On a slow boat to Ireland

We can fly directly from Carcassonne to Dublin in about 2 ½ hours or we can take the train from here to the port of Cherbourg, stay overnight, and board the ferry the next afternoon that gets to the Emerald Isle the following morning. Based on the title of today’s blog post you can guess that we chose the 2-days-of-travel version, plus a bonus stopover in Paris. Choosing this option let us lower our carbon footprint—train/ferry average 0.1 pounds of CO2 per mile vs. 0.8 pounds per mile for planes—while giving us lots of comfort. (There’s a footprint calculator link below.) Our Senior Rail Card gives us a discount on French trains and the ferry we chose was more like a cruise liner with bars, restaurants, shops, two movie theaters, and spacious balcony suites. We were in no particular hurry to get to our destination, although even more luxury awaited at Ashford Castle Hotel, so we took what for us was the easy way.

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Operator, give me long distance

The job I had when we lived in Chicago and LA was as a telephone reservation agent for a travel company. People would call looking for schedule information and to buy tickets so it was fulfilling since back then those details weren’t readily available to the general public. I loved the work but because it meant non-stop talking from 9 AM to 5 PM, at home the last thing I wanted to do was to use the phone. Consequently Bill got to deal with, as Hyacinth Bucket would say, the “white Slimline telephone with last number redial”, a task that he continues even today. That also means figuring out who has the best offer when your phone contract expires and how to start all over again when you move to another country.

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The patient patient

When we were investigating making a permanent move to France we read a lot about the experiences of others and two themes emerged. Everyone seemed to agree that the French love their paperwork. We’d had an inkling of that when we saw that to apply for our initial 1-year visa we would need to supply at least a dozen different documents (that list is here) to prove that we would be able to financially support ourselves during the validity of the visa. That process, with the paperwork, was repeated here as well each time we went in to renew our visa/residence card. It still makes me laugh to remember apologizing to our bank counselor for not speaking very good French when we opened our bank account. She looked at the pile of documents we had brought in for that application process and said with a grin while pointing to the stack, “Au contraire, you speak very good French!” We had our own experience recently at the hospital regarding that second theme: patience.

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Secret coastal France

While I generally look only at a few of our local or national newspapers, Bill has a more rounded approach that incorporates sources outside of France, including the US. He spotted an article  by Terry Ward in the travel section of CNN that he knew I would want to see. The title was “The secret stretch of coastal France that’s nicer than Nice” so naturally I wanted to find out where that was. It didn’t take more than two sentences to see the mention of our region, Occitanie, and then our departement, Aude, to know that the author was talking about Carcassonne and our coastal neighbors Narbonne and Gruissan. Now to find out why it’s a secret.

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Prescription drug prices

Fortunately neither Bill nor I have to take any prescription drugs. Oh sure, there have been the rare times when we’ve needed a doctor’s signature for a painkiller or an antibiotic but nothing long term. During pollen season, however, I do take an over-the-counter antihistamine that was available in the US in a bottle of 365 tablets while here it comes in boxes of 7. That does mean a frequent visit to the pharmacy but we’re always out walking anyway so another stop is no problem. On our most recent outing we discovered that the shelf where these generic boxes were typically stocked by the hundreds was almost empty because the manufacturer was switching from pills to a liquid format in banana flavor that would be double the price we were paying. Time to investigate getting a prescription from our family doctor that would at least have the advantage of being partially reimbursable by the national health system.

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La Féria

Here’s a definition: “An annual competitive and recreational gathering, usually held in late summer or early fall that began in the nineteenth century for the purpose of promoting agriculture, through competitive exhibitions of livestock and display of farm products. They have now expanded to include carnival amusement rides, games, and food stands, display of industrial products, and entertainment such as musical concerts.” If the county or state fair came to mind, you’d be correct, although this description got its first application in Seville, Spain in 1847 after Queen Isabelle II gave her permission for a 3-day event for “buying and selling livestock.” Thus La Féria in Spain was born which eventually moved north across the border, including to Carcassonne where today our local fair concludes.

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The tablecloths of Provence

If you want to become a French citizen, one of the requirements is to successfully complete an interview with an immigration officer who will ensure that you are fully integrated into the society here. You can be asked questions about history, geography, culture, values, government, current news and politics, and your daily life. A task that I see often mentioned is to name the symbols of France. According to the Livret du Citoyen (Citizen’s Booklet) that we are given to study, those should include the national anthem, the flag, and Marianne the statue of whom appears in every town hall. Additional responses could be the 14th of July, the official seal, the faisceau de licteur design that appears on the cover of passports, and even the rooster. While those seem to be official and easily recognized by anyone living here, you might get a different response if you asked a visitor to this country. Based on movies and personal experiences I bet that you would hear, “the Eiffel Tower, baguettes and croissants, wine and cheese, blue-and-white striped shirts and berets.” Let’s add one more to the list: the tablecloths of Provence.

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