To hell and back in Le Mini-bus
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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; kasaustralia.com.au.