Dear Tom, about that smacking…

It was more a – I wanna smack him upside the head for being so damn stubborn at the worst moment!

(I miss France so much– just see what I made!)

Rustic French Bread.

Rustic French Bread.

Chocolate Croissants.

Chocolate Croissants.

So we arrived in Bordeaux at 10:10 p.m. We had to retrieve our luggage and get through passport control – ha! – Sorry, the French are super nice about passport control – so efficient you pretty much waltz on through unless you happen to be carrying a truffle. But I’ll save the truffle incident for later. We needed to get to the car rental office before 11 p.m. because the car rental office closed at 11 p.m.

We made it there by 10:30. We were third in line. Unfortunately there was a single harried attendant – very pretty and very competent, but harried because her computer wasn’t working properly. Therefore each interaction took approximately thirty minutes. Thus we waited in line for an hour before we managed to reach the counter. It was sort of a hair-pulling experience.

Of course the rental company did not have the car we’d reserved. In fact, they only had two cars remaining – an Opal SUV (more on that shortly) and a two-seater Maserati sports car. We, obviously, needed the SUV because we would be carrying more than two people plus luggage to My French Heaven. Our daughter planned to take the train from Paris to Bordeaux in the morning. I’d managed to contact her via email, given her the address of our hotel, and instructed her to take a taxi and meet us there. Good thing I did.

Around midnight we headed to the parking lot. Finding our rental car was not easy in the dark, but yes, I did find it. And what a car it was! It was dented and pockmarked, looked like someone had used it for target practice. Oscar ran back into the airport to tell the attendant that the car was damaged. We did not want to be held responsible for said damage. We took a series of photos and she signed a waiver saying we were not financially responsible.

Initially I planned to drive. The car had a six speed manual transmission and I’d learned to drive when I was fourteen on a ’57 Chevy pickup with no first gear. But then men will be men. Oscar wanted to drive. Besides, as it turns out, I was needed as navigator.

Patience, grasshopper. Getting to the head-smacking part.

I’d requested a GPS Nav system, of course. This one didn’t work. Well, it kinda worked, but only in French set at an ear-splitting volume. The manual was also in French. I won’t even try to describe the multiple settings on the Opal’s dashboard. Nothing made sense. I couldn’t even find the defrost button – something which became critical as soon as we drove out of the lot.

But back to the Nav system. Right. We could not get it to speak in English and we needed it to navigate to our hotel. Yes, I had the address, and I was busily downloading my phone’s GPS app while Oscar screamed at the car and pressed every button in sight. Unfortunately this was the one and only time my data plan would not work. Just when all seemed hopeless, a young man appeared. He unlocked the Maserati right next to us. I jumped out of the car and asked him if he spoke English.

He said, “A little.”

“Well, I speak a little French so we should get along fine.”

I wanted to cry – “Ayuda me!” But that’s Spanish. (I’m both terrible and good with languages. I constantly mix Spanish, French and Hebrew. My yard guys look at me like I’m insane.) However, this young man did understand Nav system.

While he couldn’t manage to switch system from French, he did explain that there were two Ibis Hotels near the airport- 1 kilometer away and 1.8 kilometers away. Both were on the same road. We were obviously staying at one of them. He managed to pull up the directions so at least we could look at the map.

So while hubs was working on the map, the young man and I chatted. He’d been living in Hong Kong for two years and now he was headed off to Perigeuex to visit his family. He asked where we were going and he made some terrific suggestions, including the farmer’s market at Perigeuex – I don’t have a photo of the market (which was exceptional) but I do have a photo of my family name. My family name is a street name in Perigeuex.

Rue Taillefer, Perigeuex, France.

Rue Taillefer, Perigeuex, France.

Anyway, we parted with kisses on the cheek, but then we met again! There was no exit from the parking lot. All had been closed for the night. Thus it was up to me to scout for an exit while Oscar and our new friend waited, hope in their hearts. I hopped out of the car and followed the perimeter. The only way out was up over the sidewalk, a quick left, and voila! Onto the exit ramp. With a wave we went our separate ways.

Of course not only was our Navigation system screaming at us in French, as in screaming at the top of its lungs, the car fogged up and we couldn’t find the defrost button so we had to roll down all the windows. There we were, two idiot Americans driving down a quiet street at 1:45 a.m. with a Navigation system blasting.

I apologize to France.

But here’s where the smacking begins. It wasn’t so much the killing of the car at every roundabout. I got it. A six speed with a twitchy first gear. Plus twenty-four hours of travel and it was already approaching 2 a.m. It was what happened next that caused me to become semi-homicidal.

We found the first Ibis. Easy peasy. My husband pulled up in front.

I says, yes, this is what I says, “Wait here, let me check to see if this is our hotel.”

I jumped out of the car and ran into the lobby. I found an elderly man, very sweet, who not only spoke zero English, I don’t think he spoke French. If he spoke French, it was no kinda French I’d ever heard.

In desperation I reach into my bag and pull out our printed reservation. (Thank god I’d thought to bring it!) And here comes Oscar with the bags. All the bags. OMG. (No, not head-smacking yet.)

Here’s what I gleaned via sign language. We did not have a reservation at this Ibis. Possibly we had a reservation at the second Ibis. But when he called to find out, it was obvious the person on the other end of the phone didn’t understand a word he said. So he drew us a map to the next Ibis. All we had to do was drive another 0.8 kilometers and we would be there, and we would beg for a room, if need be.

I thanked him, said goodnight, (don’t think he understood), and we hauled the bags to the car. Oscar had parked behind the locking gate. At that moment it was open, but still I says, yes, I says, “Let’s get going before he closes the gate. The next hotel is just down the road.”

But Oscar says, (and here’s where the head-smacking part comes in), “I want to work on the Nav system.”

Me- “Not now. Let’s get going.”

Oscar- “But I want to fix this now.”

Me- “No. We don’t need it. We have a map. We’re almost there. Let’s go.”

Oscar- “No, I’m fixing this damn thing.”

Me- “Oh for god’s sake, it’s two in the morning. Let’s go. You can fix it later.”

Oscar- “I’m fixing it now.”

Me- “Just shut it off and let’s go.”

Oscar- “No.”

So I fumed and I fumed and after twenty bloody minutes sans (French) results, Oscar finally says, “Okay, let’s go.” And he pulls out of the parking space and voila! (French) The electric gate is closed and locked.

I am now in full-blown homicidal mode. (See what I mean?) And I have a migraine.

I jump from the car and squeeze through the metal slats in the gate. I run into the lobby. It’s empty. There is no one there. There is no one anywhere.

I yell~ “Monsieur!” “Monsieur!” “Monsieur!”

Nobody. I am freaking out. My head is pounding and I do not want to sleep in the car.

I run outside to tell Oscar the man has vanished. Then I run back in~ “Monsieur! Monsieur! La porte! La porte!”

Magically he reappears. I’m not sure he understands la porte but he does realize he’s locked us in. He runs to press a button to open the gate. I hug him and kiss both cheeks and thank him profusely. He is my crazy illiterate savior. I would marry him if I could. He probably wouldn’t be stupid enough to…

Using his map we made it to the next Ibis in no time. I says, yes, I says, “Do not park behind the gate until I have made certain we have a room.”

To his credit Oscar parked on the street.

The door was locked but there was a call button. A young woman let me in. She spoke no English but thank god she did speak French. They’d already canceled our reservation as it was well after midnight, but she did have a room. I checked in. He parked the car. The room was a closet, the bathroom half a closet, but it was clean and quiet, the little mattress on my little twin cot was comfortable. I collapsed onto the bed and slept the sleep of the dead.

Much credit to Ibis Hotels. They are a cheap chain but they offer the best breakfast you can imagine. I was thinking… if this is what I’m served in a cheapie airport hotel, imagine what the rest of France will be like!

A follow up: Oscar did eventually get the Nav system switched to English. We also managed to decrease the volume and figure out the defrost/air conditioning system. And, most important, our daughter emerged from a taxi right on time!

Now, if Oscar could only have stopped killing the car in every roundabout and if he’d actually listened to the Nav system’s directions, all would have been right with our world.

Another follow up: The next day my other daughter and son-in-law arrived in Bordeaux. Their rental car too was unavailable but they were given instead a BMW with an automatic transmission. We rode with them whenever possible.

The best part? We made it to Stephane’s – Chateau St. Jacques Calon. Magnifique!

The entrance to our beautiful room at Chateau St. Jacques Calon.

The entrance to our beautiful room at Chateau St. Jacques Calon.

Tomorrow – Stephane takes us touring!

13 thoughts on “Dear Tom, about that smacking…

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    If your marriage survived that…

    I’m sure [she says soothingly] you were both very tired when you weren’t listening to each other.

    Oh, and I’m sure YOU are right – and should have been driving. I learned to drive, manual transmission, Mexico City traffic, and glorietas (what we called what you call roundabouts). It is in the bones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. juliabarrett Post author

      Our marriage has survived lots worse, Alicia! Listening? Oscar don’t need no stinkin’ listening! But yeah, I’ve been driving longer than he’s been driving, especially a stick shift. Much credit to you – driving in Mexico City? I’d die!


  2. Greta van der Rol

    Cringe. I can soooo relate to this. But it’s your story, not mine. And you obviously survived to tell about. These are the travel tales you remember FOREVAH. (PS when we decided to hire a car for UK, we bought a map for UK and loaded it onto our Tom Tom and took it to Europe with us. He gave us directions in his nice Australian accent. Lovely!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. juliabarrett Post author

      LOL! Greta, we shoulda brought our Tom Tom. We thought about it but the rental company assured us all Navs were in English and had English directions! Would have been the smart thing to do though! And yes, it’s these annoying adventures that make for great memories.


    1. juliabarrett Post author

      It was just so frustrating and so funny at the same time. You do what you gotta do, Marylin! I think it’s a myth that men are logical creatures. Or maybe it’s commonsense they lack? :))


    1. juliabarrett Post author

      Ah, but Roberta, France is much easier than England! In France they drive on the correct side of the road. And they have nice expressways and two-lane roads and very few speeders. I guess the police are now quite strict with speeders. Chateau St. Jacques Calon was totally worth every second of aggravation. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!



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