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EUROPE 2002

Journal of a 9-day coach holiday through 9 countries.


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This page last updated: 17th December 2007.
EUROPE 2002

day 8 Before leaving Austria, there is time for a last look through our bedroom window at the snow-capped mountains and the lush pine-forest.

The coach is full, but one of the party is called back to reception. This time it isn't me who is falsely accused of not paying their dues. The man concerned had made a phone-call from his room. He'd settled the cost last night, but it hadn't been cleared on the hotel books. He is extremely angry about it.

The matter sorted, we are on our way towards Bludenz and the Swiss motorway system. The drivers had told us earlier that there are no suitable services on the motorway for a lunch stop. As a result, most of us have paid for a "picnic lunch".

We cross the Rhine near Lustenau and later get some glimpses of Lake Constance. Some way past Zurich, we turn into a small service area for a toilet stop. One of the oldest of the party, a lady in her 80s, stumbles and falls. She is helped to her feet by a man who has been filling his car with petrol. She has a bloody nose and is a little shaken. Our own drivers seem most concerned about possible delays and the paperwork involved with an accident report. She is strong-willed, determined and makes light of the incident.

As we head on towards Basel and into France, the drivers hand out questionnaires to fill in about the holiday. We can hand them back to the driver or send them direct to Leger later. Somewhere past Strasbourg, we arrive at our picnic-spot. This is yet another small service-area with a filling station, toilets and little shop. It has a few picnic tables near some trees. The rain is pouring down so we eat our lunch on the coach. It consists of two savoury sandwiches, a small cake, a bar of chocolate, a carton of juice and a hard-boiled egg. We are asked not to open our eggs on the coach. The rain eases off and I visit the toilet. From the shop I buy another small bottle of coke, some crisps and chocolate.

Our journey continues. Most of us hand back our questionnaires to the driver who places them in an envelope. Since the scenery is boring, the driver puts on a video Pearl Harbour. As we are sitting at the front, we get the volume full on. Not everyone is enjoying the film, especially one old man, whose cantankerousness has made him unpopular since the beginning. He is shouting his objections to being made to watch this film. As an ex-soldier he objects to this American fictionalisation of European history.

We are on the motorway, somewhere not too far from Metz. The guns are blazing on the film. The shouts of protest, however, are being overpowered by shouts from the back of the coach, where there is a strong smell of burning.

The driver is forced to pull off onto the side. It seems the fanbelt has broken. We are ten yards past a rest area. The coach backs carefully into the site. We are told that we are likely to be here for at least an hour. There are picnic tables and some toilets. The sun has come out. Most of us are happy enough to get out and stretch our legs. Now we can safely open our boiled eggs.

After about an hour we are informed that help is on its way and should arrive within the next hour. The toilets are fairly basic and several of the ladies are unhappy as theirs is just a hole in the ground without a seat. There is a disabled loo inside the gents. Men take it in turn to stand guard while the ladies use that.

A van arrives after about two hours. It seems he is the local Mercedes agent. It isn't just a broken fanbelt. A part will be needed to fix the coach. It will have to be sent from Paris which is 500km away. The cantankerous chap is on his mobile-phone to Leger in the UK, but seems to be being fobbed off. Those passengers with chocolate and fruit share them with others. A French maintenance worker arrives. He empties the bins and cleans out the toilets. The ladies are especially pleased.

Three hours have elapsed and we are told that a replacement coach is being sought and should arrive soon. One of the party remarks that perhaps we were not so fortunate to have broken down so close to the rest area had we been stuck on the motorway itself, the French police would have provided transport for us to some nearby place of safety. There we would at least have been found shelter and food.

It is getting cooler. Several people request access to their suitcases so they can get an extra layer of clothes. Others are concerned that they will soon need medication some of which has to be taken with a meal.

After four hours we are given the information that a replacement coach has now been found. The man with the mobile phone is telling Leger that soon they will have a revolt on their hands!

Eventually, after five and a half hours, a French coach arrives. The sun is setting as the luggage is transferred. Our co-driver stays with the broken-down coach. An hour later we pull into the services at Luxembourg. Several hundred lorries are queuing for fuel. The coach threads its way through them into the parking area.

The services are packed with people. I join the queue and get a hot meal some sort of chicken dish with potatoes and vegetables. Christine gets a salad, a strawberry tart and fresh orange juice. I swap some of my vegetables for bits of her salad, share the juice and cut the tart in half. With a hot meal inside us, we don't feel so bad.

Across the carpark, a full moon is shining over Luxembourg. On this French coach, our seats are actually on top of the driver. It is a long straight road through the Ardennes. In the night sky is a clear view of Jupiter and Saturn.

Approaching Brussels the driver turns onto the ring-road and towards the airport. We are booked into the Novotel which we understood was on the opposite side of the airport to the Holiday Inn where we stayed last week. I'm surprised when we drive past the Holiday Inn. The coach stops outside NH Airport Hotel.

Our driver and the French driver leave the coach and go off. In a few minutes they return to say we have arrived and they are arranging for help with the luggage. We ask the porters who come, if this is the Novotel and they tell us not. Our hearts sink to think we are lost. We wait while the porters go to confirm reservations. The driver comes back and tells us this IS the right hotel. At reception, they don't even want to know our names; they just hand us the keys to our room. It is 1.30 am and we have a wake-up call booked for 7 am.

As we enter our room we know we must be at the wrong hotel. This is NH Hotels.

The room has a king-size double bed. There are phones either side of the bed and one in the toilet. Provided are not just soap, but toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, shoe-polish, razor-blade, shaving-cream, plasters &c. If only we had had this luxury sooner. We are now too tired to appreciate it and are soon asleep.

Journal Day 9 Photographs Day 8