Swinging pants in France pt 2

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Sep 29, 2009

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Thursday, June 4, 2009

Its been great to return to France, it feels like returning home so its been quite easy to settle back into the old routine and the agreeable way of life.

Since we left Barcelona the power steering seemed to stop working and the driving was very heavy, this was part of the reason we decided against risking the mountains of Andorra, the driving was hard work and until we could get it checked out we weren't sure if it was safe on the mountain passes.

The van may be 20 years old but the engine is from a late 90's golf, pretty standard stuff and we've seen tons on the road in Spain and France. So getting some advice on the power steering and a new spare should be easy right? well no actually, VW dealers were next to useless. Basically if your cars older than about five years they don't want to know and in fact don't know, the number of VW dealers who thought the engine was at the front was frightening. Most were rude, all were pretty unhelpful. Tyre dealers weren't much better, who'd have thought we would have the rarest tyres in Europe?! Well either that or they weren't interested in helping us out, the situation was getting pretty stressful driving from one garage to the next and getting nowhere fast was a worry.

We got to France during a long holiday weekend, nowhere was open from Saturday until Tuesday so we just decided to get on with it and not let it spoil the traveling to much. We headed towards the Camargue which was an area recommended to us before we left and there looked a number of interesting towns and places to see. It seems to be cowboy country and black bulls and white horses were as common as sheep and cows back home. The town of Nimes was holding a big festival that we caught a bit off and we had a nice time wandering round Avignon and Arles before we drove in the wetlands of the Camargue. Shaz saw a huge beaver (insert own joke) and screamed with fear and surprise, one of the two anyway!

Once the French holiday was eventually over we got back to the job of sorting the van. Heading towards Marseille one garage after the next couldn't help such an old helpless van. We have met lots of VW owners since we hit the north of Spain onwards and in Arles we met an American couple who had a very similar model, he had just fitted his own power steering so was kind enough to have a look, though he couldn't fix it he thought the problem was only minor and though a bit hard it would be safe to drive, that was a relief anyway, all we really had to do now was at least find a spare.

Marseille was a hectic place to drive, it was a really hot afternoon and parking looked a nightmare so we were content with just having a drive around the city. After nearly giving up on the van we finally found a brilliant tyre place that sorted us out, he spoke a bit of English and was happy to chat about his upcoming trip to Silverstone with a couple of brits and after about 2 minutes he figured the power steering fluid must have a minor leak, he topped us up with free fluid, oil and water, checked all the wheels and the van was ready to go, put that in your pipe VW dealers! A really nice bloke he'll never really know how grateful we were, but he was impressed with our journey and happy just to see us safely back on the road.

So next we hit the Cote d'Azur, we'd been expecting long romantic drives in the summer sun along the palm tree lined sea front, but unfortunately in the real world the region is now what you get when you mix to much money with an naturally outstanding area. The smell of money was pretty horrible and most of the coast its spoiled beyond repair. Traffic was bumper to bumper and long summer drives you see on the TV just don't exist. We did though find some nice spots particularly Cannes which we nearly missed out all together as we thought it would be to posh, the beaches along Cannes were great and more unusually for this part of the coast had free and easy parking. Things seemed much more chilled further inland and the outskirts of Provence and the foothills of the Alps at least gave some great driving and free places to sleep over.

So we headed out of France through Monaco, as we just had to experience the roads where they run the Grand Prix, and it didn't disappoint, the roads were indeed crazy and we got lost more than once, when we finally found our way to Monte Carlo and the casino we had somehow managed to drive right up to the main car park, oozing with posh cars and posh people. For some reason they let us drive right upto the door where it looked like they were waiting for some VIP, to see there faces when we drove past the red carpet was priceless, we gave them a toot and a wave and they all cheered! It was a classic moment that still brings a smile to our faces thinking about it.

So thats all for France for now, we'll hopefully be back for the Tour de France which looks like its actually starting in Monaco this year, and as we cross into Italy and country number five we'll see what happens next!
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