Monday, 4 September 2017

Vitry le Francois to Orconte (Or, ‘Let’s Take to the Road for a Few Days’)

With the Canal Lateral de la Marne completed, we head on to new waters.

The next day, Tuesday 29th August dawned bright, warm and sunny – perfect for our road trip to the south west Gironde area to look at houses to buy.  We collected the hire car with no problem, loaded up and were soon on our way on the most expensive bit of autoroute we’ve driven on!  We took our ticket shortly after leaving Vitry and two hours later parted with 44 euros for the pleasure!!  I must say, it was a pleasure.  Driving in France is nothing like driving in the UK with lots of roads to accommodate what traffic there is and the autoroutes rarely have traffic jams, (unless you’re going skiing with Fran and Sally – see March’s entry……) and can often go for miles without seeing more than  a handful of other cars.

Five hours later we pulled in at the first house we were going to look at, but not to buy, as it’s just been bought in the last year or so by our friends Jill, Alan and son Ben (well, Ben didn’t really buy it, but I thought he should have a mention along with his mum and dad).  As well as the chance to catch up with them and other friends there, Kath and Byron, we were keen to see their house and garden to get an idea of what we should be looking for over the next few days, although they are a bit further north than us and the house prices slightly lower on average.  We timed it well and arrived as they’d all just sat down to lunch, and clearly we didn’t need a second invitation….. after lunch we got the guided tour and the house is just lovely!  They’ve done a lot of work to it, some quite big stuff like knocking the boxy toilet and showerroom into a lovely family bathroom, and other cosmetic works, painting, new kitchen etc.  It has a really good layout, lovely rooms and seeing it set us up well for our viewings.

We were soon on our way again for the last couple of hours drive to Chateau Courtebotte at Saint Jean de Blaignac, where we had stayed last year for a night when on holiday in the Caterham 7 (god rest Kitty Kate’s engine), and were excited about staying for the next three nights.  A restored chateau, it is stunning, sitting on the river Dordogne in lovely gardens, with bedrooms that ooze Parisien chic and are the size of our entire boat – in fact, probably a bit bigger….
One of our favourite homes away from home
We were a little too late arriving to squeeze in a swim in the lovely pool unfortunately, but after a quick shower and unpacking we had time for a glass of wine before sitting down for the table d’hotes that is served on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  It means that the host basically cooks dinner for you and you sit and eat with the other guests, and at 48 euros for four courses and wine, was a good deal and meant no one had to drive home!  Our dining companions for the evening were a couple on holiday from Luxembourg and as I had never met someone from Luxembourg had lots of questions, as I realised I knew nothing about their country (except that they usually don’t do that well in the Eurovision song contest).  One of the smallest countries in the world it has a population of 500,000 of which about half are Luxembourgish, the rest coming into the country from Italy and Portugal mainly.  Their native language is Luxembourgish, and from the start of primary school they learn French and German, and then from secondary school they also learn English.  So they spoke four languages fluently – I hung my head in shame.

The next morning we were up and away early to meet Neil the estate agent at a village near St Emilion whose name I can’t remember, at 9.15am to start our viewing.  We had six houses lined up and decided just to plough through them all without a stop for lunch so’s not to have too long a day.  We had selected six varied properties as we were seeing this as a ‘What’s available in our price range?’ kind of visit, as well as looking to see what 200 square metres of house and 4000 square metres of garden look like in the flesh, as we had no idea really.

I won’t bore you with details of all the properties but by the end of the day, there were two that we would potentially buy.  Not that we’re looking for one each, you understand, it’s just that there were two that we liked, that ticked our boxes and we now knew what the sizes and dimensions looked like for real.
Yep!  This could do nicely!
Pool with a view
This one has him thinking
One of them we really, really loved and would be able to move right in, the thought of which gave Mike a sleepless night as buying a house right now was not part of his plan.  He had tossed and turned all night, worrying about not having the money transferred over yet, the declining euro, what would we do with the boat, where would we keep the boat while at the house, we wanted to do another season boating next year so what would we do with the house while we were on the boat??  It was all too soon and not part of the plan!!
The house of sleepless nights......
We'd be very happy cooking in here.......
Crikey, he's doing that 'thinking' thing again....
Our morning of Thursday 31st August was clear, so we drove to the nearby village of Sauveterre des Guyennes to have a look around.  Mike was in a right state of stress and tiredness so rested in the car while I had a wander around the little town, during which time, making polite conversation with one of the local Monsieurs was asked if I would like to have a drink with him!!  Thankfully my French extends to, “I’m waiting for my husband, but thank you.” And I scurried back to the car blushing.

By this time Mike was saying he wanted to cancel meeting up with Michelle and Kevin (from le bateau, Kendra Erin) who’d recently got their keys for their new home in Gensac, which is in the same area we’re looking.  He didn’t feel up to it, but I didn’t want to cancel as I thought it would be good to talk things through with them, and it was still hours to go til we were meeting up and we had the second estate agent Jerry to meet with this afternoon, so he might feel differently after that.  I also decided that we needed to exorcise this house from yesterday from his brain one way or the other, so suggested that we drive to the village near it, have a look and suss out how far away it was from civilization, as I had a niggle that it was too far and hadn’t been over-enamoured by what we’d seen of the village yesterday.

We did so and straight away we discounted this house.  Right house, wrong place.  The village was not one of the attractive little rural villages all over France, but more functional and although there was a bar/restaurant, it was just in a row of houses, there was no square or church (that we could see anyway after a couple of rounds through it).  However, we then drove to the town of Duras, where we were meeting Jerry and realised that this beautiful little town with all amenities was just a 12 minute drive away……. Hmmmmmm.

Our afternoon with Jerry was fantastic.  His first meeting with us he spent the first hour in the office telling us about the climate, the area, the comms (airports and trains) and answered our growing list of questions very patiently.  Then he took us for a three hour drive of the area he covers from Duras up into what is known as Little Italy as the rolling hills are reminiscent of Tuscany.  Along the way he took us to two properties they have on their books, just to let us see what sort of properties they deal with, and then took us on a lovely drive pointing out various houses that they have sold and some that he was dying to get his hands on as he knows he’d sell them!

Well, the first house we saw with him blew the previous day’s out of the ball park – there was no comparison AND it was within walking distance to the local bar/restaurant……..

We felt great however, not stressed by all this as it made us realise that we don’t have to hurry, there will be plenty of properties that appeal to us and tick all our boxes, hopefully at the right time.  We left Jerry with knowledge of what we want, likes/dislikes etc and we’re confident that between our two agents we’ll find something at the right time.

So, glad that we hadn’t cancelled Michelle and Kevin, we had a great evening with them in Gensac, with a tour round their new home and village and then dinner in one of the local restaurants.  It wasn’t a late night as we were shattered and had a half hour drive back to the chateau, but it was good to debrief the last couple of days with them and find out how things have gone for them so far (and what they’re doing with the boat now they’re landlubbers!!).

We slept well and had a bit of a lie-in on Friday but with the temperature outside taking a dive, were quite disgusted that we had to have breakfast inside, rather than out on the terrace!  We packed up, paid our bill and headed off for today’s little detour down to the Canal du Garonne and the port at Castetes en Dorthe.  We’d been watching Chris and Liz’s movements on De Haelve Maen (our neighbours from Auxerre) and realised we were just a half hour drive from them, so arranged to meet up for a couple of hours.  It was so lovely to see them and of course, Cosette and Hugo the cats.  They had some scary stories of feisty water on their travels down south, but on waterways that we will not go on.  All too soon we were back in the car and heading to Sarlat le Caneda, a town we visited last year and where this year our friends Pete and Jane were heading for a week’s holiday and we planned to stay a night on the way back to Vitry.
Reunited....and it feels so gooooood :)
Revisiting the pretty town of Sarlat le Caneda
We found our way along the lane to their rented house not long after they got there and after a cup of tea (yes, it was still cold!!) cracked open the champers and then headed into town for some dinner.  We were very well behaved and having returned from the restaurant, had a couple more glasses of wine and were all in bed by midnight!  It’s an age thing I guess……..

The next morning had a cool start, but as the sun warmed up, we enjoyed breakfast on the terrace before Pete and Jane headed to the supermarket and Mike and I made the most of the pool (having decided to stay another night), inventing a couple of games (Michael Flattely Whackamole and The Creeping Wall of Death) for us to enjoy on their return.  Making the most of the sun, we had a bar-b-que for tea although as soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped, so although it was cooked outside, it was eaten inside, with all except Mike dressing appropriately for dinner (mainly so Pete would get use of another of the six pairs of shoes he’d brought with him…..).  We weren’t quite so well behaved that night, and with the boys quaffing vin rouge, at one point, it seemed a good idea to open another bottle of white for Jane and I….. it was a good night, it was worth it.

Having worked out how much we’d drunk the previous evening we knew we couldn’t have an early start back on the road north on Sunday 3rd.  It was our turn to go down to the boulangerie for breakfast and after some pastries, bread and honey and coffee, we packed our things and headed off.  We were taking another detour on the way home to stop in on Pam and Charles, who had now brought Xenia up the Rhone and were making their way along the Canal du Centre.  It was a long drive and only when we decided we needed to stop to buy something to eat, we remembered it was Sunday and everything was now shut – except the service stations, but we were now on rural roads!!  By the time we caught up with them a few locks short of St Julian sur Dheune, we were starving, and having quietly explained our predicament to Pam, she very kindly put together some bread and cheese and ham.  It was the best ham sandwich I’ve ever had.  It was great to see them, and meet their daughter Lily, quite odd to see them on one of the waterways that we have navigated this year, as since we met them, they’ve always been down south. 

All too soon we were back on our way and it was a long last three hours back to Vitry and we were tired, hungry and cranky by the time we pulled into the town centre to hunt for something to eat.  Being Sunday, as expected, nothing was open, except for the kebab shops, which, because they were the only things open, had queues out the door!!  But we waited and were rewarded with tasty kebabs and lovely crispy chips which we scoffed back at the boat, which was where we’d left her, safe and sound, and went straight to bed.

We had an early start the next day as the car was due back at 9.30am and we wanted to make use of it to do a big shopping at L’Eclerc and fill our jerry cans with diesel for the boat.  We found our way to the store, got everything we needed but when we came to return, couldn’t get back on to the road we’d come in on as it was one way.  We continued in what we thought was the right direction, following a few cars that I was convinced were heading back into town, but we soon found ourselves in an area we didn’t recognise at all and I couldn’t get the sat nav to work or google maps on our phones!  Getting more stressed as the time ticked by and we got more and more lost – how could that happen, we’d only been five minutes away – I finally got a map up and realised we were only two minutes from the boat.  In a one-way system………… Nooooooooooo!!!!!!.  It was quiet so we ignored the no entry sign (or, stupid tourists, didn’t see it – if we were stopped), drove the 50metres or so up the wrong way, then turned into the one-way street out of the port and drove the wrong way up that for about 100metres.  A guy shouted after us but then left it as we pulled into the port with our blood pressure somewhere up where it should probably never go and we live………….  We threw everything on board, went back along the correct way and back to the car hire, 20 minutes late, but the guy didn’t bat an eye thankfully.  Back at the boat, we filled with water and set off for our next destination, Orconte, starting off in jeans and shirts but changing into shorts and t-shirts as the day warmed up.  At the first lock we entered new waters, coming onto the Canal du Entre Champagne Bourgogne.  Once at Orconte Mike got back to painting and got a layer of green on the back deck, whilst I caught up on the blog, sat outside on the deckchair to do so – very nice.  The day was finished off with a Ninebot practice where we again tried to work on turning.

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