“I’m in no condition to drive the six or seven hours the van rental guy says it will take to get to Brittany,” Reg, eyes blood shot and shoulders sagging said. “He says there’s an Ibis Hotel nearby. Sweet heart, I know you’re anxious to see our new home, but I need sleep. So, is the Ibis  okay with you two?”

Pat and I answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Even the cats and Sandy looked relieved.

It was late afternoon when we had possession of the van and found our way to the Ibis where they welcomed all of us, including cats and dog. We didn’t know it then but very few hotels in France have a problem with accommodating animal companions.

Pat had a room (all to herself and richly deserved) down the hall. I’m sure she collapsed as soon as she reached it. Reg and I shared our room with the cats, now contained in Sandy’s carrier, and Sandy. Our dear animal companions were looking hungry enough to devour their human companions, so I dug Sandy’s favorite Pedigree dog food and the cat food out of my luggage. One problem: I had failed to pack a can opener. Gallant Reg found the Ibis kitchen and someone to open cans.

Animals fed and less threatening, Reg went looking for human food and came back with our favorite junk food. We ate and decided against having a wake-up call since Sandy would wake us when she needed a walk. We were a day behind on our schedule but it couldn’t be helped. So we slept until Sandy, bless her, woke us at nine the next morning.

I cannot say enough good things about the Ibis chain of hotels. Reasonably priced, clean and comfy, they also provide a great buffet breakfast. Pat and I ate first while Reg walked Sandy. We left the cats in the room and hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Was it the relaxed French attitude about animals or were we becoming more confident about traveling with them?

The van loaded with luggage and animals (cats in Sandy’s carrier and Sandy sitting majestically beside Pat on the back seat), we headed out: destination Brittany!

Reg turned onto a highway packed with commuters then onto the peripheral road around Paris the van guy said would take us to the Brittany exit. I was named navigator and studied the map like I knew what I was doing. Either I didn’t (highly likely) or the van guy didn’t, because we never found the exit to Brittany. On the umpteenth tour around Paris when I was so dizzy I threatened to throw up, Reg wisely took the first exit he came to and declared triumphantly, “Hey! I think this is it!”

“You’re sure?” I asked, head hanging over a small patch of grass and seriously concerned about the condition of my stomach.

“Not positive but it sure looks like where I got off when I came over before. Good thing you got car sick.”

Was this fate or what? I wasn’t entirely convinced but anything was good that got us off that peripheral merry-go-round. As it happened, Reg was almost right. (“Almost” being the operable word here.) Pat, recalling previous trips to Paris, continued her recollections while I tried desperately to figure out road signs in French. Eventually one came up that we could read: “BRETAGNE”  

Mid-afternoon: great Ibis breakfast has worn off. Forgetting the two Holy Hours of eating, we pulled off the road to what a Texan would call a truck stop. Our famished faces pressed against the locked door, a sympathetic person inside allowed us in and we enjoyed our first authentic crepes and the ever ubiquitous Cocas (Coca Colas). We expressed our gratitude with a generous tip and were on our way again.

How Reg found his way to the agent’s office which was down a back and winding road with no signs, I will never know. I think it’s because reporters depend on remembering stuff. Whatever. We got there despite a doozey of a rain storm. The agent wasn’t thrilled by our late arrival but since papers needed signing and money needed to change hands he, being English, remained barely civil and offerred to lead us to the Notaire’s office. (Notaires conduct all property sales in France.) My Beloved Reg, known for his gentle ways, was now a bit testy and suggested Mr. Agent-Man lead us to the gite where Pat and animals could find comfort while we conducted business. Happily, the gite was on our way, so Mr. A-M agreed.

Now it was well and truly dark and stormy (I know- such a cliche) so the gite was not quite the place of comfort we had hoped for.  Pat, bless her, never said a word about it being close to freezing. She simply went in, found blankets and settled herself and animals on the sofa. We promised to bring back food as we left with Mr. Agent-Man, who was on the brink of nasty.

Buiness concluded, we found the village grocery store and had our first experience of trial by language. At check-out, the clerk, Lawrence, (girl version of boy name, quite common in France) my first and lasting to this day friend in Brittany explained (in French!) that I had bought the milk Brettons make crepes with. What we Southern folk call buttermilk. She made it clear that it wouldn’t go down well in our coffee. Despite my lack of language skills we understood one another and I found myself telling her we had bought a cottage nearby which I had yet to see. As only a French woman can, she shamed Reg into taking me to the cottage which she was familiar with. He didn’t take a whole lot of convincing when Lawrence leaned across the counter for her two obligatory kisses. Reg obliged and following her directions, sallied forth under her watchful eye to find the place.

The cottage was completely empty, had no lights, was dirty and damp and smaller than I had hoped. Reg, with trepidation and his flashlight, watched me inspect the place. I silently thanked my lucky stars that we had a gite to go to and, out loud, congratulated my Beloved on his astute purchase, suggesting we get back to the gite post haste.

We found Pat snoozing on the sofa surrounded by animal companions. Thank heavens for Pat the Brave and for the French custom of gites. I congratulated myself for convincing Pat to join our French Adventure. Then I congratulated myself for my new French friend at the grocery store who made me feel so welcome. (I still shop there and Lawrence and I have had a few giggles over our first meeting.)

With a little distance between me and “our new (albeit filthy) home”, I decided all it needed was a good cleaning. Tomorrow Pat and I would go buy cleaning stuff and give that cottage the cleaning it deserved. I was confident a thorough cleaning  would solve everything, and had my first flash of almost feeling French as I snuggled down upstairs under a duvet beside my Beloved. 

You gotta love the French for their laid-back attitude and all that kissing going on! It certainly makes everything easier! 

Little did I know what lay ahead in the week to come…