Friday, April 21, 2017

Road trip in France - #AtoBChallenge

As part of our week-long holiday in France, we decided to rent a car and drive through the country. I must say that it was a very good decision to travel on our own as that way we could be more spontaneous, take detours whenever we wanted and most importantly as many photo stops as we wished. But this post is not about all that. We are more than halfway through and all I have been writing about is amazing destinations, fond memories and incredible food, people, etc.. But travelling is not just about that. It would be unfair to paint a rosy picture for the wannabe travellers. Life is full of ups and downs and so are the journeys. No journey is perfect and it took me a long time to come to terms with that. Every time something went wrong I would be terribly upset as I expected to have the smoothest, most fairytale-like holiday every single time. Well.... now it turns out that the ones where we ran into troubles, had hiccups or things went terribly wrong are the most memorable ones, remembering every minute details of what went wrong and how it went wrong. Those obstacles made us smart travellers learning from our mistakes. So I decided to write a dedicated post on all that went wrong during our Road trip. Are you game for it? Don't worry, it won't be all gloomy, you will chuckle at many of those moments the way we do when we look back.


Once we were done with Paris, we went to the car rental company to pick up our car. It being the Easter weekend, many of their staff members were on holiday, leaving just one person to handle the delivery and collection of the cars. As we completed the paperwork and collected the key, the lady in her average English told us the location of the car in the basement parking and conveyed that she wouldn't be able to come over as she doesn't have anybody to take care of the desk while she was away. We had hired a Citroen C5 as that was the only model available with the GPS navigator (Lesson no. 1, plan early and make the bookings well in advance so that you have ample amount of choices). The car was facing a wall and we had to put it in reverse gear to take it out, sounds simple, huh? We couldn't find the reverse gear!!! We had driven only in India and hubby dear had just got his UK driving license and this was his first experience of driving anywhere outside India. We flipped through the French manual to no avail. We had not enabled international roaming on our phones so didn't have any access to the saviour in every situation - Google. After struggling for many moments, I went back to their office to ask the lady, but either she was not understanding what I said or I was not understanding what she said (Lesson no. 2 - do something about language barrier). After many futile minutes, I gave up on her and went back to the parking hoping that by now Hubby would have figured out the answer, but he hadn't. We had carefully planned the journey to avoid late night driving and were already an hour late. We started losing patience as the evening evaporated and darkness started to set.


Finally, we decided to call a friend settled in Netherlands to see if he can offer some help (secretly praying that the functionalities don't differ a great deal in different countries of Europe). He came to our aide as he asked us few questions and told us the different ways a reverse gear can be in European vehicles. It turned out that we had to push the gear while putting it in first gear and that was it!!! Cursing ourselves and thanking our friend we started our journey only to run into another problem - right side drive. You drive on the right side on the road in Europe which none of us had ever done. To make matters worse the car was much larger than the ones Hubby had driven so far, at times taking it a few mm away from the footpath, not to mention, he actually put it to the left side at one of the roundabouts as we were leaving Paris. We had heard that the fines and punishment in Europe are very strict and spent the rest of our trip worrying about whether we were going to be penalised for that error.


We were completely at the mercy of our navigator which funnily took us through a lane so narrow that at one point we actually were worked up about what would we do if this large car gets stuck in it, only to realise that there was an alternative to this lane was available which far larger than it. Apparently even the navigator was enjoying our naivety at times, we cursed the voice giving us directions and partially expected it to laugh at us in response. Finally, after struggling with the right side drive, large vehicle and directions given by the whimsical GPS navigator, we arrived in the town but our adventure was not over. We were unable to locate the serviced apartment we had booked as we went round and round the same path. Again, being the Easter weekend, we had been already communicated that there wouldn't be anyone in the reception and we had to pick up our keys from a password protected locker in their reception area. With road deserted and having no one to call and ask, we were clueless about what to do. This was the moment when I hated not being in India, where there would be always someone on the road, no matter what day or time it was, and all we would have to do was roll the window down and ask them for direction. Ultimately we managed to find a no. of their centralised call centre amongst the documents and found the place which was just a few feet away from us but inside a lane.

Rest of the 3-4 days of our journey went smoothly without any troubles until we were on the last day of our trip. We had to drive 372 km from Angles-sur-l'Anglin to Mont Saint-Michel, see the Mont Saint-Michel and drive 84 km to Rennes to catch our 7 p.m. train back to Paris. Does it sound ambitious to you? Well, it didn't to us. :(  So even after a warning from the Homestay owner at Angles-sur-l'Anglin, we decided to continue with our plan (Lesson no. 3 - Listen to the warnings given by locals). When we arrived at the Mont Saint-Michel, we realised our mistake. It was already past 1 in the afternoon and the place was full of people, Easter weekend had brought a lot more than the usual crowd. Unable to let go of the beautiful place in front of us, we told ourselves that we will start our return journey at 4 pm no matter what. We had to climb up the island to reach the monastery. There was a never ending queue to reach the monastery and we had barely reached halfway when the clock showed that it was time. Sigh! With heavy hearts we turned back as not reaching Paris in time would have meant we would miss our bus to the Netherlands for rest of our holiday. (Lesson no. 4 - Always keep some buffer before important bus/train times).

Mont Saint Michel
As we headed back, we realised that one of the terms for returning the car was to fill the fuel. So even though we were running out of time, we located the first Gas station on our way to Rennes, where we had to drop the car before catching our train. I had another 'I miss India' after we entered the gas station, we had to fill the petrol ourselves. When we got down, it dawned on us that while learning very few basic french words for food, water, please, thank you we had completely forgotten to check the french word for 'Petrol'!!! (Lesson no. 5 - Learn all the important words in the language most common at your destination). We looked at both the options, trying to understand which one would be the right option and how to operate it. Our navigator was showing that we would have only 10 minutes to return the car, find and walk to the correct platform and catch the train so we gave up and continued to drive.

As we reached Rennes a new problem materialised out of thin air, where the H was the car drop centre? It was supposed to right next to the train station and we went round and round on jam-packed street trying to locate either the centre or a place to park the car. Finally, on our third round, we spotted a parking space and parked the car, deciding to search for the centre on foot (without having to worry about one-ways, U-turns and CCTV cameras). We called the collection centre and again struggled with the French-English to understand the directions given by the lady on the other end. To make it quicker we split and spent many minutes locating it. By the time we located it, returned the car our train had already left. Sad and clueless, we stood in a queue to buy new tickets. When we approached the booking personnel we explained him our situation and showed him the tickets we had booked online, surprisingly he kindly updated his system and issued us fresh tickets valid for the next train without any charges. We ran to catch the train as it was leaving in next 10 minutes.

We barely made it to the bus station to catch our bus to The Hague but the eventful day was not over yet. After boarding the bus, our hungry stomachs growled reminding us that we had forgotten to have any food after lunch. The bus had already started and as far as we knew the first stop was The Hague!! (Lesson no. 6 - Always, always, always carry energy bars or some dry snacks with you so that you don't starve yourself to death). But maybe God felt that we had learned enough lessons for the day and within couple of hours the driver took a halt to refill fuel. God bless the person who first came up with an idea to have a 24 hours store at the Fuel stations. We managed to convince the driver and got down for 5 minutes, enough to grab some food to survive through the night.

Arriving at The Hague, being picked up by the friend who had earlier helped us with the reverse gear of Citroen and gorging on the yummy breakfast at his place was the best feeling in the world!



Download this and other posts published as part of the #AtoZChallenge  - https://www.theblogchatter.com/download/off-beats-by-gayatri/


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