When you have a week off from school and the whole country to explore, one of my favorite things about France is that you only have to be 21 years old to rent a car. Leah and I take a train from Aix to Paris to Brest, a coastal city in the northwest corner, and get a Fiat Panda, a little red thing that reminds me of a lunchbox. Then we take off for our three-day road trip tracing the coastline. I drive and Leah is in charge of choosing the music and, arguably more important, navigation, reading the free map for tourists we picked up at the rental center. It shows more illustrations of Breton boys and sheep than highway names, but we’ve found our way so far.
When it gets too dark to see the countryside, we stop in small towns with names like Crozon and Le Fret and find a place to stay, usually a small bed and breakfast. Leah and I spend most of the nights out drinking cider in pubs and watching soccer games with the locals until we’re too tired or too tipsy to keep our eyes open. We subsist on little more than apples, crepes, and Haribo gummies. It’s a glorious Breton adventure.
One day at lunchtime we stop at a supermarket along a road outside of the town of Bénodet, our destination for the evening. Typical for France but incomprehensible for Americans, the supermarket is closed for lunch from noon to two. The Panda has a manual transmission, so the waiting time is spent teaching Leah how to drive stick shift.
We take slow turns around the empty parking lot, lurching slightly every time Leah changes gears. The supermarket employees stand outside the store’s entrance, taking slow drags from their cigarettes and curiously watching our progress as we make figure eights around the light poles. We are laughing so hard that we forget our hunger.
By the time we can get into the supermarket, Leah has made it successfully into third gear, zooming back and forth across the concrete. Still, I drive the rest of the way to Bénodet. Those French roundabouts are hard to maneuver.