I’ve already done my complaining about the South, the narrow strip of coast that seems to attract the whole of France and points beyond every summer, creating a crush of humanity and noisy traffic. Sitting here looking at this view, yes, this view, you’d wonder why anyone would complain. Yes, this rental house is ideally situated for me. It’s quiet, up in the hills, has a pool. But the family are all down at the beach this afternoon, sharing a postage stamp sized patch of gritty, sticky sand, and being cooled by the (strong today) breeze.
But I wanted to complain anew about the drive South, which has to be one of the worst experiences you can have in a car.
Nine hours on the road to make a journey that would take seven hours without traffic. We’re heading in from the East, so the first bit of the journey is all right. The motorways are quiet, the drivers sane. But it all changes as soon as you get South of Lyon and are joined by the traffic from the rest of France, particularly those city dwellers from the Island called Paris.
Then the traffic gets M1/M25 heavy. The British are used to this, of course, but most of the French experience it twice a year, once on the way down, and once on the way back. And they go a bit crazy, it has to be said. The mad lane-swapping, for example, with sudden lurching manoeuvres to make up one car length and get ahead, oh yes, of the rest. And the super-aggressive tailgating, in the apparent belief that if they can intimidate you, the car in front of them, to move aside, then everything will be all right. Only there’s always another car, and so the aggression gets ramped up and up and up.
The traffic is heavy, and every service area is slammed, crowded with humanity queuing for a pee. There are no parking spaces, and people are basically abandoning cars just anywhere, just like they do here in the South, where there is never anywhere to park, and even the supermarket car park is full all the time. The atmosphere is febrile, desperate, and the closer you get to your destination, the hotter it is.
I was using Google Maps as my satnav, as is my habit, and apart from one application crash, it worked brilliantly. How brilliantly? Quite early on, just as the traffic was getting worse, straight after Lyon, one of the grey alternative routes indicated it was 9 minutes faster. I immediately swept the car off the motorway at the junction in question and followed what was, essentially, an impromptu diversion around a traffic jam. We’re sharing this house with my brother-in-law and family and they set out twenty minutes ahead of us. We caught up with them at a service area near Bourg-en-Bresse (they always stop for ages because they’re French), and they set off again about five minutes ahead of us.
While we were on the Google Diversion, we overtook them, somewhere to the left of us, sitting in a massive bouchon (traffic jam). We could see the motorway, but we were on the more or less empty parallel National road. The ‘nine minutes faster’ turned into ninety minutes faster. We got back on the motorway, but we were now an hour and a half ahead of them, as they remained stuck in a slow moving nexus of traffic all the way South. Sure, we hit slow spots, but we still managed to arrive three and a half hours before them. Thanks, Google.
The worst bit, for me, came after one of the gares de péage, which was when about 20 lanes of booth traffic tried to merge into the three lanes of the motorway after the péage. For a British person who believes in queuing, taking turns, and fair play, it was the worst place in the world.
Dunno about going back. It was bad, heading the other way. Do we hang around for most of Saturday, setting off in the evening? Do we leave before the crack of dawn, as we did heading South? I suspect the former, but I worry about the cat. We left Oscar in Auxelles, being cared for by neighbours, and he’s already thrown up on the floor.