Tag Archives: France

‘Abandoned’ in France

Those who want to be hand-held through a holiday should go online before they leave home

“We have a dishwasher in the tiny kitchen, but we can’t get it to work. Nobody explained it to us,” the crimson-faced Englishman bawled into his held-aloft cellphone in the WiFi-lounge-cum-games-room of our Alpine self-catering apartment block.

He was evidently hopeless, not only for his inability to use a dishwasher – or, heaven forbid, to find an alternative involving using his hands, the sink and some dishwashing liquid – but also for having failed, before hitting the ski-slopes, to apply sunblock to the areas of his face not obscured by his ludicrous goatee. The room fell silent. Children stopped playing pinball, ping-pong and pool. Adults looked up from their online newspapers in disbelief.

“Oooooh, I know,” replied the dismembered voice inside the phone for all to hear. “I read online that the place has a problem with dishwashers. Everyone’s complaining. But it’s better than the other review I saw about the fully-catered chalet next door, where they were given steak and ale pie. I mean, that’s not very French is it? At least you are not staying there.”

Imagine their disgust if they had been served frogs’ legs or thrushes’ gizzards instead. That’s very French …

“It’s disgraceful,” continued the increasingly red and apoplectic Goatee Man. “There’s nobody here to ask. No receptionist. We have been left totally alone.” The room-full of people again looked surprised. We didn’t feel alone. There were dozens of us, listening to his idiotic diatribe.

Luckily there was a defibrillator on the wall behind him, in case, as we say in South Africa, his heart attacked him.

We had found the place, on the contrary, to be remarkably well-equipped. The beds were comfortable, the furniture was sturdy and only in France would a self-catering flat include such crucial equipment as a carafe and a glass lemon-juicer. There were two salad bowls (because to a Frenchman, one salad bowl is never enough) and the provided rubbish-bags had built-in little strings to tie their tops tidily.

In the lounge, the ubiquitous music that risked drowning Goatee’s complaints was delightfully cheesy. France is stuck firmly in the Seventies –tight John Travolta pants, loads of Abba and D.I.S.C.O. – but in a country that produces 600 cheeses, I guess the music mirrors the diet.

The blue-sky views from the huge windows of towering, snow-clad mountains promised many days of enviable skiing. Had we a complaint, it would merely have been that the room smelled of stale cigarettes, but it seemed oddly apt in the land of Gauloises.

An irresistible rummage through the establishment’s online reviews unearthed proof, not of any inadequacy in the establishment itself, but of the appalling incompetence of the people frequenting it. There was the usual whinging and whining, my favourite involving a family, left similarly “totally alone” by the management, only for one of them to get stuck in the loo. In the absence of a receptionist, they had been left with no choice but to call the fire brigade, who had smashed the door down.

The reviewer’s indignation was multiplied ten-fold when he was charged for the broken bathroom door and for the callout of the emergency services.

As I read it, and aptly for many reasons, Waterloo was playing in the background.

This was the “worst hotel in the entire world”, wrote our keyboard warrior. It was entirely management’s fault that he was incapable of extricating a family member from the bathroom without structural alterations. And nobody spoke English. How disgraceful! In France!

I hope these people didn’t try to use the dishwasher. The chances are they’d have needed someone to help them to operate the defibrillator as well.

Mind your Ps in Queues

Some traffic snarl-ups can turn the most mild-mannered of us, however good the sandwich

I checked the clock on the car. It was two in the morning when the Frisbee whistled past my door for the umpteenth time, letting out a loud automated wail as it flew. I lost my composure completely.

The channel tunnel had been closed due to snow – how can it snow in a tunnel? – and we were stranded with several hundred other vehicles, in a car park the size of Belgium, trying to leave France for England.

“Just anuzzer sree hours before you can board,” came the latest assessment. Add three hours to the four we had already waited and tempers were frayed, international relations strained. To compound the severity of the situation, the only accessible coffee machine had packed up because some joker had wedged a pound into the Euro slot.

I was in the driver’s seat because I was the smallest and most likely to be able to sleep there. In the passenger seat a bulky friend squirmed noisily, his leather jacket rubbing on the leather seat and emitting an irritating squawk of the chalk-on-board variety, and snored loudly, intermittently and tunelessly with random explosive snorts that have been known to scare off camp-loping hyena in the Okavango Delta.

Here in France, without the blurring night-sounds of the bush, the noise was intolerable. From behind me, exacerbating it, came the nauseating metallic tinkle of a personal stereo playing directly into mindless teenage ears.

The day had begun with a still-dark 4am start, zigzagging down a black-ice glazed mountain pass consisting of 22 hairpins. Ascending, at each bend, came a string of lurching, corner-cutting coaches, hell-bent on sending us over the cliff and tumbling to an agonising death in the pine trees below.

The only unlikely success of the day had been the hot dogs we had bought in an autorouteservice station. These places are heavenly. Shiny marble runway-like corridors lead off in all directions, spattered with boulangeries, patisseries and coffee shops. There’s not a pie to be seen. Instead, delicious quiches, fresh pizza slices and sandwichs. Not to be confused with sandwiches, a French sandwich is a crusty length of fresh baguette, smeared generously with unsalted butter and then crammed with delicious unprocessed Emmentaler, real smoked ham, tomatoes and crunchy lettuce.

The French hot dog is equally unrelated to its South African “Oddog” namesake. It is a tasty roll, gently enclosing an offal-free sausage, coated in a gorgeous sauce with the mustardy cheese and nutmeg flavour of a genuine Croque Monsieur. Gourmet stuff.

We had then become embroiled in traffic jams in Lyons, Dijon and Paris, the latter involving almost two hours of crawling through black fumes in a tunnel. A sign had explained that the Authorities were experimenting with a lane closure. Well, Authorities, it is a failed experiment.

Now, though, motionless in this vast car park, I desperately wanted to get into another Tunnel. Then the Frisbee shot past my window. I threw the door open and in one leap, snatched it from the shocked child who’d just caught it.

“I am going to smash this bloody thing to pieces!” I heard myself bellowing irrationally. “If you must run around in the snow, can’t you make it silent? Turn off the bloody shrieking noise!” I told the adult who was playing with the child.

Mon fils est aveugle!” His son, he explained, was blind.

“Well, he’s awfully good with a Frisbee, isn’t he?” I smiled contritely and got back into the car, where I patiently waited my turn to cross the Channel, dreaming of hot dogs.