Monday, July 11, 2011

On Driving in France

Day two. 

My partner has been talking about renting a car and driving across France from Lyon to Bordeaux.  This talk started weeks ago when it became evident that finding reasonable accommodations in Paris would be impossible. Consequently she decided we'd train down to Lyon then rent a car and drive to Bordeaux then on down to Aracachon where we'd rented a cottage for a week.

Hmmm, Bordeaux is on the Atlantic and Lyon in the east clear across France. Little LED lights went off, but I said nothing except to ask, as our departure date approached, if a car had been reserved.  Truth - I really didn't want to drive clear across France.  In fact I didn't want to drive down the block.  After driving in England I felt intimidated.

Nevertheless it seemed important to my sunshine so I swallowed my trepidation and kept my mouth shut.  This was to be her holiday besides we'd agreed to embark on a new holiday planning scheme; she plans one then I plan the next.

On our last day in Lyon we decided we check out if any cars were available.  Conveniently there was a EuroCar Agency just outside the Ibis Hotel lobby. In we walk and yes there is a nice car available for only 387 Euros. "A DAY!"

Well that's the end of that. The smacking sound was my jaw hitting the floor as she says we'll take it pulls out the credit card and signs the rental agreement.

In anticipation that a car might be rented we'd borrowed Monsieur
Tom Tom complete with all the required maps of Europe.  Out to the parking lot, once around the car, a nifty 5 speed Peugeot 306, hook up M. Tom and off we go.  Around the block turn left onto A6. Except there are four left hand lanes, I opt for the extreme right and drive us directly into a a six story parking garage.

Ever so cool I grap the ticket and drive straight to the exit gate on the second floor.  It won't open, I see a sharp left next to the gate, take it drive around to the back of the que and try again.  No more luck.  This time I hit the Info button and ask in my best pidgon French.

"Pardon M. parlay vour Anglais SVP?"  Please parlay vour, please! I don't voice that last thought to appear weak in front of the partner is just asking for trouble.  "I can't get the gate to open," I'm babelling but not yet sweating or swearing. That comes later.

Monsieur.  Just turn to ze left and take ze stairs!" Take the stairs!
Five minutes later  we're back on the street. The Peugeot's suspension was spared as the stairs turned out to be a ramp.  Now it was across the Rhone, then the Saone, another wrong turn on A6 which was surprisingly empty but going in the wrong direction.

Turned around going the right way and at a complete stop as every driver in Lyon was enterred in what appeared to be the Friday morning crush to get out of Dodge.  After a nervous hour of lane jumping, fast action, hard braking, very alert, attentive driving, we're off the A6 and onto a secondary highway heading for Roanne.

First, the highway system in France is so superior to anything in North America you'd think they invented the car.  Second, French drivers put us to shame.  Yes they drive fast, yes you get one shot at making your decision, but they drive.  They don't eat whoppers, drink lates, or talk on cellphones.  They drive.

Travel mugs are unheard of.  Why would you want one.  Cafe cream is a shot of espesso with a shot of cream.  It comes in a tiny cup that you sit down at a tiny table and drink.  After an indetermined amount of time, never less then 30 minutes, you may seek the attention of your waiter and beg for ze bill.  Very civilized.  Who would want to take away the coffee and race to your next destination and forego the pleasantry of just sitting around drinking high octane jump juice.  An aside.  Never had a bad cup of coffee all the time whilst in France.  Do you hear that England.

Back on the road.  The highway up to Roanne is amazing, I start to settle in feeling out the little 306.  Pretty soon I'm living dangerously passing Deuce Cevels, farm tractors and the occassional stationary bus.  Life is good.

Amazingly the very best of French engineering seems to have gone into road construction.  The pavement is smooth, corners cambered, posted speed signs reflect reality.  None of this, "oh my God it's a corner, better slow down to a crawl," postings we see in North America.

It's refreshing.

But then the fill up. 90 Euros for a tank of diesel. Next the tolls once we hit the cross country auto route, another 50 Euros.  If we did not have so far to go I'd stick to the secondary roads.  In fact I'd like to return,  pre rent an affordable car, and just travel around one area; maybe Normandy or the Central Masif.

Eventually we make Aracachon and call the cottage hostest.  More about the witch later.

Oh, just one more thing, I did not drive at all in Paris although we took two taxis.  The first one featured a lazy, driver who drove in the Formula one position - with the seat back laying on my knees in the back seat.  The entire time he chatted away on his blue tooth and stuck to the main roads, crawling trough the conjestion.

The next days driver was a true pro, drove fast made quick decisive lane changes when needed, took short cuts and back roads and got us back to the airport for 10 Euros less then the first driver.  Sweet.

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