|(credit see link)
see the restored, present day version
of the Arch of Germanicus here
Sitting at my window perch in a well lived-in armchair, with my laptop resting on a slightly wobbly side table, necessitating to squeeze just one knee under the little table, while the other leg sprawls freely (no pencil skirts in this house), I am looking out over my little section of the City of Saintes as I write. We’re enjoying our first entirely dry day in Saintes, whose name doesn’t refer to any saintly personages, as one might expect by the sound of it. The name goes back to the Gallic tribe of Santones, who used to live around here, until Gaius Julius Caesar the Elder messed with the natural order of thing among the Celts.
The Saintongeais dialect of the French language, by the way, had a significant influence on the Acadian and hence also Cajun dialects in Western Canada & Louisiana. The Saintongeais grape, on the other hand, is also called Jurançon and its red variety may be better known as Gamay and Cahors, a grape, sadly, not especially highly regarded.
By the end of our first week we had to return our rental car. Since Toulouse, where we picked up the car after arriving in the country, is a three hour drive from Saintes, we had tried to drop it off closer to home, but ran into a lot of red tape. Eventually it turned out that the Bordeaux-Mérignac airport was our only sensible choice. The beautiful City of Bordeaux in historical Aquitaine is about 100 Km/62 m to our South, which falls into the no-big-deal category distance-wise for Texans, who are used to drive 80Km/50m one way, just to go grocery shopping. For the return trip to Saintes we planned to take the train.
On Friday morning we jumped in our rental, a nice Opel Astra (I have such bad memories of Opel cars from my childhood, when the saying went ‘jeder Popel fährt ‘n Opel’, let’s just say, they were not highly regarded) and had an uneventful drive to the airport rental returns. As we were coming out of the rental office, we noticed that an express bus to the train station was just leaving the bus stop. Would you believe, these express buses run only every 45 minutes? That left us plenty of time for a petit café and a pain au chocolat, but barely enough time to catch our train. Inquiries in the regular bus schedule revealed no earlier arrival possibilities, than offered by the rare express bus and taxis are hugely expensive. So we resigned ourselves to waiting patiently for the next express bus to arrive. It pulled up at the stop quite early, actually, but only to be shut down, so the driver could take a break. It was highly instructive to observe, what happened, when the driver returned to his vehicle after his break. I learned that once the bus engine is turned off, it can only be restarted after the driver passes a breathalyzer test, which is integrated into the engine ignition mechanism. Genial! Wouldn’t it be the cat’s meow, if we had an integrated breathalyzer in every car?!!
The forty minute drive to the train station flew by in multiple reflections through the bus window. Upon arrival at Gare de Bordeaux-Saint-Jean we had very little time left to make our train, but not without finding the ticket office first, of course. When we finally approached the sales window, we had 4.5 minutes left to train departure. Explaining, buying, running – remember those OJ commercial of yesteryear? That’s how we jogged (running isn’t really an option any more) down the stairs and up the stairs (there’re always too many stairs in these old European train stations) and we made it, even without being ticketed or thrown willy-nilly out of the country, because Barry had to force the automatic doors open, until I huffed and puffed my elderly self into the train. My hero!
The trip back home was very pleasant and easy, showing us a nice wintery stretch of country side, while seated in comfortable splendor, with tables and power outlets. A lot less stressy than overcrowded freeways!
One thing, I mustn’t forget to mention. The incredible niceness of French people. Niceness is defined as ‘the quality of being nice’, ‘pleasantness’. We have experienced this quality so many times during these last few years, while visiting in France. And we have encountered it again, since moving here. Case in point: we mentioned in conversation to the salesman, from whom we were purchasing our small, used Peugeot, that we were planing to take the train back to Saintes, while he was busy filling out our paperwork. Pen in the air, he asked, which train are you taking? Then he said, I can pick you up and give you a ride home, no need to take a cab. His offer was entirely unprompted. It hadn’t even occurred to us, to fish for help. That’s French people, that’s what we’ve experienced again and again. Yesterday, a fairly miserable day, filled with very high winds and intrusive drizzle, we were lurking in some narrow alley, looking for an address without much success, when a passer-by asked, if she could help us. Just like that. On an obnoxious day, when your sole intent and focus goes to being inside with a hot toddy, she showed us the way for two blocks, all the while keeping up a pleasant conversation. Vive la France!
Now, if they would streamline their bureaucracy just a little …