On Friday 14th June 2013, I, along with Megan, Edmund, Florence and Beatrice set off on a three week trip to France.
With a night in Ashford's Travelodge under our belts, we boarded the ferry at Dover on the Saturday morning. It was the first time Megan and the children had been on a ferry, and the first time Florence and Bea had left the country.
The children were excited. But more because there was a (rather dilapidated) play room on the ship than through any sense of adventure.
Having successfully arrived in France (by successfully, I mean no-one was sea sick) we set off down the motorway towards our first destination: Paris.
I'd never driven on the right hand side of the road before, and was a little bit concerned about how I'd get on. But I have to say, it's pretty straight forward - just copy everyone else! I have to say at this point, that having spent three weeks driving around France, despite mainland Europe's reputation, on the whole it was a very pleasant experience.
We camped at Sandya's campsite in Maisons-Laffitte. A suburb of Paris, with a direct rail connection into the city and good local services. Our pitch was right on the banks of the Seine, which provided constant entertainment for the children in the form of huge barges delivering goods up and down the river. Our view:
We took Sunday to get our bearings around the local area and then on Monday boarded the RER double-decker, air-conditioned rail service into Paris, getting off at the Arc de Triomphe.
Walking down the Champs Elysees we made our way past the designer shops, street-side cafes and restaurants and round the corner to the Big Palace and the Little Palace and then over the Seine.
The thing with cities is that there's so much to see. However, despite having purchased unlimited travel tickets when we'd left Maisons-Laffitte - we didn't much fancy navigating the metro with 3 under fives and a buggy, so we continued our walking tour up the other side of the river, and round to the Eiffel Tower.
Again, the children were excited. But more because of the excellent yellow slide we found at the foot of the Tower than the Tower itself.
With a stop for an ice cream and stroll back up the the Arc de Triomphe, our day in Paris was done. We'll definitely go back in the future - obviously we only scratched the surface, but that's for another time.
On the Tuesday and Wednesday the weather got very hot and humid, resulting in a rather worrying hour on Wednesday afternoon when the sky went black, the thunder crashed, the lightning flashed and the wind threatened to take our tent, all our equipment and us flying.
Chateau de Versailles was our destination on Thursday, which was amazing. The building and its grounds are on a scale unlike anything I've seen in the UK - it was huge. We spent the whole day exploring just some of the gardens, Marie Antoinette's house and catching up with a friend from Whitby who's recently moved to Paris with her family.
We would highly recommend staying in Maisons-Laffitte if you're planning a trip to Paris but don't want to stay in the city centre. On the Friday we packed up most of our stuff and enjoyed a last walk around the town.
The Friday also happened to be Frances annual Fete de la Musique, a fantastic free event which takes place on 21st June in over 100 countries - we should definitely do it in the UK! In the evening the streets of Maisons-Laffitte came alive with the sounds of local bands performing everything from reggea, jazz and funk to live DJs, French heavy metal and traditional French ensembles.
On the Saturday we travelled north west to a small village on the coast called Sainte Honorine des Pertes, a short drive from Omaha Beach. My mum had offered to provide a week in a holiday cottage if she could join our trip, which of course we accepted, and quickly settled into our new home (left hand side of this semi).
This was an entirely different location from our week in Paris. A quiet village, 2.5 miles from the nearest town, Port en Bessin. We enjoyed visiting the market and Omaha Beach on the Sunday, which we made great use of throughout the week.
Visiting Bayeux was a highlight of this week - exploring it's old-town and visiting the Botanical Gardens earlier in the week and then it's fantastic market on the Saturday we left for our next destination. We stumbled across an amazing gallery - here's a link: http://www.philippeleclerc.com. He had a huge camera in his studio, which he uses for tintype portraits and landscapes. He was kind enough to demonstrate the workings to Edmund as well as show us his hand-made pinhole cameras.
We also visited Arromanches, the site of the temporary WW2 harbour, which still stands in part to this day. Again, the children we excited. But more because of the excellent park than the sense of history surrounding the place.
After a week of relaxing in the garden or on the beach, we packed up our stuff and moved a little way down the coast to a campsite in St Aubin sur Mer. Again, it had excellent facilities, but was a bit noisier than we'd have liked.
Nevertheless, the children we excited. There was a park, with normal park stuff, as well as a choice of 5 bouncy castles, and a swimming pool! They couldn't believe it.
St Aubin sur Mer is a small town, but is surrounded by other towns and villages, all providing something of interest. The town's patisserie is excellent - frequented by ourselves throughout the week, and we also managed to get out to Le Crabe Vert for lunch on the final Friday of the trip.
If you know anything about Whitby, you'll know about the Whale Bone Arch on the west cliff. Well, just down the road from St Aubin, is Luc-sur-Mer, an equally small and sleepy town, and home to the complete skeleton of a whale, washed up on the beach in the 1800s.
Courseulles-sur-Mer provided us with another huge market to explore, before we visited Gold Beach and headed back to St Aubin for a final ice cream and to prepare ourselves for leaving.
Despite having spent three weeks on holiday, we all felt like we wanted to stay longer and further enjoy the relaxed pace of life. However, with the ferry booked and work to get on with, we set off home, driving several hours through northern France back up to Calais.
Annoyingly, having had rather mixed weather for the last week, the sun decided to come out properly on the day we departed. Fortunately, it followed us home and has remained ever since - seems like summer's going to be here for more than a day or two this year!
If you want to see some more photos from the trip, have a look at my Flickr set.