Saturday, 30 November 2013

Provence...on our way home.

The Monday and Tuesday had been a bit misty but by Wednesday it had cleared and it looked like we would have reasonable weather for our return home. Francoise's dad Maxime came to wish us 'Bonne Voyage' and eluded slightly that the weather had changed somewhat compared to when we'd arrived but no hint of what was to come. We headed off and it was fairly plain sailing all the way up to just south of Lyon. As we headed towards Saint Etienne we began to notice cars coming towards us with heavy snow on their roofs...bad sign we thought. Then the signs over the autoroute were telling heavy trucks to leave at next exit another tell-tale sign.This was reaffirmed with the Gendarmes  at the next exit flagging them down and forcing them off. The conditions however still didn't seem that bad.We actually thought that we were perhaps falling foul of the French lorry drivers eco tax protest. If only that was the case - no - about 20 km away from Saint Etienne conditions changed and we found ourselves stuck in a huge traffic jam in very wintery conditions. After a couple of hours (and only about 6km) of sitting in our car with our windows open because we were experiencing a bit of a carbon dioxide overload due to the exhaust, we decided we had to get off the autoroute somehow. Pauline had suffered the indignity of being splashed by slush and snow from a vehicle coming from the opposite direction and I was struggling to keep my rear wheel drive Honda from slipping into the huge trucks beside us every time we tried to move on the icy road.We were lucky enough to be near another exit, to who knew where and we noticed cars slipping onto the emergency lane on to it - we followed them.

We arrived in St Chamond a place famous for building a rather inadequate first world war tank and not much else...unless I'm mistaken...but what it does have is very kind, generous people. We arrived in the snow and found a car park with a cafe nearby and were very glad to get out of the car. Over a welcome coffee we began a conversation with a man at another table about the weather, naturally, and the trouble on the autoroute. We explained we had come off and had to find a hotel for the night in the hope that it would improve by the next day. He got the proprietor involved in drawing a map (on three small pieces of paper) to the 'Camponile' then realising he was not the greatest cartographer in the world, said that his chef was finishing in 5 minutes and we could follow him to the hotel -a better plan.

Then a lady, who had heard of our plight, offered us a room at her house for €30.00 - she said we could check it out first by following her back, This we did - we arrived to find her lovely house perched on a hill and were introduced to her son over a coffee and Italian cookie (she is married to an Italian).  We were then shown the apartment which was perfectly adequate but the lack of wifi and the thought of trailing back into town for a meal at night had us thinking the 'Camponile' with its adjoining restaurant,wifi and proximity to the autoroute might be a better bet. We thanked her and then she kindly let us follow her to the hotel - how nice was she?

We had to cross the autoroute to get to the hotel and noticed the traffic was actually moving again but we popped in anyway to see what news we could glean from them - remember we had no radio to help us.. Again they were very generous with their time, checking Météo online for a weather report and phoning ahead to the Camponile in Clermont Ferrand to check the conditions there. They suggested that it was risky but if we were deperate we could give it a try.

We left them full of hope,filled up with petrol and headed on to the autoroute. No sooner had we gone done the slip-road  when the traffic slowed to a halt - "not again" we thought! We noticed cars and trucks behind us reversing back up the slip-road, so we followed them and returned tail between our legs to the hotel - they were not surprised to see us! The signat the entrance said it was full but people were calling in to say they would probably not make it so we were able to get a room.

We settled in had dinner and prayed tomorrow would be better...but it wasn't.

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