My family was smaller than most and as the only child of a single mom (who was also an only child) moving around was something I grew accustomed to at a very early age. I never had the childhood memories of the family home or an attachment to any particular place so the idea of living in another country, which somehow seemed to make my friends think I was crazy, really didn’t faze me. I’m sure that not having any familial ties makes it easier to just pick up and go.
I was born and raised in New York and I am in every sense of the word a typical New Yorker – driven, direct, intense, outspoken. My friends wondered how I would transition into the nuanced, laid back world of France (the jury’s still out) but I was determined to go. There was no question that I needed a fresh start and living in France had always been a dream.
It seemed prudent to visit before committing myself to a 4,000 mile relocation – maybe I wouldn’t like it, maybe they wouldn’t like me – so plans were made for a fact-finding expedition which meant the more pressing question to begin with, was Where? How do I choose where to live? France is by no means a small country. How do you knowledgeably find a place where you will feel at home, happy, content? You don’t. Well, not knowledgeably you don’t. It’s pretty much a crap shoot. I spent weeks online researching different regions, their personalities, median age, income you name it. I called everyone I knew who had lived in France (tiny list) and everyone who knew someone who lived in France (slightly less tiny list). It was daunting at first but eventually I started to narrow things down.
There was certain criteria I knew from the beginning that would have to be met. I didn’t escape the ghettos of the South Bronx to relocate to the ghettos of France. The area I chose would have to be at least the equivalent of where I was moving from. That was non-negotiable. I’m sure that sounds horribly elitist but hey the truth shall set you free. I knew that country life didn’t suit me so it couldn’t be too rural and being a single female the opportunity for a social life was important. I picked 4 cities to visit during my 10 day trip. Two cities were within an hour drive to Paris and the third city was located in southern France, a metropolis in its own right. Each city had something different that appealed to me and I arranged to spend 2 days in each place with my trip ending in Paris.
During this planning session, I had a revelation of sorts. I decided to stay with local residents booked through Airbnb instead of staying in hotels. This would give me unfettered access to people actually living in the places I was considering. The isolation of a hotel room would not fair me well since I needed to get as much information as I could in a very short period of time. Living with a local for a few days, talking to them about their opinions and personal experiences, seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be a stroke of genius.
The plans were made and the plane ticket purchased. I was on my way. Despite my nervous excitement, I forced myself to get a little shut-eye on the plane in the hopes of avoiding the jet lag that I had no time to indulge and was certain to screw up my very tight timeline. It was an overnight flight so when I arrived in Paris at the Charles De Gaulle airport (or Roissy as they call it here) it was morning of the next day.
I rented a car for the first leg of my trip figuring it would be easier to get around this way. Driving in France is its own special experience. We’ll spend more time on that later. Maybe a whole blog post. It’s seriously that bizarre. But I digress…I picked up the car and began my expedition.
First stop Mantes La Jolie….