For those of you who enjoy my little stories, here is a new one. I’m so sorry it’s taken so long! There is a lot going on here, and to write fiction I need some space in my head – if that make sense!
So here is the first chapter in a short story about Donna, who finds herself unexpectedly stranded in France and ends up exploring Burgundy, a region that of course I love and that I’ll be touring in May this year.
As usual with my stories I do not pretend that this is great literature. Just a little tale to sit down with, a cup of coffee in hand, or (since this is set in Burgundy) maybe even better a glass of wine. Thank you for your indulgence, I hope you enjoy the start to this tale.
She was straining her voice to talk above the noise all around her in the airport.
“Bill… Bill, can you hear me?
Yes, that’s right, my flight was rerouted because some guy in the plane felt unwell
What?… No not me, a guy in the plane!
What?… I don’t know if he was French, what does it matter? The thing is they decided it was a medical emergency, and an hour after we took off from Frankfurt, they announced we were going to divert to Lyon.
…Yes I know, I always love visiting France, but I prefer to plan my visit.
“Arrgh!” Donna mumbled out loud as her call was cut off for the fourth time. Out of the corner of her eye, she was aware of other people making calls and sounding every bit as frustrated as she was. She dialled Bill again.
“Hey Bill, I’m going to make this quick because the connection seems really bad, and I’m about to leave here and go to a hotel. …Yes, that’s right I have to stay over.. .Bill, it’s not my fault if the plane got diverted and landed in a country with an air traffic controller strike in full swing! What? …Yes ok, I’ll call you later, or tomorrow. Just have to get to a hotel, bye.“
She didn’t hear Bill’s response as the call was cut off once more.
It had never been Donna’s intention to travel to Europe mid-January. She got the email the week before:
“Hi Donna, hope you’re well. We need you to go to Germany next week to sign the new contract with Hoffman. Let us know what you require to make this happen, it will only be a two day trip. We can regroup when you get back to hear how it goes.”
She was still fairly new to her job at the Marketing agency, and her position as Business Development Manager was a big step up for her, and she felt she couldn’t refuse this last minute request. Bill drove her to the airport, and as she kissed him goodbye and promised to be back soon, he muttered “You better be. I want to be sure you’re back for my birthday.” She didn’t really like the tone of that, but she was late for her plane and didn’t want to leave him on a sour note.
The meeting in Frankfurt was quick and easy. They loved her presentation for the new marketing campaign, and everything went smoothly. She didn’t know why they had insisted she come when it could have been done over Skype, but with the signed documents in her bag, Donna was happy to think that her bosses would be pleased with her.
With a couple of hours to kill before catching her flight back, she thought about stopping in the city to buy a gift for Bill before realising she wasn’t really sure of his taste yet.
“I guess that’s part of being a new couple,” she thought to herself. “We still have to discover so much.”
The boarding lounge was full of bored business travellers and a couple of families caught in travelling limbo. She had always loved people-watching. To her right was a couple around her own age, chatting and sharing a magazine. Now and again they burst out laughing, and Donna noticed how each page turned was a reason to touch hands or lean into one another’s shoulders. “I’d like to feel that way with someone,” she thought to herself. “I guess it will come with time.”
“Excuse me.” Donna turned around to find a man standing in front of her. He wore a beautiful grey coat and suit and had a small leather holdall in one hand. Everything about him looked expensive. She stared, her mouth slightly agape. He motioned to the seat beside her.
“Is this place taken?”
“Oh! no, no of course, please sit down, I’ll just move my bag,” Donna fumbled.
The man sat down beside her, carefully removing his coat and folding it on his knees before opening up a newspaper. Donna glanced at the paper and smiled to herself. Le Monde. French! of course he was French. The disgruntled look to his face, the impeccable tailoring, the air of impatience.
The call came for the flight to New York and Donna stood up to take her place in line. She was travelling business class so she could wait for late boarding, but she always liked to find her seat and settle in well before take off.
On the plane, Donna had nearly finished sorting what she wanted for the flight from her carry-on, when behind her came a familiar voice, “Excuse me.” She spun around to find the same man, with the same impatient look on his face, motioning to the seat next to hers.
“I am sorry to disturb you again, but I’m in the seat beside you.”
“Oh, of course, let me get out of your way.” Donna stood up and to one side to let him pass. She noticed his coat already folded carefully in the overhead locker, and as he took his seat she saw that he only had the paper and a notebook with him.
“You travel light.” Donna smiled as she sat down beside him with her big handbag containing a laptop, toiletries and much more bouncing on her lap. The Frenchman glanced at the bulging bag, smiled politely and opened his paper.
An hour into the flight, there seemed to be some agitation further down the plane, soon followed by an announcement by a hostess asking if there was a doctor on board. As the passengers looked around at each other, wondering what the emergency was, a second announcement came.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that due to a medical emergency on board we have to divert this flight. We will be landing at the French airport of Lyon within 15 minutes, at which point we will be happy to help you find a solution for the rest of your journey.”
The passengers let out a collective groan and the questions began. “Will we be delayed? What time will we arrive? Will I miss my corresponding flight from New York?”
By the time they got to Lyon it was already 9pm. The unwell passenger was disembarked first, and the captain announced that unfortunately there was an air traffic controller strike in France – consequently all flights were cancelled. He invited them to leave the plane, adding that there would be help finding a hotel.
There is nothing like a cancelled flight to bring passengers together. Donna smiled seeing how the disrupted journey revealed personalities. All around her, conversations were striking up. There were the moaners – “This kind of thing always happens to me… I can’t believe my bad luck… What am I going to do about my meetings in New York tomorrow?” And there were the optimists – “I’ve never actually been to Lyon, is it worth seeing?”
She turned to her neighbour, and to her surprise found him smiling for the first time.
“This is unexpected, I’ve never been on a diverted flight before” Donna remarked.
“There’s no point in becoming angry,” the man replied with a strong French accent. “It is what it is. All things happen for a reason.”
“Well that’s very philosophical,” Donna said and smiled. “Do you think they’ll sort out a hotel for us?”
“Yes I do. But this air controller strike will make things difficult for you, I doubt if you can fly out from Lyon tomorrow”.
Donna felt her cheeks brighten a little. “Oh well, at least it’s the weekend… by the way, I’m Donna.” She held out her hand and he reciprocated, clasping her hand firmly.
As they left the plane, two other passengers introduced themselves, and as they were also en route to the hotel recommended by the airline, the four of them shared a cab.
The evening was spent in pleasant conversation. They were joined by more passengers from the cancelled flight, and the main discussion was their options for getting out of Lyon. Henri left the group fairly early, wishing everyone a pleasant night but not getting involved in any travel plans.
Donna pulled out her phone and looked at the map of France, wondering how to reach Paris where she may be able to find a flight home. Tomorrow was Friday, so there was no rush to return to the office. She decided to rent a car and drive up to see some of the country. Donna briefly considered sharing the drive with some of the other stranded voyagers, but looking around the group she saw they were mainly couples and decided to go it alone. She was excited to enjoy the freedom that solo travel was bound to bring.
The next day she headed out of Lyon in her rental car. The morning mist was heavy, and as she left the city, the landscape gradually changed. It was a cold morning, and the countryside on either side of the highway looked beautifully mysterious.
As she drove, Donna thought about Bill. She had awoken that morning to a stream of messages on her phone, some kind, but all very directive, things like telling her clearly that she should get home as quickly as possible. There was also a voice message from him. He was unhappy that her return was delayed and was clearly more focused on the inconvenience of having to change his plans for the weekend than her safety or fatigue.
Donna sighed out loud, thinking “Is this really the kind of guy I want to spend time with?” The more she thought about Bill, the less inclined she felt to hurry home. So when mid-morning, she saw a sign on the road for Beaune, it was without hesitation that she took the next exit and headed into the vineyard-covered countryside.
“Why would I hurry home? It’s the weekend! I may as well do a little sightseeing,” Donna thought. She remembered reading about Beaune and its architecture, good restaurants and interesting markets.
Donna quickly found the town centre and parked on a central square surrounded by cafés. The place was absolutely charming, with quaint architecture, interesting shops and lots of restaurants. She sat down at a little terrace café, with overhead heating that allowed her to sit outside. She ordered a café au lait and pulled out her phone to find a hotel.
She searched for something central and found l’Abbaye de Maizieres. It looked interesting and elegant and had great reviews, so she reserved online, took her bag from the car and walked along the cobbled streets to the address. The hotel was easy to find, and her room was charming with stone walls and floor and antique furniture. It was warm, and the huge bed looked comfortable. “I’ll be just fine here,” she thought. Leaving her bag safely in her room, she set out to discover the town.
First stop was Les Hospices de Beaune, a beautiful 15th century building she had often seen in photos. For once, she explored at her own speed, taking in the history of the place and admiring the incredible architecture with its multi-coloured roof and carved stone details.
On the square outside les hospices, there was a small antiques fair taking place. A roadside of simple tables, displaying a huge variety of brocante and antique pieces. Donna loved this kind of thing! Wandering slowly, she picked up some embroidered linens, then a set of wine glasses. She stopped to look through a box of paintings, and one in particular caught her eye; it was a view over vineyards in the autumn. The colours were vivid and in the far distance the roofs of some kind of chateau stood out on the horizon. Donna attempted to ask the vendor about a price, but her French was limited, and apparently so was his English.
“Combien, s’il vous plait?” she said.
Instead of simply answering with a price, the vendor launched into a long explanation about something she couldn’t understand. He was smiling and very animated, pointing at the chateau and waving around as if she knew where it was, but she had no clue.
“Le prix?” Donna tried again.
The man smiled and pulled out a notebook from his pocket. “Ca fait cent vingt euros madame.” As he spoke, he wrote 120 euros on a page of the book. She was pleasantly surprised by the price and guessed the painting would fit inside her bag. Without hesitation she pulled out her purse and paid.
The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping in Beaune. The stores were all so interesting and beautifully presented. Donna found a few items for her kitchen and a corkscrew for Bill. With her prolonged stay ahead of her and only a limited wardrobe in her bag, it was time to shop for some clothes. In a cute store, she treated herself to a pretty wrap-around dress, a pair of chic wool pants, a cashmere sweater and a pair of shoes. Just when she thought she was done, she spotted a beautiful alpaca coat and shamelessly added it to her spoils.
Staggering back into the hotel lobby carrying the painting, her handbag and two bags of clothes, she laughed at herself. The receptionist smiled.
“I see you ‘ave been busy, Madame.”
“Oh yes, your little town is just so cute – I love it. And look, I even found a painting!”
Donna pulled the painting out of its paper wrapper with a flourish, happy to share her excitement with someone. The young man smiled.
“I think I know this chateau, it is not far from here. I believe, Madame, that this is a painting of the Chateau de Beaurocher. It is very beautiful, and they make excellent wine.”
“Really?! Is it open to visit?” Donna exclaimed. “I’d love to see this place in person, that would be so special since I have the painting… if it’s not too far I could drive there tomorrow.”
Within a few minutes, the helpful receptionist had found a map and marked the chateau with a cross. He also pointed out a restaurant.
“This is a very good place for your lunch tomorrow, and ‘ere I think you would like to see this little village too,” he said, making another cross.
“Perfect,” smiled Donna. She now had a plan for her weekend.
I hope you enjoyed this first chapter. I’ll bring you the next instalment next weekend. And if you’d also like to discover the charms of Burgundy, you may like to know that we still have a couple of spaces on our Burgundy tour in May this year. Click here for details.