FRANCE was in the throes of a crippling train strike two weeks ago. Somehow, my wife Kattina and I had just spent five days in the country, oblivious to the transport chaos until the night before our rail journey was scheduled to begin.
Earlier that week, Kattina’s German uncle had driven us, with her mother, over the border into Beaune, a village in France’s Burgundy region. In the morning, my wife and I hoped to head off on our own — by train — on a journey we had been planning for months.
“Could it be resolved by morning?” I asked our hotel receptionist.
He laughed. “Not a chance.”
That night in our hotel room, while I was trying to decipher a rapid-fire debate about the strike on French television, Kattina tapped quietly on her iPad.
“Hey,” she said. “I found a car rental that’s cheaper than the train.”
If we could get to Dijon, 40km away, we could rent a car with unlimited mileage for a week for 156 euros (S$265). Local trains between Dijon and Beaune were disrupted, but not as badly as longer routes.
Change of plans
The next morning, we waited out one cancellation before finding a train that was still running. We chugged to Dijon, picked up our car, and hit the road with a fresh plan, which was to plan as little as possible.
We drove west, avoiding highways and sticking instead to smaller roads that took us through rolling farmland. We marvelled at ancient stone houses in tiny villages — places that would have blurred by in seconds had we been sitting in one of France’s highspeed TGV trains.
Ninety kilometres later, we chose a random town and stopped for a coffee.
Autun, we discovered, was a walled city founded in early Roman times. We strolled along the ramparts, craned our necks at 12th-century spires and visited an ancient amphitheatre.
As our 20-minute rest stop stretched into its fourth hour, we decided we were having too much fun to leave. We found a hotel and parked for the night.
The next day, we continued to Auvergne, a volcanic region in central France. We stayed for several nights in Orcival, a village in the region whose population in a 2007 census was estimated at 256.
The tiny settlement became our base to explore extinct volcanoes, the most recent of which erupted around 6,000 years ago.
One day, we drove 30 minutes to the base of the Puy Pariou volcano. A 45-minute hill climb led us through a forest of Alderwood trees, which gave way at the top to a 200m-wide crater.
A hiking trail spiralled down into the crater. We picnicked inside the volcano, then climbed out and hiked down along a different trail. After a couple of hours, we reached Puy de Dôme, Auvergne’s tallest volcano, which tops off at 1,465m.
Our second climb of the day was steep and tiring. At the Puy de Dôme summit, we watched paragliders take off. Then we found a simpler way down.
Puy de Dôme is the only volcano in Auvergne with a train service –– a privately run one that was not affected by the strike. It was well worth the 6-euro ticket to spare our knees from the steep descent.
The next day, Kattina tackled a more strenuous hike while I spent the day writing in an Orcival café. In the evening, the village threw a diminutive, midsummer music festival that featured two cover bands and drew around 80 spectators.
After three nights in Orcival, we moved on to Le Puyen-Velay. With a population of around 21,000, Le Puy serves as one of the starting points of a centuries- old pilgrimage route that ends 1,600km away in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Le Puy-en-Velay was bursting with colour, as if a giant palette of paints had been smooshed against the city’s facades. We wandered through a cobblestone labyrinth of streets, up a hill to a 12th-century cathedral.
A giant statue of the Virgin Mary, constructed in the 1850s from 213 melted Russian cannons, sat on a volcanic peak in town. A pinnacle supported the Chapel of St Michael d’Aiguilhe, a pilgrimage chapel dating from AD962.
On the sixth day of our journey, we learnt the train strike was winding down. We had friends to meet in Paris, so we drove four hours back to Dijon, dropped off our rental car and hopped on the TGV train to the French capital. Our rail journey was back on track.
I have always liked travelling without a lot of plans. Plans have a way of unravelling. But when your plans derail, you can panic — or you can get creative.
While thousands of travellers grumbled that the French rail strike was snarling their holidays, we found a way to benefit from the disruption. The strike set us off on tangents we had never imagined –– into a more adventurous journey.
- Emirates and Qantas Airways fly to Lyon, with stopovers in Dubai.
- With the exception of Britain and Ireland, Europeans drive on the right-hand side of the road. If you’re not used to this, take care when turning corners. - Cars with automatic transmissions are not always available in Europe, and when they are, they are often a lot more expensive. If you don’t normally drive a stick-shift vehicle, practising before you go will make for a smoother ride. - Renting a car in Europe is usually cheapest if you drop off the car in the same town where you pick it up.
- Visit www.autoeurope.com/roadsigns for a directory of European road signs. - Visit www.auvergne-tourism.com for more information on the volcanoes and towns in France’s Auvergne region.
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你知道不丹在哪里吗？她位于印度与中国两块古老大陆之间，巍峨的喜马拉雅山像一道巨大的屏障将她和世界隔离，到今天她依然是一块尚未问世的净土。留学英国 的不丹国王推崇“国民的快乐总值”比“国民生产总值”重要，因此不丹是世界上快乐指数最高的国家。今年，不丹为纪念父王吉格梅·辛格·旺楚克诞生60周 年，推出“2015不丹幸福旅游年”，中欧航旅在不丹旅游局赞助下，隆重推介不丹航空（Bhutan Airlines）包机，从新加机直飞不丹王国（Kingdom of Bhutan），与艺人郑各评同游幸福国度，所有参
五／六／七天行程畅游首都廷布、旧首都普纳卡古都、第二大城帕罗，包括国家纪念碑、皇宫扎西却宗、章岗拉康寺庙、金刚座釋迦牟尼佛像、民间遗产博物馆、普 纳卡城堡、父母亲河、楚克旺耶纪念碑108座佛塔、古老的凯奇拉康寺庙、建在悬崖峭壁的“虎穴”－塔桑寺、工艺品市集、周末市场、射击学校，以及国家艺术 学院了解造纸、织布等传统技能。独家安排：观赏不丹“国宝”动物——Takin；不丹民族服饰体验+观赏传统歌舞表演；特别出发：11月15日；其他出 发： 11月16、21、26日、12月1、6、11、16及21日。
年终学校假期举家出游，乘坐胜安包机直飞台中，乘坐子弹快车到台南，游览高雄旗津岛、六合夜市、逢甲夜市、走马濑农场、北门水晶教堂、井仔脚瓦盘盐田；乘 船游日月潭、文武庙；到南投青青草原、金勇DIY 休闲农场、六福村主题乐园、苗栗巧克力庄园、九份、淡水老街和台北101。安排住宿走马濑农场、清境农场、温泉酒店，以及从房内落地窗可观赏到动物的关西 六福庄；品尝担仔面、台式料理、云庄欧式料理、稻草人风味及民宿风味等。特别出发：11月29日。
以一首自创歌曲“Un...Un...Unbelievable”在网络爆红的陈天文，将与你登上皇家加勒比国际游轮旗下十大游轮之一的“海洋水手号” （Mariner of the Seas），度过一个“Un...Unbelievable”的圣诞佳节！
乘坐胜安包机直飞柬埔寨西南部的西哈努克市（Sihanoukville），畅游蛇屋、山顶佛寺；前往金边参观皇宫、银宝塔、独立纪念牌塔、金界娱乐城、 国家博物馆、波博罪恶博物馆、杀人场、吴哥艺术学院、乘船游洞里萨湖，以及游览世界七大奇迹之一的吴哥窟，它是高棉王国从9世纪到15世纪建造的都城和寺 庙，王朝迁都金边后，逐渐荒芜被淹没于热带灌木雨林之中，直到19世纪末才被重新发现。特别出发：12月1日。
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