Tag Archives: Relocation

House Hunting is Hell

Oh, it’s been a long week. Plan A was always to buy a small house with a large garden but when we arrived all the properties we saw were so terrible we decided to investigate building instead. Plan B. That all seemed straight forward – we’d buy land, live in a van onsite, etc. – until we had a close shave with a land purchase (constructible according to the agent but no CU, according to the local Mairie), which taught us just how naive we were and how easy it would be to make a colossal mistake so decided to rethink our plan. In the end we agreed that we don’t have the language skills to properly navigate the system and – given we’re also supposed to be parenting two small children – aren’t prepared to take on the risks associated with a build. We’ve found a kit house we would like to build, if we ever get to that stage, but we don’t have the time or the money for that now because we want time to focus on our family. Plan C then became that we would use roughly half our budget to buy a small village and a small plot of agricultural land closeby. That would allow us to get on with our lives and also keep an eye out for land to build on should something become available in the areas that we like. We learn French in the meantime, earn some money, the children go so school/creche – everyone’s happy.

Plan C felt like a huge weight off. It’s claustrophobic in this little house we’re renting; effectively one small room, since we battened down the hatches to survive this cold winter, and the idea of buying a house and just getting on with life made all of us happy. We whizzed through the various agents’ websites and found quite a good list, all in areas we liked, and saw six houses in the space of two weeks. No good, for reasons I’ll get to. Our French friends say wait, something will turn up, but we have to leave here at the end of April and then where do we go? A rental property we were told about won’t allow pets and that is the only house for rent that we’ve heard of that be in the catchment for DD’s school. Rents are high – as high as they were in Manchester – which is crazy considering no-one here seems to work, and the houses aren’t great (no insulation, etc.) and we didn’t come here to rent a crappy little house; what we all want is to feel settles somewhere.

Plan C then – which was more in line with the original plan when we came here. Spend more of our budget. Just get a house in this area so that DD can continue at the maternelle she’s so happy with; any house preferably with some outside space, that we can move into straight way without having to do any work on it and buy a small plot of agricultural land for vegetable growing; live our lives, get our feet under the table, start earning and saving some money. If this smacks of desperation it’s because we feel desperate right now.

Why the rush? Well, I guess it doesn’t feel like that to us. For us this has already been a 12-month journey, starting when I lost my job and we started decluttering and making plans to move. I had DS in March and then the packing began while the decluttering continued. We came here in September and all we’ve done since then is run around looking at houses, looking at land, having heated discussions about sun exposure, thermal efficiency, market value, etc., etc., etc. And yesterday DD started crying because Lion (a giant cuddly toy she’s fond of) is in a box upstairs, along with many of her other cuddly toys. When your three-year-old daughter sobs in your arms because she’s missing her cuddly lion, your heart just breaks and you’d do anything to put it right, including deciding to have bought a house by the end of next week. She’s right too. These two kids couldn’t care less where we live as long as it’s somewhere safe and warm that we can all be happy. Home is where the heart is, for sure, and no-one ever got happy spending all their days driving around endlessly looking at houses with imminent homelessness looming over their shoulders.

Every other day I’m in tears too. It’s emotionally exhausting – made worse by “advice” from French friends who tell us that whatever the price is is too much or the sun exposure isn’t good enough; how for that money we should expect x, y, z (insert: more land, more sun, more, more, more) and just wait, wait, and wait some more for the right thing to turn up. This is made worse again by French owners who are blatantly taking the piss, probably because we’re “Rich English” folk, which we’re really not. We’re assured that there isn’t one price for the English and another for the French but another agent said as much and I think he’s right. For example, we learned that a house we’d viewed earlier this morning day, on the market with an (English) agent for 99k euros, is being advertised locally (i.e., not through an agent) for 70k. And the owner had the nerve to say to the agent he’d consider an offer of 90k. How generous of him! We viewed four properties in total today – all overpriced. One seller had the audacity to say to James with an almost straight face that the “garden”, which is actually a parcel of agricultural land a good 10 or 15-minute walk from the property, could be sold with the property for 15k euros. Apparently she paid 8,000 euros for it 8 years ago and now she wants 15,000 for half of it. Half of it! I mean seriously. Since that conversation James has busy translating some new phrases into French, including: “You have to be kidding me” and “I’m insulted that you think I’m stupid enough to pay that much.”

The search continues. I just hope we find a house before we all have nervous breakdowns!

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What’s in these boxes anyway?

Here’s the final installment of our move: day 5, when the boxes arrived from the UK. We’ve been here a month now – actually, exactly one month tomorrow! We’ve not found a new permanent home yet but we are making new friends, loving the sunshine, and settling into a new way of life. More on that another day. So far, so good.

*****

Have we put our watches forward or not? On Day 5, the last day to be dominated by moving-related activities, that was the million dollar question. With Matthew James delivering our stuff sometime between 8am and 9am and “a lot to do before then” (James’s words) we were in for another early start; 6.45am, as it turned out all our clocks were already on French time. I thought it was unusually dark for 7.45am. Oh well, what’s another hour of sleep anyway?

At around 8.50am we got a call. The lorry had arrived – great – but we had gone over the space we were quoted, 10 cubic metres instead of 7, so had to make an extra payment before they would deliver our stuff. Fine, I guess. When all your worldly goods are within a mile of your home and that’s the only way to get them back, what can you do?! It wasn’t so easy to sort out though. The gite still had no Internet, so we couldn’t look the number up online to give their office a call. The paperwork they’d given us on collection only gave their web address and e-mail, no phone number, so we were in a bit of a fix. Bullet Journal to the rescue, as I’d noted the phone number down when calling a couple of months earlier, so was able to find the contact number and call to get it all figured out. But then, how to send the payment without access to online banking? I needed to check my account balances, maybe move some money between accounts, and then set up the new payment, but before that I needed a phone number for the bank that I could call from outside the UK, and how on earth was I supposed to find that without going online!? Luckily my phone had some credit so I cautiously enabled data roaming. The banking app worked a treat and the call us button dialled without issue, despite being an 0300 numer. Phew. A few security checks later, it was all sorted. After a quick call to Matthew James to confirm, the lorry was on the way up to us and James was on his way to the meeting point with the Passat, which we were using as a shuttle vehicle between the lorry and the gite.

As with the collection, the guys that turned up were incredibly helpful, polite and professional, even if some of the boxes had been a little trashed in transit. It didn’t take long for everything to be unpacked and stored away in the upstairs room. Marvellous! Bringing everything into this small space, it really does seem that we have alot of stuff but when I think of the amount of stuff we didn’t bring, it is pretty much essentials or too-expensive-to-replace items only. Still, we had some rearranging to do before we could get our beds set up and straighten our living space out a bit and we decided that was for another day as we needed to go out and pick up some supplies. We were still living off the cash we’d withdrawn on the Friday, due to the card cancelling fiasco, so needed to be cautious about spending, which meant simple meals and quiet days knocking around the gite. After so much activity over the last few days and months that was just what we needed though, so after the shops we headed back for a late lunch and a lazy afternoon. Time to bond and regroup.

Road Trip, Part 4: A Tale of Three Kitties

The day after our drive down from the UK was the day to pick up the cats with our destination a service station on the A9 just outside of Narbonne. The Garmin reckoned it would take one and a half hours to get there so we needed to be up and out for 8am to make the 9.30am pick up time that Stacey from Pets2Go2 had texted to me the night before. That was no mean feat given how tired we were after three very busy days and as many late nights, but we’d all slept really well so managed to get up in good time. Unfortunately, due to the two-child effect and a general go-slow on all our parts, we didn’t quite make it out of the door at 8am, which meant we were running late before we’d even got started. The Garmin ETA was now 9.48am. Oh well, at least it wasn’t sending us anywhere silly; after the interesting navigation preferences it had shown us the day before we were prepared to override any odd suggestions as they came up and I was armed with the map, albeit the “faulty” Michelin one. So we were running late but at least we were on our way and DD was excited about picking up the cats.

As we were going along I got a text from Stacey: “Services heading south,” to which I replied, “towards Barcelona?” Yes, that was right. All fine, until I realised that the services we were aiming for were north of Narbonne, which meant we were heading North and not South at all. How could that happen? James was adamant that he had programmed the co-ordinates they provided into the Garmin and that they took us to a Total petrol station on the northbound carriageway but my text from Stacey suggested otherwise. So we added another 10 minutes to the journey time which meant we were now beyond acceptably late. To add to the general level of tension, DD decided she had had enough of all the driving and travelling and was also pretty hungry so spent the last 30 minutes of our journey screaming and shouting her head off (“I want booooobbeeeeeeee!!!!!”). DS also woke up crying (also hungry and probably furious about waking up in the car again) so we were all feeling pretty traumatised when we finally pulled into the services.

The Pets2Go2 van was there, ready and waiting, albeit not all that patiently (the driver made a snarky comment about them now being 30 minutes late for their next stop) and the cats where sitting happily enough in their cages. Bitty was already in his carrier so was easy to collect. James put the other two in theirs and moved the cats over to our car while I dealt with the two screaming smalls. James then dashed into the services to pick up some emergency croissants and a couple of coffees, as we hadn’t had chance to eat anything, after which we were off again. The cats were happy enough – quiet for most of the way and not bothered by a 10-minute stop to pick up some supplies from the supermarket – and both smalls were happy again, having been fed. Phase 2 over, time to relax a little more.

Once back at the gite we released the cats into their new home and put our feet up. It was a scorching 32 degrees outside, 28 degrees inside. Star and Ty took to the stairs and just crashed out, spending most of the day asleep there, while Bitty managed to disappear within an hour of being in the house. How does he do that?! The only other mishap that day was DD getting bitten by the Bitty after trying to persuade him out of his hiding spot. You’d think she’d learn – or at least heed our warnings! Other than that it was wonderful to at last take a breathe and gather ourselves together, reunited after our long journeys. I enjoyed an afternoon nap with with the smalls and pottered around with them while James sorted out the Broadband Guy. More about that another time.

Road Trip, Part 3: Le Mans to our New (Temporary) Home in France

After a much better night than we’d had in a while we woke up just before 8am and headed into the restaurant for our breakfast. The restaurant was lovely and clean, just like the room, and there was plenty of food to choose from. Result. DD was still pretty excited about her whole overnight in a hotel experience, which translated into mucking about wanting different things but not really eating anything. A few croissants and a small amount of packing later and we were on the road and quickly back on the autoroute heading towards Amiens. Not bad for 9.30am. Within 20 minutes both littlies were asleep. Looking good. The plan for the day was to drive for 2 hours then stop and continue onwards in the same stop-start fashion until we arrived at our new home. The Garmin estimated an 8.5-hour journey with an arrival time of 6pm. With stops that amounted to another 12-hour day but we had to work around the smalls, stopping as needed.

After a fairly manageable day one it turned out we were in for a more chaotic day two, mostly because the novelty of being strapped in a car seat for the best part of every waking our had worn off for DD. She stayed awake longer, whinged more, slept less, screamed a whole lot. We made a couple of stops, one in “hang in their” mode, as we really didn’t want to stop before 2 hours unless we had to, so managed to persaude DD to hold out until what would normally have been lunch time. There was a point in our journey where we came off the autoroute and wiggled across country, from Poitier to Limoges, before joining the A20 and continuing southward towards Toulouse. As chief navigator I decided that would make a good place for a pitstop too, so after driving through a couple of small towns and completely missing the turnings for their Aires, we pulled into Mazerolles.

Now, I really wouldn’t mind terrible food in France if so much wasn’t made of the quality of English food. Let’s just say the offerings at this particular stop were laughable. In the end we paid the best part of ten whole and precious euros for some chips, a frankfurter sausage, and some potato salad. Okay, fine you might say, but there was no mayo, no vinegar, nothing. Just chips, the ketchup that they came sprayed with, a sorry looking sausage (meat content undoubtedly <50%) and this very odd and very small salad which was quite clearly made with mayonnaise. Since our primary aim of this particular pit stop was to feed and water DD in the hope that she would drop off to sleep for some of the afternoon, it was definitely towards the failure end of the success barometer.
And did I mention it was pushing 32 degrees outside? On the upside it was a nice spot. There was a lake for DD to potter around and, had we been better organised (or even just been bothered to walk over the road to the boulangerie!), a lovely spot for a picnic. If you do decide to stop here on your way through France, either take provisions or buy from over the road!

After our very disappointing lunch, we were back in the car and on our way. We picked up some diesel from a local garage, knocking 20 cents off the price on the autoroute, and cracked on. Limoge? Check. Here’s where it got though in terms of navigation, as my Michelin Tourist and Motoring Atlas, newly purchased from the services at Maidstone, ran out of pages! Yes, my new map, bought solely as backup to the Garmin for this trip, was- and still is, missing pagses 207 to 251! Actually, it also has two lots of pages 205 and 206, but that’s beside the by. What this meant was I had to navigate very loosely from the large scale maps that more or less just show the autoroutes. Luckily, I am crazy about maps so actually rather enjoyed all of this. Luckily, the Garmin was plotting a steady course entirely consistent with the one we had preplanned via the Michelin site and most of the journey from Limoge was just one long slog on the A20, so the map wasn’t needed. Onward towards Toulouse.

Looking at the clock we later realised we were bang on target to hit Toulouse at 5pm. Rush hour! We considered a pit stop before – maybe an hour before – where we could get some food and sit out the worst of the traffic – or just hammering it and resting again after, but it turned out that DD and DS were calling the shots so we stopped largely in response to screaming and shouting (DD) or endless sobbing (DS) from the back seat. That meant two more stops before Toulouse – one for a quick reset and another for something resembling “dinner”. As it turned out Toulouse at rush hour was nowhere near as horrendous as James remembered, leaving him wondering whether he had accidentally driven through the centre rather than around the outside when he attempted it on his prior UK to France driving adventure about 20 years earlier. Whatever the reason, we were soon past the city and heading into more familiar territority. One more child-induced pitstop later, this time at a visitor centre alongside the Canal du Midi (regrettably closed but noted for future visits!), we were heading towards Limoux. Or were we? The Garmin was starting to do strange things, which meant I was having to keep my eye on the ball and overrule it, causing a bit of a headache for James. At one point we ended up on a dusty, unpaved road through a field of vines. Hmm. From that point on I decided to navigate from the map. We’d fallen prey to the whimsy of the Garmin’s interpretation of “shortest” route on earlier trips to France, accounted for by the fact that many “D” roads in France are listed as 90kmh and while that may be the prescribed speed limit it’s often at least twice the speed it’s either possible or sensible to drive at, and so it was in this case. No, no, no. 30 minutes from our destination there was no way we were following the Garmin into the neighbouring valley, presumably on the basis that a track marked on my map, connecting one hamlet to another, was the most direct and therefore fastest route. No.

Soon we were there. Hurray! And what a welcome! Our friend Marie was the first to come out and greet us – she’d been waiting all day – along with a band of helpers she’d enlisted so that we could quickly unload our car. This was made slightly more interesting thanks to a hole in the road, making it impossible to drive the car up to the door, so the help was greatly appreciated. To top things off Marie brought us food, which was most welcome as it was late and no shops were open; we passed one supermarche on our way and by then it was gone 8pm, which in rural France means everything is closed. Thankfully, Debbie the gite manager had made up the sofa bed so, after eating, it was time to get the smalls to bed and try to hit the sack ourselves. We were pooped. We all slept like logs. We’d made it. There was still alot to do but at least now everyone could relax a little and begin the next part of our adventure.

Well, that was stressful!

Last day, we made it. Our stuff has gone, the cats are in their baskets in the car, the kids are still alive and snoring in the back, and James and I have managed to crack a smile or two, and we are on our way at last. It has been an extraordinarily long 24 hours, not least because I lost my wallet yesterday afternoon and consequently cancelled all my cards not 2 minutes before it was found, so my relaxing afternoon littering around to get on top of the cleaning turned into an exhausting and emotional mad dash to get cash to cover the entirety of our journey and first week or so. Not what we needed! Anyway, that was yesterday. The knock on effect meant today was an uphill struggle, not made any easier by one tired little girl wanting and needing some reassurance from her two very stressed out and busy parents. We survived. Tomorrow is another day. We’re on our way and that’s that: chapter closed!