Almanac Life: The Rental Car


Citroen C4 Grand Picasso


We had flown into Nice from Malta the night before and had been met at the front door of our AirBnB apartment by the voluptuous Dana. “I love Australians, they are so generous,” she exclaimed in an accent straight from a late-night SBS movie. “When I back-packed around Australia with two girlfriends, we were amazed at how many people let us stay in their house.” At that instant, the thought came to me that Australians are not stupid either.


It was a Citroen, or a Peugeot, or a Renault. It was something French. Hell, we were in France, on the Riviera to be specific, so hiring a French car was a no-brainer. The car-hire depot was a long walk from our flat, made lengthier by the fact that Nice was bursting at the seams readying itself for the team time-trial stage of the Tour de France. My middle son Brendan accompanied me and we took delivery of a brand-new seven-seater. I eyed it mischievously, for who hasn’t enjoyed the thrill of thrashing the living daylights out of a hire-car?


Navigating our way back to our digs, in a left-hand drive car, was tumultuous. The hairiest moment occurred when we rounded a corner into a one-way street and almost ploughed into the nine members of the Movistar cycling team who were out preparing for the race start. As cyclists were sent sprawling in all directions, tomorrow’s Le Monde headlines flashed before my eyes: “Le idiot Australian tourist eliminates entire cycling team from Le Tour!!” Under the bluest of skies, we saw the team time-trial stage won by Australia’s own Greenedge team, and we cheered as the Australian cyclist Simon Gerrans was presented with the yellow jersey.


In the evening, it was agreed that a drive up the coast to Monaco would cap off an action-packed day. Driving through heavy traffic on the wrong side of the side of the road proved a constant challenge but I was up to task. Or I would have been had my wife, a nervy passenger at the best of times, not been yelling in my ear to keep my eyes on the road. But how could I? We were motoring along one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world, the engine squealing at my lack of concern, and I was damned if I was going to miss these sumptuous Mediterranean sights. The mood was hardly lightened by my youngest son Luke who inquired of his mother: “Mum, what does ‘smoking’ mean? Dad said Dana was ‘smoking’!”


We rolled into Monaco slightly flustered. But years of my three boys playing ‘Grand Prix 3’ on the PlayStation had determined there was only one destination in this town and that was the Grand Prix track. It was easy to locate and my eldest son John, in the front passenger seat, declared that he would film us sliding in and about the harbourside chicanes. I had a sudden vision that I was Ayrton Senna, negotiating a Formula 1 beast around the famous street circuit. But the reality was that I was in a two-ton people-mover with three over-excited boys and an extremely jumpy wife who did not once open her eyes during the entire lap. We took the freeway back to Nice, a decidedly less scenic drive. In fact, there was no scenery at all given that most of the return journey was taken through a dimly lit tunnel.


Six months later, as the memories of Nice were setting behind the return to the mundane realities of home life, an envelope from France arrived. I opened it with trepidation and it informed me that I had run afoul of a traffic camera on the Cote d’Azur and incurred a fine of €50 as a consequence.


Somewhere in Europe there was a hire-car enjoying the loudest of last laughs.


More stories from Smokie can be read Here.



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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. John Butler says

    Smokie, I think the bond on your next hire car just doubled.

    Thanks for the laugh. :)

  2. Daryl Schramm says

    Great little yarn. We did a bus tour in ’09 with an overnight in Nice and was at least able to look out the window at the views of the Riviera. Can relate to the nervie partner bit in North America and Europe. Roundabouts in particular.

  3. Great memories Smokie. In 2015 we took a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso with 2 friends for 6 weeks from Paris through France and Italy to Croatia and back through Switzerland. Scariest thing wasn’t the city traffic, freeway speeds, or endless roundabout loops – it was the narrow stone wall “streets” (really laneways) in villages. I couldn’t see that I could take a bend without scraping the sides – but there was no going back – and somehow we returned with bond and clean driving record intact.
    An Italian motor cyclist abused and threatened me for a kilometre after I failed to indicate and braked quickly when looking for a turn off. The Avenging Eagle giving him the finger out of the side window may not have helped. The only saving grace was having French number plates as we could only understand “bloody Francais” as he abused me in several languages – none of which we understood.

  4. I’d be worried about anyone from Australia driving in Europe and not activating the wipers the first time they made a turn! It’s great fun motoring about Nice and surrounds, but the cognitive load is immense.

    I loved going through Sweden last year with the radio on (they only seemed to do woeful hits and memories stuff) and hearing the announcer, “Something Swedish, Something Swedish, Something Swedish, Billy Joel, Something Swedish.”

    Thanks Smokie.

  5. Thanks for your comments, all.

    I reckon anyone who has rented a car when travelling abroad has some sort of story to tell, yes?

  6. roger lowrey says

    Great yarn Smokie. I admire your courage. We were nowhere near as adventurous.

    In fact, our own Nice story involved the need for a taxi from Nice to Ventimiglia over the Italian border following a snap 24 hour railway strike.

    It cost 130 euros but, hey, how else were we going to honour our Italian commitments. Besides, Sandrine our beautiful blonde taxi driver whose relatively fluent English was delivered in an outrageous French accent was charming company.

    “What’s the colour of her hair got to do with it?” my travelling companion wanted to know. (Think here “smoking”).

    Oh yeah, and the scenery was pretty good too!


  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Very funny read Smokie!

    No pictures of Dana? Could have helped get this story out to a much wider audience….

  8. Sounds like a blast, Roger. Necessity is the mother of invention!

    Alas Luke, there are no photos in the family album of the lovely Dana.

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