There’s dark and then there’s ridiculous midnight of the new moon black! What started out so well Saturday morning quickly went sideways.
We had a plain and quick petite déjeuner (breakfast), caught a taxi to the train station and signed out our standard 6 gear shift Opal car to drive to Tarbes. So far so good. We figured out the GPS and how to get the lady to talk in English. By 10:20 we were on our way and promptly made a wrong turn, getting lost. The GPS lady saved us again ….. by 10:30 we were finally on the highway. The car took some getting use to with more shift gears than our car at home. Also it seemed to have a bit of hesitation.
Around 11:00am Brian pulled around a vehicle to pass on the highway and suddenly had no clutch. It was essentially pushed to the floor and he could not shift into any gear ……. just stayed in neutral. Scary at 130 km on a major expressway. He managed to pull over near one of the yellow km markers. After many calls to the Toulouse Europcar rental agent, their first emergency number, their second emergency number and finally the “Motorway” maintenance group (who look after the expressways) we got help. Note that most of these people only speak french and keep handing the calls off to someone they hope can help ….. at one point we ended up talking to an italian who laughed, said he didn’t speak english (at least that’s we think he said) and then promptly hung up.
Finally the operator at 17 (kinda like 911 for highways) said their people would come to assess the nature of the emergency – it would take approximately 30 minutes. By now it was 12 noon. They showed up at 12:25 and essentially said “Yep, you have an emergency. We will have an emergency mechanic come to assess what to do – it will take about 15 minutes.” Note most of this was in broken english (them) and mangled french (us). Roughly 20 minutes later a tow truck showed up driven by a gentleman who couldn’t speak any english. “Yep, it’s a broken clutch. We’ll have to tow it to (unintelligible).” Again in very mangled english with much translation.
He loaded the car, we jumped into the back of his cab and off we went – absolutely no idea where we going. It turns out it was to a car compound where vehicles that breakdown on the highway are stored. It was now around 1:00pm. More phone calls and the Europcar reps indicated they would send a cab. It was almost 1:30pm by now.
The tow truck driver locked the compound, opened a little shed for us to get out of the heat (it was 37c) and then promptly left.
Unfortunately the shed was too hot to stay in, so we move 2 folding chairs to the road side, got out the umbrella for shade and sat to wait. Just over 1 hour later the cabbie showed up.
When he saw us he was laughing so hard – we must have looked silly and out of place with the umbrella – but at least we were cooler than in the shed. He asked if he could take our photo. He’s going to send us the digital copy. It was now 2:30. He indicated he would take us back to Toulouse.
By 3:20 we were signing out another standard shift car. With help we got the GPS lady re-employed and we were on our way again! ……… but for only 500m before we started having problems – smoke – lots of smoke! So back 2km (through the magic of one way streets) to the car rental office and pickup another car – this time a Peugeot automatic (they don’t trust Brian any more with standard shift vehicles).
It was now 4:20pm. Fix the GPS lady with a date and start driving. We were okay until we lost sight of highway 62 – that’s also where we realised the GPS lady had laryngitis.
Pull over, tinker, reset and put a smile on her face. Back on the road and on course only 7 hours late! Everything was finally going our way.
We pulled into parking at our hotel in Tarbes by 7:00pm – our originsl ETA was 12:00 noon.
What a day!!!! This is so much fun participating in the cultural adventure that is france!
……… and there are the Pyrenees in the distance.
We did a short walking tour in the area to scope the restaurants and finally choose one that served pizza. After some hesitation and mangled conversation with the waiter about what the french ingrediants were, we decided to try the seafood pizza – mussels, shrimp, calamari, octopus and white fish (mussels and shrimp still in the shell). It was surprisingly very good, even though you had to pry the little buggers out of their hiding places. We washed it down with a half liter of white wine – a very good end to a tough, hot day.
On another note ……. “Happy Birthday” to Gary (Linda make sure he sees this greeting from Tarbes!)
On a final special note to Darcee: not many dogs where we have been – we’ll keep an eye out for your choice. I do think we saw one, ironically in Italy.
Stay tuned for more to follow …………. most likely from Biarritz.