Driving on the French Autoroutes

Yellow car

Traveling on the French Autoroutes is similar to driving on other freeways in Europe.  The roads are not as nice as the Autobahn in Germany, but better than the Autostradas in Italy. They have lots of tollbooths and the toll charges add up to a lot of baguettes. They also appear to have speed cameras, although I never noticed any on the roads.

Mini in Paris
NO! Not a Mini again!

I only know this now because I keep getting “administrative charges” showing up on my credit card account from Sixt, the car rental company I used on my France trip. Sixt charges me 18 euros every time they get notified that I did something wrong while renting their car. I’ve received four of these in the past month.

I’m slowly getting these tickets in the mail from the French road authorities. They want 45 euros for each ticket from me at first, escalating to 180 euros each over time. One of the tickets cited me for going 138 km/hr in a 130 km/hr zone. The 130 km/hr speed is the standard speed limit on the Autoroute.  My excessive speed of 8 km/hr over the speed limit is approximately 5 mph.

Give me a break!  This is on the freeway! Almost everyone was driving faster than me. If they send tickets to all of those drivers, think of the administrative machine and revenue generating/wealth redistribution system they have designed.  Those French socialists!

I think I’ll refuse to pay these tickets, just like that ticket described in my Italian driving misadventures. Unless they can get to my credit card like those *#@$%&$ Austrians.

Yellow car
This car will keep me within the speed limit.

I’m still struggling with my European GPS (go here for a tale of my inadvertent Swiss mountain climbing expedition in a Mini). One time my GPS sent me through the back roads of the French countryside to my next destination, instead of via the Autoroute.  It was nice for a while, until I got to a road closed due to construction.  I was in the middle of the back of beyond, in terms of the Loire Valley.

To recover from the closed road, the GPS sent me down one lane roads, gravel roads, and farmer’s lanes until eventually (OK, it was actually a couple of hours) I ended up back at a main road.  When I looked at the map later, I could have done the whole trip on freeways. I am going to take a sledge hammer to that GPS someday.

(If you want to leave the driving to someone else, such as to and from an airport in Europe, try Blacklane Limousines).

On my way towards Normandy I stopped at a gas station to get something to drink. When I came back out to my car I saw this:

bad park job
My rented BMW M1 is on the left.

Thanks, dude. You’ve blocked me in. What were you thinking? I can’t even get my car door open!

I was getting steamed. Who parks like that? What an idiot!

I had to wait for the truck driver to come back to his (or her) vehicle.  I decided to stand in the way and confront him, silently, because if he knew I was American he would probably let loose a slew of French vulgarities at me.

French road sign.
Typical French road sign.

After ten minutes I saw a young guy in overalls come out of the store. He had a cup of coffee and a candy bar. I planted my feet and took up as much of the sidewalk as I could in front of my car, so as to partially block the path to the truck. He was looking down at his coffee as he walked, until he got a few feet from me.  He noticed that I was in the way and looked up, into my eyes.

I gave him my Angry Eyes, pointedly looked at his park job, then stared back at him.  I didn’t say a word.

He slightly grinned, smirked, and ducked around me without speaking. He hopped into his truck. I gave him the French single finger salute as he drove away. It made me feel better.

Back on the road.  Let’s go to Mont Saint-Michel.

Exploring Normandy in Honfleur and Rouen

Buildings in Rouen

After stopping in Giverny I headed northwest to the French coast. Where the Seine River meets the English Channel is the old fishing village and port of Honfleur.

Honfleur port view
The old port of Honfleur.

In the 1300s, French ships left from Honfleur to raid the English coastline during the Hundred Years War. The English returned the favor by capturing Honfleur and occupying it for many years. Eventually the French got it back and it became one of the most important French ports for hundreds of years.

Many French explorers left from Honfleur to discover the world. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain sailed from the port, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailed down the St. Lawrence River, and founded Quebec.  I found this out by reading a plaque on a five hundred year old building next to the port.  The Honfleurais are very proud of Champlain.

Honfleur sailboats
Sail boats in the Vieux Bassin of Honfleur.

What I didn’t see on any plaques was the fact that Honfleur was one of the five key ports of the slave trade in France in the 1600s and 1700s.  Ships sailed between Honfleur, Canada, the West Indies, the West African coast, and the Azores Islands.

The old port is centered on a man-made water enclosure called the Vieux Bassin.  This area provided shelter to the sailing ships and kept them safe during big Atlantic storms.  Many of the buildings around the Vieux Bassin are hundreds of years old.  They are painted different colors and the collection looks artistic.  This attracted Impressionist painters like our friend Claude Monet, and a native Honfleurais named Eugène Boudin.

Since this was an old port, I explored the old back streets looking for some grog.  All I found instead were expensive saltwater caramels.

Honfleur view
Another view of Honfleur.

Next I drove to the city of Rouen to have dinner with a friend. In the Middle Ages Rouen was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe. The Anglo-Norman kings ruled England and parts of France from here in the 11th through the 15th centuries. Some houses surviving from medieval times were made in a half-timbered style that is also found in the oldest parts of York, England.

Buildings in Rouen
Half-timbered buildings in the old town of Rouen.

Unfortunately, almost half of the town was destroyed during World War II. Today, the existing medieval buildings are intermixed with a lot of very ugly 1970s concrete boxes. Thus, the charming character of the town is completely gone.

Big clock of Rouen.
Gros horloge of Rouen.

Rouen has three claims to (sort of) fame. The first is the Rouen Cathedral, whose construction started in 1202 and didn’t finish until 1880. Our friend Monet painted a series of works of the Rouen Cathedral façade.

The second is the Gros Horloge (the Big Clock), situated appropriately enough, on Gros Horloge Street.

The third, and perhaps most well-known item, is that it was here in 1431 where Joan d’Arc was burned at the stake. The site is now marked by a plaque noting this historical event, so that tourists can have their photograph taken at the spot where another tourist was horribly murdered hundreds of years ago. (I may have my French history a little off there….)

Jean d'Arc site
The spot where Jean d’Arc was roasted.

It was indeed a hot spot. Not much else was going on in Rouen.

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