Posts Tagged france

Travel report: Driving to Sindelfingen

Since I’ve been back home now for almost a month, it seems silly to call these posts “travel updates”.  🙂

With the experience of visiting le Viaduc de Millau still buzzing in my head, I pointed my trusty Peugeot back toward Montpellier for the journey to Germany.  The run down the mountain back toward the coast was a really nice drive, but by the time I was back in Montpellier it was back to nasty busy city driving.  I think I made a little bit of an error: instead of following the path that Google found for me to get to the A9 (which was more-or-less back through the middle of town), I followed the first sign I saw that said “A9 NIMES”.  This ended up taking me on a Cooks Tour of bypass roads around the south outskirts of the city, past industrial estates and the consequent heavy workaday traffic.  The city path was very likely to have been quicker and easier.  Oh well.

Once I made it to the A9 for the trip north, I was able to settle in and enjoy the drive again.  The autoroutes in France are excellent, with a great smooth driving surface (in spite of the heavy-vehicle traffic they carry) and plenty of visibility and clearance for cars to be able to carry the 130km/h speed limit (again, in spite of the heavy-vehicle traffic, which is only permitted to do about 90km/h).  Mind you I ended up paying around 50€ in tolls while I was in France!  If it’s a demonstration of how tolling a road can lead to better quality, I don’t mind at all.

The traffic bogged down a bit going through Lyon, but soon opened up again.  I was starting to get a bit worried about the time: I’d left Montpellier three or four hours before, yet seemed to be only a third of the way there!  Night was starting to fall as I turned east onto the A36 — the car was at last actually pointing toward Germany!  A short while after that, I stopped for some dinner before making the last part of the drive.   I was not far from the border by this time, and it looked like I was making good time after all.

I hadn’t planned for my first drive on an autobahn to be at night, but that’s how it worked out.  About the only indication that I’d actually crossed into Germany was the change in the road signage!  The speed limit dropped to 120km/h, but a little while later I saw a sign that showed the 120 crossed-out.  This, I eventually worked out, was the only indication I would get that I was on one of the famous speed-unlimited autobahnen (well, the Mercs and Beemers and Audis rocketing past me were another indication).  Because it took me so long to work out what was going on, I almost didn’t get to go for a rocket myself — I had wound the Peugeot up to about 140-150 and was still getting passed like I was stationary, so I decided to give it a run.  In a few seconds the little Pug was at 195km/h, and seemed like it could have gone a bit higher, but slower traffic ahead meant I had to back off.  As it turned out, I didn’t get another chance to wind it out because we were in and out of roadworks for the last part of the run to Stuttgart.

Eventually I found the last motorway exit I had to take, and I was on the streets of Sindelfingen.  I had made it all the way from Montpellier, without a single wrong turn!  Before congratulating myself too heartily though, I had to find my hotel…  and this was a bigger challenge than I had thought.  I found it, eventually, but not before I’d driven up the same street three times (at least) and done at least one U-turn in front of the place without realising it…

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Travel update: le Viaduc de Millau

Seems like ages ago I watched that episode of Top Gear where they took a Ford GT, a Pagani Zonda and a Ferrari F430 from Paris to the Millau Viaduct.  At the time, I didn’t figure that I’d have any opportunity to see the bridge in the near future, but nonetheless subliminally noted it as one of those things to see, if I got a chance to, sometime in the next forty-or-so years.  As it turns out, the chance came up sooner than I thought: not only that, I somehow remembered about it before the chance went by!

As I was planning my drive from Montpellier to Stuttgart, I suddenly remembered “that stonking-great bridge somewhere in France that those pommie tossers drove those cars over”.  I really had no idea where it was — I couldn’t even remember the name of it.  Somehow, however, I managed to locate it — and found that it was only a bit over an hour’s drive from Montpellier.

So Google Maps told me at least, and my record with that site was not great.  When first I consulted the Googleplex for how to get from Montpellier to Stuttgart, I’m sure it said it would take 3-4 hours.  Just before I’d found le Viaduc de Millau, though, I asked it again and it said more like 8 hours.  More on that later…  but now I was contemplating making my 8-plus hour trip to Stuttgart into at least 11.  I was seriously considering giving up on the tentative plan to see the bridge.  Then I thought: how would I feel if I went home, knowing that I was so close and didn’t bother going?  I made my mind up: I was going to Millau.

I planned my departure the following morning to be a little earlier than originally scheduled, and packed the bags the night before.  The next day I got moving nice and early, right in the middle of Montpellier weekday-peak morning traffic!  It didn’t take long for that to clear, though, and I was on the A750 heading west.  The A750 joined the A75, and then I was heading up into higher altitude.  The diesel Peugeot I was driving ate up the twisting climb with no trouble, and before long the road had levelled- and straightened-out a bit.

I saw a tourist sign saying “Viaduc de Millau”, and realised I was almost there.  Then, I was there!

Darned windscreen wiper!  Actually it doesn't matter really, since there's no way a photo from a moving car could do it justice.

Darned windscreen wiper! Actually it doesn’t matter really, since there’s no way a photo from a moving car could do it justice.

You can see the towers of the bridge pylons in the distance: the seventh (and most distant) one is still over two kilometers away! The sign in this photo is for the tourist stop on the north side of the valley, which is three kilometers down the road, and the bridge starts just past the sign…

I tried to take a couple of photos as I was going over the bridge to get a sense of the height and distance involved, but it was a wasted effort.  Not only was the camera unable to focus on anything but the blurring side barrier of the bridge, but the valley floor below was probably too far away for a camera to be able to convey the scene from a car.  So I concentrated on driving the rest of the way over, and trying to enjoy some of the view.

On the north side (as the signpost said) there is an information kiosk and observation area, so I pulled off the road and stopped there.  The observation point turned out to be the peak of a hill accessed by a very steep climb up a bitumen path… but when I made it to the top, the pain of the climb was soon forgotten.

The bridge actually looked to me like it was from another world: it is so big, so high, so amazing and different, that it just doesn’t seem like it could have been made here.  It was truly an amazing thing to see, and it didn’t matter about the lung-bursting climb up the hill or the finger-numbing-face-freezing wind blowing up the Tarn valley or the drizzle of rain that just refused to go away — I could not bear the thought of having to leave there.

Le Viaduc de Millau.  I'm surprised I got these photos, I was beginning to wonder about my chances of frostbite thanks to the wind and rain!

Le Viaduc de Millau. I’m surprised I got these photos, I was beginning to wonder about my chances of frostbite thanks to the wind and rain!

I took a stupid number of photos, and stood for a while and just gazed.  I realised it was still (just) daytime in Australia and phoned home, but must have sounded like an idiot just banging on about a bridge.

Eventually I realised that I would have to leave in order to get to Stuttgart in a reasonable time, so reluctantly I set off back down the hill.  I went through the souvenir shop and picked up a trinket or two, along with a brochure or two that N might take an interest in.  Then, with even more reluctance, I got in the car and departed.  I wasn’t able to avoid the toll plaza — 12 euro (6€ each way) in tolls!  It was a small price to pay though — besides, I got to drive over it again!

The Millau Viaduct is a wonder of the modern world, and I am so glad that I didn’t talk myself out of driving up to see it.