After my brief visit to Beaune, I drove on to deliver the hire car that had replaced my broken down Skoda, which was still en panne in a garage somewhere outside Orleans.
I have described its rather tragic last moments earlier in my blog, and gradually it was becoming increasingly likely that the repair would cost, not the € 400-500 that I had anticipated, but possibly 4-5 times that amount. I’d been in daily discussions with the agency in France that Green flag had nominated, and they seemed to come up with a new idea each day about when it might be possible to do the repairs. The latest guess was, not that I would have the car fixed by 3rd February, but that it would only on that day be admitted to the hallowed sanctuary of a Skoda garage and I would then be told whether it would take 1, 2 or even 3 weeks to fix, and whether it would require € 100, or € 2000, or even € 3000 to get it back on the road.
The road to Beaune had been foggy, but as my Satnav directed me through the heart of a region that seemed to have neither vineyards nor any towns with somewhere to have lunch, the mists closed in even more. When the fog cleared, there were stunning vistas of trees covered with powdery hoar frost, and these seemed to burn with their own energy when the sun came out. But then we would go up a hill and the fog would close in once again.
I went through one provincial village after another, and the feeling of monotony seemed to intensify as the landscape became flatter and more like the stretching plains of the Massif Central. So it was almost a relief to get on the A6 motorway. By this time, the sun, which had been invisible for most of the day, seemed to be getting lower above the horizon, and I started to wonder where I would stay for the night, before returning the car to the hire company in Orleans.
I was getting tired, and I knew I was not going to enjoy driving in to Orleans in rush hour, so after an hour or two on the A6, I decided to stop off at a hotel. Although Chablis was signposted from the motorway, for some odd reason that I still cannot explain, I resisted the urge to turn off there. All sorts of Loire chateaux were in striking distance, but in the austere frame of mind that had been induced by the weather, I felt a Puritanical commitment to delivering the car and not being diverted from this mission. I therefore headed on relentlessly in the direction of Orleans until Montargis, which was on the same track as Orleans but sounded a bit nicer. I booked myself into the cheapest hotel I could find, a bleak motel in the middle of nowhere, on the N7 to the south of Montargis. It seemed to get good reviews, although it took me a while to understand why.
Arriving at the hotel, the glass panel door was firmly shut. I had booked the room for € 56 on one of the booking websites, but when I keyed in the PIN provided in the booking confirmation, nothing happened. I pressed a button to ask for help, but again, nothing happened. Some minutes later, as I tried various permutations of numbers to no avail, a friendly woman came out and let me in, got me properly set up with a passcode, and ushered me up to my room. This was basic but clean and warm and with WiFi that allowed easier communication with Green Flag’s agents.
The car hire company had initially insisted that I take the vehicle back to the original Avis garage where I had rented it, but after a further altercation with the French agency about the logistics of getting myself and the car back to the UK, they agreed that this was a crazy idea and that I should take the car back to Macon after all.
I decided to take a shower, and my shoulders relaxed and yielded under the piping hot water. I was looking forward to seeing Luke again so soon after I’d said goodbye, but the idea of driving all the way down again left me feeling tired and emotional, and the latest news from the repair firm had not been good.
Unfortunately, I had left the bathroom door open, and my lengthy shower ended with a hasty dash to get dressed as the fire alarm sounded, and the hotel proprietor banged loudly on my door, asking if I had been smoking. The hotel walls and guest literature had been replete with dire threats to any lighting up.
“Vous avez fumé quelque chose? “
“Absolument non “.
“Des cigarettes? Fumer? Vapoter? “
He was fuming, but his humour returned when he realised that I was still only half-dry and clutching my bathroom towel, having struggled into my trousers. We opened the window and let the steam waft out of the room. Most probably this was a regular occurrence.
I realised that I had left it too late to buy a bottle of wine from a local supermarket. It was by now properly dark outside and the feeling of bleakness that I had experienced as the car entered the deserted parking lot outside the hotel intensified. At this point, I had the bright idea of opening one of the bottles that I had bought at the Caveau Chateau de Fleurie just a few days before. I went out to the car and rummaged around in the darkness.
I had dug out the Moulin-a-Vent from the Chateau from the bags in the back seat of the car. It cost €20 or thereabouts, and looked promising, but I did not have a glass or even a cup to drink it from. Luckily I had bought several Waiter’s Friend corkscrews so opening it was not a problem. My review on @Vivino describes my joy after I finally worked out a way to drink the wine rather than swigging it direct from the bottle.
“I am drinking this magnificent wine out of a paper cup in a cheap B&B in the middle of rural France, my car sadly en panne. So the tasting conditions are not ideal. But it is really good. Zesty fresh and full of intense dark fruit flavours, nothing stewed or heavy, but strong woody notes of pine and cedar. I wish I had bought a crate of this but best not as I may be a foot passenger on the ferry back! #beaujolais #vivelafrance”.
My sad tale earned me some very warm reviews on the Vivino app, and this will always be one of the most memorable bottles that I have drunk. Even in adversity there is light. Despite all the challenges, I felt so happy as I quaffed the wine. Down to the last drop.
Next morning, Monsieur Le Patron greeted me very warmly, and I joked that I had enjoyed a good shower that morning, but had kept the door closed. He told me that he had given up smoking just a year ago, and was still finding it difficult. He offered me a free breakfast, and the hotel, that had seemed rather bleak the night before, felt like it deserved the positive reviews it had attracted.