Provence here we come!

After finding an ideal house in the lovely village of Jouques in Provence, Jean-Louis and I had returned home to Perth, Western Australia, to pack-up our lives and make the move to France. No easy task as we had gone on holiday within weeks of moving house, leaving our two bedroom, one bathroom town house crammed full of furniture and boxes from our recently sold, four bedroom, three bathroom, two living-room family home. We had even left a pool table taking up the entire dining room!

Jean-Louis and myself whilst staying at JL’s Aunt’s house in Monesties six months earlier.

We had quite a mess to sort out

However Jean-Louis (JL) and I felt so positive and I, in particular, felt so free. Although we’d just had a relaxing three months in France, it was only now that we were back home in Perth, that I felt the reality of no longer having to go off to a full-time job every week day. So the days of working to sort and store the dozens and dozens of boxes piled up in every room was a satisfying job in which to immerse myself.

At the same time JL decided that all the brick-paving around the house just had to be redone, including the lengthy driveway – so he set to it, with me helping move, stack and clean bricks and later restack them in-position for laying – all great exercise! We have always done our own handy man and renovation jobs. In fact we’d improved our living situation over the years by renovating and extending our first home, culminating in the last project, where we’d sub-contracted to build a three-level family home from scratch to our own design, as well as doing all the landscaping (multi-leveled on a sloping block), garden design and planting, plus painting and finishing inside and out. It had been an enormous job which took more time and effort than we had ever imagined, but it had been part of our plan to make enough profit to finance this next stage of our dream. We had plenty of know-how (by that I mean JL on the DIY and myself on the final say on design!), energy and enthusiasm but not much money – so we’d had to resolve early in our partnership to be resourceful and hard working. Despite the difficulties in selling our house during the past year, it had all been worth it.

Now we just had to improve the exterior of this recently purchased small house and we’d be able to rent it out, which would further finance our life in Provence. Fortunately the interior had been nicely renovated about eight years earlier – it was reasonably well appointed and neutral in décor, so was fine as it was. However the exterior was a different matter – there was in fact no existing garden, just the uneven and poorly done brick paving and dull, grey sand. The one tree that had dominated the front yard we’d had to have professionally removed, at great expense, as it was mostly dead and in danger of dropping branches. However, this suited us as we had several frangipani trees in pots that needed to go into the ground, as well as many other plants we’d brought over from our last property. Once we redid the paving and JL built a large garden-bed in the front courtyard, we were able to make a beautiful front garden in no time at all. The larger back yard was given a similar treatment and, with a huge load of good soil and a lot of hard work, it all came together nicely.

The completed front courtyard – re-laid paving and new garden bed.
The back yard with re-laid brick paving, garden beds being created and our plants going in.

At the same time as all this was happening we were gathering prices for transporting different quantities of our possessions to France. Here we were in a quandary. Should we send little and buy practically everything we would need there? Or should we send everything we thought we’d need since we already had it? Which option would be most cost effective?

It didn’t take us long to realize that we would need a sizeable storage facility if we were to leave everything in Perth, and that would cost us quite a lot in rent. Also, I figured it could be expensive to buy all the linen, household and kitchen appliances, crockery and so forth that we’d need over there. I was certainly looking forward to buying a lot of items at flea markets and antiques stores, but I didn’t want just old things – for many essentials like decent bed-linen and towels I had no idea which shops would be the best to shop at for good quality for a great price. At least in Perth I was familiar with all the outlet stores and had always bought top quality at fantastic sale prices. In France I had no idea! 

We finally decided that we would buy most of the furniture we would need when we got to France, second hand from Brocantes (antique/bric-a-brac stores) and flea markets. We’d had a look at some in the area around Jouques whilst we were there and had even bought two old ladder-back chairs, which we’d been able to leave in storage with an Aunt. They were so cheap we could hardly believe it!

A selection of goods at a ‘vide grenier’ – literally means ‘ empty the attic’
Inside one of the many rooms of a local Brocante – second-hand furniture and bric-a-brac store

We settled on a quote to send six cubic meters of our possessions to France for a price that seemed remarkably affordable, even with basic insurance and with help in packing all the breakable items – thank goodness! This enabled us to send crockery, kitchen essentials like saucepans, bowls, cutlery and utensils, glassware; plus most of our clothing, art books and several boxes of Jean-Louis’ art supplies. Additionally, because we had opted to leave our small house as a furnished rental property, we decided to also send a couple of furniture items that we had no space for in the house, specifically two antique French beds that had been our daughters when they were small, a large gilt-framed mirror and a couple of occasional tables. Plus I had to have my sewing machine and at least a couple of boxes of my accumulated fabric – after all I had projects that had been waiting for years for me to finally have time to get to them! We also had a stack of Jean-Louis’s paintings to send, including one, yet unfinished, that measured 2m x 2m!

Gradually we organized ourselves

It was Summer time in Perth which can be brutal, often hitting 37°C (100° F) or more for consecutive days; so we tended to work outside early in the day and in the cool of the evening, then inside during the middle of the day, sorting and packing. We set a date in early March for the final packing to be done by the professionals and all of the cartons to be collected and taken away.

Meanwhile we were contemplating how long our periods of ‘living in Provence’ might go on for. We imagined that we’d need 18 months initially to do the renovations on our house in Jouques – while the first two levels were perfectly habitable the top floor needed every room completely over hauled. So, being practical, I conceded to us needing to be there for one winter – I really wasn’t keen on more. After which we figured we would be in a position to live six months in Provence and six months in Australia. An endless summer – how perfect!

Then of course there was all the paper work!

Fortunately JL had retained his French nationality and had recently obtained his French/EU passport, so he would be able to live in France as long as he wanted. I on the other hand had to go through quite a procedure to obtain a ‘visa long séjour’ (long term visa) from the French consulate in Australia. This required a lot of paper-work, a trip to Sydney to present myself along with said paper-work, an interview at which my husband was not permitted to accompany me, finger-prints and photo taken of course, and a sizeable fee paid. Not to mention the cost of our flights and accommodation! Gosh, one had to be keen to do all this!

Because JL had done such a thorough job of organizing my papers, the interview lasted barely 15 minutes, which was great though ludicrous, since we’d travelled all the way across the vast county for it! Luckily we had accrued travel points from our trip to Europe, which had paid for that flight. Also, to make the most of the trip, we decided to visit family and friends in the east and have a short holiday to see a part of Australia we hadn’t visited before.

A section of the magnificent ‘Great Ocean Road’ – formations known as ‘The twelve Apostles’.

We spent just two nights in Sydney where we caught up with my cousin and her husband for an evening, then flew on to Melbourne to see and stay a few days with our niece, before heading to Geelong which is only an hour by train from Melbourne. It’s the second largest city in the state of Victoria, surrounded by an extensive rural community and is set on the coast at the start of a section of coastline famously known as ‘The Great Ocean Road’ – magnificently picturesque and which we’d wanted to see for some time. We stayed the weekend in Geelong with good friends, then collected our hire car and set off on the three-day drive.

It was a wonderful few days – perfect weather and so many beautiful places to stop and take in the scenery, the ocean breezes and the colours. To think we were right on the southern edge of the continent, looking out toward Antarctica was breath taking!

Back home in March and the day for our cartons to be collected to commence their journey to France had arrived. The very large truck and its two sturdy occupants arrived at 11am precisely – exactly the time we’d expected them. Two hours later, with 51 cartons numbered, documented and loaded aboard, we watched the two guys who’d very efficiently packed the last of our things, jump into the cabin of the truck and depart. Although we had that feeling of “will we ever see our goods again?” we also felt like we were now on the home stretch!

The next few weeks simply raced along

We had decided to use our second bedroom as our storage space and secure it well to prevent curious tenants from entering. The price of rentable storage units was far more than the amount of money we’d be losing by renting our property as a single bedroom house instead of one with two bedrooms available. So our next task was to arrange that room to store everything else that was left, some furniture that was unsuitable to remain in the house for tenants to use, plus loads of personal items.

It was a struggle but eventually we fitted everything into the second bedroom and the garden shed. We packed our bags and, with a lot of help from my energetic and ever helpful parents, set about cleaning. Even though we’d been consistently using our time effectively to work towards our departure date, we found we were still busy to almost the last minute.

Just a small part of our crammed storage room.

Suffice to say we managed to enjoy a last day with our family and, after sharing a few tears at the airport with our daughters, we were finally off. Many friends had joked that it’s normally the kids who abandon their parents to go off on an adventure, but here we were, the adults abandoning our kids! That was tough. In many ways I guess we’ve never toed the conventional line, rather, we’ve tried to model (as parents) that life is a series of calculated risks, and that (true to the old adage) in order to cross the ocean and follow your dreams you have to lose sight of the shore.

In any case, we’d be back!

Typical Bordeaux landscape near Portets where we picked up our car.

We flew to Bordeaux where Jean-Louis’s Uncle had been looking after our car for the past six months. We stayed a few days with family but, naturally, we were impatient to get to Jouques and our house. Even though we’d been there quite recently, we’d driven the same route just six months earlier, this time it felt surreal because we were going to our new home.

Provence here we come!

Wheat field on the plateau of Bedes in the commune of Jouques

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