Sometimes you follow the news…and then sometimes the news follows you.
Sunday night we had plans to leave Normandy on Wednesday. Those plans called for Bayeax on Monday, then Tuesday for the beautiful costal town of Honfleur, and then the long drive home on Wednesday morning. But the citizens of France had other plans.
Sunday morning we were running a little low on gas, so I pulled up to a gas station in Carentan, where the pumps had a hand written sign taped over the display. Roughly translated by Google, the signs said “This station commandeered for emergency vehicles.” Odd. We stopped at a few other gas stations in town…all closed, and finally just about coasted into an open one in Insigny sur Mer, about 15km away. Hmm…What was that all about?
We had heard about the strikes in France but really hadn’t paid much attention. French citizens across the country were staging protests to proposed changes of some of their social benefits. We hadn’t paid much attention, because in my experience the average strike in the US consist of a couple of guys with beer guts sitting in lawn chairs outside of a factory. They are generally distruptive to exactly nobody except the ones striking. But I’ll give the French some credit here, they know how to strike. Really.
The first objective of the strike was to barricade oil refineries, effectively starving France of gasoline. We didn’t realize this was going on, but all the while we were in France, Normandy’s diesel supplies were shrinking. In fact, by Monday when we drove past the same gas station where we had filled up in Insigny sur Mer again, it was out of diesel….and like most EU cars, The-Stupidly-Expensive-Van requires diesel. It suddenly dawned on us the gravity of the situation…we had 800km to drive to get home and not enough fuel to do it, and no way of knowing when we’d be able to buy gas again.
We decided the situation called for hitting the road a day early, foregoing our Honfleur trip (bummer). That turned out to be a good decision. The first gas station we passed on the autobahn that actually had some diesel left, had a line more than a kilometer long. We drove through towns where traffic was snarled due to waits at the gas station extending far into the streets, further complicated by cars stalling in line. It wasn’t for several hundred kilometers into our drive that we (luckily) found a gas station with diesel and some tolerable lines. That was enough fuel to get us out of France…probably…
Unless, of course, we got mired into “Operation Escargot”, which we did. Operation Escargot was an effort by French truck drivers to bring highway traffic to a stall by intentionally driving at a snail’s pace on major highways. Based on the news reports we expected to run into such protests near Paris, so we drove well north to avoid the mess, but still found ourselves in stopped highway traffic in Reims. We took a detour through downtown Reims (just cleaning up after a protest march, by the way) and were able to get out of town unscathed. Fortunately for us the country highways of eastern France were wide open most of the rest of the way home, if an hour or two later than we would have liked.
We were just about to the end of our trip, just crossing over the French border into Deutschland, when an odd thing happened. Melissa and I both voiced the same thought at the same time to each other: “It’s good to be home“.
Home? This place that we’ve only lived for three months? Where we barely speak a word of the native language? Where you can’t get mac-n-cheese or Ranch dressing? Home, where you have to bring your own bags to the grocery store? Home, where the Y and Z keys are swapped on the keyboard? Where the cars are more expensive than our first house?