Going to a grocery store is always a buzz in another country, and France is no different. Lots of different products, choice, and variations on a theme when compared to products available at home in Australia.
Whether it be E.Leclerc, Intermarché, Géant Casino, Carrefour, Super-U, Auchan or Lidl, it is always an enjoyable and stimulating experience. Grocery shopping is one of our enjoyable outings in France- is that sad? A mini cultural experience.
There are quite a few differences to the chains found in Australia. So what are some of them? What are the traps for new learners? How to avoid embarrassment? What to be aware of? Here are some tips that, from experience, might be useful .....
And then there is this great spread called “Speculoos”, a cinnamon-y taste, which is a spread form of a biscuit they have over here, one often served with coffee. It is great on hot toasted slices of bread! However, you won’t find any vegemite on the shelves here.
3. Fresh milk seems to be a rarity in France. Lovers of "long life" milk are well catered for, but if you want fresh milk, come early before it runs out. In a huge store, there may only be a very small cabinet devoted to fresh containers of milk.
4. There are different arrangements for buying fresh fruit and vegetables at different stores. Sometimes there is an arrangement where you have to have your fruit and veges weighed first and priced to take it to the check-out. Other times, you need to put the co-inciding number of the product (that is displayed) into the self serve scales and put the ticket on the plastic bag before going to the check out. It can be embarrassing to get to the check out and you don’t have the price of the fruit on the bag! Creates a hold up in the queue if you have to run back to the fruit and vege section to get your purchase weighed and priced. This only happens once! The hint here is to just watch the other customers.
5. Over here, fresh chickens and other poultry tend to have a yellowish tinge to their skin… What the?!
6. France is fond of cheques. For whatever reason, cheques remain a very popular mode of paying for goods. While unheard of in Australia, in France we often pay by cheque in grocery stores. Every second or third person at the cassier at our local grocery store seems to pay by cheque. Logistically, all it requires is a signature, the cash register does the rest.
7. Be prepared to take your time. There are often queues for the check out, and even when there isn’t, it is not unusual for the check-out operator to have a casual, friendly conversation with every person in the queue before you. We have found this unhurried approach to service a challenge to get habituated to, but eventually it becomes quite pleasant, quirky custom.
8. Rug up when you go grocery shopping. Our experience is that the grocery stores here can be freezing!
10. Plastic bags are out in France. A great, progressive move. Remember to take a shopping bag/s with you when you go to grocery shop. Places like Le Clerc, Super U and Intermarché do not supply them. If you do not have any with you, you can buy them at the check out counter. Some bags are actually quite nice, often have a design related to the local area, and make inexpensive, light-weight gifts for those at home.
11. Opening hours. Always a little confusing as they vary according to the retailer and to the time of the year (and then there is always the “fermature exceptionelle” when places seem to close just for the heck of it).
12. Always announce your turn at the check out with a friendly “bonjour” (or “bonsoir” if after about 18.00), and on leaving, a “merci, bonne journée (or bonne soirée), au revoir” is the norm.
13. Bring a 50c or 1 euro coin to access the shopping trolley!
I saw the gendarmerie car waiting, ready to pounce, and as I drove on they started to follow me and then turn their lights on. “This is going to be interesting”, I thought. I pulled over and they stopped beside me and asked me to follow them, “suivez-nous”.
I followed them to the car park of M. Bricolage and the two police men came over. They asked if I knew why they had stopped me. I responded that I thought so, “Je pense que oui”. They asked for my driver’s license, insurance papers and some “green” papers of which I had no idea what they were.
Even before I handed over my Australian driver’s license they knew I was not of these parts from my harsh French accent and simplistic and straight-forward responses to their queries.
“Is this your car”?
“It is a hire car”.
This is where I did a lot of scrummaging through the glove box, and thrust whatever papers I could find in there at them.
“Where do you live”?
“Here, or in Australia??
“Verteuil, but just for three weeks”.
“What are you doing here”?
“I am on holidays”.
They walked away and had a chat together. The younger one returned, gave me my licence back, and said I could go – “Allez-y!”.
I think I was too hard for them. Anyway, they had the desired effect – I will be coming to a complete stop at “stop” signs in the future – good proportionate enforcement on their part.
Last week we had our first interaction with the French police. My daughter, Bronte, had her mobile phone stolen while we were in the old town of Strasbourg, in eastern France. Fifteen seconds inattention on our part while swapping phones to take some photos, and it was gone. To cut a long story short, when we realized it wasn’t going to turn up, we approached one of the multiple teams of police who were ever-present, patrolling the area, always in groups of four, with automatic weapons, always foreign and unsettling for us. They suggested making a report at the police station and gave us directions how to get there by tram. Off we went and eventually found the Hôtel de Police.
At the Hôtel de Police, visitors had to wait outside in the winter cold and were brought into the foyer one-by-one to have their pockets emptied, bags checked and then patted down. Then we had to tell our story at the front desk, before being asked to sit in the waiting area. Eventually, we were taken into an interview room where we spoke to a young police woman, from Paris, new to Strasbourg. She was very polite, rattled off a series of questions, and everything was keyed into her computer. There seemed to be a lot of typing going on for the minimal amount of input we were giving. At the end of the 25 minute session, we were given a copy of a multi-page statement/report, each page signed by Bronte. It will be interesting to see what we have to go through with the insurance company once we return to Australia and how they deal with police reports in non-English languages.
Overall, I couldn’t complain about the interactions with the French police on these occasions – serious but polite and courteous, reasonable, helpful.
Time to publish this blog. I started writing this last year, in July, after completing a little road trip to the south of the Charente, Dordogne, completed by a little foray into the Aveyron. Two nights away, based in the town of Sarlat - what a great slice of France to witness and enjoy! Highly recommended, five stars!!
across three days - it was a breeze (we could easily do that in one day in Australia to get to and from towns, so this was a dream)!
On Friday we decided to leave Verteuil in the northern part of the Charente département and explore areas to the south and east. It was a time to revisit some of our favourite places that we have previously visited - a time to consolidate in our memory these sights prior to adventuring into the many other unknown and unfamiliar parts of France.
Verteuil-sur-Charente to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne (91km, 1hr 11min)
Just 50 km south of Angoulême is Aubeterre-sur-Dronne. Famous for its ancient subterranean church, it is a lovely village to wander around and to look through the shops. Owner of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" brand since 1993 and the label "Petites Cités de Caractère" since 2012, the village has welcomed pilgrims and visitors for more than a thousand years.
We picked up two small jars of confit de pineau to try, thinking that if it tasted good, we would gladly add it to our obsession with confiture de lait, another spread, similar to condensed milk that had been recommended to us over here. Aubeterre-sur-Dronne joins the many villages in this part of France that are on a route of the Chemin de St Jaques as the pilgrimage paths wander their ways down through France to funnel into northern Spain through the Pyrénées, on the journey to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Pilgrim signs marked various walls of village houses.
The centuries-old pilgrimage was to become a common theme over the next couple of days.
Aubeterre-sur-Dronne to Brantôme (56km, 52min)
Another 50 km to the east is Brantôme, a beautiful riverside village on the Dronne river in the north of the department of the Dordogne. Brantôme is always on our list of places to visit and we have been here 4 or 5 times - it never fails to impress. The town has a beautiful mixture of medieval and renaissance architecture to admire. The Benedictine abbey on the banks of the river is superb and the old stone bridge and the beautiful mill have been transformed into a hotel and restaurant. The abbey was originally built by Charlemagne in 769 and there is a troglodytic section behind the abbey built into the cliffs. We managed to make a reservation at the restaurant, Le Moulin de L'Abbeye, which unbeknown to us, earnt a Michelin star in February this year. A great way to celebrate the birthdays of two in our group. We enjoyed a great meal on the mill terrace with attentive service and food that was a visual treat, all the while watching the ducks and ducklings on the river and the canoes riding down the shuttes of the weir, on their way down the river.
Brantôme to Périgueux (24km, 26 min)
A short drive south to Périgueux. We have only ever driven through this city on the way to the Dordogne valley. Don has always wanted to stop off at the imposing cathredal that can be seen on the skyline. We braved peak hour traffic to find a spot to park and have a look at the Saint Front cathedral. This regional centre promises to be a future destination in itself - lots of roman ruins and a great looking old city centre.
Périgueux to Sarlat (70km, 1hr 10min)
Sarlat-la-Canéda is a must-visit town. The market town of Sarlat is reknown for its foie gras - you'll see images of ducks and geese everywhere! It's a special, lovely old town, and the spring-board for one of the "special" regions of France - the Dordogne valley. It has been relatively untouched in recent centuries and as a result, Sarlat has remained preserved and one of the towns most representative of 14th century France. Try to arrange your visit to include Saturday, as it has a fantastic market on Saturdays mornings.
From Sarlat it is easy to visit Les Eyzies and visit the National Prehistoric Museum. The local area is sprinkled with caves with evidence of their prehistoric dwellers. Lascaux offers cave paintings over 17 000 years old! The highight is a drive along the Dordogne river visiting some of the cliff top châteaux of Beynac et Cazenac, Castelnaud and La Rocque to name a few. An absolute must.
Sarlat to Domme (return trip 12km, 18 min each way)
Domme is well worth a visit and offers beautiful views up and down the Dordogne valley and river. It lies high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Dordogne river and is a bastide, or fortified medieval town. Today, Domme is a member of the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ("The Most Beautiful Villages of France").
Domme was founded in 1281 and has a turbulent history. In 1307, the Knight Templars were imprisoned in Domme during the trial against them. During the Hundred Years' War, the bastide was coveted by the English who first took the town in 1347 and repeatedly changed rulers throughout the war until 1437 when it finally fell under French rule again. The Wars of Religion brought new turmoil. Protestants took the city in 1588 by climbing the cliffs at night to open the gates. Apparently this was a short success, as the Protestants handed the bastide back to the Catholics in 1592.
Domme is a great town to wander around, take in the views and do some shopping.
Sarlat to Conques (131km, 2hrs 11min)
We were first motivated to visit Conques in 2014 after seeing some beautiful photos of the village in a cook book we have at home - A Food Lovers' Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. We were spending a week R and R in the south after our 780km walk along the camino and took the opportunity to visit while driving back to Verteuil. A further incentive was that it was a well known pilgrim stop-over for those travelling along one of the French pilgrim routes on their way south west toward Spain. After our visit, we were hooked!
The village built on a hillside and has classic narrow medieval streets. As a result, large vehicles such as buses cannot enter the historic town centre but must park outside. Consequently, most day visitors enter on foot. The town was largely passed by in the nineteenth century due to its location. As a result, the historic core of the town has very little construction dating from between 1800 and 1950, leaving the medieval structures remarkably intact. It has a woderful charm and is in an idyllic location, buried in the mountains of the Aveyron.
The Abbey Church of Saint Foy in Conques was a popular stop for pilgrims on the camino de Santiago. The main draw for medieval pilgrims at Conques were the remains of Saint Faith ("St. Foy"), a martyred young woman from the fourth century.
The original monastery building at Conques was an eighth-century oratory built by monks fleeing the Saracens in Spain. The relics of St. Foy were brought to Conques in the 11th century and caused the pilgrimage route to shift from Agen to Conques. The Abbey Church of Saint Foy was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998, as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
Conques to Rocamadour (89km, 1hr 35min)
Flights of steps ascend from the lower town to the churches, a group of massive buildings half-way up the cliff. The chief of them is the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame, containing a wooden Black Madonna reputed to have been carved by Saint Amator (Amadour).
In Australia there are regional variations to the language and words that we use. For example, in Queensland we say "togs", however in NSW they are usually called "swimmers", and in more southern and western parts of Australia, they are termed "bathers" (of course they are ubiquitously known as "budgie smugglers across Australia!).
Togs are not alone. A "car boot" is called other things in various parts of Australia (e.g. trunk), as is "port" (e.g. bag, suitcase, case etc), and many others (potato scallop, drinking fountain, sausage sizzle, rubbish bin, etc. PhD theses have been written on the issue of regional variations of lexical usage and there are "word maps" readily available on-line!
The national results are in ....
This survey of over 110,000 people to date has found that 59.77% of respondants would say pain au chocolat, with 40.22% going for chocolatine. The results reveal that "chocolatine" voters are hugely congregated in the south west of the country.
And in Verteuil?
The problem I have is that Verteuil is in situated on the cusp, on the vague demarcation line between the south west region and the rest of the country - in the "chocolatine - pain au chocolat hot zone". There are 1441 respondants to the abovementioned survey to date in the departement of Charente. 90% indicated that they use the term "chocolatine". However, interestingly, it seems that our little village of Verteuil bucks the trend.
2.45am and the jet lag has really kicked in. 2.45am and wide awake. We have just scoffed down a packet of plain biscuits with cheese slices and a left over baguette with some absolutely beautiful cherry cognac jam that we picked up from La Régie while popping in for a coffee and rosé. Now, just waiting for the effects of the remaining half of the serapax I took half an hour ago to force the onset of sleep - the first half being taking at 6pm yesterday evening, which seemed to work until ten minutes past midnight when I escaped the over-warmth of the internal heating upstairs and wandered down to the living room to take up camp on the sofa, trying to force the onset of sleep.
No success … so an hour of face book. Still no success, so a quick scan of work emails (while Sunday night here, it is well and truly all stations at hand in the office on Monday back home). Now joined by Don and a cup of tea later, along with some lychees bought at the Verteuil Christmas market an hour after our arrival from driving down from Paris yesterday, plus the aforementioned cognac jam, bread and cheese, I can sense a dampening of my attention, measured by the number of times I am having to go back and correct my spelling here.
The drive down from Paris was a trip immersed in low visibility fog for the entire 400km journey – the whole of the country must be blanketed in the dense soup. We arrived early afternoon and after freshening up, wandered up the street to the annual Christmas market in the salles de fêtes of la mairie. We dropped in to see Virginie and Benoît at La Demeure des Roses, always a pleasure to see and managed to secure an invitation to see the work they are doing on their property at Nanteil tomorrow. We also saw Jan and Adam in the street, picked our first Christmas decorations at the market and popped into La Régie to sit by the fire for a while and met some occasional inhabitants of the village.
It was good to see that there are now three resident geese at the main weir along with a large gaggle of ducks (not sure what the colective noun for ducks is?). Then, asleep on the couch by 6.30pm. I’d pay €100 for a cure for jet lag!!
Enjoying the warmth of La Regié, Verteuil-sur-Charente
It's 3.30am in the morning and I have been up since 2am, posting and browsing on facebook, waiting for just a little sign to fatigue to set in. Frustrating, the more I attempt to force my self to sleep, the less success I seem to have. A first world problem, I know. Nothing much is happening outside - let's face it, Verteuil is a quiet village at the best of times, but it's absolutely comatose at this time of the morning. Wide awake now, but I know that I will pay for this wakefulness later today by dreariness.....
After a similar 3am start yesterday morning, it was a restful day here in the middle of rural France. Apparently it was the first day of summer here, but despite this there was a little chill in the air, grey and characteristic European low-hanging clouds keeping the sun at bay for most of the day. Much of the day was spent in Ruffec, doing three or four loads of washing, buying provisions from LeClerc [note to self, 1. wear warm clothes next time - it is freezing in there!... and 2. I need to write about the French obsession with the yoghurt and dessert aisles in shopping centres here some time!!] and visiting the local hardware stores for odds and ends. Even managed to give the gardening gloves and garden shears we picked up a work out in our overgrown and sorry excuse of a courtyard. Yes, I think that this will be my "project" for the next couple of weeks - make some sense out of the first-level terrace out the back. The first level of the house is built into a cliff, the second level (living room and kitchen opens onto a small courtyard, and then terraces upward, three or four terraces to St Médard, the 12th century church (and the cemetery). The terraces are terribly overgrown, accessible by crumbling stone steps. We had the terraces semi cleared last year but despite an understanding with Andy, who did the clearing for us, to keep the area maintained, this has not been done and the vegetation has taken over again. So, we will concentrate on getting the first terrace above the courtyard in reasonable shape. Andy has done some levelling work which I will need to finish, and he has planted some roses, which I will add to. I will complete the levelling and the intention is to lay some flag stones and plant out the area. We'll see how that goes.
We were invited to Pam's birthday celebration yesterday evening. The invitation came via a call from the street, Rue du Temple, through our window. We had heard of Pam and her friend Brenda from Jenny and Jan who had just stayed in our house, and also from Wendy and Mark, who stayed here last October. Regular visitors to Verteuil, these two friends are from Adelaide, and happened upon Verteuil three or four years ago. We enjoyed the hospitality and met quite a few of the local British ex-pat community ..... but after a couple of hours we could feel the jet lag rolling in and we wandered home. I expect that we will see many of them again tonight at Virginie and Benoit's La Demeure des Roses, as they are hosting a musical soirée there tonight.
So, this afternoon a nap will be necessary to counter the ongoing ravages of jet lag ........
“What the [expletive] did you go and do that for?”, “How will you look after it?”, “Why corner yourself into always returning to the same place on holiday?”, “It’s so far away!”.
A convergence of circumstances had brought me to the point of taking a deep breath and diving head first into making an offer on the little stone terrace house in the centre of an enchanting and tranquil little village on the gentle Charente river. The complex motivations ranged from the enjoyment and challenge of using a smattering of school boy french (albeit Québec french) garnered from my exchange student experience north of Montréal over three decades ago; the thrill of immersion in another culture and language - an opportunity completely foreign to the vast majority of Australians; the serendipity of being just a little familiar with the local area due to two previous visits to the local Charente region thanks to my aunt and uncle owning a little house in a local hamlet close-by to Verteuil; the seduction of the tremendous sense of history of that part of the world; the future possibilities of spending periods of time in this beautiful, and very contrasted environment when compared to the Australian context; and an interesting, slightly exotic legacy to pass down the line.
The offer on the house was made by me through Joan of the immobilier in the local village of Villefagnon, from the northern Spanish city of Logrono after our first week of walking the camino de Santiago de Compostela. It was accepted the following day. Properties in rural France can stay on the market for years and I guess once an offer is made, they are seriously considered - the next offer may not be for another 12 months! This is the reason I would always counsel people that buying a house in rural France shouldn’t be considered an investment option - you just can’t turn them over quickly and the average appreciation rate isn’t exactly hurtling upward.
After approximately five years of scanning french property real estate web sites, one came across my radar in Verteuil-sur-Charente, a little village of about 680 persons (across the commune) that I had previously visited and with which I was somewhat familiar. It was difficult to form a mental image of the property from the photos posted on the site, but as we were due to take some time over there from May 2014, I placed it on our list of two to check out if we found the time.
The little house ticked most boxes on our wish list. As a terrace house, it is not grand, but will be low maintenance as there are no huge grounds to keep in check. It is simple and charming. It provides some outdoor living in a back courtyard that needs
work, but has potential. It had recently been renovated inside. The owner was an elderly retired artisan who used the house as a family holiday place. His wife had died and his two grown children, around my age, had no interest in it. The house has
the infrastructure for internal heating installed (hmmm…, but that’s another story …).
The house is close to the centre of the village. The village has some commerce including one or two restaurants, a gift shop, tea salon, antique store, pharmacy and such, and is close to the local town of Ruffec and the regional cities of Angoulême and Poitiers. The house is steps away from a beautiful little river and you can see the local château down the street from the living room windows.
The history is rich - the chateau has been built on since the year 1080 and has six fairytale, “Rapunzel, let down your hair” turrets. It played a role in the Hundred Years War across the 14th and 15th centuries when at various times both the English and the French were in control of it. It has been damaged, demolished, restored a number of times across its history. In the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries the château was a base for Huguenot forces. It suffered extensive fire damage during the French Revolution. During World War II the château housed French troops and refugees from Alsace-Lorraine in 1940 and for several months it was partially occupied by some German units. The demarcation line that separated Free France from Occupied France ran through the Charente département and Angoulême in the early years of WWII. There is a 12th century church behind our house, just up a long set of crumbling external stone stairs and to the left of the property. The terrace row we are situated in was constructed around 1775 (if you can believe the date etched into the stone plaque embedded above the door of one of the dwellings in the terrace row) - pre-French revolution.
So, the first offer on the little house in Verteuil was accepted. It was a surprise, not entirely expected. But this set in motion a roller coaster ride of dealing with the French bureaucracy during the purchasing period, that after many months, resulted in a ridiculously cheap and small mortgage (compared to Australian standards) from a french bank.
I know people who have higher value car loans.
The house is now furnished and ready to welcome friends and others to share the beautiful region. The title of this blog entry is sustaining a little house that is so far away. To date, it hasn’t proven so difficult. Once contacts are made with key local people who can assist with minor works and accessing tradespersons when necessary, most arrangements can occur relatively simply by email. There is a log of works still to occur at the house. Some of these will occur in the lead up to our first guests in mid May, such as:
1. Repainting some of the ground floor ceiling, stained as a result of a flooding event in October 2015 - just after the ceiling was painted for the first time. The flooding was due to a blocked and overwhelmed drain in the back courtyard after storms. Water couldn’t escape from the courtyard and overflowed into the kitchen and through the floor to the level below.
2. Draining the existing oil from the oil tank in the cave, or cellar, and then removing the existing oversized oil tank ready for replacement with a smaller tank later in the year. Hopefully the heating will be ready for the next winter.
3. Finishing the garden on the rear terrace. The back part of the property is made up of three or four terraces connected by rough stone steps that rise up to the church grounds. The terraces were overgrown and strewn with centuries old rubble at purchase. Now they have been largely cleared. Concerted effort is being directed to the first terrace level that has already been cleared and levelled, and now is ready is to be planted out. Perhaps some rose bushes and potted olive trees?
4. A minor roof repair to fix a minor leak into the third floor bathroom. Hey, one has to forgive a 250 year old (plus) house for one or two leaks!
5. A new oven and stove top. At the moment two portable, electric hot plates and a microwave are the go. More than suitable, but no good if one is into baking or roast dinners!
6. The Charente region is terrific for cycling - there are many published cycle trips available in the local area. Also, during summer, the river can be quite busy with people enjoying canoeing on its gentle waters. We’ll be on the look out for second hand cycles and canoes to keep in our cave for enjoyment in future years.
France and Australia seem a long distance from each other - actually, Verteuil is 16 881km from Brisbane, Australia. However, it only takes a day, or 24 hours, to get to Paris, France from Brisbane, and then another 3 hours by train to Verteuil. Easy!
Scenes around Verteuil-sur-Charente
Buying a bed in France. Surely, a simple, straight-forward task. A matter of selecting a bed, arranging delivery and setting it up in the bedroom of the house in Verteuil. Well, experience has now told us that nothing is necessarily as simple as it may sound in this lovely country.
Knowing that it may take some time to arrange delivery of some of the larger items that our house in Verteuil would need, and due to the fact that we were only in Verteuil for a total of three weeks to set the house up, we knew purchasing a bed was high on the list of “things to do”.
Lesson number one … Interestingly, the size of beds and mattresses are not described as “single”, “double”, “queen” or “king” sized in France. They are simply purchased according to their measurements. In our case we wanted a bed that was “180cm x 200cm”. The same goes for sheet and doona/bedspread sizing. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but articulating a single word in French to numerous shop assistants such as “single” or “double” (these two are easy as they are the same word in either English or French), or perhaps “reine” or “roi” (forget the horrors of the french “r” for the moment!) is a lot less intimidating than saying a multitude of times that you are looking for a bed that is “cent quatre-vingt par deux cent centimetres”!!
Day 3, the first business day of our stay, saw us buy a mattress in Ruffec. Ruffec is a town, about the size of Laidley (Queensland) and 7 km from Vertueil. We arranged it to be delivered the following week. Easy! Confidence growing….
The mattress was delivered as anticipated. The bedroom is on the third level of the little terrace house, the second level accessed by a little staircase that does a dog-leg on itself and changes direction as it rises. As we discovered this does not leave a lot of room for a queen size (sorry, a cent quatre-vingt par deux cent centimetres) mattress to fit. After a lot of huffing and squeezing, pushing and shoving, it popped up onto the second level like a champagne cork blowing.
Next, the actual bed. A quick stocktake of all the stores in Ruffec that we thought may sell bed-frames was undertaken, and despite our simple tastes, nothing in the style we were after could be found in Ruffec.
We eventually found a bed in the catalogue of a popular store in France called “Maison du Monde”. There is a store in Angoulême, the regional city closest to Verteuil, only 35 minutes or so away. So, a trip to Angoulême was in order, the first of many to look for, procure, arrange delivery of, and in some cases – return, many of the items that it takes to set up a tiny house in the French country-side. Like a number of other items, delivery couldn’t be organized during the time we were still in Verteuil, but fortunately the couple who will be looking after the house while we are in Australia and who will also be welcoming guests to the house, Allan and Lynn, were able to assist with all deliveries.
A week or so later Allan asked us when the “lattes” were arriving. “Excuse-moi?”
Apparently, in France, when buying a bed it is not just a matter of buying a mattress and bed frame. The bed ensemble would just not be complete (and quite useless) without a third essential component. The “lattes”, sometimes referred to as “le sommier” is a wooden frame with slats that fits inside the bed frame and supports the mattress. Why it is sold separately is beyond me, except it is perhaps due to the fact that you can buy lattes with varying degrees of firmness (the slats are taut and are constructed with a little “give” in them). Of course there are beds in Australia that have slats. However, these slats are rolled up and in my experience, without exception come with the bed frame.
This is a great example how one’s cultural background and experience, even in silly little details like this, can lead us to take things for granted and end in little bemusing surprises. So, off to Ruffec to find where to buy a set of lattes, and then arrange to get these to the house.
So, mattress delivered, lattes delivered, bed frame due to be delivered in a couple of weeks time with Allan set to rendez-vous with the delivery guys who have agreed to contact him half an hour prior to arrival on a set day. Weeks after arriving back in Australia we received an email from Allan saying that the delivery guys had arrived without notice and as no one was at the house, they left. On contacting Maison du Monde a couple of days later, the self-described “big boss-lady” (but that’s another story), said that unfortunately the bed had been sold (hmmmm….), and it would take another month to have another to be redelivered. That would be fine except for the fact that we had friends due to arrive to stay ….
Wendy, a friend from our gym and her husband Mark were due to stay in Verteuil for two weeks as part of a month long trip to Europe to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Milestone wedding anniversary and no bed! Just saying!!
Allan’s solution was to borrow a bed from Kathryn and Kevin, who have a lovely stone house in Mouton, a little hamlet about 12 km from Verteuil. After the ok from Kathryn and Kevin (my aunty and uncle), Allan and his son retrieved their bed. Not an easy exercise as Kathryn and Kevin’s staircase must be narrower than ours – the bed had to be lowered out through their bedroom window on the second floor!
So, the foreign bed was ensconced in our house in Verteuil in time for Wendy and Marks’s visit. As a happy ending to this tale, our bed was delivered 3 months after purchase and set up nicely in its place. At the time of writing, it remains unslept in – hopefully ready for our first guests in 2016.
This morning we returned from a hectic three weeks in Verteuil-sur-Charente in mid-south-west France, in the Poitou-Charente region of France. The purpose of this whirlwind trip was to furnish a little house, and make it habitable and comfortable. We want to use it next year, but also, we had some groups of friends and colleagues planning to stay at our house in Verteuil, the first couple in just two weeks from now.
It has been a hectic, busy and fun experience over the last three weeks making final preparations for making our little stone terrace house habitable. We met the lady who owns the house next door the evening before we left the village. She comes every evening to attend to them - we were wondering who feeds and waters the 10 chickens in the back plot. When I confirmed with her that she doesn't actually live there, she gasped and cried "mais non, it is not habitable!!"
Our house is now almost all furnished, but still some work to be completed in the next two weeks before some friends arrive to stay for a week.
Allan will be painting the outdoor patio area and the ceiling of the ground floor. Plus his son will be revarnishing the outside shutters at the front of the house.
Andy the plumber will be putting in a new toilet on his third visit here.
Paul the electrician will be installing new light fittings, and trying to fix the stove top and oven.
And we still need to take delivery of the bed (we have been sleeping on mattresses on the floor this week); plus a convertible sofa for downstairs; and a replacement glass cabinet that was damaged during its first delivery.
Plus a little bit of landscaping by Andy the gardener, which will be a work in progress over the next couple of years.
The last day in Verteuil consisted of rest, coffee and pineau by the river, a few internal house photos to post on the house's web site, a quick trip into Ruffec to buy a toilet roll holder (so glad we are getting rid of the current pink toilet and roll holder!), and then drive into Angoulême to catch the TGV to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Where did this adventure begin? .... While Don and I were in Europe last year, not only did we walk the 800 km pilgrimage of the camino de Santiago de Compostela (from St Jean Pieds de Port in France to Santiago in Spain), but we also managed to pick up this cute little stone house in France. This was very exciting and has been a dream of mine for a number of years. The buying process was a very long and very French experience! And we thought stamina was needed to finish the camino!!
Our house is a small 18th century stone terrace house in the beautiful little village of Verteuil-sur-Charente, or Verteuil (pronounced “Ver-toy”). Verteuil is set on the Charente river just under three hours south of Paris by TGV. The village has a lovely, quaint character and its magnificent château, or castle, is just down the street! Verteuil is surrounded by sunflower fields and dozens of other historic villages and hamlets. It’s a great area, and we love it!!
When I first saw the advertisement for this little house back in Australia in late 2013/early 2014, I popped it in my “favourites”, revisited it a couple of times, and then it promptly took place along with a number of others in the back of my mind and deep in the memory banks of my computer. I had been receiving a number of weekly listings of French houses for sale for about 5 years, an on-going hobby. Looking primarily around the south western regions of Poitou-Charente, Aquitaine and Limousin, there was plenty of stock!
During our second week in France of a five month séjourn in Europe in 2014, and after a few emails to and from Joan the real estate agent, we had a look at this tiny house in Verteuil. It piqued our interest straight away. Verteuil was already a favourite village from previous trips – a quaint little village nestled into the lovely Charente river, a classic château, a nice selection of shops and cafés, and close to the town of Ruffec (5 km) and the regional city of Angoûleme. A week later, at the end of our first week walking the camino de Compostela, we made an offer over the phone, and that put in train the long, bureaucratic and phenomenally frustrating, but exciting and rather exotic process of buying a property in France. It finally became ours in November 2014, and we spent our first night in the house (sleeping on the floor) on 9 July 2015.
Mum, Don and I descended on Verteuil in June/July this year to help furnish and fit out the house. Over the coming years we would love to share this little piece of France with family and friends. If you are planning to visit Europe in the future, don’t just set your sights on Paris. Think about an experience in regional France to experience a slice of the real France - la France Profonde!