Heading South to France

Getting On the Road–Picking Up Our Leased Car

Our two days in Amsterdam are a relaxing prequel to Phase 1 of the trip—a four-day, three-night drive to the south of France. On the morning of June 13, our second full day in Europe, we leave our beautiful apartment around 9 am and take a taxi back to the airport to pick up the two boxes of paintings we’d left in storage. The retrieval goes smoothly, requiring only one frantic phone call to determine that the car company isn’t meeting us at the airport. So much—again—for trying to save money. Instead of getting picked up and taken to our rental car, we need to take a taxi to the pick-up point. How far is the pick-up point? Who knows? We’ve leased our car through Renault (highly recommended) because leasing a car for almost six weeks is a lot cheaper than renting (although still not cheap). The downside to leasing is that the lease places are never in the airport along with regular car rental companies like Hertz and Avis. Saving money requires patience, time, and a willingness to forge ahead into the unknown.

Seventy euros and many twists and turns later, we arrive at a business center out in the middle of nowhere. Oh dear. Is the taxi driver sure the address is right? “Yes, madam.” Like everyone we meet in the Netherlands, he speaks perfect English. I get out of the taxi, leaving Gregg to get further acquainted with the driver, and go into the loftily appointed lobby of a building without cars. There is, however, a coffee machine, and I’m longing for my second cup. I approach the desk and with little confidence say “Renault?”

“Ah, yes, Madam.” The man beams at me and gestures for me to wait. I go outside again and tell Gregg and the driver to unload. “We’re in the right place. I think. I hope.”

Several minutes later, two genial guys drive up in a rust-brown, brand new Dacia Duster SUV. It’s a beaut for sure. The guys can’t be any nicer as they sit us down on plush couches, get us coffee, and go through the paperwork. Thirty minutes later, the car’s loaded up (the boxes just fit) and we’re heading south through Belgium and Luxembourg to France. The picture below is taken at the end of the trip which accounts for the palm trees (we’re in Portugal!).

On the road again! We are veterans of many, many car holidays in Europe, starting way back in 1994 when we drove into Paris at midnight with an eight-year-old in the back seat and our only map a sheet ripped from the Rick Steves Paris Guidebook—but that’s another story.

Loving Our New Car

We enjoy being on the road in a brand-new car with no dents, and padded seats so much more comfortable than the tattered ones in the beaters we drive at home. We take childlike pleasure in using a fob to open the doors and Gregg appreciates that he has six speeds to work with. This time, we don’t even need a fob. How fearfully modern! We both get a “key” that opens the door as we move toward the car and locks it again when we walk away. My key stays in my purse for the duration of the trip—no more digging for it every time I want to get into the car.

We are easily impressed.

Gregg has spent the previous evening programming the music for the trip. He loves this job—mixing just the right combination of classical and jazz, comedy and contemporary with even the occasional radio documentary thrown in to keep our intellectual juices flowing. I never know what will play next, which helps keep the long drives interesting.

Stopover in Metz

Our first day’s drive is 450 kilometers almost due south to the town of Metz in France. We had fondly hoped back in the trip-planning days to get to Metz early enough to visit the Centre Pompidou: Metz, but that isn’t to be. Torrential rainstorms and several traffic snarls near Luxembourg have slowed us down. Fortunately, the GPS system works well, especially in concert with my iPhone, and we arrive at the Campanile Hotel* on the outskirts of Metz at 6:30 pm. We won’t even see the town. After a short rest, we make our weary way across the road to La Boucherie, a chain restaurant that serves remarkably good food. Mind you, we are in France. Here’s a picture of me outside the restaurant with a new friend.

Onwards to Lovely Lyon

Day 2 of the road trip is another 400+ kilometer drive to Lyon. We arrive early enough to enjoy the stunning view from our digs in the Novotel Lyon Gerland Musée des Confluences* overlooking the Musée des Confluences and to visit the museum before meeting a former colleague for dinner. Situated on the confluence of the Rhone and the Saône Rivers, the Musée des Confluences is a revelation. I’m not sure how to describe the museum except to say that it’s truly fabulous—a “journey through time and across continents to observe the world around us” according to the museum promo. Think part science museum, part anthropology, part human history, part pure and quirky awesomeness. We are museum junkies, and this one’s a corker. Here’s me in front of the museum and another taken later that evening just after sunset. The museum kind of looks like a giant steel bug crouched alongside the river, which is perhaps the intention.

If you’re in Lyon – go.

We Visit Friends

After prowling the museum for several hours, we catch the metro (very sleek, very quiet) to ride a few stops to where my friend and her husband have bought an apartment. They’re American ex-pats thoroughly embracing the French lifestyle. One of my favorite things to do when we travel is to hook up with friends who are either traveling like we are or who are living in Europe. Over the years, we’ve had many wonderful evenings, often with European friends who didn’t always speak that much English so lots of wine would help break down communication barriers. No such problems with our American friends. We share an enjoyable visit with plenty of good food and conversation. Here we are in the lobby of the Novotel.

Now that we’re back in France, we can at least try to speak French, our Dutch being confined to alsjeblieft and dank je (please and thank you). The problem is that just about everyone switches quickly to English the moment we open our mouths so it’s often tough to get much practice in.

But we persist.

*This blog post contains affiliate links from booking.com to hotels we actually stayed in and recommend. If you click one of the links, I could be rewarded credit or a commission of a booking. You don’t pay any extra. Please know I have my readers’ best interests at heart and only list places I’d recommend to my best friend.


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