Purchasing the first caravan he saw and believing a Frenchman’s words when the latter said it was a 45-minute-drive away were some gaffes an expat made when he moved to France.
Moving house can be one of the most stressful things in life. Moving to a house in another country can be more stressful still. Yet, a wonderful sense of child-like naivety seems to flood through most Brits when they decide to move abroad to France. Maybe because France is so close by, so familiar and so welcoming that it seems to have a mystical effect on people.
When people move to France they often burn their bridges back home, move to an area they’ve never been to before, pack up all their worldly belongings into the back of a large estate car and purchase an ancient caravan to act as a temporary home! I should know as we did exactly that!
Answer to prayers
After a decade in a stressful finance job, moving to France seemed like the answer to all our prayers. We moved just at the time the foot and mouth fiasco was blossoming in the UK and this was the last nail in the coffin for us.
Whilst the UK mindlessly slaughtered almost anything and everything, France decided to inoculate instead. Gallic common sense prevailed for once.
Getting lost is easy in France
After a fraught journey from Yorkshire to the ferry and a remarkably calm crossing from Poole to Cherbourg our evening quickly degenerated.
We got lost going around Cherbourg, got lost coming out of Cherbourg, went back into the city and got lost coming out again. Eventually we had to call the owner of out temporary campsite in Normandy at 1am from the car park of a Champion supermarket to ask her to come and get us!
Next day we set off at the crack of noon on our, we didn’t realise it yet, long journey south.
Seven pm came and went, eight pm too, so did nine pm and ten! It’s a long, long, long way from Cherbourg to Niort. And when you get lost in France all of a sudden all the signposts disappear too! Many times we were forced to ask directions and many, many times, patient French people helped us find our way slowly to the camp site.
It was a miracle that we arrived shortly after midnight.
Our destination was further than we thought, and much further than our hosts had said. When someone here says it is a 45-minute-drive, they’re lying. They don’t really mean 45 minutes at all, instead they mean three hours! At least!
Our own Tour de France
We’d been through France many times, and it seemed like a huge country full of opportunities and lovely places to live in, if we could only find the bit that suited us the most.
As a devoted fan of Le Tour de France, I’d spent most of the 1980s and 90s watching the best cycling race in the world snake its way through one idyllic area after another. So we thought that buying a caravan would give us the opportunity to take part in our own little Tour de France!
Don’t buy the first caravan you come across
The first caravan we bought for a grossly overpriced GBP 400. But we were fools and he was a thief. We viewed the ancient van and like idiots immediately handed over the cash. By the time we got home we knew it had been a mistake, the van was at least 30 years old! So we rang the seller and asked for our money back. Being a retired banker he said no and being a former debt recovery officer I said OK! So we had to tow it away and give it to a caravan park.
Caravan number two was much better, newer and more expensive and it was the one we took on our epic two day trip to Chef Boutonne. This Odyssey which became our personal Tour de France was when we really discovered that the country was indeed massive and that everything was always further than we’d expected.
The second caravan served us well! In fact it served us more as a static than a touring caravan because being boringly unadventurous, by the time we’d driven half way down France, we couldn’t be bothered to go any further! We lazily decided Deux Sevres was the place for us!
Why Deux Sevres?
For months and months, over the previous cold damp Yorkshire winter, we’d sought out places we could go and stay whilst we looked around France. We nearly rented a cottage near Limoges, but a friend of a friend lived there and he warned us of frighteningly cold winters similar to back home.
We eventually stumbled on a small campsite owned by a laid back expat couple from Kent. Having lots of dogs, cats and other sundries was the major hindrance we have always had for holidays and just about everything. But this couple said we could stay with them and there was no problem!