A while ago I went on quite the family holiday. It involved one of these modern cruise liners loaded with more technology than you could shake a stick at. “Oh, get him and his fancy holiday…” However, the one snag with traveling via this method is that you go wherever the boat goes, not necessarily the precise destination of your choosing. Now this wasn’t a problem as Spain and Portugal are lovely places, but the last stop was France. I can admire the French for several things as they are fantastic cooks, brilliant architects and wonderful artists. Culturally France is brilliant but civilisation on the road is not their forte.
If you decide to drive in France there are three outcomes to your journey; death due to frustration, death due to kamikaze bus driver, or death due to Arc De Triomphe. So, in short you will die! Driving in France is much like entering a war-zone armed only with a toothpick; you don’t stand a chance of arriving in one piece. Just looking around at cars that were stationary I could not find a single one without a dent or missing body panel. Even cars that were less than a year old appeared deformed and decapitated, though I did notice of the few German cars I saw that they were untouched. Hmmm, why is that? History and my worrying sense of humour would tell you it is fear for of invasion. You make up your own minds.
So we have established the end result of driving in France, but what causes all the battle scars on the local’s conveyances? Based upon what I saw, and past experiences, it is a combination of France’s attitude towards driving and poor road design. For example I was minding my own business in one of the many parks around a place called Brest, stop sniggering, you know buying the traditional “Brit on holiday” ice cream when a man on a scooter bounced onto the curb and drove through the park. It was like something from wacky races and I was next expecting Dick Dastardly to emerge from the shrubbery! I looked around to find that the locals didn’t even flinch, yet here I was in shock and awe of what had just happened. A MAN ON A SCOOTER JUST DROVE ACROSS THE GRASS AND THROUGH THE PARK! After regaining my composure I then remembered that I was in France and this was an everyday normality that people had got used to.
The next stop was the famous Arc De Triomphe, a fantastically sculpted arch that sits proudly in the centre of a roundabout. But this being the topsy-turvy world of the French it has 7 lanes of traffic circling around it. Who in their right mind designed this? Cars dart through 3 lanes of traffic like mosquitoes though the blades of a fan, motorcyclists lay scattered around the edges of the never ending circus, the sound of broken glass pierces your ears every 30 seconds and of course there is the gauze of noise fabricated from the multitude of tones supplied by various horns. It is so bad that most insurers will not insure you on this roundabout!
Parking in France is much easier than it is in the rest of Europe as the rules of the road seem to state “park where you like.” The consequence is that cars are strewn left, right and centre often finding their way into entrances of building, being used as additions to famous monuments and even parked on tram lines. It doesn’t help that everyone drives a Renault Espace, a car that they would quite understandably want to write-off.
So is the solution to ditch the car and take a push-bike? NO! Not if you value you the use of your legs, and I’m not just saying that because the environmentalists have killed off yet another perfectly good car from the showroom. The problem is the bus drivers and their axe-murdering ways. They are the most vicious of drivers accelerating hard out of junctions often taking out the odd pedestrian, they cut across lanes like a knife through butter and to cap it all off they hate cyclists. Every bus I saw would surge towards the nearest bike and attempt to either make them disappear under their wheels or pull alongside and squeeze them against the side of walls. Cyclists recoil in fear of the brutal mammoth but the elderly don’t stand a chance as they just sit there in acceptance. And the worst part? Cars and buses have the right of way meaning that the law won’t protect you when the inevitable accident happens.
On the way back to the ship I was confronted by what I first thought was the next French revolution! JCB’s and dump trucks lined a road the size of Oxford Street though this could no longer be called a street as all that was left of it was rubble. With the lack of this main road the city was in panic with traffic jams everywhere my eyes looked. These “road works” claimed a road that stretched from where I stood all the way down to the ocean. It disappeared off into the horizon with the curvature of the Earth. However a sign did read, after much deciphering, “open’s next week.” Say what you will about the French, but they know how to get a job done quickly.