The One Where The Sandlans Go To France

For the following I make no apologies. As with all holiday posts your going to get bored unless your me within the first paragraph or so!

Sunday 13th June 2010. The beginning of the end maybe? We were due to leave at 8pm that night and I don’t think we’ve every came close to hitting our leaving deadlines on any of our trips never mind our holidays. Before we left I had a two hour driving lesson, a birthday party to attend, clothes shopping to sort out as well as actually packing our bags. When I say we managed to get be out the door by 10pm and that we were doing really well I mean it!

Vonnie managed to get through most of the drive with no sleep and so we made it to Portsmouth just in time to park up and get a little rest before checking in and boarding the ferry. I’m still trying to work out whether the six hour ferry crossing was a wise thing. All that time trapped on a boat trying to keep the kids entertained? It would have been a breeze if it wasn’t for the fact the boat had something like six school trips on board. I’ve never seen so many kids running wild without adult supervision.

A quick ‘detour’ through Caen, and by that I mean I can’t read French road maps and so rather than get us onto the ring road and straight onto the motorway we ended up getting lost driving around the town centre, and we were on track. We arrived late afternoon which meant we had been on the go with virtually no sleep for 32 hours by this point. I think I ended up going for something like 40 hours without a single minute of sleep and felt fine.

Tuesday was our first real day here and so we spend it revisiting the supermarket after I’d almost ran screaming from it in a sleep-deprived panic after being unable to read a single product label in the dairy aisle. This time though we ended up spending stupid amounts of money on BBQ-able meat without being sure the BBQ provided for us is actually capable of staying warm long enough to cook the meat through. The afternoon was spent throwing ourselves down waters hoots at the camp sites indoor water fun pool type place. We would be burnt to shreds if this place wasn’t indoors but i get the feeling we’re going to have to get photographic proof or folk back home are going to thing the weather was just rubbish going by the lack of serious tans we’ve got going on.

Wednesday was mostly spent the same way except that myself and the boys didn’t go to the supermarket and we went to the park in the morning. This whole ‘No Swimming Shorts in the pool’ thing really got to me. It’s actually an offence that can see you thrown off the camp site so we were chancing it with the boys but I ended up having to get a set of proper speedo style swimming shorts. I have to say though that on the first day I kept stopping when I went down the slides when I was wearing my normal swimming shorts but with the speedos it was as if I was an Olympic water luge competitor or something given the speed I was getting up to! I know you don’t really need or want a picture of me wearing speedos in your head but I had to put that out there.

It was just past 10pm and everyone was asleep or in bed. I’d not long finished watching the most recent episode of Dr Who with the boys and I’d settled down for a few beers to watch episode six of Luther. My first handful of crisps seen me lose a chunk of tooth the size of a mini-D6. I wasn’t in pain or anything like that but that may be because of the tequila and lime flavoured beer I’d just drank.

Thursday was supposed to be a trip to the local beach and then a drive out to Mont St Michel but it ended up being another day with the kids running around the park and taking them to the swimming pools. They loved the two inflatable bouncy castles until Findlay decided doing a dismount from the space rocket on one of them and landing on his neck was the best idea in the world. Five minutes of tears was how long it lasted but I think it was more a fright that he got than the actual pain that caused it.

On Friday we did the dummy run through to St Malo to find out how to get to the ferry terminal and just how long it would take us. On paper I think we worked it out that it should take us something like 50 minutes as it was about 100km away and most of it was on 130km roads. I’m sure we were still driving about 2 hours later though! We clocked the aquarium on the way into town and decided to get somewhere to sit in and eat lunch. A choice of a million sea front restaurants was before us and we chose a pizza place in a small shopping mall inland. Despite the staff barely being able to speak English and our own french not being being up to scratch we managed to get some food and get a laugh from the staff. The pizzas the kids had we’re fantastic. They had been shaped into a face with the veg being the eyes, nose and mouth and the kids loved them. I on the other hand went for the calzone. Vonnie pointed out that I might have missed the fact it had egg in it but I thought nothing of it. I then cut into it to find they had basically cracked a raw egg over the insides and the cooking process melted the cheese and heated the meat up but the egg was still raw. Tasted damn good though.

Back at the aquarium we wandered around the various displays feeling a little spoiled after our trip to the one in Bologne two years ago. The place is nice and looks really good but as we came to the end of the displays we remembered something the ticket clerk mentioned in passing. There was apparently a submarine ride included in the cost of the ticket. The aquarium was inland so I couldn’t work out how that one worked but sure enough right at the end was the entrance to the Nautibus ride. I still chuckle at that name like I’m a big kid. Naughty Bus. Anyway it wasn’t so much a submarine ride as a giant walk in barrel that you climb into. It’s taken round a route in a pool that has various other tanks looking into it and with it being water on both sides it looks as if the glass isn’t really there. It was a great way to spice up what might have been only an ordinary display if you were to just walk past it in the main building.

We stopped off in Mont St Michel on the way home and like most picture postcard resorts it doesn’t live up to it’s appearance. I should have learned my lesson visiting Carcasonne all those years ago but I didn’t. Everything costs a fortune but added to that your surrounded by a smell i can only describe as centuries of poo and Dettol. And if you want to learn anything about the place you need to fork out even more money. It was nice to visit it though.

Saturday was spent packing and going around the local supermarket seeing who could buy the strangest thing to buy for themselves. The kids bought books in French that they can’t read, Vonnie bought a plant pot and I bought a light azada for the garden. That was going to be fun if customs decided to have a wee look in our car.

Early doors on Sunday we left just in time to make it to St Malo. Despite never actually finding the ferry terminal on the dummy run we got there just as the queue started. This time it was an eight hour crossing but the weather was fantastic and there was no school buses full of kids! Two hours in the car in France and eight hours in the boat and the kids were fine. Fifteen minutes on English soil and Erica was sick all over the back of the car. We still had 8 hours of driving to go at this point but we got home safely in the end.

We didn’t know it until we got there but we really needed that holiday. Not having to be anywhere or do anything by a set time was great. We never really woke up before 10am though and almost everyone except for myself was asleep for 10pm. A well earned rest is what I think you’d call it.

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The Start Of An Adventure – Holiday 2009 Day 1

Our plans were to leave on Friday the 17th straight from work and camp on our way down to London. We weren’t due in London until Saturday the 24th for Zara’s wedding so we had a lot of time to use up and had many plans involving the National Transport Museum and all the viking stuff around York as well as popping in and see family.

And then the rain started. It wasn’t just your normal rain either that would come and go and if you were unlucky be really heavy for an hour or so. This was the kind that started heavy and didn’t stop being heavy. I phoned a couple of campsites to find out how busy they were and most said they were fully booked but with the weather they didn’t expect many to actually turn up so they felt quite confident that if we turned up on the day we should be able to get a space. We started ticking the days off as the rain continued and eventually we arrived at Wednesday before the wedding. We had no choice. We had to travel down the next day or we wouldn’t get there in any fit state and besides we had already planned on being in London on the Friday and had booked a hotel for the night as well as for after the wedding.

So we packed. And looked out things we would need. And went to the shops and bought the things we forgot to get when we were supposed to buy everything the previous week. And then it was Thursday morning. As time went on the rain didn’t stop, the car didn’t finish getting packed, the house barely got any cleaner and we were struggling to find somewhere that we could be guaranteed to get a pitch at. People got stressed and eventually the decision was made to drive through the night. Kat was housing sitting for us and actually arrived after work before we had left the house.


Still packing at lunchtime on Thursday

Eventually we left and I thought that it might actually be plain sailing all the way down. We’d learned a few lessons on the France trip last year and we’d miss the ‘rush hour’ with leaving so late. Five minutes after leaving the house we came off the Whirlies roundabout on to the Hamilton Expressway only to arrive in a tailback as the had closed the east bound carriageway and were diverting two busy lanes of 70 mph traffic down single lane roads through Blantyre and then Hamilton. The way the diversion was going it was going to be like that all the way to Strathclyde Park. It took us an hour to travel maybe 500m to get to a point where we could turn around and head back past past Allers and down through Cambuslang to get on to the motorway at Carmyle.

We were on our way.

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We're Almost There!

This blog has been around for almost a year now. Do you know how I know that? And don’t think for a second that I’ll accept checking the date of my first post as an answer!

When I first started writing for this blog all anyone in the RPG blogging scene was writing about was Gen Con. For years I’d wanted to go but with it being held on the other side of the Atlantic I was severely limited in my attempts to attend. As time went on and mortgage applications were signed and children were born I came to the realisation that I’m never going to get there any time soon.

As an beginner in the world of RPG’s I didn’t really know what to write about. I’m that out of the loop on new releases that I struggle to keep up to speed with my 4e news and don’t get me started on any of the 3rd party products for 3/3.5e that everyone seems to know about as well as the rules and laws behind publishing for them. I decided to follow the same guidance I’ve followed for every other blog I’ve ever written. Pick your 8-10 favourite blogs in your niche and take the topic that is doing well for them at that moment and write my own take on it. That is kind of hard to do when all anyone was writing about at that time was Gen Con. It’s not as if I could write about conventions in general as I have never attended any during my many years of gaming.

So what did I do? I changed the scope of my blog so that it was a place for me to just write. Hopefully it will end up being full of gaming anecdotes from my time playing but it will never be a successful site that people come back day in and day out to get the latest news from.

planeOlivier Bruchez @ Flickr

But what of Gen Con and my desire to attend? It seems my wife has had a burning desire to go to New York for years and hatched a plan to go later in the year. I had a choice. We could both go early next year for a few days for our anniversary or she could go later this year with her friend, catch an NFL game before heading over to LA to see relatives and I could attend Gen Con in 2010. Almost everyone has been putting on their Mon Calamari masks and shouting “It’s a Trap!” It isn’t. Honest.

So here it is. The planning starts now. Financial spreadsheets as well as a giant wall calender will be produced and I will be at Gen Con next year. I will. I will. I will. I will find the money and I will get play some games. I just better not end up talking to an alien in Area 51 or get lost whilst traveling by myself over 3,500 miles each way.

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Stockholm – Day 2

Day 2

So after that early night we woke up to the sound of rain pouring down onto the boat. One thing I should probably mention is that because we were slow in booking our hotel we didn’t get the Captain’s cabin and so had to settle for the Mate’s cabin. The only different I can work out is that the Captains cabin has a larger ‘living room’ and has windows in every room while the Mate’s cabin has a bedroom that has no windows. So we sat in bed wondering what we were going to get up to on our last day if it was raining. We’d planned the boat trip but unless it was nice weather it wasn’t really going to be worth it. I’d decided to brave the cold and got out of bed to take a peek outside only to find the boat completely surrounded by ice and it was the noise of all the shards rubbing against each that we were mistaking for rain.

We had into met a single person at the hotel that we could describe in any negative way until this morning when we went for breakfast. There is a PC that can be used for free by anyone but at busy times you only get 10 minutes before you have to let someone else on. I’ve no idea what nationality the girls were but they chatted away in thier language with Vonnie sitting at the PC at the table beside them. It wasn’t until they started moaning that they were important and had to check work emails etc that they switched to English and just generally felt it necessary to get in wee digs about having to get access to a computer as soon as possible. All they had to do was say to Vonnie that they wanted on next but instead the intermittently broke into perfect English to moan about the computer. After that we packed up quickly and checked out. With our exploration the day before we realised that if Vonnie was going to get about that day we’d have to rest her as much as possible. Cue one taxi to the Grand Hotel which cost far less that the previous one. We’d planned on going out onto the boat trip and getting the traditional hot pea soup with bread for lunch on board which was nice but certainly an acquired taste. What we hadn’t planned on was the temperature being -3C before we’d even gotten on the boat. We were heading out towards the Baltic Sea and the chef mentioned that it was -8C without taking into consideration windchill as we had lunch inside.

The boat ride was nice. Basically it took you out on a trip around the archipelago. As it was winter though the longer trips which we really fancied were not running but the one that was gave you reindeer hides to sit on and blankets to snuggle up in. Our guide for the day, like all tourist guides, was just eccentric enough to be interesting without being nuts. It was that cold though that throughout he was sipping down lots of the tradition hot drink that’s very similar to mulled wine. By the time he took his break he was plastered. We went downstairs for our soup and a taste of this wonderful hot beverage ourselves before he started on the second half of the tour. By this point the Australians we had sat beside had decided to stay downstairs in the warmth along with almost every other passenger including Vonnie. I ended back upstairs with the Cuban-American guy and an elderly gentleman that barely spoke a word the entire trip, he even spoke to his wife in grunts. We had major problems in getting a decent phone signal while we were in Stockhom. In fact the only time we managed to get a 3G signal at all was funnily enough when we were out on the boat and directly across the water from the owner of Ericsson. As soon as we were past that house we lost the signal again.

By the time we got off the boat it was only about 1-2pm but already it was starting to get dark so we went for a wander around the old town, Gamla Stan, looking for the toy shop and the chocolatier that I’d found the night before. I showed Vonnie the royal palace and eventually found the shops we were looking for but only after Vonnie spent time drooling over the wool/yarn shops she had found. The toy shop was something else though. Almost everything in it was handmade and very expensive but it wasn’t until we got home that we found out why. Women in Russia make all the toys by hand and the toy shop pays them a good price for their work to allow them to feed, cloth and house their families. Fairtrade toys if you want to describe them that way. There was some really fantastic toys in there but we just couldn’t afford them. We wandered around the town and every 15 minutes or so had to stop and get hot chocolate as we were frozen to the bone.

We stopped at another chocolate shop and had possibly the nicest hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It wasn’t one of your powdered drinks as he made it in a coffee machine from cocoa beans and it was like we were drinking smooth, hot melted chocolate. At £4 for a tiny cup I expected it to be good but I never expected it to be that good! As we wandered on again Vonnie clocked a guy talking on the phone in a suite with a bulge on his belt. He had a handgun strapped to himself. It wasn’t until we realised there were more men like him around us and that we were standing outside their parliament buildings that we clocked what he was.

Anyway after a few more stops for hot chocolate we decided it best for everyone concerned to find the bus station and maybe think about getting the next bus to the airport. We were running something like four hours early but to be honest with the cold and not being entirely sure where we were getting the bus from alongside Vonnie being pregnant it wasn’t a bad thing. As it was very late when we arrived in Stockholm we never really got to see much of the city on the way in so the journey back out at around 4pm gave us a much better look at the rest of the place.

Getting to the airport so early did mean we had to stay in on the land side for much longer than normal but they had Stargate Atlantis on the TV so time flew by relatively quickly. It wasn’t until we had landed that though that we found out that the Hudson River crash had happened 40 minutes before we were due to take off. The airport staff had went around turning off all the TV’s just as news filtered through about it. We just though they were shutting up shop that as we were the last flight out that night.

When we landed in Glasgow it turned out that the last three planes due to arrive at Prestwick had all arrived early so there were huge cues to get through passport control. I stupidly mentioned to Vonnie that now would be the perfect time for her to have one of her fainting episodes only for her to actually really feel faint about 5 minutes later. We ended up being brought through the side of the queue and the police gave Vonnie a bottle of water to help her recover. I’ll keep my mouth shut next time I think.

I’d go back. I’ve not seen anywhere near enough of the place but I think I’ll need to win the lottery to afford it again.

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