Today, it was time for Mum and I to go home. :(
The campsite's 'Guest Services Manager' - and also longest serving member of staff - Alison was kind enough to offer us a lift to Challons railway station above, and it wasn't long before we heard the tannoy's musical announcement that our bullet train was due to arrive.
Actually, while the term 'bullet train' is normally said in reference to a service that is merely very fast, this one actually did resemble a bullet:
Appropriately, some of the stuff we passed looked a bit spectacular too!
Arriving back at Nantes station, we got the lift up to the Left Luggage area, where I would later manage to have one of those enjoyable long-winded discussions throughout which neither party can understand the other's language. Having sealed our baggage in our safe, I was trying to ask what was the latest time today at which we could return to collect it, to which he kept on answering about half an hour ago.
Maybe he was trying to accuse me of breaking in after hours? My fault really, after all he was just the guy taking entrance money for the nearby toilets.
Anyway, after arrival Mum and I went across the road and tried to eat two impossibly large Mixed Grill dinners at the 'Café des 2 Gares'. The name of this establishment bothered me. Well, more accurately it summed up what was quietly messing with my head about the train station opposite:
We had been here before, ten days ago, but today this unfamiliar station was simply not the same one.
A week and a half ago Nantes station had been a much quieter place, but now it was bustling. That time we had come outside to order refreshment from the one lone coffee shop in the surrounding wasteland, but this week outside there was a sprawling metropolis, complete with tram network.
Could it be that Nantes station had itself slid down the tracks to a new location?
Hmm, well we were now dining in a place calling itself 'The Café of 2 Stations'... That second station might be a reference to the tram stop outside, or... no, I didn't like to contemplate that. And yet... ten days ago I had successfully delivered both ourselves and our luggage to the wrong airport named 'Gatwick'...
Our enormous meal over (seriously - biggest meal EVER!) I again repeated an action from the first day of our trip when I left Mum sitting on a bench in the 'new' station while I went off to explore a bit and find out what had happened to the 'old' one. In all the times that I abandoned her during this holiday, Mum never once voiced any objection. Not, I'm sure, because she was pleased to see the back of me or anything, but most likely because wandering off for ages is exactly the sort thing my Dad used to do.
(That day we moved house when I was four? My dad left us all on a railway station platform for like an entire HOUR, eventually returning at exactly the same second as the train...)
Great - so now that we knew where we would be going to catch our shuttlebus to the airport this evening, we now had the rest of the afternoon to see a bit of Nantes! Yes, this holiday wasn't over yet!
Failing to figure out how to purchase a pair of one-hour tram tickets from the automatic dispenser, I was asked for advice on the same task by a nearby German couple. Oddly, once I was faced with helping someone else, we happened upon the solution quite quickly...
So, now with our tickets in hand, Mum and I boarded tram number 1 to the intriguingly named terminus of 'François Mitterrand.' (the premier route?) The buoyant automatic announcements of our destination gave the impression that at the end of the line our vehicle really would drive right up to the exact spot where the country's 21st president would be standing, all day long, and smiling patiently at any mention of the small inconvenience of his death 17 years ago.
Along the way, Mum noted that she had expected the inside of the tram to resemble the inside of a bus, however in practice it looked more like a train:
Wherever I am in the world, I always like seeing IKEA. It looks like a great big box of wooden lego.
In the event, the former president's very own tram terminus was a dive. There wasn't even anything to photograph (see above attempt). So we crossed the tracks and got straight back on the same car to travel back again. Zut.
So, this hour had been literally all about the journey rather than the destination!
We alit from the return tram journey one stop early, because we could see a chateâu. Time was getting on, so we could not really go in, but we did take the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a coffee and lemon tea within view of it. (in retrospect, I wish we had ordered some gateâux with our chateâu)
Enjoying a cuppa outside a French coffee shop in Nantes had been just how our trip had begun ten days ago, too. As we soaked up the French sunshine, sounds and atmosphere one last time, it felt satisfying to know that we were bidding adieu to our holiday at what felt like just the right time. Around us on that corner there were French buildings, French traffic, people speaking French, and even a bicycle parked against the kerb, in just the same way as I haven't seen since childhood.
In short, there was France.
The lengthy moment passed, and with it so did the validity of our one-hour tram tickets. So we purchased them all over again for just the one stop back to the train station, and recovered our luggage. (I was pleased to find my shopping trolley token from E Leclerk working on so many luggage trolleys today too!) We wandered a bit to circumnavigate the broken lift, and successfully caught the shuttlebus back towards Nantes Atlantique airport again.
At the airport, we checked in via a much, much shorter queue than at Gatwick, and presently a guy with a wheelchair arrived to take Mum and myself downstairs.
Curiously, 'downstairs' at Nantes Airport turned out to be a domestic gate quite separate from the international one that the rest of the passengers were waiting at. When the next wheelchair guy arrived an hour later to take us to the plane, he had another lady to take also, so I wound up pushing Mum about the terminal, tarmac etc!
The flight got us home in record time again, and greeting us at the other end was one of those golf-buggy type things to drive us both right across Gatwick Airport. This was like being on a miniature railway, and we accordingly waved at other passengers as we passed! (and yes, many of them smiled and waved back!)
After I had bought Mum a train ticket for the single train stop to East Croydon where her Freedom Pass would kick in, someone else wheeled her right down to the station platform. Here we indeed caught the train to Clapham Junction where another rail employee met us off the train with another wheelchair, and took us via the overpass to our next platform, where Mum even had a ramp onto the next train!
Finally we reached our own stop, where Mum had to start walking again, first up the stairs, and then the final few minutes to home. This was the first bit of proper walking she'd done since checking our luggage in at Nantes Airport!
We got in at 11:30pm, or as the French might have expressed it an hour earlier, 23:30.
Mum and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in France. For me it's been an opportunity to encounter a new country again, which I haven't really done for 8-9 years, when I first went to Australia. The French I learnt at school seemed to come right back to me (it never did that in tests) and the simplicity of living for a while in a place where there are no memories or long-term agendas cluttering up one's attention has been refreshing, in just the way that it is supposed to be.
The people, too. We knew all our taxi drivers' names in Le Pas Opton - Damien, Angelina, Catherine, Cecille, Dominic, Simon, Christian, and of course Alison this morning. Half of them wouldn't even accept any money from us!
I've had Flight Of The Conchords' Foux Du Fa Fa song going through my head throughout, which might not have been the best way to pick up the language...
'Bonjour mon petit bureau de change.'
Overall though, for me I think the sense of the entire eleven days can be summed up by one simple word, pronounced with as thick and as wet a French accent as possible:
(Day 1: Lost In France here)
(Day 2: Culture Shop! here)
(Day 3: France Plants here)
(Day 4: All Alone On The Site here)
(Day 5: The Haunting Of Cabin 88 here)
(Day 6: Saint-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie here)
(Day 7: SunDay Service here)
(Day 8: C'est La Vie here)
(Day 9: Olonne Sea here)
(Day 10: Camp Sights here)