A family road trip from Dublin to Rome

History, treat eats and Disneyland punctuate a car trip through France and Italy

 

Holidays should be about magic moments and, a few hours into my family’s trip from Dublin to Rome, one arrived. We asked for a tour of the bridge of the Oscar Wilde, the Irish Ferries’ ship taking us and our car to France and, as Capt McKenna explained the navigation system, the first officer pointed and said “look”. It was a still, sunny afternoon and a school of dolphins raced in from starboard to jump at the bow. My kids gave a slow “wow” and watched transfixed as the dolphins went neck-and-neck with the ferry.

Next morning, the ship docked in Cherbourg and we were on the road. Our first stop was Arromanches. D Day, the Allied invasion of France on June 6th, 1944, is synonymous with this part of Normandy. At Musée du Débarquement we watched a film about the role Arromanches played in the landings. A temporary port was built just out to sea a few days into the invasion and, without the materials landed at this “Mulberry” harbour, it’s doubtful that the landings could have been sustained. Tanks, landing craft and heavy guns were on display and the kids got an eye-opening experience.

Next up was nearby Bayeux and its tapestry of events from 1064 to 1066, culminating in the Battle of Hastings. We spent 45 minutes engrossed in the 230ft cloth which gives William the Conqueror’s version of events while denigrating his rival, Harold, who he beat to the English throne. After enjoying Bayeux’s narrow streets and crumbling cathedral we headed south to overnight near Versailles. The kids were up early the next morning for a stay at Disneyland and could barely contain themselves when it came into view east of Paris.

After collecting tickets for Disneyland Park, one of the resort’s two funparks, the troops raced for the Big Thunder Mountain roller-coaster – only to find a 70-minute queue. So they took off like a runaway train to the Indiana Jones-themed roller-coaster – only to find a 60-minute queue. Before the kids got desperate, however, a Pirates of the Caribbean ride came to the rescue with its 30 minute queue. My daughters gripped me tightly as we floated through dungeons of dodgy sailors, skeletons and slimy creatures. Our boat was sent racing down a slide, drenching the adults, and then a pirate ship let loose a broadside before we could get our bearings. All very realistic and great fun.

The rest of the day was spent queueing for 20 to 30 minutes before getting two minutes of unadulterated joy on rides like Peter Pan’s Flight around Never Land. At dinnertime we left for our mobile home on the range at Davy Crockett Ranch, the resort’s holiday home park. We had booked the all-you-can-eat buffet at Crockett’s Tavern and, after a fine feast, it was back to Disneyland for more rides, a parade of Disney characters and fireworks around Sleeping Beauty’s castle. We got to bed after midnight, exhausted but elated.

Next morning we took the train from Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy and 50 minutes later were admiring the Arc de Triomphe. After a stroll down the Champs Élysées, we took a Metro for the Eiffel Tower where the kids were amazed by the 324m structure. But they were in no mood to queue for the lift so we took the stairs to level two, 115m up, and from there a lift to the summit at level three. My calf muscles were screaming halfway to level one, a climb of some 57m (that’s 347 steps), but my offspring powered ahead so I pursued them to level two. Drenched in sweat, calf muscles hopping mad and gripping the handrail (I don’t have a head for heights), sniggers from the kids greeted my arrival on level two – 674 steps from ground level. Panting furiously, I approached a bar and demanded “Perrier! Perrier!” The waiter said “No Perrier”, smiled and produced liquid refreshment.

It’s best not to describe the sensation in my stomach when the lift left for level three but things calmed down at the top as all of Paris spread out in front of me. A happy hour was passed picking out landmarks before a visit to Notre Dame and home.

The kids were up early the next morning for our last day at Disneyland – this time at Disney Studios. There were many great rides but a mock-up spaceship from the film Armageddon, for a special-effects experience, stood out. The day passed far too quickly and, after a stunt show, we hit the road at 4pm for Anduze in Provence. It was a long drive, some 760kms, and we arrived after midnight into the arms of old friends, one of whom has a father from the town at the foothills of the Cévennes Mountains.

After breakfast the next day and “une petite tour en ville” to enjoy the bonhomie of a pretty Provençal town typified by narrow streets and cafés spilling on to small squares, the afternoon was spent swimming in the River Gardon where the kids trapped tiddler trout in rock pools.

Over the next three days we visited beautiful towns, such as Uzès, but the highlight was a trip to Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct spanning the Gardon. It was built to bring water to Nîmes and, although 50km long, drops only 17m over its course – just enough to keep the water flowing. It was hot so we dived into the Gardon and let the current float us on our backs under the aqueduct’s ancient arches.

We were overnighting in the Tuscan town of Lucca and intended breaking the journey at Menton on the Riviera but rain scuppered that so we had a goo at Monte Carlo instead. After parking, we had barely taken a few steps before my son roared, “There’s a Ferrari! ” and “There’s a Lamborghini! ” My wife was taking an alarming interest in the jewellery shops so I suggested walking the Grand Prix circuit down to the harbour to look at the yachts. Now the “yachts” were not what you’d see in Dún Laoghaire harbour, these colossal vessels clearly belonged to members of the Personal Frigate Society.

We then enjoyed the spectacular drive along the Ligurian coast before rounding Genoa and arriving in Lucca. Priorità numero uno was the centro storico and Piazza Anfiteatro where we found a quiet restaurant and savaged veal in Chianti sauce.

Next morning we walked Lucca’s walls, visited Duomo di San Martino and passed the Guinigi Tower before covering the 150km to Siena where there was time to stock up on panforte and take photos at the campanile. The final push to Rome, 230kms, became a saunter among the hills, olive groves and vineyards south of Siena. It would have been nice to stay but, with next stop the Eternal City, there was much to look forward to – not to mention the drive back to Dublin.

Justin Comiskey and family were guests of Irish Ferries and Disneyland Paris

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