• Alice Scott

Welcome to France, the longest journey.

Hello. I am new to the Unfrench Blog, I wanted to share my longest journey with you (and other tales too). The story begins in Summer 2007, as we leave the UK for good ! I hope you enjoy.

Where to begin really ? It’s all gone so quickly. We’ve had some highs and some lows, some sunshine and some fierce electrical thunderstorms but, on the whole, we’ve loved it.

Coming over on the ferry I was terribly upset, I kept filling up. I couldn’t believe nobody even wanted to check our passports – here we were making a huge decision, leaving the country for good and nobody tried to persuade us otherwise. On “Deal or No Deal” at least Noel gives you a chance to change your mine and even Chris Tarrant says you can go 50/50, phone a friend etc., and I don’t mind telling you that the doubts were setting in at Dover. It was almost a like that thing that kids do “I’m going, I mean it, I really am, I mean it”.

I half wanted someone to stop me to say you can’t go because I really didn’t have that confidence that we were doing the right thing back then. Truth be told the officials at Dover were probably glad to see us Brits heading to France. On top of that, could anyone really be bothered to inspect the car with is contents crammed in like a Chinese Puzzle ? The “Country Breakfast” on the ferry was good, I dried my eyes, had a breather on the top deck and I thought things were looking up.

The lowest point was our first night here. We got off the Ferry, husband programmed the sat nav to take motorways, thinking it was the quickest, but what should have been a 4 – 5 hour trip via Le Mans & Rouen, took us 11 hours through Paris Saturday teatime traffic, absolute gridlock. By the time we got to the small town we were destined for, we couldn’t find the rented property because it was pitch black dark and the estate agent we’d had previous viewings with and arranged it, gave us some duff directions, so we ended up driving all the way back to Angouleme to look for a hotel.

It being wedding season, all the decent hotels were taken, so we ended up in an “F 1” hotel costing 21 euros a night, per room. That, in itself, should have told me something. 2000 odd years ago Mary and Joseph had better accommodation than us and they were bunking with a sodding donkey. It was akin to a youth hostel with 16 rooms sharing two toilets and two shower cubicles, in the corridor. The room was so manky that when I sat on the bed I stuck to the bedspread.

There was no way I was getting in that shower the next morning for fear of getting a verruca. The first time I went to the loo, I didn’t wear slippers, just my socks, big mistake, they were sopping wet. There we were, 1am, drinking warm wine (we knew we were going to be late so we bought a bottle from the motorway petrol station Boutique), the pair of us exhausted and me very tearful saying to husband “It isn’t supposed to be like this”. Poor him didn’t know what to say except “It’ll be alright, do you want me to try and find a better hotel ?”. Poor lamb was blaming himself for the disaster that was the trip down, but it wasn’t his fault. He should have looked at a map, maybe it was his fault.

On reflection it wasn’t that bad I suppose given that there are street children in Mexico City scavenging on rubbish tips for food, but I didn’t see it that way at the time. Truth be told, we spent two or more years talking about moving to France when we should have actually been planning it properly.

Our first week in the bungalow in the little town was good except there was no TV and no washing machine but it gave me a chance to get used to shutters and gecko’s. The estate agent and his wife, an English couple living in France for six years, have the most amazing "manoir" house with acres and a chapel with the original owners buried in it, but the house isn’t finished. They bought it two years ago, with no windows, doors, water or electricity and it had been empty for at least 60 years. They’re a bit like English eccentric aristocrats, buckets here and there for the leaky roof, can’t go in certain parts of the building because there isn’t a floor but it’s a fabulous house and when it’s finished it will be absolute stunning. It may take a few years because he’s an estate agent as well as other things to earn a living here.

After week one the owners of the bungalow were due, and after falling in love with a house in the area that we viewed last year we decided to make use of a friends place in the Correze, to put a bit of distance between the house and us. We decided to put in an offer, I didn’t think it was sensible and we were warned it would probably be rejected, which it was, and there was an English woman interested in it who then had a survey done. We made a further, more sensible offer, but it was too late, it’s sold to the lady who had the survey done, so tears before bedtime.

On the upside, the house in the Correze gave us a real taste of luxury – a washing machine, house built over three floors, in the hillside, balconies and views to die for, proper power shower, so powerful that it was almost as if it was raining bullets, fabulous pool, CNN news on the telly and a house phone (this is extremely important given the completely dire mobile phone networks in France). Sheer bliss and if the Euromillions balls fall our way, we too could be the proud owners of something like that.

After there we headed off to visit some French hotelier friends in South Charente, We stayed there last year and had sent them a Christmas card and they remembered us so we were welcomed like old friends. We had so much fun there, met up with a fellow Brit (who we met last year) and his wife. She’s absolutely fantastic, VERY VERY VERY posh, very proper and very funny.

She’s in her late fifties and is a teacher but she used to work for the a well- known Duke years ago in her late teens (I think she might have shagged the Duke, the wine was flowing that night at dinner). Also quite intriguing was the conversation where our friend kept trying to tell us a tale along the lines of how he was involved in “Murder Trial – British Justice System Flawed”, but she kept interrupting and cutting him off and was doing a great job of hushing him up despite the amount of wine we were plying him with. I do hate an unfinished story. I’ve never met anyone quite like them.

The language has been a bit of a barrier but I think the moment we’re most proud of is the first night we arrived in the Correze late (husband route planning again). The supermarkets were shut, there’s no such thing as an off-licence and pubs aren’t allowed to sell booze for consumption off the premises. I met a woman in a bar who owned a takeaway pizza place and persuaded her to open her shop and sell me a bottle of rose wine. When the chips are down, we can handle it.

I can’t get used to the fact that between 12-2 the only places open are restaurants but that, together with the mosquitoes, gecko’s, maniac French drivers, electrical storms, phone coverage and the English section of the local Intermarche - 5.50 euros for a Frey Bentos pie and you won’t believe the price of beans. Rural France, you can’t beat it so join it.

More soon, as I carry on reminiscing back to our early days, and the house hunt itself ! We found the area, just need a house for the vacuum cleaner.

Alice X

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