By on August 14, 2010

August. Every year, one of the largest barbarian migrations is taking place: Whole Europe goes on vacation. Off to warmer climes. Off to other countries. Or off to The Continent, as they say in Great Britain. TTAC’s insular correspondent Cammy Corrigan often mentioned that she would want to write the story of her first trip to The Continent. What better time than this?

“Wake up!”

“Huh?”

“Wake up!”

“What’s going on?”

“We’re going on holiday!”

“Holiday?! Where?”

“France! Go pack your things! Quickly! We’re leaving in half an hour!”

This didn’t bode well. I hated France. I hated the food, the people, countryside, just everything. It’s not so bad now. Now, I just hate the food. And I’m still not too keen on the people, but it’s a start. In case you were wondering, that was my father. He woke me up to tell me we were going to spend two weeks in France. It’s a shame he couldn’t tell me a few days earlier, I would have more time to pack. Or get sick. But 30 minutes were all I had. I stumbled down to the car, still bleary eyed carrying my sports bag stuffed with clothes. They weren’t folded; I only had thirty minutes, remember? We all bundled into the car and set off. It was a cold, wet morning, 1985 in the UK. The inside of the car had misted up, so I couldn’t even look outside and say goodbye to the UK. I was still tired, but figured I could get a good nap on the plane. Then I noticed that were heading away from Heathrow airport.

“Dad? Why are we heading away from the airport?”

“Airport? We’re not going by plane! We’re driving there!”

Oh God! Car?! CAR?! I’m going to be stuck in a country I don’t like in a flipping box?!

“And there’s a surprise for later!”

I was frightened as to what that could be.

We pulled up into Dover port (located on the South eastern Kent coastline). There was no Chunnel yet. There was a ferry.  They hadn’t even started digging for that Chunnel yet. It’s that long ago.  My mother handed the port officer our passports and we drove onto the boat. I tried writing “Help! I’ve been kidnapped!” on the misted window, in a last ditch attempt to save myself, but could only write “Help! I’ve b…” My writing was too big.

90 minutes later, we made landfall and were in France. Calais, to be precise. We got onto the wrong side of the road, and so began one of the worst fortnights of my life.

Northern France is pretty dull. It’s mainly industrial towns, like Lille. It was like driving through a series of factories.  We eventually came to mid-France and the weather changed, dramatically. 27 degree centigrade. I was sweating like nun awaiting the results of her pregnancy test. I was stuck in a Toyota Corolla (much like the one pictured above). This Corolla was from the era of Toyota’s “fat engineering”. Mechanically, the car was bullet-proof. I couldn’t fault it. But it wasn’t the outside I was interested in. It was the interior. You see, Corollas of that era in the UK, weren’t the most contented. The windows were manual and so were the mirrors. The interior had more plastic than Jocelyn Wildenstein. But more importantly, it had no air conditioning. Let me repeat that for you, I was in 27 degree (81 F for you Yanks)  heat AND HAD NO AIR CONDITIONING!

The seats were no help. They were made of the furriest substance known to man. I had one last chance. The window. Nope, my mother had sorted that one out; she was the bean counter for the family.

“Don’t you open that window!”

“Mum, please! I’m dying here!”

“We’ll end up burning more petrol if you open that window! Close it!”

I was going to die of either heatstroke or dehydration in the name of aerodynamics. 3 days into the trip and apart from losing 3 pounds through sweating, nothing of interest happened.

The holiday could have turned out different. A few years prior my father had a Chrysler. A big brute of a machine it was, by UK standards, anyway. It had an engine at least 3 litres big and was so big, it couldn’t fit on our drive or garage. Why am I so vague on details? Because I was too young to remember it that well. In writing this story I spoke to my father to ask him more about the Chrysler. He can’t remember too much about it, other than that it was big, had a very soft ride and comfortable seats. It still didn’t have air conditioning, but at least we’d have had more space and more comfy seats to fall asleep in. Now that I’m a bit more car-savvy these days (keep your snide comments to yourself!) I showed him some pictures to try and jog his memory and the one which closely matched his memory was the Chrysler Saratoga (even though the timelines don’t match up). When I saw the picture I was taken aback. It was quite a good looking car. Well, much better looking than the Corolla. If we had that car and went around Europe, it would have been a more pleasant affair. So, why didn’t we have it any more? Well, my mother (the bean counter, if you remember) couldn’t justify a 3 litre luxo-barge which couldn’t fit in our drive and garage. I suppose on reflection, she was right. But couldn’t she tell him to get rid of it AFTER our holiday?! Anyway, back to 1985.

On the fourth day, we did meet an interesting character. We stopped at a petrol station. It was in the middle of nowhere. And I mean nowhere. The station was on a straight road. If you looked either way all you could see is road. No shops, houses, anything. My dad started talking to the guy who owned the station.

“How long does it take you to drive here for work?”

“Oh I don’t drive.”

A petrol station owner who DOESN’T drive? My dad carried on.

“You don’t drive? So you cycle here?”

“No, I walk.”

“What? You walk?!”

“Yes. I live 8km that way (he pointed).”

“So you walk 8km to open the station at 6am and then close it at mid-night, walk back another 8km and repeat it the next day?”

“Yes! Keeps me active!”

Suddenly, I felt lazy taking the bus to school. After our break, we packed up and headed off. Day 7 and we were now approaching the South of France. I’d lost so much weight through sweating I looked like Calista Flockhart. My mother was moaning at my father for being “too heavy on the accelerator and burning more fuel up” and my father was still staying optimistic through gritted teeth.

But so was I. Because in the distance I could see the beaches. Golden sands, blue waters and beautiful people. It was easy to see why so many rich and famous people buy properties here. For the first time on this trip I was somewhere near “happy”. We could spend a day at the beach and then spend the next week driving back. All of a sudden, just as the beach got closer and closer, it starting getting further and further away.

“Erm, Dad? Why are we going away from the beach?”

“I made a wrong turn. I didn’t want to come here.”

“You DIDN’T want to come here?”

You boys would LOVE that beach, because there, it had been a holiday tradition for centuries to dispense with the bikini top. Maybe that was the reason my Dad didn’t want me to go there.  I was young and there wasn’t much to see. Or was it Mum who didn’t want Dad to go?

Then where the hell DID he want to go? Well, do you remember that “surprise” he mentioned earlier?

“We’re not spending the whole 2 weeks in France! We’re driving around Europe! Next stop, Italy!”

Oh God! Our holiday in a box with no air conditioning has expanded from a country to a continent?! My heart sank. As I waved good bye to the beach we headed towards the Italian border. But that’s a story for another time…

To be continued tomorrow.

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49 Comments on “Cammy Cruises The Continent. Part 1...”


  • avatar
    Garak

    That story sounds awfully familiar. We drove from Finland to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgum and who knows where in a little over two weeks. The car was a godawful ’89 Fiat Uno with bad brakes, and of course it didn’t have AC.

    At least I was allowed to keep my window open.

    • 0 avatar
      geggamoya

      Mmm… sounds familiar. Except that it was an -89 Fiat Tipo, though im told it was a “cheapskate-special” with a Uno engine. With a trailer attached, bikes on the roof and three kids in the back, progress was not what anyone could call rapid.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      My father usually had American cars during my childhood: 80′s Malibu and Caprices, 2 76 Dart GT.

      Also had a Range Rover.

      All of them had AC. Which he turned on when the heat was worse or it was raining.

      A V8 Caprice, even the 305 ones, can easily go over the silly 85MPH “limit” when fully loaded.

      And then people say European cars are superior… LOL

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I always found the French to be polite, friendly, and helpful. What’s not to like.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      Having lived in Paris, and a small village in southern France, I strongly agree with you.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I believe the author is British. If you’ve ever seen British people traveling abroad, well… suffice to say that the supposed reputation of “ugly Americans” must be a case of mistaken identity. (In fact, I had a Greek tell me exactly this a few years ago.)

      As it happens, I recently spent two weeks in France and everyone was extremely polite and helpful. I had gone there with the preconceived notion that the French were a bunch of trolls. I expected, I nearly planned, to have a bad time. Fortunately I was deeply mistaken.

      However, the behavior of the British people I saw there was abhorrent — so bad that it was almost hard to believe it was real. I suspect they still have a chip on their shoulder for that whole losing-control-of-the-planet thing.

      The only people I saw behaving more rudely than the Brits were young men from Spain, who seem to aggressively swagger around with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. Somebody in our group mentioned “machismo” as if that excused their childish behavior. I swear those people must die of stress-induced heart failure at the age of about 29. And good riddance.

      In any case, I saw the word “holiday” instead of “vacation” and immediately grew suspicious, and when I got far enough in to see the admission that the author’s family was from the UK, I said, “Ah, that explains it,” and I am now moving on.

    • 0 avatar
      allythom

      @M1

      Yes, ALL British people transform from effete, tea-sipping aristocrats into lager fueled football hooligans the moment they leave the country. It’s best not to pay any attention to them, your decision to move on is entirely correct. In much the same way as all Americans should be assumed to be loud-mouthed, fat, stupid gun nuts and all French people must be smelly, arrogant, cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

      Now we’ve dispensed with the ridiculous national stereotypes, can we move along ?

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Get in a huff if it makes you feel better, but I recommend you attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the rain at least once. Out of 250,000+ people, the staggering, violently-drunk, vomiting, mud-covered complete retards are invariably British.

      Sooner or later somebody has to fall out as the lowest common denominator, right?

    • 0 avatar
      RentalCarGuy

      See, I once subscribed to this stereotype of British tourists, too. And for a good reason: Lots of loud, rowdy and unbearable tourists are British.
      Then one beautiful afternoon in the picturesque old town of Riga, I had an epiphany. It came in the form of a stag party centered around a guy in a bunny suit. I immediately grumbled something about those aweful, aweful British people under my breath, because, as everone knows, rowdy and drunk stag partys are something very British. And then I came close enough to hear and understand them – which was not too close, mind you, they were being annoyingly loud. And they spoke, or rather shouted, German.

      Never before was I so ashamed of my nationality.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    I too, hate the French. They refused to support us in Iraq, despite the fact that if it was not for the US during WWII, they would all be speaking German now. When we took our European vacation in the late 70′s our foray into France will be forever seared into my memory. Deodorant is apparently nonexistent in that country, and the French girls that I encountered had not yet discovered the razor. Where I live now, we get many French Canadians who drive 11 hours to vacation here, and have many of the same qualities of their European counterparts. They are arrogant, rude, and have no concept of how to drive. I can’t wait unti they all go home.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      Just to play a little devil’s advocate, if it weren’t for the French’s help in the Revolutionary War, we might still be speaking with a British accent. The French hardly have a corner on the market of arrogance.

    • 0 avatar
      allythom

      I’ve always found the French polite and helpful, provided one makes an effort to use their language (in my case, a pretty poor attempt). Shouting slowly at them in English does not generally elicit a positive response. I usually laugh out loud when my New York co-workers, apparently without irony, call the French rude.

      The French government refused to swallow the BS line that Iraq was involved in 9-11 or the later BS line that they were building weapons of mass destruction. They were correct on both counts. Unfortunately, the government of the UK was not as astute.

      I wouldn’t touch one of their cars with a 10 foot pole though, except, perhaps, a Citroen DS.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      France not wanting any part in the Iraq war turned out to be a smart move on their part. Remember the WMDs the US said compelled that attack? But hey, this is a car blog, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      On the other hand, you have to forgive him. He’s a BMW fan, no less. Aren’t those supposed to be arrogant douchebags? It fits the stereotype…

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      and he drives a car from a country that not only did not participate in the Iraq war, but openly was at war with the US in WWI and WWII!

      What an un-American traitor….

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And if their emigration policies had been as well thought-out as the British, you’d probably be living in New France, assuming you lived north of Boston or west of Harrisburg.

      Keep in mind, we’re a country because of that wonderfully nasty French political attitude, not because they believed in democracy.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I’ve never been to France so I can’t comment on the people, but who could hate the food? Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Fois Gras (well, just an ingredient but what the French do with it is amazing), Cassoulet, Steak au Poivre, and even the basic baguette are all classics, and all delicious.

  • avatar
    twotone

    France has good food, great wine, beautiful women and thousands of years of culture. It’s French cars I can’t stand (well, any French car made after 1940).

    Twotone

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      +1.
      Yes, French politics is annoying – they seem to go out of their way to stick the USA.
      But their culture produces many fine things. I’ll stop drinking French wine when they land a division or two on a Florida beach.

      • 0 avatar
        2ronnies1cup

        They don’t really. They just always go for what’s good for France. Sometimes that’s not the same as what Uncle Sam wants.

        I don’t really get the US/France animosity. To my mind, both nations have more in common than in opposition. A lot of the figures from the American Revolution also crop up in the French Revolution, and both Nations are built on very similar Republican Democratic Meritocratic foundations. Both nations share the same kind of robust self-reliant nationalism and patriotic pride.

        Wasn’t always so – during the WW2 Normandy landings, a popular GI motto was ‘Lafayette, we remember!”

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      I hate to bring politics into this, because you see it only from an all too American perspective. But couldn’t it be the other way around? That the Americans go out of their way to stick it to the rest of the world, France included?

    • 0 avatar
      RentalCarGuy

      Excuse me, dear Sir, but if you can’t stand the magnificient goddess that is the Citroen DS, you have no business talking about cars, let alone comment on a place dedicated to the truth about them.

      Aside from that, good point, and well made, too.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I like anyone who offers a good beer and a great joke.

    Speaking of which, Cammy, I’m sure that wasn’t the only back seat you’ve sweated in. I hope the Corolla was traded in before you entered university.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Great piece. The fit and finish on those Camry’s was epic. But I can’t quite zoom enough to discern panel gaps. Could you upload high res pics?

  • avatar
    obbop

    Enough independent observations and enough folks conversing about those observations CAN lead to stereotypes but I suppose the mental midgets require a footnote stating that exceptions always exist and that anything rubbing against the grain of ones’ implanted belief system demands an immediate reaction such as the one conveying a general perceived truism immediately rates a “bigot” label… making the label giver as guilty as the one labeled “bigot.”

    Such is life in our politically correct world.

    But I still like many of the Mopar cars of the mid 60s to mid 70s but my bigotry against other makes is not extreme.

    A 70 Nova with a 4-speed and a 350 would also send my liver quivering with joy.

    Heck.

    I like Corollas, also, since they are a useful appliance but too hard to live within as economic circumstances often beyond ones’ control propel a lad downwards into the depths of economic despair and a shanty, no matter how humble and cheap to rent, is unaffordable.

    I need to win some Lottery to allow retirement.

    Ever pick raspberries to earn a few bucks for food?

    The short little kids had an advantage. The berries were at eye/arm level. They out-earned the adults.

    And received more shade but that California sun sure got hot.

  • avatar
    rwb

    If course Anglos dislike French food, it’s delicious!

    “Where’s the Marmite, and why isn’t this boiled?”

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I too, hate the French. They refused to support us in Iraq, despite the fact that if it was not for the US during WWII, they would all be speaking German now. When we took our European vacation in the late 70’s our foray into France will be forever seared into my memory. Deodorant is apparently nonexistent in that country, and the French girls that I encountered had not yet discovered the razor.

    Best troll ever!

    Beautiful country & culture. Arrogant people? Perhaps….but so are we. Their cars do suck, however.

  • avatar
    Syke

    On the wonderful side of the French: Their bicycles. Nobody, but nobody made a base level road (racing) bike as good as the French. Which is why my collection is slowing being taken over my their marques.

    Cars? Delightfully strange, and I adore them . . . . . all the while quietly admitted that, someone from any other nationality would probably serve me better. Then again, if I’m just looking for bloody efficiency, I’d have spent my life driving crank window, no air conditioning, Corollas.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Look at it this way, Cammy. At least you weren’t on holiday in a Reliant Robin or Regal. It sounds like your mother would have loved the fuel efficiency of the 750cc motor, easy maintenance costs, and the lower taxes.

  • avatar
    european

    cammy, hey cammy, what did you do to the angry booth barbie?

    did you dispense with the body properly?

    *WINK WINK*

  • avatar
    obbop

    “Their cars do suck, however.”

    Knee spasming.

    Jerking, even.

    Spittle flies as I rabidly scream “BIGOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    Okay… I feel much better now.

    Thank you.

    Enjoy the show.

    Tip your server, please.

    Oh… too bad it wasn’t a Camry vice Corolla to allow word-play with the Cammy/Camry word similarities.

    Yes, I am easily amused.

    Or is “bemused” more appropriate.

    Looking forward to further details about the “holiday” or “vacation” as properly speaking English yahoos babble here in the colonies.

    I remain high atop the the Plateau de la Ozark. Not “high.”

    Elevated?

    It’s all relative here within the gravity well created by this generally nice planet infested with the human virus.

  • avatar
    Jaywalker

    Nice article – funny and subtle. Looking forward to the rest.

    Puts me in mind of my days in the American South inhabiting the backseat of a dark green ’53 Studebaker, without a/c, of course. Windows, up, of course, with little green shades “to keep us cool.” Didn’t work.

  • avatar
    ajla

    That sounds rough.

    When my family went on road trips in the 1980s, we used a GMC Vandura G2500. It had AC.

    And a television….

  • avatar
    StevenJJ

    Volvo 740 estate… windows down ;)

  • avatar
    Monty

    Ahhh…brings back memories of travelling all over eastern Canada and the upper midwest US in a series of late 50′s to early 70′s Plymouths (mostly) – no A/C during the summers when the temps could soar to 105F in southern Ontario.

    We weren’t allowed to have the side-windows rolled down, as it made too much noise and mussed my mother’s hair. Fuel efficiency was not a concern in those days, but my dad’s comfort was. Much too noisy with the windows rolled down, so he would crack the butterfly vent windows and open the kick-panel vents to make it at least tolerable.

    Of course in the late 50′s through the late 60′s our cars didn’t have seatbelts, or at least useable ones, always bench seats and no head restraints, so we would perch on our outstretched elbows on the seatback and watch as the world went by. Well, until we jostled too much and made my father angry so we would have to return to our seats in the back.

    My dad never allowed the radio to be turned on, and with no opportunity to stick our heads out of the side windows it could get boring – my mother’s answer to our fevered “punchbuggy”, “license plate bingo”, and later on, “mustang” games, would be the extremely lame “I Spy” or “20 questions” games.

    Funny enough, I remember those trips quite fondly these days!

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    It’s a j-o-k-e. I’m sure (or at least hope) we’ve all found ourselves in that unique position one time or another.

    Hopefully before the age of 40… and hopefully not in a Corolla…

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    why does the car not have a left-side-view mirror? it seems to have a right-side-view mirror.

  • avatar

    Horrible memories…

    Being confined in a car with your parents, heading to an unwanted destination as a teen? Being forced in this age to drive thousands of kilometres (kilomaters for the UK-phobic) around Europe? Real hardship…

    The car doesn’t matter. Even a V12 with full A/C can’t shield you against the boring talks of your parents and the boredom that awaits you in a hotel in a city in a country where you don’t understand a word.

    Those were the times when I started reading, the real stuff…

    P.S. @ twotone: “It’s French cars I can’t stand (well, any French car made after 1940).” You never had one, I presume.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      My own family road trip memories come from the back seat of a Grand Marquis, thankfully with A/C.

      Now, I consider the lack of DVD players and other distractions a benefit on those trips. Couped up in the car with my parents and my two little sisters we actually had to converse and spend time as a family. Yes, there was plenty of scratching and kicking amongst us below my parents’ sight lines, but in the end, it made us all closer.

      In this day in age with both parents often working, and tons of afterschool activities taking up the kids’ time, I think it is a bit sad that so many parents opt for the rear seat DVD player when picking a family vehicle. It reduces the emphasis on discipline (children should be able to sit still and quiet without a movie playing for distraction) and makes it harder to have a family discussion and bonding time on long road trips.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Corolla? Sounds luxurious, compared to the vehicle my family used for an extended tour of the Continent in 1955. Try 4 people and their travel clothes in a 2-door Hillman Estate. Delivered in Rome for the trip to follow, it had LHD, but British plates and even a RAC membership badge. To the locals in Rome, it was a “big” car. I didn’t realize the disparity in scale reference points until I saw a car like our home vehicle — 1955 Plymouth 4-dr wagon –on a street in Rome, looking like the USS Forrestal. Favorite moments in the Hillman: blowing the brake master cylinder on the Furka Pass, with my father making use of the handbrake and tiny engine and 4-on-the-tree to get us down safely; later, in England, driving along 2-lane roads with Dad hunched down in the left seat while Mom stuck her head out the right window and waved both arms at oncoming traffic. Now, imagine someone doing that (sides reversed) in a Chevy in Ohio.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    You’re such a pussy. 27°C is nothing, it’s in fact fresh. Try 32°C or more DAILY walking inside a factory.

    We had an AE82 Corolla at home too. In Venezuela they were also very decontented, but Toyota had the decency of putting AC on every of them. Our was damaged, but living in a zone of 14-28 °C is nothing to die for. And yes, those things are bombproof

    • 0 avatar
      damonK

      When does a closed car, in any circumstance, have a interior air temperature that matches the outside air temp.?

      My mom sometimes mentions taking trips in her youth to the South (US) during the ’50s and ’60s in her father’s Chevy Bigmobile, with no AC and itchy wool upholstery. The windows were left down, fortunately.

      These days, I gladly pay the penalty for an AC system (I paid to fix a portion of it recently when it began working unreliably, which left me rolling around in a sauna for about two weeks). My mom certainly appreciates AC being part of the standard equipment list of modern vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      Well, we measured about 60°C on a car parked under sun here. Then measured how long did it take to the AC system to cool it down to around 22°C.

      A car trip during summer, with the windows closed, without AC is a torture. I don’t think her father did that.

      Yes, I’m glad too that AC has become almost standard equipment in modern cars.


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