It is a strange feeling, but I don’t actually know where I am.
I am in France, that much is for sure, but exactly where eludes me. It was dark and raining last night when we stopped; the first hotel was full, and the second, apparently called the Hotel Ageris Orleans, had two rooms left. So I must obviously be in Orleans. Nominally it is a hotel on the banks of the Loire, but that sounds a lot more romantic than it is.
We checked in by poking Clive’s credit card into a machine outside the front door, and finding that a room would cost €39 for the night, with an additional €5 for breakfast. And what fine value for money it is. A clean, comfortable room, if a touch on the Spartan side, BBC on television and a jumbo bag of peanuts in the vending machine that substituted for dinner; all in all, we are doing well.
The journey is to take some furniture that my father left to me when he died to my house in the south of France. A house in France sounds glamorous, perhaps conjuring images of whitewash, a distant, azure sea and buckets of wine. The wine is accurate, but the house itself, the Maison de Bouef, is an old butcher’s shop in a small unprepossessing town in the Languedoc called Esperaza. It lies, 1085 kilometres (according to Google maps) from Calais, and Orleans is on the way.
We left London at about noon, headed to the Channel Tunnel, stopping briefly at John Lewis to pick up some duvets, and off to The Continent. Eurotunnel is brilliant; we were booked on the 1750 crossing, but arriving considerably earlier were put onto the 1630 train with neither fuss nor penalty. Airlines take note.
The actual journey takes only about thirty minutes, and then we were in France; launching confidently into their wonderful highway system, I was immediately ensnared in a detour; the road to Paris tauntingly heading away from our highway inaccessible across a sea of road-mending equipment. The incorrect highway surged north, and after about ten kilometres I spied a minute sign that said (in small black letters on a bright orange background) “Deviation A 16”. Vaguely recalling that this was the road to Paris, I swerved across two lanes of traffic and whizzed through a small roundabout to now head east. A further ten kliks, another minute sign had us hurtling back the way we came, although now west and south, until we once again intersected the highway and tacking appropriately pointed our car toward the French capital.
We were anxious to pass it in the evening, and not get stuck in traffic in the morning; the Parisian rush-hour can last the bulk of the day, and we have many miles to cover. We got there in good time, and keeping our eyes peeled out for signs for “Bordeaux” and “Nantes”, which were, in the way of things, intermittent and set up apparently at random, sailed around the city and away to the south.
Then it got a touch peculiar. France is a very large country indeed. Not like Canada, of course, but there are seriously large swathes of farmland, and the highway sped through them; seeking the solace of an hotel room, and finding none to hand, we were some 120 kilometres from Paris when Orleans came into sight. The area by the highway, indistinguishable from any other mess of big-box stores, motels, chain restaurants and road-works, was deeply confusing. The car took on a life of its own as it sung around barricades and roundabouts before screeching to a halt at the Hotel Ageris where I now sit.
But not for long; it is time to head south (through Limoges and Toulouse) and off to the Languedoc.