Sunday, July 29, 2007


Dear Readers,

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of the ages old mansion that we are calling home for the night. We are in a very small French village called Criquetot l’Esneval. We did not plan this. It was a spontaneous event that came at the end of a busy day.

It started in Paris as we began the day as we had the day before with croissants bought fresh at the corner patisserie, though I must say that for the price we were charged in Paris, they might as well have been made of gold. I made one of my daily visits to the ATM to beg for euros and to try to connect to the single unprotected WIFI node I had found the night before while sitting on the balcony of our very small flat (VSF). The signal was somewhat variable and I thought that if I tried from across the street, perhaps I could get a better connection.

It was drizzling on and off however, so places to set the laptop down in a sheltered environment were few and far between. There was a portico however just adjacent to the ATM that served the dual purpose of housing a gate into a private parking garage area and also containing several garbage cans which soon became my writing desk even though they were not the sweetest smelling of surfaces.

I did not linger, but managed to get off a couple of emails and bring up a map showing the location of the car rental agency. The map showed a location within easy walking distance, so I packed up, returned to the flat and roused the sleeping crew. After the usual initial grumbling and stumbling around, we got showered (all sharing a single suspect towel), packed and then J and I set off for the rental agency. The last thing we did was to empty our pockets of all of our unused metro tickets which we left for our absentee host and flat owner.

The rain had ceased and our walk was a pleasant jaunt through a pleasant part of SW Paris. We found our way using directions scribbled onto the back of our Michelin guide and arrived at our destination about 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled pick-up time. Only one problem – we could not find our car rental agency anywhere. Oh, there was “a” car rental location at the very spot marked on the internet map, but it was not ours. Upon seeking help from some local shop owners, we discovered that the English language was completely unheard of in this part of the world, and having left our two French linguists at the flat with all of our metro tickets, we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle.

The one common thing that everyone agree on was that the printed out invoice contained no address for the car agency, but it did reference Gare Montparnasse, the railway station, which made sense because that was where we initially told the on-line rental site that we would pick the car up. So, not having any other feasible ideas, we went in search of a taxi to take us there.

Luck was with us as we spotted one discharging its passengers and we snagged it before anyone else could do so. Shortly thereafter, we were deposited in front of the railway station and went in search of someone who might help us find the Auto Europe desk. One nice agent directed us up some escalators, down a long “hallway” alongside the tracks, up another escalator and low and behold, there was a separate little train station tucked away above and behind the big one and the name on the top of the door matched the location printed on our invoice. It was not an address per se, but rather the name of a “Hall” inside the train station. Inside was a row of familiar sounding car rental desks. We had arrived.

Unfortunately, the nice agent behind our desk began to frown as she keyed in our reservation number at her terminal. Without explanation to us, there followed a flurry of digging through desk drawers, examining envelopes full of auto keys, hurried discussions in French with her coworkers, and finally a question directed to me in heavily accented and rusty English – “How many are you?”

I held up four fingers. “How many are your bags, please?” I began to outline our luggage requirements by explaining in English and handish the number and size of our baggage retinue. This apparently was too difficult or too time consuming because she stopped me and told me that they did not have any of the “station wagons” I had reserved because they were a small branch station and it was the holiday season and there had been a run on rentals. She did say she had a car she could show us and if we thought it would work, we could have it for the same price as the one we had reserved. She then took us back to the garage and showed us a very cute little Mercedes model that we said would be fine.

So, after much travail, J and I were soon on the streets of Paris, now some distance from the flat, and needing to find our way back. Thankfully, J has a great sense of direction and good map reading skills and with only a few wrong turns (blamed on the driver, of course) we found ourselves illegally parked in a loading zone in front of the building housing the flat.

A short time later, we were loaded and on the way. What followed was stretches of freeway type driving interspersed with meanderings along small two-lane country roads that took us through farm fields and small country villages. We stopped for lunch/dinner in on such village that had a river on one side and steep bluffs on the other. Perched upon the top of one peak were the ruins of an ancient fortification. We once again experienced however, that the French like to serve food only at certain times and our haphazard schedule seems to place us at locations where all the food has been packed up for the day and none is available.

Our previous stop in a wonderfully picturesque village was one example of that. The village had no food for us and we were directed to the next village (the one with the tower) which also had no food, almost. There was a pizzeria that had some, but only because it was run by someone who was not “pure” French, but rather an émigré of some kind. We cared only that we could eat.

Then it was back on the roads and freeways looking for a place to lay our heads. We took the freeway to get closer to the coast and then jumped off to look for inns in small towns. We were rambling through the countryside with no clear sense of destination, something my dear wife would have found intolerable. I continued to hope that we would spot some kind of lodging before it got dark. We were rewarded as we passed through one small town by seeing a small sign artfully hidden from plain sight (at least for those traveling by auto) announcing a “bed and breakfast” in English for all the world to see (unless you are going by in a car).

A quick U-turn brought us back and our French-speaking envoys were dispatched. Turns out there was one room left sized for three, but the proprietress agreed to put a pallet on the floor for one more if we were agreeable. To see the room, she led us up the curved main staircase, down a hall, through a small doorway to a back staircase, up another several flights to the garret level, down a long hall where I had to duck for each ancient beam, and into a lovely room with a very sizable private bath. We sign the deal on the spot.

The remainder of the night consisted of me sitting outside at the adjacent pub and the kids going on a tour of the town. They were back before I had my second sip of beer. After sitting and talking a bit, K announced she was walking to the next village to see what it was like. A pool ensued with bets being placed on whether she would be gone ten minutes or twenty. E won with the lower number. Apparently, the sidewalk ended a bit down the road and K did not want to go further.

I bought them all Cokes and we sat around sipping and talking until two by two we drifted up to the room and clean sheets.

Now we are back to where this began. The monsoon like downpour has ended. The young bodies are stirring and it is time to go down for breakfast. Our day lays unknown ahead of us. I will upload this as soon as I can, but I don’t know when we will be reconnected with the internet.

Later then.


Blogger lime said...

well, i think you just explained, whether intentionally or not, why the french stay thin.....lack of food at convenient times.

a mercedes and a picturesque B&B...sounds like some dandy accomodations made on the fly. :)

9:31 PM, July 29, 2007  

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