Opening words . . .

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Nine Days in South of France

Revved up with the excitement of arriving in Marseilles, France and the determination that we would make our nine day vacation ahead of us go slowly, we hurried through airport departures with a keen eye out for our rental car booth. Many informed us that nine days would hardly be worth it, but it was the time we had, and we would get the most from it - wring it for all its worth.

Brent’s hands grasped the steering wheel as if it was a thing already out of control. The map in my hands was stretched to its limit as I coaxed it for directions. “Talk to me, Little French Map,” I whispered to it. Our little British made car took off as if it had a will of its own, instigating the driver’s demands for quick decisions on route numbers from the map reader. I tried to allow myself some room for a mistake by believing that if we get lost - oh well, there would be lots to see and would probably add a little extra something to the adventure. A side look at the driver told me it was not a good idea to fail at getting us on the proper route for Beziers. Stick with the plan was my task at hand.

Quick glances at the map was all I would allow myself; I could not afford to miss anything along our scenic route - we were in South of France! Everything was noteworthy. The landscape - the sunflowers and oh la la, the vineyards.

We recognized the French signage. Memories from living in Senegal reminded us that though French directions had made sense to the ex-pats, the locals decided on more practical uses for them. Metal signs came in handy as functional pieces for covering holes or diverting rain into a barrel.

Consistency helped us catch on. When the arrows pointed slightly upward and out into a field, we figured it was the artsy French way of encouraging us to be adventurous and follow our imaginations. So we took the closest road. And the round-abouts were a re-acquaintance with an old process. We had been back in Canada for ten years, but I saw recollection take place in Brent as he drew near his first one.

“How do they do this - again? There's a trick to it; it’s really not as intimidating as it looks." But any hesitation to continue moving right and the cars took full advantage, butting in to get on the merry-go-round. It’s definitely not the place to be the polite Canadian. “Oh, do you want in? Here, I’ll let you in. Nice day, eh?” Glancing a few French faces with their disgusted, hands-in-the-air acknowledgements of our idiocy, and we figured it out. Bare right and drive.

The auto route is the best option to make your destination-on-time in the south of France. We approached the first tollbooth, our car moving as if on a car wash rail. We weren’t sure how it was going to go down, thinking it was a toll toss-in-a-coin cone shaped scoop like one of the few Canadian toll booths in our whole country. There was no scoop to catch coinage. We sat there with the locals lined up behind us, impatiently waiting their turn to pass through.

“Prend la carte! Prend la carte!” came from the car behind us. Brent finally got it. It was like parking in Canada. Take the ticket and pay with credit card at the end of the highway travelled to get the French guy off our tail.

I unfolded and rechecked, again, our hostess' emailed directions to our villa. She mentioned to turn "left" at the "twisty almond" tree. The first time I read it, I thought how personal and specific - made me feel like I was almost there. Now the rubber was meeting the road, another thought crossed my mind. "What does a twisty almond tree look like? What does a almond tree look like?" In all my travels, I have never seen an almond tree, and our hostess did not know that almond trees are not the average tree in Canada. This meant that we would have to depend on an "end of the road" type approach right to our Welcome mat. When the directions stopped, so would we.

Check in for Part II!