Saturday, December 10, 2005

The road to hell is paved with wrong directions....

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I've been mentally working on the next installment so it's not as if I haven't been "with" you.

So, where did I leave off? Oh, yes, after two days in Belgium - with real food, real warm beds and charming surroundings, I was dragged from medieval splendor and the comfort of chocolate with the promise of a romantic weekend in Normandy. Monte St. Michael - an ancient place of pilgrimage is settled on the Normandy coastline and is, apparently, a sight worth seeing. I, who was raised on the theatricality of the Roman mass, have never lost my taste for tradition --it's just the organizations behind the tradition that I have left far behind. So, despite my misgivings regarding my navigator's skills, I agreed. Bright and early on the 4th morning we set off - full of hope and in the belief that our luck had lifted.

Not even the fog lifted that morning. As we headed for the coastline it became increasingly clear that we were going nowhere fast in a blizzard. Fortified with strong espresso, I drove for about an hour before I declared that this was a fiasco in the making - and I was turning back in the face of the storm. Magellan agreed and quickly rerouted us to another "romantic" hotspot in a cold part of France - a charming seaside village - far enough from Le Harve to not be contaminated by its pollution and seamy side --but close enough to Paris so that we would have an easy drive on the next day. On the way we would stop in Rouen, the birthplace and launching pad for Joan of Arc - one of my all time favorite women. My middle name is Joan and I have always liked to entertain the fantasy of her as a kind of warrior-mentor. The fact that she wound up tied to a stake was something that also resonated with me --but, I do digress so back to Rouen.

We actually found our way there with no further mishap. We located the "best bistro" in Rouen accoring to the guide book and then spent the afternoon trying to get into a few Cathedrals to view the art work. Sadly, none were open. The doors were locked tight. Now that I look back on it, I should have seen that as a sign of the day to come, but at the time, I just accepted it as a minor disappointment and went looking for a spiritual semblance of my sweet St. Joan. Since it was not to be found in the windows of the Hermes store that dominated the main drag, we decided to leave Rouen and the warmth of civilization.

As we drove toward "Hon Fleur" - that be the charming seaside village - we noticed a lot of backed up traffic - and I mean a lot. Remember that storm that we had encountered earlier in the day? Well, it was really unexpected and the French don't do well with things that don't behave as they expect them to - so they were unprepared and as a result the roads were treacherous. Accidents and break-downs were occurring and the authorities found it necessary to close the bridge that would have taken us to seaside rapture. To add frustration to injury, we (Magellan and I) were expected to "know" the alternate route and they just directed us to drive on. After getting caught in one of those European super-highways, sandwiched in between tanker type trucks and people in BMW's going very fast, we staggered off the highway. We were determined to go in another direction and had to double-back. It was then that we discovered our own alternate route - a service road that ran parallel to the highway and, as it turned out,next to a fetid ditch with overlying branches. (Here my husband has asked me to point out that the decision to use the service road was a joint one -and, while he refuses to indulge in a rebuttal to my saga, he does insist on some semblance of fairness - so there, I said it.)

The service road quickly turned into a cow path that was not paved and that was strewn with broken tree bits that had to be cleared by hand. The road was pitted, and dark as pitch. On the left, I could see stagnant water. On the right - high up above us - and about 500 yards to the right, I could see the whizzing cars. The branches, heavy with snow and soot, brushed the car and obscured sight. All I could think of was the story about the man who died in the desert about 30 feet from a major highway. I navigated pot holes, branches and my fury and, as tends to happen when I get scared, I got a wee bit testy. After what seemed like 5 miles of complete uncertainty, I saw a light at the end of the road - or maybe, I thought, we're dead and that is the tunnel everyone is always talking about. No, it actually was light - and gradually the road underneath the tires turned to paving and we found ourselves exactly at the place where we had begun - We had traveled in a great big messy, scary circle - but we were on a road - and we were headed toward LeHarve - the Newark, NJ of France!!!!

(I'll be back soon with the story of our romantic night in LeHarve - at France's own little version of "Le Chez Holi-day". )


Blogger K.T. said...

I am loving your travel diary. Iy has been a little vacation for me with each post. Thank you!

11:31 AM  
Blogger alltangledup said...

what memories your post brings.. driving along Normandie. Honfleur is a lovely town and Mont St-Michel ls nice but over-rated. do tell more... French drivers are a wee bit aggressive even when compared with NYC drivers


10:56 AM  
Blogger Mary deB said...

I hope we eventually get to Paris! I mean, you.... We've had our own driving adventures and tend to stick with the trains now.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Becca said...

oh ... my ... gosh ... I do so hope this turns out well; but, I am not at all convinced that it will ... very entertaining (for me ... reading from the comfort of home!).

2:29 PM  

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