The gal at Alamo/Enterprise Car Rental had to ask me three times before I understood that the manual shift car I had reserved was not available but they could substitute an automatic… if I could drive one.
Automatic shift cars are a rarity here in Europe. So I suppose it’s not a strange question. But certainly unexpected.
I said, with a straight face, yes I could drive an automatic.
And off we went.
The train got us to Montpellier in the south of France. Why? I am not quite sure myself. Except friends have continually asked me if I have gone to Montpellier yet. Pourquoi pas? And it’s centrally located so off we went.
Fortunately the trip ended up much better than the first few minutes portended. Off the train, we went straight to the tram to get to the apartment. The ticket machines are usually easy but this one stumped me at first – you have to figure out if it’s a touch screen, has buttons or a roller… And a very nice young lady came over and offered to help. Two tickets. Pay by Visa because the coin drop slot is crammed with coins and doesn’t work. No worries. I have the wonderful UNFCU card with a code. The helper moved back a few steps while I entered the code – but I wondered if she was watching? But – no worries as you can’t use the code without the card or the card without the code. Got our two tickets, receipt and put my card in my wallet and into my pocket as usual. Then we waited for the next tram.
Stepped on the tram behind a lady who suddenly stopped to ask a question of a rider – something about where was the tram going…. I pushed her a bit to get by but she didn’t budge. Then I looked at this other gal, standing behind her and directly next to me. Instinctively, I put my hand down on my wallet pocket and stared her in the eye. The two women left before the tram started and we took seats. My friend and I decided we had been targeted – helpful one memorized the code. One made me stop, the other was going to pick my pocket. Except it didn’t work.
But the experience cast a pall on the trip. The apartment was not located in the poshest neighborhood and so we looked at everyone we passed with skepticism. And then the security gate for the apartment complex was broken. Our nervousness was heightened. A wonderful Madame Baghdad was the contact person for the apartment (the owners live in Paris) and she was delightful. Upset at our story and assured us that we were in a safe neighborhood. And we calmed down and had a great visit.
And yes, driving the automatic Citroen was easy. I could find reverse. Even conquered the GPS system. And relied on my Google Maps directions.
The weather was tremendous – after forecasts of 100% chance of rain for all four days at all the cities we were going to visit, it turned out to be high clouds and strong winds. Perfect.
Aix-En-Provence was the first venture afield. It’s a sweet old town. The Mediterranean influence – everything looked Italian! And the buildings had balconies that reminded me of New Orleans. Another Marche de Noel for my list. It was just a walking day, enjoying the city in general. We came upon construction. Surprise. But this time when we looked down, we didn’t see a ditch with pipes or wires. Two archeologists were brushing dirt off a skeleton. Not a sight we often see in the US. But as I expressed my surprise to a French friend, she said it happens all the time… and I guess that makes sense here. Pn the way back we drove through Nimes to catch a glimpse of the Roman arena.
Next day off to Carcassonne. I visited in 2012. Loved it. Missed the church, however, and always wanted to go back. It was new for my friend. The walled city was started by the Romans in the 4th centuy and then added to – the church was built in the 1300’s. Much of it fell apart over the centuries until in the 1800s a fellow named Viollet-le-Duc came along to restore. And create. He also rebuilt the chateau at Pierrefonds. An architect and historian, he had his own ideas about what medieval should look like. And it wasn’t necessarily accurate. But pretty. At Carcassonne he put pointy towers on everything – while the current historians suggest flatter tops. But I can’t complain too much because Viollet-le-Duc is the reason we can visit a restored city and not a pile of rubble.
The church has great energy. You enter into the nave where it was started in Romanesque form and move to the transept for the transformation to Gothic.
After those two trips, our range was limited. Our rental had a max of 750 kilometres. We were pushing 630k. So we went to a town close by – Aigues-Mortes. Dead Water. It was built by St. Louis (king Louis IX) as his port for the Crusades. The church was finished in 1289. The first tower mid 1200’s. And then the ramparts and eventually the city filled in. But in 200 years or so, it was replaced by other ports. The canals to the sea filled in and you couldn’t get anywhere. It looked like it has sat there undisturbed for centuries. I don’t think even Viollet-le-Duc put his stamp on it.
I finally found a toilette like I remember from when we visited France when I was 9. years old!
Thanksgiving in France
Because we were out and about, we had a very low key Thanksgiving. We had cassoulet for lunch in Carcassonne. My first. And pretty good at that. And in the evening we chanced upon a great restaurant where I had filet du porc with a butternut squash side. At least the color was thanksgiving! I didn’t miss the turkey but did miss the pie. My French friend has promised me a pumpkin pie. I gave me my mom’s recipe last year and she made it for her family. While they professed to liking it, I think it might be an acquired taste.