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.
house is ready
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!
Jim lives in Brisbane, Australia, works at The University of Queensland, and enjoys visiting, reading and learning about France.