With our home found and the contract signed and deposits paid, everything squared away with work, furniture and belongings on their way to France, dog vaccinated, flights booked (£1k for two adults a child for flights from Manchester to Montpellier with a change in Paris. I told them I wanted a flight, not to buy the plane) and having said an emotional “A bientot” to Family and Friends, the only thing that was left to do was actually travel. The last few weeks before we went seemed to drag. It didn’t help that I was away from home a lot on work, leaving my wife to sort the moving of the furniture and boxes. Before we could leave, we had to clean up the house and get rid of a lot of items we weren’t taking. Luckily, we know a few people who at the same time were setting up their own first homes, so small appliances, crockery, cutlery, ironing boards, etc. found their forever homes.
As the flight was at 0800 on a Friday morning, we decided we would break up the trip with a hotel stop, locally to Manchester airport the night before, rather than travelling with a baby and a pup at 4am in the morning. At least everyone would be rested. We still had a lot to do on the final day at our old home and arranged to hand our keys back at 4pm on the Thursday. We decided that my wife and the little ones should travel to Manchester before me, and get settled in the hotel, and I would stay behind and do the rest of the housework, tidying, and then bring all our cases on the train later.
My best friend, as luck would have it was around on the day, having taken a week off from work. He very kindly offered to help, and he dropped everyone off at the train station to make their onward travels before coming back to the house. We got in a few tip runs, a trip to the shredders to destroy about 120 years worth of personal documents and a cheeky McDonald’s (Big tasty, since you asked, and still to this day the last McDonald’s I had in the UK). He left about 2.30pm, and I had an hour and a half to scrub away at the toilet and just make sure everything looked spick and span for handover of the keys.
When the landlords came, they were very pleased with the upkeep of the house, and commented how we had treated the house with respect. Then they offered me a lift with my cases and a giant hand luggage which contained the PS4, games, my own laptop and my work laptop and peripherals. I felt like my shoulder was going to drop off. But it was such a whirlwind that I hadn’t stopped to be sad about what I was leaving behind.
When I got to the hotel near Manchester airport, the little one was asleep already but the dog was hyper. So I found myself taking him for a walk to do his business. It hadn’t really sunk in that the next day I was leaving the UK and heading for a new life in France. Everything had been so routine and mechanic to get to this point. I was still ticking items off a list.
The next morning, we got up and showered at 5am, letting the baby sleep until 6am. Then we headed over to the airport via the hotel shuttle service. Check in was painless, and the run through security and getting the dog checked over to ensure it was safe for him to travel (and that we had his pet passport and his vaccinations were up to date) was relatively easy. As we were also travelling with baby milk, this had to be checked and we had to almost unpack one whole piece of hand luggage to get the baby milk out. We had packed enough to ensure we had sufficient for travel and then a couple of days after arriving. We were almost waved through, easily and packed all our baby supplies and documents back in the bag. It was all going so smoothly, we both remarked over our final Costa Coffee breakfast.
Our first flight to Paris was on time. It was only as the plane took off that I truly realised this was it. I was on the cusp of a tear or two, sadness at what I was leaving behind but also excitement at a new life. My wife, I think, could sense I was a little emotional and just held my hand as we sat in silence as the houses and fields of Manchester shrank beneath us.
We landed at Charles De Gaulle airport, and as we were entering a new country had to go through Passport control. We only had 50 minutes for connection. CDG airport is efficient enough to get through quite quickly to connect, and luckily for us, our luggage was being automatically transferred too. We were about to join Passport Control queue when we stopped at some benches to get our passports and documents out of our hand luggage.
The baby’s milk had leaked all over the passports and documents.
We had a couple of small packs of tissues and quickly began mopping up, separating the pages of the passports, drying them and then putting a tissue between the pages so they wouldn’t stick together. My wife took the worst affected (the pet passport, and the only one that had handwriting in which had bled a little) into the bathrooms and held it under the hand drier for 5 minutes.
When we had got them as dry as could be, we rushed through Passport control, just in time to join the already boarding flight to Montpellier. We were too flustered now to be overwhelmed by the move, if that makes sense. The soggy passports had brought us back down to earth. Luckily, both the little ones we were travelling with were good as gold, and making it really easy on us.
We boarded the flight and took the uneventful one hour trip down to Montpellier. Montpellier airport has one airbridge, and that was in use, so we had to get off the plane down the steps. That meant being exposed to the elements. We stepped off the plane, in late September, into 30+ degree heat. We had left 8 degrees in the UK! Suddenly, it didn’t feel like we were moving, but that this was just a holiday. A break to sunnier skies.
Because Paris to Montpellier was an internal flight, we didn’t have to have our passports checked, so we went straight through to collect our luggage from the carousels. They were already turning. We couldn’t see our luggage but generally we know that there are multiple carriages of bags and cases so we must have been one of the later ones. So we waited.
An impending sense of something being wrong started to grow. My spider-sense was tingling.
I’ve been on hundred of flights in my life. I’m lucky that my job involves international travel, and was lucky growing up to have so many holidays abroad. Up until this point, not once had we had any issues with luggage going missing. We were still waiting, along with a few others when an Air France representative approached with a piece of paper and read out the names of some passengers / families. Our names were on the list.
As it turns out, our bags were (and those of others) were still on the tarmac in Paris. We had managed to make the 50 minute connection, but our bags had not. The lady from Air France dealt with each family in descending order, starting with those that were likely to kill and maim for their luggage first and moving down to those who were calm. I would say I was right in the middle of that particular spectrum. Bear in mind that as mentioned previously, our belongings had been delayed getting into France, so in my head, I’m thinking “we have nothing” but the reality was far from that. I felt for some of those who had luggage missing, as they were staying in the city for a few hours before moving on. We were okay really as were going to be living locally. Air France were going to fly the luggage down on the later flight. Those who were on holiday and impacted were offered money to cover expenses, etc. Because we were living locally, we were offered a toothbrush and a semi-transparent XXL, white t-shirt.
If you’re asking, I did bloody well take them. You can take the boy out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the boy. Owt for Nowt.
So we left with our toothbrush and t-shirt, baby and dog, damp passports and a PS4 and stepped out into the arrivals terminal to be greeted by my Mother-in-Law and her partner, who were picking us up. As discussed in a previous blog, my language skills were not quite on point (well, non-existent would be better way of describing at that point). We all greeted each other warmly in the limited French I knew, but then the conversation moved on and very quickly passed me by as I was exposed to the language. Trying to keep up was exhausting. They gave us a lift to our home, a short 10 minute drive from the airport. My Mother-in-Law already had the keys, and (bless her) had done a small shop for us, so the fridge was full.
Within 5 minutes of arriving, the landlord turned up and decided he wanted to do the inventory and also move out some of the furniture that we had decided we didn’t want to keep. So within an hour of landing in France, we had been told our luggage was missing, arrived in our new home with nothing and now I was throwing sofas over the balcony. We had a dog running around, and a baby babbling at everyone. It’s fair to say I was starting to become a bit overwhelmed by it all. Once the landlord left, my Brother-in-Law arrived and we walked thirty seconds and over the road onto the beach.
I can’t quite remember how, but I found myself alone stood at the waters edge on the sandy beach, in the heat of the day. I was staring, glass-eyed out at the sea trying to absorb everything, and I think it was my Mother-in-Law who realised I was overwhelmed. She made an executive decision decision to leave us alone for the day, making sure that my Brother-in-Law could take us back to the airport to pick up luggage in the evening, and agreeing to take us to Ikea the day after to buy a sofa and other goods.
We did end up getting the luggage back in the evening, but that first day was an absolute whirlwind. That being said, it could have gone so much more wrong than it did. Looking back now, the process and journey to get here was easy compared to some of the horror stories that you hear. I’m extremely thankful for the support network that we had (and still have and rely on) here in the South of France. We couldn’t have done it without them.