I forget exactly when we met Caroline, we had not been living in France long, but I do remember where we met.
Just across the river that passes next to our garden is a very large field. It is owned by the Commune and is used on Bastille day for the fishing day and apart from the odd fisherman during the season it rarely sees a soul. As it is Community property and we are part of the community it effectively belongs to us and therefore we are the ones who probably use it the most.
It was in said field that I was trying to teach Mrs Powerfulpierre how to ride a bike, without success I would add, she just and still cannot make the leap of faith needed to balance the bike long enough for the momentum to keep it on two wheels.
Caroline lives in California and has a holiday home just up the road from where we live. She is also friends with our milk providing neighbour, Francoise and as Caroline had a problem with her laptop, obviously she had been pointed in my direction.
Yet again I am struck by the weirdness of a situation, here we were two English people meeting a lady from California in a field in a beautiful but little known part of France talking about a dysfunctional laptop!
Well from there our friendship developed and eventually encompassed both our families as well.
Caroline arranges trips for her students and they stay with local people in and around the village and one year she asked us if we would like to help out by driving one of the two minibuses and take in the sights as well. Of course we were up for it big time.
So we took the TGV, the incredibly fast French high speed train from Le Man to Paris and met up with everyone to start the journey back home with much sight seeing on the way.
First up was to collect the minibuses and I have to say this was even for a former policeman one of the scariest and stressful things I have ever done. To start with it was first thing on a weekday morning in the centre of Paris somewhere that I have never nor would ever drive normally. It is sheer madness, the Parisians take no prisoners and the traffic was heavy. Also you must bare in mind that I had got used to the empty country roads around where we live where even the main road into our nearest town on a Monday morning is deserted.
Next up was the location of the rental firm, right underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysées the most busy roundabout in the known universe. Finally the vehicle itself which I had never driven before and had no time to get used to because it was straight out of the tunnel and into the melee of Parisian traffic. Then it got worse, the Mercedes bus I discovered did not have a handbrake instead it was foot operated and despite my best efforts I could not get the hang of it. I managed to release it but when it came to balancing accelerator and foot brake on an incline I just kept stalling. Eventually by using the proper foot-brake and what is called in racing jargon heeling and toeing I got out onto the road but worse was yet to come.
I had no idea where the pickup point was and was going to follow Caroline in the other bus across Paris. That is when a gendarme appeared out of nowhere, flagged me down and demanded my documents. So there I was on the roundabout, a quickly disappearing Caroline, juggling the foot pedals to avoid rolling back into the rental garage whilst trying to find the documents for the vehicle and my driving licence.
I was going into panic mode, what if I lost sight of the other minibus and I was doomed to driving around the streets of Paris, lost for ever.
I finally got clear of the gendarme and charged across the roundabout completely ignoring other traffic as I tried to catch up with the other bus.
In fairness attack seemed to be the best form of defense, I scattered all before me and there was the other bus waiting for me, but I was still not out of the woods, there was still a long way to go through the bustling Paris streets and as is always the way with these things when we approached a set of traffic lights they would stay green or yellow, the traffic lights here are not the same as in the UK, and Caroline would zip through and then immediately change to red for me.
Eventually we arrived at the hotel and loaded up the buses ready for our great adventure.
So next up in part 2 Paris sights and beyond and more stuff than you can shake a stick at.