The French don’t really say “adieu”. At least, not unless they’re at a funeral. The French meaning is a very permanent final goodbye (literally “to God”). A fellow American expat found this out the hard way when she was tasked with organizing the retirement luncheon for a co-worker shortly after starting work in France. She had already sent out the invitations to “Bid adieu a Monsieur Blah-Blah” when she was emphatically corrected!
Anyway, it’s taken me a long time to sit down and write my final EuroSplat post. Not sure exactly why. Maybe because putting it down in words is the final act of our three-year camping trip (except finishing up our tax obligations). Or maybe I’m just procrastinating. At any rate, we’ve been back in the US for over seven months now, so I suppose it’s high time I wrapped it up.
Shortly after we returned from our final driving trip to Provence I put together our For Sale list and we distributed it to the community. The list went on and on. All those European-voltage appliances that we purchased on arrival had to go. Not usable back in the states. The cars. All the light fixtures and ceiling fans we put up. Clothes racks (because in the US they build CLOSETS in the bedrooms!) Bicycles. Bed frames and mattresses (European bed sizing is different, the US sheets would never fit). Toasters and coffee pots and floor fans and clothes irons and micro-wave ovens and vacuum cleaners and telephones and alarm clocks. All of it useless back home but so very necessary for the three year tour.
The cars turned out to be particularly difficult to sell. Apparently no one wants an all-wheel drive SUV with a large, diesel guzzling engine. At least that’s what the car dealer told me. I finally had to take the RAV4 to VendreVotreVoiture.com (think CarMax). I still cringe when I think about what three years of ownership cost us. Still, over the weeks leading up to the move most of the stuff did slowly trickle out of the house.
We spent some of the proceeds on a custom set of steak and kitchen knives with lava stone handles to commemorate our time living on the slopes of the Puy-de-Dome volcano.
The movers arrived bright and early on Monday June 22nd and went into action. I’ve never seen so much packaging. I think each piece of furniture must have been at least two trees worth of wrapping paper. I’m not complaining about how stuff arrived though. Practically nothing damaged except for a couple of clocks and a pair of headphones.
We kept the movers supplied with croissants and water (they brought their own beer) and in two days these guys had us all packed and loaded. Looking at all the empty space in our shipping container we decided we should have bought more furniture to take home!
After the truck left we did our final clean and headed over to our temporary furnished apartment. Our departure date was July 1st, still over a week away. I should have taken some pictures of our temp housing but it was exactly the same building as where we stayed on arrival in April 2012. Welcome back to the busy downtown streets and noise. Plus it was getting hot. Very hot. Like upper 90’s. We congratulated ourselves on saving the last two floor fans just to move some air. No air conditioning in Clermont-Ferrand temp housing!
Sarah was still finishing up her last days of school. Officially her year didn’t end until July 4th! We went to her last end-of-year bash, la Kermesse, and sweltered. It was hot!
We hiked up our favorite “innie” volcano one last time and picnicked down in the crater at the top. We ate out with friends at the street-side patios of our favorite restos for the final time. We had a farewell party with other departing expat families at the rooftop bar of a local hotel. We were wearing down though. It’s hard to sleep in the city with all the windows open and the temperature still in the upper 80’s inside the apartment. Especially after being accustomed to the relative quiet up on the hillside in Chamalieres.
And then our departure day was upon us. None too soon, either. The temperature was 104 that day and stayed in the 100’s for the next week!
We wanted to stay longer. We wanted one more autumn in France (hands down our favorite season there) and one or two more long vacations to go see just a couple more things. Kate kept volunteering to stay until Christmas. But Michelin had other plans. For some reason it has been very important to bring all the expats home, even those who were scheduled to stay longer. There are very few left at this point. In retrospect it was probably all for the best. We’ve heard stories of two and three hour delays crossing EU borders because of the situation with all the poor Syrian refugees. And then there was the Paris attacks on November 13th. And the rising tensions with Russia. And the continued fall of the Euro value.
I think this is the last picture of us on French soil. It’s not very good but I’m glad we have it. The final moments of the adventure.
We recovered pretty quickly. We had booked a beach cottage on Edisto Island for a week in August before we even left France. For three years we had been exploring all over Europe. But that’s not the same as relaxing. Exploring can actually be rather stressful. You’re always in an unfamiliar place where you don’t know how things work or where to stay or eat and trying to communicate in a language you don’t speak (or not very well). We wanted a VACATION where the biggest decision facing us was whether to swim before breakfast or eat first.
It was perfect and just what we needed. We rented bikes and rode all over. Read books. Made sand castles. Ate crab cakes. Remembered what breathing room and uncrowded beaches were like.
It took us longer than we’d expected to find a place stateside. We wanted to rent initially – at least until we figured out what part of town we wanted to be in. We had a false start on one ideal rental house that turned out to be owned by fellow Michelin expats who lived down the street from us in France. (We didn’t want to be forced to move when they came home in 2016) Finally just as our allotted temporary housing time was about to expire we found a roomy, comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood not far from where we used to live.
Our domestic and overseas shipments were delivered in early September and we began to get re-acquainted with all the stuff we had put in long term storage when we left. We even got re-acquainted with our old boat.
The friends that purchased our runabout had upgraded to a bigger ski boat in the spring and offered us right of first refusal to buy back the Caravelle. We decided it would be a quick and easy way to get back on the water and took them up on it!
Slowly we re-integrated into US life. Sarah started school (in English!). Kate started a new position and slowly began to flesh out her job description and responsibilities.
We reveled in the spacious bathrooms with dual sinks and counter space. We reveled in garbage disposals and wall-to-wall carpeting and central air conditioning!
And we missed our friends in France. And the baguettes and cheeses. And walking up the ancient Roman road through the Chamalieres town forest. And the way Clermont ended and the spectacular chain of volcanoes started just up the road from our driveway. And the sounds of the Cuckoo birds migrating through the area (they really do exist and sound just like the clocks). And, and, and…
And it’s over. Easily the hardest and yet one of the most rewarding things we will probably ever attempt. Sarah is still inconsolable at least once a month over what we left behind. Me not so much perhaps but I also treasure so many of the moments and memories we experienced.
We did bring home lots of souvenirs and paintings and pictures and things to remember our travels by. BTW, the word “souvenir” literally means “memory” in French. Appropo, non?
And boy did we ever travel! We counted up a total of 17 countries in our 39 months of expat life. Kate’s French co-workers thought we were nuts to keep going and going like we did but we knew we had an expiration date and wanted to see as much as we could. Sarah totally has the bug now. I don’t think she will ever stay stationary again. And that’s a good thing. The world is a huge, diverse, interesting place. Best not to miss it.
So I think this is the end of EuroSplat. For the most part I’ve enjoyed writing about it all, although it is definitely work. I’ve had folks tell me that they’ve enjoyed reading it, which is definitely gratifying as well. Thanks for sharing! My goal now is to try and find a “blog to book” service so I can get a couple of hard copies printed and bound for our coffee table and Sarah’s so we can always look back. The EuroSplat web domain is paid through January 2017 so it will be here for a few more months anyway. A bientot tout le monde et merci beaucoup! I will end with this classic from my youth: