This is the first in a series of posts describing and reflecting on our experience of moving to France just as the COVID-19 pandemic blossomed.
Part 1: Moving to France
My wife and I began planning to move to France almost as soon as we returned home from nine weeks of exploring Provence and the Côte d’Azur in the Fall of 2018. There was a brief pause in December of that year while we added Maggie, our golden retriever, to the family; but then we started talking seriously about moving. That meant giving up our home in Southern California, putting into storage those of our belongings that we wanted to keep or couldn’t get rid of, and didn’t want to take with us, and moving ourselves and Maggie to the South of France.
Our original plan revolved around the end of the lease on our condo, March 31, 2020. We thought we would move out of the condo into a short-term rental and spend a week or so on last minute preparations before flying out in April of 2020.
Carpe Diem and Dumb Luck
Then, sometime in October of 2019, as our planning and preparations seemed to be going better than expected, we began to rethink the schedule. My wife asked, “What if we could leave earlier? Would we want to? Could we get out of our lease?”. The answer to the second question was immediately “Yes”. We were eager to get on with the adventure. After working out a schedule for the things that we had to do before leaving, and allowing some buffer for bureaucratic hiccups, we decided that we could safely plan to leave two months earlier: in early February of 2020. Our landlord was agreeable, so we booked our flight, applied for our long-stay (1-year) visas, and started working the plan. As COVID-19 began spreading around the world in December and January, our attention was very focused elsewhere.
So, what does all of this have to do with the Pandemic in France? As it is in the skillful telling of a joke, timing is everything. From March 13 through March 17, France gradually locked down, starting what the French call “le confinement”. If we had stuck to our original timeline of moving in April, we would have had to cancel the trip. Our travel insurance might or might not have covered our sunk costs. We would have had to scramble to find a place to live for an indeterminate period of time in California. Given the way things have unfolded, it is likely that we would still be in California today, in mid-November of 2020.
Off to France
So, completely oblivious, on February 10, 2020 we left for France on AirFrance 65, direct from LAX to Paris CDG. We rented a van (we had a huge dog crate and six suitcases to lug with us), and took a fairly leisurely two-day drive to Beaulieu-sur-mer, on the coast of the Cote d’Azur, in the far southeastern part of France.
Our temporary home was a two-room holiday rental cottage on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean that we had stayed in during our 2018 trip. We took selfies from our balcony, went out for pizza at Les Ventes d’Anges, one of our favorite restaurants in Beaulieu, and started to settle in. The next day we swapped the van for a leased Peugeot, registered online with French Immigration, and celebrated Valentine’s Day with a romantic dinner at La Table du Royal at L’Hôtel Royal Riviera. So far, almost perfect. The plan was to spend three months in the little house in Beaulieu while we searched for a larger, more permanent place to live. That was the plan; the reality was that we had just one month of “normal” life on the Cote d’Azur before COVID-19 changed almost everything.