I've always rather enjoyed long road-trips. I did a few when I was at University and studying in America for a year, although I still have the classics on my to-do list: Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and the full East to West Coast trip, New York City to San Francisco. When I was living in Australia, in my early 20s, I drove from Brisbane up to Cairns which is still my longest road trip (nearly 24 hours in driving time, although we spread it over three days). In 2010 the children and I took a road trip from France to Switzerland, and then back along the German border to northern France and home. That remains the longest trip I have done without someone else to share the driving.
We're used to the long drive down the length of France. It starts with rolling off the ferry very early in the morning, and then we drive down the Calais peninsula, admiring all the wind turbines along what the French call the 'Autoroute des Anglais', because every other car (at least) is English.
Much of our drive through France is on the autoroutes. French autoroutes are owned by private companies, and most charge tolls to drivers. However, the tolls are pretty modest - our eleven hour drive costs around £30. I'm more than happy to pay because the autoroutes are such a pleasure to drive on - quiet, incredibly smooth and well-maintained, and well supplied with 'aires' (service stations). Some of the aires sell petrol, food, magazines and are parked up with hundreds of trucks and cars, but others are just a selection of picnic tables and parking spots in a little forested glade, set back from the motorway. On our way down we found a particularly nice one somwehere south of Orleans, where Olivia did some sunbathing and Graham did some yoga stretches (our journey down was the day after his marathon, so sitting in the car for 16 hours was tougher than it would otherwise have been for him).
We have flasks of coffee and bottles of water for drinking on the go, and a plentiful supply of chewing gum (neither Graham or I like long drives without chewing gum - is this strange compulsion just us?). The children are plugged into their iPods, and spend the whole time reading. Whoever is driving gets to choose the music for the front, and the passenger is not allowed to argue with the driver's choice. Graham and I take it in turns to drive/choose music for about two hours each.
The temperatures rise steadily as we get further south, and finally we turn off the autoroute and drive down small, rural roads for the final forty minutes or so to Mum and Dad's house. We all know these roads so well, and Graham and the children and I all look out for the landmarks that tell us we are so very nearly there. Coming back home, there is always a strange moment of disconnect when you get off the ferry at Dover, and England now feels like a strange and foreign land - so used are we to French voices, driving on the right and the sight and smells of the French landscape.
And then it's done. The car engine is turned off, we all get out, have a stretch and start unloading bags. If we are arriving at Mum and Dad's there are excited hugs, delicious wine and a hot meal before bed. If we are arriving back in London there is the excitement of seeing the hens again, the comforting familiarity of being back home, and a mental calculation of how many more months it will be before we can get back in the car and do it all over again.