P&O might make for swift and easy crossings (it never ceases to amaze me just how quickly they load and unload those enormous boats) but the rest of the experience can leave a bit to be desired. Are you a man? And do you want to change a nappy? Be prepared to search the entire ship in vain only to find, when the contents are beginning to leak along your arm, that the first loo you visited has a changing station cunningly disguised as an ordinary cubicle in a row of identical, unmarked cubicle doors. And as for the convoluted pricing system in the cafeteria (or 'food zone' as they like to call it), a degree in philological symbology is probably required to interpret the pricing structure, and trying to pay at the till is like answering the riddle of the Sphinx. Do you want the 'kids eat free' or the 'family meal' option? But you haven't selected a pudding. Yoghurt doesn't count as a dessert. Do you want to go back and start at the beginning?
Driving in France is a real pleasure. Apart from the fact they insist on using the wrong side of the road, almost everything about the experience is a real joy. Even the roadworks seem less stressful than those on the M25. And the great thing about driving through torrential rain is that you know the weather can only get better. Ok, so our pristine chalet/cabin was a little damp with the grass we brought in on our shoes within a matter of minutes on arrival, and a walk round the camp site had to be deferred. But by day two the sun was shining weakly from behind the milky haze of yesterday's cloud and discovering the camp shop sold fresh bread, croissants, and pain au chocolate suddenly made everything a whole lot better.
Eurocamp's little leaflet detailing the local attractions gave us plenty of inspiration. My interest in WW1 and Charlie's interest in choo-choos was neatly integrated (so we thought) by the remains of a supply line which served the troops on the Somme. It's about an hour's drive, but through some of the most resonant historical landscapes of recent history: countless allied war cemeteries, the golden angel atop the restored bassilica at Albert, and more. But arriving to find that the railway only runs on Sundays an public holidays until July was a tad disappointing to say the least. Surely a sentence in the brochure could have told us so? Or better still, the Eurocamp reps? ('Where are we?' I asked when we arrived at the site. 'France,' replied Dan... I suppose I asked for it!) Still, the enormous lego-style memorial at Thiepval puts your own problems into perspective, and we had time to visit the unique Canadian memorial at Beaumont-Hamel where – unlike so many other war-graves – the landscapes retains the shell-holes and trench-lines that were made on that fateful July morning 94 years ago. Here's a selection of the photos from the first full day of our holiday. More to come - both words and pictures - on Tuesday.
The Basillica at Albert
Thiepval, designed by Edward Lutyens
The strange landscape of Beaumont-Hamel