March 2004

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Friday 5 March

It's a week since we moved out of our Amsterdam apartment. Our entire household is in storage and our two cats, Jake and Elwood Blues have a temporary home in Amsterdam. We spent the afternoon packing the trailer for our long journey south. Perry and Peter, Caroline's father, packed the suitcases of clothes, boxes of books, a radiator, tools and our two bikes under a blue waterproof plastic that was strapped down tight as a drum. For safe keeping we parked the trailer overnight in the locked courtyard of the neighbours. We had everything ready by 9pm, now all we needed was a good night's sleep ready for our big day tomorrow

Saturday 6 March

At 05:45 the alarm dragged us into a cold, wet dawn. We packed the last items in the car, attached the trailer and bid our farewells to an entourage of blurry-eyed parents and neighbours in pyjamas and raincoats. As we hit the motor way, snow began to fall, but the trailer behaved well behind us, so that we made good progress on our way to Vodable, just south of Clermont Ferrand. At 6pm we pulled up in front of the gates of long-time friends of Caroline's parents. We were welcomed with large "welcome" sign, wrapped in a French flag. They have a wonderful house on the edge of the village which is at the foot of an old vulcano. It would be perfect if we could find something just like this in the Gers. We dined and chatted and went to bed exhausted.

Sunday 7 March

After a very relaxed breakfast, we left around 11am. There was thick snow on the ground as we drove further south. We climbed to above 1000 meters, where the conditions became worse. At one point two snow ploughs appeared in front of us, clearing the road ahead until it was safe enough for us to overtake and begin the long descent towards the south.
At Rodez we went across country via Toulouse, passing Auch and finally arrived in the hamlet of Goutz, just north of Miélan. We managed to find the garden pavilion that was recommended to us via friends. The pavilion is on the grounds of the Dutch owner, Nieke who at that time was away in Holland. We parked the car under a palm tree and unpacked in the mud and the dark. Thankfully we had remembered to bring a torch! We opened the doors to a spartan but functional room with two single beds and a fireplace, it was ice cold. We lit the fire and dined on what we had left over from our journey, plus a bottle of wine, we had scored at the last petrol station. We pushed the two beds together, closed the shutters and with T-shirts and socks on, we dived under the covers. Welcome to sunny France!

Nieke's house as viewed from our pavilion.

Monday 8 March

It was below zero in the pavilion as we took a luke warm shower before going to Mirande, a market town about 10 kilometers away. We filled a trolley with essentials before returning home. That evening we called both our parents to tell them we had arrived safely.

Tuesday 9 March

To Mirande, to buy a pre-paid telephone; there is no phone connection in the pavilion.
On the way back we dropped by the wine cave, dangerously situated just down the road from us. We left with a 5 liter box of local red wine.


Wednesday 10 March

Market day in Marciac. We took a coffee at the Café de l'Hôtel de Ville and informed the owner Eric, with whom we had made aquaintance during a previous holiday visit to the area, that we had now returned to France in search of a house. He said he would keep an ear open for us. After lunch we went to visit the owners of gîte where we had stayed when we were here in January. We were warmly welcomed with coffee and biscuits and they had arranged for us to meet a neighbour who knew of two houses in the area that were for sale. It turned out that neither were what we were looking for, but they promised to keep in touch if they heard of anything else.

Cottage industry

Thursday 11 March

To the notary in Miélan. (Notaries in France ofter sell properties for local families, the same way an estate agent would do, but their commision is less.) The notary's wife was very helpful. She gave us details of a farm in Laas and we gave her our wish list.
Drove to Cuèlas to see the house that we considered in January and were glad we didn't buy it. Also visited another notary, who wasn't as helpful. At 6pm we had an appointment with an estate agent in Plaisance. They only had three houses we felt worth seeing. We shall arrange to see them soon.
We returned home to find a strange car with UK plates in front of Nieke's door. We thought they were burglars. So Caroline chose safety in the pavilion while Perry bravely knocked on the door. Thankfully it was opened by Nieke, our landlady, who had just returned home. The car belonged to her friend Karel who lived in the UK.

More than two electrical appliances at any
time and the fuses blow.

Friday 12 March

To Sauviac, just South of St Michel. Met Mr. Ader whose house we had seen advertised in the local newspaper. For 110.000 Euros. It would have been fine, if not for the silo in front and a road right next to the house. But we went through the motions and we learned a little more about what to ask and what to look for in a house. We returned home to have lunch in the sun where we discovered a deer, nestling in the undergrowth, sunning herself just 20 meters away from us.
At 2pm an old Peugeot pulled up in front of the house and a farmer walked up to Perry, shook his hand and started talking in an inpenetrable thick accent. It turned out that it was the owner of the farm that we had heard about from the notary in Miélan. We followed him up the road for about a kilometer, where he turned off into a courtyard of a delapidated farm, the house where he had been born. Inside it was a shambles of unwashed clothes, plates and pots, generally missing a 'woman's touch'. Turns out he was getting divorced and needed to sell. The farm was too big, had too much land and was next to a busy road.
We visited another real estate agent in Simorre, about 50 kilometers east of Marciac. They didn't have much that fitted the bill. Returned home and had drinks with Nieke and Karel and got to know them better.

Our neighbours drop in.

Saturday 13 March

Rained all night and all morning. Perry made business cards with our photo and our mobile number. In the afternoon we gave Nieke a lift to pick up her car in the Haute Garonne. We heard all about her life as we drove throught the rolling hills in the colours of spring.
Returned home, grabbed the bikes and cycled the four very hilly kilometers to Miélan. We managed to use every one of our 18 gears. Whilst we were gathering wood, a young deer galloped up to us and stood no more than 3 meters away. She spread her back legs and nonchalantly piddled in front of us and carried on munching grass as if we weren't there. We returned to the pavilion to light the fire and relax.


Sunday 14 March

Brocante in Mirande. Gorgeous sunny day with the Pyrenees so breathtakingly clear and close. Improvised stalls were placed all around the market square. There were books, furniture and agricultural relics, all of which were enormously overpriced. Keeping our wallets firmly in our pockets, we went to take photographs of several local landmarks all dating from the middle ages and the pilgrim route of Saint Jacques de Compostella. Perry will use these shots as reference for a series of illustrations he wants to make and possibly produce as postcards. Seeing what there is now on offer they should sell well.
We did our first wash of clothes at Nieke's and ended up lighting a fire outside in the setting sun. We ate bread and cheese and drank wine by candle and torchlight as the night sky, like you never see in Holland, glistened above us.

Estate agents. Don't you just love 'em?

Monday 15 March

The sultry female voice of the on-board computer of the Laguna (our car) continues to inform us that there is problem with the fuel injection, so we went to the Renault garage down the road for advice. The car was immediately connected up and our on-board computer was reset to zero. Apparently that should solve the problem. Meanwhile the lady from notary's office in Miélan pulled up for petrol and Caroline didn't wait a second before dashing over to her and giving her one of our freshly printed business cards. She informed us of a farm in Aux-Aussats that had just come into their office. She would call us when she had more details. After a big salad lunch in the sun with Nieke, we drove once more to the estate agents in Simorre to make another search. It turned out that the only property we liked was already under offer. Shame. We returned home for a repeat performance of fire, sunset and dinner outside.

The house in Madiran

Tuesday 16 March

To Marciac, to the Arros estate agency. They had one property in Madiran (a famous wine region) 50 kilometers to the north. We returned for lunch and Nieke said she had seen a house that we might find interesting. She volunteered to take us to it, so we jumped into her car and drove up a small road towards Bazuges. It was a fantastic house, on a spur, with all round views and of course the Pyrenees. We wrote down the number on the "for sale" sign and returned to the house on the hill for our appointment after lunch. It was enormous, built in stone some 300 years ago, and had a fantastic central staircase, amongst lots of other original features. But at 382.000 Euro's and at least the same amount for renovations on top, it was too rich for our budget.
At the end of the afternoon we drove to Madiran , to check out another house. An ancient Bearnaise-style house with 6 hectares of land and some ugly, modern brick barns (for obvious reasons not shown in the photo) for 160.000 Euro's, in an uninspiring position. It was locked, so Perry checked around the back were he found a hole in the wall. Climbing in, he surprised a barn owl, that swooped over his head and flew out into the sunlight, Harry Potter à la Française.
At around 7pm we stopped off for a beer, sitting outside in our shirts in 22C.

Wednesday 17 March

We went to see yet another estate agent in Marciac. When we walked in he said "Bonjour Monsieur et Madame Taylor." Gob smacked, we then realised that our business cards with our photo on were doing their work already. He took us to a house near Mirande. 200,000 euros, 60cm thick stone walls, 300 m2 living space, and 15000 m2 land and at the end of a small road. Probably another 150,000 euros work to get it right. Caro found it a little too isolated. There was also a water tower right opposite and it was in a dip between hills, so there would have to be good drainage around the house. Inside it was a great project. Too many negatives, so we decided against it.

Karel, Caro, Perry and Nieke

Thursday 18 March

"Phoned Home" to family and a few friends to let them know how we were. Bought a new mobile card (they run out fast folks!) and visited the agent to tell him how we felt about the house in Mirande. After another look at his books we made an appointment to see a house near Mauborguet that afternoon. Further, we signed in with another agent in Marciac. We have an appointment next week.
At 4:30pm we drove to the house in Herès, chasing after the agent in his bat-out-of-hell, black-smoke-diesel 4x4 through the country lanes. The house and dependances were huge, in a village and with 7000 m2 land at the back. The agent had to protect us with a rake from a goose that came at us like a Rottweiler and there were chickens running amok everywhere. The building was from the 17th century. Unfortunately, most of the repairs were obviously 20th century DIY and would need to be put right. They were asking 270,000 euros, but wanted to sell quickly, so we could have done a deal. Ultimately it was too big for the two of us and we are not sure about the pricing policy of the agent, so it's a no.

Arriving home we saw that Karel had arrived from Spain. We knocked to say hello and to wish them luck with their trip to Lapland, (where Nieke's son is to be married) and ended up staying for dinner.

Herès. House, workshops, stables and a walled courtyard with a view of the church through the gates of the estate.

Friday 19 March

We decided that today is our catch up and chill out day. Perry updated the website and caroline did a few washes, watered Nieke's plants, smeared in her sun oil and went on a bike ride to Miélan.

The whole day we saw tiny pied woodpeckers hunting for grubs and Nieke's two cats had a game of basketball with a field mouse until it's head parted company. Spring is bloomimg all around us and the farmers are spreading muck like there's no tomorrow. A sign of rain, they say. Too bad.



His Lordship at work.

More tea vicar?

Saturday 20 March

We had a 10:30 appointment with an friend real-estate agent in Marciac. From there, we drove in one car to Loussous-Débat. Realising that the directions we had been given were not correct, we asked an elderly woman at a nearby house. Turned out that she could not find her way out of a paper bag, but thankfully, her daughter came to the rescue, indicating that we should be near Bassoues, not Loussous. Arriving half an hour late for our appointment, we drove up to a modern looking house in the shadow of a water tower. The owners came out to greet us in their Sunday best and we them immediately that the presence of the water tower meant that we need not go in and look around. They were disappointed but understood. The poor woman must have been cleaning the place all day in preparation, poor dear!
That afternoon we had an appointment to meet at a silo near Marciac. We were picked up by the husband of a friend of Eric, the owner of the Café in Marciac. Still with us? He led us along snaking bends over the hillsides to their house a few Kms further. Not a bad place, but it was too close to the road, the neighbour was almost back to back and there was not enough land. When asked, we told them straight.
We popped in for tea with Carol and Barry, who run a Chambre d'Hotes in Miélan and returned home to Nieke's for dinner in front of the fire.

Sunday 21 March

Cycled up to Miélan for bread. The whole village in best clothes and animated conversations all around the square. Today, the voting booths are open for the local council elections, so there is enough to talk about.
On the way back, we turned off down a lane where we had seen a disused farm. It was positioned in front of a large irrigation pond with the Chapelle de Goutz breaking the horizon of the next hill. Walking around the graveyard, we saw the family names of a few of the property owners we had met over the last weeks. Ader, Fourcaut, Artagnan. Generations that have worked the land and now are dwindling.
The rain set in as we arrived back home, so we attended to our diaries and website and brought our families up to date by telephone.

Monday 22 March

Up at sparrow's fart to take the Laguna to the Renault garage. It has been making wierd noises and stuttering under exceleration. Typically it performed like an F1 car during the test drive. Come back when it happens again, he said. I paid him for his time and he gave me two addresses of estate agents in the area.
I picked up Caroline and we visited an real estate agent in Miélan. Two women run it, a refreshing change. They had nothing fitting our criteria, but took our details and promised to call if anything came in.
To St Maur, a hamlet on top of a hill between Miélan and Mirande. Here, we found the office of Ian Purslow, an agent dealing in top-end, renovated properties. Our budget scraped us in, just. But he had nothing of interest for us.
Finally we visited the Orpi real estate office in Mirande. Introduced ourselves to Gilles Bohlay, a large, jovial man who opened a dossier for us and arranged for us to visit two properties on Friday.
Under stormy skies we dashed to the Intermarché and made for home as the storm crashed in for the night.

Tuesday 23 March

Feeling almost guilty for not having anything planned, we stayed in all morning, the rain still falling. We decided to go to Auch after lunch and buy a car charger for our mobile phone. It would be a shame to miss a house because of a dead battery.
Next, to the Chamber of Commerce (KvK in Nederland). Walking up the steep hill through the centre of the old town, we announced ourselves and were received by a Monsieur Petit, a large man with thirty years experience behind him and the evidence of good eating in front of him. He listened intensely to our story, that we wanted to set up two businesses in France, as a designer and a dog trainer. He explained all the ins and outs of the tax laws and paperwork necessary, but bit by bit he warmed to us and started making all sorts of jokes. He touted Caroline's talents to a colleague down the phone and informed us that we needed a carte de séjour if we wanted to stay in France and run a business. The opposite to what the Dutch and English consulates had told us...
He escorted us to the front door and told us to call him personally if we had any more questions.
Perry gave Caroline a break from the kitchen and made Boeuf Bourguignon for dinner.

Perry's favourite cheese stall.

Wednesday 24 March

An early start, it's market day in Marciac. The owner of the cheese stall gives Perry a warm handshake now. Bought sheep, goat and bleu de Pyrenees cheeses whilst Caro got the vegetables.
To our rendezvous with Stephanie Hostier, an estate agent on the square. We liked her. She was honest, open and knew immediately what we were looking for. Unfortunately, there was nothing that matched on her books. We popped into Arros agency again, where they too had nothing new. The owner, a Dutchy, offered us commision on any house we brought in to him! Nice thought, but we'd like to find our own place first.
After lunch we had an appointment in Plaisance with Yannick Brunel of the Bragato real estate agency. We reset the sights and he arranged a viewing for tomorrow.

The marketplace in Bassoues

Thursday 25 March

To Masseube, about half an hour south east of the departement capital, Auch. The house we saw was far too isolated, too small and had a footpath running throught its grounds. Back at the agent's office we saw a great house on their site and will see it tomorrow, we can't wait.
At 4 P.M. we had an appointment with another estate agent to see a house in Aux Aussat. It was an L-form, but the neighbour's house was only a meter away. And there was a chicken farmer 200 meters from the house. To cap it all, the estate agent's car got stuck in the mud. So, by using planks of wood and plastic sacking under the tyres, we managed to push him free, not without a complete body mud bath for Perry whilst trying to pull the sack out as it spun around the axle.

Friday 26 March

We fell in love with the place shown above. 3 1/2 hectares of land and a lake in front. Behind it, a dependance for an atelier or gîte. Gorgeous. It broke our hearts to say no. All yours for € 180,000.- but it was a shell, so in the end it would leave little change from
€ 450,000.- and then there's the furniture to think about. The estate agent treated us to lunch in Vic-Fézensac and a view around a farm house that had been renovated with "close but no cigar" taste.

That afternoon we went to Castelnau-Rivière-Basse, near Plaisance. The house was € 62,000,- with 2500 M2 land (see photos left). In Holland or England you'd probably demolish the place. But there was so much potential to create a very individual house for us. With a mezzanine, high ceilings and a large studio for Perry. Problem was, the farmer did not want to sell his large barn, situated 30 meters from the house. Shame, it had a great view of the Pyrenees. But we feel that we are getting closer with every house we see.
Later that evening, we received a phone call from our friend Steven from Amsterdam, totell us that he was in Auch, on his way to Spain. We arranged to meet the next day. He has honour of being our first visiting guest!

Welcome Steven, our first visitor in Gers.

Saturday 27 March

Steven turned up around midday and after lunch, Perry and Steven did the supermarket run and made a dinner of chicken with tarragon sauce and roast potatoes. Lekker! (that's dutch for Yummy!)

Sunday 28 March

We slept in and missed the Brocante market in Pau. Today we move to a house in Larreule to house sit it for Dutch friends and look after their animals for a week whilst they are in Andorra. Perry arrived an hour late (we forgot that the clocks went forward) and picked up the keys and feeding instructions. Later, we drove with Steven to Bassoues for the Saint Mont festival (an annual event to promote the local wine growers). As we entered the square, we were invited to play the traditional game of Quilles de Maillet, a sort of skittles but you throw a wooden baton instead of a ball. We rounded off our visit with a beer on the square and dinner in Larreule.


Monday 29 March

We went to Castelnau-Rivière-Basse to see the house again. It isn't the one. Carol called with a possible first client for Caroline, we shall see. Called the Mayor's office in Beaumarché, but they didn't know of any houses on the market. To Marciac. Philippe on of the four estate agents in Marciac had a house for us to see on Wednesday. We passed by the notary's office in Miélan, where they know of a house that may come on the market in Bassoues.

Red sky at night, get off my land!

Tuesday 30 March

Back to the Renault garage to report the same problem and the car performs like a dream again. This is not funny. We had a 4pm meet with Gilles Bohlay at Agence Orpi in Mirande. He has two places for us to see, but he is so busy that we can't see them until next week Wednesday.
We printed out our "Petits Annonces" ready to pin up in all the supermarkets in the area. If we can't get any joy from the agents we may be able to find something by advertising directly.

The Taylor-Karthaus promo team in action

Beccas, front and back.

Wednesday 31 March

10:00, an appointment in Beccas, a hamlet in the far SW corner of Gers. The house was huge and infested with "Lassie" Scottish Collies. Turned out that the owner is a breeder. Next to the house was a large dependance and another house behind that, all on 1.2 hectares. They wanted € 208,000.- but the project was too big for us and it just didn't feel right. Mind you, he had two Citroens from the 1920's which Perry wouldn't have minded taking off his hands!

We met Steven in Marciac at the Café de l'Hotel de Ville. (He is staying in the pavilion whilst we are in Larreule). There we met Jaap and Ellen, a dutch couple who gave up everything to move here 18 years ago. They are now breeding Westies and Malteser dogs in Louslitges, a village behind Armous et Cau, where we stayed in a gîte last January.
To work! We pinned up our ad in several shops and supermarkets, then grabbed the bikes for a quick trip before the rain showers.






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