Left Benidorm March 2002. We drove on the motorway to just north of Valencia and was shocked that the motorway tolls amounted to €17. (about £11.33) We quickly came off the motorway and took the road inland, climbing with overloaded Transit van and very heavy caravan en-tow, to the dizzy height of 1080M above sea level! I had hoped to see the Pyrenees as we drove through the Western pass into France, but they eluded us! We did meet a mad cyclist on the Spanish French border, who was on a mission to collect as many different €1 coins from each country in the Euro. (Each country has its own individual design on one side of the Euro coins) As we pulled into a garage, he frantically cycled up to us, to ask if we had any coins that he could collect. Was his life that empty that he was reduced to collecting Euros in order to make it more interesting! I guess it was a rather novel way of begging. (No. We didn’t give him anything.)
The Ticket Saga.
Reached Caen and the ferry port Monday 18th March. All we had to do was book our return place at a cost of £5. We bought our RETURN ticket in Essex 6 months ago. It was an open 12 month return for van, two people and a caravan for £210. We paid cash. We were told when we bought the ticket that if we returned outside of the winter season, we would have to pay the difference in season tariffs. We knew that the winter season changed at Easter, which was why we decided to return before the Easter break. At the Ferry booking office we tried book our return ferry. The woman who took our ticket pressed a few buttons on her computer screen and gave a big sigh, then called the manageress over to deal with it. The scene was displaying all the hallmarks of one of those protracted and frustrating processes, and we braced ourselves to hear what the manageress had to say about it. We told her when we wanted to sail, to which she informed us that we would have to pay £59. ‘What?’ We chorused. ‘You must pay £59 before you book your return journey, because the price has increased.’ She told us. We managed to understand from her that it had increased because of a change in season. The season had according to her changed in February. Alan picked up a 2002 brochure on the counter and checked out the dates for the new season, which was 20th March. We were 5 days inside the old season, so no increase was payable. She then tried to tell us that the fares had, well, just simply increased since we last sailed. Alan was getting tired of her pathetic excuses, so asked to speak with customer service. ‘You can use the pay ‘phone over there.’ She coolly told us. ‘No.’ Said Alan, ‘Brittany Ferries are changing the rules, so Brittany Ferries can pay for the call. I’m a customer!’ He told her indignantly. She very reluctantly let us use her ‘phone, though not before she spoke with them first to ‘explain’ the situation. Customer Service told us that our ticket had simply risen in price since we last used it, 5 months ago! Alan told them that a 50% increase was totally unfair and that if we were to buy a return airline ticket, we would not be expected to pay a 50% increase on the return part of a prepaid ticket. Alan then looked at the prices of some of the new fares from the 2002 brochure, whilst the woman on the other end of the ‘phone continued to chelp on. A single fare was available for the van, two people and a caravan for that very week, for £106. Alan pointed this out, but between them the staff put on a show of ‘No comprendo.’ He then asked if he could speak with customer services in England in the hope that he might at least get a little more sense out of them. The woman behind the counter once again after much huffing and puffing, reluctantly put us through and we went through the same questions. ‘Oh, no, it’s not a 50% increase, it’s actually a 25% increase on the whole price of the ticket.’ She tried to tell us. This was nonsense and it didn’t wear with us. The fact that one half of the ticket was used and finished with, was of no interest to her. We actually thought that we were getting somewhere when she told us that we could cancel our return ticket and book the single ticket we had found for £106 and get £105 refund from our old ticket! ‘Great.’ We thought. ’So.’ she added, ‘You must pay £106.’ ‘What?’ We cried. ‘You just told us that you will refund £105 from our old ticket, £105 of ours that you have had for over 6 months.’ ‘Yes, but I cannot refund monies spent in England here in France. For that you must apply from the travel agent in UK.’ ’What ever was the purpose of Europe?’ We thought. It was all so totally ludicrous. We had to pay £106. Yes, we were definitely getting closer to England. It would probably be another fight at the other end for the refund, with the travel agent wanting to subtract their commission.
The Bank Fiasco.
The following day, rather depleted of funds, we decided to change some Sterling. £40 in all, in cash. No problem changing cash you would think, wouldn’t you? Wrong!
The first bank we queued for 20 minutes, only to be told that they didn’t change foreign currency. The second bank said it did. The woman took our 2 X £20 notes and started to search in a rather thick book, which contained all foreign notes of the world. Having found our notes, she then went and found the equally appropriate large and over complicated form to complete. She then asked for my passport! ‘I’m changing cash, so why on earth do you want my passport?’ I asked her. She didn’t speak any English, but I understood her reply. ‘No passport, no Euros.’ She put all the details of my passport into the computer. This seemed to take forever, as she didn’t seem to know what she was doing. She then started to search throughout my passport for something. ‘Address.’ She demanded. ‘What do you want my address for?’ I asked. ‘I’m changing cash. My address is not necessary.’ I once again understood the reply. ‘No address, no Euros.’ Still not satisfied, she then went and took my passport over to the photocopier. ‘No, no.’ We told her. ‘No photocopy of passport. You have taken the details, now that’s enough. Give me back my passport.’ We left without changing any money.
We were sick of Caen. It was cold wet and miserable. Hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived. The campsite is all muddy and hitching the caravan onto the van will be a struggle. England is no better. Still, it’s Wednesday and our ferry leaves 16.30 tomorrow.
The Ticket Saga continues.
The following day at the ferry terminal; we pulled up to the booth amidst a long queue to have our ticket checked. The woman looked at our new ticket, issued only the day previously by her colleague, then looked at our van and said, ‘Your ticket does not cover your van! This ticket is for a car!’ It was like a bad dream. I got annoyed and told her that it was not our problem, that her colleagues had made the problem, and they can sort it all out. She called the Duty Manager who was very nice about it all, considering we were fuming. (frothing at the mouth type of fuming) He explained the situation. ‘Ah, this is not a problem. You see, you should have told them when they changed your ticket that your van is a leisure vehicle.’ Talk about red tape.
Home at last!
As we drove off the docks at Portsmouth, with our van groaning from the excess weight of champagne and wine bottles, (for my 40th birthday hooley. Cheers!) two big containers of diesel, (it’s cheaper in France than UK) and a hundred and one other things, there was not a customs officer to be seen. We could have made a fortune bringing half a dozen illegal immigrants, a few stray dogs, 1,000’s of cigarettes and many other items of contraband in with us. (not that we could have fitted them in anywhere) With border controls as lax as Portsmouth’s, no wonder the UK has such a problem. I drove straight off the docks and onto the wrong side of the road, almost causing an accident.