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Trip Report Not a Trip Report - France

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Not a Trip Report: France 2012

I’m not aiming at travel or itinerary advice here. It wasn’t a “vacation” or anything remotely like one. It was a mission, with a purpose that actually changed as time passed, but you’ll see that, if you read it. If you’re looking for descriptive, flowery language about the wonders of the SW of France, pass on this, though there will be moments because I can’t help it.

I have a house in France that I was under the impression that I needed to sell (related to divorce agreement…not a court order to do that in principle, but related to paying ex-spouse a king’s ransom for being an ass, and having gotten screwed royally in the sale of a house in VA which was expected to cover those very divorce costs, which it did not, and which have me tied up in all manner of lawsuits with the lovely company Chase which apparently defrauded a lot of people like me in housing sales), which in principle broke my heart, but I was ready to do it and move on to something else because the place is remote, with steep staircases, a pool and cabana and veranda and a lot of land to deal with – more than this 60-year-old at the time felt was manageable, especially as she’d mangled her ankle at the end of August and was on crutches until the last two days of the trip, when she could hobble on emaciated legs to a café. After a few days in St-Cirq, we kind of re-thought our position on this, but more later….

First I want to say that both Air France and the SNCF came through with flying colors with handicap services (which I’d never used before in my entire life and was loath to do and frankly apprehensive about). We got our local gas station here across the street in Dupont Circle to find us a cab driver, Ahmad, to take us to Dulles for an agreed price of $50 flat, and arrived 3 hours before the flight. Delta (code-share) immediately put me in a wheelchair and took care of our one checked bag (usually don’t check bags, but in this case insane not to). There was a bit of a hitch when we tried to go to the Air France boarding gate in a Delta wheelchair (insurance issues, they said…OK), but got an AF wheelchair and we were whisked past everyone else who wasn’t infirm, went goodness knows where all around Dulles, and parked at the boarding gate. Boarded early on an Airbus 380 (OMG I love those planes, and I’m a wimpy flyer to say the least!), took off on time (they have these computer screens for each seat where you can see your very actual plane taxi-ing for takeoff, then taking off, then in flight…the whole way to Paris until you are watching your landing! It’s amazing, but I must admit I did keep thinking that if something went wrong, would you want to be wanting your own crash?? Highly unlikely, eh?).

Air France personnel on board were really accommodating. Food was good. Wine was free. We arrived in Paris at 6 am, and a wheelchair was ready for me. Went to Relay to get Lebara SIM – didn’t have it, so bought SFR SIM, then on to the SNCF station, where we had tickets on the TGV to Bordeaux. We’d allowed almost 4 hours, partly because I was so slow and partly because of schedules, so we got handed off to an SNCF attendant who parked us at a café, where we had a coffee and croissant. He came back to pick us up to take us to the train about a half-hour before departure. It was a long, jetlagged moment at the café but we survived, taking in the familiar salty-sweaty-yeasty-coffee-gasole smell of Paris and just savoring being there and hearing French all around us.

Train was on time. Attendant wheeled me up to it and helped me on board with my crutches. Uneventful ride to Bordeaux. We had an hour and a bit more than half in Bordeaux before the local train to Périgueux. Toni met us as we arrived in Bordeaux and wheeled me outside to a café in the sun to wait. We shared a Leffe – who the hell cared what time it was on our clock at this point anyway? Toni came back and wheeled us to the Corail train to Périgueux, where we scrambled on at just the last minute and had a delightful conversation on the ride with a woman from Clermont-Ferrand who is some sort of magic scientist who does “architectural biology,” a concept that is as hard for me to understand in English as it is in French. At this point, SO’s French was in faible mode, while mine was just kicking in.

Arrived in Périgueux about a quarter to 6 pm, just in time to pick up our rental car. Wheelchair attendant waiting for me as I got off the train (God bless every single one of them for calling ahead and arranging this – it was a godsend!). I waited at the train station while SO went to fetch the car, right around the corner, and come back to get me. 15 minutes later, there he was, and attendant wheeled me out to the car with the luggage (very little, but still more than I could manage). Got settled in the car (we’re 30 hours into travel at this point, and a little crispy, but thank goodness I know the route like the back of my hand), and we immediately bump forward and stall the car. SO says “It’s been years since I drove a stick shift.” I didn’t know this. I’d drive, but I’ve got this bum left foot that won’t work. Moments of apprehension, since we’ve got 44 kms to go to get to my house and I know what the roads are like – winding, hilly, and loads of frenetic French drivers on your tail the whole way. Wish I had a Valium, but I’ve never had anything like that. Might be smart to invest in something like that at this age, though.

Fortunately, it’s rush-hour in Périgueux, so everything is slow until we get out of town, at least a 20-minute drive. Then we get on the main route…and by main route I mean a D-road that is small and tortuous for about 25 kms to my house, and drivers are tailgating us like crazy, and SO is still getting used to the car, and the manual transmission thing is still an issue, and I am NOT a good passenger…I like to be the driver and in control, and I can’t.

But we get there, with a stop at the Vival in Le Bugue to get some basic provisions. And as has happened so often over the past 20 years, driving up the road to my house is such an incredible experience (Google Grotte du Sorcier, Saint-Cirq, and you’ll see the road that goes to my house), SO was just blown away. It’s magical; it defies description.

Then we find that the wooden gates to my house are not in such good condition; the one on the left is somewhat rotted, but we can force them open. And even more wonderful, the keys to the house work and open the front door. And it’s still light out, and the whole valley is bathed in glorious color, and…we’re here! It’s been 32 hours in transit, but…we’re here! The bedrooms are habitable, the Macy’s sheets are dry and clean, the pillows are still dry and soft, the place is gorgeous still, though needing a lot of work.

It’s chilly and there’s a lot of logs under the veranda, so we start to make a big fire and sit outside until it gets too chilly there, then move inside before the fire. I am having a moment where I am just so heartstricken to be able to share this place with SO, and he is having a moment where he is so heartstricken to finally understand what all this fuss is about with me and the French house, and it’s all gorgeously and intricately and jetlagged-ly orchestrated to be “a moment” that it calls for kisses and hugs and gazing at the stars and silly philosophical moments to be forgotten, thankfully, by the next morning when the fog rolls in.

To be continued...

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