To hell and back in Le Mini-bus

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MOLLY O’BRIEN

I spent last sum­mer road-trip­ping along the Cote d’Azur, through the French coun­try­side and up to Paris with my par­ents and three sib­lings. We weaved along the cliffs of the Mediter­ranean coast, were in­tox­i­cated by aro­mas in the per­fume cap­i­tal of Grasse, stayed in a me­dieval cas­tle in Aix-en-Provence, and sam­pled some of the world’s best pinot in Beaune.

There was only one prob­lem. We failed to re­alise just how dif­fi­cult nav­i­gat­ing the mer­ci­less roads of France would be.

Be­ing a fam­ily of six, we weren’t el­i­gi­ble for a regular hire car and in­stead were of­fered a 10-seater peo­ple mover by the amused em­ploy­ees of a Nice car-hire firm.

Not so skilled in heavy-ve­hi­cle han­dling, my Dad’s knuck­les turned white shortly af­ter our de­par­ture and re­mained that way for the en­tire trip, grip­ping the steer­ing wheel of what we dubbed Le Mini-bus. He was con­vinced those cliffs held a fate for us sim­i­lar to Grace Kelly’s.

Our frus­tra­tions be­gan some­where be­tween Avi­gnon and Va­lence when traf­fic was at a stand­still and we were 100 cars deep into a con­gested toll point. The lo­cals re­sponded by turn­ing off their en­gines and spread­ing out a pic­nic on their bon­nets, smok­ing cig­a­rettes and read­ing the pa­per. We re­sponded by hav­ing an anx­i­ety attack.

When we fi­nally reached the toll col­lec­tor, Dad fran­ti­cally waved a 50 note out­side the car win­dow. The toll­man pored lazily over his news­pa­per, re­fus­ing to open the boom gate. It was a long time be­fore we dis­cov­ered we needed ex­act change to end the stand­off.

We were most cer­tainly prime can­di­dates to be fea­tured on France’s Worst Driv­ers when we hor­i­zon­tally cut across eight lanes to make an exit or else suf­fer a fur­ther 100km of un­fa­mil­iar road.

But the tip­ping point of hys­te­ria was when we hit peak hour in Lyon. We could have been mis­taken for lo­cals, shout­ing ex­ple­tives from the win­dows and shak­ing our fists rather than tak­ing in the beau­ti­ful scenery.

Af­ter a bit of Google-ing and a phone call, we learnt that there was a hire car drop-off sta­tion in Di­jon. And it was ad­ja­cent to the rail sta­tion. With a train that would take us di­rectly to Paris. A unan­i­mous de­ci­sion was made and we bid Le Mini-bus an un­emo­tional good­bye.

My Dad re­gained colour in his knuck­les shortly af­ter. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­ Columnists re­ceive a pair of qual­ity beach tow­els in bright prints and struc­tured geo­met­rics from popular life­style brand KAS Australia. $119.90 ($59.95 each). More: (02) 8035 2244; kasaus­

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