Car Trouble

I resigned to make a separate post about this incident of sorts, because it doesn’t exactly fit within the confines of a travel story about a city. I also don’t have a picture for it, so if you only wish to look at pictures, this post is not for you. But if you wish to be entertained, stay tuned…

On the trip from Brussels to Paris, we decided that I would drive out of Paris (because I drive better in cities), and Raffi would drive on the highways (because he drives faster on highways). I would drive out of Paris, and then stop at the first gas station so we could fill up (we were a little below half), and switch drivers. Well, Raffi took a nap, and when I stopped at the first gas station, he said it was too early to fill up. Maybe he was right; or maybe he just wanted to continue sleeping. I drove away.

I looked for the next gas station. No gas station for 15 kilometers. 30 kilometers. 50 kilometers. I think I drove almost 100 kilometers and there was no gas station. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the GPS took me off the main highway–even though there was still a sign for “Paris” on the highway–and through rural villages. When I say “rural villages,” I mean it was a little past 8:00 at night and there were no street lights, hardly any cars on the roads, and no lights turned on in any of the nearby houses. Downright creepy. And a lot of roundabouts.

I haven’t yet ranted about roundabouts so I will quickly do so here. I hate them so much. Maybe this is really a result of the fact that the GPS poorly communicated directions whilst on them, because this is what she would say: “Take the 3rd exit from the roundabout.” After I would pass the first exit, she would say, “Take the 2nd exit,” leading me to think I misheard her the first time and I would take the 2nd exit from the roundabout! I would have preferred she just shut up and let me do my thing instead of thinking she was being oh-so-helpful. [End rant.]

So here I am, driving through these godforsaken villages, running lower and lower on gas (I should call it diesel from now on) and all the while Raffi is sleeping. >:-/ I came upon a road that was closed so I needed to take a detour; the GPS was confused but recalculated…to a shabby, hilly one-lane dirt road laid out amongst cornrows in a farm. I will admit I was pretty rattled because the road did not seem to end and it was dangerously rocky. Thankfully, Raffi woke up from the rocking and, let’s just say, was not pleased. 😛

He asked me how we ended up in the middle of nowhere and I told him I was just following orders… (gulp) We continued to search around for the next 10 minutes, when I noticed a bar which was still open. I stopped hoping that someone there could direct me to the nearest gas station. When I asked where I could find some gas, the first person was flabbergasted and said, “Du petrol ? Ha ! Impossible.” Instantly discouraged, I asked why it would be impossible to get gas, and she said that the nearest gas station is only 15 kilometers away, but the only people who could gain access to it are those with subscriptions, because all of the stations in the vicinity were closed after 8:00 (at which point, I thought, what stupidity is this).

The bartender asked me if I had any petrol supplementaire, which I did not understand. He said that some cars have an extra compartment for situations in which the car runs low. I said I had no idea, and he said he would go check. He was very nice; he came outside, went to the driver’s side, looked for the button to open the gas tank door, and when he couldn’t find it, asked for my driver’s manual to peruse inside. Even after having checked out the manual, he could not find where the button for the door was located, until he called one of his friends, who said that our VW was probably run on diesel, so the door could be opened by tapping on the door itself. *cringe* After he tapped on the door, he saw that there was no option for supplementary fuel, of course. It wasn’t until the others in the bar questioned me about how low on fuel the car was running, that they encouraged me we would have enough to get us at least 60 kilometers. They said there was a station that was still open 45 kilometers away, but it was the opposite direction from our destination. Begrudgingly, we agreed to take the chance. I thanked everyone profusely for the fact that they возились с нами (I don’t think there is an equivalent good way to describe this in English; Google Translate thinks it means “fiddled with us” I’m dying). We were held up there for at least 30 minutes.

We only drove for about 30 kilometers, when Raffi noticed that there was a gas station to our left which was illuminated; I told him our fortune could not be this good, as it probably also required a subscription. As we tried to pay for the diesel, I swiped my card and it was rejected. However…a car drove up to fill up next to us, and just happened to be the same mark and model as us! I went up to the woman and asked if she could pay for our diesel with her card and we would reimburse her with cash. Skeptical at first, she didn’t know how to respond; I told her to fill up first and then she could come up to us. Upon filling up her own car, she asked again, what we wanted. I asked her how much it cost for her to fill up: she said it was 57 €!! Un-freaking-believable. I told her that I could give her 60 € as collateral until we knew how much it actually cost. The total came out to 52 €, and she felt bad taking 8 extra euros. I took my 10 € bill away from her and gave her a 5 € bill instead. She still felt bad for taking more than was required, and I told her we were really appreciative so she should just keep the rest. She was suprised and smiled a lot. Crisis averted…

At this point, we had wasted a lot of time and were really hungry. There was a McDonald’s across the street. Raffi said he has been wondering about the taste of McDonald’s in Europe, since he was told by others that it tastes quite different, so we figured it was an opportune time to replenish ourselves and for him to experience just how different McD’s is everywhere else. Mostly, he was angry at how high the prices were, but he agreed it was a much better quality than everywhere else he’s ever had McDonald’s.

We proceeded on our trip to Paris, this time with Raffi at the wheel. I told him I was worried about arriving at our hotel and finding it closed. He told me I was worried about nothing, as hotels stay open 24/7. I had to explain to him that that’s a distinctly American ideal, and that most European hotels close before midnight, and it was already past midnight. He retorted that that’s another way the U.S. is better (can’t say I disagree).

Once in Paris, we passed by Moulin Rouge (as our hotel was in Montmartre) and Raffi asked me if it was really like in the movie, and I said it was for the most part. Then we saw that the street it was on, Boulevard de Clichy, was sprinkled with sex/erotica shops. He was very taken aback and said, “I thought Paris was supposed to be the city of love, not sex!” I said that most often those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I could tell he was slightly disillusioned, but I assured him that we weren’t in a neighborhood that was representative of all of Paris.

I found a parking spot right across from the hotel we were staying at, but I was quite confident that I probably could not park there. And, I was right about the hotel closure situation. We arrived past 1 AM in Paris, and the hotel was closed; luckily, though, there was a guy manning the front desk, who asked what we wanted. When I said I had a reservation, his face bespoke of his annoyance that we were only now checking in, but he let us come in. I asked him whether we could park across the street. He said, “Vous pouvez, mais je ne le recommande pas. Votre voiture pourrait ne pas être là le matin.” In other words, you could park there, but I don’t recommend it; your car might not be there in the morning. Um…couldn’t you just tell me that I can’t park there? What was the purpose of using a roundabout way of discouraging me from parking there when it’s illegal? Geez.

I drove around for 30+ minutes and of course did not find any spots. Raffi said, “Your dad did say, ‘Good luck finding parking in Paris.'” I told him he was not being helpful. We put a query for parking garages in the GPS and the first thought Raffi had was, “What if they’re not open, either?” I told him I had a feeling the lot would be a different story. Thankfully, that went well, and we gained entrance to a lot a few blocks from our hotel. As we were walking back, I could tell Raffi was frustrated by something. He said, “Tomorrow, we are taking this car out of the garage right after we check out of the hotel.” I told him, “You think that finding parking tonight was difficult? Imagine trying to find parking near the Eiffel Tower.” He said he didn’t care, and that the garage was just going to drain us of our money. Confused, I asked him why he thought they were so expensive, and he said, “They’re planning on charging us over 400 €!” I told him they weren’t, and that the rate should be 50 € for the day. He said, “That’s not what I saw on the price list, it said over 400 € for 15 hours!” Thinking over what he could possibly mean, I said, “No, that’s the price for 15 DAYS!” He continued to prove his point, and I said that the sheet said “jours” not “heures.” He calmed down but then said that he will not pay a single penny over 50 €. I rolled my eyes.

We learned and reinforced a few things during this debacle: one, that knowing the language in a country is absolutely pivotal when you are lost and asking for favors; but most importantly, that Raffi must stay awake when we’re driving somewhere new.