When we organized the last-minute trip to London, we also decided to cross the channel and to visit my parents in France for a few days. It just made sense: we had already flown 5,600 kilometers to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, may as well travel a few more hundreds kilometres and stay with my family for a bit.
That, plus my mother would have killed me if we had been to Europe without visiting them.
We looked for the best way to get from London to Nantes, on the Atlantic coast. Plan A was to take the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then a TGV train to Nantes. However, last-minute train tickets are generally expensive and the trip would likely take an entire day with the connection in Paris. Assuming everything would connect fine, which wasn’t a given considering the Olympic Games in London and the school holidays in France—train would be packed and likely be delayed.
So we look into these European budget airlines I never got the chance to take because they didn’t exist yet when I lived in France. EasyJet had the lowest fare, and the 90-minute flight would actually be cheaper than taking the train. However, the only cheap tickets available were for the first flight of the day, leaving at 6:15 a.m. from Gatwick. Which meant that check-in would start at 4:15 a.m.
We eventually decided to spend the night in a hotel by Gatwick Airport, and to set the alarm clock early.
Booking our EasyJet tickets online was quite an adventure. We aren’t fluent in British English (“what do they mean by ‘hand luggage’”?) and with these low-cost airlines, just about everything is extra—including checking in one piece of luggage, paying with a non-British credit card, not printing boarding cards, etc.
Eventually, we managed to get a final quote for our tickets. We bought them right away and booked a hotel by Gatwick at the same time. Phew.
Around 5 p.m., we went back to pick up our backpacks at the hotel, dragged them into the Tube, got stuck in rush hour and technical problems on the infamous Circle Line, and eventually made it to Victoria Coach Station, terminal of the National Express coach service. The bus from Central London to Gatwick, 50 kilometers from London, was by far the cheapest option—£8 a ticket vs. £16 a ticket for the Gatwick Express train. Of course, the bus didn’t run as often and it took us over an hour to make the journey to the airport, but it was mostly empty and the driver was friendly and talkative.
From Gatwick’s North Terminal, we took another bus to the Best Western Gatwick Moat House Hotel—I was shocked to see that the five-minute ride wasn’t complimentary but cost us £6 each!
By the time we checked in, it was past 8 p.m. and we were starving. The only option was the hotel’s restaurant and we reluctantly made our way to the dining room, expecting the worst—hotel food + British cuisine + captive audience = recipe for disaster. However, we were shocked to see how fancy and tasty the set two-course dinner was! It was almost gastronomic!
Although we had sworn we would sleep by 10 p.m., at 11 p.m. we were still repacking our backpacks to make sure that they wouldn’t go over EasyJet’s strict luggage weight limit, and that we would only check one bag (that alone was over £30!).
Needless to say, leaving at 4 a.m. was brutal. We were barely awake when we stepped into Gatwick’s North Terminal, but we quickly came to our senses: the place was jammed packed with travelers and the messy queue in front of EasyJet’s counters seemed to be a mile long.
Fortunately, we came too late to queue and we were sent to the priority luggage drop off counter, even though we hadn’t paid for that “extra” (yes, EasyJet even makes money from passengers dropping off luggage!). We barely had time to make it to our gate, a good thirty-minute walk through the airport, before boarding the plane.
The flight was smooth and reminded me of these Australian budget airlines we took on the East Coast: same orange colour scheme, same overpriced on-board food, same tattered in-flight magazines and same tired staff.
We landed smoothly in Nantes 90 minutes later. To my surprise, we had to go through immigration (I didn’t even know Nantes Atlantique Airport did passport control!) and I was given a “Nantes” immigration stamp in my Canadian passport, which I found hilarious considering I was born there.You can see all the pic¬tures taken in Lon¬don on Flickr.
Nantes again, only four months after my last visit there. Six days as a French ahead… with Feng this time.
You can see all the pictures taken during the trip on Flickr.