A Car for Christmas

Our Christmas present: A fire-engine red Suzuki Swift (2021). I named her Poppy. She is a delight.

Unfortunately, it’s a sorry saga that preceded the new car purchase. I know. It is a time to be merry and jolly, but I need to tell this story, and it has a happy holiday ending.

In mid-November we set out in our trusty Toyota Yaris Verso (Toyota 2). That car has its own story. (search “A Tale of Twin Toyotas”)

After canceling reservations three times over the past two years due to Covid restrictions, at last we headed north to our old stomping grounds, the Luberon area of France. We spent 14 happy years there and looked forward to visiting friends.

Previous visit to Table du Bonheur with friends Gayle and Ralph and chef Hans.

On day two of our visit, we proceeded to enjoy a delicious lunch at one of our favorite places, Table du Bonheur in the hinterlands. (search “Table of Happiness.) We anticipated savoring chef Hans’ innovative cuisine and visiting with him and his wife, Tiny.

It was not meant to be. As we climbed the hills, the Toyota struggled. I kept downshifting. Still little power. Bob was angry. “Get out. Let me drive.” I pulled over. We got out and the stench of something burning overwhelmed us. No one was driving that car anywhere.

I called our insurance. They were prompt, especially considering that it was a Sunday and we were far from towns. The car was pulled up on a tow truck bed. We climbed into the cabin and were deposited in Apt, the town where we were staying in a fabulous holiday apartment.

Much of the next three days was spent on the phone with the insurance, arranging taxis and rental cars, and figuring out what to do. Since the insurance company only dealt with certain taxi and rental car agents, it was very complicated. I was super stressed. Bob was lost.

Biding farewell to Toyota 2

Repair the car or bid it au revoir? We loved that car. We had made a special trip to Germany to purchase it. It was not classy, nor modern, but it filled our needs. It was assumed it need a new clutch: 1,000 euros plus. Was investing that sum in a 16-year-old car sensible? I was inclined to go ahead with the repair until the garage told me they would not even look at the car, much less do the required work, for at least 10 days. I called other garages. All the same. We could not stay that long.

We trekked to the garage, took care of the paperwork, and bid an emotional, tearful farewell to our precious Toyota 2.

In between phone frustration – press 2, then press *, then press 3…and listening to the same recitation too many times before reaching a live human being – fortunately there were some bright spots during our sojourn.

Our living room/kitchen at Cent Cinq

First: Our accommodations at Cent Cent, a gite or holiday apartment in Apt. Jen and Chris Mallon, daughter and son-in-law of our friends Mollie and David, have lovingly, tastefully restored an ancient house in the center of the town. Amazingly they have done all the work themselves. They have thought of everything and more: bathrobes, bath salts, coffee machine, plush bath towels, a well-equipped kitchen with supplies of olive oil, vinegar, sugar, etc. There are three guest apartments – all gorgeous, luxurious. Visit Apt and the Luberon, and enjoy Cent Cinq. For more, http://www.cent-cinq.fr

Emily and her Mercedes van

Second: Emily, a charming driver guide who took us to Marseille on Monday, the day after the catastrophe. I had an appointment at the American consulate there to have some important documents notarized. The insurance was unable to arrange a rental car on Sunday, and there was not enough time to get a car Monday morning for my 11 a.m. appointment. Emily to the rescue. She is an American from Oregon married to a Frenchman, a farmer who has acres of apple orchards. We chatted non-stop on the 5-hour journey to and from Marseille. I relaxed and forgot the trauma. Stay at Cent Cinq and let Emily chauffeur you to the sights, http://www.yourprivatechauffeurprovence.com

Third: Visiting the Apt Saturday market. It was always a treat, and this time did not disappoint. I loaded up on area favorites: olives, honey, aged cheese. I even found a few clothing bargains. 

Fourth: Admiring the scenery and landscape. I had forgotten how beautiful it is. There are no fall colors on the Cote d’Azur where we now live – just palm trees and pines. The Luberon hills were awash in hues of gold, orange, red. Herds of sheep grazed in grassy fields. I wished there had been time to stop for photos.

On the way to Apt, lunch in Manosque with Christine and Bernard

Fifth: Friends. We did not see all those we had hoped to see, but we did share meals with some.

David, who provides invaluable assistance with this blog, and Mollie with daughter Jen and husband Chris, and Bob, at Cent Cinq

Once we got home, the search for a car began. The rental agency gave me a Citroen C-3 Crossover, an SUV. This is not a car for the congested coastal area where we live. The roads are narrow and twisty. Motorcyclists weave in and out, and appear from nowhere for nerve- wracking moments. Parking garages are a challenge. I pleaded numerous times for a smaller car to no avail. I was not comfortable driving that car and did crash into a parking garage wall, scraping the front.

Jen hard at work at Cent Cinq.

The plan was to buy new used car, but decent used cars were hard to find. I was told the 2022 cars have been slow to arrive due to supply chain problems, hence a dearth of used cars. Instead of spending days on the phone with the insurance, I was calling car dealers.

The search dragged on for three weeks before I found Poppy. I wanted a red car. I needed something bright and bold. And, I wanted to defy the French who have bizarre notions about red cars. A friend urged me not to buy a red car, suggesting that it would be damaged by a red car hater. Others confirmed the French aversion to red cars. It is true. There are not many red cars on the road here. French drive boring black and gray vehicles. Some go for white – not too exciting either.

Here’s to red cars and Christmas cheer!

Happy Holidays to all Tales and Travel readers. Thanks for your fidelity.

Friend Jinny visited us at Cent Cinq and brought me this beautiful rose, “Esperance” (hope). I needed it, and cherished the rose.

If not a follower of this blog, sign up. Your address is kept private. In the new year, I’ll write about my adventure last summer to Lake Como and then Croatia.

If you missed my blog post on Menton’s vibrant market (above), you can see it now on Travel Squire. https://travelsquire.com/menton-market-friendly-folk-and-french-favorites/

15 thoughts on “A Car for Christmas”

  1. What an adventure, but with a happy ending. The photos, per usual, are stunning, Leah!

    I love your “defiance” in purchasing a red car. I had no idea the French disliked this color for a car. I guess Jeff and I would be rebels, too, as his 2013 hybrid SUV is a bright metallic red. Believe it or not, I still drive the gold BMW I purchased from the Canadian PX in Nuernberg, way back in Dec 1990! It qualifies for “Classic” license plates and will getting one soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Frances. I am sorry for the very late reply. It’s wonderful to hear from you. I follow you on FB so I see you are active and busy. Can’t believe you still have the golden BMW. Bravo. I miss my Porsche. Those were the days. But, I love my red Poppy.


  2. Leah. I love the new car. Poppy is the perfect name. I once had a small red Skoda and loved it because it was easy to find in the parking lot.
    John and I were at the Apt Market this Saturday and I think I saw you.I remember I commented that there was a woman who looked so much like Leah, could have been a twin! Glad you enjoyed it.


    1. Hi Sandra, That was not me at the Apt mkt yesterday. We were in Apt over a month ago. It was fun to be back, but would have been far better without the car crisis. Happy Holidays.


  3. Hi Leah, Lovely to hear from you. I will write more latter. Sorry to hear of the death of your Yaris. My Echo (Yaris) is 18 and still going. It needed a new clutch. I thought time to say goodbye but both my mechanic and Brendan said “No”. I only did 5000kms last year because of Covid lockdowns. I hope you enjoy your new car. I love red and would have red every time. I wonder why the French don’t like red. Happy Christmas to you Bob and the cats. Love Meg

    Meg Downie meg.downie1@bigpond.com 0428 502 839 03 9874 5021 Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Welcome to the family Poppy! I am ready to stay at Cent Cent and to hire Emily. May you and Bob share a cozy Christmas. I miss you and wish the best for you as you deal with more and more challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, Leah, what a harrowing adventure you had, but you made it through.The photos of us at the resto brought back delightful memories.So very sorry you had to go thru all that angst but so glad you found Poppy in the end.We just got back from Apt–two nights in the same apt…glorious! Had dinner with the gang on Thurs. nite…super lovely. Now back in St. Remy, all we want to do is regroup and put our feet up. We’re happy to hibernate at the moment. After the big trip, a week plus of jet lag, the third shot and visit to Apt, we’re ready to settle in. Hope we can chat soon.Lots of love, Gayle

    Gayle Smith PadgettPassion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie gaylesmithpadgett.com

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Merry Christmas! My Bob always says that on any trip, you leave a few things undone so there is a good reason to return. We stay home mostly now. As I wrote out my diminishing Christmas card notes, i was saddened at the thought that there were many friends we likely would not visit again. And, I do have to say, I think your Bob and mine are lucky to have plucky brave wives. Here’s hoping for a better 2022.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many wonderful places I would love to revisit. It will have to be in my next life. We are both lucky that we have seen so many amazing places. And, yes, our husbands are lucky. Kudos to you for sending Christmas cards. Happy Holidays to you and Bob.


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