Saturday 6 August 2022 – The Monocle Minute – Monocle
On Thursday morning the ferry from Barcelona docked in Palma de Mallorca and 10 minutes after driving down its exit ramp, me, the other half and Macy, our fox terrier, were in the apartment overlooking the Palma Sport and Tennis Club. We had made the journey from London in three days with a night in France and another night and day with friends in Barcelona. Now, of course, we have to go back again at some point but the trip down was fun. And, incredibly, we have not decided to file divorce proceedings, even if I did have to explain to my partner during my stints at driving that he could jab his foot as much as he liked but, as far as I knew, the car did not have a brake pedal on the passenger side.
There had been some anxiety as we headed from London to Folkestone to take the Channel Tunnel (where you drive your car onto a train that whisks you to Calais): just over a week earlier there had been chaotic scenes at the terminal, with some people caught in tailbacks for almost an entire day. Whatever the cause (the British press blamed the French for being French, the French press blamed Brexit), it had been rectified by the time we arrived. Lots of these logistics outages seem to be like this: squalls that hit, cause terrible disruption, then just disappear. Even the check-in process for the dog went mostly with ease; her travel documents all in place, just some pecking-order issues to resolve. At the counter the woman asked, “What’s the name on the booking?” and my partner replied with pride, “Macy”. This glow was slightly diminished when she said, “No, sir, what’s your name?”
Once in France we drove to Paris, then south to the city of Bourges, where we would stay for one night. I was looking forward to lots of stops at French motorway service stations, stocking up on magazines and getting great coffee but, sorry France, we are going to have to give you low marks on this front. Motorway services are terrible in lots of countries, for no clear reason: if you have operators who can run rail hubs and airports successfully, why can’t you make these potentially lucrative pitstops look good, have food offers that go beyond hamburgers and fries, and celebrate good local produce instead? For France this should be a simple win but, instead, the services were literally a sea of flooded loos, broken tills, coffee from vending machines or Starbucks, and a lot of Burger Kings. On the second day, in southern France, there was a nod to regional food but I never found a good newsstand – though I was tempted by the laminated charts of French kings that are apparently designed to entertain children in cars. No wonder the iPad took off.
I chose Bourges for an overnighter for the simple reason that it sits about halfway between London and Barcelona but I knew nothing about the place. It’s a gem. At its heart is an incredible Gothic cathedral and, wrapped all around it, a neighbourhood of half-timbered buildings. And while there are antiques shops and boutiques, it’s not prissy and seems free of tourist tat (in a Tudor town like this in England, everything would be called Ye Olde Fudge Packet or Shakespeare’s Milkshake Shack).
The second day’s drive was easier as the number of trucks diminished and the landscape became wilder, more mountainous, more sunbaked – temperatures hitting 41…….