Driving in France in the Renault Captur

If there’s one thing you need in the south of France in the middle of nowhere its a rental car. I am not well versed in driving a manual transmission car so I chose an automatic. The manual would have been a lot cheaper but I’m not confident in driving one and I was also in a foreign country and I wanted to be able to pay attention to my GPS and the traffic. Per my company policy, I rented a compact car but I was not prepared on how compact it was. I was given a Renault Captur which was a tiny car even by my standards.

The size of the of the car was pretty dismal, I could fit my 20” roller and my work backpack in the trunk. Even renting the smallest car in the US, I would be able to at least put in a 25” suitcase. What I didn’t know was that there was a plastic plate that would make the trunk a little it deeper. I didn’t discover that until I had to transport some of my team members and their suitcases. Needless to say we needed to stack some of the bags in the backseat to accommodate everything. The front area wasn’t so bad, I had enough room but I’m not that tall to begin with.

The infotainment system was pretty good, I changed it from French to English so the next person that rents it is going to be surprised when they start it up. I was able to connect my phone via Bluetooth and play music and hear the voice prompts for my GPS just fine. One thing that surprised me was that the car lacked any kind of backup camera. I’ve really gotten used to having a backup camera at my disposal and the streets in France are not very car friendly so having one would have been really helpful.

I could tell while driving the car that it had turbo in it but man the car was weak. I guess thats ok considering that most of the time I wasn’t driving more than 50mph. Most of the roads I drove on weren’t really highways in the American sense, they were short straightaways broken up by roundabouts. The gas tank on the Renault was really tiny. It only holds about 8 gallons of gas, my minivan holds around 19 gallons so I can go almost twice as far in a vehicle twice as big with an engine that probably has three times the horsepower here at home. For what it was, the car is the right size for the streets of Montpellier and the surrounding area. I did venture into Montpellier and I didn’t see a lot of large cars or SUV’s.

I think one of the more unique things on the car as the key fob. It was about the size of three credit cards put together and it had buttons to open the doors and the trunk. Thats not the interesting part though, you took this key fob and inserted it into a port in the center console to turn the ignition into the “On” position, from there you had to press the brake and hit the start button like an American car. My personal car I can keep the key fob in my pocket and just press the brake and the start button and away I go. The key fob was not compact so it takes up a lot of space in your pocket. I think thats a design flaw but maybe its the norm for cars in France. I didn’t get to see any others while I was there so I’m just making assumptions.

Overall it was a good car, the pickup sucked but it handled ok overall. My Honda Accord with its V6 278HP smokes this little shit box. I definitely missed it while I was away. I did put my car on sport mode when I came home and man it felt good to just step on the gas and go to 80MPH in less than 8 seconds. Although the turbo probably helped the little car along, I would hate to try and drive it without the turbo, it probably would have been slower than it already was. It was definitely a good experience overall, I got to experience a car that I can’t get here in the US and I was also able to finally drive in Europe. I think I need to rent a car in Asia just to compare it against Europe and the US.

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La Grande-Motte – Beach town in South France

About 20-30 minutes from my hotel was a town called La Grande-Motte which is a beach resort town where a lot of the locals go to kick back and relax. I happened to go here twice, once on my own and another with my team. Both times were pretty cool which I’ll get into in a second. The drive there was also very scenic and I wish I had a dashcam to capture the drive. Maybe I’ll ask Santa for one.

On my first visit, I was really only there to eat dinner and being the American that I am, I wanted to get a burger. I went to a place called Gourmet Burger which was a little hard to find since it was tucked away on the boardwalk. The burger was pretty awesome and I had to add fries but I changed things up by drinking some orangina. Dinner took a long time because there is only one cook and she could only make the burgers 2 at a time since she had such a small stove. Normally I don’t like veggies on my burger but the ones that she put on there were excellent. Again I had a little trouble with the menu and communicating what I wanted but the guy at the front taking orders was nice and tried to speak English and I used my weak French to communicate what I wanted. Google Translate helped a little too but at this point in my trip I hadn’t downloaded French so it would work offline.

The boardwalk itself reminded me of the Jersey shore in that it had lots of hotels, cafe’s, and even an arcade. I didn’t play anything at the arcade, I have tons of games on my phone, but I did see a Ferris wheel and merry go round as well. The Ferris wheel wasn’t working but I took a picture of it anyway. There were also a lot of sand art sculptures too that someone took the time to create. I didn’t go onto the beach really, I don’t like sand all that much but I did enjoy going up and down the boardwalk. There were a lot of interesting restaurants and I went to another Italian place on my second journey there but they also took forever to get the food out. I don’t mind waiting for food but 1 hour is a little excessive for pizza and pasta. I guess I’m a little too American in that regard that I expect things to come out really quickly and not taking a slower pace to life.

The area beyond the beach has a nice small town feel and it was more modern than the walled city for sure. I didn’t explore it too much mainly because everything except restaurants were closed. Even then, the restaurants were closed fairly early, by 9:00PM most of the time with the rare restaurant closing at around 10:00. Thats ok, most nights I ended up eating late anyway because of work and my body wasn’t all that adjusted to the new time zone even though I did my best to fight the jet lag. The town at night was fairly safe to walk around at night since no one was around. There wasn’t much to see in the town since it was all closed and all the cool stuff was at the beach.

I was originally supposed to stay at La Grande Motte but due to the summer holiday, the 2019 Women’s World Cup and how late the hotels were booked for the trip, I missed out on actually staying in the area. I think it would have made the stay better overall since there were more places to eat and I wouldn’t have had to drive around so much either. It definitely gave me a good idea of what the south of France is like during the summer time. Kind of similar to how South Florida is almost all year round but with a different kind of charm and a less party atmosphere.

South France Hotels are ok…..

One of my discoveries about traveling to the south of France where there really isn’t a big city is that the hotels aren’t all that great. I would categorize them as being similar to a Motel 8. There is no Marriott or Hilton where I was going so I ha to stay in a hotel that was decently close to my work location. The hotel that I stayed in was called the Mona Lisa Royal Hotel. It was a smallish hotel but it boasted breakfast and a pool. I didn’t get to use the pool but I did eat breakfast every day. I would say even a Hampton Inn or a Fairfield Inn are way better than the hotel I stayed in but for Europe I think its about what you should expect in terms of accommodations so far from a big city.

The breakfast was in their restaurant and it had breads, cheese, luncheon meats. I think it also had yogurt but I didn’t have any of it. The one thing that was lacking was fruit. There was a fruit stand right outside and the small town was in the middle of farm land but alas no fruit as part of my $9 Euro’s a day. I could see the pool from my room and I did have a balcony but that week I was in France was the hottest on record so I tended to not even open the drapes to keep the heat out.

The bathroom was as little interesting since they separated the toilet into a smaller room from the sink and the bathtub/sower. It was weird because after you went to the bathroom, you need to wash your hands which means changing from one room to another. It’s one of those first world problems but its something that you think about when you see a set up that just doesn’t make sense to you. I did have a TV and an A/C but the A/C was one of those window A/C’s that I used to have in my mom’s house. The TV was ok, it was at least HD so I could watch some of the World Cup games but the signal kept on cutting in and out.

Another plus was that there was free WiFi. For some reason I couldn’t connect my travel router to it so I only connected it to my work phone and nothing else to protect my data from snooping. The speed was ok, for some reason I coudln’t get the FIFA app to load anything but Safari worked so that was a plus. Obviously all the plugs in the room were for France and I had an adapter that would make all my stuff work so that wasn’t really a big problem. It was nice that they provided a desk (but no chair?) that was close to my bed so I could be within easy reach of my phones.

There wasn’t an elevator so you needed to use your muscles to bring your bags to the room. I was upstairs but I also packed smart by only bringing a roll aboard and my back pack. Some of my team brought big suitcases so they had a little harder time checking in and checking out. The hotel was right next to a farm and right across the street was a grocery store that closed at 8PM (what????). There wasn’t any place really close to eat unless you walked about a mile or so down the road and even then, everything started closing down at around 9PM with an exception or two. There were also no lights in the parking lot so if you’re there late at night you can see the stars really well but you also can’t see where you’re walking so I had to use the flash on my iPhone to help navigate my way to my room.

Overall, it wasn’t too terrible in terms of where I stayed. The person that was manning the front desk was very nice and she tried to communicate with me in English but ultimately we had to use Google Translate in Conversation Mode. Would I go back to the South of France? Sure but most likely I’ll look to stay in a bigger city that has at least an Acor hotel in it or something that’s closer to what I’m used to and take a rental car everywhere if I’m going to explore the smaller towns and sights..

Aigues-Mortes- Walled City in the South of France

The closest big city to me was Montpellier where I planned to attend a round of 16 match (I missed it since I had work to do and the match was at 6PM!). However the closest town to me as a place called Aigues-Mortes that was walkable from my hotel. Unlike most cities that I’ve visited in my life, this one happens to be a medival walled city that was generally still functioning. The city was built in the 13th century (at least thats according to the Church that I saw near the middle of the central square). When you first go to the city, it doesn’t look all that big until you actually get into it and start walking around.

The city has a town square where most of the restaurants are. From the main entrance its a straight shot to the town square that has a bank, a small museum, small shops, and restaurants. There is also a statue but I don’t know who its of. There was also a Church that looked really old but I couldn’t go inside of it. I didn’t get the sheer size of the town until I started walking around it and took pictures from various spots in the town. The streets were all cobblestone and some of the exits looked like the original wood was on the doors. There was an exit that I used that led to the water (its on the coast) and then I was able to capture the full extent of the outer wall (naturally I took a picture). It would have been awesome to take my drone on this trip but I don’t know if they would have let me fly it over the city to take some video or photos.

The city itself is relatively quiet and there were a lot of residences within it. Parking was really tight in there and the streets were definitely not made for cars, it was made for pedestrian traffic but they still allowed cars in to drive and park. During my first visit I drove into the city (dumb idea) and got lost since I couldn’t figure out what roads went which way (the signage was poor of course). It was during my second visit that I took most of the pictures. There was also a tour that you could take of the ramparts but it closes really early and work was about 30 minutes away and I always got out late so I wasn’t able to see them. Hence my wish to take my drone for a little flight if I brought it with me.

The best shots of the city that I took was from the outside just as it was going to dusk. I did a combination of shots with my iPhone 7 and my GoPro Hero 7 Black. I didn’t have the right mount with me to do a video tour of the city but thats ok, the photos were still pretty impressive in my opinion. It definitely was a great experience going to the walled city, it was something that I have never seen in person before. It was interesting to walk around and take in all the old architecture and how the residents tried to sprinkle in a little bit more modern stuff (I thought they should get rid of all the cars and street signs and just make it a pedestrian town). Definitely cool as an experience, it makes me want to go to some other walled cities of greater fame in places like Eastern Europe or Italy just to see how they compare.

France Trip

I’ve recently gone to the South of France for work and there was a lot of stuff that I experienced that will not fit into a single post. What I’m probably going to end up doing is that I’m going to break it into multiple posts that will cover places that I went to and things that I did (or didn’t do). There was a lot of things that I wanted to do during this trip but I just lacked the time to actually accomplish it.

I’m going to start the next series of posts over the next few days but what I can say is that it was a pretty good time overall. I had to use a combination of French that I learned back in 6th grade and whatever I could pick up from the movies to make my way around and get things done. I’ll also talk about the apps that I used along the way that were the most useful to me and the things that I should have done before I started on my trip.

Anyway, its time to start writing the next series of posts for my blog