Posts tagged Bloopers
27 Hours

I don’t know whether to blame my underlying stupidity, refusal to plan, or stubborn outlook on life for believing that winter in South Africa was a myth. But I did. And it wasn’t. Completely unprepared with shorts and summer attire, ready to surf the Cape Town waves, frolic on the beaches, and leave myself to a wild tribe of African tigers (they live in Asia, I have recently been informed), I was pent up in a beautiful 18th century African bed and breakfast (Villa Rosa), run by what could only be Nelson Mandela’s daughters, with fits of cold wind and rain pelting against my glass windows.

I had arrived in Cape Town two days ago with no clue as to what time zone, time period, or day it was, feeling like I had just battled through 3 world wars in 17 different countries. I’d slept for maybe an hour over the course of 27 hours on 3 different planes in 3 different countries, and by the time transport spit me out at Cape Town International, saying goodbye to Meg in Athens’ airport the day prior felt like a distant dream covered in a foggy haze.

From what I remember, those 27 hours were comprised of (but not limited to) the following: 3 different types of drunk, 3 rare form hang overs, tearful fits during 3 different movies including the god damn Lego movie, a 9 hour layover in Turkey spent in an air lounge with (who I can’t be certain, but am absolutely positive was) Lock from the TV show, “Lost,” 9 glasses of wine, copious amounts of different language barriers, some terrible make shift homemade Irish coffees, and a chain smoking cage box in Istanbul. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I almost got involved in a possible drug smuggling business carrying packages into different countries in exchange for free flights and 400 USD.

A stranger to myself, as if waking from a head injury, I am left wondering what the shit just happened in the past 27 hours … not to mention, for the love of God, why am I in Africa? And why have I chosen the furthest place possibly south in this giant continent. Also, I’ve just found out it’s winter here so that’s unfortunate.

I stand at baggage claim watching the backpacks and suitcases spin hypnotically by me and I’m almost certain I’m a figment of my own imagination. I think that my bag is probably lost and I hope that it is. Unfortunately, the bastard comes rolling through, the last on the line.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there is a faint and vacant hole where once headed African advice had been, but I can’t locate it so I get into the first taxi I find. Being the travel extraordinaire that I am, I shortly realize I have no clue about social customs or norms here, nor did I even think to look into them prior. Do they tip? How much should a taxi be so I know I’m not being ripped off? What the hell is a Rand and how many USD does 1 equal? Am I going to be driven off the grid and sold into slavery? No one knows and no one cares.

The taxi driver’s voice drones in and out of my consciousness as he talks about Table Mountain and such. He asks me what I think of South Africa and so far it looks pretty much like any other place in the States I’ve ever been. We drive down a regular looking highway towards the city with regular looking land on either side and he nonchalantly points out a “township” that we pass being the largest in Cape Town. I follow his arm motion and squint out my window. I’m not sure what a township is but I can’t make it out with this massive heap of trash in front of me. Some sort of dump or landfill, I presume.

“What’s a township? I ask sleepily, “I don’t see it.”

“Right there,” he says motioning to the heap of trash and scrap metal on the side of the road, “Townships are very poor towns here in Africa.”

“That right there??” I ask, bewildered, “That’s a town? People live there?”

“Sure do,” he says with nothing but normalcy in his tone, “gets awful hot in the summer and dreadfully cold in the winter, what with those dirt floors, ya know.”

I stared out of the window with my jaw dragging on the concrete behind our tires. It looked like a stretch of land covered in cardboard boxes, scraps of metal, sheets, and trash, all piled on top of one another. I ripped my gaze from the place and looked over the back seat. I could still see the airport and Victoria Wharf, the sophisticated and exquisite set of shopping centers, restaurants, and high-class condos. How was this possible? These people lived next door to each other, in neighboring towns. How did people pass this everyday, leaving their fancy homes on their way to their fancy jobs?

That was the day I first saw the expansive gap of inequality between rich and poor in Africa that everyone speaks about. A third world country and a first world country living side by side, and often in adjacent neighborhoods. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, the past 27 hours were irrelevant, shamefully miniscule. Now I was fully awake.

I would quickly find over the following weeks, that these townships sprung up everywhere, all clustered together climbing up hills, and squeezing between mansions, anywhere they could find and they grew almost overnight. Depreciating wealthy neighborhoods in a matter of days, turning their backyards into places of crime and fear. Unlike anything I had ever seen, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. We had poor areas back home, sure, but this stark contrast living next to and on top of each other was staggering. And furthermore, who had let this happen??

This starch contrast in quality of living is an epidemic in South Africa and no one knows what to do about it. Men sit out on every street corner waiting for construction work or anything to compensate their labor, but there aren’t enough jobs for the poor, so after all attempts at making money fail, they take it, turning their wealthy next-door neighbor’s world upside down. Women walk the streets in ragged skirts with babies tied to their backs in sheets while they carry an even smaller one on their hip or shoulders. Babies are everywhere. The crime has reached hideous levels where driving out of your two door garage and three story house, down the road is no longer safe. Last week, an elderly man was dragged from his car and beaten almost to death with a bat for his cell phone. The week before another infant was found in a dumpster. This happens everyday. Trash cans, gutters, lakes, fields. Live, breathing, newborn babies are abandoned and left for trash. And no one is doing anything about it.

The government pays these township people a stipend (about $300) for each baby they have, in attempts to help them, but instead of providing them help, they’ve provided them with a perceived way out, a means to live. Keep birthing children and then trash them when the small amount of money comes in. I feel physically ill when I learn this, passing two women carrying at least 3 children each. Wondering how many more they had and discarded.

Frequent rants and complaints from the President are aired daily on the radio. He’s angry that the government cut his budget for his mansion renovation. One of his 6 wives or 23 children aren’t happy or aren’t well. This is a man who, prior to his election, raped a HIV infected woman, and responded only with a public statement about the impossibility of him contracting aids because he had showered after the encounter. This man is not only running this country, but somehow got put in the highest position of power by the people themselves. Contrary to American politicians who sweet talk and maneuver their way through elections, politically correct at every turn … this man’s flaws and injustices were not unknown to the public, nor were they hidden. And by the sound of it, solely due to his lack of intelligence or regard for anyone else. So how did he get here? Who voted for him?

Easy. By offering a glimmering promise of hope to the people of these townships, the lowest levels of poverty who make up the majority of the population. Promising them housing, a future, and a chance at a better life. If the votes are in the numbers and the numbers can be found in the most desperate and broken people, than the victory is as good as given. They will soon forget that this man did not deliver on any of his offers, nor make a slight attempt at pretending to do so, and they will grasp at the chance when the next candidate comes along, failing them again.

The radio announcer reads off a list of current news and I can make out just enough through the static. Another infant found in a nearby lake; two found in the underground gutter system by construction workers, an old couple pulled from their car and beaten – their phones and wallets the only things missing, a single mother lie bleeding in an alleyway after someone caught a glimpse of her iPhone, a neighbor’s car window smashed in – a laptop gone.

I feel sick again and look out the window past the woman draped in sheets with a toddler strapped to her back with a tied blanket, his back arched unnaturally, drooping in the makeshift sack with his cheek pressed firmly against the woman’s middle back and his eyes wide, seemingly lifeless. I force my gaze past them to the victorious mountains behind them, surviving wildfire after wildfire, covered in yellow shrubbery and the bright blue ocean glistening from around every corner. How could a place this beautiful be so broken?

(Epilogue: it wasn’t until I met a few of these township folk, that my world was irrevocably shaken….) 

^See subsequent Blog post “Elma & Me”

Paros: You Dream, You

We arrive in Paros covered in fleas and hideously offensive sunburns. My lips are so swollen that they put Angelina Jolie’s to shame, my metatarsals are still slewed so I walk with a limp and I’m pretty sure I have kidney stones. I am not well.

Squinting in the bright midday sun as the ferry ramp lowers to let us onto land, we are met with a quaint sea side town, glowing white buildings, each with turquoise shutters, doors, and accents matching the impossible blue sea at its feet. Even the rare act of defiance was graffitied in a respectable matching blue. Small fishing boats of every color bob excitedly at their leashes next to the road and the whole town seems to be awaiting our arrival, waving us in with ‘welcome home’ smiles; even the air smells wholesome and life affirming.

“I love this island,” Meg states with conviction just before we touch land, “I want to have a baby with this place.”

My younger sister Meg, has my father’s exact small and deep set green eyes, as well as his relentless and diligent obligation to planning. So it was no surprise that the day after I left on my trip back in May, she was telling me that we needed to book ferries and hostels for when she visited me in Greece in July. Despite being the worrier of the both of us, her ever futile desire to embrace the present like her older sister, keeps her much more open than my father to unexpected turns and breezy whims and I was addicted to pulling them out of her. Thus, we had ignored her instincts and planned nothing.

Meg had arrived in Greece only 4 days ago. After a night in Athens where the closest we got to culture was sitting atop the roof of our hotel looking out at the Acropolis and discussing on how to tell our Catholic father that Zeus was, in fact, real, we had set out for Mykonos, full of promise and excitement -the first island in our two week Cycladic Island hopping adventure.

Mykonos – the island of wild international adventures – one we had ALMOST saved for last because we didn’t believe we could top, was in fact a cesspool of sex-craved tourists, nightclubs, thatched roofs, and aids. And it had utterly destroyed and stripped us of everything we were worth in a matter of three days. (Blog post may or may not be released to the world at a later date depending on the offensiveness of its nature.)

(Post Mykonos Meg at the port awaiting escape)

(Post Mykonos Meg at the port awaiting escape)

This island is the supreme opposite to the last, full of motherly good will and breath taking tenderness. There are no nightclubs or more importantly, Australians; everyone is Greek and to our surprise, they love us. We are taken in at a small family owned hotel by the sea, Grivas, and Meg instantly longs to be apart of this family, desperate for their love and approval. The woman is tall and blonde with a natural, earthy beauty and a two-year-old baby girl on her hip as she shows us to our room. Her husband is tall and broad, handsome with dark Greek skin and can be found anywhere from fixing light bulbs to rocking toddlers, or bartending on any given night.

We spend most of our days at the restaurant down the street where they know us by name and love us almost as much as we love them eating everything in sight that resembles a gyro. Gyro pizza please; is it possible to get the fettuccini with a gyro on top; yes, I’ll take Saganaki but please add a gyro and double the fried cheese. Everything is laid back and peaceful here, so unlike the tourist trap of Mykonos we just escaped. 

Post Paros arrival Meg at our favorite restaurant

Post Paros arrival Meg at our favorite restaurant

Against our brother’s wishes, we decide to rent an ATV and out of stubborn spite, I demand that I know how to drive one. Her name is Gertrude, this ATV we are given and she is a hot mess, red paint splintering from her core leaving white splotches on her body, her once black racing stripes are now gray and melted, but she is a fighter, spitting and spewing as she heaves breathlessly to get up every hill. Flying past cars and motor bikes on downward slopes only proves to be embarrassing once they pass us laughing as Gerty fails us in a mock attempt to get up every slope, slowing to about 2 mph from 30.

Still, she whips us around every curve and bend in the rumbling roads along the coast, the inconceivable turquoise water whizzing past at our side, a vision of sea foam and mermaid tears that can’t be anything but mythological. We stop at a forgotten folding rock of ancient ruins jutting out towards the sea and venture lightly into this ancient habitat, careful not to wake whomever clearly still claims it. The bright sun and piercing blue waters peer through the cracks in the walls and the wind whips through the windows, rapaciously whipping into scornful torrents within the abandoned stone walls echoing the howls of Aphrodite’s broken heart. A crumbling stone carving outside along the bank reveals an ancient Greek script translating “with their lives in the embrace of the waves,” and now I’m sure we need to live here, right in this stone wreckage left behind in a fury of Olympic waves.

Meg agrees and so it is settled, we will move in with the Grivas family, and live in this little village until we are as old and dilapidated as this ancient rock temple. 

Striking out in Sorrento

No sentences are constructed this morning. Thoughts come out in turret like syllables, bounce off each other like walls, and are dismissed as fast as they came. Neither of us try to reconstruct them but allow them to lay where they fall; after 24 years growing up with each other, no words need to be spoken between my brother and I to convey how lost we both are. Last night’s energy, laughter, and adventures are left in broken shards on the hotel floor as we try to pack our bags and check out. If it were only my brother, John, in this morning after disarray state, I would thoroughly enjoy it as I always do, watching my sibling as I have so many times before, try to regain his memory and his brain as he attempts life after last night’s bender, laughing uncontrollably and poking him the whole way through. But it’s not just John, it’s both of us. And the only thing worse than one Thomas unable to function and live life, is two of them together. In a foreign country, checking out of a hotel, with no concrete plans, just a mere string of possibilities strung together last night by some blinking sea captains and World Cup fans that we have dubbed the next course of action.

Well, the best and only prospect of plans is crushed and annihilated by the hotel desk clerk, an Italian suave type with dark, shoulder length pushed back hair straight out of a Pantene advertisement. John is looking across the desk at Mr. suave in horror after asking him what he thought of our subsequent Italian plans. Suave shrugs indifferently and says things like “that place is okay,” or “it is different,” in his complex sing song tones and all I’m thinking about is where the hell he gets his shampoo. The thing about John is he likes confidence; he trusts confidence no matter what you’re selling. Suave here just unraveled everything the confident sea captains had sold to us yesterday – Pompeii, Ischa, and then Naples. As if that wasn’t enough, John finds out looking at a map that we never actually made it to Amalfi when on our coastal scooter adventure and had stopped at the town just before it.

We leave uprooted, without a shred of direction and a robbed Amalfi dream revealed as fraud, with a complete inability to make any decisions. The bags are heavy and it’s hot, the surrounding air is aimless and the first order of business is food. I had been bragging to John about the food in Italy for years and so far we had struck out twice – a hard feat to accomplish in this country. But yesterday’s tasteless lunch robbing us of a devastating eighty euros and the previous “slimy testicles” (aka gnocchi) dinner that John had gagged up, looking at me appalled and offended for suggesting, had left him in a doubt filled world of fear. See, John is the sort of person that plans his next meal while he’s eating his current meal. He goes down in a deterioration of hypothalamic sweats if food isn’t an option when he’s hungry. So we decide on the first place we see- something safe – an Irish pub and take a seat.

The thing about Italy, and Europe in general, is that none of the pictures on the menus look appetizing. Unlike the marketing gurus and mouth watering lies of American foodies, these people literally snap a polaroid of said dish and feature it in their menu. John orders the picture of the huge Italian cold cut, which mockingly comes out as a plate of slimy hams and RAW bacon (yes, raw) with no bread. The distraught in John’s eyes as his mouth furls and his eyebrows sink is soul destroying and impossibly hilarious. It’s too cruel to laugh and I feel as crushed, so I pay for the food, get John up quickly before he goes into an epileptic fit, and decide for a redo. We’ll eat lunch again somewhere else and pretend that last one never happened.

Our brains are still misfiring and there is a complete inability to form choices this morning, so we sit down at the first American restaurant we find, complete with red Coca-Cola chairs and umbrellas out front. John orders a hot dog in Italy because he’s a fool and it comes out as five baby toes on a soccer bun with french fries inside. My burger tastes like a sock and now I am trapped in hysterical fits of laughter that I cannot stifle observing John’s face, sunken in mortification and I know his feelings are personally hurt by this meal. We don’t eat more than a bite and walk to the bus station hoping someone will hold our hands and tell us where we should go from here.

The bus is an additive in a string of foul play and hideous choices made this morning. There is no room for our bags underneath, so we sit crammed together in the front seat with them on our laps. People pile in like shipwreck survivors at every stop and when no seats are left, they push their way through and against each other in the aisle. Every time someone new comes in, a catastrophe of shoving and flailing limbs falls against John’s unwell body, shoving me against the glass window. His face twitches in pain as a screeching Teradactyle of a woman talks shrilly on her cell phone up against his ear, while two Australian teenage girls jabber incessantly in high pitches from the seat behind us. The bus, which is entirely too large to even fit on these costal roads, let alone make it around any of the never ending turns, wheezes and spits painfully along the cliffs. There is a lot of jerking and haulting and clashing of horns, as buses stand off to see who will reverse first back along the path and let the other through. A cruel and relentless game of chicken.

John lifts his eyelids ever so slightly to look at me as his head sways. They seem to be more weight that he can muster and they flutter upwardly as he looks at me. “I don’t even care if you throw up on me, just so you know. I won’t even move,” he says before his head drops back down into a sleepy haze, bouncing and swiveling around on his neck with each bump and jerk.

I am dangerously near a cloister phobic panic attack smashed against this window and my legs have gone numb under my bag. Sucking in deep breaths through clenched teeth and closed eyes, I attempt to regain composure before flailing limbs and bags go everywhere. The bus driver stops again along the cliff to let more people in and I stifle a panicked whimper; there is no more room and no more air. Sweating and trying to find any angle that allows movement, my head slams forward as the bus driver screeches on his breaks. He’s crashed into a row of parked scooters, and I watch them fall one against the other like dominos out my window. Glancing at the driver after I hear a few Italian curse words that I recognize, I watch him shrug, shake his head and go on his way.

Two hours later, the bus dumps us out in Amalfi looking like we've just clawed our way from beneath the earth. Neither of us have a clue where we are staying because the decision to get on the bus to Amalfi in the first place came from the inability to make any other ones. Ideas to go back to Capri are tossed around and shot right back down when we are informed that the sea is too rough and no ferries are going out today. Will there be any tomorrow? Who knows, the woman shrugs. Right on.

It is now appearing that there are no hostels in this luxurious coastal town unless we want to trek a few miles up the mountain with our bags, and all hotels are massively out of our price range. I look up at John across an outdoor cafe table after passing this information along. His lips are pressed together and his eyebrows furrow in a concerned and exasperated look. “Is this what you do? All the time?” He asks in concerned disbelief, the quiver escaping his voice betraying his confidence.

I laugh, shrug, and then let my smile fall again and nod at him seriously. His expression makes me laugh again. “Well, this is insane then,” John lets out half a laugh. 

"This is the gypsy breeze agg* for you. Pure agg," I smile, "Allow it because it's always worth it."

It’s time for me to do something to get us out of this since I got my brother into this trip in the first place, so I walk back into the travel office and ask about accommodation. And that’s where God intervenes, putting an end to our morning madness, unable to watch it any longer Himself. The woman behind the desk is an ancient, scary little creature, hunched over with a round body and a round head, leathery brown with a tuft of hair to match; she is so passionate when she speaks that I flinch as if everything she is telling me is a slap in the face. I wait as she sings some Italian into the telephone to her friend who lives upstairs. She appears to slam the phone when she is finished and yells at me that her friend has room for a good price and he will be right down.

We follow an impossibly tan man of maybe thirty, with a kind face and no English language through the tiny cobblestone streets of Amalfi. Under hanging dresses from windows above and around corner shops displaying disgruntled lemons, florescent yellow under the sun and bigger than John’s head. Everything in this town is yellow and the whole place smells of lemons; shops selling lemon soap, lemon candy, lemon liquor (home to the infamous Lemoncello), lemon wallets and purses and candles.

We squeeze our way up three flights of crowded, two way stairs, round a corner up the street and enter the very building we had just come from a few stories below. The buildings and houses here, all built atop one another up the mountains and into the rocks. I look back at John with wide glaring eyes when I see the vertical stone staircase upon entering the building and heave myself up behind our host. He keeps turning around and peering at me sympathetically, saying “sorry,” as we round each corner revealing more flights of vertical stairs. I just smile at him and nod since I can no longer breathe, sweating and panting, using the railing to drag myself to the top. Around the tenth flight of stairs, John is laughing in broken breaths, wheezing “holy shit,” under his breath behind me.

Once at the top, we enter another large wooden door, pass a kitchen where someone’s grandmother is making soup while awaiting her hair dye to set in, the dark creamy liquid covering her scalp. She nods and smiles, wooden spoon in hand over a boiling pot and I smile back through the dizzying spots in my vision. Just down the hall, our guide's wife - a beautiful Italian woman decked out in fushia finishes cleaning our room through the open door. She is humming and scurrying around as the breeze blows off the sea through the floor to ceiling window behind her, twirling the sheer curtains at its side and her long dark hair. John mutters “holy shit,” again from behind me – this time only loud enough for me to hear as he pushes past me towards the window. The view is staggering so high above the sparkling sea and coastline. Music fills the room as a dance camp practices routines on the concrete below us, muffling the sounds of horns and screeching buses.  My bag hits the floor with a bang, shaking the stone floor beneath our feet and my palm finds the bed, lowering myself down to sit attempting to slow the thud of my heart against my rib cage. The pretty wife is speaking Italian at me but her words are just echoing against my pounding ear drums. I try to confirm the price we were told, as John paces around the room whispering that it can’t possibly be that cheap, but neither of us can understand each other and I can scarcely get words out in between breaths so I just smile and nod, not knowing what I'm aggreeing to, until she leaves.

After napping on a pile of rocks that this country deems a beach, John and I set out to find the best seafood on the coast, no matter the cost in desperate attempts to right our earlier wrongs. And that is exactly what we find. Fresh lobster, squid, mussels and prawns. The most delicious and interesting dishes atop this seaside deck; not a plate is disappointing and everything exceeds our expectations. We sit there above the sea, a hole shelled out of the rocks, for hours just because we can, taking our time to enjoy every bite. We laugh as the waiters sing to us their Italian phrases introducing each dish as it comes.

“I love this country,” John says in between bites, “Best people and best food I’ve ever come across.”

I laugh, "How's that agg* looking now?" 


*Agg: a term coined by the Bonnet Boys (see past post "Snow White, 6 Dwarves, & a Joffrey); deriving from the words agony or aggrivation. May be used as a noun, verb, or adjective whenever circumstances call for it. (i.e. "What an aggy bus ride," "This is the aggiest day of my life," "I am in pure agg.")

Barca Bound

It's official. I am the worst traveller ever. No on speaks English in the Sevilla bus station and I end up booking a 16 hour bus to Barcalona for 100 euros when I could have taken a high speed train for 40 euros more at 5.5 hours. I try to return the ticket but the woman just keeps trying to book me a return ticket back to Sevilla. This was expected since I watched a Russian woman in line ahead of me nearly punch out the glass while throwing a temper tanturm, because they would not give her money back even though she purchased cancellation insurance. It's going to be a long one. 

Two hours before departure, I am informed of a little hippie town, Grenada, which is 4 hours out, where hostels are greenhouses with guitars and now I am dying to go there. I do all I can to switch my ticket (with help of the Spanish speaking Belgian), but it is a loss, so I suck it up and get on the Barca bound bus. Thinking I'll either make it the whole way or, mid losing my mind, hop out at some random town along the way and settle there for a bit. 

There is more space at least during the beginning of the trip and I lay down across four seats as John Legend serenades me to sleep. I wake up only 3 hours later (which is highly disappointing) when the bus stops for a break, which it does every few hours. I down 2 glass of Fino, and chain smoke a few rounds in hopes to cope for the next leg. 

The bus driver hates me, by the way. He's already told me off for smoking at a stop and grabbed my arm while yelling some Spanish things as I got back in the bus. I try to smile at him when we pass at rest stops but he just glares at me fiercely holding my gaze. I'm not sure what I've done to the man but doesn't look like mending it will be a possibility any time soon. 

I would most likely be racking up a two month phone bill on this journey should my data roaming be working but it isn't, so we are safe for now. The sun is setting over the mountainous east coast and everything is green and gorgeous and deserted. 

At the next stop, a massive amount of a man waddles his way past fleets of empty seats to sit in the back two next to me, and my bed for the night portion of the trip is gone. He breathes louder than I speak and the iPhone has gone dead so headphones to block him out are a loss. He exerts so much energy trying to find a comfortable position to lie down and ends up lying down with his head practically in my lap. I spend the next 10 hours in a semi-suicidal state staring out the window and trying to shut down my brain, while floppy over here snores profusely, blowing hot hair against my leg. 

I arrive in Barcelona in a zombie-like state at 8:30 am with no clue what day it is. I can't check in to my place until 1 pm, so I wander around aimlessly scoping out possible places to nap where people won't notice me. Barcelona is massive compared to the other places I have been in Spain - a proper, busy city. I don't think I like it very much; it feels like I could be in any other city in the world. But then again, I'm sure that about 82% of that has to do with the last 16 hours. A huge statue of Christopher Columbus pointing across the sea to the New World stands proudly in the center of a square and I scoff at Spain, remembering my Portuguese friends. There are modern art scultpures everywhere and a 50 foot steel lobster with a drawn on smiley face lurking high above me and with an outstretched claw as if he were welcoming me. After wandering with no direction at all for hours, I get massively lost and can't find the hotel again until 3 pm. 

Finally alone in a room for the first time in a month. And then I sleep for two days. 

23 Things I learned in France

... in no particular order. 


#1. Probably plan out your entire journey before entering the country... i.e. where you are staying, what you want to visit, what times, etc. France is not one for improv.

#2. It has become strinkingly apparent to me that those who can only speak one language are inexcusably lacking. We are. Learn French. (or any other language at all). 

#3. Spoiler Alert: A "salted pancake" is dissappointingly, merely a lesser version of a quesadilla. 

#4. Heaven forbid you have a flat, car break down, or coronary heart failure, make sure it is either before or after lunch. Otherwise, don't hold your breath. 

#5. Don't pay for wine tastings. You can learn more in the cellar of a small family winery than you can in ten world renowned chateaus. (But, do call ahead. Refer to #4.)

#6. If Northern France is Miss Prim & Proper, turning her nose up at nude shoulders and thighs, than the South of France is her slutty little sister. (Topless grandmas everywhere.)

#7. I am almost positive that France will be the first country to go, if not solely due to lung cancer. Everyone smokes here. Every single person. It's like they haven't figured out it's not cool anymore. 

#8. People look at you like you have 5 heads when you tell them you are driving 7 hours to the other side of the country instead of flying. Your country is the size of Texas, people. We take 10 hour road trips across states without a second thought where I come from. 

#9. Eat at the right times. Walking into a restaurant asking to eat at 5pm is inconceivable. Of course they don't have food again until 7:00 ... what were you thinking? Also, don't ask for just a drink at a restaurant. That's what bars are for. You come to the restaurant, you eat. 

#10. Train stations are extremely diverse. One will have a pianist serenading you on a baby grande and your 3 hour lay over at the next station will not have any working bathrooms. 

#11. 100% set out to get lost in every new city you come to. Turn down street corners just because. Sit at outdoor cafes with no clue how far your place is from there or how to get back. It does wonders for the soul. 

#12. The mystery of French McDonalds'... 

a.) Certain ingredients that McDonalds cooks with in America are illegal to use in France, resulting in far less greasy and salty food. (Side note: two of my Parisian friends actually threw up the first time they had McDonalds in the States.) They have ... wait for it ... Deluxe Potatoes, which are in fact the most wonderous of things. They have weird sauces like "Creamy Chips Sauce", "Curry",  "Dressing oil Hazelnut", or "Saffron Maple."

b.) Contrary to one's plausible assumptions, they do not overwhelmingly love Americans here. Even though, WE invented McDonalds. 

c.) There is an abnormal amount of cute, young girls working in these places (as well as grocery stores). Haven't quite figured that one out yet. 

#13. No one knows where Maryland is so just tell them you are from New York. They will immediately treat you like you are a star. (Just tell them you are when they ask. No harm done. Their dreams come true; your dreams come true. Everybody wins.)

#14. Little kids are extremely entertaining to talk to. They will spill out a litany of, I'm sure, utterly cute things, to which you will not understand. When you attempt to answer them in English, their faces contort in incomprehensible horror like everything they knew was a lie. They will stand there for awhile, blinking violently at you as you watch them question their own sanity and then run away and never come back. 

#15. Check out is at 7 am and the maids come in at 8 am whether you are dressed or not.

#16. There is too much good wine in this country to comprehend. It is mind bendingly overwhelming and paralyzing.

#17. Don't assume someone understands you if they smile and nod at your yes or no question. They don't. The answer is not yes.

#18. Common misconception tells us that the French smell due to lack of hygiene. They do, in fact, smell, however, I believe the fault may lie in the deodorant companies because the stuff simply does not work.

#19. Serrano ham (Jambon) is everywhere which is needless to say, awesome! That being said, if it's on a menu and you can't physically see it, you might just get plain old, slimy ham. Oh, and bacon, is just ham. So before your morning is ruined, don't get your hopes up when you see it on the menu.

#20. Nothing is pronounced how it is spelled which makes sounding out the words utterly worthless. Not to mention, you look like a complete fool if you even try. If you do make friends in France (good luck with that one), you will never know their names because no matter how many times they repeat it, it just sounds like a beautiful river of flowing sounds. You will evidently butcher it repeadetly if you remember it at all. (Write it out for me man, now look at it... write it out again how it sounds. You tell me how I was supposed to know!) 

#21. The most culturally diverse town in France is, without a doubt, Lourdes. It is a very powerful thing to witness so many people who can't understand each other come together over the one Faith that unites them.  Every single language, every single country .... without any chaos at all. It might be the most peaceful place I have ever been. 

That being said, I must point out my regular strange observances: There is an overwhelming amount of Italians. So much so, that people say Lourdes is actually an Italian town and not a French one. No one thinks it is comically absurd to have a conversation with 3 Guiseppes at the same time except for you, so don't laugh in their faces when they introduce themselves. They will only stare back at you with blank faces. Every restaurant is Italian even if it is run by the French and there is an entire quater that only Italian pilgrims are allowed to stay in. And never will you see so many of the exact same stores back to back as in Lourdes. It's like 58 Sunsations for Mary in a row. 

#22. And this one I cannot stress enough .... these people CANNOT drive. And I CANNOT drive in their country. If you do decide to rent a car, and even if for only one day, get insurance!! Hence, Joffre's flat tire and the night rider who blew through Megane's (pronounced Meh-jah-nay, second car) side mirror while I was sleeping. 

#23. It's oui, not wi. Mind officialy blown. 

Prison Camp

It´s dark and cold before sunrise and I´m waiting at the train station for this bus to get me out of France. But it hasn´t come yet and I´m beginning to have this irrational fear that it won´t and I´ll be stuck in this country forever.

My head ached and I was tired as hell. having spent the past two nights in fits of insomnia, as I often do. My bus was departing at 6am and I wasn´t going to get to Spain until 8am and then wouldn´t have a place to stay until 2pm. Waiting at the train station, which was closed except for its doors, I eventually found a Little Wayne looking mother fucker (excuse my French but there is just no other way to describe him so plainly) who spoke English (of course) and told me where the bus would be. But now 6am was approaching and I was beginning to doubt the master rap artist. I walked outside to check and tripped over some luggage with it being so dark, only to realize that it was a man in a sleeping bag spending the night outside the station on his backpack.

Well, as it turns out, Little Wayne is a liar and the bus was not where he said it would be. No surprise there. It was 10 of 6 and I had been instructed to check in 30 minutes prior. Now I was panicking and running down across the street to the bus stop where two busses had just pulled up. Neither were mine so I waited alone in the dark. 6:00, 6:05, 6:10 ... I was officially stuck in France.

A comedy of errors type family strolled around the corner approaching the bus stop in a frenzy. An older couple accompanied by a mad man and 7 rolling suitcases. The woman, she must have been in her 60´s, began speaking to me in rapid fire French questions before she realized I only spoke English. She instructed me to converse wit her son who spoke my language. He did not, by any accounts, speak English. Mumbling incoherent sounds at me and spraying my face with spit, he only shouted his words louder when I told him I did not understand. I just shrugged and took a seat back on the bench. I was too tired for this. I watched them bobble about like fools, shouting and scurrying like finch about each other among the route signs trying to find their bus. The son, leaving his luggage in the middle of the road, stumbled to the building next to me and began urinating … loudly and for an abnormally long time. The parents didn’t seem to find this unusual. So again, I shrugged.

The night leaker came out from behind the building with more speed than he could carry and I watched him topple out over his suitcases, landing on the pavement, and sending his red, white and blue snow cap flying further into the street. I didn’t help him. I didn’t even move. Neither did his parents. It was all very strange and exhausting and the only thing I kept thinking was: Please let my bus come and please let the hostel allow me to check in early so I can sleep.

I had overspent and overindulged in private rooms the past month in France, unable yet to succumb to the dormitory life with strangers, but after inconceivable expenses between that and the car, I decided that June in Spain would be the hostel life. The hostel was in Bilbao and just for 1 night on my way to Logrono. Located directly behind the Guggenheim in town, it had looked cheap but promising. (Although, the website displayed no pictures of the bedrooms themselves, which is in hindsight, an obvious red flag). I arrived at 8:30AM in the rain and knocked on the front door of a glass cage of a building until a woman let me in.

Boxto Gallery Youth Hostel was a hideous place and it reeked of a thousand sweaty backpackers. The boy at the counter running things that day could not have been over 17 years old and he took his time serving an array of old milk and stale bread as breakfast to those who were already awake. Finally, he took me into the room with a sheet and a pillowcase, placed them on the top bed of a triple bunk squeezed in-between dozens of others and pointed to my locker. I was inmate 24B. In the quarantined section of the barracks. The room was open with only a curtain to separate it from the common room and a half a dozen people still lie asleep in their beds with their sheets over their heads, the lights on, and raucous coming from those already awake in the shared space. Ok, Kristen … now you are backpacking. Deep Breath. Just embrace it. I put my luggage down and with sleep as the only goal in my line of sight, climbed up the rickety metal staircase to the top bunk, avoiding the death glares from the sleeping bunkmates and the grunts of the girl whose arm I had stepped on climbing up. I brought my valuable possessions backpack and my purse up with me despite being forbidden to do so, and sunk into a deep sleep despite the lights, noise, and stench.

I get a juvenile flight of butterflies like a middle school girl every time I overhear someone speaking English with an American accent. I had just woken up due to the influx of voices awakening, who were most likely consequence of the miserable hostel maid sweeping up trash and plastic cans while slamming her broom into the metal poles of the bunks and crunching plastic bags under feet. It was two of them- the voices - a girl and a boy and they were definitely American. Lyna, a young Greek goddess and Bob, her best friend’s brother, whose arrival they were awaiting. Chicago bred, they had just traveled from Amsterdam and were meeting Bob’s sister Colleen who had studied the previous semester abroad in Bilbao. I chatted with them for a bit before venturing out to explore the town on my own and knew that upon my return, I would be attaching myself to them for the night like a little sister tag-a-long.

Spain was loud and chaotic. There were music, children and dogs everywhere. (Which painstakingly made me miss my little brother and my dog). The people talked faster than anyone I had ever met and the Spanish I thought would come back to me had failed to do so thus far. But at least, I had more to work with here than I did in France and menus were easier to read. The air wasn’t quite as soft and romantic as dreamy France, but it was charged with an infectious energy that I loved. Accordions and violinists filled the streets (literally, there is one standing over my shoulder playing in my ear as we speak and he won’t go away) and tapas were spread out across every bar in town and up for grabs… beautiful little creations of bright colors, meats, thick sauces, herbs and seafood. And ham… Ham was everywhere, huge thighs dangling from every bar ceiling grazing the bartenders’ heads – hips, hooves and all.

I latched onto the Chicago trio that night and Colleen showed us her town as it had been for the past 3 months. We ate pinchos (tapas) out in the square where every bar was on the honor system. No table service and no credit cards held, you took your tapas, ordered your drinks and went outside, and then came back in amongst the crowds when you were done to tell the bartender what you ate and pay. We stayed up drinking and laughing about the terrible accommodations we were currently subjected to and this crazy, old Camina lady that we had met earlier that day backpacking and walking her way across Spain and staying in a youth hostel. They told me stories of their recent journey through Munich, Brussels, and Amsterdam and I traded stories from my past month in France. Colleen had accidentally walked through security at the Amsterdam airport with two lighters and a bag of weed in her jacket pocket (which they later smoked out of an apple), Lyna had had her 21st birthday in Amsterdam where a room full of strangers sang “Happy Birthday Nina,” to her (a name she kept for the rest of the trip), and they had stayed in a hostel infested with rats. It felt so good to be with Americans for the first time in a month. I climbed up into my third story bunk bed and had a surprisingly good four hours of sleep before waking to catch the bus to Logrono. 

Road Trips with Joffre: Part 3

DISCLAIMER: Dad, I didn't write this one either. Probably, just don't read any posts involving cars or road trips. 


The Final Chapter : Bonnieux to Bordeaux

Someone really should have taught me how to change a flat tire BEFORE I left the country. And while I was at it, I probably should have learned French as well. Two skills seemingly unrelated, however, as it came to be, I was in need of both of them at the exact same time.

The morning started off more than fine, with the smell of excitement and promise in the air. Putting on my favorite gypsy dress in order to coax that joyful freedom out of me (as I often did) for this 7 hour road trip, I set off from Bonnieux with Bordeaux in my horizons. Joffre and I were getting along quite well and I gave him a pat, the way you would an unreliable horse, to let him know that he was doing a good job and in hopes that this reassurance would keep him from bucking you off in the near future. Cursing him for his foolish errors and apologizing for mine, our usual banter carried on much the way it always did for the first hour of the trip.

No sooner had I settled into confidence with Joffre, he decided to crap out on me. Waiting at a red light, as he had instructed me to do, I then inched forward as it turned green (never truly sure who had the right of way, where I was turning, etc.) A loud, startling explosion noise, sounding much like a race car junkie with a crap car flexing his muscles through his exhaust pipe, had me searching behind and around me as I slammed on my breaks. I saw a motorcycle stopped at the red light next to me, but he was looking at me?

I carried on slowly making the left as Joffre had told me, and felt the road rumbling underneath of me. Well, I was either on the rockiest main road that ever was, or that explosion had been one of my tires. The rumbling didn’t stop and I saw more passerbys starring at me, so I pulled off onto the side of the road. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a beautiful road, nor did it carry any clues that I was in France. Plain low cement buildings on either side with small inner city looking store fronts. I got out of my car, suddenly completely conscious that my gypsy dress and headband did not help me fit in in this town.

It was the front right tire. Completely flat. With no clue how to find a spare or fix the flat when I did, I opened the trunk and started pulling on the different levers to try to open up the floor. It wouldn’t budge. I scanned around me and immediately caught the eyes of a Mexican-looking guy (are there Mexicans in France?) smoking a cigarette and watching me amusingly. He was sitting in a plastic blue chair that looked like it belonged in a kindergarten classroom, outside of what looked like a tiny 711 knock off, with tobacco and keno posters covering the windows. I walked towards him silently repeating the mantra in my head I always did when I desperately needed someone to speak English (please speak English, please speak English, please don’t be a serial killer, please speak English.) He did speak a bit of English, but barely. His genuine smile was reassuring and he nodded at my hand gestures and failed attempts to explain that I didn’t know how to change a tire. Nodding surely because he had been watching me and clearly this crazy American girl dressed in outlandish gypsy garb could not know how to do such a thing.

He looked at the tire and then opened the trunk as I had done, trying to open the floor. Stopping, and glancing under the car, he said, “No tire,” with the cigarette still in his mouth. My jaw dropped. Well, apparently rental cars in France do not come with spare tires, among other things, because that makes perfect sense. The man, his name was Momo, (which I pronounced as Mohamed the entire time until he wrote it down for me when I left), gestured me to follow him while he called the rental company for me. It seemed that they had told him that they would come in 10 minutes, which is what I believed, but looking back, that couldn’t have possibly been what Momo had said.

After 25 minutes, Momo called again for me. But being 12:15 now, the French were eating lunch and everyone else, stranded or not, would just have to wait. I wondered if the police and hospitals here had that same policy. Everyone seemed to. So, I sat with Momo outside of his shop in a blue plastic chair with strawberry cartoons on it, and looked out on to one of the ugliest streets I had seen in France yet, smiling at every passerby that looked at me, as if this was exactly where I always spent my afternoons; with Momo outside of his shop, and yes, I always came dressed like this. We couldn’t understand much of each other, but Momo understood that I needed help and I understood that he was kind and that was enough. So, we faked the rest and laughed at each other’s jokes pretending that we understood them and hoping that they were indeed jokes.

After 45 minutes, we called the tow company again, but they were still eating, so we were still waiting. Momo’s friends had now joined us and I sat there forcing so much confidence, that I was sure it had turned my skin that Spanish hue, my hair dark, my dress into jeans and my headband into a baseball cap, blending me in to the rest. After previously declining, I motioned to Momo’s cigarette and decided to smoke with the Mexicans in their blue chairs, because, well, when stranded in Avignon with a flat tire and French Mexicans, why would you not smoke cigarettes with strangers in blue chairs? What else are you to do with French Mexicans? We had no other common ground to talk about and it looked like I was here for a while so I had better settle in. So that is exactly what I did, one deep breath and I was perfectly content here with the blue chair gang and their cigarettes. Simply letting the story write itself.

Two hours, two red bulls, and three cigarettes later, the tow truck finally arrived. In that moment, watching Joffre strapped to the gurney, I felt bad for cursing the bastard earlier. It wasn’t his fault – the flat tire at least. Without an ounce of English, he took us back to the garage in silence. 

Through means of translation apps (thank you Steve Jobs), and sign language type reenactments, the garage workers got the car on the lift and Enterprise on the phone. Turned out they didn’t have the correct tire, so I was going to have to pay for the flat, get a taxi to the train station and a replacement car there before the rest of my 6 hour trip. It also seemed that there was no Kristen Thomas in the Enterprise system; either that or there were 200 others like usual (thanks Mom and Dad), so that meant no record of the insurance I had purchased. No daddy or lover to swoop in and sort out the mess, all alone in a foreign land, I was finally going to have to learn to fend entirely for myself. On the edge of panic and the brink of tears, I took a deep breath and decided to embrace it all, choosing to live the chaos and let the book go on as it may.

After many phone calls and what seemed to be hours, they found that I had purchased insurance (thanks to the little voice always in my head that is my Father), and I wouldn’t have to pay for any of it. I packed up all of my things, which were strewn about Joffre’s insides, and we said our last goodbyes. Looks like we couldn’t make it all the way to the end, but we had a good run.


RIP Joffre. 

Road Trips with Joffre: Part 2

Part 2: Beaune to Marseille

Joffre had a severe defect (one of many) and that was that he was incapable of directing me to an exact address. His navigation skills were limited to towns only, which was, as you can imagine, very inconvenient. Thus, Joffre could get me to the town (if we were lucky), and then Siri had to take over from there. 

The drive to Marseille was almost 5 hours so we set out early, in hopes to stop in a few towns on our way. Lyon, Cote du Rhone, Crozes Hermitage, Bonnieux & Aix-en-Provence were on the list. Of which, Joffre found only Crozes Hermitage, and Gordes by accident in attempts for Bonnieux. It's safe to say that we had more than one argument on our way. 

The tolls in France were absolutely criminal. Every major road had a price and then another price to get off on each exit. So when Joffre took me off the wrong exit, multiple times, and then we had to get back on after driving around aimlessly in "unmapped zones," I was livid. Unlike the U.S., French tolls took credit cards, which clearly is the way to go because who has cash all the time? Unfortunately for me, however, there were no EZ pass zones or something of that nature that I could blow through when every other option failed, like I did at home. None of the tolls had actual people in booths either. Just machines. These machines did not take Mastercard or Visa, but they did take American Express ... which I found supremely odd. Anyway, thankfully I had gotten an AMEX before I left. It worked fine for the first few tolls until we hit a major road block.

Toll number 3 spit my AMEX back at me and declined it several times. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw that several cars were waiting behind me. Frantically, I searched through my purse and other bags for any and all coins (tolls did not except bills). I had 1.7 euros. The toll was four. Cars were beeping now. Jumping from the car, barefoot and windblown, I went to the car behind me to see if he had any spare change. The man behind me was clearly annoyed and I attempted to explain the situation. He shrugged exasperated and searched his car, reluctantly handing me the 2 euros he found. I thanked him and put it in the machine; I was still 30 cents short.

He layed down on his horn, startling me as I was leaning into the car looking for more change. Slamming my head into the ceiling with the sound of the horn, my skirt whipping around my legs with the wind, I went back to him, again trying to explain. He didn't care. Running down the line from car to car like a touristic lunatic with no shoes and no language skills, I desperately tried to find 30 cents. Not one, but six cars, in two different lanes, shrugged at me and simply replied "no." Some didn't say anything and just looked at me like I was completely mad. Not my proudest moment, this one did not give a good rap for the Americans ... my apologies. 

I walked back to my car through the symphony of horns all singing for me, and apologized to the man who had given me the two euros. He rolled his eyes like a teenage girl at her mother and without a word, started trying to reverse, laying down again on his horn so the people behind him would retreat. Wincing and with warmth flooding my cheeks, I turned back to my car. As I did, he yelled at me, now in perfect English, "I want my two euros back. Give them to me." In a panic, I pushed every button on the toll booth trying to have them returned. Apologizing to him over the violent wind, I told him I couldn't get them back. "Bitch!" he yelled and then turned around as all of the cars began to reverse. So now he knows perfect English. How convenient for him. Slayer. 

I put my flashers on so I wouldn't have to face any other cars pulling up behind me, and helplessly sat there pushing the bright red "assistance" button, but it was just a French recording that I couldn't understand, repeating herself over and over again. Fighting the tears that I knew were coming, I sat there for a few very long moments.

"What do I do now, J?" I asked Joffre. 

Of course, he was silent now and of no help. I dumped out my backpack and purse on the passenger seat and sifted for anything at all. A 50 cent coin flickered underneath some pens and brochures. Oh, thank God. Popping it in, the assistance recording finally stopped and the gate went up. Holding my breath for the next toll, Marseille couldn't come soon enough.  

Road Trips with Joffre: Part 1

DISCLAIMER: Dad, if you are reading this ... I didn't write it. 


Part 1: Reims to Beaune

I met Joffre by chance. He was not supposed to be mine, but through a series of mix-ups and mishaps, our paths crossed. I hadn't realized that an automatic car was so hard to come by in France and was so much more expensive. Everyone here drove stick. I did not. Thus, Joffre was all that remained. 

A grey, modest, four door car - spacious and comfortable- he had clearly been worn in and he was severely outdated in terms of mental cabability (navigation). He had a superior British accent and spoke to me in that gentle yet, matter-a-fact, butler type way. We had several issues right away. First of all, he talked to me as though I understood the metric system - meters and kilometers - and I assure you, I do not. This was not good. I barely could follow directions from Siri in feet and miles. I was virtually inept perceptually in this area. (I can see my brother shaking his head right now, because, to him, this sort of thing is an innate skill that only misfits are born without, but it's true - I don't have it.)

Also, can I just say how outrageous driving in France is? Frist of all, there are no double, yellow lines. In fact, there are no yellow lines at all. Only white dotted lines, so it was almost impossible to tell a one-lane, two-way street from a two-lane, one-way street. I managed to avoid a handful of head on collisions while trying to turn left in a lane that I should not have been in.  More than dozens of wrong turns were made as Joffre instructed me to turn in 250 meters, like I knew what that meant. 

At first, I thought there might not be any speed limit in France because I had yet to see any mention of a thing. I passed a white circle, outlined in red, with "110" written on it. 110?! That surely could not be the speed limit. But cars were whizzing by me. Drivers are not too keen on disguising tailgating in France. Highbeams on in midday with their bumper against yours and you got the point. After a ways, and seeing many more circular signs reading 90 and 70 and 130, I figured that this must be the speed limit, so I sped up. (It wasn't until at least 2 hours in that I realized this speed was kilometers per hour and not miles.)

There were all sorts of road signs that meant nothing to me. One - a triangle, yeild-type looking sign (only it wasn't because those were different) with an exclamation point on it. Just "!" Okay? And, I am supposed to be excited about what exactly ...? There were blue circlular signs everywhere with a red slash through them. I assumed the slash meant "no" or "don't", but I could draw no further conclusion except for "dont' blue."

I had a four hour road trip in front of me down to Bourgogne, so I had better get the hang of this thing fast. I switched the radio until I recognized something and settled for Nikki Minaj (ugh) because, well, it was American. 

A funny thing happens, even after 3 days, without anyone to talk to ... and that is that anyone, really, will do. Joffre and I bickered for the first 30 minutes trying to work out each other's differences, but by hour one, we had settled into a peaceful routine. 

J: "In 400 meters, at the roundabout, take the second exit." (please read in a british accent)

My God, how the French like their roundabouts. There was one at least every 2km (no, I do not know what that translates into in miles), the entire way. Everywhere - on little roads, major roads, highways, neighborhoods. 

Me: "Why, thank you Joffre."

J: "Turn. Right. Now." (please read in a British accent)

{screaching breaks and a sharp right turn}

Me: "A little slow on the draw there, Joffre!"

By 1:30pm, Joffre knew me better than some of my friends and by hour 2, I was serenading him with Total Eclipse of the Heart in English while the radio blasted it in French. Joffre and I had become kindred spirits. He was the Wilson to my Castaway, and I, his Tom Hanks. It wasn't long before I had settled into driving and was cruising down a back French road, (shamefully) dancing to Katy Perry's birthday song. That's when I saw the light flash. Oops. I asked Joffre what happened when you got a speeding ticket in a foreign country in a foreign, rental car, but he didn't know. I guess we will see. 

Well into hour 3, we had a major falling out when Joffre decided to spew nonsense. The trust relationship was broken.

J: "At the roundabout, take the second exit."

Me: "There is no roundabout here, Joffre..."

J: "If possible, make a U-Turn."

Me: "It's not possible,  Joffre!!"

J: "Make a U-Turn."


J: Silence

Me: "Come on man. Get it together. I'm driving blind here."

J: Silence

Squinting and trying to cover the screen of the Nav Guide to see what was happening (which by the way, went completely dark whenever the sun was out - severely inconvenient), I could barely make out the words, UNMAPPED ZONE, where the street name was supposed to be. 

Me: "What do you mean an unmapped zone!?"

J: Silence

Me" "You know what!? You are off the team! Off. The. Team. My friend!"

Needless to say, we were not on speaking terms after that. I was forced to cheat on him with the very costly, roaming and snobby Siri. Turning her on, she took over right away in an arroggant way that seemed to say I knew you'd need me. We drove in silence for 45 minutes until I couldn't take it anymore. I missed Joffre and decided to give him another chance. We settled our differences and he was able to pull it together to get us safely to Beaune. 

I knew after that, it was going to be very difficult to part with Joffre come May 24th and that we may have to run away together.