Day: May 14, 2014

How Not to Learn to Drive a Manual Car


Jeremy and I just finished our third housesitting assignment, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It was a very small, sleepy town, and it was pretty much the exact opposite of where we’ve been since yesterday afternoon: Paris. We were there for 11 days, and spent those days walking in the vineyards, reading outside, cooking healthy meals, and mentally preparing ourselves to get in the car to drive to the grocery store.


When we first applied for this assignment, we had just joined and it was one of the first listings we contacted. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to get it, seeing as how we had no references and no experience on the site yet. We were so eager to accept the offer, we didn’t ask any questions. All we heard was: small wine village, Carcassonne and Narbonne nearby, we’ll leave a car for you. We said yes to the offer without thinking twice. When our hosts picked us up at the train station in Narbonne and drove us to Azille, they told us about all the spectacular things in the region and all the places we needed to go drive to see. As soon as they left, we were excited to start exploring the area. It finally dawned on me that we never asked if the car was manual or automatic. They had parked the car in their friends’ driveway to avoid the craziness of the feria, and as we walked to the car, all I kept thinking was, “please let it be automatic, please let it be automatic.” Well, it wasn’t, so we went back to the house to start watching Youtube videos and reading wikiHow on how to drive stick. Everything said to practice in a big parking lot with no one around, but obviously that was not possible. When I finally got my courage up, we headed to the car and I attempted to maneuver it out of the tiny space it was parked in without hitting the cars/plants/garages it was wedged in between, and drive it to the grocery store in the next town over. After stalling a bunch of times and profusely sweating, I finally got the car going, and I thought the coast was clear.


Feeling good for a minute.

Shortly after taking this picture, we entered another village, and I got stuck on a hill. It takes some skill (and practice) to start the car on an incline, and unfortunately I did not have those skills yet. I had to turn on the hazard lights and wave people around me (while trying to ignore their shaking fists), and just kept stalling over and over again. I was on the verge of tears and about to give up and leave the car there, but luckily Jeremy spotted two British guys we had met the night before that were friends of our hosts, and he ran them down and asked for help. They drove the car into a neighborhood, gave me a thirty-second whirlwind driving lesson, and we were on our own again. I was able to practice some around the neighborhood and finally got up the courage to turn back on the main road in the village and head to the grocery store. We made it unscathed and back to the house (the whole ordeal took about three hours, and the village was only about five miles away), but I was a little shaken up, and nervous to attempt it again. The roads are fairly narrow, and there are many spots where one must wait to let another car pass before going. I never quite mastered how to drive really slowly without stalling, unfortunately.

I finally mustered the courage to try again a few days later, and we had grand hopes of making it to Narbonne, about 40 minutes away. We ended up taking a wrong turn and found ourselves in a little cute town called Homps, and after stressfully maneuvering it through the very narrow streets and back on the main road, decided it was best to just go back to Azille and call it a day. Sadly, we never made it to anywhere else but the grocery store and Homps, but I feel like I now know how to (sort of) drive a stick shift, and I feel proud that I didn’t smash their car into anything.

Moral of the story: if you’re going to learn to drive a manual car, save yourself some panic and stress by listening to the internet and practicing in a big empty parking lot if you can, and preferably not in a foreign country.


The House

Even though the house we were watching was huge (7 or 8 bedrooms – I lost count – and just as many bathrooms), the three-story space felt really cozy. There was a jukebox, an indoor pool, a nice terrace, two friendly dogs and two super talkative cats, and more. We had a really nice time enjoying the home, and even though we felt a bit isolated at times, it was a good chance to relax before taking on Paris and the next few weeks of traveling.

Here are some pictures from our time spent in Azille!


Lily the mastiff watching the town below from our bedroom.




Watching some live music at the wine bar next door.


Some red wine made locally.

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Lily and I bonded.


The feral cats we’d see on our walk through town every day. They were constantly being fed, so they would all gather together.


These looked like Dr. Seuss plants to me.

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Whatta ham.




Canal du Midi.


Hanging in Homps.



The center of Azille.



Inside the house.


This was also inside the house, an 18th century tower that the previous owners converted into a stage area for their children.


What can I say… we had a lot of time on our hands.