That Time in Provence with the Bed Bugs

“Let’s go to Provence!” I said. “It will be fun!” I said.

We had procrastinated long enough that our beautiful Parisian apartment had been rented for the foreseeable future and we were left homeless at the end of our lease. We saw approximately 367 flats in the surrounding area, but paying top euro to overlook the train station in a dingy and possibly sinking apartment didn’t really appeal all that much to us. The moderatley priced, moderately livable apartments had somehow all been rented long ago (who are these organizational wizards that fly in and occupy all of Paris I ask you?). Our ‘plan ahead’ memo must have gotten lost in le post because we were stuck between a rock and a Gare du Nord come August 31st.

Le sighs all around, we decided to make a tarte citron out of lemons and go breathe some fresh, southern air in Provence. We packed up all our worldly possessions, decided the floor length mirror wouldn’t fit (but whyyyyyy- there is so much room on the roof!) and somehow managed to fit everything into the jenga like back seat of our Toyota Hybrid. (And yes, if you were wondering, that ‘suckz’ grafitti on the massive trash bin below is referring to our impending journey- a tell tale sign we unknowingly ignored.)

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Then as swiftly as we had come, we were off again- with only a few slight detours that often accompany any trip out of the City of Light, i.e. Is that sign pointing left? I’m sure it’s pointing left. Well, I guess it was pointing slight left which in French might actually mean right. I think these traffic signs are really just suggestions anyways.

We knew we had missed the lavender but had high hopes for the (what was sure to be) glorious fields of sunflowers that awaited us as soon as we crossed the border from city to country. I mean, they knew we were coming right? And then we saw this:

Dead sunflowers

Christophe, Flickr

That should have been the first sign to go back (not counting the ominous graffiti). Just turn around now and no one will get hurt. Mais non. Maybe if we just drive further south- perhaps they aren’t all dead? Spoiler alert: they were all dead.

But no bother, we were headed to Provence! Full of delicious food, unrivaled scenery and most importantly, cheaper living. We had done the math and were actually going to save money by spending an Indian summer in the south of France. Check and mate, thank you very much.

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Our spirits were high when we arrived in Avignon, despite the fact that it was roughly 2am and we had been driving for double digit hours (another story for another post, but I will say there was a lot of forest and a moderate amount of anxiety re: running out of gas in the middle of nowhere- thanks a lot ‘Carl’ from the GPS). After a surprisingly enjoyable nights sleep in a parking lot, we went along our merry way to meet our ‘host’ whose apartment we had rented through Airbnb.

Skipping all the particulars, suffice to say the apartment was nice enough and as a bonus, came with its very own Hobbit bathroom (no joke). Eager to get this show on the road, we quickly unloaded everything we owned into the space and set out on Provencal adventures.

Avignon Rooftops and Rhône from Palais des Papes

We had left Paris (our first mistake) and its damp, rainy September weather in exchange for the heat and sunshine of the South, and so accepted that despite our ground floor living, the windows simply had to remain open overnight. Naturally, this invited some not so awesome bugs in for the duration and we woke up the next morning looking a bit like the receiving end of a mosquito free-for-all. Two nights in and I was starting to question these Avignonians- How do they go about bug bite free all summer long? Am I just super sweet? Is it our delicate city skin?

And of course my concerns were met by Mark with, “It’s fine, really it’s fine, I promise, it’s fine.” And of course, that was the more rational answer and made total sense, so along we went. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

Before our third night we had the sense to check our arrangements and as I sat there reading I heard those three fateful words, “Okay, get up!” And there it was.

Fun fact for you: Laundromats in Provence? Just as depressing as laundromats in the US. Also, way more expensive.

Avignon Laundry Mat Fighting Provence Bed Bugs

Everything that was even remotely bed bug adjacent had to go- all suitcases, pajamas, pillows- anything. Reading about them only made it worse and soon we were in full on emergency mode. Lucky for us and the proprietors of Auchan Avignon (you’re welcome, by the way), we were able to buy everything we needed to star in our own personal version of I Am Legend.

Plastic garbage bags, disinfectant, rubber gloves, paper towels, rope (for clothes drying), scissors, ziploc plastic bags, masking tape (to write the contents of the bag, on the bag, duh), an extension cord (to help the vacuum reach the car), all the detergent in the world- you get the drift. After continuously underestimating the amount of black plastic bags we would need to to fit everything we own, we went back to that Super Walmart/Home Depot/Target/Stop and Shop hybrid of a thing no less than 10 separate times.

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I am 100% sure they thought we were about to commit a crime and 110% sure we were under surveillance. It didn’t help that we had plastered the interior of our rental with garbage bags (lest a rogue bed bug had escaped, Chuck Norrised itself into the car and was planing its attack) and looked like pretty ridiculous individuals. Don’t worry, we told everybody we met that we were from Canada.

Quarantined Provence Bed Bugs

So, after two weeks of laundering, embarrassing hotel relocations (3 Ibis‘s, a hostel and a partridge in a pear tree) and desperately seeking any apartment in Paris for a return that could not come soon enough, we found an overpriced studio in Montmartre that would have us. The fact that it looked like a cross between a sterile hospital and a spaceship didn’t hurt either- There’s no where to hide now, bed bugs!

Quarantining Provence Bed Bugs

After arriving in Paris and trying really hard not to make eye contact while unloading our thirty garbage bags full of life (try explaining that situation in broken French to your soon to be neighbors- pretty sure it’s going to end up a mess: “There are bugs in these bags! Yes, we’re so happy to meet you! We live next door!”), we were finally home. But not without some very valuable and very expensive lessons learned:

1. Don’t use Airbnb. Period.

2. Always check for bed bugs- everytime, everywhere, no excuses, play like a champion.

3. Don’t travel with everything you own in case shit happens.

4. There is always an Ibis.

5. Pizza and wine provide a level of comfort that is damn near impossible to match- it’s tough to talk about how much you’re spending on bed bug recovery when you’re stuffing your face with cheese.