To drive

Last meal: a real coffee and a croissant at a salon du thé.

Drink of choice: Martini Blanco.

Song in my head:

Alas, I have not written for three weeks, ’tis because the mother Hen hath been to visit mineself. Suffice it to say, it has been a whirlwind adventure and an interesting few weeks! Seriously, it was fun.

Our first few days were spent in Paris, where I could happily play pretentious tour guide. On our first day, we spent a lovely afternoon walking Boulevard Richard-Lenoir to the Bastille, then across to Notre Dame, via a chocolatier of course. Here is a summary of the evening’s events (after I cooked dinner for a jetlagged Henny):

– Oribia tries to prioritise Henny’s places-to-see, since the only planning Henny did before she left was assemble a seemingly random list of places in France.
– Henny constantly changes her mind.
– Oribia somehow establishes some basic plan for some car hire locations (since Henny has previously been adamant that a car will be hired).
– Oribia begins booking a car, Henny goes to bed.
– Oribia asks Henny for Mastercard and international licence to book.
– Henny tells Oribia where to find Mastercard, and says that she only has a British licence, not an international one.
– Oribia asks to see British licence, just in case it is an international licence that was only used in Britain.
– Henny says she doesn’t have it with her.
– Oribia is now the principal and evidently ONLY driver, and the card used to reserve the car must be in the principal drivers name, hence
– Oribia uses her own account to reserve a car that her mother insisted on getting, at Oribia’s disapproval, whilst not knowing where to get it, how to get it, how much it will be or with what identification she will use to drive it.
– Oribia wants to commit homocide-suicide.

Not the greatest start, but slowly strolling through Paris over the next few days eased the tension. On Wednesday, we strolled the Champs Élysées, ate macarons from La Durée, and climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe! Thursday was used for the adjective-ridden Versailles, on the way to which we were entertained by fantastic buskers with accordion and saxophone. On Good Friday, we saw the Passage of the Cross at Sacré Coeur (Henny was rapt), after which we were conned out of €80 when I virtuously thought that I could win a street bet and in all the excitement, I naturally gambled everything that was in my wallet in one fell swoop. Sigh. Mum was really nice about it though, and we went out to lunch and bitched about the French – it was great!

On the Saturday, we caught a train to Dijon where we picked up our hire car. The drive down to Cluny was delightful, and at dinner I introduced Henny to the joys of apéritifs! We stayed at a little B&B owned by lovely Brits who had us in for a drink and we didn’t leave until midnight. Crazy shenanigans! Easter Sunday morn we left to go to Taizé, which is allegedly famous for a certain type of church service, but it just looked like a tiny town hosting a ginormous camp (there were tents and cars EVERYWHERE!) with little/no people and even less existent church services. After many photos, we continued to drive down towards Provence, stopping overnight in Valence.

Monday’s driving through the Provençal countryside was wonderful: we passed through towns such as Orange and Nîmes on our way to Montpellier to spend the night. Most of the day was spent driving, however, so we didn’t get to see much of actual Montpellier. I do know for sure though that it has hideous traffic and a plethora of one-way streets. Disappointing, for now. The next day we went across the bight? … via Arles to Aix-en-Provence. The drive on the country roads was so nice (Henny has developed a talent of trying to take photographs across/in front of my face whilst I drive), and we found a quaint town called Aigues-Mortes which had a mysterious castle right in the middle of it! Shortly thereafter, we were really excited when we saw a large body of water (Mediterannean??) but it was just a lagoon.

On Wednesday, we only had to drive to Avignon, so we spent the first half of the afternoon aimlessly driving through the countryside surrounding Aix. It was a beautiful sunny day, which just made everything that much sweeter. I found us a sweet-as parking space near to our Avignon accommodation, and we spend the evening walking around the Pope’s gardens then dining al fresco. Oh the whimsy! The next morning we took our baggage to the car to find that I had in fact got a parking ticket for not paying for parking that day, so Hen went on the Pope’s Palace tour while I went to pay it (2 police stations, 5 newsagents and 1.5 hours of my short short life wasted later – IT WAS PAID!) We met up for lunch then took a quick stroll along the main street (soooo many nice clothes shops, and we ended up buying me a bag), then we were off towards Lyon.

Actually getting into Lyon was a nightmare, but after a little backtracking and some road rage (it was ALL THEM – Mum will attest, all I did was give them the Bird and only AFTER they were stupidheads) we finally got there. Late night pizza = win. Unfortunately we had to get the car back to Dijon by 4 the next day, and we were late risers, so Henny didn’t get to see much of Lyon, which was really disappointing but I think she liked the little that she did see. Took the motorway north, where the speed limit is 130km/h. So of course I was driving at that speed. Such an adrenaline rush – slowing to 110 where there was roadwork was quite a bore. Broke down 4km outside of Dijon due to lack of petrol – typical. Highway patrol had a stern word, we had to be towed, so embarrassing. Thank goodness we took out extra insurance with the rental company!

Returned the car in the nick of time, as seems to be our style. The train from Dijon to Tours was very pleasant, and we stayed overnight at a family-run hotel near the train station. The next morning, we were off to hire our second hire car – a fuschia Renault! Spent the day driving along the Loire: Amboise; Blois; Château du Chambord; Orléans; then returning close to Tours to stay with Yvonne. Had dinner at a local restaurant (not La Plage though – place of offered work) where Yvonne met us for a coffee afterwards. Hen really enjoyed staying at her B&B, and first thing next morn we went to have a geez at La Plage with Yvonne and her granddaughters. Upon being inside, I was super-glad I wasn’t going to be there for 60 hours a week, and this was reiterated by Hen in the car afterwards.

The drive to Bayeux was alright (five straight hours is never that fun), but passing through famous towns broke it up a bit: Alençon; Falaise (Will the Conq’s birthplace); etc. Instead of going straight to our hotel, we followed signs to the D-Day beaches and, after 45 minutes, found ourselves smack-bang in the middle of Omaha Beach. An old German bunker had an American memorial, and occasionally there were signs giving statistics and historical accounts. I had my first pee-in-the-bushes moment of the trip: ’twas rather exciting, and respectful (I’m helping with the regeneration)! Had dinner at a local Norman restaurant outside the cathedral.

On the Monday, we hung around Bayeux for a while: went out for breakfast; visited the tapestry (Henny finally got her Halley’s Comet postcard); walked through the ginormous cathedral; and then on the road once more. Mont St Michel was a rest-stop (lolz) which, despite its evident beauty, was disappointing for Hen who had seen it when it still had permanent inhabitants, room on the paths and no crappy souvenir shops. St Malo was our evening adventure – it is absolutely beautiful and, we were told afterwards, completely demolished during the war so all the “old-school fortifications” (my words) were actually lovingly rebuilt by the citizens post-war. Nice one: you guys passed. I had mussels nay, a BUCKET of mussels for dinner. Mum’s dinner wasn’t as impressive/gluttonous. Stayed at a hotel on a street corner where the owner was a cheeky Frenchman who eventually proposed to me because I was Australian (he pretended it was a joke, but I could see the sadness in his eyes as I walked away).

Next on the agenda was Camaret-sur-Mer, where I had HelpXed, as it were. I had left my so-called “toy” Grover there when I had gone to Paris, so obviously it was paramount to collect him. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as guilty as when I got that phone call. Poor Grover, all alone, in a strange house. I’ll never forgive myself.

Henny met my hosts and we invited them to dinner at a restaurant of their suggestion. On the way, Mum and I braved the gale-force winds at the Pointe de Pen-Hir, for the sake of some beautiful photos. Oh, and I guess to show Hen the Celtic landscape. Dinner was a Central American extravaganza, starting with home-made rums (I had one made with passionfruit, which Frédéric delightedly named ‘Whale’s Sperm’). On the way home, Mum and I saw two army men in uniform, walking along the road with massive guns. Machine guns, not large biceps. Well them too, maybe, but we were distracted by the machine guns.

The next morning we left at a reasonable time for our longest leg of the trip yet – Camaret to Angers. Via the local biscuiterie, of course, to purchase some famous buttery Breton biscuits and the long awaited Chouchen (when we eventually drank it though, it wasn’t nearly as good as the other time I’d had it!) Lunch was at a roadside house/restaurant we happened to stumble upon along a country road, which was owned by a friendly English woman and was serving the best fish and chips in … the Northern Hemisphere (I still maintain that no one can beat Doyle’s). We drove on and on, eventually getting onto another (130km/h!) motorway. Diverted into Nantes – disappointing. Drove on to Angers where I had the cranks because my computer died, but in the end my superior navigating brain won the day and we found where we were staying (it reminded me of a school camp deal though – lots of two-bedded rooms [so exciting and ‘adult’ to have a room to your friend!], and teachers would say ‘lights out at 11pm’ but everyone would be up for at least another two hours).

It was a rush the next morning to get to Tours on time to return the car, but we did it, and EVEN caught the train to Paris straight afterwards. Of course, however, this train decided to make itself 20 minutes late en route to Paris so we missed our connection to Amiens. I wangled us some new tickets (for some reason 20 minutes is acceptably late, but 30 minutes isn’t?) but we had to wait for the train. Decided to stop over at Quick across the road (worst decision ever, for many reasons) for a small bite. About to head back over to the station, and Mum’s enormous backpack which had been just at our feet, was gone. Yup. Stolen. And it had been packed for the flight i.e. containing her passport; camera; wallet; jewellery; souvenirs etc. Sucky sucky suck. Found some policemen, they directed us to the cop shop inside the station, we made a statement, called Paris lady to ask for accommodation which wasn’t available, I burst into stress tears, had to go BACK to freaking Quick to ask if anyone had handed it in and to steal some internet to cancel our Amiens reservation, Paris lady called back and said the place was available after all. No more stress.

The following day, a Friday, we found ourselves the Australian Embassy (it’s pretty sweet AND free printing!) and organised a new passport, which was issued within two hours of our application. Tax dollars well spent, DFAT. Hung out at the Eiffel Tower, caught a tourist boat along the Seine and learnt all kinds of interesting things about the bridges (seriously, I was surprised – it’s just like the seaweed tour all over again: sounds crap, was actually good!) I dragged Henny into Shakespeare & co. (I finally located it!) where I was so saddened by the vainglorious, turgid and grandiloquent clientele and staff. We instead headed to the sweet Canadian bookshop around the corner which Jus and I had found previously. Ended up buying three books (none for me).

On Saturday, we tried our luck and took a train to Compiègne, which had been #1 on Henny’s To-Do-In-France list. Got there and realised that she’d actually remembered the name, but forgotten that the castle she associated with it was in fact 40km away (Pierrefonds). Asked at the Tourist Office who said there wasn’t public transport there, so instead we strolled around Compiègne for a few hours. Tried to find some Pernod for Mum (even in a “British” pub) but to no avail. On the way to the train station to go to Amiens, we saw a sign for a bus to Pierrefonds. Nonetheless, we caught a train to Amiens, in the hope of seeing some Somme battlefields just before ANZAC Day. Went to the bus station where no one could tell us if there was a bus going to Villiers-Bretonneux, only a train (maybe it was because of their schtick accents, amirite?), so back to the train station we went to buy return tix and tickets back to Paris. Alas, the man at the counter informed us that there was trackwork on the Paris line, and the last bus OF THE NIGHT was leaving in 10 minutes (it was 5.40pm for goodness sake. What is this country: Iran?!) so not only did we have to run for that bus (back to that darn bus station), but we missed seeing the Somme fields and any of Amiens outside of the respective stations. GAH!

Finally got back to Paris, Louvred it up on the Sunday, Hen flew out on Monday.

There seemed to be no end but fuckups (‘scuse the French) on this trip! Many many travel stories will be sourced from these three weeks of continual misfortune. I don’t think the Universe wants us travelling together again, any time soom.

So I’m really sorry Mum, but I had a good time anyway and I hope you did too.


One thought on “Conduire

  1. d says:

    I love reading your posts. It provided much entertainment during my short stint of employment (amusing because head of the company is French so always had french accents around while I was reading your posts)
    Sucks about your mother’s stuff being stolen, worst travel nightmare- the inconvenience plus losing the photos!

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