Wednesday, April 20, 2011

...And Don't You Come Back No More

As I was's so great to have a car this week. Yesterday, still running off the high produced by my freedom adventure this weekend,  I made my plan for the day. There are a couple of calanques south of Marseille that I've heard are beautiful and I thought I'd head down there and do a little hiking and photography. The Plan de Compagne, a centre commercial or shopping/commerical area, is right on the way and I had several little errands I needed to do there as well. Perfect! Gather map, camera, hiking boots, shopping bag, water bottle...and out the door. Let me TREAT you to another day on the road.

Marseille is only about 25 minutes south of me so this is an easy trip. I pulled into Plan de Compagne, which is just about the ugliest commercial district I have ever seen in my life. In fact, I'm always amazed with how incredibly ugly ALL commercial districts are here in France, considering how beautiful so much of it is. It's a god-awful mishmash of signs and metal box buildings, with no attempt at an sort of continuity or design. Just going there makes me all hinky. However....first stop, the little electrical appliance parts shop. My microwave is missing the glass turnplate...the part that would assure that my coffee is heated evenly! I brought along the actual part that turns the plate for size reference.

I explained what I needed and the young monsieur dug around in the back until he found one that fit.

"Oh, that looks a little big for my microwave."

"Don't worry, Madame, if you get this home and it doesn't fit, call me with the actual numbers off the microwave and I'll get you the proper part. You can exchange it."

Not good. I may not EVER get another car for said exchange.

"Okay, how much."

"34 Euros."(this translates to roughly $45)

After I picked my jaw up off the counter, I reacted in completely french fashion without a thought. (I'm getting there)

"C'est pas vrai! C'est pas possible! Non....c'est pas possible!!!!" (I also threw in some classic French facial expressions for good measure)

"Yes, madame, that is the price."

"That's more than the price of an entire microwave in the states! And I found the damned thing in the garbage can! I can't pay that price to repair something I found in the garbage can. It's just not possible"

At least this got a laugh. It did not get me a glass turnplate for my microwave.

Off to the giant-sized used furniture store. I'm looking for some old frames. I arrived at 12:10. The pull-down, metal security door was a quarter of the way down for some reason but I ventured in, hoping to find some good stuff, cheap.

"I'm sorry madame but we're closed. We open again at 2:30."

I checked the hours on the door. They close at 12:30 for a two hour lunch.

"But it's only 12:10."

"I'm sorry, but we're preparing to close. Come back at 2:30."


Off to BUT, a store that sells home items. I need a wall shelf.

Metal doors all the way down...locked up tighter than a bank on Sunday. Hours on the door? Closed for lunch from 12:30 to 2:30. It's now.... 12:15. Please keep in mind that Plan de Compagne is one of the largest commercial districts in the country. These are REALLY BIG stores. And this 2-hour PLUS lunch thing is all fine and dandy affects me!

I did find another store open and did a little tour, but I needed to get a move-on in order to get to the calanque, have my fun, and get out of Marseille before rush hour. I do not like driving in Marseille. I've been lost here before. This is the second largest city in France, with a population of almost 1 1/2 million people....a super-sized city built centuries ago. And with the construction that is going on, it's a big mess, especially for the unfamiliar.

So with my mapquest directions in hand, I headed in. As I arrived at my first, and most important turn, I realized it was blocked...for construction. I kept going hoping to find another way, as traffic got heavier, streets got narrower, and all order of any kind did a time warp back to the 17th century. After a harrowing trip through the city, trying to read, drive, and fend off the honks and gestures that seemed to be coming at me from all directions, I saw a sign directing me to Aix en Provence. And I took it. I chickened out! I bailed! I'm ashamed! But this is not a job for a person alone. It's just not. My hiking boots began to silently weep on the floor next to me. This is where I was going to go... the calanque Sourmiou. I imagine it's very beautiful.

Okay, I'll save the trip by going to Ikea. I still need a shelf.  Just follow the signs to Vitrolle. Except there are no signs to Vitrolle. I tried to take a short cut, which after driving down two streets the wrong way (more gestures and horn honking) and spilling my water all over my lap because there are no cup holders, I arrived in...Aix en Provence. Where we do not have an Ikea. Double Merde! Not to have the entire trip go completely down the drain, I headed back south to Ikea. And I did find the shelf that they've been out of for 9 months. I did! And I did have my parking place when I returned. I did not have a bottle of wine at the house when I got home! C'est pas vrai! C'est pas possible! 



  1. Trip aborted. What a grand adventure, even if you didn't get anywhere.

  2. Your description of the stores closing before time brought back one of my major frustrations with French shopping....catching the stores open!
    Because of the flaming lunch break and the price of petrol I used to group my errands as much as infuriating to find that after supermarket A, shop B in the same complex did not open until an hour later...and not even then on shop B off the list as by now depot C was off schedule....and so it went on.
    I too have had doors closed in my face...sometimes by staff running to do so as I loomed in the entrance...but the best (worst?) was at an antiques shop cum depot.
    It had nice far from nice prices...but some gems did turn up and we had seen a set of panelling we wanted and a mirror.
    Both expensive.
    We measured at home, rang them to agree the price and to say we would be back the next day in the late morning. We were held up in roadworks...the sort where they send you on a twenty mile detour into the countryside to avoid upsetting the maire by passing in front of his mother in law's door in the lane that would have been just a five minute detour.
    We arrived at ten minutes to twelve and as we pulled into the car park the assistant was pulling down the shutters.
    She looked through us as if we did not exist and continued her task.
    Now...was this the great God lunch break...or had they had a better offer for the panelling and mirror?

  3. What an incredibly frustrating day! Love the way opening hours are arbitrary.

    Good thing Ikea didn't let you down or there might have been meltdown!

    I just got back from Carrouf hoping to buy some more bamboo fencing at €9.90. There were no more. Found the same thing in another shop - €17.90! That's what I call a mark-up! I didn't buy.

  4. Well, all I can say is: You are a brave woman! I know, I know, you speak much better French than I do...but attempt this alone. I have no words! I am in awe!!!!

  5. Zut Alors! Sounds like me trying to find the science center in the middle of downtown St. Louis one long, hot, summer day with three little boys in the unairconditioned car. I could see it, I just couldn't GET to it! That trip was aborted and replaced with a trip to DQ!

    How frustrating, even ending up drenched for the lack of a cup holder. Some days, you just can't win.

    At least you scored the IKEA shelf. Whew.

  6. Commercial districts are ugly here, aren't they? They're like big aluminum boxes on the side of the road. UGLY.

  7. Awww...
    Your story reminded me of the book "Paris to the Moon", when the author goes shopping for Christmas lights and such in Paris :)

  8. I don;t venture forth much like you do. We have so much work to do here that I don't have the time, so I shop on the Internet! And yes! That does have a vague feel of me chickening out of experiences such as yours! But you tell a grand tale, and I loved accompanying you on your adventures.


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