After 11,500km of driving across Europe, the winding roads and footpaths are finally taking their toll on both myself and Trixie. My knees are suffering from climbing all the hilltop villages and the latest damp weather is causing my bones to ache. Meanwhile, as if in sympathy, Trixie is finding it increasingly difficult to engage the lower gears. With only 7 days left of my trip I decide she needs looking at and so I find myself at the local Fiat dealership in Dreux, a multicultural city 80 km from Paris with no particular points of interest but having 3 MacDonalds.
I arrive at the dealership just before lunch and after they agree to look at Trixie in the afternoon, I leave her in their care and wander into the adjacent commercial estate in search of some diversions and possibly lunch. The shops are also shutting for lunch so I end up in the Oriental Buffet with a few families and quite a few local staff on their break. The food is not fantastic but I make the most of the “all you can eat” buffet and stuff myself with sushi, sticky sweet pork, stir fried seafood and lychees.
Back at the garage, I take advantage of their free wifi while they assess Trixie. It turns out that she has a damaged clutch hydraulic cylinder and a replacement will set me back at least €400. This is actually good news as I was worried that it might be the gearbox which could have been more than €1500 to replace. They suggest I check into a hotel but Trixie is my home and I would rather stay with her just outside the garage compound. However, the young mechanic is having none of it and insists that I stay with him, or his mother.
It seems inappropriate to stay at David’s flat so I agree to stay with his mother Christine, at her house in the south of the city. When we arrive she is quite flustered and overly apologetic for the state of her house which is crammed with boxes and furniture such that the two spare rooms are inaccessible. She insists that I sleep in her bedroom while she shares the sofa with her Alsatian, Spike. I offer a bottle of wine which I have saved from the Loire Valley but sadly, Christine is fasting for a blood test and unable to drink it. It’s a pleasant evening and I enjoy talking to Christine and learning about her life (she was once married to an Englishman and lived in Croydon for several years). However, after 5 months it feels strange not to be sleeping in the motorhome.
The next day David drives me back to the garage and I wait patiently while they fit the new parts. Just before I leave, Christine turns up with a bottle of red wine and two huge rounds of local cheese. She says that it’s a souvenir of my stay in Dreux and I am touched by her generosity. It is also refreshing that it was David, her 23 year old son, who instigated the overnight stay due to his concern for my safety at sleeping outside the garage. I will never forget their random act of kindness and the hospitality of this family in Dreux.