Hi all Bloggers, David here this week. I thought I’d write a few words on the lessons learnt while driving the roads of France. Apart from the obvious that everything is back to front from what we are used to in Australia, driving a left-hand drive isn’t the biggest learning curve one has to undertake.
There are four main types of roads in France. There are the Tollways where the speed limit is 130k, then the freeways which are mainly 110k followed by the rural roads which are mainly 90k and then the township roads which are 50k. This all seems really straightforward expect that I’ve come to the conclusion that to most French people the posted speeds are only a guide and if you drive an Audi, Mercedes or BMW they just don’t apply. It could be that the speedometers in these cars don’t work.
The road network is awesome with roads through stunning scenery and beautiful little villages but I’m constantly perplexed by the lack of signage. It’s like tourists need to have a sixth sense to get where they need to go…even the GPS gets confused on the rural and township roads. The common practise with road signs is to only put the name of the next town in the direction you are going or in some cases a major town that could be someway off but never the town that we are going to. There are two signs that you see all over France: Toutes (All)Directions and Autres (Other) Directions. These signs mean if you don’t want to be where you are then follow one of these signs and you’ll go somewhere else. This is all very logical…to a French person. In a town, there could be two or three signs pointing to Centre Ville (the town centre) but after those two or three there’s no more – apparently you should know by then where Centre Ville is!
It seems the disease of round-a-bouts is a key part of road design across France and these can be really tricky when there is a lack of signage. The signs are positioned only on each exit road leading off the round-a-bouts so you enter the round-a-bout not knowing where you are going to exit (unless the GPS actually gets it right and tells you to ‘enter round-a-bout and take the third exit’). We’ve had to do a complete lap on some of them til we find the right exit!
A major lesson learnt in that you’ll often come across a sign saying route barre (road closed) and then a deviation sign. We’ve have learnt that this generally means there will be one or two deviation signs to get you out of the town you are in then it’s up to you to find your own way to where you want to go. A couple of deviations we’ve had to go on have taken us a good half-hour in the wrong direction before getting us back on track!
The toughest lesson learnt is not to get on the the Peage (pronounced ‘payarj’ = tollway) when you don’t know how to get off. French tollways don’t accept any international credit or debit cards – only Euro accounts, cash or tollway credit arrangements. We were driving to Clermont Ferrand last week and we got to the pay station which has 12 drive-through stations with symbols over each drive-through indicating the method of payment but none seemed to indicate where to pay with money so I drove in and got stuck at a card-only machine – a boom gate in front, cars queuing up behind and a machine that wouldn’t take our cards (we tried 3 – the third flew out of my hand landing on the other side of the machine, I couldn’t get out as my door was too close to the machine so Chris had to get out and go round the car to retrieve the card) and there was no way to pay with cash. I pushed the help button marked SOS only to have some lady yelling at us in ballistic French that neither Chris nor I could understand so I thought the best solution was just to sit there with my arms crossed until she came to help. Eventually she came over, we gave her 10 euro for an 8.50 fee (she didn’t have change) and sheepishly drove off. We are now really careful to identify the lane that takes cash, we have set the GPS to take us to our destinations avoiding the Peage and have nicknamed it the ‘Biartch.’
I’ve learnt to keep some distance between us and the car in front if we have to stop on a hill – we haven’t yet seen a French person do a hand-brake start without rolling back first.
The final lesson learnt is that parking is based around squeezing your car into the smallest place possible even if that means your car is resting on the car infront or behind. It seems that no one cares either way – that’s what bumber bars are for.
As we have been house and dog-sitting this week while the owners of the property are in England we haven’t travelled much but we did visit a Chateau about 40k north called Ainay-le-Vieil. The same family have lived in it since the 14th century. It looked really nice so we thought we’d take a guided tour (the only way possible to see it). After one hour we’d seen two rooms as the tour guide wanted to make certain he gave, in French, the history of every plate, bowl, chair, bed and painting in the room. We had to leave as we were concerned that it would be a further 600 years before the tour would finish.
Other quirky French things: 1. Chris needed a 5 euro note so, at the supermarket check-out after buying a couple of things, she asked if the change could include a 5 euro note. The cashier gave a long explanation on how one had to go the service desk if one wanted specific change, then asked her to repeat what she wanted, and gave her a 5 euro note! (Not unlike us being granted a ‘rare and confidential exception’ to having to pay a 12 month fee for 4 months of Country Dancing – which we went to last week and had a lot of fun!) 2. It’s not unusual to find a shop or service place (eg. the rubbish tip) to be ‘exceptionellement’ closed just when you need it but today, we found a Creperie that was ‘exceptionellement’ open!
Another interesting week ahead – we start French lessons this week, with Chris having an hour of intensive conversation/listening/reading and me an hour and a half of getting my head around the basics, if it doesn’t explode first!
Hope you all have a great week – would love to hear what you’ve been up to.
David and Chris