Our second port on Norwegian Epic’s 7 night Mediterranean Cruise was in Cannes. Mimi and I decided that to fully enjoy the laid back vibe of the Cote d’Azur, so we weren’t going to sign up for any excursions. Instead, we reserved a convertible Fiat online ahead of time, and planned to drive from Cannes to Nice with Bridgette for a leisurely day together. Well, let’s just say things didn’t quite turn out the way we planned for it to be…
We woke up bright and early that day and took the dingy from our cruise ship to shore. After sending our parents, uncle and aunt off on their arranged tour to Monaco and Monte Carlo, the three of us walked to the nearby car rental company. We were there about 30 minutes before it opened at 9am, so we found a cafe nearby (there are no shortage of cafes in the South of France, that’s for sure!) and had a light breakfast.
We were back at the rental company by 9am, but they were still closed. After waiting for another 10 minutes, we called the emergency number, and the person that picked up the phone said he had a family emergency and was running late. Okay….so we waited another 15 minutes or so, and he finally showed up to open the doors. We gave him our confirmation number for the rental, only to be told that our convertible Fiat was no longer available for us. We were utterly disappointed, and asked what other options were available. There was one…an automatic Nissan that was not a convertible.
Okay, so I first need to share with you the backstory to this car rental. Back when we were still planning our itinerary for the cruise, my sis and I were reflecting on this old Hong Kong movie we saw when we were teens, call Once a Thief. In the movie, there’s a memorable scene where the main characters were cruising down the tree lined streets in the South of France, in a convertible. How cool would it be, I thought, if we did the same while in Cannes?! I went online to search for a convertible rental and quickly realized that most car rentals in France are for manual cars. Alan had taught me how to drive a stick shift about 18 years ago when we were dating, and I probably drove his manual Nissan like 2 times…with him beside me. Somehow, I thought that driving a manual would be like riding a bike; once you learned it, you’ll never forget it! So, I went ahead to reserve the convertible Fiat that was available online, fully confident that I would be able to handle a manual car…
Fast forward to us in Cannes again, and now you’ll understand why we were so utterly disappointed to know that our convertible Fiat was not available for us. Our minds were so fixated on that image of us cruising down a tree lined street in a convertible that we weren’t willing to accept the non-convertible option given to us, even though it would’ve been one of the few automatic cars available to rent in France! We pushed for more options. The sales guys made some calls, and then told us there’s another company nearby that has a new Audi available. It wasn’t a convertible, but at least it was a really nice car.
Honestly, in hindsight, I don’t know what compelled my sis and I to be so adamant about getting a nice car in Cannes because neither of us really care much about cars in our normal lives. But somehow, we were fixated, and so we decided that walking a few blocks to get the Audi, instead of accepting the Nissan right then and there, would be the better decision.
It turned out to be the worst decision we could’ve made.
We arrived to the other car rental place, and there it was…a brand new shiny white Audi sitting on the driveway waiting for us.
We filled out the necessary paperwork, paid a 500 Euro deposit, and eagerly got into the car to start our adventure.
Again, in hindsight, all those obstacles we encountered with this car rental up until that very moment should’ve been red flags for us. We just kept ignoring them because we were so fixated on getting our way and fulfilling that image in our head. Well, the biggest red flag should’ve been this next one….when I couldn’t figure out how to operate the manual car up the driveway.
Every time I tried to move the car, it would stall. I couldn’t figure out when to step on the gas pedal and when to release it in conjunction with the various gears. Meanwhile, my sis, seated next to me, was frantically texting her hubby to ask for specific instructions on how to operate a manual car.
“Hurry and get us out of here,” my sis said urgently to me, “Those guys in the office are looking at us. They are going to know that we don’t know how to operate this car!!”
No such luck. I just could not get the car to move up the driveway. Finally, one of the guys from the office came out and asked if we needed help to move the car. Totally embarrassed, I got out of the car to let him take my seat. In 2 seconds, he had the car up the driveway and onto the street for us. Without any further questions, he let me take the driver’s seat once again and allowed us to get on our way. Phew! We were so scared they’d realize that we had no idea what we were doing and take the car away from us (which, in hindsight, would’ve been the better scenario!).
Since we were on a flat road now, I felt a bit more confident trying once again. My sis shared her hubby’s instructions with me and told me to just focus and take it easy.
After a few chokes, our Audi began cruising down the street and we all cheered. Finally!! I seemed to have gotten my bearings together and we were on our way to Nice! Yay!
As we drove along the beautiful beaches of Cannes, I was able to relax and take in the lovely scenery around us. I did silently keep praying that we wouldn’t hit any red lights because I was so afraid the car would stall once I stopped.
We managed to go about 2 miles before we had to take a turn to the right. Once we made the turn, my heart stopped. There was a small uphill road to take us to the next light, and I began to panic at the thought of having to go uphill again.
In my moment of panic, I completely lost focus on how to control the car. Honestly, I can’t recall what I did, but I must have stepped on both the gas and the gear without changing the gear…or maybe it was the brake and the gear together? I don’t know what I did but the car suddenly revved up loudly as it went uphill and before we could even react, we smelled strong smoke inside the car.
“OMG WHAT IS GOING ON? STOP THE CAR!!!” Again, I don’t remember who said this. Maybe it was my sister, or Bridgette, or maybe it was just me in my head. I managed to pull the car to the side, put on our hazard lights, and then we all exited the car in a frenzy as we seriously thought it would explode any minute.
Once we were out of the car, we just sort of stood there in a daze, staring sadly at it contemplating what we should do next. We got the paperwork from the rental company and called the emergency number on it, explaining to the guys back at the office what had just happened. Due to the communication barrier, it took quite awhile for us to explain exactly where we were, and for them to eventually find us. We probably waited for a good 45 minutes even though they were literally just 2 miles away. While we waited, our car was becoming a menace to all the cars that were trying to make a right turn, so Bridgette ended up standing at the corner to help direct traffic.
When the rental company guy finally arrived, he took a look at the car, and told us it would need to be towed. He had us sign some paperwork, and then allowed us to drive away in the car that he arrived in, which was thankfully an automatic. I’m sure back at the office they had already figured out that they better not hand these girls the car keys to another manual car. 🤪
We were thankful to be on our way (and alive, for that matter), but I was also feeling pretty defeated about the whole situation. What was I thinking to try to drive a manual car in a foreign country???
We managed to arrive to Nice in time for lunch, and picked a restaurant right by the water. Our day was finally beginning to feel more relaxing…
After lunch, we spent some time on the beach and strolled around the area. We found most of the beach to be more rocky than sandy, so it was hard to find a comfortable place to sit close to the water. There were resort-style chairs and umbrellas available to rent, but we didn’t go for those because we didn’t have much time left.
We drove back to Cannes in the mid-afternoon, and as I pulled back into that dreadful driveway of the rental car company, I was afraid to hear what the financial damages would be for the Audi.
We walked into the office and I tried to be extra kind and remorseful, in hopes of getting off the hook a little more lightly.
Unfortunately, they said they would not be able to tell us what the damages were, as they needed time to have the service department look over the car and prepare a more accurate quote. In the meantime, they would keep our deposit of 500 Euro, and asked that we sign some papers acknowledging that we would be responsible for whatever the damages were for the Audi. I told them to make sure we would get to see and approve the quote from the service department before any additional charges would be made to my credit card, and they assured me they would do that. I walked away feeling defeated again, as I really wanted closure prior to leaving Cannes!
In the end, the rental car company did NOT follow up with us on an official quote, and did NOT wait for our approval before charging my credit card an additional USD $1600 for the damages. We tried to contact them but did not get any response, so we tried disputing the charges with the credit card in hopes that they would then reach out to us to go over the charges. After months of waiting, we still didn’t get any answers from them and unbeknownst to me, my hubby decided to just pay for the damages to “close the file.”
So yup, that was an expensive lesson learned, and certainly one that I will never forget!
At least we made it back to the cruise ship on time….and alive.