I still remember arriving in France. I remember our first few days in the Charente, specifically the first day in Ruffec. It was March. It was grey, windy and raining. I felt tired and grumpy, after a long, stressful drive from the Alps to the Charente in terrible weather conditions. Despite my bad mood, I tried to put on a brave face as the cameraman for “A New Life In The Sun” filmed us walking about. He must have picked up on my bad mood though as seemed to focus mostly on Barry whilst I tried to keep the kids quiet. The excitement of the previous few days had been replaced by tiredness and the reality of what we had done.
We left Bristol shortly after the Beast of the East brought snow. I still remember Bristol coming to a standstill, and going to the park with the kids along with everyone else from our neighbourhood to go toboganning in Arnos Court Park. It was freezing, but fun and filled with hot chocolate and making the most of the snow.
Surrounded by Boxes
Our conveyancing solicitors had told us just after the Christmas break that we should exchange contracts and therefore complete soon, potentially within a few weeks. We had therefore packed all of our belongings and had been living surrounded by boxes. We had sold off most of our furniture, sold the car and dismantled our beds so were sleeping on the mattresses directly on the floor. It all started to feel real : we were moving to France.
Waiting, and waiting
However the weeks turned into months and we still had no exchange or completion date. I had brought my business to a halt as I couldn’t take on new projects, so I had taken up a seasonal job in Tescos to tie us over. Barry had been made redundant, and whilst he intented to start his own business he couldn’t take on new clients when we were expecting to leave the country shortly… So we waited.
Deciding to Risk it
The hardest thing throughout this period, as well as the uncertainty of not having a date to work on, was Siena’s reaction to our decision.
She did not want to go. At all. Everyday, we would have tantrums and arguments as she declared she did not want to leave Bristol. She did not want to move to France. We could go and she would stay in Bristol… She was only 7 but has always known her own mind and she was not afraid to tell us exactly what she thought. I remember finding this really tough.
As her parents, we tried to reassure her. Reminding her of all the fun holidays we had had in France. Telling her we would be closer to family. It would be an adventure. She would get to learn French. We would have space for pets. Nothing worked. And it was starting to wear us down. We strongly felt that we were doing the right thing, but it was tough arguing about it every single day.
So in the end, in light of this, we decided to risk it, and just go before having completed. We signed power of attorneys with our solicitor, expecting it all to sign within a few weeks. We arranged for all our things to be picked up and stored, to be delivered in France as and when we found our new home. We kept essentials in a few suitcases for us to live out of in the meantime. And we started saying goodbye to our friends, after a decade of living in Bristol.
Good bye Bristol
Once we had made the decision to go and set a date, it was all go. We were excited and it felt so good to no longer be in limbo, motionless.
The cameraman came to film us for the first time on the day the removal company came to collect our belongings. The cameraman kept asking us how we felt : did we feel sad? Were we sorry to say goodbye to the house? To Bristol? But we felt nothing but excited. It felt so good to finally be moving!
Later that day, when Siena saw the empty house, she cried. It was heartbreaking to see her like this. As the house was now empty, we had booked a nearby hotel for the night, so that the kids could finish their week at school before we took the plane to the Alps on the Saturday. It also helped to get Siena out of the house in order to distract her. We ate out and luckily she fell asleep easily that night, exhausted.
If you’re wondering about Hugo, luckily he had very little concept of what was happening, being 4 at the time. He just went with the flow.
The following night, as we waited for the taxi to pick us up from the house to take us to the airport, Siena walked from room to room, sobbing as she said goodbye to her home for the past 6 years. Luckily, she fell asleep in the taxi. Once we got to the hotel at the airport, we celebrated with ice cream after dinner and excitement started to take over at the thought of taking a plane to France the next day and seeing her Papy.
We arrived at Grenoble airport, on familiar ground. My dad came to pick us up. We spent the night at my parents’ house, and the following day, in our new family car (Kevin the Kia), we headed out to Charente for the first time!
The journey was atrocious. It’s a pretty long drive from the East of France to the West. It is also a rather dull one, with incredibly long straight roads. We also came across several freak storms causing flash fooding on the roads. All whilst driving a car I had never driven before, and Barry telling me to make sure I was careful as the rain could cause the car aquaplane. Fun times.
We arrived later than planned in the Charente, but immediately fell in love with the Charente stone, which reminded us of Cotswold stone buildings. We were warmly welcomed to our gite by owners Alison and Rob. They had the fire roaring in the log burner, and as soon as we set foot in the gite we felt relieved and relaxed. We had arrived!
First Days in the Charente
The following day, the reality of what we had done started to sink in. The lead up to our arrival had been so busy and now that we had arrived in Charente tiredness settled in.
I felt tired from the busy week leading up to our departure as well as the long drive the previous day. The weather was a cold winter’s day, as expected for early March, which didn’t help either.
We nevertheless started to explore the area, and took steps towards making our new life here happen. We made appointments with estate agents. We signed up the kids to the local school in Villefagnan. We started familiarising ourself with the area and meeting people.
Having finally arrived in the Charente, we now needed to find our new home. We therefore wasted no time in getting visits booked in with estate agents to look at houses. But that’s a whole other post in itself!
Moving abroad can be such an emotional rollercoaster, with so many thoughts and emotions to juggle. Add those of your children, it can be really tough! Have you moved abroad? Where your children completely onboard or were they more like Siena? Do you remember how you felt when you first arrived in your new country? Did you feel relief? fear? I’d love to hear from you.
If you are considering a move abroad with your family and would like to discuss this further, get in touch with me here, your question may be a great starting point for a blog post.
If you have any specific questions about househunting in France let me know, as this will be the focus of my next blog post.