The sun was setting as I flew down the A1 in northern France in my grey cactus.
I had left work in The Netherlands two and a half hours earlier that Friday several years ago. In that time, I had driven across Belgium in my rented Citroën Cactus, apparently a popular model of car in Europe.
Despite the prickly car model, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Ghent were all in my rearview mirror. I continued to cruise down the highway in my little hatchback with the same glorious song repeating itself every 3 minutes and 48 seconds.
My wife is driven nuts when I listen to the same song repeatedly for hours, but I make no apologies because it helps me focus. Plus, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hearing an enjoyable song 42 times on the same drive. Right?
As I continued down the A1, it struck me. Having driven through western Canada numerous times where it takes eight or nine hours to cross an entire province, I had just driven across an entire country in about two hours. Two hours!
Nonetheless, my tiny European car hurtled on, unbounded by international borders.
South of Lille, I passed a blue sign on the side of the road. It said “PARIS 211 KM” in its plain-faced, white letters.
Another two hours and I could be in the epi-center of culture, of architecture, of art. A true, global city.
Paris has long been on my artist wife’s must-visit list and is a city that many people in the world have dreamed of visiting. Another two hours and I could be in the epi-center of culture, of architecture, of art. A true, global city.
“Stay right. Take next exit in 500 meters,” said a friendly Australian female voice, rudely interrupting my song.
I was so close to Paris, I could taste it. I considered continuing straight on the A1. Many thoughts flooded my mind:
- What would the Louvre look like? Could I find parking?
- What other art museums could I find in Paris?
- How long could I spend at them? Would it be more than 17 minutes? Combined?
- Would the Eiffel Tower be as tall as its incredible lore would suggest?
As these questions flooded my mind, Siri tore me back to reality again.
“Take exit now,” she demanded.
The questions that had flooded my mind were gone; replaced by thoughts of my artist wife back home caring for our kids while I was spending one extra day on my work trip gallivanting around Europe in my leafless Cactus.
But what to do that with that one extra day? Continue to Paris? Or stick with my plan to visit Canadian world war battlefields?
Alas, I gave in to Siri’s demand. I took the exit off the A1 toward Lens.
I don’t think she would have ever forgiven me had I continued on and travelled to Paris. Not just Siri, my wife too.
My final destination that night was a tiny French village 10 minutes south of Lens.
The lights in the windows illuminated my AirBnB as I pulled through the narrow, rickety gates and into the driveway.
A young French family with two young bilingual boys — German and French — awaited me in their quiet home on Rue Jean Juarès.
When I woke up on the third floor of that French home the next day, my Cactus, I, and my 3-minute-and-48-second song would be visiting and paying respects to Canadian soldiers at Vimy, Ypres, Saint-Julien, Tyne Cot Cemetery, and Passchendaele.
A trip to Paris would have to wait until I could bring my wife with me. Some day.