A Long Trying Tour to ToursOctober 12 in France ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C
We knew it was always going to be a long day. With around 400 km of driving on unfamiliar roads to get back from Sarlat to Tours, I had not exactly been looking forward to the challenge, especially considering the propensity the Peugeot's GPS seems to have to keep directing us into the narrowest roads in France.
Although we checked and rechecked the route on Google maps, the first 75 km was still rather tortuous. On the positive side of the ledger, the difficult roads rewarded us every few minutes with absolutely delightful scenery. If at all possible, the autumn colours seem to be changing by the day, and the colour palette that is displayed is amazing. Although we have often travelled in Europe at this time of the year, we have never stayed around long enough to witness the full cycle as the trees shed all their leaves for the coming winter. Maybe one year .......
It was not until we finally hit the first toll road that we were really able to make up for some lost time. I wound the cruise control up to a little over 130 kph and was finally able to see the km start to fly by. We also started to see the first road signs pointing the way to Paris and counting down the km. In a way we felt like we were already heading home.
The next long section of road was even better - not only did it have a 130 kph speed limit, but it was free. The GPS told me that there would be no turns for over 200 km. It was a little boring, but we needed to get to Tours before 5 pm to return the rental car.
All was going very well until we saw a flashing light by the side of the freeway. It warned that there was a traffic accident ahead. On went the brakes (hoping that the cars behinds were equally alert). We were soon stationary in an endless line of vehicles. I was quite impressed that the GPS display on the dashboard had already turned red, indicating that there was a big delay on this road. I am not sure how it worked, but it was interesting to see technology in action.
For the next 30 minutes we sat there. I started to have visions of us still being there at nightfall, but eventually the line of cars started to move and we were on our way again.
It was then that another problem started to raise its ugly head - we needed fuel. Although we were still on that 200 km section of freeway, they do have "Aires" every 20 km or so. These are large rest/fuel/restaurant stops that are frequented by the huge tour buses. Every few minutes one of these awful buses pulls in to disgorge their bored passengers to make a beeline for the toilets and to buy some horrible plastic sandwiches. What a disgusting way to have a European holiday, but that is the way that millions of people get to experience France.
It is always a confusing process to purchase petrol. We have had this problem before, when for some unknown reason, many petrol stations do not seem to recognise our VISA cards. We thought we had hit the jackpot when we discovered that this one was happy with our card. It was a pity that we could not follow the rest of the instructions. I should have felt the inner feeling of foreboding doom as I happily filled the car, but I was just relieved to hear the fuel sloshing into the tank.
After filling the tank, I looked again at the instructions. The bowser already had our credit card details and I wondered how I was meant to tell it that the transaction was finished. I stood staring at the little images, until Maggie yelled at me from the car to "Get going". Maybe she was already needing another toilet stop. I climbed back in the car and continued the drive. It turned out to be an expensive mistake.
The next couple of hours went by without incident (apart from several more toilet stops for Maggie), until we were on the outskirts of Tours. Since we needed to return the car with a tankful of petrol, we needed one more petrol station. We found one without much trouble, however this one would not accept our card. In such circumstances you have to resort to "Plan B".
We noticed a friendly looking Frenchman at the next pump and indicated that we needed help. In a mixture of fractured French and sign language, we explained that our card would not work. He agreed to use his card and we immediately paid him back in cash. He seemed happy and so were we. It was another example of the fact that most human beings will treat you well if you are friendly and smile a lot.
All that remained was to safely navigate the final few km into the centre of Tours and return the car. The rental depot was right at the train station and we happened to arrive at the same time as a major train. The streets near the station were jammed with cars trying to pick people up from the station. On top of this we had no real idea of where to return our car. The stress levels started to soar again.
Fortunately I managed to find a blind alley and decided to leave the car there while Maggie walked to the rental car office. I figured that I had got it safely this far, they could figure out what to do next. A few minutes later a friendly young fellow came out, checkout the car to make sure we had not written it off and then bade us "Au Revoir". It was another chapter of our long adventure which had been successfully completed.
All that remained was to catch a train to the Gare de Tours station and then find our hotel. When we emerged from the huge central station we immediately felt home. On our left was the huge Grand Hotel which had been our home about three week's earlier. The sky was clear and the temperature was in the mid 20s - it was delightful.
A few minutes later we were searching for the nearby Hotel Linxa. We were a little underwhelmed to find that it consisted only of a door with a tiny sign. The door was firmly locked. We pushed the tiny button and eventually a middle aged guy came out to meet us.
The listing on Booking.com proudly announced "We speak your language", however this must only be true if your language is French. The guy spoke not a SINGLE word of of English. In a country where we have been told over and over that all the children learn English in school, they must all be shocking students since most of them forget everything they learn as soon as they walk out the school door.
Even more daunting that his lack of English was the fact that hotel had no lift, only a very narrow and very steep staircase leading to our room on the second floor. We were both tired and this was almost enough to break us. We dragged, pulled, heaved and lifted our luggage and then both collapsed onto the bed. This type of holiday is hard work.
A little while later, when my breath had returned, I decided to check the on line banking to see that the day's transaction had been processed correctly. To my horror I found that the petrol station had charged me over $200 for the petrol I had used. Since the car could not hold a fraction of that quantity of fuel, I have to assume that whoever used the pump next was able to fill up on my account. It was another example of the perils of petrol purchasing in a foreign country.
Although it was a rather unpleasant discovery, it was not the end of the world. We had survived the long drive, we had enjoyed a wonderful holiday and we were back in Tours. Tomorrow we will be in Paris. In the overall scheme of things, losing a $100 or so is a rather trivial matter. Perhaps we will regard it as a learning experience, in the meantime I can gain many brownie points by continually reminding Maggie that it was her fault, and that she will have to greatly reduce her spending for the rest of the trip.Read more