Having had a hire car since we left Bruges has given us a huge advantage in being able to visit all the places on the battlefields and in Normandy that we wanted to see. Today was our final day with the car, which had to be dropped off right in the heart of Paris, across the road from Gare de Lyon railway station. My brother Rod has been our driver. He has a much better sense of European roads than I do and he’s really good with maps. We could not have done this section of Europe without him.
The road to Paris took us through some really beautiful countryside. It was either green fields of wheat, golden fields of canola, or rows of blossoming trees in apple orchards, with the occasional leafy forest, that we passed through on the first part of the journey. We drove through many small towns and villages, with their quaint half-timbered housing styles and centuries old churches. Life in these places seemed to be moving at a much slower pace than the cars whizzing by.
We were stuck behind a truck carrying some earthmoving machinery on a narrow, winding section of road. We sat behind him patiently as he lumbered along at a speed of about 50kmh. A bridge loomed ahead and he drove straight into it (photo above). There was an almighty bang and he brought the truck to a halt. He’d obviously ignored the 4.5 metre height sign that was posted on the side of the bridge. Parts of broken machinery clattered to the road. He was going to have some explaining to do with his boss, having done significant damage to the gear he was carrying. We skirted around him and drove on.
We began to see a little evidence of the ‘yellow jacket’ protests in places along the road. There were signs posted with slogans and small gatherings (photo above) also. It had us wondering what we might expect to see in Paris on the weekend.
Approaching Paris, the roads widened and the speed increased to 130kmh. We drove through a number of long tunnels before emerging within sight of the Arc de Triomphe looming ahead of us. Heavy rain began to fall and the traffic became achingly congested. Negotiating the huge roundabout at the Arc was interesting. There were no marked lanes, and there seemed to be no rules as to how to drive around this roundabout, and Rod did an amazing job finding a pathway through the traffic and emerging onto the correct exit.
Traffic became gridlocked in the road along the Seine, and we often moved only a couple of vehicle lengths between traffic light changes. Once again, no lanes were marked and, with motorbikes weaving in and out of tight spaces between cars, and the rain coming down heavily, driving was really a challenge. Thankfully, our GPS device kept us on track. We passed several prominent Parisian landmarks along the way, including the Musee D’Orsay and the recently damaged Notre Dame Cathedral.
Eventually we pulled up outside the hotel, although there really wasn’t anywhere to park. We dropped Marg and Cornelia off with our suitcases, then Rod and I drove off in search of a petrol station so that we could fill the tank before returning the hire car. The gridlock remained, and it took an agonisingly long time before we pulled up at some self-serve, card-operated pumps. Rod tried two credit cards and a debit card and all were rejected as unsuitable. So I tried three of my cards and all were rejected too. We tried the next pump. Same story. So we drove off again in search of a human-operated service station. Our route took us across the river, where the traffic flow was much improved. In about twenty minutes, we had topped up the car with diesel and crossed the river again, now seeking the car park where we could return the hire car.
This took some time, as the traffic on this side of the river was still moving bumper to bumper, although at least the rain had stopped. Finally, almost two hours after we passed the Arc de Triomphe, we handed the keys to the Europcar attendant in the underground car park. I was so impressed with Rod’s driving, and with his patience. I’m sure I would have had a meltdown and I’m also sure I would have stick to every direction from the GPS. Thankfully we only had to walk next door from our hotel for dinner. From now on, it’s trains we’ll be taking for a while.