Monday, August 9, 2010

Every day is an adventure, with lessons to be learned

On Friday, we hopped in the cars and drove to Nevers.  I thought it was about 45 minutes away, but it was actually almost two hours away.  If I had realized how far it was, we probably would have taken the train.  Nevers is at the beginning of the Loire Valley.  It was here that the Aedui butchered Caesar's men and burned their outpost.  According to Gaul-boosters, the tide of war almost changed.  This glorious rebellion lives on in the spirited Gallicism of the Nivernais, known as plucky.  Nevers was a stronghold of the Resistance and in 1944 stood between retreating Nazis and safety for Germany.  The city was also strategic on the Loire river.  For these reasons, the Allies bombed it.  WWII scars remain.

We started off by doing a little sight seeing.

The amazing church

In the Ducal Palace, there was an exhibition of all things related to Nevers, and we found this Formula 1 car!

The Ducal Palace

Ruins from WWII bombing.

Old gate leading out of the fortified part of town.

By this time, it was lunch time.  We had gotten a recommendation from the folks at the Tourism Office for a restaurant and James gave the map to Megan and had her navigate us there.  I have to say, she never made a wrong turn and got us to our destination:

Here, we had a mixed lunch.  The kids ordered the steak hache (like ground beef) and frites.  We ordered every one's medium.  Unfortunately, the "steaks" were raw in the middle.  Only Katey was brave enough to eat all of hers (having listened to me say earlier that it was considered rude to leave food on the plate).  The other kids ate the outside, but did not eat the raw middle.  The frites on the other hand were what we've been searching for all over France.  Double fried, they were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside...they were perfection!

James and I ordered from the menu for the day and had amazing food.

The chef sent out an amuse bouche that included a warm seafood chowder that was absolute heaven, some pate and sausage.  Our mouths were definitely amused!

The kids were brave and tried everything and found some things that they liked!

James started with the carpaccio (the only complaint is it had a little too much oil).

I started with the chicken salad with foie gras.  It was hands down the best foie gras I have ever had.  It was smooth as silk, just like butter and the flavor was perfection!

James and I both had the same entree, which was a sliced steak, with an amazing Roquefort sauce, surrounded by wonderful vegetables (with special mention to the scalloped potatoes!)

Looks a little messy, but it was delicious!

We both got this plate for our dessert.

There was chocolate fondant, with chocolate sauce, a raspberry gelee, a bite of creme brulee, an amazing grapefruit sorbet, and a melange of berries under cream.  Can you just say...heaven!

Kerry and Katey got the full creme brulee and Kerry deemed it fabulous!

This was definitely a wonderful meal for James and I.  The kids, only partly so.  As we were leaving, the owner chatted with us a bit and then gave us a bottle of the local wine to bring home.  Such a nice man.  When we were walking through the hallway to leave, he was trying to get past us to open the door for us.  As he passed Kerry, she didn't realize how close he was and she had her hand out to her side.  She managed to goose the poor guy, who jumped when her hand hit his butt.  I think you need a visual to truly appreciate how funny this was.  Needless to say, he was going to have a funny story to tell about the American woman who squeezed his butt!

After lunch, we headed back to the church to explore a little inside. 

Since this church had been bombed in the war, none of the stained glass were original.  The church had been completely restored in the 60's.  Really amazing, given how devastated the building was.

After the church, we decided to do a little shopping and then head down to the nearby race track (which was the real reason James had wanted to come to this area.)

The track was cool and there was actually an amateur event going on, so we got to see cars racing.  James was in heaven!

At this point, I was feeling like we'd had a great day!  I'd navigated to Nevers and we hadn't gotten lost, then I'd gotten us to the Magny Cours track with only one u-turn!  We'd had a good day with no major issues.  It felt nice.  We got back on the freeway and headed home.  Oh, will I ever learn???  Nothing is as easy as that.

The rental car had about a quarter tank of gas, so when I saw a gas station, I pulled off.  James was following.  I pulled in to pump gas and he decided to also.  The rental takes unleaded and the Mercedes takes diesel.  I couldn't pump at the first pump I pulled into, since it wouldn't take my credit card (an ongoing saga!).  So, I pulled behind James to use his pump.  I noticed that it looked like he was putting unleaded in the Mercedes.  I yelled out the window, asking if he was pumping diesel.  He looked and realized that he'd pulled the wrong handle.  In France, for some unknown reason, none of the gas nozzles have fume catchers (you know those black rubber things that fit over the actual nozzle and create a seal when you are pumping gas) and all the nozzles are the same size.  This means that you can put the wrong kind of gas in your car.  As we had just done!

James and I noodled over what we should do.  He wasn't completely sure what unleaded would do to a diesel and he'd only put in about a quarter of a tank's worth, as he hadn't needed much gas.  He tried to call a friend in the US to ask his advice, but didn't get a hold of him.  We also couldn't get any internet to research how bad this mistake might be.  I was tired and hungry and wanted to get home.  So, I bad can it be?  It's not even a half tank's worth.  It'll just mix with the diesel and it'll be fine.  Maybe it'll backfire or something, but I think it will be fine.  James says, so you think we should drive it. I said...Yes!  He was tired too and upset over his mistake.  He was hoping it wouldn't be that big a deal either.  So off we go.

We get about 5 miles and are entering the toll booth to pay our toll for the wonderful freeway we've been using (no sarcasm here, the freeway really was wonderful).  The phone rings and looking in my rear view mirror, I can see James is calling us.  The car has died and he can't get it restarted.  We are about 20 feet from the toll booth, so Kerry and I jump out of the rental car, run behind the Mercedes and push it to the side of the road.  I then move the rental car to the side of the road too.  There's not a ton of traffic, so none of this felt life threatening.

Toll booth where we broke down.

Broken down by the side of the road.

We then do the only thing we know to do...we call our friends Laurent & Johanna to ask if they can call a tow truck for us (since our French is not nearly good enough to have that conversation).  As we're talking to them, the autoroute security guy pulls up.  We talk to him (only to discover he does not speak a work of English), so Johanna talks to him on the phone and he ends up calling a tow truck for us.  It turns out that towing is quite expensive in France and there is special insurance for it (kind of like AAA...which we did try to use...but to no avail)...and our car probably has this insurance.  So, when the tow truck arrives, we call Johanna again and she talks to the driver.  He can't tow the car to where we live (it's more than 100 km away), but he can tow it to his garage nearby.  We decide to do that and then Johanna is going to investigate whether the towing insurance will cover getting the car towed back to our town.

While waiting for the tow truck driver, the kids entertain themselves with my camera.

The tow truck driver arrived and did his thing!

The tow truck driver gives us his card and takes the Mercedes away.  We manage to pile all 7 of us into the 4 passenger rental car and head for home.  I don't take photos of this, as our sense of humor doesn't extend quite this far.  James is understandably upset.  He's concerned that he's ruined the engine and we're going to have to replace the engine on this really old Mercedes.  I'm upset because it seems like we just continue to have bad luck in our travels (and because I'm the one that bad can it be...let's just drive it.)  The kids are now very crowded and hungry.  To their benefit, they didn't whine and complain and took the whole thing like the troopers that they are!  It took us about an hour to get home and everyone was relieved to exit the car.

On Saturday morning, Johanna calls us to tell us that the insurance won't cover towing the car home, but it will cover the tow to the station (which was only 10 kms, but 300 euro!!!!).  She said she'd talked to the station owner and they were going to look at the car and let us know how much it would cost to fix.  She called us a little later and said the station owner said it would cost about 100 euro to fix.  Because the Mercedes is old, it has a very hardy he doesn't think we did too much damage.  He thinks he can just flush it out, maybe replace the fuel filter, and all should be good again.  He was going to fix it Saturday and we're suppose to pick it up on Monday.  James and I both sigh a huge sigh of relief and are very hopeful that it really is the case.  

So as not to tempt fate, I am not posting this blog post until after we've picked up the car on Monday (it's now Monday, we have picked up the car from the garage and it did only cost 110 euro).

The garage.

Where they were working on this car.

And this car too!

Did I mention what amazing people Laurent and Johanna are!  When we saw them on Thursday, as we said goodbye and made arrangements for them to to dinner at our house when they get back from vacation...Laurent said...if you need anything, just call.  They were leaving Saturday for a week's holiday at some relatives.  I, stupidly said, don't worry about us...nothing's going to happen.  I've got to learn to stop saying things like this.  So, as they are trying to pack to leave for their trip, they end up also having to deal with the mechanic and insurance company to get everything taken care of for us.  Then, they happily loaned us one of their cars until we can get the Mercedes back.

I've been thinking long and hard about what lessons I'm suppose to learn from all of this.  Here we have two complete strangers who have had to deal with the following things for us:
1.  Telephone and internet...Laurent came over three different times trying to get this fixed for us.  He finally had to spend a few hours on the phone with Orange to get us back on-line.
2.  Mercedes won't go into gear....Laurent and his father in law come to the house to try to fix the car...then handle the mechanic for us.
3.  Exploding toilet...they have to arrange for a plumber for us.
4.   Kerry gets deathly ill (I haven't blogged about this yet) and Johanna takes us to the doctor and translates for us (and then to the pharmacy as well).
5.  Mercedes drinks the wrong gas...and they have to deal with the tow truck, the insurance and the mechanic...all while trying to get ready to leave on their trip.

Who does this stuff for strangers?  James and I are good folks and we would definitely do any or all of these things for our friends (and have in the past)...but would we do this much for complete strangers?  At some point, when do you say enough is enough?  I was mortified that we had to call them about the car again.  One of the lessons I'm learning is really a restoration in my faith in humanity.  There are good people in the world.  People who do things out of the goodness of their hearts...not to get paid, or to collect good karma...just because they couldn't imagine not helping someone if it is within their power to do so.  Another lesson I'm learning is that it's okay to ask for help.  In fact, I am surrendering to I hope it's a lesson I've truly learned (because I really don't want to have to ask for anymore help in the next few weeks).

My trip is turning into something important for I knew it would.  I just never imagined that these would be the lessons I was meant to learn.  I'm a little afraid to see what else France has to teach me.  I even told James, that at this point, if it was just the three of us...I'd hole up in the house until it was time to go home.  But, that's not going to happen.  I am going to have to continue to venture out and see what other experiences are waiting for me (like it or not).


KevinCromley said...

Sounds like an adventure. I was just reading in the paper that most gas stations and ATM's no longer take the swipe type credit cards (magnetic strip) in Europe. They have now switched over to some kind of software enbedded in the card so they don't have to be swiped and to prevent fraud. Many Americans are bitching becuase we have been slow to convert to this method! All part of thefun!

Andrew said...

Well, maybe those folks aren't doing it for strangers, they are doing it for you!

Poor James. I blame the Mt. Dew deficiency.

Steph said...

Kevin, yes that is exactly the issue. All the gas stations take the "chip" card and don't take swipes anymore (at least at the pumps). The French have been looking at us like we are from the dark ages everywhere we go because they have to "slide" our cards!

Andrew...absolutely...he's definitely running a few quarts low!!!