Bits of France

On the drive from the Toulous airport to Carcassonne, we stopped in a rest area to get a snack. So France: a complete French hot deli, and a wall of local specialties opposite the chips and cookies. So, if you are on the road in France, and suddenly crave some foie gras or confit de canard, just pull into the next rest area, and you will be fine.

There is a large Carrefour store on the outskirts of Carcassonne: Combination Target and immense Safeway. Shopping at Carrefour is the other part of the real France, along with the traditional town-square weekly market. On our first evening, we needed to get some supplies. And on the second day, some more. The food part of the store is amazing: huge arrays of produce, cheese, charcuterie, nuts and more. Probably 8 times the size and selection as our old Kaneohe Safeway. The bounty means every choice is a (good) challenge: which of the 30 mustards? Which of the 100 cheeses? Which of the 40 butters? Which of the 4 euro wines from the region (it was hard to find anything more than 12 euros)?
But fortunately, as well, there is the weekly Saturday market in the main square. Even in the 40-degree morning, the market stalls were many as were the customers. Seasonal, of course, meaning endive, root vegetables, lots of greens, cabbage, artichokes… Warmer weather choices from Spain and Morocco as well. And really affordable: we spend only about 15 euros for about 4 days worth of produce, some cheese and bread. Great fun! Fulfilling one of the images of our French life!

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4v4jYfgBYPfM0lveW5fU1BOS28

On a winter’s day, Carcassonne is a little gray town. But during market day, lots of people are out at the market and the shooing streets, so the gray comes alive with activity. The main square, at dusk, started to light up: the combination of the warm lights, the dim sky, the leafless trees, and some good old French architecture revealed the charm of the place. That said, there are plenty of drab streets, and not a small number of empty store fronts. I remind myself that, on the surface, Kaimuki, Moilili and the rest aren’t exactly gorgeous either!

Carcassonne: First days

We don’t have internet at the house yet so we go from café to café to get their wifi! It is Saturday morning here, that day of the weekly big market. We have walked to the town square (about 10 minutes, and it is about 35 degrees! But we have lots of layers, hats and gloves, and it is a sunny day).

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After our pain au chocolat and coffee, we’ll do our shopping for local produce.

We’ve had two nights in the house so far. The cats are very happy not to be traveling any more. They follow us around like puppies. I keep needing to remind myself that this isn’t just a week-long vacation rental – this is where we live now! It is going to take a little while to sink in, even after all this anticipation.

We have spent two long shopping sessions at the town’s Carrefour – big box store, a mixture of Target and the largest grocery store you have ever seen. The range of choices is mind boggling. There are just a lot of little things you need and use around the house and take for granted, like towels, toothbrush holders, laundry detergent… So we are little by little filling these in.

Our landlords are a couple, Georges and Michelle, also recently retired, who have lived a very long time in this house, raising their family. They just finished building a new house for themselves a little ways away, close to their son and his family. They have turned out to be very nice, immediately helpful. George insisted that I go over to their house yesterday so he could call the water and power companies and the internet / TV / telephone company to get our accounts set up. Water and power are set up, but it will take a couple weeks for internet (hopefully by the time Paula and Jerry get here) – so emails will depend on which café we find!

So all is going well. We have certainly gotten what we asked for, and that is pretty fantastic. And still, takes some time to adjust and learn a new rhythm of life!

The voyage

As you know, the biggest concern about our getting from Hawaii to Carcassonne was making it the least traumatic as possible for the cats. We had prepared with the vet’s help, with the most appropriate sedatives (turns out Valium does the trick – mostly). In our test runs in Hawaii, driving the cats around, Pelegrina calmed down as expected, but Badoit reacted to the Valium opposite: agitated and talkative. But this was the best that the vet could propose.

We divided the trip into two legs: from Honolulu to LA, with a night in a hotel there. And then LA to Amsterdam, changing planes, and on to Toulouse, with a 45 minute drive from Toulouse airport to our new house in Carcassonne. During the relatively short flight to LA, both cats were anxious and agitated the entire flight. No sleep for any of us. And we were anticipating the 10-hour flight to Amsterdam with trepidation.

In the hotel room in LA, both cats zoomed around the room, checking everything out, obviously overwhelmed with the new scents, sounds and sights. Badoit was endlessly, if frantically curious. Pelegrina found the only inaccessible spot to hide, behind the headboard. But as time went by, they calmed a little bit, even finally sleeping on the bed with us. (We did have to block the space behind the bed with furniture, towels and pillows!).

Next day, new doses of Valium (for them, not us), and off to the airport. Curiously, when they are in the backpacks on our backs and we are walking through the airport, they are calm and quiet. Even, in the waiting area, no problem.

The KLM flight to Amsterdam was on a 747, and fortunately our seats were adjacent to a lateral galley wall, with about 18 inches between the side of the seat and the wall: a great place to put the carrying cases. Perhaps the flight was smoother, the vibrations of this plane less, or they were getting a little used to this crazy travel thing, but they were quiet for almost all the flight. We were able to sleep a little.

In Amsterdam, when we went through immigration, we let the officials know what we had two cats and all their paperwork. They shrugged, saying it was a matter for customs. On the other side of the immigration booth, there is a customs area, but no customs officials. So, perhaps once we get to toulouse?

We had a long layover in the airport, in case there were difficulties with the cats’ documentation. No difficulties, so about 5 hours to wait. About an hour in, one of our travel apps sent a notice that our flight had been cancelled. Sure enough, on the big board, there was the cancellation notice. Without the app, we probably should not have known until we went to the gate. With some research, we found the Transfer Desk that would handle the situation. A line to get to a person, about 15 minutes; then a numbered ticket, and an hour’s wait in front of customer service agents. It seems that there were very high winds at the time, limiting the available runways. We overheard that about 70 flights had to be cancelled. Once our number was finally called, we learned that we had been booked on a flight the next morning, and that they were putting us up in a simple airport hotel for the night. For the cats, this was probably the best situation: another calm night in a hotel room, then a short flight and drive in the morning. The hotel, Ibis, was basic, but clean and comfortable.

The next morning, the flight to Toulouse left on schedule, on a chilly but sunny morning. As we were in our final approach into Toulouse, through the clouds, the plane emerged from under the clouds and seconds later pulled back up again: fog over the airport. Now we’re thinking: how long will this day be with the cats — who this time were a little more agitated again; although they were doted on by the flight attendants. After some circling, and a gentle descent again, we were able to land.

There was another passport check before baggage. The immigration official wasn’t interested in the cats, and there were no customs people to be found. We are certainly very happy that we completed all the correct preparations for this importation, but were surprised that no one cared on this end. So, perhaps we are living with two illegal aliens now?

About an hour and a half later, we arrived at the house, putting the cats in a single room so that they could start their adjustment. Later, when they were given run of most of the house, they scurried around for a few hours, testing everything. But they wanted to sleep with us, Pelegrina diving under the covers (not her usual Hawaii behavior), and Badoit finding a spot on top of the blankets between Mike’s legs — for the entire night.

As the days have gone by, they seem to be settling in. They want to be close to us more than back in Hawaii, but even that is starting to lessen a little. Pelegrina was a bit more the “alpha cat” in Hawaii, but now Badoit is. No issues with appetite, which is a good sign.

So: Mission accomplished. But we don’t want — nor we suspect do they want — to do this voyage with them again!