It was unearthly quiet on the Saturday (12th) when we had dropped Tabitha and Amelia off at the Country Cattery in Waterbeach, at the end of a long one car wide rippling road. It always feels like betrayal abandoning them to be in a cage while we're away. But it did simplify packing the cases and getting ready for an earlier start on the Sunday than I usually have.
Sunday was pouring it down everywhere we went, the Panther taxi came promptly at 9am which I was disappointed at. Even with what seemed to me like a scenic tour through Cambridge we arrived at the coach stop opposite the Arundel House Hotel with nearly an hour to stand in the downpour until the coach was due to come! Virginia found a bus shelter not too far away, but happily the Shearings feeder coach was running well ahead of time and arrived about 9.30am. She had booked a 'Rhine Inclusive Cruise' on the MV Virginia so we could sample a river cruise as opposed to the ocean cruises we've done.
We drove down the M11 to 60s 70s hits like "Space Oddity" and "Pinball Wizard" and "Sunny Afternoon" and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again". There was plenty of leg-room in the gold coloured Setra coach - sadly we got blue-coloured Setra coaches after that which have more seats squeezed into them, and so not enough leg-room. There's a lot of organisation behind what Shearings do, and a lot of people backing it all up. Sometimes the best-laid plans don't work out, we stopped at Thurrock for six more passengers but the taxi bringing four of them had broken down. So we set off to Shearings Hythe Interchange base and had a burger before changing to a different Shearings coach, our tour bus for the 'Rhine Inclusive Cruise' driven by a guy called Vance. I wondered about how Vance and the tour guide June and the staff on the MV Virginia handle their (to me) strange lifestyle, the strange pattern of days.
A short run to Dover port where a French customs officer came onto the coach to make sure we hadn't forgotten our passports. The port staff directed us and other vehicles onto the P&O ferry while trying to stop a trio of French students who were trying to sneak on the ferry by hitch-hiking. We found a good place to sit at on the ferry and I started my intense session of reading Edgar Wallace novels on the iPad. I got through nearly twenty in all by the end of the holiday.
Vance drove us through a sodden and depressing looking France to the Novotel Lille hotel at Lille Aeroport. Room not bad though it felt odd to me having a separate toilet and bathroom. They gave us a decent 3 course meal with cloying chocolate pudding as the coup de grace. The other (gold) coach of the two for the 'Rhine Inclusive Cruise' stopped at a better hotel - at that stage the people on board seemed to have benefitted from booking later.