Mar 1 – April 25 2023 Beausejour – Part Two of our French Integration

It’s early March and the weather is cold…as in biting cold, but it is clear with a layer of frost dusting the nearby fields.  I take a moment to survey my surroundings, but my revelry is suddenly interrupted as I find myself running frantically out to the road to flag down the Darty (appliance store)  delivery truck.  They are here to deliver our new washer, dryer, freezer and small appliances;  apparently our home is a bit difficult to find even when they have the address plugged into the GPS…seems I don’t have to worry too much about being stalked in this part of the world.  I have now learned, through trial and error, to add the GPS coordinates in addition to the address in the delivery instructions, otherwise I get somewhat frantic calls in French from the drivers who apologize for their poor English (while I apologize… tres desole…sorry for my poor French). I also went as far as putting a sign on the front door to leave the packages in our absence (in French of course) –  unlike the delivery methods used in America where the UPS or Amazon truck shows up and delivers your items on the front porch sans your presence, France seems to have a love for a vast variety of delivery services who require signatures upon arrival. This limits my options of being out and about as they don’t always commit to a time or day, and if they do, they don’t always abide by that commitment (we had been warned about the “French way of doing things” and they are living up to their reputation).  So this “hack” of leaving a sign turned out to be the biz, and serves as permission to just leave any packages on the terrace (assuming they can find the place).  The one company that has demonstrated reliability is Ikea, who definitely gives you a date and a window which works out well assuming they can even find our house. I also keep the GPS coordinates handy to text the drivers back once we politely conclude at the end of the conversation we can’t understand one another:  Je text les coordonnées GPS etc. 

Ahh…but we have finally arrived to Beauséjour – meaning “beautiful stay” and the road sign even confirms that we are indeed in a special part of the world.  On the day we were scheduled to sign off on the house we did a “walk through” with our realtor and the previous owner.   We learned some interesting stories about the history:   For insurance purposes we had stated the structures were built in the early 1800’s as there weren’t any official records going back before the 1900’s.  Urban legend has it that the fleur-de-lis and shield carved on both sides of the rather large fireplace was placed there during the stay of King Francois the 1st back in the early 1500’s – if this is true (since the symbols depict royalty) that would indicate that the house was built in the 15th century and around 400 hundred years old! 

Though we are not even close to being a grand chateau (technically meaning castle) by any means, in rural France a pigeonnier is a sign of wealth along with the scalloping accents on the side of the house.

Subtle scalloping on the side of the house

We were also advised that the surrounding farmland used to belong to this particular maison; so while the house itself has similar proportions to our home in Portland, due to the pigeonnier and the accompanying symbology, it used to belong to wealthy landowners.  

The ancient Colombage timbers that sustain the structures have since been reinforced without losing any of the original character and are treated for termites. We have also found our recent furniture purchases from the “Brocantes” (antique market furniture and so much fun to shop at those!) to be a bit wobbly as the floors aren’t exactly level in some places. Add to that the flaws that come from our “new purchases” and we find ourselves retrofitting to give our surfaces a bit of stability.  The china cabinet is a great size as most we’ve seen have been quite large. The rustic workbenches are popular and this one was actually refinished and is a perfect addition to our entryway!

I am now also being indoctrinated to the idea of radiators and how this whole system works. The boiler is down the “cellar” along with a large community of spider webs.  It is here we have also deposited the extra freezer and washer; we are on a septic system (known as a fosse here), and the washer was built to drain from the cellar to the septic.  Yes we do have to walk around the side of the house but we are, after all, in the country in a several-hundred-year-old maison so you have to make some concessions.  We will eventually be upgrading to solar and split air conditioning units in anticipation of the long warm summers – with climate change we are told the temperatures are on the rise and will also reduce our personal drag on the grid.

We have a little under an acre of land and Bob was chomping at the bit for a rider mower, also known as a “tandeuse.” Yes, we are back to the gardening frenzy we’re so fond of and we have plenty of work to do.  Unfortunately, our gardening tools are in the shipping container that isn’t scheduled to arrive until mid April, so off we go to “Jardiland” (jardin is garden in French so do the math) to pick up a few odds and ends to tide us over.  Bob managed to snag a nice mower that was soon delivered and he disappeared into the ether of gardening bliss, trolling the property from the lofty heights of his new toy while cursing the interminable dandelions.  

I have been busy painting and kitting out our new utility room; there isn’t much in the way of storage in the main house so I took one of the bedrooms (there are four and just the two of us – much like our house in Portland) and am designing a laundry/pantry/general storage room.  I soon discovered (as many have here), that paint is quite expensive for whatever reason and the mat colors aren’t up to much when it comes to coverage.  So while we are eating on the cheap because the markets and general cost-of-living are just so insanely good here, we get dinged in other departments.  

The dryer we bought does not require venting (it collects the condensation in a plastic basin that you discard down the drain) so you can plug it in anywhere – a clever euro design. We also ordered IKEA units to complete the storage area; you can always joke about IKEA but the storage units we ordered are of good quality.  And an extra refrigerator because the one we have is pretty dang small. 

Voila!  A few more touch ups and additions and we will be in laundry and storage domestic bliss.  I love getting new appliances as the ones we divested prior to leaving Portland were getting a bit worn anyway.  

As spring is starting to roll in, we have experienced some pretty epic thunderstorms – I mean thunder, lightning, wrath-of-god type stuff – thankfully the shutters are really effective for keeping the rain at bay; I mean it gets really horizontal and blows a gale.  But France, like so much of the rest of the world, really needs rain and we are glad for it when it arrives.  The trees are starting to leaf out and we are seeing blossoms in the garden.  And bees, we are surrounded by them and they are starting to inhabit the mason bee houses we bought. When we are not outside listening to the music of nature we are enjoying our new hi-speed fiber connection; it’s amazing that they have run these systems out into the rural communities.  We are starting to feel more grounded and can crash on our (temporary) sofa and watch our favorite shows after a long day working on the property = spoiled.  

We are on the 45th parallel so we see many of the same plants as you find in Portland.  Our garden is large and the prior owners were British and planted a cornucopia of plants that are unfortunately being invaded by weeds; luckily we are retired, but even with that notion the tasks ahead of us seem a bit overwhelming. 

When we take a break around noon, with our tea on the terrace, the birds and bees are performing their orchestral obligations and we can hear the bells toll from the nearby church of our local commune.  It is times like these that we look out of our property into the vast farmlands and says yes – Beauséjour!! 

View from the kitchen window

In rural France we are oblivious to the rioting in Paris sparked by new legislation to the raise in pension age to 64…we are so far removed and frankly had enough conflict in Portland a few years back.  Experiencing this level of peace and quiet is like developing new senses.  

Of course, it’s not all bliss; as we are now officially grounded with a permanent address, we are now receiving  mail at our new place.  I have a mail forwarding service in the States and we had to have a few packets of important tax docs sent to us.  The La Poste lady (very cheery as well) shows up one day with one of our packets and asks for 9 euros.  We are a bit mystified, and we come to find out that “registered” mail, or what they perceive as “registered mail” is subject to additional fees.  So we had to dig up 9 euros in change and if you don’t have exact change she will take what you have, then leave what is owed in your mailbox.  Fortunately this hasn’t happened with any other mail🙄

Then…our French HSBC banking cards finally arrived (after five months!) and we had to drive to Bordeaux to gather them only to find out that we didn’t have the correct PIN codes.  Long story, but they have PIN codes for online purchases, for your app and for your credit card and you can’t change them.  Our sister-in-law in Seattle took time out of her busy day to convey the information we needed…while I was told all the information would be sent to Bordeaux, they sent the PIN codes to the address in Seattle. C’est la vie accompanied by a shrug – it’s France.  This is the contrasting nature of the place we live in. So now we have two bank accounts which is not a bad thing considering the state of the banking business overall – due to the dual taxation and reporting laws, some Americans have difficulty getting a single account set up when they arrive here.  And though we had our BNP Paribas cards we didn’t get our checkbook for another month and that wasn’t until we checked in and found out they hadn’t gotten around to “processing it yet.”

We are also still grappling with getting into the healthcare system; they must have misplaced Bob’s birth certificate (during the appointment we specifically handed it to them of which they made a copy) yet like our banking process, they are requesting it once again – via snail mail.  Considering the delicate nature of a birth certificate we are opting to drive to the office in Perigueux to  (once again) present both the original and translated version so they can process the file…sigh.  They did confirm they received the document but then I received a letter stating they needed information for my file that I already gave them – as they say in Mandalorian “it is the way.” The hotline did confirm I do have a number and we are finishing up the processing on Bob’s number. Soon we will have a “Carte de Vitale,” and will be in the French healthcare system!

But….of course…there’s more!  I have been scheduled for my Visa appointment to get my official Carte de Sejour (official long stay Visa card), but Bob hasn’t received his yet.  Fortunately they have an English-language help line – even with that the French bureaucracy is not for the faint of heart. Bon courage – we will get through all of this in the next few months.  

In France the 80/20 rule is definitely in full swing:  Americans relocating here should not come with lofty expectations on when things are due to arrive or be processed – this is true 80% of the time. We are surprised when something arrives when scheduled such as Ikea, or when our Orange hi-speed internet was installed and has been working like a charm – the exception rather than the rule!  No American entitlements here!  

Quirks aside, what I do find impressive is being able to recycle everything here; just down the road we have a garbage and recycling center that we visit a few times a week to drop off standard stuff.  For batteries, light bulbs, ink cartridges etc. we take those when we go shopping at one of the bigger cities (Bergerac or Villeneuve-sur-Lot) and they have them in the shopping centers.  For bigger drop offs we go to the local “dechetterie” and deposit cardboard (for all the new stuff we have been acquiring), yard waste etc.  The French love bureaucracy and it spills over into their love for the environment; it’s incredibly impressive. 

I continue to do painting to freshen up areas of the house so when the furniture arrives we won’t have to move it for a while. The upstairs floors were gasping for some TLC and I stained and waxed one of the bedrooms so again – when the furniture eventually arrives it can have a stationary home. They came out beautiful!

Our container has finally arrived!!!! As always seems to be our luck it will be unloaded the day before we leave for our vacation so it will be “a dump and run.” This will be a story for another day as we are off to Venice by way of the (Cote d’Azure) French Riviera😍🍝🍷 for a much needed break from our “transition challenges.”  Stay turned for updates on our European road trip!

French Integration – Part One cont’d

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.  

Truffles Galore!!

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!  

November 12 – December 2 Our French Immigration: Part One – France by way of Seattle 

We arrived in Seattle and landed at the funky downtown Kimpton Hotel. It was a good location as we were walking distance to Pike’s Market and the Piers.  The hotel sports military style paintings ranging from Jimmy Hendricks to Kelsey Grammar and free wine tasting for happy hour.

Strange Bedfellows at the Kimpton

So much had changed since I last visited the waterfront; the viaduct was no longer and much of the area has been modernized, but the smell and feel of the area is eternal; the play of smoked salmon on my senses and the elixir of big sky, the bay, the stir of oceanic breezes that are unmistakably Seattle.  

We spent Sunday afternoon on the Seattle Waterfront catching up with my brother and sister-in-law, Duane and MaryJo, and browsing through some of my childhood haunts such as “Ye Old Curiosity Shop” down at the pier. 

Checking out old childhood haunts with the family

We then had lunch at the Edgewater where we were married back in 1996! We scored a table with a view; the sun shot diamonds across the bay with Mt. Rainier’s unmistakable silhouette in the background.  

The following day, which was our final full day in the U.S., was spent visiting with the Leingangs who treated us to lunch at the Athenian. We then traced the “Sleepless in Seattle” nostalgia as we wandered through the Pike’s Place Market.  We were blessed to have fantastic weather and views of the Olympics across the bay.  

Ahh the memories

Back at the hotel, we packed up our bags (too many, but we were relocating after all!) and headed for the Crowne Plaza at SeaTac, performing one final sort of our “stuff.” This was followed by a trip to Redmond for a farewell dinner with Duane and MaryJo; a wonderful home cooked meal of pork stew and cornbread to send us off.  We bid our final farewells, which would be our last in the U.S. with the understanding they would come and visit us in France.  

It was all so very bittersweet.  

We drove back through downtown Seattle with its iconic skyline, lit up like a constellation against the night sky – the Space Needle refusing to be overshadowed by the unrelenting progress.  

It has been a great way to end our residency in the States; I was born in Seattle and would be departing to another life from there.

The next morning we headed for the airport, where our plane was unfortunately delayed but it didn’t really matter; we had a direct flight to Paris and plenty of time to get to Orleans for our first night stay. 

The flight was delightful as we had upgraded to Delta Comfort and it wasn’t too full.  When we landed, we breezed through passport control to get our Visas stamped and voila!  We are now feet down in our new country.  

We picked up our luggage (lots of bags so that was an experience by itself), but did not need to stop in customs which was rather odd, and the airport wasn’t crowded at all.  As we waited for our luggage, we swapped out our SIM cards which got us immediately onto the French cell “Orange” network, then proceeded to Avis which was across the street (all so simple!!).  We took off for Orleans, just south of Paris.  As it turned out the navigation in the Peugeot we rented was tragically incompetent and had us meandering through the back streets of Paris instead of taking their “freeways.”  After an hour of sheer frustration we popped up Google Maps and we were soon on our way; glad to be out of the Parisian gridlock where it seemed the traffic signs were simply a suggestion.

Orleans is the home of Joan of Arc sporting a large statue in a rather posh square.  It had been raining and the street lights reflected a painterly glow against the historically crafted buildings. This area is the hub of Orleans and was pristine with an upscale flair to it.  Much to my surprise, they were setting up for Christmas and lovely displays in the works.  I had thought they didn’t start any Christmas activities until a few weeks before.

Cool architecture and art in Orleans

As we were tired, we settled in for a simple meal of stew and then registered our visas online that as is customary. The French system wasn’t entirely clear but we powered through it; we are now officially residents – not yet permanent but that’s our eventual goal.  We soon found ourselves fast asleep around 9:00. 

The next morning we strolled around the gorgeous avenues but were anxious to get to our BNB in the Dordogne; it would be a seven hour drive. After a few hours on the road we stopped off in Limoges (yes – home of the famous ceramics) where we started seeing all the culinary delights such as truffles and Foie Gras courtesy of the verdant Dordogne Valley. When we reached the valley, the roads began to unfold into the dreamlike landscape with stone farmhouses and the occasional chateau – the countryside we had been pining for.  

We stopped by the supermarket (Carrefour) in Sarlat to pick up necessary items; it’s difficult not to linger as grocery shopping in France is a whole new experience! But  had been a long day and we at least had some necessities for the BNB (called a “gite” in France). 

We reached our gite, just outside the small hamlet of Prats du Perigord, and were greeted by the lovely Aurelia who spoke little English so we reverted to our very practiced sign language. The gite was a converted tobacco barn; much like the last one we stayed in last September. It had all the amenities we could hope for plus two bedrooms – one we would be using for storage that would also double as our “kitchen pantry” for the goods we had shipped from the US via special carrier. 

I had been working with realtors for several weeks prior to our arrival and we had our first viewing on Friday – the next day!  The house we visited was lovely; a classic French Country home complete with a pool in the peaceful countryside – the problem was that it needed way too much work as the owners had “let it go” and the roof was in desperate need of repair.  Repairing roofs in France is not cheap and no small feat; these are tiled roofs specific to the region – you can’t just slap on the usual roofing materials you see in the U.S.  Some of the quotes we had seen were upwards to 60,000 euros.  

We departed the viewing and went to the Leclerc Hypermarket – think of it as one of the larger Fred Meyer’s but with better food options😍 Including two long mind-boggling refrigerator rows dedicated to yogurt.  The wine and alcohol section takes up a good fifth of the area (of course!). Many of the options are organic and the vegetable section is a display of commercial and locally grown produce. 

We found the “Demi-lait” which is their version of half and half – organic and creamy – just lovely.  

The baking area was an array of fresh baguettes (the basis of the French diet) and an incredible display of artfully crafted tarts and donuts – or as they say in New Orleans “beignets.” They even had a boutique tea section that had Lapsang Souchong which is difficult to find in the markets in the U.S.  

What a delight it all was!

But when we tried to check out we got an earful from the cashier that thankfully a bilingual customer clarified that we weren’t allowed to take our small rolling cart through the checkout area;  ah ha!! So no one will steal them I guess, but this area was pretty middle class and we hadn’t seen any homeless at all.  They also have a clever system where you have to put euros in to “rent” a large shopping cart – when you return it it gives you the euros back.  

The French are very conservative if not downright chic even when running simple errands.  It was a lot like Japan; no sweat pants or sportswear – usually jeans and a jacket and in many cases well matched leggings and sweaters.  And a lovely scarf.  

After that experience we decided to torture ourselves further – we then decided to venture out to a home goods store which was a hodge-podge of crafts mixed in with furniture and decorating.  We found some Christmas paper hoping to ship items back home if we can ever find boxes and figure out the postal system here.  

We then stumbled into “Boulanger” that was next door (curiosity kills the cat) that turned out to be an appliance store with a lovely KitchenAid Artisan Mixer on a Black Friday sale – bingo!  This was our first new edition for our forever-home; and a handy appliance for making bread in the meantime.

We headed back through La Roque Gageac (where the homes are built into the cliffs) which was practically shuttered as it was the end of the tourist season, but it was achingly lovely just the same.  We are looking forward to hikes and picnicking in this area come spring and summer!  

We survived our drive back to the BNB, having had some experiences with the manic French drivers who are thankfully not too much in abundance on the otherwise quiet country roads.

Thankfully Saturday was a break day and we headed to the Sarlat Saturday Market where we indulged in some Foie Gras, picked up vegetables and duck (duck is like chicken in France, lower fat and healthier!).  We had coffee at a bar near the historic center where they were playing American rock music.  Whatever the French say about Americans, our influence is everywhere – much like the French influence in America.  

The Saturday Market in Sarlat

We spent Sunday getting organized and exploring the neighborhood.  We heard the church bells go off as we meandered around the village. We were still adjusting to the dark and the quiet; something we rarely experienced even when we were traveling in our RV.  

We spent most of the following week motoring for hours all over the Dordogne looking for houses.  Though we marveled at the countryside we were getting understandably exhausted.  On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day) we visited a home that based on the photos we weren’t entirely set on.  It was a bit further south in the Lot et Garonne but still part of the Dordogne Valley. 

When we arrived we were completely taken with the architecture which is known as “Colombage.”  It had an English Tudor feel to it but with whitewash throughout.  These are known as “timber homes” with a unique style; very light and airy. The house is a few miles outside the “Beaux Village” of Villereal known for its Saturday Market that has been around for centuries.  This area also boasts some of the largest assortment of stunning villages and is a half hour to Bergerac which is a main hub for getting major appliances, furniture, groceries and has a small airport for local flights.  Just far enough away to not be disturbed by any city hub-bub.  

Our New Home!!!!!

We are also just southeast of Bordeaux as an alternate flying route and we will look forward to exploring🍷

More info on the region for those wanting to know:

The main house has 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms, one with a tub (yeah!), the huge dining room/lounge also called a “Sejour.” The kitchen is new but we will need to retrofit into our own style. There is a cellar that holds the oil heating (hoping to change that as well but it’s pretty prevalent wherever you go).

The property encompasses nearly an acre surrounded by farmland that rotates sunflowers and wheat…I try to imagine sitting on the terrace overlooking fields of sunflowers.  The country road is quiet and dark – except for the occasional truck and mad driver.  We would need to install a pool which is well within our budget.  

The veranda is east facing so we get the morning sun and the afternoon shade as we anticipate it getting hot in the summertime which is standard for this region.

Happy Hour will never be the same – ahhhh

The gite is a beautifully converted barn – what an added and stunning bonus.  We left with a lot to think about.  

We had planned to roast a duck for Thanksgiving (our first away from the states), but wound up in the Sarlat Renault dealership, buying a lovely Renault Captur Hybrid and didn’t get back home until late.  We went with a new build that was sitting on a lot not far away as the used models weren’t much cheaper, and the other dealers weren’t as accommodating.  We scored as I had been pining for one with gold accents and voila!  It magically appeared. 

Renault Captur Hybrid – what a cutie

The purchasing process involved a go-between interpreter/sales agent as the primary agent, the charming Enzo, didn’t speak much English. Adam, our interpreter liked practicing his English so we were extremely lucky. This went back and forth for two hours until we finally got the papers signed and agreed on a delivery date.  Our next step was to get the funds transferred from the US to the Renault bank via international transfer.  This became rather involved as Bank of America required two factor identity and we had just switched our phones over to France. Bob popped his Verizon SIM back into his phone so we could muddle through the process. 

On our way home we discussed the house and asked to see it again on Friday.  

For dinner we settled on a simple salad and FaceTime with Duane and MaryJo.  We were visibly exhausted but happy to connect with relatives on such an important holiday.  

On Friday we ventured back to the prospective house and after further viewing, photographing and discussion we decided this really was the place for us.  All the boxes checked off and most everything fell into place on our wish list (not everything like a water well for example, but we can manage around that and add a pool).  Luckily, the Mairie was in (the local mayor) and we reviewed our plans with them by way of our French-speaking realtor.  He confirmed no problem on the pool and additional solar panels as well as a carport – we were ready to rock.  We made the offer that afternoon and it was accepted and signed over the weekend.  We got such a deal on it as the owner had bought another property and needed the proceeds to move.  We had the added benefit that homes in this region outside the heavily touristed areas can sit on the market for months even during a hot real estate market.

The process will take a while as we need clearance from the local agricultural committee that they don’t wish to buy the property; we are located in farming territory and it’s highly regulated.  Then we go through the usual French process using a “notaire,” much like an escrow agent that may got a bit speedier as we are paying cash.  The realtor let us know that we could actually obtain possession of the house by the end of January which would be a delight.  

What a week it had been!! We purchased a car and a home, all meeting and or exceeding our expectations😍

On Saturday, we did some more reconnaissance of the area not far from our forever-home, including the lovely Saturday Market in Villereal where we sat and had coffee – watching the world go by.  There are no drive-through Starbucks or the like here; you basically sit down for a chat and respite at the cafes.  On a sunny day people just bundle up as the preference is to sit outdoors.  When the sun is out it becomes pleasantly warm.

We will soon be regulars – note our new french shopping basket

The next challenge was getting our funds moved into Euros. On Monday and we had the accounts prepped and by Thursday Morgan Stanley had our funds in an international account ready for conversion to Euros at our signal. In the meantime we will keep an eye out for the fluctuating dollar to work in our favor.

For the car purchase we wound up using an international transfer service known as WISE, but it takes a few days for the transfers to push through and they sometimes ask for more backup info. The money arrived in time to the Renault dealership for us to pick up our new baby on Friday.  Whew!!

Additionally, once we get our French HSBC checkbook and cards (we have been waiting for six weeks) then we will eventually shut down B of A as it’s too much of a hassle managing funds overseas; they do not allow international phone numbers for two-factor ID which makes navigating their systems that much more difficult. 

In the meantime we can set up direct debits through WISE to pay for incidentals through euros so we can manage the exchange rate as the dollar possibly weakens.  

Sigh…we now had time to check out the area around our gite by way of the “groomed” trails sporting old farmhouses and châteaus.  Such a different pace and environment from our haunts in Portland.  

On a sunny day on Friday December 1 we collected our new wheels, headed to Bergerac to drop off the rental and kicked around the city for a few hours; celebrating our good fortune at finding our new forever home as well.  

Proud New Owners!

In the meantime, our other challenges included the switch from Amazon US to France.  We finally got it transferred but we were required to buy the French Prime membership and then let our US membership expire.  Somehow this messed up the app on our phones and it started to show up as Amazon India (it’s these quirky things that you spend your time troubleshooting). After deleting and reinstalling the app we were back in the French app – which does not have English as an option😂. Even the translation options choke on some of the pages.  Then we get on and off French speaking US programming on our Prime Video.

But we concluded that it’s a great way to get to learn your French – when your forced to do shopping in a foreign language!

Then to add to this goat rodeo, I kept getting notifications from Amazon that our shipments had been delayed or aborted.  It turns out they use La Poste (which would make sense as that is the primary French postal service) but we were mystified that our goods were sitting literally five miles away and they couldn’t seem to find the gite. 

Then miraculously… Mon Dieu!!! Amazon showed up with all of our goods at once; I suspect they delay and consolidate shipments in remote areas to economize on trips.  It was like Christmas (but not really but just as exciting) as we opened the boxes and retrieved items we couldn’t find locally – things like calcium supplements, psyllium powder, meat thermometer and a new blender that was cheaper on Amazon than at the local appliance stores🤷‍♀️

Alas, after all this international intrigue, we were now entering the “dead zone” going from a frantic pace to “what do we do today” 😒

Well…there is still plenty to do: Make new friends (in progress), work out, hike, do our French lessons, make healthy meals with our new appliances, go on day trips to cool-looking villages, explore the local markets, figure out how the Captur works using a French car manual — things like that.  Oh yeah, and I have to go to battle at La Poste to navigate their overseas shipping system – I needed to fill out an online customs form apparently – assuming you can find it which I eventually did and then you need to visit the post office and see if you got it right or if they throw you another curve.

Suffice it to say, even though we have made exceptional progress on our goals thus far, navigating some of the quirks in France can be understandably exhausting – as we were warned!

For those familiar with my past know that I’ve had a difficult life and I think it prepared me to meet these challenges; turning adversity to my advantage – if I can survive what I have then I can get through these current challenges. I am equally grateful that I am getting established in a new dream life – more than I could have ever hoped for.

Likewise, I’m thankful for the downtime – it’s been a particularly busy year that we will close out with family in the UK🇬🇧

October 1 – November 12 Portland, Oregon…The Long Goodbye 

A long post for a long goodbye.  After living in Portland, Oregon since 1994 we bid our final farewell.  Despite the scars of recent years, this city has an enduring charm; it is a lovely place to behold and the Oregon landscapes are unparalleled.  

We started off the next leg of our transition by putting BigB into storage, feeling fortunate to land Debbie and Mike’s beautiful home again with a separate apartment downstairs; they were away on vacation so the timing was perfect and we got to take care of their gorgeous kitties.  We spent the first weekend divesting BigB of all our “stuff” as we had a buyer looking at her on Monday.  That turned out to be more than we bargained for; we wound up with several boxes packed up in our friend’s garage.  To top off this challenge, we needed to pull items we would need for interim time in France; what we called the “transition box.”  We had to think through our situation; after we buy a house in France it will take about three months for our things to be shipped over; we can’t store our container in France as it’s expensive and they will also charge us duty.  So we are taking a few necessities with us; fortunately we have no appliances to worry about and can buy all new when we get there.  While we’ll be living rather minimalistic for a while, we can start getting things done around the new property. 

After we purged and did the final cleaning on BigB, we drove her down to Dundee where we met a pleasant woman by the name of Robin who fell in love with the rig.  She had her “RV Guy” inspect her and she came through with flying colors.  Robin wrote us a check for a down payment and will collect BigB towards the end of October when she is back from Costa Rica.  

We were elated to have found a good home for the RV, especially to someone who had plenty of experience RVing and who would take good care of her. 

We headed back and finished sorting through all our “stuff” as we needed to clear out the garage before our friends got back from vacation; we were essentially blocking their cars!  Fortunately the weather was warm and the seasonal rains hadn’t yet arrived. 

After we went through the laborious process of sifting through our things, we took the boxes back to the rig for storage.  Fortunately the RV storage facility is close to Chipman (our international shippers).

While all this was happening our Long Term French Visa’s arrived – quicker than we had figured and we breathed a sigh of relief!  We had in the back of our minds that with the French bureaucracy being what it is, that we may have slipped up somewhere.  Now we had to wrap our heads around the idea that this was for real!!! 

I visited my dear friend Rolia from Liberia who had a lovely African style birthday party!  She is a local celebrity who is known as the “Dancing Lady” and is seen frequently at Blazer games and performances with her African Children’s Dance Troupe. 

My friend Rolia still has the moves!

We then had a lovely dinner with my Chinese friend Lin and her family who I also went on a subsequent hike with later in the week. We were also treated to a fabulous curry dinner with dear friends Jim and KC, Terrence and Ashlee and her parents in Lake Oswego – it’s been a bit of moveable feast!

Between all the grazing, Bob and I continued to wrap up our final doctor visits and prescriptions to hold us over until we roll over into the French healthcare system; this included getting the latest Covid booster and flu shot.  We apply for our Carte de Sejour post arrival and we should have our medical cards in about three months. This allows us to roll into the French healthcare system – we still need to get top off insurance for the 30% they won’t cover until we are Permanente residents, but even with that it is generally cheaper than the U.S. with better medical coverage.

We also had to take BigB in for repairs in Sandy, Oregon and decided to visit Timberline Lodge up on Mt. Hood since it was on the way.  It was busier than we thought and there were plenty of hikers on the mountain; we even saw a few with heavy backpacks ready to do some overnight camping on the Pacific Crest Trail.  The temperature was insanely perfect, but tragically Mt. Hood was mostly devoid of snow; we usually come up to Timberline for snowshoeing and it was a revelatory experience to see all the exposed hiking trails. For those not in the know, the exterior of Timberline Lodge was featured in the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson; that gives you an idea of how much snow piles up around the Lodge.  It is stunning when they’ve had a fresh coating of powder and the weather clears – it truly defines a winter wonderland.  

On our way back we took the route through Hood River and down the Columbia Gorge.  We stopped at Multnomah Falls for coffee and to take in the scenery. Because we have lived here since 1994 we had never bothered to pick up any souvenirs; well we got magnets at Mt. Hood and one for the falls to complete our collection!  

Multnomah Falls

The last piece of heavy lifting was completing the setup of our French HSBC Account that required a visit to Seattle on October 14 to sign off on the paperwork.  It’s not that simple to just go to France and open up an account; the US international tax laws are such that the French banks don’t want to do any reporting on these bothersome American tax requirements. We had heard that other Americans had set their accounts up in the U.S. with HSBC (who don’t have an issue with the tax reporting).  Once we power through this one last challenge, we will be able to seamlessly draw our funds from the US to France which is important as we need to buy a car right away and put down earnest money on a house.

I had to collect paperwork from my brother as we are using his address for residency purposes, so logistically it turned out to be a lot of running around as he lives in Redmond.  We then completed our paperwork in downtown Seattle that turned out to be a pretty seamless process. Thank God!  But now we wait for several weeks – argh. 

After completing the paperwork, we booked into our hotel and relaxed; this was the last piece of the elaborate puzzle that was our transition to France.  I had also gotten news from Chipman – our international shipper – that they had found my misplaced luggage we had instructed them to set aside for us when we returned to Portland.  

We had a lovely dinner with my bother and sister-in-law and visited their new kittens that were – of course – adorable.  MaryJo (my sister-in-law) made a great statement:  “It  has taken a village to get you guys to France.” What a perfect way to describe this whole adventure! 

Upon returning to Portland, we departed our friend’s house and relocated to an Airbnb in St. John’s – our old hood.  The rent was cheaper than other areas, and we we were in walking distance to town including a theater and restaurants.  

We busied ourselves with further purging and organizing on what we needed to consume from the RV and pack for one final drop off to Chipman.  When Robin returned from Costa Rica we dropped BigB off; it was a misty farewell as we pondered the epic journey she had taken us on.   

We spent an afternoon visiting friends Kevin and Chris out by Camas, Washington and got in some kayaking- the water levels were amazingly low😩

We then paid a final visit to the St. John’s Farmer’s Market before they closed down for the season. I always loved the flowers and collected them weekly during the spring, summer and then glorious dahlias in the fall.

St. Johns Farmers Market

Back to the final housekeeping; we set about getting our marriage and birth certificates translated to French in anticipation of them requiring these documents for various reasons as we established ourselves as permanent residents. We also got our international driver’s licenses that are good for a year once we arrive; we will need to have our official French licenses before they expire.

We then found the equivalent of Carmax in France so we will be able to get a slightly used Renault Captur Hybrid SUV not long after we arrive (thank god as the car rental fees are steep).  We decided on this model to keep the gas prices down and as they are manufactured locally keeping the cost of ownership low.  They are pretty vehicles.  

We purchased  an Amazon Firestick and a VPN (NORD VPN) so we can continue to watch our favorite streaming channels; the VPN will give us a U.S. IP address.  This VPN works better with the Amazon Firestick and we have been using it with no problems so far.  We won’t retire our ROKU but it will be require the VPN to be installed on the router so we will wait until we get settled in our new home.  

I also got a SIM card for France that covers Europe and even texting to the U.S.  – it’s through the French Orange network in France and we simply need to swap cards when we land in Paris and we’re off to the races with a new number.  

We filled our time catching up with friends and also visited one of our favorite haunts:  The Portland Japanese Gardens.  I used to be a photo member there and it was nice to just bide my time without any distractions; walking around in a zen-like trance, enjoying all the beauty these gardens have to offer; it has been hailed as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.  We stopped in the Umami Cafe for tea pairings and some Miso.  The Roasted Green Tea (Hojicha) is absolutely to die for and the best I’ve had since we were in Japan.  Though I order it off Amazon, it never seems to taste like the type I had in Kyoto.  

We then headed off to the coast and were welcomed with a beautiful day. We browsed though Astoria and then onto Cannon Beach – one of my favorite coastal towns with galleries and an array of shops complete with a walk along the famous Haystack Rock.   

Fall arrived with a bang including a washed-out Halloween; we had planned to walk around the neighborhood and enjoy the kitsch and kids trick-or treating, but found ourselves huddling into our dry abode instead.

Witches in Astoria!
Cannon Beach

One afternoon I walked to the St. John’s bridge during a break in the weather; there wasn’t a soul to be had in Cathedral Park – it was as if this moment was set aside especially for me. I was given the space to contemplate the passage of time and all I had endured up to this moment.  This time I felt an epic balance as the flaming maples protested the graying horizon and I felt at peace – it was a resolute peace. I took in the view of the cascading portal and the massive pylons that many times descended into the fog of the unknown.  This is a place I have immortalized on film – before photography was tsunamied by the digital era.  

Cathedral Park, St. Johns Bridge

Then came the grand idea of tattoos – I have wanted one for years and now was my chance.  Then Bob decided he wanted one too. 

I settled on Ganesh, with the Aum symbol in a Mandala. The image was poetically rendered on the back of my arm that will supposedly be less prone to wrinkles.  I have a fondness for elephants having logged over 160 miles on these lovely pachyderms through India and Nepal.  Ganesh symbolizes the removal of obstacles and I have carried him with me throughout my journeys.  For me, this move to France is a chance to reboot spiritually; I am no longer constrained by anyone else’s idea of what or who I should be.  There has already been a lot of unraveling from my cult conditioning and surrounding myself in a beautiful countryside and immersing myself in a rural culture that celebrates life as art will be – I hope – a transcending experience. 

Then the fall storms arrived with a bang, whipping the trees to and fro, scratching the surface with a desire to break in – it’s gotten pretty loud.  It reminds me of Wuthering Heights though I don’t know what restless spirit such as Cathy would want to be bothering with me.  I’ve been bothered enough already!  

And then the inevitable happened and the power went out; the place we are staying is all electric including the induction stove so we were pretty much stranded with our devices running out of battery.  Since the power wasn’t set to be back on four or five hours we decided to hit the local pub for some grub.  The cider flights turned out to be pretty big! 

The power eventually came back on and the weather cleared the next day so we headed to the coast with our friend Rolia.  We visited the Bronze Gallery in Cannon Beach not realizing that they had sold actual bronzes of Rolia in the past; asI mentioned earlier, she is a bit of local celebrity and is known as the “PDX Dancing Lady,”  – artists including myself have been enamored with her beauty. 

Sista Rolia!

I bought a couple of stunning pendants from Robert Rogers – they reminded me of Bill Worrell’s work and when I mentioned this to him he said he was a good friend of Bill’s up until he passed on.  Robert was apparently showing his pieces at the Worrell Gallery in Santa Fe but I somehow missed those – I’m grateful I made the connection here in Oregon.  Serendipity – what a small world!!  

Robert Rogers Bronze Pendant

We then chowed down on seafood and topped of the day with ice cream.  It turned out to be a fabulous day all around.  

As we headed into our final week, we explored local sites such as the Lan Su Chinese gardens that was inspired by the famous Chinese Gardens in Suzhou; we had visited China back in 2005 and this ancient wonder is a site to behold; canals run through the city and it’s been called the “Venice of China.”

We were otherwise filling days with long walks, visiting friends, dealing with French real estate agents, catching up on movies at an actual theater, getting haircuts and pedicures.  Oh, and surviving three power outages in St. John’s. 

We spent a fair amount of time looking at French real estate in the Dordogne. I soon realized that the French system is pretty different from the American one; there is no one aggregate system such as MLS like we have here in the states.  As a result you need to dig around different sites and engage realtors so you have a fighting chance to get what you want.  

Thus far I have four agents and seven properties scheduled for viewing once we arrive.  It is going to be quite the adventure finding a dream home and it will be like Christmas when all of our goods finally arrive at their final destination!  

After what seemed liked forever, the day of our departure finally arrived; we loaded our bags and bid a bittersweet farewell to Oregon as we drove across the Interstate Bridge into Washington one last time.

We will spend our final days in the U.S. in Seattle visiting my brother and sister-in-law before boarding our flight to Paris on November 15th.

As I contemplate the intense sweep of change we have experienced throughout this year, and the commentary from our friends who admire our ambitious goals and travels, I reflect on a concept I learned in Japan:

Mono No Aware

Appreciate the moment, because the beauty experienced in it will never be the same. It will pass. It will end. And that is okay because as life changes, new beauty, perhaps of a different kind, will arrive. Every season the cherry blossoms die. But every year, they come back to, once again, coat the streets in their ethereal and incomparable demise.