The scenic route through France

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Stoytcho and I have been invited to go visit my uncle and his wife in the countryside outside of Eymoutiers, a town in the province of Limousin. My cousin has apparently purchased a house there, where we’re welcome to spend a couple of days. But of course, trains (and buses) lead to Paris, making direct public transit nonexistent between Grenoble (in the south-east) to Limoges (the nearest city, in the south-west of France). So we rented a car and got this:

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Yeah, I know, I wasn’t sure Stoytcho would be able to drive the tiny thing. But it turns out he fits fine.

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When we picked up the car, we asked the rental agency what roads to take and they emphasized that most highways in France are toll roads. And French toll fees make U.S. tolls look like spare change–the rental agency staff estimated our trip might cost 30+ euros! We opted for the scenic route instead.

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Our route took us ~6 hours and through two national parks (Livradois-Forez and Volcans d’Auvergne), past dozens of adorable towns scattered on plains and nestled in the hills, across forests clothed in warm autumn colors. (P.S. if you do the same drive, stop in Livradois-Forez National Park at the signs advertising fresh local cheese and tell me how it is! We did not stop and I forever regret it.)

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The castles made me wonder if we had fallen into some sort of fairy tale…

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We spent the night sleeping in the car somewhere in Livradois-Forez and woke pre-dawn to keep driving.

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Dawn was slow over the misty landscape, and it wasn’t until we stopped for a break that we realized that the thin veil of white across the fields was more than mist. It was our first frost in nearly two years:

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Summer is over. But the coming winter doesn’t look so bad.

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P.S. Here’s the route for those interested. It’s basically the Google Maps directions if you select “Avoid Tolls”:

Crazy Taxi Surabaya: Bus Edition

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A P5 bus pulls into the Purabaya Station.

You often hear that in some parts of the world, driving is way worse because road rules simply don’t exist. We can now say with confidence that we’ve experienced this in Indonesia, and although this isn’t our first road-bound brush with death (looking at you Colombia/Ecuador/Peru), this one is particularly amusing. Our example comes courtesy of Surabaya, a major city on the island of Java.

The Crazy Taxi hero of our story is the P5 bus, which we took from Purabaya Bus Station to the train station Pasar Turi as part of our return from Mount Bromo to Jakarta. After brushing past hordes of taxi drivers, we managed to find our hero sitting peacefully under the P5 sign in the intercity bus terminal.

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Hanging out in the P5 bus, waiting to go. It’s got some ripped seat leather, some cracks on the dashboard…but I’m sure she runs just fine.

She may look a bit run down, but it’s just the façade. Once the driver and conductor got on board, she roared to life and we were on our way. The driver, of course, drives the bus. The conductor collects payment for the tickets (6,000 IDR as of April 2017), but then proceeds to take on a whole new role.

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Uh…sir, what are you doing? We are on the highway, you can’t get off here.

Like that guy in that super-popular 90’s song, he hangs out of his best friend’s ride and hollas, but what he’s hollering about is which traffic lane is free. It turns out driving the bus in Surabaya is a two person job, mostly because the driver is doing EIGHTY kilometers an hour while everyone around us is going no faster than sixty, all in a vehicle with less handling than your childhood schoolbus. The conductor yells whether the lane is clear, and the driver uses this info to weave like a MADMAN through traffic. For example, here’s us using the emergency lane to bypass traffic:

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Thought when this first happened: “This is now how I imagined I would die.”
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Thought when this happened the twentieth time: “I wonder if our train back to Jakarta will have a snack bar.”

And if you want a video experience, including lane-splitting, tailgating, and traffic-weaving, here you go:

So there you have it. The driver-conductor dynamic duo enables P5 to Crazy Taxi around Surabaya. We made it 11 km in 20 minutes in a bus at the start of rush hour. I don’t even.