Les Vacances d’Eté—Part Five

As some of you know, we went on a trip to France this summer and we just got back a few days ago. In the last installment, I spent the overnight trip in the plane wide awake, with all hopes of sleeping being dashed by a witch of a woman who insisted on keeping her light on all night. In case you missed them, here are the first few articles about the trip:

Part One       Part Deux       Part Trois       Part IV

The trip continues, Part Cinq (that means five for all you Hot Shots fans out there who never got past two):

We got all our crap and made our way over to the rental car counter. Every time I have flown into Charles-de-Gaulle, I have taken the RER (the French suburban train) into the city. This time, we were renting a car, skirting tthe center of Paris altogether, and driving to the town of Bourges–half way down to where we rented a house for the week: Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne. I have driven in Europe before and I was looking forward to it again despite my considerable fatigue. Having grown up in suburban Detroit, I still have this thing for cars. Yes, I currently drive a Prius, but that speaks more to my tree-hugger nature than to my hot-rod alter ego (whose name is ‘Ace’). So I was a little excited (as excited as I could be at noon not having slept at all the night before) about the prospect of driving a ‘European’ car around for the week. As we were waiting for the representative to process the paperwork (why  is there so much paper? I am not buying a house here!), I examined the ’shelf talkers’ that encouraged renting a BMW SUV or a Mercedes convertible.  While I knew that those were out of our price range, ‘Ace’ began to fantasize about being behind a German hunk of metal, racing through the French countryside.  We quickly signed the papers and we were off to find our ride. “A Peugeot would be nice, or even a Renault” I said to my wife, not exposing my German fantasy (I had not given up hope for at least a Volkswagen). After a few minutes looking, we finally found it:

It was a:

Now, don’t get me wrong, Ford makes a fine car and my father used to work for the company when we lived near Detroit. Ford Europe is also a rather respected brand in France. Having said all that, it was still a Ford. So, with some angst, I was waiting to see what car our friends received. Not in a competitive sort of way but in a potentially envious sort of way. Then they rolled up.

In a Chevy.

I quipped “We flew all the way to Europe to rent two American cars.” I found it rather clever (however, not ironic, thanks to George Carlin) but it seemed that neither our friends nor my wife appreciated the contradiction (but they grew up in Wisconsin, New York State and Colorado so I am rather sure they do not have a hot-rod alter ego).

So we hit the road and headed south. As I mentioned, I have driven a few times on the highways in Europe and the fist thing you notice is that it is strikingly similar to driving in the states, so I figured it would not be a problem. Everything was going swimmingly and then we hit a toll plaza. As is our norm, we had a bunch of Euros left over from our last trip to Europe, but we thought it best to use a credit card for the toll and keep our Euros in case we needed the cash. Many years ago, a then co-worker made an observation that has stuck with me all these years. He said that life is consistently giving you little intelligence tests. That is the way I approach toll plazas—I see them as a cross between a Vegas-style gamble (trying to pick the fastest line) and a game of Tetris. I was determined that my approach would work in France as well and I would blow through the toll plaza faster than any of the Frenchies around me (don’t get me wrong, I love the French, but they are French after all). A zig here, followed by a zag, and I was quickly up to the plaza.


As a result of all the zigging, we found ourselves at an automatic toll booth, not the one that actually had an operator (as I had originally planned). No problem, I thought, since I showed those Frenchies how to maneuver the toll plaza, how tough can the toll booth be?  The machine took credit cards, so I slid ours in.  After a couple seconds, it was spit right back out: “Refusée.”  Tried again.  “Refusée.”  No problem, we will just use the cash we had.  The toll was only 2€ (Euros).  The smallest we had: 50€. Problem: the machine showed that it only took bills as large as 20€.  I could not back up (another car right behind me) and I could not get out of the door since I was so close to the booth.  Problem.  I started to panic a bit (my wife says ‘a lot’, but we will just choose to disagree on that point), and I may have even yelled at my wife (she did not like that too much, hence her incorrect assessment of my level of panic).  Finally, after honking at us a couple of times (‘Hey François, du calme, mon ami‘), the car behind us moved to another line.  I looked around and no one was very interested in helping me out, so I decided I would throw it into reverse and go to another booth, one that had an attendant.  No sooner did I back up two centimeters, there were four or five people running out at me waving their arms and screaming for me to stop (I could not help but think that had only the French reacted that quickly to the Germans…).  I explained that our credit card did not work and that all we had was a 50€ note.  “Ca marchera! Ca marchera! Allez-y!” (That will work, that’ll work! Go ahead!”)  Well, you might want to indicate that on the machine then, Pierre, just sayin’.  So I put the 50 into the machine.  Out spit 48 one Euro coins.  48.  It took another 7 minutes to scoop them all out.  One word came to mind:  Smooth.  To make it worse, the French were mocking me. The FRENCH….

Man, I wish we had been in a Volkswagen….

The saga continues:  Part Six


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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5 Responses to Les Vacances d’Eté—Part Five

  1. Thanks for putting a smile on my face (and a couple of good laughs) with my morning coffee…


  2. Pingback: A Week in Sarlat | the drunken cyclist

  3. Pingback: Canoeing Down the Dordogne | the drunken cyclist

  4. Pingback: Les Vacances d’Eté–Rocamadour | the drunken cyclist

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