Race from Coast to Coast

I’ve got a bit behind with posts. This was our journey south through England and France:

We never learned to take account of differing altitudes while traveling throughout the U.S. so why should we behave any differently in France?

After a six a.m. start from the south coast of England (after a long haul flight from Phoenix so we were foggy-brained at best) we traversed the English Channel in our rented car on a train through a tunnel. The ensuing two-day drive from Calais to the south of France while sleep deprived was not the best plan we’d ever come up with.

Every time my head bobbed up after a quick period of unconsciousness I felt compelled to say to Jimmy do you feel sleepy yet? Not that my question would have been of any use if he’d nodded off while my head was still lolling.

The first day passed pleasantly enough. I surprised myself by navigating a poorly signed detour through Rouen. I wished to avoid getting lost in Rouen as we had on a previous trip but the toll road that was to take us effortlessly through a city of nearly three-quarters of a million people was closed.

Uncharacteristically for me I had been studying the road ahead flipping pages in the road atlas so when at a roundabout without any detour signs and where every driver seemed to have a last-minute change of heart and swerved left or right in front of us making Jimmy’s knuckles pop white on the steering wheel, I was able to shout excitedly, “Evreux! Take that exit!”

From a calm scenic toll road south from Calais, to ten minutes of frantic city traffic in Rouen, we were suddenly on a tranquil country road beside a canal. We’d bypassed the city altogether.

The very sight of the canal was calming even though I was convinced we were lost.
The very sight of the canal was calming even though I was convinced we were lost.

“This can’t be right!” said Jimmy.

Oh please, just because I make the occasional blunder. “The canal is on our right. I can see it on the map. We must be heading south,” I said with confidence so as not to alarm him. And we were heading south fortunately for me.

The day ended on a disappointing note. Phoning ahead for a hotel reservation, I was able to make myself understood but didn’t understand a word of the barrage of French flung back at me. I was rescued from my stupid-foreigner shame by a kind and patient English-speaking hotel receptionist. Three years of study down the drain. I was deflated. When flummoxed, I can only manage to say je ne comprends pas, I don’t understand. Hardly a winning way to perpetuate a conversation. We got a room, no thanks to me.

The unexpected climb began on day two of driving, day three of travel. As we ascended into the mountain ranges of the Midi-Pyrenees the temperature began to drop. How had I not released they were there and why don’t I yet think to myself if it’s cold at 1000 feet it will be much colder at 4,000 feet? There was a clearly marked mountain range on the map of the whole of France at the front of the atlas.

It started to rain and I would nudge up the dial on the heater when I thought Jimmy wasn’t looking. He’d come prepared with a jacket. I’d optimistically (that’s being kind, I was stupid really) left my coat packed in my suitcase in the trunk under other cases. It wouldn’t be easy to retrieve. Each rest stop became more torturous. “Drop me by the door or I’ll die.” Pathetic.

By mid-afternoon and at 4,000 feet, it was 1°C.  As the rain splatted on the windshield, it suddenly dawned on me that’s snow!

Snow flurries became heavy snow which turned into a blizzard – a driving horizontal blizzard. What should have been a beautiful view at our elevation was reduced to distant grey hummocks then nothing at all in white-out conditions.

I hunkered down in my seat, nudged the heater dial again and pushed my feet into the corner of the foot well next to the heater vent because what was I wearing on my feet? Flip-flops!

I’d visions of spending the night in the car in a snow drift but we quickly descended from the mountain top storm and just as quickly the temperature rose to 13°C.

We’d one more short piece of toll road to travel before reaching our B & B near the Mediterranean coast in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. “It’s only eight miles long. It should only cost a euro or two,” I said judging from previous payments on short stretches of toll road.

But as we approached the toll booth, “Seven euros! How can that be?” It soon became obvious. As we rounded a bend the magnificent modern Millau Viaduct rose before us.

The Millau Viaduct snapped from the passenger seat. Photo doesn't do it justice.
The Millau Viaduct snapped from the passenger seat. Photo doesn’t do it justice.

At a cost of 400 million euros seven artful spans of cable supported a bridge on seven pylons that drove deep into the valley, the tallest of which is higher than the Eiffel Tower. If we’d had to descend into the valley and drive through Millau it would have added perhaps another 30 minutes to an hour to our journey which had started three-and-a-half days earlier with a taxi to the airport.

We’d had enough of traveling. Both for the time saved and the thrilling view it was worth every cent of the seven euros, or centimes as you sometimes hear nostalgically around here.

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