Moving to Paris: The Checklist Part III: Calais to Paris, and renting an apartment in Paris
Last time I left you on a bit of a cliffhanger....we'd just driven our car onto a train, and we were freaking out because it was so insanely cool. This week's post is jam packed with the less glamorous side of relocating - so if you've just moved abroad and it's not quite what you expected, or if you've seen all my Instagram photos and thought 'hmm, that seems too good to be true!', then this post is for you! Moving to Paris has been epic all round, but not everything went to plan....
The crossing from Folkestone to Calais is really short at around 35 minutes, so all we had time to do was apply our headlight stickers*, have a cereal bar from our endless in-car supply, and swap seats so Tom could have a rest while I drove in France. On the train they try to make you wind your windows halfway down for the duration of the crossing. I'm not sure why that is, but our windows don't work anyway so we just had to keep them closed!
Before we knew it we were pulling into Calais. All we had to do was drive off the train, round the corner, and we were on the motorway! We had international data on our phones to help with maps, but the road signs were really clear and we just followed for Paris for nearly three hours. There was barely any traffic the whole way; our train had arrived at about 6am on a Sunday, so it was nice to have the roads to ourselves. I'd driven on the right before in a hire car, both in the US and Europe, but I'd never driven a right-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the road, so that was new! I'm a confident driver anyway, but it was actually waaaaay easier than I thought it would be. I'm glad Tom was there to pay the tolls though, otherwise I would have had to get out of the car and walk round to the booth, haha!
The sun was just starting to rise as we drove through the French countryside. The landscape is so flat there that we got the most spectacular sunrise view as we sped along the motorway. After an hour or so we pulled into a service station so I could try out my French, and successfully ordered a coffee and a bottle of water. All those years of learning French at school finally paid off...!
Once we got into the city the traffic started getting a bit heavier. The journey was a little more hair-raising the closer we got to the centre, but Tom and I are the greatest driving/navigating team the world has ever known**, so eventually we pulled up outside our apartment on a pedestrianised street - one of the other reasons we arranged to arrive so early.
We'd arranged with our new landlady that her agent would come and meet us to let us in, show us the ropes etc., but when we got there there was no sign of her. We called her mobile but it just rang out, and we started to worry. We then managed to get through to our landlady (based in the UK) who said she'd told the agent not to come because we hadn't paid the deposit yet,and hadn't signed the final contract. As she'd previously said that she wanted the deposit in cash when we arrived, and she hadn't actually sent us the final contract yet despite our reminders, this was definitely cause for concern! Tom spoke with her on the phone while I made helpless gestures to the police cars that kept driving slowly by us and staring at us for being parked on a pedestrian street - luckily none of them actually said anything to us though, I think maybe they were just bored.
Eventually Tom came to an arrangement with the landlady that if we paid the deposit electronically now, she'd get the agent to come back and let us in. All this sounds much more shady than it should have been, but we found the place through an agency who regulate the landlords and would have our back if something bad actually happened, and at this point we were just terrified that we'd be stranded in Paris with a car full of stuff and nowhere to stay. Deposit paid, the agent turned up and let us in. Tom stayed with the car on the street so we wouldn't get a ticket/our stuff wouldn't be stolen, and I went up to the apartment with the agent. We're on the 5th & 6th floors, so it was quite a trek! The agent seemed perfectly nice, but whenever I asked her any questions (like 'which is our mail box?' 'where is the washing machine?'), she just said, 'Don't worry, you just get your things unpacked and call me when you're done - I'll come back this afternoon once you're settled and show you everything'. At the time this seemed like a great idea - we had a whole car's worth of stuff to haul upstairs and we needed to get the car off the street as soon as possible because of the ban on diesel vehicles between 8am and 8pm.
We were really lucky to meet one of our neighbours, Ben, when we were part way through unloading. We'd managed to get everything out of the car and onto the first landing, so he helped Tom carry everything the rest of the way while I went to park the car in a nearby underground lot. Thanks Ben! On my way to the car park I accidentally drove through a set of bollards which were supposed to stop cars, but the Skoda is very compact and I didn't realise until it was too late. It brought me out right by the car park entrance though, cha ching!
I ran back round the corner to our apartment and helped Tom and Ben with the last of the boxes. We messaged the agent to ask her to come back and answer our questions, but she said that she didn't speak very good English, so we should ask the landlady instead. What?! She'd already spoken perfect English to me!
The flat was amazing, but our first day turned into a bit of a downer because we had to catalogue all the damage, marks, stains, etc, before we were willing to sign the contract and inventory. The washing machine was broken with sopping wet towels jammed half in/half out of it, and the fridge was frozen up inside because the inset freezer compartment was broken and hanging open. The mailbox key we'd been given didn't work in any of the mail boxes downstairs, and the one person employed to help us (the agent) wouldn't return our calls. It's really difficult to be excited about your new place when the first thing you have to do is list and photograph all the things that are wrong with it. We finally sat down a few hours later feeling really quite deflated - yes, we'd moved to Paris, but we couldn't shake the sinking feeling that so many things were hanging over us. Would we actually get a receipt for the deposit we'd hastily paid (2 months' rent, which in Paris amounted to a large chunk of our savings)? Would we get access to our mail box? Without this we couldn't do any of the things we'd planned to do in the first week, like get renters' insurance (mandatory in Paris), get a bank account, get mobile phone contracts. And then the smaller, but equally worrying things: when would the washing machine be fixed? How would we find, and use, a laundrette with our limited knowledge of French? It sounds silly now, but it was just one more thing that we didn't have the mental energy to cope with. And then the principle of it all: we're paying for an apartment that has a mailbox, and a working fridge and a washing machine, but those things hadn't been provided. We felt powerless, and for two go-getters that was very hard to deal with.
That night we made some pasta (which we'd brought over with us, in case all the shops were closed on a Sunday), shared a whisky (which we'd also brought in a hip flask from the UK), and toasted the day on our balcony.
The next week was spent cleaning the apartment, pestering our landlady to send us the documents she'd promised us, and trying to convince ourselves that moving to Paris was still really, really cool! We walked to the Eiffel Tower, we bought a colander, all the usual Parisian stuff....!
We also made a brief sojourn back to the UK to see our wedding band playing in Buxton, and to drop the car off with my brother in London. It really was a great couple of days, but as this is a 'warts and all' kind of post, I'll share with you some of the crazy low-lights of our trip:
- Our Air BnB in Buxton was SO WEIRD. We were renting a room in a big old family home, but I'm not sure they really knew what they were doing. Our bedroom door only had a handle on one side, so it was possible to accidentally shut yourself in if it fell out, and the same door could be closed, or locked, but never both at the same time because of the position of the lock! We were there for 3 days and there was a used pair of children's knickers on the stairs outside the bathroom for the duration. There were no curtains on the bathroom window and it looked right onto the street. The host told us that she'd put a coffee machine in the room for us, but it had no water tank, no cups, no coffee, and no arm to actually put the coffee in to make a drink! Ha! Weirdest Air BnB EVER.
- A bird pooed on me while we were reading in the Pavilion gardens, whoops!
- I got a migraine on our last day as we were travelling back to London. Luckily Tom was driving, but it had got so bad by the time we reached the M1 that I was sick in two separate service stations!
By the time we got back to Paris on the Eurostar that night we were shattered, and I must have slept for about 14 hours. But that week things started looking up, so the next instalment of our Paris adventure will be much more cheery, I promise!
*Car headlights are angled slightly towards the kerb, but if you're driving on the wrong side of the road (i.e. mainland Europe in a British car), they'll be angled towards oncoming traffic which is NOT fun for them! We bought some special reflective stickers that mask some of the side-pointing light, but you have to remember to take them off again when you get back to the UK. Top tip: drive with your headlights on for a little bit before you need to take the stickers off - it'll heat up the glue on the back of them and make them easier to peel off.
**We're modest, too.