The Crazy Trip from London to France

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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.

On our last day in London, we checked out from our hotel in Paddington and left the backpacks at the reception to explore Hyde Park and a few other spots we had missed.

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.

London Souvenirs

London Souvenirs

London Souvenirs

London Souvenirs

London Souvenirs

London Souvenirs

London Souvenirs

Sunrise at Gatwick Airport

Sunrise at Gatwick Airport

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

13 Comments

  1. Hey Zhu,
    Sounds like a lot of work, it’s always like that for budget airlines, I almost don’t want to take them due to inconvenience and spending another day recovering (ugh I am getting so old!). But I still do, lol. So you have a stamp from your mother city on a document from your parent country, that’s quite cool!

    • I like the way you put it for the stamp! Yep, it’s exactly that. I found it funny.

      Budget airlines were the best option for us that time, but no something I would consider if we had more choices, they can be a real pain and turn out to be not that cheap.

  2. Yes, Nantes has immigration. After all, the UK is not part of Schengen, so flights to and from the UK to France have to have a passport control.

    Anyway, I digressed. I have the same problem as you. I dare not visit Southeast Asia without passing by the Philippines, as my parents are currently there. I think it would be a huge domestic faux pas if I did that.

  3. Pingback: Nantes' Tourist Spots | Correr Es Mi Destino

  4. Hey Zhu,

    It is a myth that British cuisine sucks. In the UK you find delicious fresh food and fine cuisine.
    Of course, I would never recommend fried chocolate bars and some other Brit “junk food” (that can be rather ghastly).
    I am glad you had a pleasant gastronomical surprise.

    I hope all is well with your family in France.
    Enjoyed the pictures…

    Cheers

    • I stay away from junk food as well (although a well-prepared burger can be a treat!) but you are absolutely right: British food is pretty awesome after all!

  5. Pingback: Byteful Travel Blog Carnival #16: January 23rd, 2013 : There and Back Again:

  6. I just wanted to thank you again for submitting your article to the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival. It’s been included in the 16th BT Blog Carnival which was published today: http://bit.ly/VX56LM

    So, if you could retweet, stumble, or “Like” the blog carnival, I would really appreciate it. It would also help people discover your article, too!

    Thanks again. Looking forward to your submissions next time!

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