Even as I pressed the 'book it' button to secure our night's stay in France's champagne region, I could see us sipping our kir royale apperitifs in the smart candle-lit restaurant, sampling our fresh bread, letting the crumbs fall on the starched linen tablecloth, as we perused the exclusive menu and the gourmet feast that was to follow.
Later, that image was to be as crumpled as the cellophane wrapping on the plastic cups at the Hotel Canada, Chalon-en-Champagne's own Hotel Calilfornia where we dearly wanted to check out the moment we arrived, but couldn't leave.
The signs that the day wouldn't end up as we imagined were there from the start. The satnav had a strop, announcing we'd reach our destination, 600km away in six hours, rapidly changing its mind to double that time, then putting it at a week on Tuesday. Only a week before the damned thing had taken us up icy tracks over mountain passes and through ditches rather than the blindingly obvious eight-lane superhighway to the Channel Tunnel. That was it, clearly something was amiss, the satnav was wrong and Anne the Navigator was the one to put it right. After much sighing and shaking of the head from Noel, I took the satnav offline and picked out a better way, using all my map-reading skills, acute sense of direction and penchant for red-coloured things on the map. It ended in tears of frustration as the kilometres, hours and obscure French villages passed by, sometimes more than once.
Ah well, I said, cheerily and somewhat guiltily as we circled around Chalons-en-Champagne clockwise, anti-clockwise and then clockwise again, at least this is a pretty place to stay…and there are kir royales with our names on them waiting for us. Indeed the town was pretty, if only our hotel had been in it – and if only the proprieter, let's call him Norman, knew what a kir was.
We left the historic town behind us and headed through the suburbs, where the riot police kindly held back the bottle-throwers and firebombers to let us through, thoughtfully pulling the stinger aside and wishing us a bonne journee. Fortunately the hotel wasn't far away and there was one parking space left, vacated by the departing SWAT team.
Norman the proprietor seemed a little surprised that we wanted to check in for the whole night, the price list showed the tariff per hour.We went to our room. all thoughts of kir royale and gourmet food gone, locked the door, bolted it, put the desk, chair and bed behind it and took it in turns to sleep.
The next morning we left early, heading for Bruges making eye contact with no-one. Noel booked the hotel there – and insisted on doing the navigating. I let him….