EFFORTLESS TRAVEL IN FRANCE

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It is a great feeling to set out on a well-prepared journey abroad. Our evening flight arrived at Marseilles. We found the house exchange car in the car park, paid the machine and got the car out of the car park as the sunlight faded.

It is a great feeling to set out on a well-prepared journey abroad. Our evening flight arrived at Marseilles. We found the house exchange car in the car park, paid the machine and got the car out of the car park as the sunlight faded.

Despite three e-mail requests for information about the route, I was told that details would be in the car. So, indeed they were. 15 roundabouts and 29 road junctions to negotiate in the dark in a strange car with French drivers tanked up on adrenalin among other substances. Time for a quiet night in a village hotel.

Casually and confidently I drove in the morning rush hour returning the 2 finger greetings of other drivers and honking cheerfully in return to horn tributes to my superior British driving technique.

We got near our destination.

For a man, it was not a particularly challenging task. I parked near the local library in the village of La Crau Hyeres and strolled casually with Mary on my arm to use the local internet service. But the library only opened twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays. Two days to wait.

”Désolé Monsieur” the tourist office lady told me: desolated that their internet link was down and the téchnicien would not arrive until tomorrow at the earliest.

”Monsieur Brémond is well known” I assured her. ”He is a rescue nurse with the local fire and rescue service – could you ring them and find out where he lives? It is a converted wine bottle cork factory – there cannot be many of them in one village.”’

The regional tourist office manager arrived. ”Follow me” he said as he strode out to his scooter.

Leaving Mary in the car, I got onto the regional manager’s pillion seat. He set off at a furious pace with pedestrians and cars parting at the last moment as he hurtled straight at them, horn blaring. I found myself repeating the words of the Lord’s Prayer – it was strangely reassuring in English.

”Stay here” he told me as he dropped me off near the domaine. ”I go faster alone.” He reappeared from time to time from different directions – ”Pas par là” he yelled each time as he shot past – ”not that way.”

Then, back onto the pillion seat. We arrived to find Sébastien’s Father white-faced with anxiety and his Mother weeping copiously outside the exchange house. Mary and I were nearly 24 hours overdue and they had been fearing that there had been some terrible accident.

It had been a fascinating experience for us – a new board game: ”Finding Converted Wine Bottle Cork Factories.”