Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mdme Lemoine and Grandchild

Freed from the Parking Garage

Ah, it was with an intense sense of relief that we negotiated the exit ramp from the car park and emerged into the gray early afternoon light. We entered the co-ordinates of the B and B with the fluent English into the SatNav and confidently set off with Kathy to find it. On our way out of town, the digital readout on the speedometer added a dot matrix warning to the yellow light that had been steadily glowing on the fuel gauge for some time. The exact phrase was "Low fuel warning", so we took this to mean, "Look, the light has been on for some time now, and its not there for back up illumination purposes so if I were you I'd stop somewhere and fill up, soon". We intended to comply with this friendly advice just as soon as we had found "La Rose des Vents", which was somewhere to the north of Caen. Driving out of town, it became obvious that we were driving out of town, and by that I mean leaving the trappings of civilisation behind, including fuel stations, but we weren't too worried because our destination was "Straight on", and we were getting amazing mileage. In fact, we had not fuelled the car since I had picked it up, a distance of well over 500 miles.

The school of thought is that Diesel cars won't sell in the US, for a variety of reasons, but I wouldn't hesitate to own one of these. It had a low Diesel throaty purr, but really went like the clappers when you needed it to, and didn't seem to lack pickup. (You can Google the Fiat Bravo 1.9 Multijet, TurboDiesel if you'd like to see more about it). After reading about it myself, I know that although we had a standard I am wondering if we had a six-speed,because if we did, neither Les or I ever put it in sixth!!

Although the light was on and the dot matrix message had appeared in the instrument cluster, we weren't worried, because it was only 6 or so miles to our destination. Once there, we'd get settled and then go somewhere for fuel. It is so easy to look back now and see what I would have done differently, but at the time, each individual event seemed to take on a life of its own and consume all our attention at that moment. I had actually been planning the trip for some months, but hesitantly, trying to marry the places we needed to be with potential lodging, and on a strict budget,but not being familiar with the area I wasn't sure how far a place may have been from another place. Generally speaking, and very general it is I know, in the US, or at least where I live, the shortest distance between two points road wise is a straight line on at least a two lane road designed for the vehicles which use it . In Europe it is not the same, once one leaves the motorways and autobahns. There, the shortest distance between two points 6 miles apart may include 5 roundabouts(which hold little fear for me, I think they are cool and we could stand to use a few more in this country), and a jaunt down curving roads that are narrow to start with, but become more of a challenge as you go through a village with cars parked on either side of the road., or in heavy traffic. Couple this with the fact that the average European(UK included) driver is far superior to the average American driver in both knowledge of the rules of the road and actual driving skills, and it is easy to get intimidated. I hadn't even factored in the language barrier. The difference in driving skills may be illustrated for me by my own neighbourhood street. I am in a residential area, and it is common for cars to be parked on both sides of the street. It is also common for one car to give way to another car when approaching each other if there is a car parked between them, I guess because the thought is there is not enough room for both. In Europe, both cars would probably proceed normally, which means rapidly, with no slacking of pace. I remember trying to keep up with my brother-in-law some years ago following him home after picking up a rental car. On several occasions I just took a deep breath and hoped for the best in negotiating the tight spaces he sailed through without a thought. Anyway all this to say that I knew that driving was going to be a challenge anyway, and it wasn't helped by having an English drive car on the Continent, so I wanted to stay as close as possible to intended points of interest.

Therefore, although I had researched potential places to stay while we were on the Continent, I had not made any reservations, my thinking also being that locking in places to stay might hinder our quest by putting us under pressure to be at a given place at a given time. The converse of that is, of course, that by committing to a location, we may have been more focused in our travels and thereby done a few things planned that we eventually left out. My basic plan was to combine the two ideas by making reservations in the morning of the evening we would need them, giving us at least an aiming point for the end of the day. To that end, I had bought a new, bargain basement, basic notebook computer with a wireless card, purchased a one month subscription to a wireless Boingo Global plan(with over 50,000 hot spots worldwide, none however where I was), and updated my Skype membership to unlimited Skypeout calling to landlines, which works really well if you have an Internet connection. The bed and breakfast we were aiming for this first day in France was one I had checked out while home,and it had wi-fi, as so many places I checked did, so I was quick to grab the brochure when we were in the Bureau de Tourism. It had an address, so into the SatNav it went as a favorite, and off we went with Kathy(the Irish voice of TomTom) reminding us to "Go straight on," or "Go left at the next roundabout, second exit" until the final "After 200 yards, you have reached your destination." Only we hadn't. This was my first close encounter with a GPS, so it was a learning experience as well. They are marvelous contraptions, but as most folks know, there are a few idiosyncrasies that one has to be aware of and learning about them on the fly in a foreign country was at times irksome. Couple that with our unfamiliarity with the nomenclature and architecture of the area, and you sometimes find us sailing past "Your destination". This is in no way meant to be a rant, just an observation from one who is no stranger to traveling, yet often felt at sea(no pun intended) during this trip.

Since we are at our destination but not, we continued on in the hope of seeing something looking remotely like a Bed and Breakfast, or as I now know, a Chambres d'Hotes, but decidedly less chipper as the fuel gauge needle had decided to play like the Titanic.

The town we were in was very small, and soon we are heading out into the countryside again. Approaching an intersection, we decided to back track. Not being the stereotypical male afraid to ask for directions I decided to go back into the small town of Basly we had just left and find someone to ask where the heck the La Rose Des Vents was. I pulled into the parking lot of what looked like an official building, hopped out and strode to the door, only to realise it was closed. We traipsed over to another hopeful looking building, but it, too, was closed. Walking back to the car, I decided to wave down a small service type van. The driver obligingly stopped and rolled down the passenger's side window. I stuck my head in the window at the same time an indignant Rottweiler the size of a grizzly stuck his head through the partition separating him from the front of the car. I removed my head before he did. The usual post-Babel routine commenced, with me smiling and nodding, from a distance, and in the end merci-ing as the man and his dogs drove away, but with us no closer to our destination or fuel. We then looked closely at the address on the brochure, studied the numbers on the houses around us, made an educated assumption that the road we were standing next to was the one we needed, and decided we were close to the b and b. Actually we were across the street from it. Here is the website:

Ah, Fluent English, a somewhat debatable term. Workable may have been a better description of her English, but helpful doesn't come close to our would be landlady's efforts in finding us place to stay. We turned through a gate in a very high wall, and entered a parking lot/courtyard.  We parked and alit, and walked towards the house, which apart from the small sign in the front, showed no sign of being a boarding house. A lady walked towards us, inquiring first in French, and as a result of our blank l00ks, in English. Here is where my plan to reserve a room as needed broke down, and why the posts are so haphazard. There were no rooms to be had at La Rose Des Vents,  which google translation tells me means  The Rose of the Winds, but could more correctly be translated, Gone with the Wind, as my plan crumbled in the face of no wifi and set in motion a sequence of spasmodic communications. The hostess offered to find us other accommodation, and disappeared into the house for a considerable time. At one point, Leslie asked me if I thought she was coming out again, and that we had misunderstood her. But, sure enough,  she did return, and with an address for us. She had obviously struck out on the place she had originally hoped for us, but had rung round and found us this place in a town called Authie, about 1o miles or so, as the drunk crow flies. She said that there was no wifi, and she didn't think the lady spoke English, but cutting our losses seemed prudent, and since the lady, you know her as Mdme.Lemoine of Le Clos Hamon, was expecting us, we said that would do nicely, and oh, by the way, where might we be able to purchase fuel. She gave us directions to go back out of town, in the direction we were originally going before we turned around, and go a couple of miles. It always amazes me how far it seems one travels when one is unsure of the locale. We followed her directions,  misunderstood a billboard for a service station, and turned off the road. I think it was here that we utilised the SatNav's Points of Interest feature, which contained fuel locations, and seeing as how we were very interested in fuel, entered the request to find the closest place. Well, it seemed we were less than two miles from our goal, which proved to be true, as we tootled past the point we had turned around earlier, went straight through the intersection we had been approaching and gratefully pulled up to a fuel pump in the coastal town of Courseulles, a town the Canadians came through on D-Day.
  After putting in 51 litres, which meant we probably had at least 6 or so remaining(over a gallon and a half)and paying our 64 Euros, we programmed in the post code for the location of Le Clos Hamon, which I think means Hamon Field, and set off once again. By this time, it was clear that it was getting late and we had decided the number one priority was lodging.
We arrived at Authie, some place I had never heard of but which saw some grim fighting, further ado, but again the final 200 yards proved to be a bit tricky. We stopped at the town square, close to the memorial for the battle in 1944, and walked over to what appeared to be newsstand, but in point of fact was a restaurant, bar, newsstand, convenience store, and meeting place, all in an area the size of a normal McDonald's seating area. We asked for directions, and with some ingenuity and inspiration on the part of the shop owner, who drew us a map, we knew where to go. In thanks, we purchased one of the local brews.  We strolled out to the car, drove past where we had asked directions, a distance of 50 yards, and drove another 5o and there we were!! 
  We were greeted at the door by a small French speaking whirlwind, see picture, who, unlike so many we had spoken to or so it SEEMED to us, was genuinely glad to see us. She showed us our rooms, chatting in French all the time, I smiling and nodding in English all the time, and then wrote on a piece of paper our cost for the night. A nod on our part sealed the deal, we paid in advance, dragged our stuff upstairs, and drew a couple of deep breaths, glad to have a place to rest our heads.
  Later, in the evening, we drove into a nearby town to buy provisions in order to make our own dinner and save a few Euros. We stopped at the most likely looking place to have cigarettes and food, made our choices and went to pay. Of course, I had no cash, as I never do, preferring to pay with my debit card. This was fine with the owner,  but my 3 or 4 Euro, about $6 purchase, didn't meet the minimum of 15 Euros in order to use a debit card! So, back I went in search of some other stuff to buy that we could use later. This done, we ran my card, but the machine ate the receipt. Running a card was a bit of an adventure in itself, as European credit cards are not signed for, but utilise PIN's in the manner of our debit cards. Consequently,there is a different procedure for using my card, and I was always handing it over in order to be swiped, then they had to do a special printout for me to sign. At last we managed to pay and escape, drive home, and eat our bread, cheese, and French TV dinners. Later I tried to find a wifi connection, and managed to find an unsecured one outside the house, as previously noted.  I am not sure why it didn't occur to me to try to find accommodation for the next night, possibly because I wasn't sure where we were going to be, since we had done very little of what I had expected to do on our first day in France.

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