Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Friday fiasco!

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.

Our Village

Look at those limestone cliffs

Looking out from out backyard

Our 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. 

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Going with the flow

Ghent, Belgium

The Plan, plan A was to fly to Brussels, Belgium to buy a used car.  I had contacted 3 used car dealers via the internet and had appointments set up to look at 3 different cars.  We would buy a used car and drive it down to France.  Sounds easy, right?

We arrived Monday morning, all 5 of us.  We left from Chicago and the flight was only 7.5 hours.  Despite the projectile vomiting from the 8 year old across the isle from us, the flight was very smooth (thanks to our Ambien).  The dogs did great, no problems at all.  Of course in Chicago we didn't have the EU document for dogs filled out (I didn't even know of it) but the United ticket agents were super nice, friendly and helpful, I know you think I'm kidding, but it's true.  They let us on the flight without these documents and said that we'd have to deal with it if the Belgiun authorities questioned us.  But just like when we moved to France in 08, nobody questioned us, looked at the documents or anything.  Dogs came rolling out in their crates and given to us.  Whew.

We went to look at one car on Monday, from a really nice man named Geert, he actually has friends in St. Antonin where we are moving and we hit it off immediately.  We know we'll see him again.  The car was a Skoda estate (stationwagon).  Tuesday we went to look at another car, a Hyundai mini-van.  We want something that holds 5 people and also can hold our bikes and/or dogs if it's just the two of us.  The cars were expensive, for used cars.  One was a 2001 and the other a 2005.  We were set to move forward with the Skoda and then Bruce went down to the bar to have an espresso.  Bruce told the man working at the bar what we were going to buy the Skoda and the expression on his face said "don't do it man!"  He said Skoda's are not great cars.  He told us to check at the dealers (Citron, Peugeot) to see if they had anything, it would be much better than buying an older used car, they are French so anyone can work on them and they hold their value.  So off we went.  We went to the Peugeot dealership and saw a "directives" car.  That's where employees drive a new car for 4-6 months and then they turn in and sell it. We saw a 207 Peugeot with 8,000 miles on it, it's a 2010 and 6 months old.  2 years still left on the warranty and nothing wrong with it, inside or out.  The price was a bit more than the used cars, but when we thought about it, we knew it was the better choice.  That was Tuesday evening at 7 pm.  We went back on Wednesday and bought the car.  We gave them a downpayment and started the bank transfer from our Credit Agricole account in France.  But it will take 3 days for the transfer to go through and we can't take the car until the money is in the dealerships account, hopefully Friday.

Our new car, 2010Peugeot 207 break

Then there is the problem with plates and registration for the car.  Well not a problem, but a situation.  We were told you could get transfer plates in Belgium that comes with insurance for 2 weeks or so and then you can drive the car into France.  But we find out it's not that easy and it's about 500 euros.  You have to take paperwork down to something similar to the DMV and wait in line for an average of 4 hours, only to find that you don't have everything they require.  And then you still have to go to the Prefecture in France and register the car.  Oh what to do.  We were thinking we would have to take all the paperwork from the dealer and drive to St. Antonin (8 hours) and register the car/get plates and then drive back up to Gent to pick up the car.  But then we found out that France has changed the registration process, you no longer need to go to the Prefecture in your department, you can go to any Prefecture in France.  Yippee....Lille, France is only 50 miles away.  So this morning we were going to get all the paperwork and then drive down the Lille and register the car and get the plates.  Then we'd be all ready and legal with the car.  We were to meet Curt at the Peugeot dealership at 10:30.  Just to be safe we called the Prefecture to find out when they would be closed for lunch, we always end up arriving a places between 12-2 pm only to find them closed for lunch.  What we found out was that they close at 11:00 on Thursdays and are not open in the afternoons, they will open again on Friday at 9 am.  Seriously?  Really?  Are you sure?????  Damn.  So the plan is to drive to Lille tomorrow and take care of things and come back up, hopefully have the funds deposited, pick up the car and head down to France.  Now, that's the plan.  But I think right now we are on Plan C, maybe D.  We are already here 2 more days than we had thought, so who knows what might happen.

We have decided our new motto is "no expectations".  So many things are out of our control.  We are foreigners and are learning the process, so we just need to be flexible and not get all stressed out over little things like buying a car.  So we decided since it was sunny and we had the whole day we'd take the dogs into Ghent for some sight-seeing.  So that's what we did.  We had lunch at soup, you got a huge bowl of soup, 2 rolls and an apple for 4 euros.  We walked through the medieval docks down by the river, did some window shopping, stopped and had some coffee and just enjoyed the day.  We had a great time, got to see this beautiful city (if you have never visited I highly recommend it).  The dogs had fun, we had fun and insteading of stressing out we had a vacation in Ghent.

 city dog "stella"
the goldens and a pug friend at the dog bar

 Castle of the Counts (1180)


Hopefully my next post will be telling you we left on Friday and we made it to St. Antonin in our new car and everything went smooth.  Keep your fingers-crossed, send good vibes, but if we need to wait one more day, we will.  We have our whole lives ahead of us...there's no hurry.  Although if the money doesn't come tomorrow and won't come on a Saturday, we have decided to pack up the rental car and go to Amsterdam!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Family time before the move

the colors were amazing

We are in Chicago right now.  At the Hilton at O'Hare...waiting for our flight.  We arrived last night and will spend today exercising the dogs as much as possible and organizing all of our stuff.  We'll take the bags over first and then we'll take the dogs over at the last possible minute.  We are flying from Chicago to Brussels, Belgium so we can buy a used car and then we'll drive down to our new home.

We came to Chicago via Michigan where my family is.  I haven't been home in 2.5 years, since my Dad died.  It wasn't a great trip back then.  My Dad's funeral and a huge fight with my oldest sister made it a trip I'd like to forget.  This time was different.  Of course I stayed with my sister Anne (not the fighting sister), I always stay with her.  She has a lovely Victorian house with a carriage house in the back.  It's quiet and comfortable and I always sleep so good in the carriage house.

My mom (who is 82) and my oldest sister and my brother, his wife and their 14 year old son came over for dinner.  There wasn't any tension, no fighting, just good food and family.

On Friday we went to the pumpkin patch/cider mill.  We picked up 3 pumpkins that Bruce carved, some apples (for an apple crisp that I made that day) and we had some amazing fresh, warm doughnuts.  Bruce actually ate 4 before we even left the parking lot.

 my sister and niece (and me) at the pumpkin patch

On Saturday we went to my nephew's football game (he's 11).  My niece is 8 and she cheers at the games.  It wasn't hard to say goodbye to my Mom or brother or sister, because I haven't lived in Michigan in over 20 years and I know that I'll see them soon in France.  But it was hard to say goodbye to my nephew Mathieu, we have a very special bond and he's very sensitive and cries when we leave.  I know I'll see him in France, but it's always hard to say goodbye to him.

We keep pinching this really happening?  Are we really moving to France?  Somehow it doesn't feel real.  We've done this before.  Drove from LA to Chicago with the dogs, flew to France, lived there for a year.  But we had to come home.  This time it's not just for a year, we are embarking on our new life.  I don't think it will hit us for a couple weeks when we start to settle in and realize that we don't have to go back to the U.S. our new life is in France.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

4 days across America - again!

This is our 2nd time driving across the U.S.  October 08 we did it for the first time when we took our 1 year sabbatical in France.  We only went to Chicago in 08, but this time we went all the way up to Michigan to see my family. We have either sold, given away or shipped everything we own.  We have 3 dogs, 2 suitcases and 3 dog crates with us in the rental car.  We are moving to France and couldn't be more excited.

trying to get out of los angeles

We had hoped to leave last Saturday around 10:00 am, but that didn't happen.  We went to sell our car and had major problems because the dealership (VW) had the vin number on the title and registration wrong.  1 digit off.  So, when someone looks up the vin it doesn't show anything, which means nobody will buy the car.  So we had to run around like crazy and it still isn't taken care of.  We left the car at VW and our good friend K is going to sell it for us when they correct the vin with the DMV.

So 10:00 became 3:30 pm.  We finally got on the 10 freeway heading east and thought we were on our way, but we hit major traffic and it took us about 1.5 hours to get out of the city.  We drove until 10:00 pm and ended up staying in Mesquite Nevada.

vegas drive-by

Sunday was a much better day.  We hit the road early and drove to Carbondale, Colorado where our friend Chris lives.  We spent Sunday and Monday with him.  He lives in a cabin behind this lovely house in the country.  Stunning scenery and peace and quiet.  The dogs loved it.  We went rock-climbing at Rifle on Monday and got worked!  It was great to spend time with Chris who we haven't seen since our last drive across the country.  Hopefully we'll get him to France this spring.

 Chris' backyard

 Stella hanging out at Rifle

Bruce doing a bit of climbing at Rifle

Tuesday we left Carbondale and thought it would be a breeze driving to Des Moines.  But when we arrived in Vail it was snowing so hard we could barely see.  We drove 30 mph until Denver.  So 1.5 hours turned into 3.5 hours.  Then major road work most of the way.  Argh!  We ended up staying in Lincoln, Nevada instead of Des Moines.

Nebraska was so boring and flat

Today was such a long day, 13 hours in the car.  Major road construction (going 40 for miles and miles) most of Iowa and Illinois and rush hour traffic around Chicago made the 10 hour day turn into a 13 hour day.  We finally arrived at my sisters house at 10:00 pm.

The dogs were amazing the whole trip.  We have a huge van and they have their bed in the back and we can also lay in the back.  So we'd take turns driving, 2 hours and then rest, 2 hours and then rest.  It makes it much easier.  We'll be here in Michigan visiting with my family until Saturday afternoon and then we'll head down to Chicago and fly out on Sunday for our new life in France.

More to come.