This is a stop full of surprises, challenges and flavors never experienced before on our Europe backpacking trip. Intentions were always good yet the outcomes we sometimes less than desired. We present to you stop eleven on our 35 day tour in the Provence region of southeastern France in the small community of Lourmarin. It’s a long read but we hope you enjoy the stories!
If I learned anything from the MBA it was the need to have goals. Some articles I read referred to them “B.H.A.G.” for big, hairy, audacious goals to motivate your team on achieving greatness. So it was with this in mind, that on Day 27 our objective was to arrive at our hotel in Lourmarin for dinner reservations at 8pm. While this may not sound like the type of MBA stretch goals I described earlier it quickly matured into a full fledged BHAG!
It all started when we arrived at the Provence train station. Our plan was to take a local train or bus to our hotel. This seemed quite reasonable given we had 4 hours to make our dinner date, yet the fun was just beginning.
BHAG: T-minus 4 hours
We got off our train and went to the information desk at the small AIX-TGV French train station. We knew we were in trouble when the attendants did not even recognize the town we were trying to reach. Imagine us trying to pronounce “Lourmarin” with an Appalachian twang mixed with a little Irish accent from our travels. Even after pointing to the name on paper they had no idea where it was let alone how to get there. Their recommendation was to travel to the next biggest town. Hmm.
Hotel Call #1
Somewhat frustrated with the lack of assistance from the train info desk we then called the hotel directly. We were fortunately transferred to an English speaking employee who said the last bus of the day had already traveled and there was no more public transportation available to Lourmarin. Oh no.
At that moment Amy and I realized that our travels had “Europeanized” us by always having public transportation options at our disposal. But alas it seemed public transportation had met its match here. The receptionist recommended we take a taxi but that would be very expensive or we could rent a car. Hmmm.
I then attempted to take control of the situation as any MBA future leader of the free world is trained. I offered blind assurance to Amy telling her everything would be ok (just like a C-Suite executive to his soon to be laid-off staff). I then invited her to take a seat while I investigated the taxi situation (just like a CEO locks themselves in an office to create a strategy they have no idea about and starts Googling).
After a few minutes I came back to Amy and excitedly explained I found a fantastic deal to get us to our hotel for only 18 Euro and to follow me. Perplexed, Amy followed but felt something was off and she would soon be justified. To make a long blog even longer allow me to explain what happened next. By the time we had driven out of the train station parking lot in our taxi the meter was already in the double digit costs. I asked the driver if the deal was still the 18 Euro as we agreed. He then smiled, nodded and said “Oui”. However the cost kept rising quickly and I then wrote down “18” on a piece of paper and showed the driver. I then discovered that the French accent makes “80” Euro sound just like the number 18 and we were about to pay the former rather than the latter. We attempted to explain to the French speaking taxi driver that we could not afford that and to drop us off. Confused, the taxi driver phoned his boss when I then explained the situation and he then informed the driver to take us back to the closest rental car place. 25 Euro later we found ourselves 15 feet from where we started. We took our bags from the taxi driver to try another option. Hmmmm.
Expensive tax ride from train station to car rentals
Rental Car Plea
We struggled to laugh about the taxi adventure we had just had and told each other driving a car may be a better option anyway. The taxi driver had dropped us off at the car rental booths by the train station so we began looking at all the options and decided to work our way left to right to see what the best deal would be for our journey. Our plan was to negotiate the best price, but one by one Avis, Budget, Enterprise and more than all half a dozen rental stores were plum out of cars. At this point we headed back into the train station. Hmmmmm.
Hotel Call #2
Our bags thudded back on the original train station tile where we stared (maybe even glared) at one another as we considered our next option. Out of ideas, I called the hotel back in desperation. I removed all prideful pretenses and said that we were out of options and asked if our English speaking receptionist friend or anyone else from the hotel could pick us up. Now imagine this requests. Two English speaking backpackers who are complete strangers and have not planned properly need a ride and are asking you to leave the front desk or call your friends and family to pick them up. As expected, the answer was a polite no. However she did suggest another option that we had not yet attempted. Hmmmmmm.
BHAG T-minus 2.5 hours
We had burnt through an hour and a half and gone literally nowhere. We were still sitting in the same train station that brought us into Provence. It was time to go somewhere with only 2.5 hours until our dinner reservation!
Based on the hotel receptionists recommendation we traveled on a local bus from the train station into the main station. Here we worked with the information booth trying to see which bus option would take us as close to Lourmarin as possible. We then waited but for the first time we were making meaningful progress.
The second bus took us to a random French town in the middle of nowhere. However, it must have been a place for workers in and out of the main city to commute daily as it was a direct bus route that took about an hour. We then arrived at a small train station and considered our next options hoping to keep this momentum.
We then walked into this small train station and thought why not see if they went to Lourmarin. The gentlemen behind the counter did not even know where this village was! We started to get concerned. Hmmmmmm.
Hotel Call #3
We phoned our receptionist friend back and informed here of our location. She said we were not close but getting closer! The new plan was for our receptionist friend to call a taxi on our behalf and to just wait. So we anxiously awaited our second French taxi experience.
BHAG T-minus 1 hour
We were sitting waiting on our taxi when we arrived at only one hour until our dinner reservation. This had all the makings of a truly big, hair, and audacious goal. Although my MBA professors would have been proud Amy and I were ready for this goal to be over.
Waiting for Taxi
Taxi Drive #2
Shortly after, we were back in a taxi and this time we were not getting out. We showed the driver our hotel address and sat back with no idea how long it would take or the cost. It did not matter! The driver tried to talk with us, but quickly realized we did not speak French and refused to acknowledged us for the rest of the trip. We awkwardly sat in silence but enjoyed the views travelling through the Provence countryside of France.
BGAH T-minus 4 minutes
We did it! We stepped into the hotel lobby just before 8pm and proudly checked-in with our English speaking receptionist friend making fun of us for our travel disasters. We rescheduled our dinner to a later time since it was at the hotel itself and dressed up to enjoy a celebratory dinner! You may be asking why did we have to make it to this hotel and dinner anyway? Well we had purchased an online coupon to stay at this hotel with dinner included for a fantastic deal. It was a luxurious stop for us and we desperately wanted to take advantage of the deal.
Funny enough the dinner almost was the end of Amy. You would think after all the challenges from the journey dinner would be the icing on the cake. Since our coupon included dinner I once again employed my return on investment MBA thinking cap and convinced Amy that we should therefore order the most expensive appetizer to maximize profit. It did not matter to me that the menu and restaurant staff only spoke French most expensive is better right?
Our appetizer came out and we thought it was a block of mature cheese. Amy took the first big bite and gagged. We later realized that we had ordered frague-duck liver pate. This was unexpected. What proceeded to happen was out of an episode of Mr Bean where I attempted to do what he did (click here) and stuff away the pate as quickly as possible as to not offend the restaurant staff.
Fortunately the delicious creme-brulee saved the meal and we celebrated the day’s adventures.
If you are still reading this epic blog congratulations! You have entered into the elite VIP IrishMBA blog readers club. Your reward is the pictures below with much less description.
We woke up to Day 28 with a beautiful sunrise in Lourmarin and witnessed that we had stumbled upon a hidden gem. There was a town-wide market outside already in progress with everything from French cheeses, fish, jewelry, and clothing items.
One of many market booths
Afterwards we walked to a nearby winery and vineyard. The attendant allowed us to take a couple glasses with our bottle of newly purchased French Rose wine and directed us to a nice picnic location under the bridge. We relaxed and enjoyed the moment.
Relaxing in Lourmarin
We capped off the night with an outdoor cafe with great food and scenery. We strolled around the corner after dinner and watched the locals duke it out with an intense game of bocce-ball.
Before we knew it our time in the Provence region was over and the adventure of travelling to the next city was upon us. We enjoyed our stay in Lourmarin and invite you to look at more pictures here.