Friday, June 08, 2012

Head out on the highway, looking for adventure

Yesterday I was heading out to dinner at a French friend's who lives in la cité - not the city, but a semi-dodgy housing estate. I'd been there twice before, but somehow still managed to get on the wrong bus, ending up in Chambray, a southern suburb of Tours which which I am wholly unfamiliar. Cursing my stupidity, and with no bus back into town for another half an hour, I texted my friend to say I probably wasn't going to make it for dinner. The story had a happy ending - my friends Charlie and Liz rolled up about 15 minutes later to collect me in Charlie's car - but I was left feeling rather foolish, and not for the first time this week.

I am, to put it mildly, directionally challenged. The only thing I can consistently find is a way to get lost, from the time I mysteriously managed to walk the whole way around the Cap d'Antibes back to where I started from, to the time it took me one and a half hours to find my way to my hotel in Kiev, a mere two blocks away from the metro station. So when I headed off by foot to meet up with Mary Kay in Paris, it was really tempting fate to say to myself "all I have to do is turn right and follow the Seine, even I can't screw that one up". Turns out yes, yes I could. This time what was at fault was not really my sense of direction, just my capacity to be foolish. I quickly reached a part of the road where it split into two, with one road going down along the Seine and the other rising up. I hesitated, but knowing that my plan was to stick right next to the Seine, I decided to take the lower road.

And thus I ended up here, on the Voie Georges Pompidou, where, as Wikipedia informs me (NOW you tell me), pedestrians are forbidden, because, ya know, it's a highway. (The below photo is from Wikipidia, by the way - there was way more traffic than this.)


So there I am, walking along that narrow strip on the left-hand side, all dolled up fancy-like and PULLING A SUITCASE ALONG, while cars and motorbikes whizz by me mere centimetres away at high speed, beeping and shouting things at me, terrified. There's no pedestrian crossings, obviously, and no way to get off this bloody highway. The road surface is uneven - I'm terrified that, at any moment, I'll turn my ankle and just fall into the road - there are posts that I have to step over at regular intervals, and at one particularly dismal part, there are a series of big scratchy bushes hanging over the "footpath" that I have to battle through. And then I reach a part where the "footpath" stops altogether. Just up ahead is a bridge which I think I want to get up on to. But how do I get across to it? My not-so-beady eyes dimly think that they can see stairs up on to the bridge from the other side of the highway, but there's a constant flow of traffic tearing towards me at breakneck speeds. I hesitate, wondering whether or not I should just give up and walk all the way back the way I've come, when finally I spot a tiny break in the traffic and manage to do a semi-suicidal run across the highway, still towing my suitcase, to the other side and thankfully up the stairs onto the bridge.

Now, I know what you're thinking - Gwan, you're an idiot! How could you wander on to a busy two-lane highway where pedestrians are forbidden without noticing? (I know that's what you're thinking, because that's pretty much what my friend Liz said when I told her. She also said she burst into laughter hours later thinking about me doing this.) Well, I would like to submit something for the defence. Here's where I entered the highway, taken from Streetview. Do you notice anything on the left-hand side of the picture?

Yeah, that would be a sign telling pedestrians to stick left and bikes to stick right on the footpath. It is true that a few metres further on, there is a tiny sign forbidding pedestrians, but even if I had seen it, it's totally unclear, being in the middle of two roads; I probably wouldn't have known without looking it up just now that a red circle means forbidden even if there's no line through the picture (yeah my fault, but still, they could make it clearer for dumb tourists), and it's still not obvious from here that the left-hand road is just about to turn into a hideous road of death.

So yeah, I'm blaming this one at least 50% on France! Still feel like a moron though.


  1. Don't worry - its genetic. Your maman has a very similar sense of direction!

  2. Thank you for the email reminding me you're still alive before I read this!!! (BTW I read it with a mixture of horror and semi-hysterical laughter.) M x

  3. After I finally stopped laughing and read the comments, I realized that your parents will NEVER want you to visit me in again! In between encounters with policemen/pickpockets and strolling down the highway of death (suitcase in tow), life in the city seems pretty crazy.

    But more seriously, the photo of the so-called "footpath" is fairly sobering. On the upside, you did look lovely and very chic.

    In all fairness, you can attribute some of the blame to me because I said, "Yes" when you asked if you should follow the Seine. Next time I'll be sure to add some disclaimers, like "Don't follow it if it means putting your life at risk!"

  4. I am laughing because this is something I can see happening to me. Except it probably would have taken me longer to realize I was on a freeway. I'm glad I'm not the only one with a perfect sense of indirection.

  5. I did something very similar with a dual carriageway in Biarritz once, and I'm not sure there were any misleading signposts either.

    And once in Paris, I walked for about an hour in the wrong direction because the wind was blowing up the river, making it look as though it was flowing in the opposite direction. (This was before I lived here, I hasten to add!)

    Hope that makes you feel better!

  6. No worries Mary Kay - compared to some of the places I've had to worry about Gwan being in, Paris is nothing! Thanks for looking after her! GM

  7. It does make me feel better knowing others are just as challenged!

    Don't worry MK, I don't hold you responsible. As for my parents, well they raised me!


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