Thursday, 22 February 2007

Driving to France

14 February 2007

Having bought a French car, we have to do the transfer of ownership in France, so we are spending a week in Preuilly to sort this out and to see M. Galland about his quote for the roof and also to spend some time working on the house.

I phoned Mme Fouchecourt to book the gite we had at Christmas time as it is reasonably priced and convenient to Preuilly. After some to-ing and fro-ing in broken French and equally broken English from both parties, we negotiated a deal for a Wednesday to Wednesday rental for 200Euro. As we were to be in Preuilly on a flying visit (Saturday to Sunday) a few days after I spoke to Madame, I also composed a note to Celine, her neighbour, who looks after the gite. We dropped this off in her letterbox on the Saturday so she knew to expect us. Mme Fouchicourt rarely puts in an appearance in Roux, the hamlet where the gite is situated - she stays with her son in La Rochelle, we are told, by Celine (at her usual million miles an hour French) because she does not like the cold. Certainly at Christmas time it was cold, and spectacular with it, but now, in February, it is just rather damp and relatively mild if overcast, or if clear, back to its usual picture postcard appearance. Except for the bare branches on the trees, you would not be able to tell the season from a photograph.

I had also phoned the Norisko garage at La Roche Posay to book the car in for its CT (controle technique) - a vital prelude to the change of ownership procedure the next day at the Sous-Prefecture in Loches. The mechanic did not seem in the least phased by being phoned by someone who clearly had the level of French comprehension of a two year old, but he, like Celine, was also clearly incapable of speaking slowly. All this speaking in French on the phone takes considerable preparation. First, I have to buy a phone card from the convenience store round the corner from work. Then I have to write myself out a script - what I am going to say, with alternatives for the possible different responses. Then, in an open office, in full earshot of my colleagues at work, I have to phone. These calls are rated on the number of times I have to say "repetez s'il vous plait" and how many times I slip into English. Fortunately, our new Director, who started at the beginning of February, seems to be taking this distraction to the working day in his stride.

Having a car of our own means we can load up with all sorts of things, from way more clothes than we need for the trip, to camping gear, to field guides. We pack the car the night before, and leave at 5.30 am, to catch the Speed Ferry from Dover to Bologne. This all seems to work remarkably smoothly, and Simon does not find driving a lhd on the left too traumatic and I do not find being a passenger is any more scary than normal. Simon is an extremely good driver - by his own standards of course, being a bloke, but I am happy to say, also by my extremely nervous standards.
After manoeuvring into position on the ferry we immediately headed for the railing to watch the White Cliffs recede and keep an eye out for porpoises and sea birds. We did briefly venture into the lounge, but it was so stifling, that we spent the whole fifty minute journey out on deck in the wind and spray. We were rewarded by lots of hurrying scurrying guilllemots, who fly in little strung out groups, just above the water. Once, we glimpsed what may have been the plump body of a porpoise just under the surface, dark and football shaped.
Best of all though were the gannets hanging on the air, languidly, with their snow white bodies and just the tips of their wings jet black and downward pointing. They were such a treat, and I had not realised that we might see them at all. They are so astonishingly graceful and such a pleasure to see - the sort of wildlife experience which reinforces one's commitment to conservation and the idea that the loss or disruption of such species diminishes everyone's world.

Simon had printed off instructions and a map of Bologne, so that exiting the ferry terminus and finding the motorway should have been smooth and simple. Huh! The instructions and map may have reflect reality but failed to meet with our need to find a cash machine so we had enough euros for the tolls. We found a LeClerc (hypermarket) which met our need for money and breakfast, and then it was a simple matter of following the signs to the Autoroute.. Apart from the slow (and circuitous) start, and a very poor snack near Rouen, the trip was uneventful but faintly attractive.

All up we were 11 and a half hours on the road, including stops and impromptu "scenic diversions". When we arrived in Roux, we were told, to our surprise, that Madame will be here on Friday and Saturday, so we will meet her. While I started on preparing tea (salad, folllowed by sausages and veg), Simon took a quick trip to Preuilly to unload the stuff we had bought over and pick up our trunk full of clothing.

Travelling to France by car is a lot easier - and more interesting - than we had catastrophised about, and will be our route of choice for all but the quickest trips.


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