Our European Adventure - THE FINAL CHAPTER!
ooooookay! Before we jump into this chapter I just want to say thank you for everyone sharing their love for this series! I'm afraid this is the last chapter but fear not this is not the end of our adventures by a long shot! Last time we left off we had just jumped onto a bus to Paris with no intention of staying in the expensive city. (If you missed the last one check it here! Our European Adventure – Chapter Five )
We spent the first four hours of our bus journey researching cheap places in France. We had decided due to our dwindling money we had better head to the coast close to all the ferry ports back to England. It seemed our European adventure was quickly coming to an end. After hours of trawling through different seaside resorts (most of them looked like Morecambe) we found a place called Houlgate, a seaside village easy to get to and affordable (and it didn't look like Morecambe!). Too tired to look for anything else we booked a few nights in a villa which seemed suspiciously too cheap to be nice (but fuck it!) then found two more buses that would eventually get us to our destination.
With the back seats of the bus as our bed we settled in for a cold bumpy sleep, not exactly looking forward to our day of bus travel to Houlgate.
We awoke to being tossed from our seats and a loud beep from our bus driver. Fully alert from such a rude awakening we looked around to see where we had landed only to find we were still on the motorway. It was coming up to 7am which was our estimated arrival time, although there was no sign of the city in the distance. I found myself eyeing the horizon for the Eiffel Tower as a clue to how far we were away, but saw no signs of it. It seemed the Milan traffic had followed us here and we were destined to patiently wait in this queue for another hour...
After a painful hour of waiting, trying desperately to stretch our legs in the aisle with no avail to ease our stiffness we finally pulled into the bus station. For a change, we were fully awake on arrival almost pushing people out the way to escape the confines of the bus. We had touched down on Paris soil.
Now don't get me wrong when I say this but... I HATE France! I have never had a good experience in the country (perhaps worth a blog post on, as that's a great story in itself) so I was feeling pretty apprehensive about being in this country. However I decided to look at Paris with an open mind. We had one hour to explore before having to dash back to the bus station and catch our next ride, so surely I could enjoy my brief moment of time here... How wrong could I be!
After a quick Google we realised we were seconds from a tube station and only a few stops from a coffee shop known for serving the best coffee in Paris! In need of coffee and up for a quick adventure we made our way to the station filled with hope to find the best coffee in Europe here. When we arrived at the tube station three huge barriers blocked our paths with no ticket machines around them or ticket officers to help us out. Confused we stood trying to understand what we were meant to be doing and instead found a family facing the same issue we were. We joined forces and after a few muddled conversations with locals rushing to work we figured out we needed to head to a different tube station to buy a ticket before passing these gates. Following our new friends we all walked a block away to the next tube station where the promised ticket machines waited for us. Unfortunately this is where things got even more baffling!
We knew we had to change tube lines once to reach the stop our coffee shop was at however when buying a tube ticket there were so many options that we had no idea what ticket we needed to get where. With no humans around who could help us we clicked four one-way tickets and hoped for the best. We found our platform with ease and figuring out the route we needed to take even easier, we both felt pretty confident we would be sipping the best coffee in Pairs in no time!.. How wrong we were.
We made it to our first stop and got off the train, quickly finding the signs pointing us towards our next platform. Disaster struck as we were once again faced with the dreaded barriers! With only four tickets on us we panicked, realising it would cost us another four to get back! Not feeling that plan we hitched a ride through the barriers behind a couple of old ladies, saving our tickets from being eaten by the machine. However as we approached the next set of barriers blocking our path our tickets.. were rejected. All four of them.
We stood in confusion, unsure what our next move should be. After everything we had been through would we really be beaten by a couple of barriers? As we looked around for an escape, we realised we were completely enclosed by the damn things, there was no way out. With only 45 minutes left before our next bus we decided that maybe we were being too ambitions to set ourselves an hour to explore Paris. Travel is about compromise, all we really wanted was coffee and there was bound to be a cafe in this area we had paid four tickets to get to! We wandered up and down looking for a way out but found barriers at every turn, it was after ten minutes of being trapped that we saw a wide baggage one open and dashed through it while we could. While mid celebration Cole pointed at the multiple exit signs all around us; the majority leading back into the cage of barriers, it seems freedom was not easy to come by in France. Viva la revolution?
We must have spent almost half an hour trapped underground walking backwards and forwards hoping for some kind human to show up and point us the right direction. However it was by following every single exit sign to a dead end that we eventually found our way to the surface.
Now let me tell you, the surface wasn't much better than the underground. Our first impression was great, we were surrounded by cafes, the smell of coffee, and freshly baked pastry. Although all we really wanted was a fry up and some nasty filter coffee. The first cafe we came to looked great, quite busy but a window seat free for us, we took a look at the menu hopeful they would have what we wanted. They did!.. only it would cost us €8 per cup! (and that was their cheapest of the cheap)
We stood staring at the menu with our mouths wide open, surely not! I told Cole that clearly this was just a fancy cafe, the one next door would be cheaper... It was more expensive. It seemed all the cafes in the whole area were charging the same (and believe me we checked them all). Not willing to part with that many of our euros, we decided to head back to the bus station. No need to take the subway because we were only a few minutes from our original tube station from all the walking we'd been doing!
As we got back to the bus station we sat in silence and waited, a few things happened during this time;
- Cole tried to buy coffee from a machine for €3 and the machine stole his money.
- He tried again and instead of a coffee the machine gave him a hot chocolate.. lol
- I peed
- a bus driver ran over someones bag and shouted angrily in French at him
- I decided I still didn't like France
- Our bus arrived half an hour late
- We went slightly insane from waiting so long.
Tired from our adventure around Paris it was quite a relief to be back on a bus. Although the bus driver spoke no English and tried desperately to tell us which number seats were ours, not remembering what the hell 'cinq' meant I nodded, of course I understand and sat in 11 and 12 instead. We Squeezed into our (not) allocated seats hoping we wouldn't get kicked out as I wasn't really prepared for a fight in French. We sat back ready for the next hour and a half to pass slowly.
Two and a half hours later we were only just pulling into Caen, once again the Paris traffic had slowed our progress. Hopping off the bus we had a look around deciding that Caen was a rough sort of place and it was maybe best to catch our next bus asap! Another confused conversation with a local we figured out what bus was ours and made a dash to find some local eatery to soothe our rumbling bellies before it arrived. With a subway in hand (so exotic!) we made our way back to the bus station to catch our final bus to Houlgate.
Unlike the other buses we'd been travelling on, this one was a public bus in which you needed to press a bell to stop the bus, which of course is quite an issue when you have no clue where your stop is. With google maps loaded we watched our journey across the coast finally making a split second decision to press the bell and get off at what looked like our stop. It was not our stop.. but close enough!
Now as I've said before I don't like France but as I looked around at our new surroundings, I fell in love! This place was beautiful! Taking Cole's hand as we headed to our villa I was feeling pretty confident we had made the right choice coming here. Our new home sat at the very top of a huge hill which our bus would have climbed for us had we not got off so hastily! Unfortunately our bus was long gone so we set off up the hill on foot. While we were climbing, Cole announced he was desperate for the toilet. Suddenly our gentle stroll became a full on run, sweat beading on Cole's brow as I tried to keep up with his giraffe legs.
As soon as we saw the first villa Cole was off, bolting to reception to check in. I slowed my pace to admire this place. It was huge, villas everywhere separated into different islands of homes, each one colour coded. There was a spa on site as well as two swimming pools. How this place was so cheap is a mystery but it was worth the risk booking a stay here. Jingling with our new keys Cole rushed past me to a cute blue house with a balcony overlooking looking the bay, our home for a few days. Although bursting for the toilet even Cole paused for a moment, we had struck gold!
Our new home consisted of two bathrooms, a huge open plan living room and kitchen, a balcony with stunning views, a master bedroom with a huge bed and two comfy robes and slippers waiting for us on the sheets. I fell onto the bed relieved to be somewhere so nice after a hard day of travelling. Cole collapsed onto the toilet equally relieved.
After a hot shower and snuggling into our fresh robes we sat on the balcony sipping on some cheap beer watching the sun set. Feeling content we looked back at the stress of finding this place and laughed, it all seemed worth it for this moment, sitting on a balcony together.
After a well needed lie in we woke up and sat on the balcony watching the sun rise, deciding today was an exploring day! For the first time in such a long time we took our time getting ready and left the house at a leisurely stroll in no hurry to go anywhere. We skated down to the sea, explored the quaint town and of course took hundreds of photos!
Because we now had a kitchen to cook things we decided we needed some real food to cook! Googling what was around us we made an hour trek to Lidl and bought in a little weekly shop. Carrying a huge bag for life between us we stopped five times on the way back, arriving back at the house pretty exhausted.
Even though we literally just went to the shops and had a walk this was probably one of my favourite days of our travels because it was so chill. Sometimes what you really need is a relaxed day of nothing after so much excitement.
After a tasty home cooked meal, we settled in for the night with some Gordon Ramsey and a whole bunch of French junk food. This was the moment where I realised I didn't want to go back to normality, work, the UK. I was happy in our little blue house looking over the sea, filling our days with nothing but relaxing... Of course it couldn't stay this way.
We woke up, eating a hearty breakfast and reflected on our adventures. Today was our last full day here and to say we were upset for everything to be coming to a close was an understatement. With a heavy heart we booked our ferry back to England and from there our bus to Cardiff.
With everything booked it became very real that this was it. Soon we would be in a new country with no house, job or money. We had literally enough for a deposit on a new flat so we would be living off credit cards as soon as we hit British soil.
To cheer ourselves up we went on a stroll down to the beach to watch the sun set. Now as a kid who grew up in a seaside town my whole childhood was filled with going down to the beach and walking out to the sea, splashing in rock pools and dodging quick sand when the tide was far out. Cole however had never experienced this kind of thing so I couldn't just stand by and let his opportunity pass. Ripping off our shoes and rolling up our pants we dashed out to the horizon where the sea waited for us.
We splashed in the water and stared at all the odd things you can find that far out on the beach, wondered how the man who was fishing on a patch of sand completely surrounded by water would get back to shore, and as the sky slowly got darker we realised we would end up like that man too if we didn't start to head back. Rushing back to the shore with our sandy feet I took a snap shot in my mind of this moment. I knew that some hard times were coming and I wanted to remember how happy this day was and how if we worked hard we could have this again.
We spent our last night in our little blue house, packing up our things to leave in the morning. In the dark of the bedroom we whispered about how good travelling had been, yes we had some bad days and struggles but the good far outweighed that! New adventures awaited us and although it was terrifying, we were excited because if traveling for a living was our end goal whatever we had to go through to get there would be worth it. Goodnight Houlgate, it's safe to say you've changed my opinion of France.
Time to head home...
Waking up with only half an hour till check out we rushed about getting ready and got to reception with seconds to spare. We took time to say goodbye to the little town that had been our home for the week, grabbing a coffee from the cafe by the beach. After three days of saying I would buy one, I finally got a €1 bag of gummies from the corner shop (happiness comes from the simplest of things!).
At midday we caught our favourite transport back to Caen, you guessed it! Another bus. Grabbing yet another coffee once we were back in Caen we tried to figure out how to get to the ferry port. Google was unhelpful as usual and most people in the town could only speak broken English. Taking a chance we asked for help in the bus station and a lovely woman told us we needed to take the bus that stopped out front and that would take us right there. Boy was she wrong.
We jumped on the bus going to Ouistreham which was where our Ferry would be docked. It was obvious when we asked the bus driver if we were on the right bus that he couldn't speak an ounce of English, we would just have to hope that his nod was a yes we were.
Twenty minutes later we were being shooed off the bus being told in French what we assumed was 'end of the line'. We got off in the middle of nowhere, unsure where the port was even if we were in Ouistreham. Luckily the bus driver took pity on us and tried to direct us through gestures to our destination. Following his to the right hand signal we set off and found a sign for the port. Guided by signs and good old google maps we eventually saw the sea and a mass of ferries, we had finally made it!
With hours till our departure we took our time getting to the port, stopping to pet a pony.
Unfortunately It seemed that this was a bit of a rough area as well. It was Cole who suggested we leave the ponies and get to the ferry, of course I didn't want to, it was only when he pointed out the three burly men stalking us that I decided I was ready to leave too. Picking up our pace we speed walked alongside the river, with the guys following behind, shouting in French. Rushing to the safety of the ferry terminal the men dispersed, unwilling to follow us inside. We checked in and had a cheeky pint while discussing why it was that we seem to get chased every country we go to.
Our ferry was an hour delayed, clearly even sea traffic is bad in France! It was when we went outside we realise why it was late... The wind was howling and rain pelted down, an ominous omen to be heading home in. we climbed aboard the ship, taking a window seat to watch the lights of France slowly disappear into the distance.
It was difficult crossing, the boat rocked as the wind and waves crashed again us. Although we had allocated reclining seats to sleep in, we decided we don't play by the rules so instead took a space on the floor. We curled up together hoping the rocking would lull us both to sleep quickly. I found it very relaxing, the same could not be said for Cole who struggled to find sleep while lying on the hard floor. It was going to be a long night.
The lights flicked on, blasting the darkness away. I pulled our makeshift duvet of coats over my head. I was so tired surely we weren't arriving already! Cole rolled over informing me it was 6am.. great.
We slowly peeled ourselves off the floor and sat in the reclining chairs, watching the lights of portsmouth get closer and closer. The storm had only got worse through the night and nothing but cold rain awaited us off the boat. An announcement crackled through the cabin telling us we had five minutes till landing. Packing our belongs away we made our way to the exit not exactly thrilled for the next part of the journey.
With our trusty ponchos on we faced the weather, making the walk to the train station, hopping aboard a train and arriving in London for midday.
As we boarded our coach to Cardiff we suddenly realised this was it.. The last leg of our journey. Soon our worries wouldn't be where would we travel to next, it would be where are we going to work? Where are we going to live? how are we going to pay for things?
As the rain beat down on the windshield we took each others hand and squeezed, with the same look of, We can do this! Our European travels might be over but we were on the brink of something else, another adventure, another challenge and probably the most terrifying thing we would ever do,
start again from scratch..
I couldn't wait to get started.
Thanks for taking the time to read this everyone, don't forget to leave a like and share the series with your friends if you enjoyed it!
We've been living in Cardiff for a while now and we've been up to a lot, check this blog here if you're interested. Cardiff update
If you miss our faces go follow us on instagram where we post daily.. YES! EVERY DAY YOU GET TO SEE OUR PRETTY FACES THERE!
Stay tuned for more blogs as well as some excited announcements, some pretty major things coming soon!
Love April and Cole
p.s What was your favourite part of our European Adventure? and will you miss reading it? (I sure miss writing it)