After a couple of very pleasant nights in Moulins, I decided this morning to hit the road to see some of the smaller towns in this part of the Allier. The temperature was rising, the sky had only a few wispy clouds against a rich blue background, and my trusty Michelin Green Guide had a nice section laying out a driving circuit around Moulins with several old chateaux and the little Romanesque churches I love – a perfect day in central France!
Things started well. A quick stop at the church in Yzeure, a side trip down a dirt road for a look at the Chateau at Seganges, and I was ready to move on toward St. Menoux.
Now, I should say that I’m more text-based than graphic in the way I think – especially since I have the GPS navigation set up in the rental car to fill in the visual images as I drive. So when the text in my Green Guide said “Follow the D133 to Villeneuve d’Allier,” I dutifully typed in the town name to get started.
There are at least 86 towns in France with some variation of the name Villeneuve (“new city” in French). Most of them have some kind of qualifier – Villeneuve-en-Chevrie, Villeneuve-la-Comtesse, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, and so on. As I typed in the name of my target, I was thinking about the oddity of calling these places “new city” since many of them have roots going back almost a thousand years., and there’s visibly nothing at all “new” about the Villeneuves I’ve seen. (But I live in a town called Greenville in the U.S. – and there are more than 30 of those around the country, although some of them are “green” only in their wishful imaginations.)
The point is you need to know which Villeneuve you’re looking for when you enter your target in your car’s GPS or SatNav. The system started to list all 86 possibilities, so I looked for the department name in parentheses to help confirm my choice; I was driving in the Allier, and the first name that came up was the one I wanted: Villeneuve d’Allier. I hit the navigate button to get started, plugged in my iPod, and hit the road.
At some point here I’m going to have to confess to not paying attention as closely as I should, so I might as well do it now. [Short pause for reflecting on how to be a better person. Done.]
About 45 minutes into the trip, the GPS told me to turn south when I thought I should be going north, and I looked down at the detailed display to find out what was happening. Instead of being close to the destination, the screen said I had another 90 minutes to go!
In rapid sequence, I pulled over at the next parking opportunity, grabbed my Green Guide from the back seat…and said a much naughtier word than I would ordinarily use in automotive situations.
While the text said “follow the D133 to Villeneuve d’Allier”, the map beside it had the town name as “Villeneuve-sur-Allier”! (In my defense, the map text was in very small, light-red letters…but I’m not going to insist very much that I have any real defense for being so dense.) When the correction was recorded in the GPS…I was only 8 minutes from where I wanted to be.
Remember that the Villeneuve I was looking for was only meant to be a connecting point in this day trip. I honestly didn’t find much to care about when I actually got to the little town – certainly nothing to write a post about -- I just needed to get to the next line in the Green Guide to “exit the village, taking the D433 on the right.”
Was I upset? For a minute, maybe, with myself. But as I got on the road again, heading off to the Arboretum at Balaine, I had time to reflect… on all those towns that chose the name Villeneuve to distinguish themselves from all the other villages in France (and on all the Greenvilles back home) … and on how happy I am when I make a serendipitous discovery on these back roads in the deep heart of France. I ended up spending an hour in the gorgeous Romanesque church at St. Menoux, and a couple more happy hours in the spectacular abbey grounds at Souvigny.
I promise myself I’ll take the time to double check my directions tomorrow. But I’m not sorry about how things turned out today!
Have you ever gotten lost in your travels (in France or anywhere else)? Or had your GPS/SatNav take you someplace you never intended to go? How did it turn out? Please let us know about your experience in the comments below!