Sunday 28th March - D day
We shoved the car and the van full of all the things that would not fit into the lorry on the Thursday and any last remaining washing, suitcases, dogs, quilts, pillows and the all important portable DVD player for my 8 yr old. We bid a tearful farewell to my dad and friends and started our epic journey to the South west of France. After a few loo stops for the dogs and children we arrived at Dover ferry terminal 10 minutes too late to catch the ferry! Fortunately, the next ferry was available so we loaded and I slept for the short crossing to muster the energy for the next leg.
The route we had chosen was to minimise the cost of the toll roads, as in France if you use the motorways most of them are chargeable. We had worked out for the two vehicles from Calais to Auvillar via Tours, it would cost us about €160. In fact, with the deviation to Tours to spend the night with friends the tolls had just cost us €98 and 4 tanks of diesel with the two cars, so if you decided to drive on the motorways through France, be creative, also look for the motorways that do not charge. We used one from Castelroux to Montauban and it was free for most of that section.
Monday 29th March
We arrived in Miradoux at 3pm for an appointment with the Notaire to finalise the purchase. We spent the next 2.5 hours going over documents and signing a mini rainforest, while the dogs and kids got irritable outside. Finally we arrived at our new house with the estate agent and a huge bag of unlabelled keys. We were in!
Everyone was excited……………. Except me! I dont know why really, perhaps it was because I was tired from the journey, perhaps it was because I had been to the house many times before, perhaps it was the text I had received as we drove up the drive to say our furniture was not going to arrive for a week, or perhaps it was reality had finally smacked me in the face!
Equally, the pool equipment had been taken, some of the firebacks we had bought at the auction were missing, the place looked like it needed far more work than I thought and it was cold! Not a good start.
However, don’t let anyone tell you the French are arrogant or un-friendly………. They are definitely not. We had only been at the house an hour and a local farmer dropped by as he had seen strange cars in the drive and wanted to check all was ok. I explained who we were, pleasantries were exchanged and he told me that since the furniture auction he had dropped by twice a day to ensure all was in order and the place was secure, how nice. Shortly after a car pulled up and out jumped a woman I had met at the auction to welcome us to our new house (she was the daughter of the farmer who had been looking out for us). We greeted each other in the customary French way and she asked if we had all we needed. At this point I was close to tears and explained that we had nothing until next week! So I was hustled into her car and taken to her parents’ farm just up the road to gather items we would need for the next week. Towels, cutlery, eggs, lettuce etc… and 10 minutes later in a trailer on the back of her husbands car a fridge freezer……… wow how kind of them.
After finding out how to turn on the electricity and water I cobbled together and excuse for a meal with sausages I had brought from the UK, bread from the bakery, lettuce and a fried egg. After washing up with cold water decided it was best to go to bed to keep warm and start afresh the next day. We had not sussed the heating system and it was only 8 degrees outside… freezing. Where was the warm weather we had come all this way for?
Tuesday 30th March
No phone or internet! Complete nightmare. Enlisted the help of friends in Tours to search out the best deal on the internet. Best package found was with SFR which was unlimited calls to the UK day and night and 2.8mbit internet access including line rental for €34 per month (we cannot get faster internet as we are in the country). My UK phone bill is going to be a nightmare this month, but needs must!
Found the local supermarket and stocked up on essential food items and the all important alcohol; I was going to need it, if nothing else but to keep me warm. Early evening my new friend arrived with her son and sorted out how to start the heating system. Only hot water for a wash really, so open fire was the order of the day, well every day so far! Other neighbours arrived and offered their services. We gladly accepted help with a battery charger for the mower and went for drinks that evening. After rather too many alcoholic beverages we arrived home at midnight.
Wednesday and Thursday 31st and 1st April
Still no credit cards or cheque book from our new bank! Now running dangerously short of cash and Easter break just around the corner. I called the bank to discover that they had in fact (despite telling my husband they were being produced only days before) sent them to our old UK address on 9th March!! After a number of highly charged phone calls later, my sister came to the rescue and collected them from our old address and arranged a special delivery to arrive with us for the early part of next week. Eeking out €80 over 5 days with diesel needed would not be easy.
Our daughter Megan’s 17th Birthday. She is in love with the house and France and I feel very upset for her that she has to stay in the UK and finish her A levels. However, to move to France in the middle of exams is just not an option and as she will be living with my sister and coming out at every opportunity, I hope it will not be too painful for her. I also intend to return to the UK every so often to see her and break up the term times, as well of course to catch up with friends and fill a suitcase with things from the UK that are cheaper than in France! Equally now she is 17 she can start to drive and she will be taking lessons as soon as she returns to the UK after the Easter break. She is so desperate (like most 17 yr olds) to be independent.
We had a day of sight seeing today and went to Auvillar, Saint Nicholas de la Grave and the lake where during the summer months you can hire boats, windsurfers, canoes etc.., then on to Moissac to look at the Cloisters and then on again to Lauzerte, which is a beautiful bastide town on a hill top, and all attractions within only 35 minutes North of Le Farat. We are located exactly on the border of Gers and Tarn et Garonne so are close to Auch, Lectoure to the South West, and Montauban and Toulouse East are within an hour, so lots to see and do. Equally, Auvillar and Bardigues, our local villages are on the famous walkway Saint Jacques de Compostelle, so hopefully anyone walking by from June this year may want to stop the night in our new B&B (chamber d’hote)!
Farmers markets selling local produce are everywhere in the area and there is one each day of the week at a different village or town. So far we have worked out. Sunday morning is Auvillar, Monday morning is Moissac (much bigger), Tuesday morning is Valence d’Agen. The region is important in the production of fruit for France and Europe and grows a huge amount of apples, plums, cherries and pears and apricots as well as melon in the summer and nuts in the autumn.
As you will probably see from my website, (when it is up and running!) That the region is also well known for the production Foie Gras, a type of pate and Armagnac, a brandy made from plums. We have also discovered a sweet aperitif called Floc made from plums and it is available in a white or red version, ummm yummy. Not that I am an alcoholic or anything but I do like a tipple now and again!
Easter Sunday 4th April
There is something about living in France that makes me feel totally relaxed and I have not really felt stressed (except for the credit card and cheque book issue) since we arrived. The area is rural and calm, the people are friendly and when the weather warms up it will be everything I hoped for. I can honestly say it is like the UK was 40 years ago. We have no MacDonalds close by, hardly any traffic, but do have a number of supermarkets within 10-15 minutes drive. Most people are committed to buying local and regularly visit the local markets to buy fresh produce rather than shop in the sterile supermarket environment. If we need building materials we have established that there are a number of DIY stores Castorama, Mr Bricolage and Bricomarche that are like B&Q and Homedepot but also the larger towns have builders merchants which is a more cost effective option if like my husband you prefer the more cost effective route and you need large quantities of things.
We were invited to the Sunday Market and Easter egg hunt by my friend today and introduced ourselves to the locals. One lady selling vegetables was from the next farm across from Le Farat and she told me that her son used to help out at our property with gardening. Three hours later he was on our doorstep introducing himself and handing over his business card!
Abigail my 8 yr old has made a friend too and although there are awkward silences between them they seem to get on OK with the language barrier. The friend will be in the same class as Abigail and it does mean that when she has her taster day next week she has someone to stick close to. The school in Auvillar is a small village school with about 130 children up to 11yrs old.
Wednesday 7th April
Yipee received cheque books and cards, solvent again! Slowly settling into French life and spending most of the time on the mower! Weather great now, sunshine and 24 degrees. Just what the doctor ordered.
Thursday 8th April
Abigails first day at new school. Poor child, she was absolutely terrified. School teachers very kind and settled her in quickly. I then had to go to the town hall to register her for school lunches and pay for lunch tickets. Huge form to complete but the secretary at the office was very helpful. Arrived at 4pm to collect Abigail expecting the worse, only to find she had made two new friends and was happy, wow kids are amazing! Off to Toulouse to buy a light for the hallway from a fab lighting shop I found close to Blagnac airport.
Friday 9th April
Who was it that said it would be easy living with your husband and few friends around you! Had an almighty row over the new light etc... and now not talking! Furniture still not arrived and promised for Sunday, beginning to wonder if we actually need everything as we have now survived with nothing but a few deckchairs and a fridge for 2 weeks!