So we are off to Provence France to a little town called Venterol for our home exchange. Now there were some time lines set last night for our trip today. Stijn asked what time I would like to arrive in Venterol and we decide together that arriving before dark would be very beneficial. First because I'm not big on trying to find my way somewhere in the dark and we know that when we arrive we need to find the power box, flip the switches on and turn the water on. Remember, this is a vacation home so it's not used all the time and it's COLD in Provence in the middle of January! With that in mind, Stijn gets out the "trusty" TomTom (GPS), enters our desired destination and it is determined that the drive will take us about 10 hours or so including stops. Departure time is then set for 8:00am for an estimated arrival time of 6:00pm.....before dark.
Our journey begins, but I'm not leaving Kaiserslautern until after we stop in a bakery. I must have some German pastries and Stijn needs a coffee.
It's January 10th and it is an absolutely beautiful day for a drive and TomTom takes us through France via the A31 and A6. I have only been to France once before and it was to Paris by train from Ider Oberstein Germany. So to be able to drive through places like Nancy, Dijon and Lyon was a real thrill for me. No time for stopping though, we need to be in Venterol........before dark.
TomTom now tells us to take the A43 towards Grenoble. I am a little puzzled by this. Of course we do not have a good old fashion "map" with us, so we are in trusted to TomTom. However, I do have my books on Provence that Stijn bought me for my birthday back in October, and they have maps! And I have directions to Venterol printed out from an email sent to me by my exchanger. So I question this sudden detour from the written directions and Stijn surprises me with "I put in for the scenic route option". COOL! I love taking scenic routes. He is so sweet and thoughtful.
It was a great choice as this route took us through the Haute-Alps de Provence and we did see some amazing scenery.
Driving through little villages on narrow winding roads while stopping every now and then to take pictures of these incredible snow covered mountains was certainly an unexpected treat. But Stijn reminds me that if we are going to get to our destination before dark, I need to stop taking pictures. He's right, because the sun is slowly setting and just the tops of the mountains are showing the last signs of daylight.
I'm still a bit puzzled though. I have not seen a sign for Venterol in a very long time. I continue to try and compare where we are in relation to the very limited map and direction resources that I have. And I continue to voice these doubts to Stijn who at one point is very happy to assure me that I need not worry and that I certainly do not need the book anymore because TomTom will get us there. Okay then, away with the book with the map and the only directions that we have and I sit back and enjoy the ride.
Well, it's dark now and we are somewhere in France, not Venterol, but somewhere. We start a descent from our mountain drive and see the lights of a village down below. Yeah!!! We are nearly there. As TomTom directs us through this cute little town, which by the way is NOT Venterol, we see a market and decide we better stop and buy some groceries. Now I have to stop here and tell you something that I was very impressed with while doing a little shopping. Stijn got us a grocery cart because we were going to need quite a few things for our stay in Venterol. We unloaded our goodies into the car and Stijn asked if I would return the cart and he would pick me up from there. And then he said something about "don't forget to get the money back". Okay? So I am now in front of the cart return which has a canopy over it and I am looking for some sort of box or something where I'm supposed to take money from? Then I notice that there is a coin inserted in this little box that is on the handle of the cart. So I proceed to try to pull it out. It's not coming out! What the heck do I do? Then I see a chain dangling from another little box on the cart behind mine. Okay, I probably have to put this chain into the back of my box and..........COOL! The coin releases and I'm just in time to jump in the car.
Well we have certainly missed our target time of 6:00pm, it's dark and TomTom directs us to, Journey On! We drive up and over more mountains and with every village that we see illuminated in the dark in the distance we are hopeful that it would be the one, Venterol! Still no signs though reading "Venterol" with maybe a clue of how many more kilometers we need to go. Then it happens. We are in the town of Tallard and after a short drive through the narrow streets TomTom directs us to take a right and behold.......a sign with the name Venterol on it!!!! We high five each other and we are ecstatic that we are nearly there and Stijn is very proud of his TomTom.
Up another mountain we go, and go, and go. The lights below becoming smaller, and smaller, and then just disappear. I am looking as far ahead as I can after each corner that we turn in hopes of some sort of indication that the village of Venterol is just ahead. Lights? Maybe another vehicle would be nice? The road up this mountain becomes very narrow, steep and icy. And then it happens! We pull into this little village and TomTom annouces "You have reached your destination, Good-Bye". Hmmmm. So here we sit in the dark on top of a mountain and Stijn asks "which way do we go"? "Well I don't know honey because this doesn't look anything like the pictures that were sent to me" I reply. So we decide to take this street that is just ahead of us and make an attempt to continue to "climb". But we are now dealing with some more ice and we are both not comfortable with this decision. So we back up onto a side street and Stijn decides to walk back down the hill to the Town Hall we had passed on our way up and hopes to ask someone "Where are we"?
He returns to the car with no answers. So I told him that I noticed some lights on in this little house here to our right, "maybe you could go and ask them", I suggested. So he does just that and when he returns he shares with me that this is indeed Venterol, however there are two Venterol's and this isn't the one we want. Hmmmm. So he turns TomTom back on puts in Venterol again and indeed there are two Venterol's listed. He just happened to choose the Venterol in the Hautes-Alpes de Provence as opposed to the Venterol Drome. Who knew? I did ask though, but you said you put in for the scenic option. This is when I learned there is no such option. Funny guy!
Before we leave this mountain top village Stijn re-programs TomTom and our directions are set once more. But, he asks if I would get the book out with the "map" and see if I can tell exactly where we are and which way we should go to get to Venterol. Hmmmm. Capitol idea!
We make it back down into the valley and TomTom and I are in agreement with the direction we should take. I must tell you though I am ready for a potty break! This would only be my second one during this entire 14 hour trip. So when we come upon a rest stop Stijn stops and I run to the restrooms only to find this.........
Okay, well do I really have to go that bad? Luckily there was another stall with an actual toilet in it, just missing the seat though.
We are absolutely starving now so we pull some bread, cheese and meat from our groceries and enjoy eating it while heading to Venterol, which is about another hour or so away. We actually thought about even opening one of the bottles of wine we had purchased to have with our meal. It was a fun thought but we decided against it. And thank goodness we did. As we came upon another small village we notice up ahead that there is a road block. Of course we just thought this was because there might have been an accident or something. We are stopped by the police officer and Stijn is asked to do a breathalizer test. Turns out that tonight happens to be the night they want to do spot checks for drunk drivers. All we could say was "Thank goodness we didn't open that bottle of wine"!
Now we're seeing signs! I am a happy girl. We arrive in the town square and park the car and take a walk to try and find our house. We actually only had to turn one corner and we were there. I unlocked the door and we fumbled our way in the dark to the power box based on the directions I was given. A flashlight would have been real handy for this, but we persevered. Then down to the lower room of the house to turn on the water and we are set! After we unloaded the car, Stijn started the fire that had already been set for us and all we needed to do was strike a match to it.
It's now about 10:00pm and we are settled in and exhausted. But we can't help but look back on our day and laugh together about what we had to go through to get here. And from what I can see so far, it was worth it!
If you would like to see more pictures of our drive through France go to Wheres Debbie and click on the album "On Our Way"