|Michael and his brother chez Phillip|
Ryanair, the Ireland-based carrier that specializes in short, cheap flights around Europe, has very tight size-and-weight baggage restrictions, and since we didn’t want to pay any overweight or second-bag charges, we had to pack carefully. One of our carry-on bags had to be filled with dirty laundry because we would be in France on Monday--and Monday, as you know, is wash day.
Dublin’s mid-morning traffic wasn’t too bad, so we made it to the airport in plenty of time to turn in the trusty Nissan Micra that had carried us all over Ireland, get through airport security, and then through customs. Traveling from one E.U. country to another on holiday doesn’t seem to require much more than a cursory passport check.
As it turned out, enforcement of Ryanair’s luggage policy was not as strict we had been led to believe. They offered to check Nancy's carry-on case without an extra fee, and would have let us check another one if we had wanted to. As we boarded the plane, we saw a lot of roll-aboards and duffle bags that exceeded the official size limitations going up the steps and into the cabin with other passengers.
Michael had naively thought that there would be few other people on our flight, because who flies from Dublin to Nantes? A lot of people, apparently, because the Boeing 737 was completely full. On board with us were two groups of teenage students, so we kind of felt like we were on a school bus chaperoning a field trip—except that all the kids were speaking French. The flight went quickly, as did getting through immigration: a functionary in Nantes glanced at our passports, stamped them, and then waved us through without asking a single question.
At the car rental desk, Michael’s French was put on trial as the young woman on the other side made no effort to speak English. But the real test came when we got on the road and tried to understand the female voice coming out of the Garmin GPS device that we had rented along with the car. (The data plan on Michael’s phone is good only for Ireland, so we can’t use Google Maps in France.) Michael had asked the clerk to set the Garmin for English, but the instructions that came out of it did not sound like English at all. Every now and then we thought we heard the voice say, “Go left,” or “Go right,” but the phrases were so heavily accented that it was impossible to know which language was being spoken. All numbers were given in French, so unless you knew that “Ah, quatre-vingt-trois” meant highway A-83, you would be completely lost. And then there were the street names. French street names tend to be long, and they also tend not to be posted at every intersection, so a direction that says: “En cinqcents metres, à le chemin du Ponte de l’Arche de Mauves, go left” is not extremely helpful when you come to the expected crossroads in 500 meters and find two signs: one that says “Centre Ville,” and another that says “Toutes Directions”—and neither is pointing left. Adding to all this navigational confusion was the fact that Michael was trying to remember that it was now OK to drive on the right side of the road again.
The first place we needed to find was the train station in the center of Nantes, where we were supposed to pick up Michael's brother. Phil had taken the train to Nantes from La Rochelle and was planning to drive back with us in order to show us the way to his home. Now, Michael had been to this train station several times before, having spent a few months in Nantes as a missionary. Naturally, we understood that things in Nantes might have changed a little bit in the forty years since his mission, which is why we were trying to use the Garmin. (How Nancy wished Michael had asked the car rental clerk for a map, too!)
The first change we discovered is that Nantes now has a Gare Nord (North Station) and a Gare Sud (South Station): two distinct buildings separated by a wide swath of train tracks. Phil had told us to meet him at the “main entrance” to the station, so, figuring that if he had come from La Rochelle, which is south of Nantes, he must be at the South Station, that’s where we went to look for him.
|Our ultimate destination|
|Phillip's wife Patricia|
Well, Phil had figured that since Michael had lived in Nantes years ago, he would remember the old main entrance, now the entrance to the Gare Nord, so that’s where he went to wait for us. Meanwhile, we had been searching the Gare Sud. We’re still not quite sure exactly how we found each other, but eventually we did—only two hours after we were supposed to meet.
By 5:30, the three of us were in the Peugeot and on our way to La Rochelle, with Phil navigating. However, we had hardly gotten out of Nantes before Michael and Nancy realized that Phil's sense of direction was challenged and that he was not confident of the route to La Rochelle. We didn’t want to offend him—or further confuse the situation—by turning on the Garmin, so we just let him give directions as best he could.
|Patricia's mother, Mamina|
Three hours later, having followed—or not followed—a lot of blue and green signs, and passed through a number of little towns and a wide expanse of empty marshland, we finally arrived at Phil and Patricia’s home in l’Houmeau, a seaside village outside La Rochelle.
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