For our first day out we decided to explore a bit of the countryside. We quite fancied the thought of living in the ‘wilds’ or maybe in a small hamlet of one or two houses.
Map in hand we set off in the car. It is at this point I should point out that Inmate 2 is dyslexic and now and again, when map reading, right and lefts can be a bit of a problem. We drove, and drove and drove. The countryside was pretty, lots of cows – not many houses and not many villages.
We stopped to check the map. A little ‘trick’ inmate 1 now uses. The theory being the sooner we find out we have gone in the wrong direction the sooner we can get back on the right road. Surprisingly we were still on the route we had planned. We had driven quite a distance - over the departmental border into the Limousin. We had noted on the map, a lake with what looked like a small hamlet/village by it. We thought it would be worth a visit and maybe we’d find somewhere for a morning coffee or an early lunch.
We saw a sign pointing to the lake. Turning off the main road we followed the direction of the sign. Logically there should have been another road, or at least some kind of access track leading to the lake. It is worth noting here something we have now learnt through living in France – when it comes to road planning and signs, logicality goes out of the window. We found no road, no track, no other signs and no human in sight to ask. We gave up and decided to head on towards the next village for lunch.
We were amused by the three mannequins that greeted us with smiles as we entered the village. We were pleased to see shops but became a little bemused that there didn’t seem to be anyone around. There was a mannequin of a butcher standing in the doorway of the butchers …… which was shut. There was a mannequin of an artisan up a ladder supposedly painting a window of a house. There were mannequins of three elderly ladies standing together as if they were chatting. There was a mannequin of a man sitting on a bench. There were no real people to be seen anywhere. There seemed to be nowhere to have a little bite to eat either. As we left the village there were three more mannequins, a man, woman and a child all smiling with hands raised as if waving us goodbye. Surreal or what!!!.
We stopped to check our map again. The next village was a good 40 minutes further on. Whilst it’s fine driving long distances when exploring you do have to remember you have to drive back again. We decided to turn round and go and find somewhere to eat nearer to where we were staying. As we drove back through the ‘mannequin’ village we still saw not a living person.
Conversation over lunch was all about what on earth was going on in the village of mannequins and that maybe, living out in the ‘wilds’ was not such a good idea. Where to look next – village or town?
Having decided that we quite liked the idea of living in France. The next question was actually the big one – where in France did we want to live? It’s not until you start really looking do you realise how big France is.
At the show in Olympia we spoke to many agents from many regions. All obviously singing the praises of their particular region. Some regions we discounted as they might be too hot or too cold. Some we discounted for the difficulty in actually getting to them. We were living with the idea that family may want to come and visit us so access to the UK needed to be considered.
We decided to have a look in the Charente region and booked ourselves a few days away to have a brief look round to get an idea of the department. We rented a gite near Angoulême. An experience never to be forgotten.
We arrived, thanks to flight times, in the evening just as it was getting dark. We discovered the directions we had been given by the gite owners not to be of much use. We rang them to get some help but no one answered the phone. Light was fading as we began stopping anyone we saw to ask if they knew where the address was we were trying to find. Eventually we found someone who had an idea and we headed off, after lots of ‘mercis’, in the direction they had indicated.
We arrived at the gite complex, recognising it in the gloom from the pictures we had seen. All seemed in darkness as we entered the courtyard. The main house in front was in darkness. The stable block on the right was in darkness. The gites to the left were in darkness. We walked over to the gites and discovered a key in the front door of one of them. What to do? It was dark, getting cooler and we were tired. We opened the door and switched on the lights - it did seem to be the gite we had booked.
We began to explore the rooms. A few moments later there was a knock on the door. It was the son (in his mid-twenties) of the owners who had come to tell us his parents had gone out for the evening. We asked if there were any shops or places to eat nearby as we had nothing with us because of the lateness of the flight. He told us "Non!" and that nothing would be open until Monday……. This was Saturday evening. After imparting this happy news and with no offer of anything like bread or milk he disappeared into the night.
Somewhat taken aback by the ‘non helpful welcome’ we took stock. We did had some coffee. Inmate 2 always travelling with a small jar ‘just in case’ and this was definitely a ‘just in case’ moment. We also had a packet of Maltesers and a packet of Minstrels. Supper that evening was black coffee, half a packet of Minstrels liberally mixed with half a packet on Maltesers. So much for French fine dining.
Breakfast was similar. Black coffee but with half a packet of Maltesers liberally mixed with half a packet of Minstrels. After breakfast we set off to find some food. The patisserie that we found on the outskirts of a nearby village must have thought us quite mad as we stood, talking quite loudly to cover the noise of our grumbling stomachs, and drooled over the cakes. Decisions were made. One or two cakes for now. One or two to be bought for later just in case there was nowhere else open. Thankfully we did find somewhere and were able to stock up for our few days stay. With full stomachs and shopping bags we headed back to the gite to make plans for our exploration of the Charente region.
To be continued ...........
Originally from London, I moved with Inmate 1, to France in 2007. Home is now on the outskirts of the Medieval village of Plazac in the Perigord Noir region of the Dordogne.