Monday morning, up early for the train from Paris to Montpellier (7.15am departure) and we are on our way to Saint Chinian. Being winter, 7.15am is still pitch black so we were on the train for more than an hour before we enjoyed a lovely pink sunrise. The countryside is lovely & green & very picturesque. Passing through some high hills, we saw big thick grey clouds hugging the tops of the hills, but once past the sky quickly changed to a crisp clear blue, and stayed that way all the way to Montpellier.
A quick stop in Montpellier to collect a hire car, lodge our visa documents at the local official office, then it was off to our new home (with the aid of preloaded maps & sat-nav using the ipad). Once again, getting used to being on the wrong side of the road takes some time and I was freaking out a bit finding myself looking down the sides of some “hills” on our way. We are not far from the Pyrenees, but just at the very beginning of the foothills really. One quick stop in a shopping centre along the way for some lunch & our first household shop, which had us completely “gobsmacked” at how cheap everything is. Rod couldn’t help himself & had to take pics of prices that just had us laughing & shaking our heads (see previous entry).
Finally arriving in our village we contacted the lovely Mike (who looks after the property for the owner) who showed us through & explained some basics to get us through the first couple of days. The house is gorgeous – 17th century stone but renovated (with a lovely hot shower). Now to learn how to keep a house warm in winter – its not as easy as coming home & wacking on the gas heater and the room is warm in 10min – this needs an all-day plan.
The house has very thick stone walls and was originally two much smaller houses, now with doorways knocked through. Downstairs we have the lounge/dining room and kitchen/dining, upstairs to two bedrooms & a bathroom, upstairs again to a sitting room with doors out to the rooftop terrace and an extra toilet. There is no car parking, and in fact the street is too narrow (for us) to drive down, so we park around the corner, along with most other people.
Learning the local ways
The first thing to understand is that all shops & businesses (except for cafes, restaurants & bars) close between about 12noon and 2pm. That means, if you want to buy anything or do any business at lunch time, you can’t. This means that a certain amount of planning is required, because you can’t always just pop into a shop to buy something. On the upside, the shops then stay open until 7pm most days (nothing opens on Sundays, except of course the cafes, restaurants & bars) which means you don’t have to rush around in the afternoons.
Being in the village means we are now eating at home more, so this means if we want a baguette with our lunch – yes, we have to go out & get it before 12 otherwise it will be leftovers, or off to a restaurant!
In some ways the French do things much simpler & more efficiently than we are used to, for example the rubbish system. After looking around our cottage, we couldn’t see where to put the rubbish until we got the explanation about the French system. Down the street, in a communal area, there are large green bins for “dirty” rubbish (food scraps etc), and then around another corner there are 3 large recycling bins (plastics, cardboard, glass). So you just walk around the corner whenever you need to, and the big bins get emptied as often as they need to… probably 2, 3 or 4 times a week. Perfect – less stops & easier for the garbos, only a short walk for the residents, and no big smelly bins at home to put out/bring in and clean.
French Sales & fashion
Now this is an interesting thing… the shops in France are only allowed to have “sales” twice a year. The January sales started today, much to my delight (and those who know me know that I don’t even like shopping much!). Perfect timing for us though, as the next 6 weeks or so are meant to be the coldest time of the year, and we came woefully unprepared for a European winter with our Perth clothing. I scored a beautiful white down-filled long-line parka, complete with fur-edged hood for only $70 Euro (about $89 at today’s exchange rate on my visa). Not to mention all the other lovely girlie winter clothing… something I never buy in Perth as I usually just throw a jumper over my normal clothes. Now I feel more like the glamorous French women – everyone wears leggings with boots – it doesn’t matter if they are high-heeled or flat, ankle boots, knee high or thigh-high, fur-lined, studded, trimmed, whatever… they are all worn, so now I fit in!
Speaking the lingo
Now this is the hard one! However, the more I use it, the less stupid I feel. You know that feeling when you try to pronounce foreign words, complete with all the correct accents, and you just feel stupid, right? Well I’m discovering that everyone DOES actually have all these accents, and yes you do have to use them if you want to be understood. I have managed to order food & drinks completely in French a few times now (and got what I intended to order – success!) and today I completed several clothes purchases entirely in French. I even managed to ask if I could try on BOTH shoes in the shoe shop today (only the right shoe is ever on the shelf), I feel very proud of that one!: “Bonjour, c’est possible essayer l’autre chaussure?” to which she replied “Oh oui” and ran off to get the other shoe – Yay!!
Until next time… Paige xox