Fumbling French Flea

A big plus of living in the heart of Europe is the option, without any lists or planning to just throw tent and stuff on the bike or into the car and without any online-booking bollocks simply escape across a border or two.

I fondly remember the days when I could escape the Isle of Man on stand-by flights and jump seats. But then something happened. The world turned upside down and now all of the spontaneous last-minute travellers have to pay more than those sad planners and list makers who know which hotel room they will be staying in at Disneyworld on their August 2015 summer holiday and unfairly get the cheap seats.

But since Easyjet won’t let me drive, I don’t care where I sit on their plane and always enjoy asking at the desk if I need to pay extra for slow boarding. I have recently found I am in a slow competition with others who want to be last to board.

Unnoticed by normal travellers there is a very slow chess game played by the passengers who out of principle want to be the slowest boarder and I have seen many sneaky ploys including:
– sitting far away from gate and pretending not to be on this flight
– the last-minute phone call
– the finish my cup of coffee.
As the final calls for passengers are made it becomes a matter of holding your nerve, it really is “who dares is last”.

But now we can be in France in 1 minute and in Switzerland in 1/2 hour by car with no extra charge for skis or suitcase, surfboard or bike.

Ironically it is when we take the car that there is a real battle for speedy boarding, with many tactical moves in a bid to win the ‘who gets to the driving seat first’ game.

Given that my co-driver is German you will understand that it is particularly important that I win this whenever possible both for my sanity and for minimising carbon emissions.

We have just returned from treasure hunting at the giant French flea market the Farfouille de Leyment, just east of Lyon. 9 hours of sunshine and stalls. Farfouille appears to translate into fumble or rummage in English, but on the ground there were many more dealers than jumblers.

We have a motorway vignette for Switzerland and so we drive south through Basel and Geneva saving on the French motorway tax.

I offer these tips for driving in Switzerland
1.Take tea and sandwiches or a second mortgage
2 Have a wee, before you cross the border
3 Allow plenty of time, there may be room on the steep high snowy pointy bits but the roads in the valleys are full and you will depend on a car leaving the country to make room for you to drive in.

The Farfouille is advertised as having 1,700 stalls and has been an annual event for over 30 years.  The private stalls are mostly in the streets around the town, the dealers build their considerable encampments in the stubble fields.

There are of course some keen headtorch flashing buyers in the hour before dawn but mostly it is a laid back day with the town bakery providing a €2 coffee & croissant breakfast and compulsory wine drinking starting at 7 am.

7am cake and wine breakfast

As in all walks of life there are sparks and sours. For example there were only two people selling second-hand fishing tackle. One dealer, not an angler, won the “laugh a minute award” for his box of fishing lures “Non! 30 euro a pièce !”

The other was quite simply a delight, a face that had seen so much sunshine now reflected it all back to his customers. His smile was centred on a shiny silver coloured tooth and in spite of my crap French we talked of our favourite rivers in a shared language for an age as if we were the only 2 people on a river bank and not surrounded by 100,000 others.

I bought two daft old brass fishing lures for a Euro and he dropped an extra lure into the bag, “un cadeau Monsieur”.

Walking away is the best bargaining ploy particularly on a market of this size. Twice I was called back by “OK ! Vingt monsieur” when nearly out of earshot.

This being France there is of course no public transport to be seen and so for miles around the lanes and parking fields are choked with cars and white vans. Those who collect smalls, watches, jewellery have an easy life others have to do a couple of home runs laden with projects during the day.

The most popular stands included two French favourites, the Champagne bottle tops emporium (plaques de muselet)

Plaques de muselet – a French obsession

and the “very very tiny, who could be bothered, pin badge” stand.

The market also provided the answer to one of the world’s most frequently asked questions… “where have you put…..?

Answer to the world’s most frequently asked question

As we were packing the car at the end of the day a gentleman from Günzburg recognised our number plate. We had a long chat before helping him load the heavy metal cabinet that he had bought into his car.

Just like the shiny toothed fisherman, this man sits so easily in the memory as a chance encounter with a fellow traveller with whom you can almost instantly sense an easy connection. As usual I failed to exchange email addresses but it is a comfort to be reminded how many lively and  interesting  people are out there.

Four hours drive home, and though shattered there is always enough energy for the driver game with the most popular plays being the, “I’ll drive if you are tired” and the “pinching the driver’s seat at service station”.  What peace there must be for couples such as  @littleowlski and @potsandpots blessed with only one driver and one navigator.

The sun was setting behind us lighting up the Alps with a distant view of Mont Blanc across Lake Geneva and we were home soon enough for Twinings Earl Grey and unpacking the “why did we buy thats”.

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