Exploding Myths

Posted on August 12, 2012 by

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          This is the last time, said he, we use cheap airlines. Air France in future. No cruddy ** hotels either, we’ll stay in luxury, in The Grand Hotel, Tours.

Oh dear. ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive’ springs to mind (R. L. Stevenson). Air France doesn’t go to Tours. It goes to Paris. You have to get the TGV from the airport. Plus Air France means getting to Heathrow, miles away (cattle class goes from our local airport).

Bonjour, messieurs et Mesdames, nous sommes arrriver à Paris à 13.30. In your dreams. 13.30 we’re still at Heathrow. So much for Air France and scheduled flights. Coffee, handed out five minutes before touch down, comes in a paper cup. We arrive at Charles de Gaulle with a nine minute panic to board our train. Have you been to CDG? Don’t. Plus. Does the TGV go to Tours? No it does not. It goes to the suburbs. You have to take the Navette to Centre Ville.

As for The Grand Hotel. Don’t go there either. Our luxury room was in the attic. No windows, a Velux in the Mansard roof, under which hotel servants slept before the Revolution.

Excusez us Madame, we need to change rooms. We do. The following morning. Excusez us, madame, we need to change rooms again. A deafening shake, rattle and roll woke us at 6am. Room troisième turned out not to be without drama either. I want to go to bed with Colin Dexter but when I switch on my bedside lamp… BOOOOMMM! The entire floor is plunged into darkness.

More disappointment greets us outside. The once elegant streets of Tours have been ripped up and barricaded with miles of orange plastic. Bulldozers, concrete and dust assault the senses.

Turns out an egomaniacal Mayor decided his legacy would be to foist a tram system on this beautiful city. A tram! You can walk around Tours. It has only 130,000 residents. France has gone tram mad. Soon there will not be a town or city without one. Heartbreaking. Who does France think it is? England? It’s a myth the French do not allow themselves to be walked over. Les citoyens had no say in the matter. Why do they not marchons, marchons and storm the barricades singing La Marseillaise?

Talking about French myths. All the books on France insist the French do not invite strangers into their homes. One morning, at Reception, there is a message from the couple whose gite we rented on our last visit (it was booked, hence the not so Grand Hotel). Would we phone?  Bonjour Dominique! No, no Dominique is my husband. I am Laurence. Pardon?  En Angleterre….oui, oui, mais en France…would you like to come to dinner?

Another myth is the French have no sense of humour. We tell our hosts we circumnavigated the house because we arrived too early (the French, say all the books, think it rude if guests arrive early). Yes, Madame says, we saw you, we wondered what you were doing. Joke. They had not, but thought the story funny. Another myth is that the French are intensely private. Not so. Madame and Monsieur are so open they offered us their second car to use for the duration of our stay.

What was not a myth was that dinner started at seven and went on till midnight helped along by four bottles of wine. We are privileged to have spent a delightful evening in the home of a delightful French family. Reared to respect their elders (respect doubled for guests) the children’s behaviour was light years away from that of attention seeking English kids.

In the end, we managed to find ways of avoiding the building sites, preferring our romantic, blinkered view of pre-vandalised Tours. We saw only what we wanted to see. We still admired the wonderful Hôtel de Ville and ignored the orange bunting outside around the fountains. Old Tours is still as beautiful and, so far, fingers crossed, still untouched. The churches are still awe inspiring and the antique shops in the cobbled alleyways still as beguiling. We came away still thinking how lucky Monsieur and Madame are to live there.

Why, wonder, friends and family, would you want to live in France? It’s years behind the UK. Yes, we say, that’s the whole point.

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