I can’t believe that it’s New Year’s Eve already. Where has this year gone?
I remember my mum saying to me that the older you get, the faster the years seem to go, and I never thought that would be possible. But this year has gone by in a flash, and it’s the first time I have actually believed she may have been right!
The last 12 months have flown past, and again we have relished every moment, that we have been able to spend in this beautiful corner of Provence.
It now feels well and truly like home, and in many ways we now feel much more in step with our lives here, than the life we previously had in the UK. We’re great believers that you should look forward, rather than back, so this new stage in our life together is still exciting, even with the additional stresses there have been over the last couple of years, thanks to the pandemic, and Brexit, especially when it has come to travelling and managing our lives across the 2 countries.
Like so many, we’ve spent hours (if not days or weeks) negotiating our way through the french administration system, finding our feet with new processes, occasionally stumbling, but somehow picking a route through and managing to complete everything we have had to do.
I know people say the processes are often complex here, and yes they are very different, but we have always found people very willing to help us tick the right boxes, and fill out the right forms, whenever we have struggled a bit. If we have needed advice, it has always been there and, although at times I have wanted to hurl the computer through the window, there has always been someone there to help.
We’ve certainly got to know the french health system, with my broken collar bone, a bad reaction to a bee-sting, Andy’s sliced finger, and now scans and conversations with surgeons about Nigel, an annoying, unpleasant (but harmless) lump on my leg, that just doesn’t want to go away. At one point it felt as if we had our own seat in Urgences at Apt Hospital, as we were there so often. I’m sure the staff started raising their eyebrows, or perhaps started to draw lots over who would come to deal with us this time, whenever they saw Fifi drive into the car park.
Ridiculously, probably the biggest challenge (which is still ongoing) is getting Fifi registered here. We always thought that would be easy, surely there would be nothing more simple, than getting a french registration number for a 50 year old, classic french, left-hand drive 2CV. Alas no, and she has proved to be our problem child, simply because in the 1980s her original 435cc engine was changed for a 602cc engine. I know it doesn’t sound much, but after being lead a merry dance, going from pillar to post for nearly 12 months, we finally took the plunge and changed her engine back to its original size.
We’re still not quite there yet, but hopefully, early in the New Year, we should get the piece of paper, which will allow us to jump through the last few hoops that will finally allow us to register her here, when her French Adventure will really start in earnest.
As ever, our own adventure has continued, and the start of the year saw us ploughing on with the renovations at the house, spending frantic hours getting all the heavy work done, before the hot summer days really started to hit.
It was so exciting, finally being able to walk out from the new kitchen directly onto the newly tiled terraces at the side of the house. Andy had worked so hard over the winter to build the walls, open the new doorway, and lay what felt like, acres of travertine, and just being able to amble out with a coffee and sit watching the sunrise behind Caseneuve each morning, was utterly perfect, and perhaps even better than we had imagined.
We have even discovered that we have some slightly green fingers, and the small garden we planted in March has thrived, with the old bed frame, we used as a fence, now almost invisible under jasmines and roses, that have rambled their way through it.
We’ve had Figs and strawberries from plants in tubs on the terrace, and I have everything crossed that the little cherry tree we planted last spring, may give us a handful of dark red fruits next year too. It may not be acres of space, but we are thrilled with what we have achieved, and what’s lovely, is that the neighbours love it too.
We still have work to do, and this Autumn we’ve started again, finally tackling the living room, getting rid of the dated orange-tiled floor with more travertine, and (joy of joys) painting over the lavender-coloured walls, which have taunted me since we bought the house, nearly 6 years ago.
Next will be the kitchen, which was temporarily fitted with the old units pulled out from the old kitchen corner. The sink is broken, fitted onto a unit, supported by bricks, and the tap is held in place with cable ties; the worksurface is a sheet of plywood, balanced on an old workbench, and the hob only has 2 working rings, with an oven that was on its last legs 6 years ago, and either cooks like a furnace, or not at all.
We imagined we would only have to use the temporary kitchen for a few weeks, perhaps a couple of months, and had plans for smart units, a range cooker, and even a sink with taps that don’t spin around, when you try to turn them on.
Nearly 11 months later though, it is still in place, plans on hold for a little while longer, after the money we had set aside for it, turned into a new engine for Fifi instead. Cooking a traditional Christmas dinner was an experience again, and (as friends would tell you) it isn’t unusual for us at all, and we just won’t know ourselves when we finally get a new one fitted (whenever that may be)
As ever, in between doing the work on the house and coming up for air after being buried in a pile of paperwork, we’ve been out and about on the bikes, still finding new routes to ride, and loving the simplicity, and peace of exploring the area on two wheels.
We have seen the year through, on the bikes, cycling through the cherry orchards, heavy with blossom…
Finding poppy-fields that seemed even more vibrant than usual this year…
Then pottering through the heady scent of the lavender fields in full bloom, and scent (something that I will never tire of)
And more recently through the colourful autumn landscape, the trees and vineyards bright with their autumn leaves, adding a wonderful splash of colour to the valley.
And of course, Andy spent a day to remember, close to the summit of Mont Ventoux, watching the Tour de France on its double ascent of the mountain. I was just gutted that I couldn’t be there with him, but watched every second, carrying the laptop from room to room back in the UK
But if anything, this has been the year that we have really discovered the walks, along the vast network of marked trails and paths that criss-cross the area. In fact, I’ve just checked and over the year, according to my pedometer, I’ve walked just over 2300 miles, which doesn’t seem possible really, but in fact has been great fun.
The walking started when I couldn’t ride, with my collar-bone, and equally couldn’t bear to be stuck inside, so I grabbed the maps and headed off, finding my way between the villages and local sites.
I really was amazed at the places I found, and the wonderful off-road tracks that I could take, which are so well-marked that even I didn’t get lost (and that’s saying something). Whether it was over the ridge through the ochres, for a croissant at Rustrel…
Up and down the sides of the valley for a pain au chocolat at Saignon…
Or from Lacoste to Bonnieux for a pain au raisin overlooking the view across the valley…
I accept that most, if not all of the walks involve a second breakfast, but like cycling, it feels as if I have earned it!
This morning, I took Millie on a loop from Les Huguets to Roussillon and back, sitting on a bench in the square with a pain au chocolat and a take-away coffee from the Boulangerie.
It’s hard to believe that I walked in a T-Shirt, and was almost too warm in my jeans. It’s the last day of December, and the skies were as blue as a mid-summer’s day, simply glorious and a day to make my heart sing.
So that is this year done. It seems slightly odd, as our eldest has recently moved to work in a bike shop in Abu Dhabi, and our youngest is fully immersed in his Uni course at Bristol, so for the first time we are really getting that sense of being empty-nesters, and dealing with their lives and worries at a little bit more distance than previously. I couldn’t be more proud of them, and again it’s a new chapter, and turning the page is always exciting.
So, on to 2022, and I wonder what that will bring. I hope it perhaps goes slightly more slowly than this last 12 months, as there are so many things we want to do.
I’d like to think that by this time next year, Fifi will be totally french, and I will have that new kitchen fitted, but I won’t promise myself anything, as life seems to take so many twists and turns at the moment, who knows what will happen?
In the meantime, have a very happy New Year, and I look forward to whatever 2022 has to throw at us ….