My partner Rob and I were looking through some old holiday pics the other day. Suddenly he held one up and said dreamily, ‘I remember that place; it was fantastic.’ As I glanced at what seemed a fairly nondescript town centre he added, ‘It’s where I found free, all day parking.’ As a self-drive traveller, here is a man who has become obsessed with car parking. I can’t say I blame him. You may be approaching the most remote town on the Yorkshire Moors , but it will be impossible to get within cooee of its centre without ‘paying and displaying.’ And will you have the correct coins? Of course not!
Rob prides himself on only ever forking out for the minimum period, so we have trained ourselves to find the loos, see the sights, eat lunch and buy a few souvenirs in less than an hour.
We will be visiting the UK again next year. The new, improved plan is for me to buy take away food and complete everything else on the list while Rob simply circles the block. To ensure the dear soul doesn’t miss anything I’ll give him the rundown on the parish church and the Roman ruins as we scoff egg and cress sandwiches on the way to the next stop.
Surprisingly, our most disastrous stop was in the very upmarket English village of Bray, where Heston Blumenthal established his famous Fat Duck restaurant. It began well, with free parking not far from the river Thames; a gift from the patron saint of travellers on Rob’s birthday. We spent half an hour looking around and came back to find someone had smashed the back window of our Renault. I suspect the culprit thought we were rich French tourists lunching at the Fat Duck. In truth, we had only gazed wistfully at the menu as we walked by.
Actually, there was nothing in the car to steal, except some ‘birthday’ cakes I’d bought from the royal farm shop further down the river. ‘Oh no….the cakes!’, I shouted stupidly. Poor Rob inspected the damage and wondered how we were going to drive the car to France three days later.
As we approached the Spanish city of Santiago a few years ago I consulted my guidebook. It described all the highlights of the city and then said; ‘HOT TIP; Find a parking space for your automobile, and proceed calmly to the city centre by taxi cab or on foot.’ In Rob’s case it could more accurately had read. ‘Search for a parking space until you run out of petrol, then try to hail a taxi cab as a bus runs over your foot.’
Of course sometimes you get lucky. Arriving in the French town of Dinan we were amazed to find a car space right outside our hotel. As we checked in the receptionist smiled, pointed to the telephone, and tested my French with a question that included at least two words I understood; matin and marché. ‘ ‘She wants to know if we would like a wake-up call for the market tomorrow’, I told Rob, feeling slightly superior about my command of the language. I thanked the lady and said no, we were going to have a bit of a sleep-in. Unfortunately she had actually asked if we wanted to be woken BEFORE the marché, so we could move our car. When we emerged it was barely visible under piles of cabbages and tomatoes. A stallholder was standing on the bonnet selling fake designer tee-shirts. We were trapped for the next four hours.
There have been instances when drivers have simply created a parking space for themselves in sheer frustration, as in the photo below.
Rob thinks that having a smaller car when we travel might help, but I’m not so sure. These sweet little bubbles still have to be parked somewhere. Not much luggage space either.
Finally, if you are visiting an Italian hill town and someone suggests you pay a reasonable fee to park outside the city walls, just do it! Do not try to save a few quid by using what appears to be a free car park closer in. Our story is sad and complicated, but you can read it here if you like….. UP AND DOWN A TUSCAN TOWN.
FOOTNOTE: Remember those birthday cakes in our vandalized car at Bray? Well, they were still in the glovebox, although I don’t think Rob really enjoyed them. On a more positive note, our rental company excelled themselves and the car was repaired in the nick of time. Better still, our gîte in rural Brittany had plenty of parking.
OK, how about sharing your parking nightmares (or miracles) in the box below. Don’t forget to complete the anti-spam sum before pressing ‘SUBMIT’.