Okay, so the flight across the world to France was the most miserable 11 hours of my life, no exaggeration. Just for the record, I’ve never, ever gotten sick on an airplane before and I have been on probably 100 flights in my life. About 5 hours in, I started to wonder if I had made a really, really bad decision because I was so incredibly sick. Like, the kind of sick that requires a mid-flight outfit change into your husband’s clothes because you puked all over yours. Have you ever changed clothes in an airplane bathroom? They are definitely not designed for it…Anyway, after 11 hours of horrible vomiting and nausea, we landed in France and I sat there dreading the rigmarole of French customs. But actually, it was surprisingly easy. We just gave our passports to the border control officer, then he stamped our visa pages, said bon journée, and sent us on our way. We grabbed our bags and walked out. Easy peasy.
First stamp in my married passport!
We were immediately accosted by some guy pretending to be an Uber driver who offered to take us to our destination. I was so tired that I just agreed and got in his car. When we got to our airbnb (12 minutes away by car), he tried to charge us 25€ but I only gave him 20€ because 25€ seemed ridiculous. Apparently this kind of haggling and adjustment is acceptable here, because later that night we walked to an Italian restaurant in the next town and were told 20€ would suffice for our 21€ bill when I tried to pay 25€. Bizarre.
We both slept like rocks last night. I’ve never slept so well in a strange bed, between being sick and the jetlag I was just exhausted. We woke up this morning in search of a car for the time we are here. After we’d both gotten around for the day, we sat looking on leboncoin, which is the French equivalent of craigslist, for something affordable and reliable.
We found one Renault Clio for sale fairly nearby that was listed by a car dealership. We figured that buying from a dealership was probably the simplest, safest route, so we hopped in an Uber and headed there. When we got there though, the address was just an apartment building, and nobody answered when we knocked. We had no cell phone service and no idea what to do. Dustin made me walk next door to a car registration place and ask about the car. The employee there said he knew the guy selling the car, but it wasn’t him, so he let me use the phone and I had to talk on the phone in French for the very first time with a French audience. Lovely. Somehow I got across that I wanted to see the car and the seller said he’d be there in an hour. Parfait. That gave us time to wander around and find some lunch.
I’ve discovered that it’s much less clear whether restaurants are open here. The door might be unlocked and the restaurant might be closed. There’s not very many signs listing store/restaurant hours. It seems like you just have to be in-the-know, I guess. But we eventually found a crêpe restaurant that was actually really good! All of the food was really fresh and delicious and we enjoyed two savory crêpes for lunch. We still had some time after that so we meandered through a pharmacy and a little grocery store. We also went into this cell phone store and bought a French sim card, which took me all day to figure out.
Then we headed back to meet the car seller, who still wasn’t there. So I awkwardly had to ask, again, to use the phone at the car registration place. The employee informed me, in very annoyed French, that I was the last person to use the phone so I could just hit redial.
The car seller said he’d be there in 10 minutes, so we sat outside waiting for him and hoping this was a real thing. And somehow it was! He eventually showed up with his 3 kids in tow in the car and in 20 minutes we became the owners of a 1999 Renault Clio, a tiny little egg of a European car that rolls down the road pretty darn well. Dustin drove us back home with pretty much no navigation direction (protip: your iPhone will recognize your location on the map with no wifi or cell service and you can create your own directions home in a pinch.) It took me several hours and a customer service phone call to figure out how to load money on the French sim card, but I eventually managed to exchange 15€ for unlimited talk/text and 10 GB of data, which will make finding our way around way easier.
After I’d figured that out, we headed to get some gas for our new car! This was kind of more complicated than I thought because the gas stations only accept AmEx (? I don’t know why AmEx ?) and French bank cards, so we had to find a full service gas station where we could pay cash. We eventually managed to put 20€ of gas in the car though, so go us. We were feeling pretty ambitious after that success so we decided to go to the grocery store, since the local CarreFour was only a few minutes away. It was really fun to wander around the grocery store and look at all the differences. Things like fruit, vegetables, cheese, wine, and whiskey are considerably cheaper than in the US. Also, readjusting to non (genetically) modified produce is a little bizarre — these strawberries are so small? Those apples don’t glean with wax? For 20€, we bought a baguette, two kinds of cheese, strawberries, an apple, a beer, shampoo, 8 liters of water, and conditioner. Not bad.
Unfortunately, the sim card phone died while we were in the store, but oh well. We still managed to find our way back home. After sharing a quick dinner of wine, cheese, apples, and baguette, we are pretty well exhausted again.
It makes it easy to adjust to the time change when you just constantly feel like you might pass out from fatigue. We’re looking forward to arriving in Cognac in a few days and settling into our semi permanent home.