It’s two days away from D(eparture) Day, and I’m over my second thought jitters. But in their place is a more imminent concern.
In fact, I’m scared. And what scares me is getting behind the wheel on the left-hand side of my new car, driving away on the right side of the road and navigating my way out of the labyrinthine airport maze and out onto the freeway.
I’ve never driven in France. I’ve never even driven on the right hand side of the road. So I’ve been preparing for my maiden voyage with nervous dedication.
First step, get familiar with the car. I’m using a handy holiday lease-rental scheme called Drive Away where technically you buy a new car, which you lease for the period required and then sell back to the company. But in reality, it’s simply like renting a new car. I’ve never owned a brand new car. So that’s the plus side. The down side is unfamiliarity: left-hand drive, using a gear-stick with my right hand, unfamiliar clutch, window wipers and indicators on different sides. I know I’m doomed to be turning right with the wipers for the first month.
To handle the mounting tension, I decide I need to meet a cousin of the car I’ll be encountering in a daze of jet-lag at the airport. So a few weeks ago, we made our way to the local Peugeot dealer for me and the children to sit in the car and start to make friends. This was a good move.
I discovered that the Peugeot 2008 is a cosy car. We all felt at home and yet our three suitcases fit in the boot. I learned a little of the car’s personality: distinctive handbrake, low steering wheel to view dash across the top, easily accessible child-seat anchor points – easier than our Forester even! For the other critical points I need to master before driving away, I plan to find the car manual online so I know how to operate cruise control, pair my phone for child-amusing music and launch the GPS.
The most light-hearted part of our familiarisation exercise is trying to guess our new car’s colour. I’m hoping for red. Same colour as the Alsace logo.
Next step is to map the route. A fellow France travelling friend recommends I check out the Michelin route planning website – Via Michelin. It’s a find. Not only does it provide step-by-step instructions about direction and route numbers, it also provides details on what the signs will say that point to the route you need to take.
Monsieur Michelin advises that I’ve got three challenging intersections to master. I’ve printed them out in zoomed in detail, looked at the Google Street View version and attempted to commit them to memory. Apart from then swallowing the paper 007-style, that’s as far as I can go in preparing for the drive.
Then it’s onto reorienting my whole driver’s perspective. For all of my over 20 years driving, I’ve been doing it on the left. Now it’s time to make a change. I’ve had a few good tips:
“As the driver, you’re always on the midline. So drive along keeping the centre dividing line along your left shoulder.”
“Follow the car in front to keep right” (as long as they’re going the same place as you I presume)
“The thing to watch out for is turning left. Make sure you return to the right.”
And then the other little trick – roundabouts. I’m a Canberran, so I know about roundabouts. What I don’t know is how to do them anti-clockwise.
But I’ve got a theme song to keep me sane. And thanks to Bob Marley, it goes likes this:
Don’t worry, about a thing,
’Cause every little thing, is gonna be all right.
[or in my case: ‘Cause, all you gotta do, is stay on the right]
This will be my mantra. And you’ll know if it’s worked if I post a future blog next week. That’s because this is the last one I’ll be writing before boarding the aeroplane on Thursday and getting this adventure underway.
Wish me luck!