First, let me say that we made it. We are here in St. Antonin, our new home. Now, let me tell you that Friday was a nightmare. Our experience here in France and Belgium makes our DMV look like a smooth running machine. I’m sure you’re laughing at that because we have all been to the DMV and it’s not a smooth running machine, but once you hear about our day, you’ll realize that I’m right.
Look at those limestone cliffs
Looking out from out backyard
So, remember, we bought a car in Belgium and just needed to get it registered or get transit plates to take it into France and then we’d register it here in St. Antonin. There is a place in Brussels called the DIV and you can get transit plates there, but people told us it was not a fun place to go and you could wait in line for 4 hours or more only to be told you don’t have the required paperwork. So we checked on line and found that we could register the car in France at any Prefecture (which is new). So, we got all the necessary paperwork that is listed on the Prefecture’s website for registering the car and head down to Lille, France, about 50 minutes from where we were in Belgium.
Our new Peugeot
We had to pack up the car and check-out of the hotel since we were heading down to Lille and if we couldn’t get the car registered we’d have to continue down to St. Antonin, register the car and drive back up to Belgium to pick it up (not fun). So, the car is full of bags, 3 dogs and Bruce and I. When we arrived in Lille, we couldn’t or didn’t want to leave the car because of the dogs and all our stuff so I waited in it. 1 hour goes by and Bruce comes back from the Prefecture only to tell me that the first guy told him that he had to go to St. Antonin to register the car, but as those of you who are here in France know, all you have to do is ask someone else the same question at the Prefecture and you’ll get a different answer. So, he asked someone else. They told him that yes, you could register the car but you needed a “quitus fiscal” form filled out. Bruce asked if that was the VAT tax and he said no, it’s an import tax. But you couldn’t get it at the Prefecture; you had to go to the Tresor Public, which was across town. Argh!
It’s now 11:45 and we head over, really not knowing where we are going. We actually found it pretty easily but then drove around and around for 10 minutes trying to find parking. By the time we found parking it was 11:55, Bruce ran to the building but when he got there…it was closed for lunch until 1:30. Welcome to France.
We had lunch and went back at 1:30. But the guy Bruce spoke with told him that he could not give him the “quitus fiscal” in Lille, it can only be giving in the department you are living (but he couldn’t say why). He told him that if all we needed were “transit plates” to take the car to France, we could do that back at the Prefecture. So back to the Prefecture we go. When Bruce got there the guy he spoke with told him that they don’t give transit plates, but there was a shop next door that did (for 100 euros). So Bruce went in and that guy told him he couldn’t do it unless he had the “quitus fiscal”. Are you kidding! Bruce told him our story and that our car was in Belgium and he said he had a friend in Belgium that did transit plates and you didn’t need a “quitus fiscal” in Belgium. So he gave us his address (if that’s what you call it…more like a town and postal code) and said he was 30 minutes away, so off we went, back to Belgium. It’s now 3:00 pm. Our guy at the Peugeot dealership was only there until 5:00 and he’s not there on Saturday and we were NOT staying until Monday.
We finally, after getting lost 10 or so times, found the “transit plate” place. It was more like the back of a truck in the middle of the Belgian countryside. Shady for sure. They told us we had 2 options. The first was a Belgian plate, but they couldn’t get it until Monday. The second was a European plate and we could get that today, but “it had risks”. What kind of risks we asked. We were told that it’s valid throughout Europe but that it’s not recognized or in the law books in Belgium and France. And that if the police stopped us, which some do (but some don’t), they would take the plates and we’d be stuck. There was another man there, from Germany, and he told us he’s used these plates before and has never had a problem. He said, “go for it”. So, at 4:15 pm on Friday, we did. We just needed to get out of Belgium and really couldn’t afford to spend 3 more nights in a hotel and pay three more days for a rental car. We got the plates, rushed up to the Peugeot dealership and picked up our car. But we still had to drop off the rental car, and that was 30 minutes away. So off we went, to Brugge to drop off the car. We did that and then decided we’d just start driving down into France and see what happened. We stopped for dinner and then kept driving. I drove until 1:00 am and then Bruce drove until 2:30 am. We stopped at a rest stop, which are nothing like the rest stops in America. They are amazing, food, restaurants, shopping, etc. We tried to nap in the car, very hard to do with 3 dogs and all our luggage, but we did manage to get a few hours of sleep. We got back on the road at 6:00 am. We were close, very close. After stopping at the market for food for a few days we arrived in St. Antonin, home!
We stopped at our landlord’s house and picked up the key to our new house. Unloaded the car, stocked the fridge, walked the dogs and then took a 2 hour nap! We were exhausted from the non-stop crazy ride we were on. Our house is lovely and we know we are going to be so happy here in a village. It already feels like home. Later in the afternoon we took the dogs out and let them run, poor things have been stuck in the hotel room in Belgium with only walks and then they were in the car most of the day yesterday. They were great though.
It’s Sunday morning right now and we are going to head out to the open market (our village has an amazing one). We’ll start unpacking and getting organized too. Tomorrow we have to register the car, get our French plates, get a phone, and set up our tv and internet service. But, hopefully we can do it all here, as we have no desire to get in the car for a few days.
We still feel that buying a car in Belgium was cheaper than in France, but it was a bit of a challenge getting it here. We had to laugh because in America you can go to a dealership and within say 1 hour you have a car, with plates, insurance, registration, etc…and you can drive it home. If you want to live here you have to deal with the paperwork and confusion. I’m sure when we go to register the business it will be just as difficult, but again our motto is “no expectations”. We’ll go with the flow, take a deep breathe and it will get done.