Since we left all our furniture behind in Hawaii, and since we won’t receive the rest of our belongings (clothes, kitchen tools, art) until about April, we need to go shopping to set up our new home. Mike enjoys shopping more than I, but if I have a shopping purpose (and supportive budget!), I get into it as much as he does. It certainly isn’t very often that we get the chance to create a new home.

Our list includes big stuff — like new TV and bed — and lots of smaller things — like linens, dishes, flatware, soap dispensers, collanders, etc.

We have discovered so far that in the town center, which is the historic gridded city from the 14th century, there is a mixture of low-price local businesses, some mall-brand mid-range clothing stores, and few expensive clothing stores. There are a lot of empty storefronts. We think that it probably comes more alive in the summer, during the tourist season. On the outskirts of town are Zones Industrielles (ZI), which include lots of big-box stores. All French and European brands, although disappointedly peppered with KFC, Burger King and McDonalds — but we ignore those. The Carrefour is out there, along with quite a few other large general purpose stores (household items, furniture, electronics, etc.), and ones like Best Buy and Lowes. Here we are at last in France, and we shop as if we were in suburban LA! But that is where the stores are.

One of our contacts recommended a store out in the ZI called Gautier for furniture and beds. We were met by a very nice, attractive and effective sales woman, named Carine. She was able to be pushy and helpful all at once, and very kind with my level of French. In French, she explained the details of spring versus foam mattresses, pillow tops, breathable mattresses, and hygiene. My French vocabulary has now grown. We explained that we really wanted to receive the new bed by the time we welcome our first house guests before we leave on our trip to South America, which was a little less than 2 weeks from the day we were in the store. She said that the mattress, base and headboard would take longer than that, unfortunately. But to our surprise, after a short pause, she said that they would be able to lend us a bed during the time between our needed date and the availability of the bed we would purchase. I wasn’t sure I had understood correctly, but she confirmed that yes, they could help us out in this way. I guess making the sale was important to them! As it turned out, the mattress was available before our due date, and they would lend us the base. After we get back from our trip, they will deliver the base and headboard. I’m sure we will still run into our share of cold uncaring French sales people, but so far, we’ve experienced the opposite.

When we mentioned to Rachel (our Franco-British consultant for financial and property matters) our quest for household items like linens, towels and kitchen items, she said we should check out a big outlet mall near Barcelona. She said that she and her husband go there regularly because of the great prices, quality and variety. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Carcassonne. The idea of a road trip, feeling the distance, without having to drive around an island a few times, was very appealing.

So, we set out last Sunday on a road trip to Spain to go shopping! It was a cold rainy day. In France, almost every store and restaurant is closed on Sunday. We thought that perhaps there would be a few shoppers who like us want to take advantage of Sunday stores. But when we arrived, at about noon, we were amazed at the number of people. The ample parking lots were all full; all the side streets were lined with parked cars. Luckily, we noticed a dirt area that people were starting to park in, so we found our space.

The mall is open air; really just a string of storefronts along a central meandering walk, designed like a 2-story Spanish village, full of brand-names. (I can picture the meetings with the retail people and developers when they were designing the place.) Shoppers from all over the world everywhere! It turns out that there are seasonal sales now, so in addition to the outlet store prices, there were additional mark-downs. Good for us — and apparently very many other people. All the shoppers and activity really just made it lively. We had a bite to eat at an Italian / Catalan restaurant, to make sure to build up optimal shopping strength. And then powered through our list. We found quite a few very nice things, and had a good time while doing it.

A day’s worth of shopping meant that we needed to drive back home in the dark, and in the rain. The highways on both sides of the border are quite good, especially in France. But there is a stretch of road on either side of the border that is curvy, narrow and is partially undergoing construction. In the rain, it was very hard to see the lines on the road. That part of the drive was a little tense. I think that the next time we go outlet mall shopping, we’ll combine it with a nice B&B in Barcelona, and drive to and from in daylight.

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