We are on our way to Paris after two wonderful weeks resting in Ceyreste enjoying both the peace of our campsite, the fun and friendship of our fellow campers, and the beauty of this part of Provence around Cassis and La Ciotat. Our holiday is not over yet, however. We plan to visit Taizé and Fontainebleau on our way back to the UK. Julia is very good at planning holidays and we have our route meticulously mapped out for us.
After leaving our campsite on the final Saturday of our holiday we travel as far as Lyon, braving surely the worst stretch of motorway in France (between Marseilles and Lyon) so that we can overnight at a hotel on the north side of France’s second largest city ready for an early start on Sunday morning. We plan to attend the Sunday morning Communion Service at Taizé. We love Taizé. We have been several times before over the years and especially appreciate the fact that we can share the Eucharist with everyone else, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Apparently Taizé has special dispensation to do this – which makes us wonder why such ‘special dispensation’ doesn’t exist everywhere?
The Service is wonderful, we sit there in the stillness afterwards drinking in the atmosphere. I wonder where else you could find 4,000 young people (plus a few of us ‘oldies’) sitting quietly in prayerful silence for 15 minutes (as well as singing the well-known Taizé songs and joining in the Bible Readings and spoken prayers). We visit the shop, buy loads of things, and then drive to a nearby town for a coffee, before heading up to the quaint medieval town of Moret-sur-Loing where we are staying for two nights so that we can visit the palace and gardens at nearby Fontainebleau south-east of Paris.
The worst part of the journey north from Provence is behind us, the motorway is relatively clear, the sun is shining, the air-conditioning is keeping our car nice and cool on the inside, and we are both singing along loudly to the Beatles No 1 Hits on our car CD player. Everything is perfect … and then we are aware of a car behind us flashing us. It is a French car being driven by a swarthy, mixed-race guy who looks very suspicious. We increase speed, but he keeps pace with us, still flashing his lights at us. We go even faster but he overtakes us and pulls in front of us flashing his warning lights at us. I tell Julia not to stop because we have heard about these kinds of ruses on motorways. The driver of the car looks suspiciously like all those pictures in our newspapers and on TV of a Muslim extremist terrorist! We switch off the car radio … and Julia hears a clanking noise.
We pull in to the side of the motorway behind the French car. We get out of our car … and see that the rear section of our exhaust system has more-or-less fallen off our car. The ‘Muslim terrorist’ gets out of his car and comes to help us. He saw what had happened a couple of miles back and drove behind us to let us know that we were in trouble. He refused to give up when we ignored his signals and kept on flashing us until we stopped. He gets some tools out of his own car and has a look at our exhaust system. The back end has broken off. It is kaput and so he cuts it away. ‘Put it in your boot!’ he says but we have no room, so he throws it on to the waste land by the motorway. He tells us that our car is still OK to drive, if a little noisy, and that we will be able to get it fixed in Paris. He is so helpful, so kind, so considerate – not a Muslim terrorist at all! I feel suitably chastened for being so judgemental and looking at the outward appearance and not at the heart.
We finally arrive at Moret-sur-Loing, not exactly limping along but driving very carefully. It is Sunday and all the garages are shut so we park the car, settle in to our B&B, and go out for a drink … we badly need one. The car doesn’t sound too bad, a bit like a BMW, but we are right in the town, so we don’t need to use it. Moret-sur-Loing is delightful and we have a lovely evening.
The next day we hunt down the nearest Nissan garage, which amazingly is not too far away (given that Nissan garages are a rarity in France), and on our way to Fontainebleau. They can fix it for us, but the part will take two days to arrive. They tell us that it is OK for us to drive back to the UK as it is, as long as we keep the speed down to around 60 mph and the revs at a sensible level. They give us an ‘official’ chit to show to the police if we get stopped. We phone our garage back in the UK – the garage that told us that our car was ‘tickety boo’ and that nothing silly like the exhaust falling off while we were in France would ever happen – and arrange to have it fixed when we get home.
So, we carry on to Fontainebleau – such a fabulous place – and have a wonderful day. We drive back to Moret-sur-Loing afterwards, pretending that our Nissan Note is now a BMW, treat ourselves to a great dinner in the town, have a lovely walk by the river, and the following morning head towards Boulogne and the UK. We have had a wonderful holiday and although we may be exhaust-less we are not exhausted but feeling wonderfully refreshed by our three weeks in La Belle France,