“When you’re in France, speak french,” the officer said to me, his hair slicked back, eyes narrowed, looking like the corrupt character in a French crime novel. I did my best to convey our situation: “oui, monsieur…notre voiture – elle était garée, maintenant elle est partie…” Our car, which we had parked just up the street from our hotel, was gone. Towed.
We hadn’t seen the sign the night before – in fact we both believe it was erected after we parked the car – until the next morning, when we walked up the hill with our baggage after checking out of our hotel. “Merde!” I had shouted, attracting the attention of an elderly couple across the road. We had walked back to our hotel, deposited our baggage, spent a few hours watching the cyclists depart town, before heading to the police station.
The officer laughed, with just a bit of condescension in his manner. I handed him my driver’s license and when he saw my maiden name (DuPre), he said, “mais tu es français!” But you’re french! I went along with the charade, told him my family was french (true, but my ancestors had left the country many decades before my birth).
I continued to communicate in my broken french, telling him it was our honeymoon and we hadn’t seen a sign about parking. He turned his head towards my husband for just a moment, barely acknowledging his existence, and continued to speak only to me. “C’est dommage, mais ce n’est pas de notre faute.” Too bad, not our fault. He conveyed his message without sympathy. After twenty minutes of me exhausting my high school french lessons, he stamped a piece of paper and called a taxi to take us to the impound lot. And so began the fifth day of our honeymoon!
We departed Johannesburg on Sunday, 22 July. In perfect honeymoon style, an angel (you know who you are!) surprised me and upgraded us to business class for the 12-hour flight to London. What an incredible treat that was, although I still wasn’t able to sleep through the flight, too excited to begin our three week adventure.
Our itinerary included a 24-hour layover in London before catching the Eurostar to Paris and picking up a rental car. We walked all over the British capital, marvelling at the architecture and history of it all. Our hotel room, which was marketed as a luxury apartment, was just big enough to fit the two of us and our luggage. It was a stifling 28 degrees celsius (83 fahrenheit) at 8pm and the room had no air conditioning – a reality we would face throughout our time in Europe. Nonetheless, by nightfall on our first night of honeymoon we were exhausted and collapsed in the cramped and stuffy room, falling into a deep sleep. We awoke at 5:45am – the sun already rising – for a morning run before catching the train to Paris.
At 4pm we disembarked the train, found our rental car (voiture de location) and drove 6 hours towards the Pyrenees. By the time we made it to the mountains the next morning, parking our car outside of Luchon, we realised it would have been more prudent to fly into Barcelona and drive the much shorter distance across the Spanish border into the French Pyrenees. Oh well, live and learn!
We spent the next three days in the mountains, staying in Luchon, Pau, Lourdes and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The first three towns were strategically chosen so we could follow the Tour de France. Each small(ish) city provided marvellous architecture, religion and history. I navigated restaurants and cafes as best I could in my broken french, more often than not, being asked to simply speak english. Nonetheless I endeavoured! It was in Lourdes on our fourth night in France that the car was towed.
On the fifth morning of our honeymoon, safely back in our rental car, less 175 euros for the inconvenience of it all, we drove to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. An adorable village, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the starting point for many pilgrims heading on Camino. It is just 13 kilometres from the Spanish border (we drove there simply to say we touched Spain).
The Camino’s popularity has increased since the release of the Martin Sheen film The Way, which featured the nearly 800-kilometre hike from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compestela. I had wanted to visit the town to learn a bit more about the journey and decide myself if I would one day return to attempt the hike. My husband and I certainly plan to!
When we left Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, we drove to Bordeaux and then spent a night in Tours, before making our way to Paris for the final stage of the Tour de France. It had been a wonderful week of French food, mountains, villages, hiking, running and watching the cycling.