Monday, July 17, 2006

Get Thee Behind Me Sad Man ...

It's holiday time nearly everywhere in the northern hemisphere. People are on the move, intent on making the most of their annual pilgrimages. This year even we got a week away but due to cash and time restrictions, we decided to go-it-alone, forget the train and fill up the car and drive. We're not exactly in the same league as Field Marshall Montgomery, but travel planning is a must and 'knowing your enemy' is all important. The enemy in question is the 'other' road user. The busiest time on the roads in France is between mid-July and the end of August with the evening news covering stories of the longest and most miserable tailbacks possible on the country's motorway systems.

We had decided to head 800kms south, to the Basque region of France (that's the only time you'll see the word 'Basque' and 'France' in the same sentence). So anti-France are the people down there, that the celebrations of Bastille Day are ignored - except the joy of taking the day off work. We avoided the rush by heading down on a Monday and we stopped overnight in a quaint little village called Mirambeau. Tuesday morning we set out again and between that afternoon and Saturday morning, we spent time by the ocean, gently cooking under a relentless sun. Leaving the Basque area after breakfast, we drove north again and stopped for a dip in the Landes area, south of Bordeaux. A couple of hours later we arrived back in Mirambeau for an overnight. The Sunday it was back on the road, a quick visit to the Gironde area (the river estuary north of Bordeaux) and then up to Poitiers for a stop-over before Paris on the Monday.

For the entire trip, all 1800kms of it, the one thing that managed to put me in an instant bad mood is ... that relentless slow-moving house on wheels - the caravan. Thousands of the bleeders and all forms and colours. French, British, Belgian and Dutch caravans. The Germans, however, seem to favour the luxurious mobile home, packed with kids and the obligatory bike rack filled to bursting point. But there they were, a blight on Europe's expressways.

As often as we felt like it, we'd pull over for a break and a smoke but however many of these bloody things we'd previously despatched behind us, they now got their revenge went merrily on their way, overtaking us as we relaxed under a pine tree in the rest area. There was one character in particular who sat at 78kph in the right-hand lane, his little white crap mobile covered in stickers, 'I've been to ...', that kind of thing. He was a little Frenchman wearing a peaked cap, his long-suffering wife acted as his co-pilot.

We got stuck behind this bastard for ages as no-one in the left-hand lane seemed remotely interested in helping a fellow motorist escape the clutches of this torture and let us out. For a full page of the map we were part of this sad little cortege, the caravan swaying from side to side like the balls of the old family dog. It was holiday hell and I wished, with all the strength left in my tired body, for sidewinder missiles and an afterburner.

These things should be forced to take another route or pay an enormous nuisance penalty.

Lock and load ...



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