. Now. Because there’s already the layer of snow I’ve been driving on, and it’s getting covered pretty fast with new fat snowflakes that aren’t messing about. At all.
Twenty minutes later and phew. First French conversation of the adventure and I haven’t disgraced myself. Car’s under cover. Essentials are in the flat. We are safe and warm. With easy dinner. Thank heavens I bought that bottle of wine.
At this point the pasta-pesto-peas and the wine were more exciting than the snow. Sorry!