Road Trip!

We are nearing another weekend which means it is time for another out of Paris tour. This time by car!  Let me set the stage leading up to our brief day trip to the Normandy area.  Cindy was off to work early on Friday and me and the kids spent the morning relaxing. Yes, this statement is written with some inner guilt and turmoil given Cindy’s off slaving away in corporate France. Prior to lunch the kids and me visited our favorite Bulouger for sandwiches and a few pastries. It is our favorite place because they always throw in a few free sweet treats – this time it was 6 extra kruller-like donut holes with a fancy French name (croquilles maybe?).  Then we walked to a nearby park and ate while watching ducks, ducklings and koi fish battle for turf and territory. Who am I kidding, we mainly watched Charlie count and chase pigeons.  Once finished with lunch we crossed the street to another park to spend time at the playground and up our pigeon count.  This is where Stewart learned she doesn’t walk as good on her face as she does her feet. Her description while half crying and half laughing: “a spinny thing spit me off and I face-planted.”  Will, evoking his best Inpression of his Grandpa said, “but you should see the other guy.”
Then we embark on a comedy of traveling errors that we luckily haven’t yet encountered on this trip. 

Error 1:  We purchase about 45 Euros worth of train tickets to the Orly airport when they should have cost roughly 18 Euros. No comment (and also no refund). Why were we going to the Orly airport you ask?

Error 2:  we rented a car from an airport at the advice of the famed Rick Steves. This guy is usually flawless, but turns out I fear driving in the city of Paris far less than I fear wasting money and time getting to the airport car rental. I get it Mr. Steves, you were only trying to save us the hassle of city driving. Commendable, but lesson learned. 

Error 3: taking the local RER (stops at all 9 stops and un-air conditioned) vs the express (1-2 stops and air conditioned).  Minor but made the cost of the ticket feel that much more painful. 

Error 4: not realign the RER to Orly Airport required a 5-6 mile bus connection on the world’s most crowded piggy-back bus.  Here we are standing, and sweating.  For those of you who know my Brother-in-law Jeff, please let him know his doppelgänger was on the bus with us. 

Error 5:  Realizing the first four errors could have been avoided had we only known how close to Cindy’s work the Hertz location was where we returned the car. 1-2 metro stops away. Live and learn, right?

Our vehicle:  A 5-door, 5-speed Reneault Clio diesel. Lean and mean. We drove 350 miles and had at least 1/3 tank of gas left. Other than having a 0-60 speed that rivaled my bicycle, it was a perfectly effective vehicle. Here’s a picture of Will standing next to it. Interestingly, cars seemed to stay out of our way.   

 Kidding, here’s the actual car. 

If you have read my prior posts about France you may have picked up on my ongoing struggle with how to classify, uh ok, generalize, the French into a simple easy description. They are a people like none other. Paradoxical. Well, seeing their driving behaviors has left me more conflicted than ever. For my American audience, please pay close attention to the next several sentences. The French drive WONDERFULLY. The roadways are in great condition (likely because we paid 25 Euro in tolls one way for the privilege). The speed limits are typically either 50km, 70km, 90km, 110km or 130km (simple and the car’s nav reminds you when you are exceeding it). Very few people exceed the speed limit. If they are speeding they invariably had Great Britain or German license plates. Everyone drives in the right lanes and only uses the left lanes to pass. If faster traffic is coming from behind people actually move over to let it pass.  Equally amazing is trucks were not allowed in the left lane and were kept to speeds that were slower than car traffic. On uphill stretches, nearly all uphill stretches, the trucks were provided an extra right hand lane. We drove with magical flow for the entire trip. 

One more amazing thing. We drove through several tunnels that were miles long that routed through traffic UNDER cities. Imagine if we took all of the daily traffic passing by Uptown Charlotte and routed them underground while everyone going into Charlotte stayed above ground?  While you are imagining this, imagine trains filled with passengers speeding by the car traffic. I imagine our habits would change. I imagine that I’ll have to keep imagining. 

Last few points about our trip. The roads and towns in and around Normandy are amazing. Quaint, rural, scenic and filled with cyclists, farm equipment and history. If I’m fortunate enough to make it back to France I vow to spend much more time exploring these roads. Here are a few more pictures leading up to our time in Normandy. Normandy deserves a separate post so I’ve tried to divide the topics of traveling by car and the sights of Normandy. 

The location of Stewart’s face plant. Caution lad, that spring thing spins fast!  
 Cindy driving on the outskirts of Paris. Lots. Of. Concentration. 

Hey, where’s the third row in this thing?  Welcome back to the 80s kids.  Now get those heads back down into your devices. 
 Apparently my photography of the interestingness of this French McDonalds was lost on this man.  Seriously, you order from Kiosks here?  With no lines? AND they deliver the food to your table?  The French must be appalled at our American McDonalds experience.  The food was eerily the same quality (no comments on the level of quality).

This turquoise-trunked car is made mostly of plastic and is a collector’s item in France.  The name of it escapes me. 

The French road sign deer are much faster than our American road sign deer. 

  I could use more education on exactly what these road signs mean. I knew enough to make sure I was on the right road that corresponded with the red sign.   
 I could drive on roads like these all day. Speed limits were around 30mph so you might literally drive on these roads all day. 
Cool church serving a town of less than 100 people. So. Cool. 

  Another fine road, this one used as much by farm equipment and bikes as by cars. 

Next post:  Normandy. 


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