Saturday, 14 February 2015

Driving in Ireland

The back of my car...Not the one from the story...
I could tell many stories about my driving experience in Ireland. I was stopped by the Gards a few times,  I had to drive in first gear from Gorey to Rosslare when my clutch broke on the day I was due to sail to France, and I have stopped counting how many times I got lost in Dublin. But today, I will tell you a story that actually happened in France, on my way back to Ireland, a couple of months after I arrived.

I had found a job about 30 miles away from the house I was staying in. There was no direct bus or train to get there and the only solution was to go through Dublin city Centre. I didn't want to move closer to work. After all, I was living in the perfect host family, I had made friends and I loved the area. In the end, I opted to take the train to the city centre and then the bus to work. It was taking me approximately two hours each way, when the bus was on time. I found the journey to and from work very exhausting, running from the train, trying to catch the bus, get to work on time and doing it all over again in the evening. On the second day, I was so tired I fell asleep in the bus, going to the city centre. When I woke up, it was empty. Everybody had left, even the driver and nobody had thought of waking me up... I rushed to the door and thankfully it was still open. I ran to catch the next bus and eventually got home. After that incident, I had enough (I know, it doesn’t get a lot to annoy me). I rang my parents and explained that I needed my car. I didn't care how, but I wanted it by the week end. They were actually very helpful and booked a plane ticket for me to Rennes on the Saturday morning. They were going to bring my car to the airport; from there I would drive to Cherbourg to catch the ferry in the evening, and I would be in Rosslare on the Sunday morning. My father, very thoughtful, printed an itinerary to go from the airport to Cherbourg as I wasn't familiar with the area. The journey time was approximately three hours. I was landing in Rennes around 12 so I had plenty of time.

I have a very bad sense of orientation. I mainly have a visual memory so if you give me directions and explain with landmarks, I will probably find my way, but do not give me a map or an itinerary, because I will get lost. So of course, I got lost. I was on the motorway and I saw an exit for Cherbourg. The itinerary was saying to stay on the motorway but I was confused by the sign and I took the exit. Big mistake. It was the road to Cherbourg, but going through all the villages and countryside roads. When I realised my error, it was too late and I didn't know how to get back on the main road, so I kept on going. I was running late so I drove faster. Probably a bit too fast for the Gendarmes who were waiting for me on the edge of a hill. I stopped the car and waited for my fate.

Gendarmerie Nationale, Good afternoon, can you step out of the vehicle miss, and give me your ID, Driver’s licence and insurance certificate”

I did as I was told. You don’t mess with the French Gendarmerie. Never.
“We will now proceed to an alcohol test. Have you ever used a breathalyser before?”
“No, but I'll try...”

Testing alcohol consumption is routine in France when you are stopped by the police, no matter what time of the day it is. So I blew in the little tube and of course the result was negative.
The gendarmes then went on saying I was driving too fast and I tried to explain with my puppy dog face that I had to catch a ferry to go back to Ireland, that I got lost, I was late and I did not want to miss it. They listened to me but still gave me a fine for ninety euros and then they showed me which way to go. Nice.

In France, if you are stopped and get a fine, you have to go to the “bureau de tabac” and buy a “fiscal stamp” for the amount of your fine. You just stick it on the paper that you were given and post it. Easy. Well, not so easy when you are in the middle of nowhere and you are desperately trying to find the place to buy the stamp... After a few miles however, I entered a small village and saw a “bureau de tabac”. I ran in and bought the stamp. Then I tried to find a postbox but of course, I couldn't find any. I was running so late that I decided to keep on going and I would stop at the next village, or even better, I could wait until I was in Cherbourg. I was sure to find a postbox there.

I continued my journey and finally entered Cherbourg around 7:30 pm and I got lost again. Yes there were signs for the port, but I still managed to lose my way around the town. I had to stop and ask for directions. I finally arrived at the ferry port at 8pm, the departure time. I handed my ticket and drove to the boat.

It’s only when I was in my cabin that I realised I never posted the fine. I went to the information desk, explained the situation and  asked the lady if she could post it for me once back in France because I did not want it posted from Ireland. You never know, it may have never arrived. 

I religiously kept the receipt of the fine for at least a couple of  years in case the French Gendarmerie came after me pretending I didn't pay, but I never heard from them again. 

Someone I heard from for a long time after the incident was my aunt whose birthday money she gave me that day went straight to the French government.