Escape from Paris (How we almost missed our ferry home)

Picture this: a man’s screaming face, he is trapped in an underground carpark in a Parisian suburb. He has just spent 6 weeks in overly close proximity to his family on an alleged holiday and now it looks like this “vacation” will continue indefinitely because somebody has locked the keys (with the underground carpark fob) in the apartment.

But I have gotten ahead of myself, first a bit of background. On the previous evening myself and my wife had calculated that in order to make the journey from the not so leafy (best described as up-and-coming) suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine to the ferry port of Cherbourg, we needed to depart at 9am. Google maps had indicated a 4 hour journey (albeit sans traffic) and a 9am departure would give us two and a half hours of wiggle room for petrol and lunch breaks and a bit of leg stretching before our 3.30pm (latest) check-in.

It has to be said that I’m the one in our family who is the stickler for punctuality and my nerves were starting to tingle when my wife arrived back 15 mins late from her pre-breakfast walk and pastry pick-up. But hey, breathe deeply sure we have 150 mins to play with! An hour later I was definitely breathing very deeply as my wife realised that in an effort to achieve an efficient key drop-off, she had left us without a way to get out of our underground car park. A frantic phonecall revealed that our landlord was at least 40 mins away so intercom buttons were haphazardly being pressed trying to find a knight in shining armour who could release us from our dungeon. Then our hero (me) stepped up to the plate and found a manual override on the car park exit. It involved cutting power somewhere but needs must, who cares if Jacques couldn’t toast his croque monsieur that morning (insert gallic shrug). So after a lot of pushing and shoving we got the gate open and we were free! Now all we had to do was get the roof box on top of the car and start to pack stuff into it (note: roof-boxes are not underground car park friendly).

By the time we were ready to leave it was 9.50am but we still had 100 minutes to play with. Then we asked Google maps to plan our quickest route to Cherbourg. The previous night it had suggested going along the Paris ring-road (the infamous peripherique) and we had mentioned to the boys the possibility of seeing Parc des Princes, where PSG play. Now however there were red traffic indicators everywhere and it was clear that we would have to take a more circuitous route. The overall estimated time for the journey had also gone up to five hours. Yikes, only 40 mins to play with.

Things did not get any better once we hit the road. But travelling around Paris on a Saturday in August, what did we expect?! Every Thierry, Dominic and Herve was heading to their breezy summer retreat escaping the intense Parisian heat. Every toll-both (and there were loads of them) had a 5km tail-back, Google Maps kept sending us down alternate routes to beat the traffic but I think it was also sending thousands of other vehicles at the exact same time like a shoal of fish in the ocean.  

When we eventually managed to escape the greater Parisian area our estimated time to reach the destination was 15 mins past our latest check-in time. At this point, the mood in our car was slightly frosty and the tension could have been cut with the proverbial guillotine. Then just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, our Volvo decided to tell us that our tyre pressure was low. Now to say that our Volvo has a heightened responsibility towards all things safety-related is like saying my children are kind of fond of screentime! All you have to do is try to reverse into a moderately sized parking space and the amount of flashing buzzers, lights and sirens that go off are similar to an early 90’s rave. Not satisfied with a reactive approach to safety, the Volvo will also try to grab control of the steering when it feels you are moving out of your lane, think Kit in Knight Rider without the American vocals. Hence when the tyre-pressure warning light went off I was less than concerned and assumed that my wife would be of a similar opinion. Think again, the announcement that “I have to pull in at the next stop” sent a shiver through the collective spines of the other car occupants. At this point I had a decision to make, (i) try to talk my wife out of a totally unnecessary stop or (ii) calmly grit my teeth, nod my head and try to make the quickest pit-stop in French motorway history. For the sake of my marriage I went for the latter, luckily the service station was jam packed so we couldn’t get near the air pump, a quick kick of the tyres later and we were back on the road.

At this point we needed to travel 250 km in 2 hours on roads with a 110 km / hr speed limit (the maths didn’t quite work). Nevertheless we pressed ahead just relieved to have some consistent forward progress. With about 150 km to go we encountered a vehicle with a Carlow registration, similarly packed to the rafters and from the overwrought look on the driver’s face, in a similar situation to ourselves (i.e. dead late for the last ferry out of town). Thus began the great Hiberno-Normandy car rally, think Cannonball Run without the humour, with yours truly as Burt Reynolds and my wife as Farrah Fawcett. Thanks to the expert driving of Mrs Doyle / Fawcett we made the port at 3.35pm (leaving a string of French police voitures in our wake*), only 5 mins after cut-off and crucially they were still checking-in cars. We gave the Carlow car a satisfied fist pump as we both pulled onto the WB Yeats ferry (just like the Italian and Qatari chaps sharing the Olympic high jump gold medal). We had escaped / won / survived, never have I been so happy to board a ferry (note: I hate ferries).  

*This may not be true!

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