Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bilbo Rents a Car in France

This post was suggested by a comment my blogging friend Fiona made on her Facebook page yesterday about receiving a phone call - from France, at 3:30am (!) no less - ... it seemed that a French car hire company wanted to know if "Mr Fiona" was enjoying his rental car.

I'm glad I wasn't there to hear the language.

Anyhow, that reminded me of the time I was a party to the rental of a vehicle in France ...

It was many years ago, and Agnes and I were in Germany with our daughter and her friend. We were visiting Agnes's parents in Singen, and had arranged to make a side trip to the beautiful medieval walled town of Riquewihr in the French Alsace, where we were to meet up with our friends Horst and Martina, driving down from Wiesbaden. We met as planned and had a wonderful evening*, and on the following day Horst suggested we take a sightseeing trip up into the Vosges Mountains. We all thought this was a fine idea, but logistically awkward with all of us divided between two small cars. Horst then suggested that we rent a van that would carry all of us. We thought this was another excellent idea.

The fun began with trying to locate someplace to rent a van. Riquewihr is, as I noted before, a medieval walled city with narrow, twisting cobblestone streets and no driving or parking inside the walls except for a few lucky permanent residents, so we had to cast our net wider. After a lengthy telephonic search (complicated by a dearth of French language capability on our collective parts), we eventually located a rental agency in the not-too-far-distant city of Colmar.

How do you get there? Consider two things: (1) We are in a time well before the era of GPS; and, (2) None of us speaks French. Because the Alsace region has been tugged back and forth between France and Germany since the dawn of time, I had almost always been successful in finding a German speaker ... but not this time. No one at the car rental agency professed to speak anything but French, but finally Horst and I managed to convey the idea that we wanted to rent a vehicle able to carry six people, and to learn that it was located somewhere near a French military base in Colmar.

Well, we thought, how hard can this be?

Quite some time later, with me at the wheel and Horst navigating, we were utterly and hopelessly lost, meandering around the beautiful Alsatian landscape which held not the least sign of any car rental agencies, much less the town of Colmar and its alleged military base.

Just as we were about ready to admit defeat and try to find our way back to Riquewihr, we heard a loud sound of growling engines and squealing metal up ahead and suddenly a tank** clanked from a country lane onto our road, slewed around, and roared majestically ahead in the direction we were traveling. Horst looked at me and said, "Follow him ... I'll bet he knows where he's going!"

And so our little convoy of huge green tank and little orange Opal Rekord rolled down the road in what we hoped was the direction of Colmar. The tank commander, standing half out of his hatch in the turret, turned around and saw us following. He looked ahead, then back at us, and helpfully waved at us to pass. We waved back and kept our position. He looked puzzled and waved again. We waved back and smiled. He gave a huge and theatrical Gallic shrug as if to say "dumbass Germans," turned around to the front, and ignored us.

Before long we began passing high stone walls festooned with barbed wire and gaily decorated with signs threatening grievous injury to those who would try to enter illegally ... it was the base we'd been looking for! The tank suddenly slewed to the left and clanked through the gate as we proceeded on, followed by a last puzzled glare from the tank commander.

The rest of the story is about what you'd expect. We soon found the rental agency and - with much pantomime and gesticulation to accompany our abysmal French - we managed to rent a van and (miraculously) find our way back to Riquewihr ... where Agnes and Martina demanded to know why it had taken so long for us to just rent a van. They were not impressed with our excuse. The ensuing sightseeing tour of the beautiful Vosges Mountains was wonderful, and - believe it or not - Horst and I managed to return the van without incident.

Next time, though, forget the van ... I'm renting one of those tanks. The gas mileage may be yucky, but I'd never again have to worry about finding a parking place ...

Have a good day. If following a tank, keep back at least 50 feet***.

More thoughts coming.


* Which is a subject for another post.

** It's called a char in French.

*** It can stop on a dime, and it's rear end is a good deal stronger than your front bumper.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

What a delightful story of renting a car in France! It's really hard 28

If you rent a tank, maybe you can invade some nearby Départments!

How many does a tank seat, anyway? And do they come with stereos?

Mike said...

I can't imagine running into a tank on US roads.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Alsace is supposed to be very scenic, and we hope to go there someday.

I could use atank on Memorial Pkwy and I-565.

Insane Penguin said...

Live in fear, Hummer drivers!

The Bastard King of England said...

Following a tank to a military base is a slow but good bet.