It’s amazing to think we have only been in France for a little over two months! It started off with such a whirlwind of activity in our attempts to get ramped up quickly – driven partly by mitigating expenses related to car and gite rentals. We had literally been all over the place in 2022; our RV trip through US and Canada including a break in Hawaii, then onto France, then onto the UK for holidays. Though it has been a profoundly great adventure, we are looking forward to a more stationary lifestyle in 2023😍
The exciting news is we signed the sales agreement for our house! We are hoping to take possession by the end of February or beginning of March. The shipper has also informed us that our household goods are scheduled to be delivered at the beginning of April. We are excited about the prospect of getting settled in🏡
In the meantime we are catching up with new friends, taking long walks, working on our french lessons including the rather involved process of getting a license, and of course further exploring our new surroundings.
On Bob’s birthday we attended the truffle festival or “Truffle Fete” in Sarlat. The majority of attendees were sporting a glass of wine and partaking in the “street food” where local chefs whipped together culinary delights using the famed black truffle found in the Perigord region. It was a cold but clear day – the French are hardy people and endured long lines and outdoor dining to enjoy this rather indulgent event. It is a great social gathering for the area, evidenced by the groups of friends huddled around the wine barrels.
This exploration resulted in a weekend of culinary experimentation that included fabulous omelets and linguini with white cream sauce and shaved truffle. We of course acquired a “Truffle Shaver” that is also great for shaving hard cheeses and chocolate.
I also did the very French thing of driving to the local boulangerie in St. Pompon (a small lovely village not far from us) to acquire a banquette for dinner as we wanted a fresh one (of course!!). Much of rural France shuts down on Sundays – even the major stores are only open until around noon. Many of the smaller stores are closed on Monday as well so you have to plan accordingly. As it was Sunday, I needed to get to the boulangerie before noon. St. Pompon was virtuallydevoid of people when I arrived; I think the only activity is Sunday services but even that seems pretty thin.
The French keep their Christmas lights up for the first few weeks of January and when we found ourselves driving back in the dark, we were delighted by the light festivals we encountered; the local villages take pride in the festival accomplishments!
Later in the week we ventured off to Villeneuve sur Lot to take advantage of the bi-annual sales in France. Here they hold them twice a year to move inventory that is marked down but not allowed to go below the price they purchased it for. It’s not like they don’t have sales, but this is when they really blow through their inventory.
Our realtor had referred us over to some great bilingual contacts at local appliance and furniture stores in Villeneuve sur Lot who would allow us to buy now and then ship when we get into the house.
Since we couldn’t bring our American appliances and of course, the larger ones were out of the question, we bought a good quality washer and dryer, a small “cabinet” or upright freezer with pull out drawers!!!!! I really hated sorting through our chest freezer back in Portland…. We also bought an air fryer, food processor, LG Smart TV (a really nice one to enhance our viewing experience!) and a temporary platform bed and mattress to transfer to the gite when our stuff arrives from the US. With the new (yet seriously old) house we are doing a much needed reboot of everything that should last us for quite a while.
On our way back to the gite, we drove through torrential rain that turned to slush and then to snow. We got home just in time as the snow was just starting to stick to the back roads. We lit the fire and watched the snow come down in an ethereal waltz. We woke the next morning to bright blue skies and several inches of snow. We saw the local farmers plowing the backroads as they are not managed by the transportation division who were focusing on the main roads.
We took a delightful walk with the snow lighting up the already arresting landscape.
We have been keeping moderately busy. I’m still processing my surroundings; there are days when it’s clear and beautiful and I walk along the insanely quiet country trails and roads – only occasionally interrupted by a passing car. The area is mostly deciduous, but there are copses of large beautiful pine trees, reminiscent of cedar with their draping bows. The smell of pine permeates the air as I stroll by – reminding me of the Pacific Northwest.
Anywhere we drive there are chateaus and farms; even on days of inclement weather, especially when the fog clings to the lowlands, we are surrounded by an other-worldly mural. It seems more like a time warp as we meander through the ancient communes, some so small they don’t even have a boulangerie!
When we pass by crumbling buildings and walls, we often wonder how old they are and did they house farm animals? Have these same pastures been tended for centuries?
Then we take an alternative backroad and find ourselves approaching a thriving metropolis of grand buildings, cathedrals and cobblestone streets that beg to be explored. Then a chateau emerges in all its glory.
We took an afternoon to explore one such structure – Castelnaud – a huge castle harking back to the 12th century.
We had floated by it when canoeing down the Dordogne in 2020; it is constructed at a towering height, emerging from the cliff itself. It is a true medieval marvel complete with a museum displaying armor, weapons and the “vogue” fashion of the day. With its sigils buffeting the wind, and the towers overlooking the breathtaking Dordogne valley, you are taken back to a time of chevaliers (knights in shining armor) and princesses.
One of the things I love about retiring, besides the freedom, is being able to sleep in. We are both early birds but the idea of not being on a compressed time schedule and rushing to catch the bus or light rail, and then enduring a long day at work – which then required an additional hour commute – is a blessing I embrace with gratitude daily.
Upon reflection, when we were in the RV, we were always on the go; we could sleep in but typically had to pack up in a few hours and head out to our next destination. Now it seems we are spending more time “putzing” around, working on our house plans, studying and attending french lessons and other items necessary for our French integration.
It is not without its challenges as we work to enroll ourselves into the national healthcare system and work on our driving licenses, and being otherwise impatient to get into our news digs. And we finally connected with a local bank in Bergerac; BNP Paribas who is opening up accounts for us (we were referred through an American contact we met through our network). We are still waiting, yes waiting for months, for HSBC to open our account; they hadn’t processed our paperwork from October, resulting in us having to resend the information. We have been told that was all they needed and will let us know when it’s done being processed; they will then send the documents to the branch in Bordeaux. Sigh.
You hear many Americans lamenting about finding a bank who will take them; the FACTA rules are such that reporting can be a burden that many reps at French banks do not want to take on.
To further occupy our time,we have also been spending time in local cities that are not far from us to get a feel of the place; the bistros, shopping areas and green spaces that run along the many rivers. We visited “Mr. Bricolage” which is actually the French version of Home Depot! It’s fascinating walking through the tool sections and seeing name brands such as Stanley, Black and Decker and Ryobi, then discovering the eccentricities of how the French do things such as lots of vinyl material for making your own window blinds. We will need to make our own fly screens here as the windows open inward so you can reach the shutters to block the light on hot days. Our new house has some blinds installed already so we can be less reliant on the external shutters if needed; but while the French don’t mind flies in their house, we are not so accommodating!
We hope to be in our house within the next 4-5 weeks – stay tuned!