ANNE and TASH'S TRIP travel blog

Touring in Tours There is an unholy terror that descends upon one when driving on the wrong side of the road with the controls on the wrong side of the car. Add to that the frequent stalling at lights of a manual car, the unfamiliarity of the layout of the streets, the impatient tooting of locals and you have a recipe for an ulcer. The same horror is worsened for the passenger, who strains to put both feet on a non-existent braking system-both feet pushed into the floor, body straining backwards to meld itself into the fabric of the seat covers, in fact, to disappear into its molecules if possible. So I realise to volunteer for this particular set of circumstances requires a special kind of naivety, but I seemed to have it. I had been able to drive the little automatic Clio around the countryside, without too many problems, so maybe that lulled me into a false sense of security. The first problem was getting the little Seat (Seeyat, sayat) into reverse. The layout of the gearbox in these left hand drive cars, is the same as that in those of right hand drive cars. With the words of my late dear departed father ringing in my ears, I lifted the gear stick, manoeuvred it to the left, but nothing happened. Remembering other nightmares, I hit the gear stick, gently, to the left but nothing happened. Finally, in desperation, I tried pressing the gearstick downwards into the gear box and the Eagle landed. We made our way out of the car rental's driveway. Slowly, slowly I crept out into the narrow street, turned right into an even narrower one, and again. This constricted street was set up as a especially hazardous course, in that parking was four cars down one side then four down the other side, along its length, so that the objective was to zigzag all the way down the street without clipping mirrors on either side. The excitement was compounded by a very angry, very blonde, long haired delivery driver following us, with her hand on her horn. Deliverance came in the form of the wide Heurteloup Boulevard, but if anyone was going to hurtle down it, it wasn't going to be this day, nor this car. Its saving grace was that it is a divided road, and we crawled along its length, keeping well to the left. This was unforgivable, as it is the fast lane, but fortunately, there was little traffic. There were many traffic lights, and the little car stalled at almost every second one. We staggered to the end of the Boulevard, fortunately missing our turnoff at Place St Jacques. Tashie muttered something, through clenched teeth. It was obviously a prudent move to turn at the end of the Boulevard and do the tiny block before creeping back up the other side of the Boulevard back to the Car Rental agents. For one small stretch, the gears changed sweetly, the car purred and no one tooted their horn at us. The lady kindly cancelled the car, and declared she was desolated for us. We had booked an automatic on the Web, but they seem to be non-existent. We should have kept our little Clio from Monpazier, as it seems to be the only automatic rental of that size in France. Tashie and I were just stunned by the whole experience. I was very subdued on the way home. As we wandered back silently from the station, we passed first a driving school and then a car yard selling automatics. The irony was not lost on us. I could drive a manual cab-chassis four wheel drive anywhere at home, but I had to admit, I could not do this. I could not drive a manual diesel car safely for a Tour from Tours.

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