During our recent Tale of Two Cities holiday in London and Paris, we planned for a day excursion from Paris to have a look at a couple of chateaux in the Loire Valley.
We also wanted to take the opportunity to have a look at the cathedral in Chartres, where neither hubbie nor I had been before.
We are not tour-bus people – we like to keep our independence when traveling, so an organized excursion from Paris was out of the question.
I started to do some research on our best options a month or two before departure. We really didn’t want to spend a few hours trying to navigate our way through Paris. So, why not rent the car from somewhere OUTSIDE of Paris, and make our way to that place by train?
Sure enough, if you go to Avis’s online reservation site, you can reserve a car for pick up from the Chartres train station! Excellent!! This was perfect – we’d take an early morning train from Paris to Chartres, pick up the car, have a look at the cathedral, and drive down to the Loire, reversing the process that evening.
The whole train thing went really well. We were in Chartres by a little after 9 am. Perfect! We walked out of the main station hall looking for an Avis sign. Nothing. So, we walked back inside. Ah! A tiny little sign to a tiny little room with a matronly French lady sitting behind it, reading glasses perched on her nose.
We told her we had a car reserved. She spluttered a whole bunch of French at us exasperatedly. My school/uni French, virtually unused for 10 years, had absolutely no hope against her tirade. She finally managed a “no cars” in English, picked up a post-it, scribbled an address on it, and spewed some French again. This time, I made out the “trois (3) kilometres” and “taxi” bits. She waved the paper at us and shoo’ed us out the door. My frantic waving of piece of paper with our reservation confirmation did not impress her at all.
Luckily, there was a lone taxi outside the station. Out we went to it, kids in tow, andpresented the driver with our scribbled address. He took us to what appeared to be the industrial area outside of Chartres where, indeed, there was an Avis parking lot and office. By the time we got there it was nearly 10 o’clock. A guy who looked like he might be a mechanic sat behind the desk.
Miraculously it seemed by this point, he actually had a printout with our reservation on it. After locating it, he proceeded to fill out the rental agreement with a ball point pen. He really did not speak more than about 3 words of English. Or, if he did, he certainly wasn’t letting on.
We were of course starting to wonder at this point, how on earth we were to return the car to this ‘middle of nowhere’ location and then somehow find a taxi to take us back to the train station. I was very proud of myself for cobbling together the question “is it possible to return the car to the station this evening” in what must have been intelligible French, since he answered “then you must take the train.” I wondered what the hell else he thought we were going to do, and assured him we had our ticket. He seemed satisfied and continued with his form.
Finally, he took us out to the parking lot – where about 30-odd cars were parked, and led us to a Renault Laguna with its hood up, and a girl busily vacuuming the front seat. We had to wait for her to finish, of course. Apparently we couldn’t have any of the other cars on the lot that looked like they were already serviced and ready.
We were eventually allowed to leave with our Renault and had a lovely, much delayed, day in the countryside. Lovely, except, of course, for the motorway-toll fiasco, and the sour-faced woman at the station who reluctantly agreed to accept the keys from us when we returned. But those are all separate stories for another day.
This was of course hardly a pick-up at the train station as the booking site had indicated. I’m not sure whether I’ll bother with complaining to Avis – although I might just send them a link to this post with a copy of our reservation. People made of less adventurous stuff might have thrown their arms up in despair and caught the first train back to the relative predictability of Paris. I have a feeling, though, that nothing will come of complaining. It very well might be just the cost of trying to be a slightly independent tourist in France.
If I’m wrong, I will be sure to let you all know.
Post From My iPad, written somewhere between London and Denver – up in the sky.