The kids are on school holiday and we decide to head South to Provence. We begin by boarding the TGV to Aix-en-Provence. This was totally cool, we get to the South in three hours; no driving, just watching the countryside: Farmyards, steepled churches. Scenic. The weather is sunny and warm. We rent a car and follow the directions to our rented cottage.
Following the directions carefully, we drive further and further into the country. The closer we get to the cottage, the closer we get to nowhere. After many roundabouts, we end up at our "cottage". We are greeted by a fierce looking, barking german shepherd next door. All the houses are surrounded by fences with padlocks. EEK. It doesn't look the way it did on the Internet. We can't actually get into the "compound" because there is no one to let us in. I'm not so secretly hoping she doesn't show up. We're parked on a gravel incline with other cars parked around us. Actually, this little patch of houses reminds us of our former street, Hays, complete with barking dogs, limited parking on an incline, and a sketchy feel to the area. After waiting quite a while in the car, Maggie and Quinn begin to literally run around the car. They are at this for some time. Meanwhile, I telephone the woman who is to let us in. No answer on her cell or home phone. Hmmm. We decide to give her about ten more minutes before we look for alternative accomodations as it is getting dark.
As we continue waiting, Quinn slips in a patch of wet mud in front of the cottage, and he is a mess. Fortunately our luggage is at hand and he changes into new clothes. But that cinches it, we're outta there. I call some places for a backup plan. This time we decide to stay closer to a city, back toward Aix-en-Provence. The guidebook says it's a nice comfortable hotel with a splendid view of gardens.
We enter Aix, and for the life of us, cannot find any street signs. We have the directions the woman at the hotel gave us, but can't find the streets we need. We call again, again she gives us directions. Not only are we lost, the city is very crowded, and there is nary a place to even pull over. So we are frantically asking people for directions.
In the meantime, Maggie announces that she's going to get sick. Sure enough, she vomits into her little cupped hands. How neat and tidy. But then a tidal wave busts out and hot liquid is flying everywhere. We finally just pull over in the street and Maggie and I scramble out of the car. Out on the sidewalk, her body stops its rude outburst after one last splat on the concrete.
Not having a choice, Sean parks the car in a crazy place at the intersection of two roads. We clean up Maggie and the car as best we can with no paper towels or the like. Again, thankfully the luggage is with us and Maggie changes into clean clothes.
We are so totally frustrated that we can't find the way to the hotel, and now we have a very stinky car that might cause more hurling. Not to mention the two little hungry and road weary travelers in the back seat. I call the woman at the hotel again and explain that the roads are not well marked. She begins to yell at me that they ARE marked, and I need to just follow the directions. I say I will call her back, but am thinking about pulling into the first hotel we see.
Luckily, we see an Office of Tourism, and for some reason at 5:50 P.M. on a holiday, the office is open. They have a map and clearly show the way to the hotel.
Finally, we find the hotel and it looks quite charming. We enter and are transported into the setting for a wonderfully scary horror film. The clerk shows us to our room at the end of a long narrow corridor. It feels like we've entered the basement, but are in fact on the ground floor. I look out the window and ask if the gardens are out that way as I can't tell in the dark. She said "yes, but the gardens are private". So much for the thought of the kids frolicking in the garden.
The corridors, the room, the entry, everything is covered in this dusty blue carpet. Even the walls. Creepy. The kids didn't know what to think. "It doesn't have a kitchen," they remarked. "Is this where we're staying the rest of our trip?" they asked wide-eyed.
"No, just for tonight," I said, even though we originally indicated we might stay several nights. I quickly cleared this with the front desk. "We'll just be staying the night," I said to the woman at the desk who had too many questions for me.
We unpacked and then went on a frantic attempt to find a restaurant on the outskirts. We were avoiding going back into town. What originally looked like a double wide trailor (yes, they exist in France), turned out to be a very friendly gourmet restaurant. We had an excellent meal, and headed back to our hotel that time forgot.
As Sean bathed the kids, I hopped on the Internet (thank God the hotel had wifi) to find happier accomodations. Finally, we find a hotel in St. Rémy de Provence that looks good, has great recommenations on TripAdvisor, and has the friendliest clerk who books us for the next five nights (I'm optimistic that it will work out).
After a long, stressful day, we call it a night.