By train to France southerly we went, and found quarters in an ornamentally rustic accretion of stone huts. Waking next morning near Aix en Pains, I thought it good to rearrange my bones by exercising, and set to explore the nearby wood of stunted oaks. Its paths quickly vanished in briar and brush, so after a short struggle I turned to go back.
The sun was behind me now, but something seemed wrong with the direction all the same. A chasm lay inconveniently across the way. I tacked to port, and climbed heaps of loose mossy stones. Then. A snake. And me in holiday sandals. Crossways with fright, out loud swearing and roaring, "I'm not used to the likes of you!" Me an Irish lad who'd only seen them in zoos before. Yes, the ones behind glass were bigger, but this, as fat as my fat thumb and longer than my forearm, it was big enough, and enough was too much. A scramble, and I had barely recovered enough of my wits to reorienteer, when I saw another one! Bloody, bloody hell. Lost only ten minutes from the house, and surrounded by serpents!
Of course I made it back to safety, and was able to identify the snakes in a book: not deadly vipers, but Elaphe Longissima.
It was later, at evening time when I had locked the courtyard gate against wild boar and was carefully making my way back indoors, eyes peeled for peril, that I saw one of the biggest beetles on the loose in Europe...