Our evacuation dance is becoming more graceful. Fewer bits turn up at the last minute, but forgotten shoes peeking out from under the sofa during a final walkthrough still cause havoc. Finding space for my enormous size 11 1/2’s is tough when the bags are already zipped can make Tim’s jaw a little tight, but in a few minutes he usually recovers and we’re off.
We picked up a little Peugot (Tim’s favorite rental car of all time) and headed south through Paris traffic. No one spoke except Veronica, the GPS goddess who purrs directions in her elegant British accent wherever we go. She’s unflappable, even when she’s wrong, which is rare but sometimes disastrous.
Finally we reached the countryside and conversation resumed. Wild flowers meandered through the fields, graceful church spires rose from shingled hamlets, and ancient trees shaded the roads. Even the cattle were gorgeous. Our crush on all things French intensified with every kilometer.
Veronica led us to Vezeley, an ancient village famous for its tenth century abbey. The hotel looked perfect with gorgeous carpets, antique furniture, paintings and lots of shiny brass, but when the pretty girl behind the desk cheerfully announced that our room was on the fourth floor and added that the hotel did not possess an elevator, we were not happy. It was hot, the stairs were steep, and we had too much luggage to drag to the attic. Negotiating for another room didn’t work. We were stuck.
We humiliated ourselves in the parking lot as we reorganized toiletries and undies into manageable small bags. Other tourists amused themselves watching the Clampett family spectacle. Panting, we dragged our odd assortment of luggage into the lobby. The scowling young man who lurked behind the desk did not offer to help. Apparently the girl was the receptionist cum porter and she grabbed two bags and trotted up the stairs, encouraging us to follow her. At the top we were breathless, she was still perky. We hated her.
When we had recovered ourselves in our cabbage-rose-laden boudoir and discovered that the bed was comfortable and the air conditioned worked perfectly our attitude improved immeasurably.
A stroll through the village, a drink at a sidewalk bistro and a tour of the magnificent abbey, where nuns’ and priests’ voices floated celestially to the vaulted ceiling, finally won us over. We returned to the hotel with renewed hopes for a lovely stay.
Not so fast. We presented ourselves at the appointed hour in the dining room and we were greeted by the scowling chap from the front desk. Presently another young man, whom we had seen parking cars earlier, appeared with menus. We noticed a person at the far end of the room bussing tables. She was the maid we had seen earlier in the hallway with a cleaning cart.
A Fawlty Tower theme was emerging and continued as we waited much too long for a menu and even longer for the drinks and first courses to appear. The guy from the lobby peeked around the door regularly to see if we had bolted yet. When my escargot with puff pastry and a nice little sauce and Tim’s sublime fois gras appeared we forgave them everything and began to enjoy ourselves.
Much, much later the waiter appeared bearing two gorgeous-looking steaks (remember the pretty cattle?), which was encouraging, except that I had ordered chicken. When we pointed this out, his eyes widened in terror, he fled with both plates and we did not see him again for at least a half hour. By this time I had enjoyed so much good French wine that I didn’t care any more.
That was fortunate, since the chef had clearly left the building and our main courses tasted as if it had been prepared by someone who missed a lot of the classes at culinary school. Our good attitude disintegrated once more, but when the desert arrived we were cheering the home team again. They were gorgeous and delicious. It was all so strange that we fully expected John Cleese to silly walk through the door and smack the waiter/manager/front-desk clerk/chef/electrician.
The bill was finally sorted out (it was all wrong, of course) and we groped our way back to our fourth floor garret. Once again we were surprised – in a good way – with comfortable beds, plenty of hot water and a quiet night’s rest. Not wanting to break the spell, we dragged our hobo luggage to the Peugot and let Veronica purr us away to Italy.