The Little Hybrid That Could

The Little Hybrid That Could

A few days prior to Bandit arriving, another piece of the puzzle fell into place.  After eight weeks at sea, my 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid landed in Le Havre, a small port city in the northwest of France.

I had dropped off my car in New Jersey a couple of weeks before I left.  The process was fairly straightforward and it was actually going to be cheaper to ship my car than to buy another one here (or so I thought).  The shipping was surprisingly inexpensive and it allowed me the option of packing the car with all my belongings as well. It seemed like a no brainer. The company was awesome.  They oversaw the process from start to finish.  Aside of few hiccups on the France side with taxes and a short delay in arrival times, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

I knew there was a process to getting a car certified to drive on the roads here and I had done quite a bit of research on the process.  The first step was to write a letter to the homologation department at Honda France to let them know I intended on bringing my US car here. I needed a certificate of conformity before I could get the car registered as a French vehicle.  I wrote the letter months before leaving but no response arrived before my departure. I wasn’t particularly concerned. I figured ‘It’s a hybrid, how could it not conform?‘ I look back at my hubris now and laugh.  But the truth is, I came perilously close to having to scrap a perfectly good car because I underestimated the sheer insanity of French bureaucracy.

I had to rent a second car because The Hybrid was a few weeks late in arriving and the terms of the original rental were not renewable. It worked out for the best anyway, driving around with the keyed up rental car was giving me anxiety. Better to start off fresh. So a couple of weeks earlier I went back the airport and swapped cars. When I ordered the second rental, I arranged it as a one-way. This way I could return the car in Le Havre when it was time to pick up The Hybrid and eliminate the need to take public transportation to pick up my car.  Le Havre was about 3 hours north of Chartres.  It would have easily taken 4 or 5 hours to get there by train.  I patted myself on the back for my out of the box thinking. The plan was to drop the rental car off, walk or take a quick cab to the port, (because how big could the city actually be) get The Hybrid and head back home.

You don’t have to be a genius to see where this plan is about to go awry. For starters, Le Havre is not that small. If I had spent even 5 minutes of research on the city, I would have realized this salient fact. But I didn’t. So, when I received my 1:00 appointment at the port to pick up The Hybrid, I only gave myself about 30 minutes to drop off the rental car beforehand.  BIG MISTAKE.

Minutes before I pulled into the Eurocar parking lot, a little voice said to me ‘just for shits and giggles Monica, plug in the address of the port to your gps and find out how far it is from here.’ At this point, it was around 12:30pm. I pulled the car over and typed in the address. It returned an estimated arrival time of 1:02pm.  It was going to take me 30 minutes to get there from where I was.  I realized later that I had actually driven past it on my way to the rental car drop off.

So the plans had to be quickly revised.  Obviously, there wasn’t enough time to drop off the car and call a cab and still make my appointment.  I was barely going to make it there on-time as it was and I wasn’t sure how rigid they were with the appointment times so I made a quick (and certainly illegal) u-turn and headed straight toward the port.

For those of you paying attention, you should realize the obvious problem with this plan. Although I have many extraordinary abilities, being able to drive two cars simultaneously is not one of them.  But there was nothing to be done.  I would just have to improvise.

I got a bit lost trying to find the port (This, of course, is a shock to no one) but I still managed to arrive only a few minutes late.  After a strange and disconcerting conversation in French about why I was there, I was ushered into an office to fill out a bunch of paperwork and wait for them to bring the car around.  I wasn’t certain what to expect.  I had gone to great pains to pack and mark everything very neatly in the car.  As part of the manifest, I had to itemize everything being shipped. When the car pulled around, nothing had been touched.  It was extremely dusty but no boxes had been opened or bags searched.  I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or irritated that the security in this regard was so lax.

At any rate, I now had to devise a plan for the two cars that were parked in the parking lot.  It was a little after 2pm.  I explained the situation and told them I was going to leave The Hybrid and drive the rental car back to Eurocar and then take a taxi back to the port and pick up my car. Although I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of paying for a 30 minute cab ride, I didn’t see where I had much of a choice.  But because we didn’t want to make things too easy, the crew at the port tells me that I should leave as quickly as possible because the gates locked at 4pm and I would have to wait until Monday to pick up The Hybrid if I didn’t get back in time.  Never a dull moment.

Two hours should have been more than enough time to make the switch, right? I was taking no chances.  The day had not gone at all as planned and I had no intentions of making another trip to LeHavre.  I managed to get back to the port with a full 30 minutes to spare.

After nine grueling hours, and a short detour due to poor navigation skills, I arrived back in Chartres. The unpacking would have to wait. I was just too tired. I spent the rest of the next day unloading the car and attempting to put away some of the stuff. Now that I had actual pots and pans (and more than a single knife, fork & spoon) I could buy real food at the supermarket.

All that remained was to finalize the paperwork. I was legally allowed to drive the car in France with my NY plates for 3 months beginning the day the car got off the boat.  My insurance would then expire. Dominique had connected me with a friend of his who handled insurance and he worked with me to get the car insured with NY plates, a NY registration and an American driver’s license. Believe me that was no small feat.  But when Dominque mentioned that the insurance only lasted for 3 months, I scoffed “Eh no worries, that’s plenty of time.  If the car still isn’t registered after 3 months I have bigger problems.” Oh, how naive I was.

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