So, there I was in the Loire Valley in beautiful France. I was having a bit of a solo adventure and I had caught the TGV to Tours where I picked up my trusty hire car. Driving on the other side of the road, changing gears with the other hand, and having NO IDEA where I was going because I didn’t have a map, it was somewhat miraculous when I found myself in the town centre, not far from my hotel. What luck, I thought. What extreme good fortune.
The hotel website had suggested finding parking close to Les Halles (the markets) which I managed to do. I bought a ticket that was good until 9:30 the following morning. I even had the right change. I was ON A ROLL.
So, the next morning, after a leisurely breakfast – croissants, no doubt – I strolled back to the car to head out for a day of chateau hopping, as one is wont to do in this part of the world. It was a gorgeous day. All was right with the world.
Except for one thing. The spectacularly convenient car park where my car was parked until 9:30am turned into a market on Saturday mornings. And yes, it was Saturday morning.
In the spot where my car had been parked, there was a man with a large nose who was selling apples. It was at about that moment that I noticed the sign near the entrance (in my defence, it was partially obscured by a tree and nowhere near the ticket machine). It had the outline of a tow truck on it. I had a bad feeling. I had been in possession of my hire car for about 18 hours, and it appeared to have been impounded.
Now, I wouldn’t even know what to do if my car got towed away in my home town, let alone in a French provincial town on market day. Turns out, after a long explanation at my hotel involving some sign language and appalling French (from me, mostly), that I had to go to the local police station.
At the gendarmerie (is that really what it’s called?) I tried to muster every skerrick of French that I had learnt at high school. Unfortunately, other than the word for “car” and “market” I was unable to contribute anything informative. The exchange took a considerably long time, and for at least part of the conversation, the nice policewoman on reception thought that my car had been stolen. Eventually, I was directed upstairs to an office where a Very Serious Man was waiting for me. By some true act of god, I actually had the car rental paperwork in my handbag (normally, I shove it into the glovebox, which would have been of absolutely no use to me), and once it was established that I was Australian, the Very Serious Man warmed to me somewhat. He also handed me a parking fine for 35 euros. What a great bloke.
What he didn’t tell me was that it was also going to cost me 20 euros in a taxi fare to get to where my car was impounded. And a further 96 euros to get it released. After nearly three hours, I went on my merry way and had a delightful day flitting from one gorgeous chateau to another.
I never did pay that parking fine. I left town the next day. There’s a possibility I’m wanted in France.
Always, always double check the parking sign. It also helps to know what day of the week it is.