Monday, July 24, 2006

We spent Sunday moving more boxes to the Villa. The chap who has rented our house arrived with his clothes, food etc. He was going to arrive Wednesday but things don't always go as planned so we made him welcome. The garden at the villa is a little short of half an acre, it is planted with 6 large Olive trees and a large Cherry, plus Lavender and 3 Spruce Pines ( not their proper title I expect). There is much work and I don't think the vendors have touched it for a couple of years. But it will be wonderful.

Today, Monday Karen spent much of the day cutting the rogue ground covering conifers bushes to reveal the pathways whilst I dismantled the 60's kitchen cupboards that the sellers had so kindly left in the garage! Why do people do this - yes they are built solidly but so un attractive. Anyway I felt much better after a trip to the dump! It was 37 degrees again today but the pool is fab to cool off The space at the villa is so welcome and we are looking forward to being reunited with our furniture Wednesday.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Yesterday we signed for the Villa, like completion in the UK system. We met with the sellers ( who are Divorced), the agent ( there to collect his money) and the notaire. All was fine. Its an odd system because at this stage you cannot withdraw so why they wait to then to tell you there was an earthquake here in 1982 I don't know, oh well, tomorrow's another day.....

We allowed the sellers to stay a final night and we took possession at Mid day. We then transported various items through the afternoon from our village house to the villa. This included my wine cellar! It was so hot today, about 37 degrees. About 6pm we went for a swim in OUR pool , opened a bottle of bubbly, and sat taking in the view and garden. There is lots of work to do here but it will be fun and keep us busy. The Villa is bigger than we remember and the Chalet in the garden plus the workshop will be invaluable space. I think we got a good house at the right price - it is difficult to judge but it feels right.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Well 'Toto' as we called him has left us, we found him a new home with a friend of a friend much to the relief of Matisse.

He is a lovely kitten,we would have kept him but it was not good timing for us. We seem to be attracting new friends, this one was on a plant outside the house.

Very, very hot again today about 36 degrees.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I know this blog is a little long winded but it is an easier way to update you. Click on the pictures to enlarge – and don’t forget to update us on what’s happening your end, however brief
There was a programme on BBC2 last night about learning French with Esther Rantzen. They are living in Gordes about 7 miles from here.It has 3 'celebrities' trying to learn the language.

They also went to Iles de Porquerolles. We were there in May - highly recommended.

Yesterday was ANPEP, our French class from 9am to Mid-day. It was a good lesson, maybe because we broke up till September ! After a meeting with our architect we had a quick bite to eat before meeting with the man at the bank. Their system is so strange, believe me never complain about British banking !

Last night we went for a walk and literally stumbled across this kitten crying in the street

– anyone who knows Karen and Cats will not be surprised to know it’s spent the night here ! watch this space – on the subject of cats – here are the boys who have now settled very well into Provençal life,

although Matisse becomes increasingly demanding requiring a weekly vacuum!We have nick named him Asbo cat!

Back to work!
An opportunity has arisen for me to join a firm of Estate Agents called Home hunts,

I will shortly become their representative in the North part of the Luberon, helping European buyers source a property in this beautiful area. It encompasses about 40 miles from East to West so should keep me busy!
July 14th is Bastille day, one of the most celebrated holidays in France. Our village has a famous annual ‘Vide Grenier’ or car boot without the cars!

With some 400 stalls they started setting up at 3.40 am, yes we were a woken! It was a great day with literally thousands of visitors thru our village but tonight peace is restored, normality has returned.

Last week we toured through the wine regions of the Rhone taking in the villages and wine Domains for tastings at Sablet, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Beaume de Venise taking the opportunity to top up the cellar at each!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I understand its hot in the UK? Well we have been enjoying these temperatures for about 6 weeks now!

Why is it the UK people complain how miserable the weather is and when it is hot they complain its too hot! ? This was the temperature here last week!My advice would be drink plenty of water,rest during the day and enjoy!
Last Wednesday we went to experience the out door dance show in the Roman Amphitheatre. On route we spent the day in Orange,a lovely city also with a Roman amphitheatre.

We checked into our chambre D’Hote, where the owner gave us a recommendation on where to eat. During our meal the sky became illuminated by lightening, soon followed by thunder then rain. It was the first rain of the season, for over two hours it fell , torrentially with the river lit by the fork lightening and the restaurant, now only lit by candles after losing power shaken by the thunder.

In Provence we really do have seasons ! Sadly the show was cancelled as was there Thursday performance. Would you believe there next destination – Lebannon !

Anyway back to our meal in Vaison -after our aperitif our meal began with an ‘amuse bouche’- a taste to the mouth - raw Tuna topped with crumble in a very small glass complimented by a tapenade (crushed black Olives) with thin toast. As a starter I had marinated Sardine fillets on a puff pastry base whilst Karen had gaspachio with a Goats cheese base, served in a tall glass.

For main I had Pinetade stuffed with escargot and Karen had salmon, both beautifully cooked and served, accompanied by a dry white wine from Mont Ventoux. For dessert I had a trio of chocolate including a warm sponge with hot chocolate filling, Karen had warm Apricots with ice cream and this was accompanied by a sweet red wine. As if we were not full enough a ‘après’ dessert followed of more chocolate complimented by a Pastis flavoured Turkish Delight. Of course the evening would not have been complete with out a glass of red wine and coffee but at least we were restrained and missed the cheese course ! The cost of this meal was 60 pounds for everything and it was superb.
Our Architect, who seems to be suffering from a sudden loss of hair, continues to prepare our plans for the new houses ready for submission to the Maire just before the summer recess, apparently a good plan!

Meanwhile we continue negotiations for the drainage and water,meeting with prospective house builders, pool constructers,stone,tile and building merchants.
The pictures show some of the materials we are considering such as Terracotta floor tiles,

old beams,

hand made fireplaces and fountains

and stone floors.

All of this is conducted in our best French! I wonder what we will end up with!
This weekend we move to our new home,

where we will embark on a ‘Taylor refurbishment à la Provençal’, new bathrooms, re render the exterior, change the colour of the shutters, re tile all the floors inside and give the garden a serious overhaul.

Naturally the stone cladding

shall remain as will the coloured bathroom (not!)

We had planned a relaxed transfer from our current house allowing us to do some work before moving in but we have a tenant who wants our house on the 22nd, so we will share with him until we move out on the 26th.

That’s assuming the vendor vacates, apparently he is suffering from depression and can’t come to terms with leaving the place – goodness knows why especially at the price we gave him! Anyway the system here is such that we exchanged contracts some 3 months ago, at which time we and the sellers were present, we agreed completion for 4pm this Friday. We, the seller and the agent will all gather in the Notaire's room whilst he reads out the entire contract, afterwhich we all sign, hand over the money and away we all go!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Of course like in England we have had world Cup Fever ! or not as the case may be – I did not see one car with a french Flag although we did witness a Jack Russell painted in French colours ! We spent the quarter, semi and Final at a Restaurant in nearby Roussillon

with friends

where there was a great atmosphere until Zidane committed his head butt ! This only led to an extensive debate, something we have learnt the French love to do over several glasses of wine.
We are now in the height of the Summer Festival season – there is something for everyone - We are going to a modern dance show in a Roman Amphitheatre, a classical Piano concert and to the Cézanne art exhibition in Aix en Provence, where he once lived and painted.

July is Lavender season

following on from the Sunflowers and poppies providing a profusion of colour to compliment the brightly illuminated sky.

The heat of the day drives the Ciaccades to provide a back drop of sound .
One of the reasons many Brits leave France is the beaucracy - we have had two classic examples over recent weeks.

The first involved our medical bills. When you visit a doctor or are hospitalised you pay and are reimbursed 70 percent. We visited the Centre Medical who deal with this. They claimed to have never seen the E106 form (the document giving us reciprocal health care) They took our bills and copies of various documents. A month or two passed and a letter arrived to each of us requesting birth certificates ( they had already taken copies). We sent them again. We heard nothing ! We phoned to be told they needed translated copies sent to another dept! I enquire which bit of ‘a boy born 8th June 1962’ they needed translating! and why they could not send their copy to be translated – not their job of course. I refused to do this and with our French teacher, go to the office to try and sort it. We arrive to find its closed – GREVE it states on the door – on strike !

Not to be defeated we return a week later and protest, the assistant agrees and appears to sort matters. A month later my carte Medical arrives – I’m in the system at last ! Although as yet have no refund…

It is also beneficial to put our properties into a company called a SARL. We meet the Notaire who is happy to set this up for 2000€ ! We need a new bank account. I already have one with Credit Agricole so we call in to the local branch. We explain we wish to open an account. ‘you will need a rendezvous with our new business manager’ – so we arrange it – does he speak a little English we enquire – No.

We explain to him in French that we are setting up a local enterprise, a new business and wish to invest our money, pay in and take out money and start a relationship that we hope will last many years. In France there is no free banking you pay to have an account, to take money out and pay it in as well as a monthly fee!

It is not possible he firmly states. Why not we ask ? It is not possible! I must have a bankers draft from your bank ! But we bank with Credit Agricole - It is not possible ! Ok I will do a straight transfer from one branch to another ? It is not possible he repeats with a slimy grin. I phone my branch of his bank – we can do a transfer today the helpful lady offers – It is not possible he repeated like a canary!

So we arrange for two bankers drafts to be sent, for which we have to pay 40€ !! We return to cheery chops who takes an hour to fill all the boxes on his computer! We then have to wait for the company to be registered before the account is actually opened. Upon receiving the company number we return to hand in the documents – oh no you need a rendezvous !! so we return again to sit thru another hour of torture and we are still not quite there with yet another rendezvous next week! No wonder people get frustrated!

To compensate for this frustration we are currently in the season of Festivals, covering everything from Art to Wine, modern dance to classical music, cheese, Lavender and just about every fruit you can imagine with Apricot trees now fully laden.

For my birthday we spent a great day in Avignon culminating on a ride on the Ferris wheel, where there was a superb view over the city and beyond.

We also visited St Tropez where the combined value of the yachts and people would be enough to wipe out much of the worlds bad debt but it was fun and is highly recommended.
We have also explored the South Luberon where I attach a picture of Ansious, a village we nearly bought a house in.

It is almost 3 months since I last wrote. We are now in deep summer – we have had no rain since early May and day time temperatures average 30 to 35 degrees .We have almost no humidity, no mosquitoes, although one or two scorpions, lizards and snakes !

We took a trip to the Cote D’Azur in May enjoying the stunning scenery along the coast with the blue skies and hot sunshine cooled by the sea breeze keeping a very ambient temperature. The village of Bormes Les Mimosas was particularly memorable with its hilltop position and stunning views towards the Mediterranean.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Since we returned from skiing in the Alps just before Easter, Spring has firmly arrived with warm sunshine, temperatures in the 70's and at last no fires are needed or thermals! The area has been a blaze of colour with fabulous blossom on the Almond Trees followed by the Cherry blossom, and now poppies are springing up daily. As are tourists thankfully, the Germans are here, (getting their sun beds!), Dutch, Swiss, French and Belgians. The English come May onwards.

I have mentioned that we have been trying to buy some land. I am pleased to say that my training as a negotiator appears to be paying off and to quote my dear Estate agent, Romain, ' we appear to have found a solution!'

It appears that this land was put up for sale a year or two ago; A Parisian couple promptly agreed to buy it and after several months found that there was a problem on drainage and also access. It had been zoned and advertised as two plots, in total abt 1.2 acres. You can only build two houses if you can obtain mains drainage as it is not big enough for two sceptic tanks, due to where they have to be positioned. The access problem stems from an Irish lady who has built a house behind. The Geometre, who is responsible for plotting out the land made an error and gave her part of the land that is the access drive to the plot. Not a problem, she could you grant a right of way? But No, she does not want to. So we understand the buyers gave up and walked away after 8 months.

The sellers, who are French and who have owned the land for years approached the Irish lady about the access. She firmly told them she would not relinquish her right. Her son then came in with a low offer on the basis nobody else would buy it. He is a developer in Ireland & Florida and already owns a house here with his 'Blonde American' Wife. This infuriated the sellers who then put the matter into solicitors hands as it is illegal in France to block a right of access to another persons land. A meeting took place with all the parties and their lawyers resulting in the Irish lady placing two large boulders in front of the drive! Nice touch!

By chance the Taylors come along! We are told there was a problem with access but the agents have a solution i.e. the court tribunal would find in favour of the seller, trouble is this takes up to two years! So one Friday evening, appropriately St Patrick's Day, we are in the local bar and in comes some rather cheery Irish folk and a blonde American! After one or two Beers I take him aside and make him aware that we are the latest buyers trying to acquire the land in front of his mother! We meet the next day to discuss a proposal which in principal is not beyond our agreement but the conditions are, including his mother signing off our plans before submitting to council! This is our dream home not hers!! So we leave the door open and agree to reflect.

In front of our plot is another plot owned by another sister of the family we are buying from. It fronts a quiet lane and also enjoys a view of the Luberon as well as facing South and is just over half an acre. We decide that if we bought it we could then create a drive and access to our larger plot.We could also build an additional house to let or sell. So we make an offer and after a bit of wrangling agree a figure. We have also managed to negotiate with 4 other home owners closeby to access their drainage!nice thought eh, so we have that sorted too.

On current timescales we hope to submit plans in the next 6 weeks and then it takes 2 months after which another 2 months for objections so with the best Provençal timing we may start building by the end of the year and move in towards the end of next or early 2008! So to keep us out of mischief we have agreed to buy a 1970's (yes that great architectural period!) villa. It has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, just under half an acre with pool and a view of the Luberon. Needless to say it retains many classic 'period' features which we shall be replacing! The system here is easy, we agreed the price Tuesday and will exchange next Wednesday. It is though expensive with the agents earning 6 percent (I got this down to 4) and the government taking 6.5 percent 'Stamp Duty'.

Our French lessons continue with our one to ones often being reduced to hysteric laughter, whilst the weekly school visit is a bit like going to the dentist for an extraction! Still we have managed to get ourselves this far and with the forthcoming project will no doubt soon add some more colourful words to our vocabulary!

Despite France being a largely Catholic country they do not celebrate Good Friday. Easter Sunday & Monday though they do, and it is an opportunity for families to be together rather than for retailers to sell as many Easter eggs as possible.

Our boulangerie is quite superb and on Easter Sunday, like most Sundays I had to queue to buy our bread and pastries, the latter being a weekly treat. They offer the most amazing choice and we buy daily, it really is a staple part of the diet and I challenge you to find an overweight Provençal person! At 10am, the village square is a hive of activity, by 1pm it is silent as people eat and rest. By mid afternoon it is alive again until aperitif time at 7. These French, they have their priorities right!


David & Karen x