September 18, 2012

Houses Exchanged! Part 1

Preface:  A family of four from London, Ontario participates in their first house swap.   Homes and vehicles are exchanged; fun ensues!

The Bad Beginning
August 2012

After a nine hour drive to Montreal, we happily checked in to a Holiday Inn Express.  Our flight was due to leave the next day at 11:30 pm.  Poor Gwen had been ill for several days (and yes, it was the dastardly type of illness that requires a pot) and Nathaniel had just started to grouse about a sore tummy.  Always nice to get the flu the day before a transatlantic flight.  Although Gwen was on the mend and wanted to hang out in the hotel pool, Nathaniel wouldn't or couldn't leave the bed.  He even missed out on St. Hubert (delicious roasted chicken, Quebec style), which I had been wanting to sample since I heard about it on CBC's C'est la Vie.

After a painful night in an overchilled hotel room, listening to Nathaniel moan and groan, we got up and sorted ourselves and our luggage out.  We hung out at the hotel for the day - Gwen swam and Nathaniel stayed in bed for the morning.  After lunch, we drove down to the waterfront (Lake St. Louis), ate some DQ ice cream, walked along the pier, beachcombed and watched the kids chase geese.

At around 6:30pm, we left the van in the hotel parking lot for the Frenchies and took the shuttle to the airport.  We waited around for five hours: people-watching, eating, reading and trying to comfort Nathaniel.  The worst of his sickness had passed but he was still weak and lethargic.  Poor kid.

I won't lie; it was a hellish flight.  I detest flying at the best of times (unreasonable and unfounded fear of fatal crash), but when it's a red-eye with exhausted children, and one of them is unwell, it is unbearable. The kids were crabby because it was WAY past their bedtime, I was crabby because it was WAY past my bedtime, the plane was packed and we were ready for the journey to be over before we even left the ground.   The children slept ON Richard and I for the duration of the flight.  This was not pleasant or relaxing.  The in-flight movie was something starring a Latino midget and The Rock.  Also unpleasant, was Nathaniel vomiting orange juice (you've got to be kidding me) as the plane touched down on French soil.  Quelle horreur!  I did not make eye contact with the other passengers, who, I am sure, were completely disgusted by me and my barfing progeny. What an inauspicious beginning to our trip!

We stumbled off the plane, made our way into the airport terminal, retrieved our luggage (all miraculously there!) and took the navette (free airport shuttle service) to the Radisson.  Time for a glorious three hour nap.  zzzzzzzzz.

I was awakened by a ringing telephone.  It was Aquaduck!

Aside:  Anne's surname is Acouedic and the first time I tried to pronounce it, it came out "Aquaduck".  The Aquaduck was a bar (now defunct) in Welland, Ontario that I used to frequent as a teenager.  It is where I drank cheap and disgusting Bavarian wine cooler, caroused with my peeps and was hit on by my drunken high school English teacher.  Ahhhh... those were the days (it is hard to type sarcasm).

Anyhow, Anne's name stuck.

I roused RB and the kiddies, who did NOT want to leave their beds.  Everyone was grouchy, but I forced them to march down the hall with me to the Frenchies' room.

The warm, smiley and charming Frenchies, while complete strangers to us and the English language,  couldn't have been more gracious.  We yammered on in French, and I practiced mon Franglais.  RB and the kids were pretty quiet so it was up to me to do most of the communicating.  I relied on smiling and manic gestures to fill in any gaps in communication.  We chatted for twenty minutes or so and RB accompanied Serge down to the parking garage for an introduction to their car.  He returned with the car and house keys (yes!) and we bid the Frenchies adieu, bon voyage, yada yada yada, with a promise to see them in three weeks.

So far, so good.  Our agenda: to enjoy Paris for four nights and then make our way to Guer.  We put most of our luggage in the trunk of the car and left it in the underground parking. Paris has excellent public transportation; there was no practical reason for us to travel by car through La Ville Lumière, although watching RB navigate the traffic circle in front of the Arc De T would have been comical.

We boarded the navette back to CDG and bought four Paris Visite passes.  These offer unlimited train, bus and Métro travel for a set number of days (5 for us) in up to five different zones. These were very expensive, but worth every centime.  We used them constantly.  I think we would have seen less of the city had we not purchased them.

I had made arrangements to rent a Paris apartment (in the 2nd arrondissement) through a lodgings website and I was a bit worried because I hadn't corresponded with Jonathan, the owner of the apartment, for several days.  I was beginning to rethink our rather loosey-goosey rendezvous between the hours of 11am and 1pm on August 5.

Adding to my concern was the fact that I had paypaled J $150 as a deposit.  Let me explain. The apartment looked great online, but we were the first people to rent it.  Red flag.  Before committing to J and his very desirable apt, I asked him why he had no testimonials.  His response was that it was his first time listing it:  "only friends and family have stayed before".  He seemed nice enough on the phone, so I took the plunge and paid up.  What did I have to lose?

A month later, we were on our way to Paris, Plan de Poche Transilien in hand, and about to try to find our petit piece of Paris.  This little map was a lifesaver!

Finding our apartment was easy peasy with this baby.  We took the RER (Réseau Express Regionale) commuter train from CDG to the chaotic Métro hub of Paris Nord, and then hopped on the fourth line.  We exited two stops later, at Réaumur- Sébastopol.  Our building was about two hundred feet away.

Our Métro stop.  
RB entered the four digit door code and we were relieved when the tall wooden door actually opened!   We carried our luggage up the five-story wooden, spiral staircase, which I loved, and found the door to our flat.  I had no key and no clue.  Knocking was futile; the apartment was empty.

We did have a bit of a problem getting in because my cell doesn't work in France. I solved this problem by banging on the neighbour's door and begging to use his phone.  Artur (Arthur?) had pas de problems with me and my dumbassedness and gladly handed over the phone.

When I spoke to J, I learned that he wasn't even in Paris!  I'll admit, when he told me this, I felt a bit sick. I think he was in England.  He said that he had been emailing me for the past few days but I hadn't responded.  Whoops! Incommunicado in Paris.  He told me that I had a contract to sign, he wanted 300 euros as a security deposit and that I would have to pay 80 euros for cleaning.  I told him that none of that was on his website and that I would pay for the appartement in full, but would not pay a deposit or pay anything for cleaning.  He didn't seem particularly thrilled with this, but he agreed and said that his Uncle would let us in.  We dumped our luggage in the hall and left it there for 2 hours (I wasn't about to sit with it while we waited for the Oncle and I was certainly wasn't about to tow it around while we explored the neighbourhood).

When we returned to the flat after pigging out on French pastries and shopping at the Monoprix (the grocery across from us; they're all over Paris), Jonathan's uncle was waiting for us.  He gave us the key and departed quickly.  The flat had three bedrooms, two baths with lots of hot water and the kitchen was well-equipped and bright.  There was no tv, which was fine by me.  We later learned that the apartment was usually rented only to models but they don't "work" in August and so it was free for us to rent.  I actually wondered about the model thing when we arrived, because the apartment wi-fi code was "Parismodel" or something silly like that and there were copies of Vogue and other fashion mags on the mantle.  I suppose I was half hoping that Jonathan was some hotty male model, but alas, he was not.

Here are some pictures that I took from our fifth-floor balcony.  One is east-facing and the other west.  These photos were taken at the same time, but it appears as though I took the pictures on different days,  due to the light.

Our building's facade was very similar to this one.  The rotunda-topped edifice houses a grocery at street level.  Shopping has never been so easy!

I loved standing out on the balcony and watching the world go by.

A typical pedestrian thoroughfare in our neighbourhood.  

This place, while unassuming, had the most cheap and delicious sandwiches.  

Part two of the adventure to come.

Update -- it's here!   Part 2