Departure date for France is March 5, 2012. The tickets are purchased and the rental car is waiting at CDG in Paris. It has been a hectic and exciting preparation exercise. Here are some of the practical details, which can perhaps give a heads-up to anybody else contemplating a similar adventure.

Finances – We decided we had to have a French bank account instead of trying to deal with currency exchanges and wire transfers from home.And without a French account, you can’t get a French cell phone.  It turns out opening a French bank account is, as with so many other things French, different. It is a relationship type thing, meaning it almost always has to be done in person, face to face, with conversations, in fact, with everything except the wine. Or maybe with the wine. But also as with things French, there is one crucial document without which, with great apologies, opening the account is impossible. The facture, which is simply a receipt showing that you actually live in France and are not some beret-wearing poseur making no lifelong commitment to France sufficient to be rewarded with the privilege of opening a bank account. We obtained our precious facture from Lorraine Marine in Toul, where Hoop is moored for the winter, documentary proof that we have a location in France.

We could have waited until our arrival in France to open the account but we found that one international bank, HSBC, seemingly alone among banks with branches in both France and the U.S., will link a U.S. account with a French account, all in one online statement. We opened a U.S. account at HSBC and, voila, they’ll arrange for an account at a French branch, but only after presentation of, that’s right, the facture. HSBC seems to have  international banking, for consumers, not just mega-corporations, down pat. Good for them.

Medical insurance – After reading all about the wonders of the French medical system, we had to figure out how to get our toes over that threshold. Especially with Harvey’s history of near-death experiences every decade or so, we thought we’d better cover this base. While plenty of travel insurance policies were available, they had short terms and seemed to be designed to tide you over until you could be evacuated to the States. Investigations turned up the AARO, the Association of Americans Residing Overseas, based in Paris. They provide medical insurance to members and we signed up. Our medical insurance costs dropped by two thirds from our Massachusetts Romneycare (not that there’s anything wrong with that) to French Sarkozycare. The French policy doesn’t cover prescription medications but the government controls drugs prices. It turned out that our prescriptions in France, paying full price with a 20% tax included, will cost less than our co-pay at home.

The language – Sandra took on our communication issue with a full frontal assault. Le Monde pops up on her iPhone every morning and she works her way through. Her favorite 1,400 French words are on her vocabulary flipcards. And then in late October she took off for a month at  l’Institut du Francais in Villefranche-sur-mer, a short stroll from Nice on the Riviera. It was difficult and at times traumatic, but, ahh, the food, the wine, the company, the one-Euro fine for speaking anything but French. What a sacrifice she made, so rigorous that as graduation approached, Sandra reenlisted for a second month. After two months immersion, she was drenched in French to the point where Madame Professeur announced that Sandra’s blocage was finit. Harvey, meanwhile, is reading Marcel Marceau books to work on his French mime communication skills.

The view from l’Institut de Francais

The plan – With all the planning at home, the plan for what happens after arrival at Hoop is pretty loosey goosey. On April 1, the VNF, the French canal authority, will be pulling the drain plug on the section of canal in Toul where Hoop has spent the winter, for canal maintenance. That means we have to be under way by the end of March. We have a reservation along the Seine in Paris (doesn’t that sound fantastic) for the first week of June for the DBA (the Dutch Barge Association) summer rally. It should take about five weeks, at a casual pace, to travel from Toul to Paris, passing through 136 locks. After Paris, well, we’ll always have Paris. Who knows where we’ll go. Kids, come to France and we’ll whisper where to find us.

The route from Toul to Paris