12 September 2009

L'Auvergne: pre-departure events

It's been a week since we left the Auvergne and returned to the Touraine. And every day for a week, the same thought has crossed my mind. I want to go back to the Auvergne. It was so beautiful and we had such a good time.

Because of the intensely green landscape and the fog and low clouds, it was other-worldly. The land was hilly, even mountainous, and it was emerald-colored. The Touraine isn't exactly flat, but right now it is all parched brown or yellow. It's home, so it's normal now. But the Auvergne is exotic, seen (or remembered) from here.

A valley near the town of Salers in the Cantal

The day we left Saint-Aignan to drive down there, our friends were going in their rented car and we were going in our little Peugeot. We all got up fairly early and had some bread, croissants, butter, and jam for breakfast, with coffee. Walt and I were busy packing for the trip. But Evelyn, Lewis, and Linda, who had already been traveling for a few days, were able to pack up faster than we were.

At about 11:00, they said they were ready and they wanted to go into Saint-Aignan to see the château and the church before we started our journey. That sounded like a good idea. We said we would be along shortly, and we would just find them in the old town, which is pretty small.

The church and château in Saint-Aignan
reflected in the Cher River

Half an hour or so later, we were ready. We had the car all packed, the dog on the back seat, the food in the cooler, and the wine in the trunk. We had closed up the house, except for the garage door, which is the door we enter through when we come back home after driving anywhere. Walt took out his key to lock that door, and it wouldn't work. We fiddled with the key and the lock, cursing it, for what seemed to be ten minutes, with no luck.

"Well, we can't go if we can't lock up the house," Walt said. "We'll just have to stay in Saint-Aignan — or at least I will." We were both pretty stressed. I got out my key and tried to lock the door, but the mechanism was jammed. It seemed hopeless. We would have to call a locksmith, and that might take the whole afternoon. And then suddenly, when W. tried it again, it worked. Success! We were free to leave. We didn't know if we'd be able to get back in without breaking a window, but tough. We were going.

We drove the two miles to Saint-Aignan, and turned off the main street onto the little dead-end lane that runs past the front door of the church up to the base of the château. There they were. Linda hurried into the church to look around while Evelyn and Lewis came to talk to us.

More reflections

"Does Linda know to go down into the crypt to see the frescoes?" I asked. No, they said. "Well, let me run in and show her." They said they would wander back to their car, which was parked a few hundred yards up the street, in the town's biggest parking lot. I pulled off the street, alongside the church, blocking in a car that was already— and illegally, I'm sure — parked there. Walt was going to stay with our car anyway.

I showed Linda the 12th and 15th century frescoes in the crypt of the Saint-Aignan church. It only took a minute or two. At the top of the steps leading down to the lower level, there is a light switch to turn on all the lights down below. There's also a bulb there that gets turned on so you can tell whether the lights in the crypt are on or off. It wasn't shining, so I flipped the switch.

The old frescoes in the crypt of the church at Saint-Aignan
date from the 12th and 15th centuries.

As we started down the steps, I heard a voice — clearly an Englishman's — booming from below. "Have you thrown a switch up there? If so, you've turned off the lights. I'm in the dark!" I yelled out an apology and went back up the stairs to flip the switch again and turn the lights back on.

Having admired the frescoes, we exited the church. Linda walked ahead to join Evelyn and Lewis at their car. I started to back out of my improvised parking space. Now if you've spent some time in France, 7especially in Paris, you know that French drivers are not the world's most disciplined when it comes to parking their vehicles. They drive right up onto the sidewalks and leave their cars there, if they feel like it. The double-park. Parking spaces? Ha! Connais pas !

Short concrete posts installed in front of the church
to keep people from parking their cars there
I backed into one at the worst moment...

To discourage such wildcat parking, the French authorities often erect posts and bollards of different kinds along the edges of streets where they really don't want people to park their cars. Some are tall, and some are short. In front of the church at Saint-Aignan, they've put up low, thick concrete posts for this purpose. I knew there was one such post on the right side of my car, so I wanted to be careful not to scrape against it as I back out of the parking space.

I pulled forward to the left, maneuvered into a position from which I thought I could back straight out into the street before turning right to go down the hill, and I threw the Peugeot into reverse. I didn't exactly floor it, but I backed up without hesitation. And suddenly, there was a grinding crunch and the car stopped short. I had backed squarely into a concrete post that I couldn't see from inside the car and whose existence I hadn't been aware of! Merde !

The crash knocked my Peugeot's back bumper loose.

I wasn't sure at first if the car was still driveable. Walt and I got out to inspect the damage. The man whose car I had parked behind came along, and looked at it with us. "Everybody runs into those damned posts, since they put them up a couple of years ago. I've complained to the mayor, but they won't do anything about the situation," he told us. He said he thought the damage wasn't too bad.

The bumper was — still is, actually — detached from the fenders on both sides of the car, and the muffler and tailpipe seemed to be hanging at a funny angle. Nothing was scraping the back tires, however, so we drove up to the big parking lot where our friends had left their car. I told them what had happened and said I need to go see my mechanic before we hit the road.

L'église de Saint-Aignan

The mechanic's garage had clearly closed for lunch when we got there. It was maybe five past twelve. Luckily, one of the employees was just letting himself out. I accosted him and asked him if he might have time to look at my car for a minute to assure me it was safe to drive. He kicked the bumper, pulled it back into place, and verified that it was not at risk of falling off the car as we drove down the autoroute. He wished us a bon voyage and said he could re-attach the bumper when we got back to Saint-Aignan

We started our five-hour drive, with our friends following us in their car. We hadn't had any brunch or lunch and I was already hungry.


  1. Next time you come to Auvergne, you'll have to make your way down to Aveyron! Last week wouldn't have been too good though, too busy with rentrée stuff..

    We're two hours from Clermont-Ferrand

  2. Just to get the comment subscription...

  3. What an awful way to start a holiday! Luckily your stay in the Auvergne made up for it! Martine

  4. There's nothing quite like that horrible sickening crunching noise and the realisation that you have hit something. You feel so stupid, angry, embarrassed and frustrated.
    Those bollards are all over France and are a menace. They are also a danger to pedestrians who have to keep their eyes fixed on the pavements to avoid falling over one (or stepping in the dog poo). Yet the drivers who insist on parking on the pavements are possibly even more of a nuisance, forcing pedestrians to take their chances walking in the road.
    A stressful start to your holiday. I'm glad you had a good time anyway.

  5. Just spotted the news about your residency cards. Congratulations, I bet you're very pleased. Time to get the Vouvray out !!

  6. Ken & Walt ... I wanted to be the first to congratulate you on your 10 years' residency cards ... but Jean beat me to it!!!

    Nevertheless, from the bottom of my heart: 'Félicitations!' and enjoy it !!!


  7. Congrats for the residency cards. Ten more years!

  8. Cheers to the residency cards......cause for celebration indeed.....my trip yesterday started out later than planned as well....i had the car fully packed (not an inch of free space left) ready to leave nc where i've been since mid may.....and i couldn't corral the cats for another 2 hours! It was a real cat & mouse game....i had to pretend to not be interested in them & then pounce & if I missed, it would take even longer....i was exhausted before starting the 7 hr drive....

  9. What excitement on the beginning of your holiday! And it all took place before you got out of St. Aignan. Glad none of it stopped you from going on with your trip. And, apparently, you got back into your house ok.

    Congrats on the residency cards!

  10. What's all this about the residency cards?? Is it on Walt's page? That's GREAT NEWS!

    I'm glad that you were able to take off on your trip without any further delay. Have you said... was this your first trip to the Auvergne?

    (verification word: cologned ... makes me laugh :)) "Darling, have you cologned yet? It's really time to be leaving. Hurry! Cologne yourself!"

  11. (Judy, check the "breaking news" at the top right of Ken's blog about the residency cards).
    That is great news indeed!
    Betty is right. You will have to go down to visit Aveyron. It is a pretty amazing place.

  12. Getting the 10-year carte de résident is a big deal. You are not even allowed to apply for it until you have already lived in France for five years. In theory, you have to show proof that you have the resources to live here, but at the same time the 10-year card gives you the right to work (exercer une activité professionnelle). Of course, I'm too old to work now — thank goodness! The main benefit for us is that we won't have to re-apply annually for residency permits and worry that for whatever reason our applications might not be approved.

  13. Ouch, sorry about the car.

    I've been enjoying the posts about your summer excursions so much. The photo of the Cantal valley is gorgeous.

    Congrats on the 10 year card.

  14. Heureux sont les deux chanceux qui n'ont plus à faire des démarches administratives. Congratulations and your interesting life in France continues.

  15. 10 year cards, you're not going for permanent citizenship? Pourquoi pas?

  16. You two have the best adventures, although I'm sure you could have done without a couple of them!

    Congratulations as well!!


  17. I am happy to know you have eventually got your 10-year residency cards ! Bravo ! Marie

  18. Congratulations on the residency card. You two are practically natives. Now if you should ever want to earn a few euros, you'll be able to do so. (Notice, I did not use the word work.)


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