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A ferry fast-pass to France, where the real holidays begin...

THURSDAY Royal Caribbean have a competition for travel agents to beat the world record for packing a suitcase. There are strict rules and the best Irish time so far is 43 seconds. Tempted to try, but I decline.

FRIDAY Thompson launch its summer 2012 brochure with lots of five-star luxury on offer in places such as Egypt at three-star prices, launched before summer 2011 has passed. It is a sign that summer 2011 is coming to an end.

SATURDAY Packing with the family. It is a ritual that goes back to the days we first brought our eldest, aged three by ferry to France.

This year we are going to Brittany, but the memory bank of their childhood is filled with French landscapes, French food, French beaches, French incidents.

SUNDAY In case you don't notice, fast pass has come to the world of ferries. Especially if you have small children, the wait to board can be fun, but there is nothing to beat the friendly wave of the traffic controller telling you to come on to the ship first and park in a position to get you off first.

The ferry journey is part of the French holiday experience and the Oscar Wilde looks resplendent in the harbour in Rosslare. The captain treats us to a bridge visit and talks nostalgically about the rush to ferries during the ash cloud: "It was like Christmas week, we ran out of Baileys and we ran out of port."

He says people who rediscovered ferries are back this summer to enjoy the experience. "I would swear there is someone from Irish Ferries up in Iceland kicking that volcano," he says.

Dinner is in the Berneval -- duck confit, beef Bourgogne, hake and lamb cutlets, served by Svetlana from Latvia.

Bed is the five-star luxury of stateroom 8100, the Constance Suite, with a bedroom and a second sitting room/bedroom, called after Oscar's wife, not my daughter, but the coincidence seemed star-crossed.

MONDAY Does the sun rise more quickly when you are on the ocean? We had turned left at Land's End when it popped up like a tennis ball, all blood orange, and enthusiasm for the shipload of passengers en route to Cherbourg. You blink, and wonder where the moon and the stars went, that were there three minutes ago.

We arrive rested for the drive. Roads out of Cherbourg have improved immensely since we first went, it is a seamless trip down the N13, N174, E401 for the first stop at Mont St Michel.

You cannot visit the place too often. We love the long walk around the headland at low tide and if we are staying locally, the sunset until dusk cloaks the castle.

It is still there, in all its glory despite the tourist deluge. We checked.

TUESDAY Feeling light-headed -- I had my hair cut on the Oscar Wilde.

WEDNESDAY Reasons why we love France: the people, the attitude, the way the culture of appreciation of the finer things of life seeps under your skin.