March 1999

Parking can be an adventure in the old European towns. In general, they didn't have the foresight to make the streets wide enough for automobiles, for example in the enlightened manner of Tyson's Corner. The boulevards often are sufficiently magnificent – perhaps they used to accommodate multiple lanes of chariots.

However, we should have no problem here, since parking is available at the Hotel Negre-Coste (if those words don't quite automatically translate in your mind, either, it's because it's named after two of the original owners). That's once we've managed to actually find the secret entrance into the interior of town, on the second loop around the outside. [Recall, this was well before GPS.]

Finally entering on the opposite side of the street from the hotel, I manage a U-turn around the "Mossy Fountain," double-park in front of the hotel and go inside to find that they are indeed expecting us. The receptionist gives me a key, informs me of how to dial out, and where and when breakfast is served (which, at $10 for coffee and croissant, we decline – actually that's not high compared to many hotels).

I then ask about the the parking and she leads me out front, gestures down the street and her French begins to include words I don't know – ones that I have a feeling that I really need to know, so I ask for some clarification. She then asks if I would prefer English – that she thought my French was good enough that she didn't want to seem to condescend by just switching into it. (Yeah, that's what she tells all the guys!)

Now it seems simple, since we find she also needs to be a party to our maneuvering. We are to drive down to the first pedestrian street where we will pull up to steel posts which keep automobiles off the sidewalk. (Not motorcycles, though.) She will press a magnetic card to a sensor and the posts will retract while we pass. Ingenious! However the remainder of the trip is thrilling in its own right – after grazing the chairs of sidewalk café occupants, we drive down the narrow street, between another pair of sidewalk cafés' diners. The street itself is filled with pedestrians who feel that we should not be driving here.

We finally approach the entry corridor to their parking area. Which is too narrow to turn into. Fortunately, there is a side street opposite that we can back down to get lined up. Unfortunately, that street has its own share of pedestrians – very slow and steady is the rule. We finally arrive in a courtyard behind the hotel, which is already nearly filled. A sort of jigsaw puzzle approach is required.

And the exit is another story. (The entry was obviously via a one-way street.) Succeeding entries and exits do get easier.

© Copyright 2000 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved