Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Last week I was cautioned by the Gendarmerie

Sorry for the delay in Blogging but I've just started on a new project at Shell (I'm a Managing Consultant for IBM's Global Business Services division) and as usual when starting a new project everything is very hectic.

Anyway, back to tales of our Brittany Holiday Home ...

As I blogged last week, the builder had started work on a new patio and driveway for our French Gite and we had guests arriving the following week so I was a bit nervous (to say the least) that everything would be finished and ready for their arrival.

I'd also managed to accumulate yet another car load of stuff to take to the Gite (just where does it all come from???) and a couple of open ticket's that I'd bought on speedferries that were due to expire soon so I decided to pop over for the weekend, take all the stuff and make sure everything was OK.

Leaving work early and driving down to Dover I failed to plan ahead properly for the roadwork's and general Friday evening traffic so I found myself with very little time and lots of miles to go. I won't actually say how fast I was driving (in case anyone official's reading), but suffice to say the I was going (very) quickly and I made it to the port with only 20 minutes to spare before the boat sailed.

I quite like Speedferries as their high speed catamaran is simple and not over full with shops and expensive food (in fact the snack bar is very reasonably priced), and best of all the crossing only takes about just under an hour to Boulogne so it's a chance to catch breath before the drive down to Brittany. The drive down is motorway for all bar the last 30 miles and takes about 6 hours (plus stops). Although this sounds like quite a long journey, for us it's actually about an hour door to door quicker than going via any of the other routes.

So as I'd caught the 17:40 sailing (UK time) and arrived in at 19:30 (French time) this meant I expected to arrive at the Gite sometime after 1am in the morning. By the time I'd filled the car up and driven through Pas de Calais, Normandy and Brittany and had a couple of breaks it meant it was about 2am when I turned off the autoroute for the last 30 or so miles. I've done the route enough times now to know exactly where I'm going and was pretty much driving on autopilot. About 15 miles away from the Gite you have to turn left at a roundabout on the outskirts of a small town. The roundabout is much larger than it really needs to be and as it was past 2am and the roads completely deserted I decided to take the short-cut and drive the English way round the roundabout - i.e. to the left rather than to the right. Nipped round to the left and carried on into the town.

A couple of minutes later whilst driving through the town, saw a blue flashing light behind me. Pulled in and a Gendarmerie car pulled in behind me.

The two of them got out of their car so I thought I'd better get out to see what the problem was. The first one said something to me in French that I didn't fully understand so I decided to try the confused Englishman - Pardonez moi, je ne comprennent pas beaucoup le français.

"You drove the wrong way round the roundabout" he said in pretty good English (oh dear, not going to get away with not being able to communicate)

"Il est tard, je suis très fatigué" (it's late, I'm very tired) I replied, Je suis désolé (I'm sorry)

He then asked for my driving licence and I explained (in French) that "I didn't have it, it was in England, but I did have my passport". I don't think he was sure what to do about that as presumably carrying your driving licence is obligatory if you're French.

He asked me where I was going so I told him I had a house nearby and the name of the nearest village to it - but he didn't know where it was (despite it being about 15 miles away). I tried to explain how to get to it from where we were, but kept on getting the names of all the villages wrong so probably confused him even more. Then when I said that it was near to La Cheze his colleague (which up to now had remained silent) said that he knew where La Cheze was which seemed to reassure the first one that I wasn't just completely making my story up!

I was then asked for my driving licence again ... I knew he didn't believe me the first time. I explained (again) that it was at home in England.

He then asked for my passport and studied it carefully before telling me to be more careful next time and that I could go.


Drove the rest of the way to the Gite without exceeding any speed limits or causing any more driving offences.

So when in France, just be careful of the Gendarmerie - even at 2am in the morning they're still out there!

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