Tag Archives: driving

Driving to Bordeaux

We had an early morning today to get ready for the trek from Barcelona to Bordeaux. Just as we were getting the hang of the city without street signs (Barcelona), it was time to leave. On the way out we planned our route a little more carefully, and it paid off. First stop? Liquor store! We weren’t sure if we’d be able to get Havana club easily in Paris, so we stocked up before we left Spain. Next stop? Bocadillos for the road! A chorizo and brie sandwich just tastes better at 160 kph.

About halfway from Barcelona to Bordeaux is the tiny mountain country (principality) of Andorra. How often do you get a chance to go a few minutes out of your way to get another stamp in your passport? It took a little extra time and effort to get there, but that’s just what we did. The border station is pretty funny. There’s basically a roundabout ~1/4 mile in radius with a hut at one end. If you want your passport stamped, you pull aside, walk into the hut, then continue back the way you came.

And a word about the road. Last year the BBC program Top Gear did a segment on the best driving road in the world. They tried out various roads on the continent, most of which were in Southern Europe. Eventually they decided on a route from Davos, Switzerland, to Stelvio, Italy. I’ve only been on the segment of that road that has all the stop lights so I can’t make an honest judgment. But after what I saw today I think they may have gotten it all wrong. The road from Andorra to to Foix, France, is breathtaking. Again, I’m slightly disappointed to have been cooped up in a Audi A4, but more often than not I was in the fastest car in the pack and I was able to pass the “cloggies” at will. The Europeans have this driving game figured out. You want to drive fast? Have at it; but it’s going to cost you. Consider this: the road tolls from Barcelona to Bordeaux ran ~€40 and the tank of petrol was ~€70. That’s $156 at today’s exchange rate (1.4255:1). Certainly not an everyday event, but man it was fun!

Once we’d passed the Pyrenees, the road into Toulouse and ultimately to Bordeaux was completely uneventful. In fact there wasn’t really any excitement until we started seeing signs for Pauillac. Our hotel is in an old Chateau a few hundred yards from the the Port/Centre of Pauillac, in the village of Bages (as in Chateau Lynch-Bages). After we’d found the hotel, we rolled into the driveway and a porter met us with a smile on his face. When I stepped out of the car he greeted me with, “Good evening Mr. Franks.” I can only guess we were the last guests to arrive tonight, as I don’t look a thing like my latest press photo.

After we’d checked in, we jumped back into the car for a ride down to the docks for dinner. We decided on a local specialty: pizza. 😉 Keep in mind, this pizza had duck on it! Dinner completed, we came back to the hotel to head to bed. We’re hoping to have an early start for the Chateaux visits tomorrow.

Fat Americans

So we already suffered the indignity of the Renault Vel Satis.  I tried to get either an Audi or Mercedes for the Monaco leg of the trip, but Europcar wasn’t having it.  They said that most Americans like the bigger cars, and this was the biggest they had.  This exchange happened in Marseille, and I didn’t have the language skills to debate with them.

On the Barcelona to Bordeuax leg, I wasn’t going to have it again.  First they tried to strap us with the Renault Espace.  One look at it and I told them to it was too big (it seats 9, I think).  Then they tried to move us down to a Ford X-Mas.  Basically the same car, only made by Ford and about 2 cm shorter.  Maybe the Ford only seats 8.  They actually had to bring this one from the main lot away from the airport and we had to wait 30 minutes for it.

When we balked at this one they finally gave us an Audi A4 (for the same price).  They should know that I’m not your normal everyday fool!  😀

Manejando Rapidamente

The next part of our trip called for us to drop off the French Wagon Queen Family Truckster 177 km south of Roses in Barcelona. We left Roses just a little bit late, so the optimist in me said that we could make it up on the drive down. I fell in with a convoy of speedy Spaniards in riced-out BMWs, and it turned out that we actually arrived earlier than planned!

We arrived in the Barcelona airport, turned in the car (no damage penalty on the mirror!), checked in and walked leisurely to our gate. The flight to Madrid was painless…akin to SF to LA. The drive to the hotel was equally painless. What I’m learning really quickly about Spain is that there is almost no stress. Which made it REALLY ironic to see a Church of Scientology a block from our hotel. Maybe they heard we were coming and set it up as a precaution? 😉

All in, everyone is really nice, and my Spanish is going really far.

Leaving the Riviera

The 5 and 1/2 hour trip from Monaco to Roses was bittersweet. Everyone knows how I drive, so you can imagine that I was like a pig in slop driving the A8, the main artery through the Riviera. Again, every 3rd car is a Ferrari.  And those that aren’t are driven as if they were. It was the most awesome and efficient traffic experience I’ve ever witnessed. A 3 lane automotive ballet!  And I was part of it without disrupting the flow. The only thing that would’ve made it better was my own car.  C’est la vie.

Another thing that we loved about driving the Rivera was a local English-language radio station: Riviera Radio.  Their self-agrandizing catch phrase?  “From the best yachts to the finest villas, Riviera Radio!” In actuality, it was super cheesy 70s/80s oldies-but-not-so-goodies. But it was a fun sort of camp, and it was much better than the monotone Italian talk radio or French-language Euro Pop on every other frequency.  When we lost signal someplace west of Cannes, we knew we were no longer in the Riviera.  And pardon the horrible turn of phrase, but when the music stopped so did the ballet.

But before we knew it we started seeing labels on trucks that we could prounounce, and soon thereafter we had crossed into España.  I tend to compare many of the places in which I’ve traveled to Mexico.  This is primarily because Mexico is my baseline for societies that live below the mainstream standard we enjoy in the US.  I almost instantly got this vibe from Spain and I mean this as a really good thing.  The roads aren’t in the same condition as in France, and nowhere near the pristine billiard tables that Monegasques enjoy.  And there’s a little more dust in the gutters.  And there are bars on the windows.  But it seems completely without pretense and so full of life.  We’ll write more about our experience in Roses over the coming days, but it’s a really great place so far.

This little comparison came to mind when I was trying to explain to Liz cultural differences in Europe.  Please forgive the sweeping generalizations, but here it is:

  • Italy: Work hard, play hard.
  • Spain: Play hard.
  • Germany: Work hard.
  • France: Don’t do anything hard.

I’m probably way off, but that’s my experience and I thought it made sense at the time.