Car rentals and the South of France

I rent a lot of cars, but I have to say that the vehicle that I was given by Hertz in Toulouse is the most disgraceful vehicle any car rental company has tried to fob off on me; and this is a long list including rentals in Turkey, Belarus and even Armenia.

The car is basically a long and intricate weave of scratches, with a large dent, possibly caused by a rapidly descending bowling-ball, in the middle of the hood. It was also filthy, but a rain shower got rid of the worst of that. The upside is that unable to offer a replacement (Hertz seem to be very busy) they scrawled all over the diagram that indicates pre-rental wear, effectively giving me carte blanche to do what I want to the bugger.

And so, I have been trolling through the Languedoc’s unmatchably gorgeous countryside in a beat-up tank. However, the mileage is amazing; diesel engines really do the job, and allow 1000 kms or more on a single tank of gas; amazing, and simply adds to the joy of driving.

Since we first found our house here, and began encouraging friends and clients to visit, we have had a steady stream of delighted folks revelling in the joys of travel in an uncluttered and simpler world. This is not, in any way, to indicate a simplicity in the people here, although folks some of the more remote Pyrenean villages do seem to have a rather vacant disposition, but to the landscape, village life and the lack of techno-props for tourists and locals alike.

Carcassonne is the big city, and it certainly isn’t. There is an airport (where I am going in about an hour to fly to London for a couple of days), a collection of big-box stores, a railway station, a rather down-at-heel residential grid and a stunning, absolutely stunning Old City. It is a UNESCO heritage site, although the designation was awarded by a single vote due mostly to the rather broad poetic licence the restoration incorporated. But that is splitting hairs; it is wonderful in a medieval-theme-park way, lots of vendors selling plastic Templar swords, overpriced food and bags and bags of the smells of rural France, cobbled streets, jugglers and jousters, and a lot of very happy families wandering around.

And there is a fantastic outdoor concert space, wedged between a turret and a dungeon, where a couple of nights ago we saw Paolo Conte, one of my favourite musicians give an astonishing concert. Terrific music, a sort of Italian/Klesmer/Jazz fusion with a phenomenal band – you can tell that those boys practice hard. It started late, at 9.30 after the sun had gone down, and the music, atmosphere and general sense of well-being that one absorbs in this part of the world was a heady combination.

And, not unsurprisingly, no one stole my car, so we got home easily.

And so the time passes wandering through the hills, finding ancient villages, listening to itinerant Kamchatkan folk groups, eating wonderful food, enjoying the odd glass of the local wine, and generally feeling at peace with the world.

And so off to London for a day to meet lawyers and finish the work on my Dad’s estate; Ryanair, while the butt of many jokes and dismissive comments, they really do a wonderful job of shuttling thousands of folks around Europe for all manner of reasons.

Although we worry extensively about having baggage that might be a gram too heavy, or venting frustration at yet another €1.25 fee just when we thought that we were done, the bottom line is that they work. We will fly to London (about an hour and a half or so) and back for about $100 each. Who cares about an in-flight meal? The flights are short, usually on time, clean and reasonably friendly once on board.

There is much to marvel at here in terms of access, flexibility and simplicity, and I for one, am delighted that one rainy day in October three years ago, we rocked on up to Esperaza and bought our old butcher’s shop.