LES DEUX AMIS EN FRANCE
Road Trip! • Tuesday, June 6
In the morning, we gather our things, say goodbye to our petite chambre, and enjoy our final breakfast at Hôtel Rochambeau. We wait patiently, then, in the lobby for our taxi. Some 45 minutes later, it arrives and the driver not-so-kindly tosses our luggage into the car. It is hard to tell who is more annoyed — the cranky cab driver who does not want to be bothered by our tiny fare, or DeLinda and I for the wait. We are anxious to be on our way. We may have thought twice.
Our car finally negotiated with the rental car agency, we arrange our things in the back seat and settle in for the ride. Our journey over the next eight days will take us northwest to Normandy, southeast to Annecy, and back to Paris. DeLinda takes the helm, and I settle in as co-pilot, giant Michelin Atlas in hand.
Our itinerary reads: 979.9 kilometers; 1 day, 1 hour and 28 minutes. In total, including day trips, it will be close to 2300 kilometers (1400 miles). But, this will not be our longest road trip together; in 2003, we trekked some 2400 kilometers into West Texas and Big Bend National Park. Still, by comparison and experience, driving a rental car across a foreign country for a week seems beaucoup plus grand.
The directions, supplied by our travel agent Liz and her French counterparts at Legends Travel, read like an obscene science experiment.
9:00 AM 0.0km Depart 27 Rue Saint-Ferdinand, 75017 Paris on Place Saint-Ferdinand (North-West) for 60m
9:00 AM 0.1 km Exit roundabout onto Rue Saint-Ferdinand for 02km
9:01 AM 0.3KM Turn RIGHT (West) onto Avenue de 113 Grande Armee for 0.1km
9:01 AM 0.4 KM At roundabout, take the FOURTH exit for 0.3km towards Peripherique / Porte de Neuilly / Porte des Ternes
9:01 AM 0.7KM Exit roundabout onto Avenue de Neuilly for 0.1km
9:02 AM 0.8KM Turn RIGHT (North) onto Place de Verdun [Porte Maillot] for 30m
9:02 AM 0.9 KM Turn LEFT (West) onto Avenue Charles de Gaulle for 02km
9:02 AM 1.0 KM Bear RIGHT (West) onto N13 [Avenue Charles de Gaulle] for 2.0km
9:04 AM 3.1KM Continue (West) on Esplanade du General de Gaulle for 0.7km towards A14 / Rouen / Cergy-Pontoise / Rueil-Malson / St Germain en L. / La Garenne-Colbes
9:04 AM 3.8 Bear RIGHT (North-West) onto A14 for2.8km towards A14 / Poissy-Rouen / Cergy-Pontoise
9:06 AM 6.6 KM Toll Road, Stay on A14 (West) for 16.6km towards A14/Rouen
We have barely left Paris.
Actually, we will not leave Paris for a while.
Approximately 1.5 km into our road trip, I notice white smoke coming from under the hood. We are in the middle of a “roundabout” (a.k.a. traffic circle) at the time, with no defined lanes and too many cars to note.
“DeLinda,” I say matter-of-factly so as not to alarm her, “we’re smoking.”
“Damn right, were smoking!” she says, as she enthusiastically reaches for her pack of French cigarettes.
“No, uh, we’re smoking,” I say, pointing to the front of the car in a panic.
She sees it, finally, as do two kind souls at the next traffic light.
“Vous êtes fume! Vous êtes fume!” one of them calls out with alarm, as he heroically steps in front of our car, poking his face around the windshield.
“We know. We know,” says DeLinda, trying to figure out what to do next. I am ghost-white, deer-caught-in-the-headlights eyed, and no help at all.
Our good Samaritans, Pasquale and Henri, take over. They stop traffic for us — we are on the three-lane, very crowded Avenue de Charles de Gaulle — direct us to a parking space on the side of the road, and come to our rescue.
In patchwork English-French, we explain what happened. They ask questions. We try to respond. If there was ever a time for a cell phone, Joe, this is it. Thankfully, Pasquale is so equipped. The traffic and honking cars make it impossible for him to be gallant, so he climbs in the back of our car.
“Vous êtes Américains?” he asks.
“Oui,” we say in unison. Are we that obvious?
Pasquale is delicious. Shoulder-length dark hair, large brown eyes. Tan, a leather-corded choker, speaking with a beautiful French accent. The perfect dashing hero, and I am in love…momentarily, until I remember we are STRANDED ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD IN PARIS. Breathe. Blink.
To our surprise, the tow truck Pasquale calls for us arrives in mere minutes. He has arranged, also, for us to return to the rental office for a new car. He has arranged everything, except how to speak with the French-speaking tow truck driver after he leaves us to return to his job. We thank him profusely, with many mercis and smiles, then return to the tow truck driver and our predicament.
DeLinda is valiant in her efforts; part French, part English, part sign language, she does her best to explain what happened and defend her driving ability at the same time. But all is not lost. A charming Englishman arrives on a scooter, explains that he owns the same kind of car, and begins to discuss the options, en Français, with the driver.
Some twenty minutes later, we are back on our way — 0.0km, Depart 27 Rue Saint-Ferdinand, 75017 Paris on Place Saint-Ferdinand (North-West) for 60m; 0.1km, Exit roundabout onto Rue Saint-Ferdinand for 02km; 0.3km, Turn RIGHT (West) onto Avenue de 113 Grande Armee for 0.1km — in our new car, to Normandy!
The rest of the ride is thankfully uneventful. DeLinda and I have been driving together like this for years, so despite the foreign signs and the complex driving instructions that go on for four, single-spaced 8-1/2 x 11 pages — it is less than a three-hour drive — we are quite comfortable now that we have left Paris. I am quite comfortable now that I have left Paris.
I always forget how out-of-my-element I feel in cities. My system does not take well to their pace, their noise, their frenetic energy. I am wary and watchful in the unfamiliar settings, and it tweaks my nerves so I cannot quite get comfortable, or relax in my skin.
Unlike Paris, Honfleur feels familiar. It feels like home, and reminds me much of Essex, Connecticut or Rockport, Massachusetts. Located along the northern coast of France, it has the feel of the shoreline towns I’ve lived in most of my life: the smell of the ocean, the gulls flying overhead, the shops dotted along a main street, the small-town mannerisms of the shop keepers and townsfolk.
Perhaps that is the greatest irony of our trip! When DeLinda and I first began planning, we knew we wanted to see Paris. But, we also wanted to drive and explore France proper. I had always dreamed of visiting Mont Saint-Michel, so I chose the Normandy leg of our adventure. DeLinda’s friends spent time in southeastern France near the Alps and loved it, so she chose Annecy. In the end, our choices reminded each of us of home — Honfleur and the shoreline in Connecticut, Annecy and the eclectic sense of Austin.
At midday, we follow A14 north to A13, then A29 West to Honfleur, and find our way to our hotel, Hôtel La Diligence, set just off the main cobblestone road. It is a charming hotel, Tudor style with a small courtyard and parking lot in the center. We are greeting by a polite young middle-eastern man, our age I think, who welcomes us kindly and points us to our room on the second floor balcony.
We settle in and arrange our travel gear across the room just as we had in Paris, though there is more space here. Two twin beds (some two inches apart), a television stand, a watercloset and a bathroom for showering. The door opens onto the balcony and overlooks the courtyard and rooms across the way.
As we lie on the beds and rest a bit from our journey, it occurs to us that we are sick. The allergy sneezes that have plagued DeLinda since we arrived have taken up residence in me, and we are both sneezing and congested now.
“I suspected a few days ago,” DeLinda confesses, “that it wasn’t allergies, but I didn’t want to say anything.”
I love her anyway.
Rested up from a nap, we wander out to explore. Along the way, we stop at a chocolatier, and sample a heavenly truffle the size of a golf ball, with rich chocolate and a Calvados liquid center. Then, with cocoa powder still on our lips, we wander down cobblestone streets, past little shops and a small park, to the harbor.
This man-made harbor, or quay, is rectangular, perhaps a block wide and three blocks long, with six- and seven-story tall houses and cafés surrounding three sides, the fourth the exit to the English Channel. Colorful boat masts and marine flags, café umbrellas, and the carousel at the north end make it look like a carnival — and despite our exhaustion (and colds), we celebrate!
We take our seats beneath a red awning, in wicker chairs right next to the water and dine on the most delicate of muscles, cooked in a broth of white wine and butter. Steak frites, fresh fish, and French bread (bien sur). We toast our arrival in Honfleur with two sugar-rimmed Kir Normands and enjoy the late afternoon sun on our faces.
1/2 ounce Crème de Cassis
2 1/4 ounces Dry, Sparking Apple Cider
and a touch of Calvados
Sugar, for glass rims
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Les Deux Amis En France, ©2011 Jen Payne. All rights reserved.
Photos ©2011, Jen Payne, DeLinda Fox.