30.12.2012 - 30.12.2012 15 °C
Unfortunatley for us we could not secure the apartment we booked in Provence unless we agreed to arrive by 11:00 am as this was the only time on the weekend that the agent was available to let us in. This meant we had to get on the road around seven this morning. The kids did great with getting up on time and starting off in the dark before anyone else in the village of Salisgne (where we stayed near Carcassonne) had started to stir.
I had decided the night before not to totally alienate my children (they weren't already alienated by the 7:00 am departure you ask?!) and accept the fact that I would need to take some toll roads rather than require the kids to be out the door by 5:30 am. I was feeling pretty good as we drove down the highway watching the sunrise on a cloudless morning while listening with Hannah to a CBC podcast (Abby was catching up on beauty sleep). That blissful state evaporated for a short time when we came to the end of our second toll road a couple of hours later.
All the toll booths we have encountered in France are fully automated and on today's journey nearly all of them were exclusively credit card payment. That was not a real concern since I had paid numerous tolls already using my North American cards. I slipped my toll ticket into the machine to see what the damage was. The last 50 kilometers had cost me just over five euros. I slipped in my credit card and it was immediately spit out. It was rejected. I inserted my second card and it was rejected as well. Fortunately, it was early in the morning and no one had slipped in behind me so I thought I would just back up and go to the one automated booth available where I could pay by cash--not a good idea. I backed up a few feet and realized that I needed my ticket for the next booth. I pulled forward again to see if I could retrieve it. The machine was not only not going to give it back, but it wasn't even going to acknowldege that I had even given it a ticket--oh great! Fortunately there is a button you can push by which you can talk to a live operator located somewhere in France. My French was not up to the challenge when someone finally did answer. Hannah leaned over and started to translate for her helpless father. The first question Hannah was asked was where she came from, to which she naturally answered Canada: an answer the attendant was neither expecting or knew what do with (it was quite funny actually). The information she really wanted was regarding where we had entered the toll road.This is where it got a bit complicated. I know we came from Carcassone and had gone through Narbonne, but then we exited our first toll road and travelled some distance before entering the next toll road. I had no recollection of what the originating city or direction was (it could have been any city up to a a couple of hundred kilometers back). The person on the help line kept on firing city names at me to which I kept replying Narbonne. She finally decided we had come from Marsailles which meant a cool 22 euros. At about this time a car pulled up behind us and the agitated driver started yelling that I just needed to put in my ticket and credit card. Meanwhile the online attendant said she would send a real live person to our location. The driver behind us continued to yell at us and despite us motioning for him to try one of the other half a dozen empty booths he stayed hoping his angst would somehow make our credit card machine work.
If you need to know, I was no longer at a place of inner harmony. The kids were quite aware of this even though I wasn't congnizant that I was givng them a tutorial in some colourful language that I had stowed away in my deep subconscious for such an occassion. Oh well, my kids have known for quite a while now that the elementary school teacher-librarian persona never fit their dad.
Eventually the driver behind us gave up in disgust, leaving us with one last tirade punctuated by a honk and chirping of tire rubber as he backed out of our toll line. A few minutes later a person did actually show up. We ended up with the same list of questions and a puzzled look to why we would be reluctanct to pay 20 euros. She finally pulled open the toll machine and retrieved our ticket and understood the problem in an instant. I provided the cash (unbenownest to me, I was spending some of the coinage associated with Abby's birthday present--but Abby can speak of that later). It was with great relief that we finally got moving again. It became clear why I had budgeted an hour or so of buffer time to make our 11:00 am rendez-vous.
The rest of the trip was made entertaining by our portable GPS (you may recall our car's build in GPS is on the fritz) which seemed to be suffering from short term memory loss as it would forget to tell us about a roundabout and then mention it a little later, only to stop to recalculate again. Fortunately the beautiful landscape, brillaint blue sky and sunshine more than compensated for the several u-turns required.
Finding our apartment in the small town of Cavaillon was a breeze and Isabelle, the rental agent, was there when we arrived. The apartment was exactly as we had viewed on the Internet--it will be a wonderful home. We are in the centre of the old village and only a few hundred meters from a bluff that abruptly rises 180 meters above the town. After we settled in we walked up the stone steps built in the 15th century to reach the seventh century chapel at the top. The weather was warm and the view fantastic.
We picked up some bread on the way home and decided to relax. Since our change of life circumstance over the past several days the kids have developed an affinity for nostalgic activities of earlier years. They came across a French monopoly board and the game brought back memories of playing with their grandpa, so we sat down and played a game (as in the good ole days Hannah won handily--Grandpa taught her well). After dinner we looked through the DVD collection available in our apartment and watched Catch Me If You Can, a movie that the kids had never seen and is one of my favourites.
We were happy to Skype with Muriel this evening even though it meant getting to bed a little late. It was quite a bit later for me, as I had gifts to wrap for Abby's birthday and a whole whack of balloons to blow up and hang in preparation for the next day's twofold celebrations.
A little extra
I had added a little video a few days back about driving the through the Pyrenees that you may have missed. Always look for links in the blog in the form of coloured words. Here is another little clip from that day.