Week 6 – France

In which our trip comes to an abrupt (and hopefully temporary) stop.

Although, as everyone knows, the world is a very strange place right now, some things go on. We have decided that our weekly post should be one of those things. The first six months of 2020 was always intended to be a life changing experience for all of us, and though it is not going to be as we planned, we do want to remember it as it was.

Our daily facebook and Instagram posts continue too, so if you want more of us (who wouldn’t ?!) have a look at those.

Where were we? What did we do?

The drive

When last we wrote we were nearing Ben’s parents’ house in the Chartreuse, in the foothills of the Alps.

The journey here was long (1,150 km and 11 hours and 59 minutes) but relatively (we thought) uneventful. The driving conditions were perfect: blue skies and very little traffic, with the snowy Alps looking glorious away to our left. We passed several major cities and towns on the way – Linz πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ή, Munich πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ, St Gallen πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­, Zurich πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­, Bern πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­, Lausane πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­, Geneva πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­, Annecy πŸ‡¨πŸ‡΅ and Chambery πŸ‡¨πŸ‡΅ – without a footstep in any.

We were nervous about the four borders we had to cross (and in fact the German border was closed the same day) but again these were easy. Three were unattended. Austria to Switzerland (we had had to briefly go from Germany back into Austria to get to Switzerland round the Bodensee at Bregenz) was manned, but unconcerned with six people in a British car. We did need to get a Swiss motorway vignette there. We believe that all these borders are now closed, all the others closing the day after our drive on the Sunday.

The most eventful of our three stops was the last, at Restroute Rose de la Broye, just as the signs turned from German to French at Avenches on the Swiss A1, though we did not realise this at the time. Duplo A, Aurora’s beloved teddy, fell from the open car door and was left behind. When we realised this, upon arrival at Ben’s parents’ holiday house in France, 3 hours later, what should have been our triumphal arrival felt very hollow. Aurora has written a post about Duplo – you can find it here.

Gone but never forgotten

One ray of sunshine was that our AirBnB hosts in St Gallen (where we had planned to break the journey) refunded our money, even though our cancellation was too late to qualify for any refund. It is gestures like this, and the goodwill it spreads, that have led us to do the same for any of our guests who have booked to stay in our holiday cottage in Kelso.

France

And now we are here. In France, where we speak the language, know the village, and are familiar with the equipment in the kichen (which includes a colander, a potato peeler and a large number of sharp (and not so sharp) knives).

We’re just going to scatter the rest of this post with pretty pictures. Because we all need pretty pictures at the moment.

We arrived on Sunday night and on Monday headed to the nearest town, where there is a larger supermarket, to do a weekly shop. It is a good thing we did. On Monday night, President Macron announced sweeping restrictions on movement. We’ve written a longer post about these and our life “under lockdown”, but suffice to say that we have not left the village, other than for our hitherto permitted exercise walks, since then.

The rules here do keep shifting – our long walks earlier in the week will not be repeated, as we are now (and in fact then, but we didn’t know) not allowed to go more than 2km from our house for our daily exercise. In fact since I wrote that second sentence yesterday, we have been informed (very politely) by the gendarmes (called we believe, by a woman whose house we walked past), that in fact it is 500m from the house. We remain unconvinced that that is the case (or that walking is not a permitted form of exercise which they also told us), but we did not feel that arguing was sensible. Our walks will be futher curtailed…

We are also shifting our own understanding and expectations: non-screen academic time now includes writing letters, playing scrabble or even, we hope, listening to some classic literature.  Our daily exercise routine has been moved outside (weather permitting, which it fortunately has so far) and we are settling for just being outside a bit more if we cannot walk.  The not-quite-yet-tadpoles need a lot of looking at….

Definitely now more “comma” than “full stop”

We can leave the house for short periods to exercise (although that apparently means “sports” and not “walks”) or go shopping and so each morning one of us (without the children) heads to the boulangerie for bread and the small supermarket for any other essentials. There seems to be no panic buying here and the shelves are all stocked.

The pasta aisle was empty but otherwise no sign of stockpiling

We have not yet tried to go further afield since the restrictions on movement came in on Monday night. We may experiment with that next week.

Generally how have you found it?

Magnus: It’s been ok, being here. It’s good because we know where everything is. I don’t like the routine because I think we should have screen time in the mornings as well.

Sophie: It’s good because we know where to go and we don’t not speak the language. It’s very quiet in the village.

Aurora: I like being in France because Mummy and Daddy speak the language. I know this house and we know lots of people here. We don’t get lost on our walks.

Not lost.

Lucy: I enjoy it but I think over the coming weeks it will feel very strange – I have always thought of St. Pierre as a holiday home rather than a long term home but I love being here.

Harriet: Mixed (see more below). Its always lovely to be here but the village is oddly quiet and the chat is all about one thing.  It’s very strange not being able to send the children for bread in the morning (we’re not sure if this is allowed or not so aren’t risking it). It’s discombobulating not knowing what is going to happen. But we aren’t the only people in the world feeling like that at the moment.  My mood changes from day to day and some days are very much easier than others.

Ben: A strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar. Restrictive. It’s generally fine if I think in the present tense. I’m not enjoying considering the short and long term future, although I’m hopeful about the mid term. A lot of it is adjusting to changes and what we can and can’t do: both now and in the future.

What were the good bits?

Harriet: It is just so beautiful here. We are so fortunate to be in the mountains and to have the space to be outside.  I have enjoyed every one of our walks outside.  The primroses, crocuses and cowslips are all out.  I’m looking forward to seeing our tadpoles grow.  Also French bread.

Ben: The weather has been very nice. I’ve had good chats with many of the children. I’m glad we made it here.   I have loved the beauty of the Chartreuse, particularly on our walks.

Sophie: I like French bread. We haven’t gone on massive long walks. I like playing Pictionary and other games that we haven’t had before on our trip because they’re too big to carry with us. I liked getting the tadpoles. The long journey was fine because we got to watch movies.

This experience would be so much worse with Mothers’ Pride.

Lucy: Food, French and generally, walking, “listening” to Harry Potter (for the 1,200th time) with the twins, tadpoles, learning French and just being here!!!

Aurora: Getting croissants from the bakery because French bread is always the best. We’re about to have fondue! Getting my new teddy, Sandie. Listening to Harry Potter.

Magnus: I have enjoyed eating chocolate Special K and nutella. I like the Beanos and lego.

And the bad?

We are conscious how lucky we are. This could have been so much worse for us (had we got ill in a strange country or were now in lockdown on the wrong side of a strange border with nowhere to live). It’s also so, so much worse for many others, including many of our friends and loved ones. Our hearts go out to them and we are trying to remember to count our blessings.

That said, this last week hasn’t all been easy so please forgive us if we whinge, in the knowledge of how fortunate we are in the bigger context.

Ben: The constant close proximity has its challenges, as does the loss of hoped-for opportunities, whether short-, mid- or long-term. I’m worried that our trip will be much shorter or impossible. We already know we’re not going to some countries we had planned to. I’m worried about what happens when we come back, given the likely state of the economy and the fact that I don’t have a job. I am peeved that the dishwasher has broken down. I don’t like being stuck.

Sophie: I don’t want to miss out on Mongolia, because I want to do a Sophie and yak selfie. We go on tons of walks and I don’t like going uphill because it hurts my legs. I miss Duplo. It’s annoying that we can’t watch any BBC iPlayer things (Editors’ note: there is no TV here anyway).

Self isolation. Not a yak though.

Harriet: I had been proud of my unexpected (to me at least) resilience in the face of the loss of everything we have planned for. That all came crashing down on Friday. I’m hoping that was rock bottom.

Since this morning’s gendarme incident I have been feeling increasingly anxious again. I don’t like doing the “wrong” thing and it feels as though the parameters for what is “right” are shifting (or being interpreted differently) without warning.

I have scratched my glasses such that they are unwearable. It turns out that opticians are not an “essential” service. I do have contact lenses and I have just experimented with online glasses ordering, so this is only a minor irritation but one I could have done without.

More mundanely cancelling all our booked accommodation and travel for the next month was not fun.  Some companies made it very easy.  Others (including our insurance company – Hiscox – who insist, in the face of compelling evidence, that we bought through a broker and are therefore not their responsibility) not so much….

Magnus: I don’t really like the schedule. I am missing Joe and my cousin Freddie.

Aurora: I don’t like the schedule. It’s annoying because it doesn’t give me any time to talk to my friends except a bit, and I don’t have any time to do anything. Except for when I do. It’s annoying. It has limited my phone time, which is so annoying. I’ve been really missing Duplo. I had a big fight with Mummy.

Lucy: The fight a few days ago (which I will not go into detail about), the feeling of the fact that Tweed might never get to Tokyo, I’m getting slightly bored of the endless Tintin and Asterix. I was slightly disapointed not to have a St Petersburg birthday but there would be worse places to become a teenager.

What did we eat?

The contents of Ele’s cupboards (at her request and including a *lot* of spaghetti, and a jar of Sainsbury’s Thai Green Curry best before this month – not together, for the avoidance of doubt). We had duck in a tin too, and I used some of the Hungarian caraway to make a cake.

Disappointingly, the kitchen scales here have vanished so although I do have all the ingredients to make a Bled Cake, I haven’t yet been brave enough actually to do so.

Caraway seed cake. Very Victorian and surprisingly delicious

Ben is currently grating the cheese for our first adventures in fondue.

How plastic free were we?

The supermarket in the village pleasingly sells refill pouches of handwash, so that was a victory, but otherwise shopping for food remains the sticking point.  It is probably better here than in other countries we have passed through as we have used the boulangerie and the fromagerie for bread and cheese, so both of those come wrapped in paper rather than plastic.  We continue to buy loose fruit where possible although I do wonder if I should be peeling it.

We could peel these. But it would be good to know what they were first.

What’s next?

Who knows?

When M.Macron addressed the nation on Monday he said this would last for an initial 15 days. After four days that was increased to four to six weeks.

We fully expect to be here on Lucy’s birthday, 21 April. We hope not to be on Magnus’ which is 31 May, although where we then will be is anyone’s guess.

We are still very much hoping to get to Tokyo.

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6 Comments

  1. A set of kitchen scales will be in the post to you as soon as I can get them delivered from John Lewis.
    (A little thank you present to Hugh & Jane for allowing me to stay in St Pierre so regularly!).

  2. So glad that you have reached St Pierre. Looking forward to your updates on your time in rural France. Take care and stay safe x

    • Thank you. All a bit discombobulating, but day by day at the moment. I think Nicola Sturgeon had it right saying if it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.

  3. Hello lovely, We’ve been thinking of you all so much. So glad you were spirited across Europe to St Pierre and that you’ve got all you need in the supermarkets. Let me know how the online glasses thing goes. Mine have been horribly scratched for ages and I’ve been rubbish about getting new ones so I’ll be watching with interest.
    We’re currently trying to manage both working full time with the boys home as well, walking the dog and having to say goodbye to our au pair (although hopefully not for too long) as she’s heading back to see this out with her family in Germany. It will be great to share bunkering down stories with you.
    Hang in there and love to all the family, especially the fabulous Sophie.
    Jo xxxx

  4. Oh my life. I didn’t realise my picture was a massive gorilla. So appropriate though. I’m not changing it!

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