My France Fuel Fiasco

*Most adorable moment alert at the end! Skip ahead if you want.*

I decided I wanted to give the car update before Vimy and Bruges because after yesterday’s post some of you might be curious. The dash shows 6 little bars when there’s a full tank. I had 5 showing when we left for France Tuesday morning. By the time I was ready to leave the Memorial Tuesday night, I had 2 left. I thought of waiting till I was back in Belgium to get more, but when I have anything less than half a tank I get nervous. I’m like that in Canada too. I never know what to do if something goes wrong so I do my best to ensure something doesn’t go wrong.

What started out as a didn’t-quite-go-as-planned-but-we-still-made-good-time day turned into an amazing experience (more on that another day). This wonderful day turned into a nightmare as it was coming to an end. The fault is all mine and as such I sometimes felt like I didn’t have a right to be so emotional. But there you have it – that’s just the way I am. Looking back – as with most things – it wasn’t as nightmarish as I felt it to be, it just topped my list of things I never wanted to be stuck doing. Let me go through this chronologically…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 – 8pm: It had been fully dark for a little while now and I was enjoying my time at the monument with it’s ‘dramatic’ lighting. All by myself. There was literally no one there. Well, I guess there were some people walking the path that widely circles the monument, but I couldn’t see them, it was too dark out there. I did sort of see movement of people as I was getting into my car.

I looked to see how much gas I had, remembering that I needed to get more. So I planned my GPS route with a stop for gas. This is where things started to go south. I stopped at the station, but didn’t see the normal gas I usually put in the car. I knew I didn’t want diesel, so I took the other option. I paid and started driving. I managed to get on the highway again when I noticed things weren’t working right. I wasn’t able to accelerate past 90km/h. Then it got worse. I knew I needed to get off the highway if possible. I managed that, but had to come to a stop before continuing. That was tricky, I almost didn’t get going again and the last thing I wanted was to be stranded blocking traffic in a country I’m not familiar with whose language isn’t first nature to me – all this and no cell phone. By some miracle that I know was only by the grace of God I managed to get to a somewhat populated area and into a hotel parking lot before the car stalled on me. I wasn’t in a parking space – the parking circled the building, and I was just inside the gate – but thankfully over the course of that night and the next day I didn’t get a ticket or anything.

I went to the front desk. I think the guy who was manning it was also tending the bar – there was a restaurant that was attached to the hotel – and so I ‘rang’ for him and waited. He didn’t really speak any English so I was forced to explain my predicament in the best French I could – which wasn’t great, but it worked. I was trying to do this and not completely break down. As it was I was crying and that made it even more difficult to explain. He let me use the phone and I called the house. I happened to have a notebook with me that had 3 phone #s in it: Jean-Go’s, Valerie’s, and the house. I know, it was extremely irresponsible for me to forget my cell phone. I should also have had a bunch of #s written down and left in the car. Because of course, I don’t have the #s memorized because they are in my cell. And the #s are grouped differently here so it makes in confusing to try to remember them. There I go with the excuses. On with the story!

I managed to talk to Greg and he asked where I was and things like that. I didn’t even know what town I was in. The man at the desk didn’t have time to talk to Greg (he seemed to be doing a million things at once), but he handed me a business card for the hotel. That was actually really good because I needed that info the next day while taking with the insurance company. So Greg said he would call me back in a few minutes. When he did call me back we decided that because it was late there wasn’t really much I could do and I should just stay the night and deal with it in the morning. So I asked if I could book a room. Unfortunately this hotel was all full up. This immediate area happened to be sort of a hotel park of sorts, with at least 6 or 7 right there. It was explained to me that this one, and the next few were all booked up. You can imagine my reaction. I was ready to sleep in the car – I didn’t really care, I just didn’t want to get in trouble (I have no idea how those things work over here). So I started walking. I walked to the next hotel over just to test my luck. It was locked, but I happened to run into someone who must have worked there because they told me it was full, but to try Quick Palace which was just a few hotels over. I arrive at Quick Palace and it is locked as well, but again, someone who worked there was outside, let me in, and I booked a room. With breakfast it was 40 Euros. It took me a bit of effort to open the door. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be like that or if it was just me.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no phone. And the shower didn’t have a curtain or anything, it was cylindrical in shape with just an opening to get in and out (and for water to spray out if you’re not careful). I managed to calm down enough to get to sleep, but I woke up 3 or 4 times over the course of the night. The next morning I get up, get dressed, and go out for breakfast. I notice there is a payphone, but I can’t even use it. Apparently in Europe they don’t believe in using change in payphones. You have to have a phone card, or a credit card (or some other card). I don’t have a credit card here and I couldn’t use my debit. Of course this brings on a fresh bought of tears. I again manage to form some semblance of conversation with the woman working the desk (there were a couple of others there as well) and they tell me I have to go to Auchon to buy the card. It’s only a 10 min. walk, not that far. Okay, that’s doable. So I start walking. Thankfully there are a lot of signs pointing me in the right direction (in case I forgot the directions the women gave me) and after stopping at the car to make sure I had a few things I was on my way. Eventually I saw another sign telling me the entrance to Auchon was only 200m away. Now, I’m not good with distances so I didn’t know how to judge that. Also, I didn’t actually know what Auchon was – a grocery store, a gas station? I didn’t know. I ended up walking past where I had to turn to get there without even knowing it. Eventually I thought that maybe I had gone too far because I wasn’t seeing anything and I was pretty sure I had walked further than 200m. I must have looked lost and miserable (I was crying on and off the entire time) because this woman pulled on the side road near me (I was standing on a corner), got out of her car, and asked what I was looking for. And kindly pointed me in the right direction.

I should mention at this point that everyone I encountered was super nice and (for the most part) helpful. The night clerk/reception desk guy was the only one who wasn’t so patient, but I can excuse that because he was the only one there and had a job to do which didn’t include catering to the unfortunate happenings of a young women crying her eyes out in his hotel. Eventually I saw a sign for Auchon – a gas station. I walked over there before I realized that what I was looking for was actually a grocery store, Auchon the grocery store. I saw it across the road from Auchon the gas station. What I didn’t realize at first was that it was part of a mall and I had to go in one of the mall entrances to get to the store. I figured this out after walking most of the length of the mall. Again, I wasn’t really in a good state of mind at this point. And it gets worse. So I go in. I sort of stand there not really knowing where to look when I decide to get in line at a check out because usually they have things like card at the check out. When I finally talked to someone she told me that ‘no, they don’t have them you need to go to a phone store’. I was pretty sure I said it wasn’t a cell phone thing I was looking for and I’m also pretty sure that she said the word for payphone, but I felt like we got our wires crossed somewhere. So I locate this phone store. Well, what do you know? The girl working there tells me they don’t have what I’m looking for, that I can get those at Auchon. I was so distraught. I went back into the grocery store and went looking for an employee that wasn’t busy. I walked up to these two women who were handing out free chocolate and I couldn’t hold back anymore – I started bawling. I was crying so hard I couldn’t even talk. I kept trying to say sorry because I hadn’t even been able to explain what my problem was before I broke down. The one offered me chocolate, but I couldn’t eat. I could barely eat anything for breakfast, I only did because I had paid for it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed that I couldn’t eat before – maybe on the day of my Laurier audition – but I don’t know. I just kept saying ‘sorry’ and ‘I just need to cry for a bit’. Eventually I calmed down enough to explain a few things. I’m Canadian. I’m living in Belgium right now. I put the wrong gas in my car and it broke down. I don’t have a cell phone. I need to find a phone card, but I keep getting told different things. I felt like I was walking in circles and was getting very discouraged. The one women took me with her to ask someone else, who in turn went to ask another person. The first women even offered to let me use her cell phone! I declined because I had to make a call to the insurance company and I didn’t know how long it would take so I needed to get a card.

Finally we found out that I had to go to ‘La (le?) Presse’, a place that sells magazines, lotto tickets, things like that. And there I was fortunate enough to find what I was looking for. This calmed me down a little. Then came the next part; trying to make an insurance call in a foreign language. The first man I talked to, thankfully, spoke English – actually, they all did. I think with yesterday and today I talked to 4 representatives. It turns out I forgot a crucial piece of paper in the car and I needed it or they couldn’t help me. So I told him that I would have to go get it and call back. The walk back took me longer because I was so tired – physically and emotionally. I wasn’t even wearing my running shoes so my feet hurt. Not too bad, but enough that I just didn’t want to walk anymore. After grabbing the required papers I thought I would walk back to the Quick Palace instead of all the way back to the mall. Mistake. The doors were locked. From 11am-5pm the front desk is closed. You can only get in if you have a room key with the code on it. Since I only stayed the one night I no longer had my room key. So I waked back to the mall. I feel like I didn’t this more than twice, but that might just be my mind playing tricks on me. Before walking back to the car I had actually called Adeline just to say that I was still alive, ha ha.

So I make it to the mall again and contact the insurance. We get everything figured out and it was decided that a tow truck will pick me up and take me to the nearest Toyota dealer/garage. She wanted a number she could reach me at, but I didn’t have one so I told her I could wait near the pay phone. She said that it would most likely be an hour for the truck, but to wait by the phone for 5 minutes; she would call back if it was going to take longer. I waited 10, no call. So I left. At this point it’s after lunch. I had walked around in a daze for a little over 3 hours trying to get this sorted out. I finally got back to the car. The truck arrived at about 1:45. I again explained my situation, but most of the drive was in silence – at least from me. He made a few phone calls, I think something wasn’t going right, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t really paying attention, I was just trying not to cry/fall asleep. Once at the garage things started sort of falling into place. The woman working there called Eurocare (the insurance company I had been in contact with) because my French wasn’t quite up to snuff with the vocabulary I needed to use. Bottom line; the car wouldn’t be ready that day. I had a choice – stay in a hotel (I would be reimbursed for up to 4 nights) or take the train home and then back to pick up the car (I would also be reimbursed for this). Since I didn’t have any other clothes with me or anything (thankfully I had decided to bring my glasses along for the drive home!) I just really wanted to get ‘home’. I wanted to be back in Belgium, on ‘familiar’ territory. It wasn’t all that different in this part of France, it was just that I was in another country. I had been stranded in France. Oh boy. They gave me a ride to the train station even though it wasn’t that far from the garage – only a 6 minute walk. I happened to get there in decent time to catch a train to Namur. I was in Douai by the way. I asked if there was a payphone near by because I wanted to give Adeline an update. It didn’t work. Okay. So I took a train from Douai to Lille, which is quite close to the Belgian border (it’s actually wear Adeline bought her wedding dress), that was about 20 minutes. I had all of 5 minutes to catch my connecting train from Lille to Namur. We were a little late and I missed it. I was also looking for Namur on the screens that tell you which platform you need to go to, but what I needed to look for was Tournai, but I didn’t know that. I went to information and they said I could just take the next train in an hour. So instead of arriving in Namur at 5:30, I would get there at 6:30. I looked at this as a little blessing because I was able to give Adeline a heads up as to when I would be arriving in Namur. I got her answering machine and said I would try to call back again before I got on the train. I didn’t call back.

I was just sort of wandering around. I stepped outside a couple of times (from two different entrances) to see a bit of Lille, but I didn’t want to stray too far. I ended up meeting this guy. Kid. He was 19. His name was François-Rémy. He was actually from the centre of France (I can’t remember and didn’t know how to spell his town’s name) and I missed why he said he was in Lille. He was excited because he could practice his English. He hadn’t had a chance for a while. We both lamented on the education systems in our respective countries on how we take French (or English) for so many years (mandatory 9 for me), but it doesn’t actually prepare us to make conversation. We also talked about some of the differences between Québec (Canadian French), France, and Belgium French. And how in Belgium a cell phone is called a GSM and in France it’s a portable. In England it’s a mobile, and in North American it’s a cell phone. He was pretty cool. He was surprised when he found out my age. I had explained how Jean-Go came to live with my family 15 years ago, when I was 10. He said ‘you’re 25?!’. I have no idea how old he thought I was…I didn’t have any make-up on and I can only imagine how I looked after crying all day. The end of the hour was fast approaching. I really didn’t want to miss another train so I didn’t have a chance to call back Adeline. F-R and I said our goodbyes and nice to meet you’s and I hopped on the train. For the next two hours I just sat listening to an audio book. I was going to sleep, but I couldn’t really. When I got to Namur I searched out the exit and another pay phone. Thankfully I was able to use my debit card with this one. I called Adeline and she said that Greg was on his way and told me where to meet him. I went outside and a minute or two later Greg pulled up. I explained more fully what had happened and my day so far. I was then silent for most the rest of the trip – zombie like.  We arrived home and I was so relieved. We had supper and I went to take a shower because some guys were supposed to come and fix the furnace today and tomorrow and would be cutting off the heat – so no heat or hot water. Then I went to bed.

The guys didn’t come today. I don’t know what’s happening now in that regard. I spent most of the day just chilling, glad to be home, in my room. I picked up Bastien from school and was relieved to be doing something normal. The car was actually ready this afternoon, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the train station, catch a train, and be there before they closed today so I’m going tomorrow. I have plans to catch the 9:30 train. If all goes well I should be back in time to pick up Sylvain!

There is one really, really adorable thing I need to mention that happened this morning. Sylvain still isn’t walking on his own, but he’s getting pretty good at walking while just holding one hand. So he was walking with me and I passed him on to Adeline. Then she passed him on to Bastien who wanted to walk with his brother. They actually walked quite a ways, hand in hand. It was seriously the cutest thing I think I’ve seen the entire time I’ve been here. The height difference and everything, and just the fact that they’re two brothers. A lot of the times when Bastien tries to interact or play with Sylvain he has to stop because he’s being too rough. Or he’ll be ‘reading’ and Sylvain will try to take the book from him. I think all of us were a little misty eyed at the scene played out before us this morning. It was definitely something we wish we could have on camera. Also, they’ve decided that we need to start breaking it gently to Bastien that I’m going to be leaving and not coming back (at least not to live). It’s a rough age to have another person come live with you and help take care of you. He thinks he has 3 parents: Maman, Papa, and Holly. I guess Tuesday night he was asking where Greg and I were. Adeline explained Papa is coming home late, but Holly isn’t tonight. It’s definitely important to prepare him, instead of me just suddenly disappearing. He doesn’t quite understand that I have to go home. I’m sure if we start now he’ll be fine. Maybe not at first, but ultimately, he’ll be fine. And we’ll have Skype, so it’s not like he can never see me again.

I think this actually has to be the longest post I’ve written. About 3750 words. Woah man. Maybe it would have been good as two. Oh well. Now you know. Good learning experience? I guess it depends. I was forced to do things on my own that I’ve ever had to do before and in a foreign country no less, so I guess I’ve grown a bit as a person. I just would have preferred personal growth to not come at the expense of someone else’s property. 😦

 

                                                                                                                      

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12 Comments

  1. Well, if this doesn’t prepare you for life on your own, I don’t know what will! You survived and quite well I might add! Bravo Holly! 🙂

    Reply
    • This is true. I’ve departed with leaps and bounds from the person I was when I stepped through airport security in Toronto last December. I will never be quite the same. That is a good thing. 😉

      Reply
  2. Amazing girl, even I would have cried at the terrible horror of dealing with all of that stuff…lol You’re freakin’ awesome you know that? sure, you must! you’re brave and tough and you’ve got my respect bigtime!

    T.

    Reply
    • Even though I was the one who caused all the trouble in the first place? 😉 Thanks T, that means a lot. I get the feeling that respect from you is not easy to come by that you have to earn/deserve it. So I appreciate it. ^_^

      Reply
  3. Oh you poor sweetie! I just want to give you a hug. So sorry this happened to you–the nightmare of this line: “wanted was to be stranded blocking traffic in a country I’m not familiar with whose language isn’t first nature to me – all this and no cell phone” is enough to start any ghoulish Halloween story, but leave it up to you to end such a misadventure into something sweet in the image of brothers holding hands and walking. This is you Holly. 🙂 As I’ve said before, make sure you back up your files in this blog because you don’t want to lose any of the wonderful posts you’ve written. Going to FB this now 🙂

    Reply
    • A virtual hug is almost as good as a real one, it’s the thought that counts!!! I love hugs. ^_^ The only reason I ended it the way I did was because the cute story happened yesterday morning and I still wanted to do the usual ‘this happened today’ thing. Thank you for saying my posts are wonderful! Thanks for FB-ing it!!!

      Reply
  4. OH MY. And here I was preparing to read a version of Fawlty Towers gone sideways. Holy Holly. Glad you are safe and sound. Not sure I’d have been as composed as you were since I know nothing of French and even less of fuel. I’d likely have done the same or worse. Forgive yourself because it really could have been so much worse. With my luck of late, I’d likely have caused a freeway accident. Hope you feel okay now… Hugs xo

    Reply
    • Fawlty Towers? The car is safely in Wasseiges and I’m fine. It was really just an unnecessary/unneeded event. But I guess all things like that are the two u’s. If this would have happened even 3 months ago (let alone 10 months ago) I would not have handled it as well. I might have just sat in a corner and cried…and cried, and cried, and cried, and you get the picture, lol. Thanks for the hugs!

      Reply
  5. That is so adorable! =]

    Reply
    • I hope you mean the brothers holding hands :P. It was the perfect picture moment. I love getting pics of people’s backs as they’re walking. Is that odd?

      Reply

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