Saturday, October 3, 2009

Camping, Fiat, René, and the rest of the story.....maybe

By Claire
Yesterday was a very hard day. I was very uncomfortable standing in the Dealership office while Chuck listened to René talk on and on, all the while with the service manager, Yves, watching. It was his phone and his dime. He had a look that alternated between a frown and puzzled confusion on his face, maybe even one of disbelief. It seemed that he couldn’t believe a conversation could be so one sided. He raised his eyebrows at me, shrugged his shoulders and even laughed, but I felt very tense. After all, it was a long distance call. Chuck finally got a few words in and hung up. The camper situation was still at a stalemate. This was the conversation where René called the Fiat guys every name in the book claiming they were screwing us. Joseph took some photos of the transmission area inside Homer and emailed them to René. This was all very difficult for us due to the language issues and both sides claiming they were right. We were caught completely in the middle and nothing was moving forward. We decided to head back to the campground where we had internet access and friendly help from Jérome. We emailed René explaining again that we were completely stuck, living in a parking lot with no resolution in sight. Chuck and I talked about the option of getting the car towed back to Amsterdam where BW could do the work. We talked to Jérome about it; but, even though he is wonderfully helpful, language is still an issue. When I asked him if he knew how to find someone to tow the camper, he didn’t know what I meant. It took awhile using other words: transport, carry, etc. He finally got it but had no idea where to find someone to do that. I think it just seemed like an appalling thing to do. In our email to René we mentioned this option telling him that we would need him to make the arrangements for the transport. After about 90 minutes we received an email response telling us that after we got the camper to Amsterdam, there would be no charge to us to have it fixed. No mention was made about how to get the camper to Amsterdam. Jérome let Chuck use the phone, even dialing for us after we failed twice. Chuck explained to René again our situation and the fact that we don’t have phones, nor would we know how to set something up. He announced to Chuck that he was driving down from Amsterdam with a rig to carry the camper back and we would go with him. We were very relieved by this news. Suddenly, things were happening. We talked to Jérome some more and he wanted to know where we were staying because we had removed everything from our campsite that we had left behind to mark it (table, chairs). We told him about the parking lot and he suggested we stay in one of the “mobilettes”. He told us the price was €53 but he would let us have one for €40. We sat in the car talking about it and made a quick decision that it really made sense to stay at the campground where it was comfortable, friendly, and beautiful and we would have WiFi.

Jérome, Camping St. Michel

We are anxious to move on but will miss our little town of Courtils and Camping St. Michel. This is a wonderful area and we have traveled all over the back country roads by car and by bike, really getting to know it. In fact, be careful what you wish for. One of my strongest wishes was to avoid the major motorways and spend time driving through the country.....

We drove back once again to the Fiat Dealer and packed up what we thought we would need for the next few days. By now it was after 5 and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I had spotted a McDonald’s and decided instantly that we should go there. It would be cheap, it was open and serving (you cannot get dinner before 7 pm in a restaurant), and maybe it would be easy. I haven’t been to a McDonald’s in 10 years, the last time in Rome! I have to say, it was delicious! Just what we needed. Chuck even got a special cappuccino milkshake (a petite French serving size—no supersizing here!).

We relaxed a little then realized it was Friday and we needed to check in with Nadine at Garage Roussel about dropping off the rental! We weren’t even sure they would be open on Saturday or if they would still be open now! We raced off (once again, thank you Suzette for getting us all over the countryside) and then got sidetracked about buying a toilet brush for the camper. We passed our favorite supermarket, Carrefour, ran in and found a good deal. However, the French do not rush. The checker is relaxed, sitting on her chair as she carefully scans each item. The customer carries on a conversation, sometimes lasting long after the bill is paid. We tried hard not to be typical type A Americans. The whole thing was crazy, I know, but that’s how brains work under stress. We should have been concentrating on getting to the rental agency since it was now 6 pm. Back on the road we made it at about 6:15 and found Nadine. Everything was fine and they are open until 5 pm today (Saturday). She and one other guy were the last ones there as it was past closing time.

René told Chuck he would arrive Sunday morning. We were really elated. At least we might get back on the road by Wednesday, starting all over again from Amsterdam. Today we headed back to the Fiat Dealer to arrange things with them. Chuck had naturally offered to pay them for their time and service. Everyone was very friendly, all smiles, hands out to shake. The bill came to €147.38.

Joseph, Mechanic-- Chuck originally thought the other mechanics were calling him Josette and when he repeated it he got strange looks.

Yves, Service Manager

Meanwhile, our mobilette is great! We had some wine last night and talked about what book Chuck should read next, going over our entire list of books on our Kindles, getting newly excited over books we forgot we had. We slept pretty well, too, although the bed was nowhere near as comfortable as our camper bed. Now we just have to deal with the rental car and a taxi to get back to the Fiat parking lot where René will pick us up in the morning, sometime between 5 am and 9 am, hopefully. He told Chuck he would be knocking on Homer's door with a smile on his face. The good news is, the sun is out and it's another beautiful day.

Our new home

Living room


On a final note, I have to say that Chuck has been amazing. He just jumps right in with a “bonjour” then a “Parlez-vous anglais?” Throws in a couple of "S'il vous plaits", many, many, many “mercies” and whatever hand gestures he feels completes the picture. In fact, when we were in St. James yesterday (was it really only yesterday?), we were looking for the post office and he stopped a man on the street with the usual openings, above, asking for the post office. The man said he didn’t speak English but that didn’t stop Chuck. He launched into an amazing pantomime of writing a letter, sealing an envelope, opening a mailbox and dropping it in. “Aaaahhhhh” the man said, smiling. “Poste!” He pointed to the street we needed to turn down. He has also done all the communicating with everyone concerning the camper, talked with René on the phone, talked to Nadine about the car and pretty much just taken charge of everything. I am truly impressed. It’s nice to get to know the person you’re married to even better.

I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. ~ Mark Twain


Diane said...

What an eventful day you had! I'm sure you are ready to get this saga behind you and get back on the road. It sounds like Rene will do the right thing. The best thing about this major challenge is how you two work so well together--something like this could be the down fall of some couples--you two were meant for each other! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a positive resolution and Homer's full recovery--love, Diane

Chuck and Claire said...

This trip has more than met my expectations, even with the problems. It's been amazing in terms of our relationship and just working with all these people and getting to know how other cultures live. I wouldn't trade any of it.