When you have 25 people travelling across the globe to complete a complex trip such as our rides across Italy and France, there are hundreds of details which have to be planned flawlessly in order for the whole trip to succeed. Although I had put in countless hours of preparation in covering all the preliminary arrangements, in the back of my mind there is always a fear that something might go wrong. Perhaps there could be a mix up with the hotels, maybe planes and trains could be delayed, maybe there will be a nationwide strike and so on.
Now after two months, and with the end almost in sight, I could almost relax. Up will now everything had gone exactly according to the script. Well almost everything. There were the two women who somehow managed to independently break their legs during the trip, but that had nothing to do with my planning. After all there was no way I could be responsible for Carol falling over in the shower or Fran tumbling down the staircase. As far as I was concerned, I felt that not only had the group arrangements all worked perfectly, but our own personal arrangements had also gone smoothly as well. Maggie and I could take pride in the fact that we had not even left anything behind in any of the 30 hotels we had stayed in over the past two months.
They say that pride always goes before a fall, and maybe I should not have ignored the nagging feeling that, at some stage during the trip, there would be something that would inevitably go awry. Today was that day.
After a good first night’s sleep at the Adagio Access Apartments in Dijon, we woke up and spent the first hour catching up on our backlog of laundry. The hotel had its own laundromat – how easy was that ? While the washing machine was battling away on our dirty clothes, we sat down to lovely crunchy baguettes for breakfast. Our main task for the morning was to return our hire car to the nearby Europcar rental office. I had already checked on Google Maps and it promised me that the trip would only take about 12 minutes. After all the thousands of kilometres we had traveled all over France, it was a mere bagatelle. We even programmed the address into our trusty Tom Tom GPS, just to make sure.
After a final check of the car, we drove out of the hotel car park and straight into a narrow one way street. But why was a car coming the other way straight towards me ? I reversed back and pulled aside to let the elderly driver squeeze past (he looked almost as mystified as me). We resumed our progress and executed another couple of turns. So far so good.
“I think you are in the bus lane”, Maggie advised.
“That’s a funny place to put a bus lane”, I replied. At the same time it probably explained why I had received some strange looks from other drivers. Not a big problem I decided, as I calmly veered across to the correct lane. Only about 500 metres to go. Why was my heart thumping so much ?
The last time we hired a car in France we drove it for weeks without incident, and then came close to driving it into a concrete wall in the rental car parking lot when we were returning it. On that occasion I managed to avoid catastrophe (and great embarrassment) by about 3 cm. It did succeed in reminding me that the show is never truly over till the proverbial “fat lady” has finished her solo. With only a few hundred metres to go, I was sure that I could hear the fat lady already warming up her vocal chords.
It was at that point that things took an unexpected turn for the worse. The wonderful TOM TOM that had guided us all over the entire country decided that the satellites were no longer there. The screen proclaimed “NO SIGNAL”. We were on our own with no idea which turn to make. In the area near the central Dijon Train Station there are numerous one way streets and it is essential that you approach in the correct sequence. I did the only thing I could think to do and that was continue straight ahead. Within seconds we were almost T-boned by two fast cars coming up from my left. The drivers were more forgiving than I would have been under the circumstances as neither of them got out of their vehicles to attack with a tyre lever. I tried to do my best impersonation of a foreign elderly dimwit and they seemed to take pity on me. It had been a close call and my sweaty palms made it hard to grip the wheel.
Somehow I managed to fluke a space that could have been a parking space, but probably wasn’t. I tried turning on my pocket GPS. It couldn’t find the signal either. This was ridiculous. Had some sort of global cataclysm shut down the whole system? I crept forward again, hoping that the signal would resume before I had a nervous breakdown. Fortunately it did. After a couple more turns we were at the right car depot and managed to squeeze the car (almost) into the one remaining car spot. At that point I didn’t care anymore. It was not my problem. We had returned their blessed car in one piece and I was ready to hand over the keys. The remainder of our trip will be conducted either by train or on foot. The car had been great but we were both quite relieved to hand it back.
We slowly made our way to the city centre and did some research about possible bike rides in this region. A couple of hours later we returned to our hotel room. It was then that we discovered the second major catastrophe of the day. Over the past couple of weeks we had accumulated a stash of food and nibbles. This included chocolates, biscuits, a jar of jam, fruit, muesli bars, a packet of tea bags and a few other odds and sods. This bag had circumnavigated the entire country with us and served as a backup source of nourishment if we could not find any shops handy. The bag of goodies had been left in our room on the bench in the small kitchenette. To our horror the precious bag was no longer there. We searched and we searched but all our goodies were gone. It might have only amounted to several Euros worth of mostly junk food, but we could not help but feel violated. How could the cleaner possibly have mistaken such a collection of wonderful items for junk ? I almost felt like reporting it to the local Gendarmes, but thought better of it. I also thought that it would probably not be worth lodging a claim with my travel insurer for a couple of packets of lost biscuits. By the same token I could not help but wonder what else could possibly go wrong.
In spite of our huge loss, we decided to explore the city anyway. On our previous trip here we had discovered that Dijon has a great way of taking visitors on a walk of the major places of interest in the city. The so called “Chouette Walk” is made up of hundreds of brass owl plaques on the footpath. These take the visitor to 22 major sites around the centre of Dijon. It is a fantastic way for families to have fun and discover the sights at the same time.
Since the start of our adventure, Maggie had brought along with her a small extra friend that she had christened Pierre. Pierre was a tiny little Lego man with a striped blue and white shirt. He had been photographed in dozens of fascinating locations all around France. The images had been sent back to our grandchildren so that they could see what a great adventure little Pierre was having. Now that Pierre had traveled so far with us, we both regarded him as a very important part of the trip.
Maggie decided that little Pierre should be photographed in front of all 22 of the tourist locations. Each location is marked with a large brass plate and so we began putting him down on the plate on the ground, and taking his picture. It was only when we got to number 6 that a terrible thing happened. Maggie cried out in despair that she had left him on the road at the previous location. We both immediately felt sick. It was only a small Lego man, but it really would have been a disaster for him to get lost at this late stage.
We both started running back through the city crowds, hoping that no one would have noticed the little lost man on the ground. It was only about 500 metres, but it seemed like an eternity before we got close to the plate in question. I don’t know (and I didn’t care) what the locals would have thought about a red faced elderly couple charging through their peak hour crowds. In spite of hundreds of people walking back and forth (and not to mention the numbers of family groups doing the same walk), by some miracle little Pierre was still lying exactly where we had left him. He looked like a frightened little lost soul, all alone in such a big foreign city. By that time Maggie was in tears at the thought that he would be lost. We both never let him out of our sights for the rest of the day.
In spite of the mishaps (and near mishaps) that had occurred, it did not alter our opinion of this city. We still think Dijon is a lovely place. We love the mixture of old and new, the fact that it is not over crowded, the lovely gardens and the feeling that it is little like a miniature version of Paris. If anyone is looking for a place to spend some time in France then the Borgogne Region and Dijon in particular should be carefully considered.