Avec un chat.
Eight months ago, I moved to the UK. Having fallen in love with Manchester while living with an English ex-husband for a year in my early twenties, I knew I'd return to the northwest one day. As a kid who moved around a lot, it was the first place that ever felt like home.
A year ago, I met a lovely man from Cheshire who invited me to stay with him while I got myself settled, and so the relocation planning commenced.
Having the luxury of an Irish passport helped a great deal, as I didn't need to worry about work visas; however, it soon became clear that moving me was not going to be the most difficult element of the journey.
My dog and cat are my dear children. My priority for this move was to ensure neither of them would be relegated to a cargo space in the belly of an aircraft. Upon initial investigation into airline policies, one critical issue became clear: under no circumstances are animals allowed into the UK while traveling in the cabin of a plane, train, or accompanied by a human via ferry. For many people, this is acceptable. For people with animals larger than the space beneath an airline passenger seat, this is typically a given. For me? Unacceptable.
The ins and outs of my non-human travel planning will no-doubt appear in a secondary 'Fieldnote' (as there is a scarcity of online guidance and details for others in my position), but in a nutshell, I screwed up, despite my best efforts.
It's always when I rush or try to cut a corner that I fumble. I was delighted to find a service to drive me, my friend from the UK, and these two fur babies from Paris to Calais, and through the 'Chunnel' to London. It would not be cheap, but I would have been paying roughly the same to fly two children to England, so it felt reasonable. The driver sent guidance regarding the kind of paperwork I would need to secure a European Pet Passport at the border, and I set about making veterinary appointments. Again, as the details of those documents shall be discussed in another post, I'll sum up what happened...
My cat and I became stranded in France.
At the border, we discovered that all documents were in order for my dear pooch, Chico, but my seventeen year-old cat Min had traveled sixteen days too early for her rabies vaccination to pass muster. In a tearful panic, with our driver shrugging and looking at his watch, I sent my human travel companion to finish the journey with Chico, while I figured out what to do with Min for the next fortnight, in France. Nota bene: I acknowledge the very privileged status I hold as a middle class white woman, and so any complaints I make are hereby recognized as silly on the grand scale, even if I experienced personal discomfort. My refusal at Calais is positively nothing compared to the experiences of thousands upon thousands of refugees who have been hopeful and desperate in the same city.
Having been to Paris for three days once before during an ugly breakup years prior, it seemed the logical choice for a respite as I'd already explored that city alone in the past. I spent one teary night in a budget motel in Calais, and boarded a train for Paris the next morning. The two of us were exhausted following our international voyage and shared stress, and I frantically estimated costs for an unintended two week trip to Paris, on top of an already expensive relocation campaign.
Thank heavens for Airbnb. I stayed in four arrondissements during our exile: the 8th, the 14th, the 19th, and the 3rd, in that order. It still amazes me that I was able to find kind, budget and feline friendly accommodation at a moment's notice. Paris on under $75 a day is possible: good wine, bread, and cheese are affordable. Châteauneuf-du-Pape at Lidl for €12, fresh pastries on the cheap, and an abundance of beautiful parks and other sites from which to daydream. I walked more than 50 miles in two weeks. All good things.
However, I was lonely. I didn't want to subject Min to additional stress so I stayed in to cuddle with her in the evenings and late into the mornings. I don't speak French, and so I had very little human conversation during this time, which affected me more than anticipated. Additionally, I was in the throes of a major, admittedly impulsive life change which likely contributed to a finishing the bottle and crying myself to sleep each night.
I kept a stiff upper lip, posting smiling pictures of myself on social media, and "liked" the friendly-sarcasm of comments that read "oh you POOR dear -- how AWFUL to be stuck there!"
At one point, Min and I found ourselves truly and literally trapped. With luggage in tow, we didn't make it through the taller glass barriers that prevent turnstile hopping in the Metro before the turnstile itself locked behind us. My ticket had been used and for a moment we were the living metaphor of our situation -- having gone far enough that we couldn't turn back, yet stopped at the threshold of free movement. I froze. Min howled. Two women approaching the gates were startled by the unexpected meow and quickly realized our plight. The strangers sprang into action, and wordlessly, one used her metro pass to free me while the other untangled the caught straps from Min's case. A moment of pure kindness set us free.
I hope to avoid public transportation and pet hiccups like that in the future, and I'm working on slowing down to enjoy my surroundings. Walking more, hunting for quality wine deals, embracing time alone. I've found a job I love and I'm launching a weekend retreat version of the Travel for Writers trips I've co-hosted for the past five years. My heart is on the mend. I'm navigating by starlight and tentatively accepting support from new friends. I'm discovering a new life that's unfolding in unexpected, humbling ways. This move has not turned out at all as I had imagined. It's been much harder than expected -- emotionally, physically, and financially. But I have Chico and Min with me. Stranded is OK, for now. It has to be.