On the last day of April in the Year of Our Lord 2012, fellow travel writer Melanie Waldman and I decided to rent a car in Paris and drive down to Avignon for our stay at the Hotel d’Europe. This is our story.
Mel and I head south out of Charles de Gaulle Airport armed with a driving map of France that I’d just bought at the tabac. We’re two professional travel writers. We can do this.
We park illegally and stroll the grounds of the famous chateau.
Somewhere in France, 12PM:
Taking only secondary roads, we stumble upon an adorable town perched above a river. We park legally, frolic in a park, take pictures, get back in the car.
Somewhere in France, 1PM:
“Welcome to the South of France!” Mel says as she takes in mustard fields and the occasional village church. We are maybe 60 miles outside of Paris.
Somewhere in France, 1PM – 6PM:
We stop approximately four hundred times to take pictures of villages, fields, the sky, animals and a windmill.
Somewhere in France, 3PM:
The rest stop’s restaurant is closed; we get wrapped sandwiches and water and eat in the parking lot.
Somewhere in France, 5PM:
I buy nougat and more water in a discount supermarket. We decide not to drive east toward Lyon, but to head directly through the Massif Central, which we’d always wanted to see.
The Massif Central, 7PM:
We ooh and aah at the mountains.
The Massif Central 7:30PM:
I realize we are going to need to get down off these mountains. And it’s getting dark. And there’s a storm chasing us. I call the hotel to say we’re going to be late.
The Massif Central, 8PM – 11PM:
Mel drives in complete blackness around hundreds – YES, HUNDREDS – of descending hairpin turns while trying to keep me calm. I stop breathing.
We finally come upon civilization in the form of an empty bar in a deserted town square. Mel uses the bathroom; I inhale an entire cigarette in one puff. We get back in the car.
The Massif Central, 11PM – 12AM:
The hairpin turns in darkness are now frequently lit by lightning that reveals sheer drops, directly out my window, in nightmare snapshots that will haunt me forever.
Blessedly flat ground, 12AM:
I exhale, declare Mel my personal superhero, and pledge my life to her. We start following signs for Avignon.
Avignon, France, 1AM:
“It’s a walled city, we can’t get lost,” I say. “Just pull over and I’ll ask someone where the hotel OH MY GOD THERE IT IS.” We scream incoherently, park illegally, fall out of the car and resist hugging the bellboy.
Avignon, France, 2AM:
Mel and I are safely tucked into our beds in side-by-side jewel box hotel rooms at the Hotel d’Europe.