France: the UFO police station
29 September 14
It’s not every day that one gets a tour of a police station shaped like a UFO! If I had known about this architectural wonder in advance, perhaps I would have detoured off our tightly-plotted course to take a photo and Instagram it. Instead, I discovered myself in front of this wacky gendarmerie at 11am on Sunday morning only because I needed to report the theft of several items from our campervan.
We had parked for the night at Aire du Jura, a designated roadside stop with a petrol station, restaurants and cool buildings to explore. We parked — very sensibly — alongside a couple other caravans and campervans. There’s safety in numbers. And our doors were locked.
The funny thing about locks is that they’re very good at keeping out the usual sort of people — like me and the girls. They’re not actually very effective at keeping out somebody who is determined to get in. So our lock was jimmied in the middle of the night (apologies to all Jimmys out there) and some items were taken, including my computer and purse.
After I reached the police station, I was thankful that it was this weird flying-saucer building in the middle of nowhere. The remoteness of the station meant that the police were comfortable with leaving the girls in the campervan while I made an official report in my rusty French.
Another challenge was that I had to charm my way through two separate toll-booths by holding up my Australian drivers license for a scan. With my cash and cards taken, there was no other way to get off and onto the motorway! Although the first disembodied attendant was very kind (I explained to him that I needed to get through the toll-booth so I could report the theft of my purse to the police on the other side), the second voice was harsher and almost refused to believe that I had no other means by which to pay for my passage on the autoroute (at 70 euros for less than 300 km, it was extortionate!). If you just can’t pay, the approved procedure is to take a ticket and pay online within a week or else they’ll send an inflated bill to the address on your license and possibly add you to the Interpol watchlist.
Business hours in rural France are quite tricky. They vary from place to place, but I was sure that banks weren’t open on a Sunday, so we couldn’t change our money. It turns out that they aren’t open on a Monday either in the little town in which we took refuge — away from the cops and robbers and tollbooths of the autoroute.
I’m feeling shaken up, sickened even, by the losses. I can’t wait to drive out of France. At the same time, I keep reminding myself that I haven’t really lost any treasures — my four daughters are safe and well — and with the right attitude we can keep having fantastic adventures.