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"Follow me, I'm right behind you"
Thursday 1 April
Today you could see the Pyrenees so clearly. Larreule is on a flat
plain so they seem even higher and more unbelievable. Caroline went for
a quick bike ride and was completely overwhelmed by the sight of them,
towering over the horizon like the opening credits to a Paramount Pictures
To Bernadets-Debat, a hamlet between Miélan and Trie-sur-Baïse.
We had a rendez-vous with an agent who represents Bluehomes.com in the
area. He had sent details and photos of the house to us by Email, so
we had called to take a look. We pulled up in the square and saw a man
on a scooter waiting for us. His name was Hannes, a german, but
we conducted our conversation in french, peppered with german and english
words when necessary. He led the way in his Red Baron flying jacket,
to the house shown below.
€ 100,000.- with 2 hectares and a view of the Pyrenees, but the
house had only two rooms and the neighbours were just 20 meters away.
There was also a road along the back of the house. Although, it was the
closest yet to what we seek.
Friday 2 April
Our first letter to an address in France arrived yesterday with lots
of fun and interesting newspaper clippings from Caroline's parents. It
also included a few bills that we can pay by internet (what did we do
Today is also change-over day as our friends return from their trip and
we return to our pavilion. That meant lots of cleaning, packing and trying
out our Twinny Load double bike rack on the back of the car. Marvelous.
drove to Marciac with Steven and ate out for the first time since we arrived.
Three course menu for three, including wine and aperatif for € 58,-.
Keep the change, Garçon.
"You're next, Taylor!"
Saturday 3 April
We woke up late, to a warm, sunny morning, giving Caroline the excuse
she needed to put on her shorts for the first time this year. On with
the factor 4 and out with the electric razor. Not for her legs, but to
give Steven a close shave before his departure to Spain and Portugal. He
too is on a big adventure. Good luck Steven!
That afternoon we saw a new and rather interesting house in the window
of the agent in Miélan so shoved a message under their door to
arrange a viewing on Monday.
We also saw a sign for oysters in the shop opposite. 12 for € 4.-,
so bought 18. Into the shop next door for an oyster knife and on to the
shop on the corner for a local white wine. We dined outside in the evening
Sunday 4 April
I woke up at 6am and couldn't get back to sleep as the dawn chorus soloists
called in the backing singers and went for the big finale. Leaving Caro
to her dreams, I dressed and grabbed my camera and binoculars, slipping
on my wellington boots outside as the dew glistened in the grass. Walking
to the uninhabited farmhouse along the lane, I could see the Pyrenees,
all pinks and blues. For the naturalists among you, I saw: a black kite
fly close over my head with a snake in it's claws, stonechats, flycatchers,
a green woodpecker, a Montagues harrier (kiekendief), sedge warblers,
kestrels, buzzards and swallows. There was also a cuckoo and other woodpeckers
making a right racket all around me. I also disturbed two water rats
as big as cats.
After breakfast in the sun, we drove down to Tillac for their annual
Floralie. Flowers, shrubs, trees and lots of crappy arts and crafts stalls.
It is quite a social occasion, proved by the fact that we bumped into
nearly everyone we know here. Kisses and handshakes, conversations shuttling
back and forth in french, dutch and english, we relaxed with a beer at
the Relais de la Tour. Carol and Barry came and introduced Caroline to
a couple with a problem dog. She has her first session with them on tuesday.
Way to go Caro!
After lunch, we cycled to Bars and back, about 16 kms, along the ridge
of the hills with fantastic views on either side of us. At one point
we found a hedgehog in the middle of the road looking rather dazed. Caro
stuck her hand out and stopped the traffic to rescue it from the mad
french drivers. I took my fleece off and Caro used it to pick it up and
place it in safety among the bushes.
We saw a few beautifully positioned
houses with views to die for. The hills in Gers seem to roll at you like
huge swells at sea and the spring greens and yellows are getting intenser
by the day. Bars, by the way, is a small village with three dogs, a church
and no bars.
We hope you don't mind, but we are going to reduce our daily tales
to weekly highlights. It's not every day that we have something to report
anyway. But rest assured that anything newsworthy will be reported in
full! So here goes.
Between April showers at Nieke's house
Caroline was disappointed to discover that Perry really did want to show
her his etchings!
5 - 11 April
The week started with rain and a visit to a house that looked great
on the photo but turned out to be a tumbledown shack at the edge of a
dark wood. Something right out of the film Deliverance. Did
I hear a piggie squeal or was that just a banjo playing?
Caroline her first client. An elderly English couple with an English
setter that runs off for hours each time they go for a walk. With a bag
of dog cookies and cold, wet nose, Caroline sailed through the diagnosis
session and hopes to see them again soon. In the meantime, Perry did
a round of the agents in Marciac and took a coffee in the café,
where he discovered a group of women sketching each other. Wearing his
heart on his sleeve, he pulled out his sketchbook and sketched back.
Contact was made and he has been asked to give drawing lessons! He also
received a few tips on how to be in the prints and postcard business
when the jazz festival begins.
Wednesday, we visited two houses with an agent. One was enormous and
characterless, with huge hangers and barns. The second stole our heart.
We fell in love with it immediately, but bit by bit, we discovered that
it was too small for us. Perry took photos and did some tricky retouching
to see what it would look like with an extension to the small barn and
a tower. Finally we gave in since it would be more a new house than old.
On Thursday morning we were woken by the most awful smell. At first we thought
that the septic tank had backed up, but it turned out that the farmer next
door had begun with spraying liquid manure. Stuff that had been fermenting
for months. We were gagging, even with all the doors shut, so we jumped on
the bikes and cycled for about twenty kilometers around the south east of Miélan.
We saw some beautiful old farms and some small, ruddy, leather-skinned farmers
in buttoned-up shirts and black basque berets. We managed to dodge all the
showers falling left and right and got home before the heavens opened.
Easter was spent doing odd jobs with the weather blowing hot
and cold, but mostly wet.
The Pyrenees just 60 kms away
A week of rain, wind and sun and not much in the way of houses. Monday
brought squally april showers. We got the bikes ready and it started
to rain again. We retreated inside and caught up on admin, the newspapers,
Caro's dog report and Perry's drawings. Walked through Laas, a pretty
village up the road, and left a few of our adverts (we like your house,
is it for sale?) pinned to doors and in letterboxes.
On Tuesday, Perry went
to the drawing club in Marciac, sat outside in the sun getting more tips
for houses and how to sell his drawings. We also handed over the car
to the garage for a test drive to find out what exactly is wrong with
Wednesday. Caro cycled to Miélan for the "32", the local
free newspaper. On the way back down the hill, she was chased by a savage
dog and had to swing her legs up to avoid being bitten. A new client, one
feels. In the "32", there was a farm for sale, so we called and arranged
a visit. Perry did some DIY for Nieke; placing curtain rails and a shower curtain.
As a thankyou, she took us out for dinner at a routier restaurant nearby.
Great food (four courses) and wine for €17 p/p.
Thursday, and the sun is shining. We scouted out the farm we were
due to see and found it too close to the Route National, so we cancelled the
visit. Arriving in Auch, we watched the old guys playing petanque. One came up
to us and started talking in such a thick patois that Caro turned away and left
Perry to nod and shake his head at the moments where he thought appropriate.
Fabienne, our agent in Auch, took us to an isolated farmhouse, with
a kilometer long private lane. Unfortunately it ended near the RN between
Auch and Vic Fézensac and we didn't leave our apartment in Amsterdam which was
situated a long a busy through road, to see and hear trucks passing all day.
We took back roads home and stuck our ad in postboxes and gateposts of properties
that took our fancy. The Pyrenees lining the horizon and the rape seed fields
glowing an almost impossible yellow. Back at the garage, our car was ready
and we left €220
poorer. Thankfully it's still under guarantee in Amsterdam.
Spent the Friday morning trying to get our internet admin done, but Yahoo
was not behaving, so our telephone card took a bashing. Standing in a cold,
damp telephone booth, we hear that it is 20 C and sunny in Holland! That
afternoon we walked to Miélan with Nieke, where we had a beer
in the local bar. Neon strip lighting, formica tables and an assortment
of inbred characters at the bar. The heavens opened as we walked back,
so we were happy to light the fire and warm up.
Saturday, and it's raining. Quelle surprise! Caro went to help
Nieke with plant shopping at the garden centre and Perry - suffering
with neck ache from drawing at the dining table - sketched, sawed and screwed
an adjustable drawing board together from an old plank.
On Sunday morning we were up at
7am, ready to go to two Vide Greniers. We arrived in Maubourguet
in the rain, and left with a wood burner and a few wooden items before setting
off for Isle de Noé around 10am. There, we found a huge field of
stalls near the chateau. Halfway round, we stopped for a baguette with merguez
sausage and a glass of red wine. Nieke bought two three meter wooden benches
€65. We managed to get them and our own purchases into the car (am I
glad we bought a station wagon!) with the back seats flattened
and me crouched in the back like a dog for the journey home.
(means Empty attic)
Agricultural tools, Iron bedsteads, Johnny Halliday 45s,
what we bought:
A. Godin wood burner. Old, iron and very heavy. Uses
four logs a night instead of ten and warms
up the house a treat, instead of just the chimney and the nearest bum!
B. Two pots formerly used for making confit de canard. Great colours and
C. Wooden trough. Caro will hopefully be creative with some flower pots
D. Eight antique crystal port glasses. €1 each!
E. Fisherman's box with leather strap. Perry is using it to carry his painting
F. Vindange basket, used for gathering grapes.
G. Salad cutlery made from cow horn.
H. A simple, but chunky cutting block.
J. Coat rack. Might have more life in it than required, so we will be treating
it before bringing it indoors. Bought from a Dutch couple, who's house
we will see on tuesday.
There's a vide grenier in May. Who needs Ikea?
Oh, those rolling Gers hills!
On Monday we went to Mirande and phoned the "32" to place our "Couple
seek farmhouse to renovate" ad for three weeks. The sky was so moody
against the landscape that we drove the pretty route home and Perry stepped
out every now and then to take photos. Good reference for paintings, hopefully.
Caroline delighted our taste buds with a chinese stir fry,
a welcome diversion from the French fare.
Perry joined the ladies at the drawing club on Tuesday and was confronted
by a local basque man who didn't take kindly to being drawn. That afternoon
we tried to find a house near Pallanne, using rather vague instructions,
with no success. Later, we visited the Dutchies from whom Caroline had bought
the coat rack. They had bought a ruin five years ago and renovated it with
style and ingenuity. Fireplace in the bedroom and a wonderful bathroom. The
location was superb. They were planning to sell it and buy another ruin.
Unfortunately, it was too small for our needs, otherwise we would have seriously
considered buying it.
Wednesday morning we met with one of the agents in Marciac.
He took us to a house five minutes away, near Auriébat. We both
really liked it. A house with a tower and a huge barn, as well as a small
stall, a hectare of land and a view of the Pyrenees. The roof was good,
the spaces inside were large and the floor tiles were fantastic. The owner
passed on his tractor and stopped to tell us more. We saw great possibilities
in the place. A covered terrace, a gîte, my atelier and Caro's library.
The only minus was that it was situated on the flat and not in the hills.
He wants €214,000.
It'll go quickly. That afternoon, we went back with Nieke and it still
seemed a good idea, but it still wasn't in the hills...Hmmm. What to do?
Tomorrow we have another house to see, so let's wait and not be too hasty.
The house near Auriébat. Nice house, shame it's not on higher ground.
Yes, our French dictionary comes in handy.
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, all together now...
Bedankt voor de bloemen!
The west wing. Just 20% of the whole house!
After two more visits to the houses in Auriébat we decided not
to pursue it. It has to be in the hills. A view of the surrounding countryside
is so invigorating. Our ad in the free newspapers is working. The first
two calls were from farmers with properties to sell. Both of
them to the north, where the hills are more open and the vineyards more
plentiful. The two farms were on hillsides, one completely isolated and
very small (two up two down), the other was like a museum. The farmer and
his wife showed us round the house and barns, filled with old wine presses,
vats and an assortment of medieval looking impliments all covered in dust.
Caroline was fascinated by it all (see Caro's May notes). But, it was backed
on to the main village road, there were two huge modern barns in front
and it had twenty hectares. An area 2kms by 2kms square. We'd need a month
to mow it all!
25 April was Caroline's birthday. We had breakfast out
in the sun and called home. There were some cards from Holland the UK and
a french book on dogs from Perry. That evening we ate out at Le Relais
de Bastidou, where we first stayed last spring. The owners, a young french
couple who also stepped out of the fast lane a few years back, invited
us for a nightcap at the café in Marciac. The first time they had
gone out since they opened the restaurant, so it was an honour to be invited.
On the 26th we drove to Sabeillan, a village 35kms east of
us. There we saw a house on top of a hill with the most spectacular view of the
Pyrenees and the surrounding countryside. Yet another result of a divorce, the
woman owner was forced to sell after two years of hard work renovating it. Unfortunately
there were roads in front and behind, so that gave no privacy. Also, one of the
barns was about to fall down and the neighbour was starting a horse
riding business right next door. Next!
On Tuesday, we met Barbara, an american
woman who started the drawing club in Marciac. She told us of a house belonging
to a friend of hers, up in the hills of Pallanne, a much sought after area. Following
her up the hill, we pulled up in front of a house that fulfilled all our dreams.
Wild flower garden, a well, gob-smakking view, etc, etc. But it is not for sale.
We left a
message that we had passed by, but she called Barbara and told her off for bringing
strangers to her house. I think that was a "no". That afternoon Perry made some
more ink drawings to present them to the Conseille General in Mirande. There
will be an exhibition of artists on the theme "Rurality".
Wednesday, our ad went out in the 32 newspaper. The mobile
was ringing all morning. Unfortunately, most houses were far to the north where
the land is much flatter. Been there, done that. But we did go see several prospects,
none fitted the bill. We still drive the small country roads in search of undiscovered
gems, covering almost a thousand kilometers a week.
Thursday morning, Perry and Barbara showed their work in Mirande
and both were accepted. Each of them must deliver seven paintings/drawings by
the end of May. The exhibition is open the whole of June, so if you are in the
On Friday, we went to Vic Fézensac to see an old, stone walled
farm. Fantastic. It had a central courtyard, two houses and two huge barns. The
position was great and the garden, perfect. They only wanted €230,000.-,
but we realised that it was way too big for our needs and would need too much
money to get it right. It caused heated discussions in the car all the way home,
but Caroline's common sensed ruled in the end.
Well, that was April. A month of trials and tribulations, but
we are still enjoying the experience and we still love each other, so it's not
all bad. Read on if you'd like to know what happened to us in May.
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