Thursday, 4 April 2019

Say NO to service fees

Garden at Le Cormoran in Talloires
 

Disconnected, but surprisingly in synch. Not infrequently, I notice that bloggers whom I follow (principally French oriented) offer thematically consistent posts. Education, the weather, festivals, politics, Brexit (who isn't talking about this?), observations about life in France... appear almost as set topic of the day. Much like the lock-step schooling that my children witnessed/endured/enjoyed/encountered (select as appropriate) in France, the memo regarding uniformity seems to have continued into this blogging world.

View from the upstairs bedroom at Le Cormoran

It happened to me yesterday. I had contemplated an article based around our home in Talloires, which we have on holiday rental. I had it planned out in minute detail in my mind, just like I have at various points in my life planned out exactly what I would say to the bullies who have stood over my children if ever I were to catch those bastards in action. (Hmmm, that is ambiguous, but, no, I am not referring in the latter part of that sentence to my offspring but that small subset of students otherwise known as weak, slimy cowards). You see, the platform (HomeAway grrr) on which we have our home advertised frustrates the hell out of me and occasionally it does me a whole lot of good to vent in writing.

Looking down on Talloires and Le Cormoran

Then Lise from Let's Speak French contacted me. She was preparing a blog about Australians who own holiday-rental properties in France (ours included) but her angle was FAR more positive. She wanted to encourage her language students to picture themselves in various corners of France practicing their French language but take some of the stress out of their travel booking experience by providing them with solid, reliable links WITH NO BOOKING FEES. Ok, that last bit was added by me and so you get an inkling of my angst with the above-mentioned platform who, yes, charges EXORBITANT service fees for NO extra service. At least, nothing more than they used to give pre service fee. I was going to mention the FaceBook group Book your Holiday Direct with the Owner and implore readers to use it (objective achieved - tick), do a bit of not-so-subtle advertising of my own property (tick) and hopefully feel better by receiving loads of comments in the comments section from like-minded readers about the injustice of outrageous and unnecessary holiday rental service fees by booking companies who provide no commensurable benefits.

Our French village - Talloires on the Annecy Lake

PS Here is a link to Lise's blog and if you are the Australian owner of a holiday rental property and we haven't come across each other yet, feel free to send me a message (cb222@me.com). It'd be good to get to know each other.

The Annecy Lake glorious in all seasons

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Australians in France - Chateau du Jonquay Part 2

Chateau du Jonquay


In Part 1 of Jane's story, which I shared in my last blog, Jane tells us of the stroke of luck that led to the purchase of their beautiful castle, Chateau du Jonquay (above). Here is the beginning of the story again, along with a continuation of our interview.

You have bought and renovated a property in France – Chateau Du Jonquay in Normandy. Why did you choose Normandy for your French home? 

It was more of a case of Normandy chose us! We had visited almost everywhere else in France and never had been to Normandy, when a friend invited us to come and spend a weekend with them and attend another friend of their’s annual party. It turned out the friend was a New York interior designer and his chateau was for sale. So pretty much by the end of the party Steve (my husband) had decided to buy it, as he had fallen in love with it. I liked it too but I thought we were actually looking to invest in an apartment, so it was a bit of a shock! We really did fall under Chateau Jonquay’s spell!

Might there be a renovation story or two that you could share?

Naturally, there are many, many renovation stories! In some ways I feel like we have been continually renovating since we bought it 9 years ago. Initially we had to replace the roof as it was leaking and we added a bathroom to the 3rd level. Then we bought the farmhouse next door when it came up for sale and renovated that. It had been the original stables to the Chateau so it was lovely to put them back as one property. Renovating the farmhouse was loads of fun as I invited 10 Australian girlfriends to come and visit, drop in and paint or restore the garden so I didn’t get lonely. It was in very bad shape, but when I look back I can’t believe how much we achieved in just 4 months. The French tradies loved turning up each day to the babble of the Aussie girls working away, up ladders, stripping back 10 layers of wallpaper, trying to explain to tradesmen that you need a wallpaper steaming machine – I'm not sure I even knew what that was in English!  Our french language improved enormously, particularly the vocabulary for anything to do with renovation! We then decided to do a more major renovation on the Chateau by adding a conservatory, new la cornue kitchen, which then led to refurbishing the whole ground floor. We also added another bathroom, the list goes on. It was like opening a can of worms, literally – once we opened up the walls there were actually small animals nesting in them!

What advice would you give to other Australian families who dream of buying their own special place in France? Do you have any practical tips regarding the purchase process?

I would try and buy a house that has been renovated, as they are inexpensive to purchase but to renovate is costly. It is way less expensive than Australian costs but it is still better if it has been done. Particularly bathrooms, they seem to be the hardest thing for me. Finding good tradesmen is not easy but once you do the French are wonderful to work with and in Normandy they love Australians. They cannot believe anyone would fly so far to experience living in their country! The purchase process was very easy really, but was greatly enhanced for us as my husband is very good at reading and speaking French.
I would do as much homework as you can, but as a venture I highly recommend it. It has been one of the most exciting things we have done. I would also only buy if it is a secondary property and you leave enough in the budget for fixing maintenance issues, as the buildings are so old the issues are constant. I also think you need to keep a sense of humour about you otherwise you would go mad!


Chateau du Jonquay (sleeps 16) and Petit Jonquay (sleeps 8) are available for holiday rental. How would those who were interested find out more?

They are both available for rent either separately or together. Click here for photos, rates and information.

I also offer an additional service of tailor-made itineraries for groups who would like to stay for a week with restaurant bookings and suggestions of things to do and see around Normandy.

It is also available for parties. We have a lot of people who book the castle for celebrations; however, it is also really enjoyable just for families who love the heated pool is to relax around.  

In addition, I am very excited about a collaboration I have with Radiant Pantry on a project called Fit.Food.France.

Fit.Food.France is a 5-day program of yoga, meditation, hikes, healthy French food, market tours and cooking classes with a live-in health coach.  We have 2 weeks available for 2019. 
For 2020, we are expanding the program to include other interests. For those who would like to know more, join our mailing list via the website to be kept up to date or contact me via the website: Fitfoodfrance.com

Are you working on any other projects at the castle?

I am constantly working on projects for Jonquay, mainly because not only do I love the building (renovating is my passion) but also because I have fallen in love with Normandy as an area. We like the weather as it never gets hotter than 32 and it is very green and lush which reminds us of Melbourne.

The next project is our 400-year-old cellar under the castle, that was uncovered during the last renovation. Oh, and we have a few windows to replace!

Thanks so much Jane for sharing your story. Bonne continuation and good luck with fit.food.france. Let us know how it all goes.

Click here if you'd like to read Part One of Jane's interview or here to purchase a copy of my
family's French story, 'But you are in France, Madame'.


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Australians in France - Chateau du Jonquay Part 1



Last December, I travelled to Melbourne to do a book talk at the Alliance Fran├žaise de Melbourne.  For those of you who have been following me for a while, you would know that it was in Melbourne that our French adventure really began as that is where the dreaming, the planning, the packing and paper work and, eventually, the departure took place. So, alongside book-related appointments, I treated myself to lots of lovely, overdue catch-ups with old friends. Some new ones, too, as I met Jane for the first time. Another Aussie in France, we shared a few hours and lots of stories...

Jane, thanks for participating in our occasional series, ‘Australians in France’. Can you tell us a little bit about your family and your French connection? 

We had been travelling to France every 2 years or so for around 20 years and then in 2010 with the GFC and the exchange rate being so good we decided to realise our dream of owning a property in France. My husband’s family were real francophiles so our passion for France had always been there. Plus, we both enjoyed the language in school days and had lived in England when we were younger and developed a keen love for travel and Europe. 
We also wanted our children to understand how large the world is and how wonderful travel can be for experiencing different cultures and understanding others.

You have bought and renovated a property in France – Chateau Du Jonquay in Normandy. Why did you choose Normandy for your French home? 

It was more of a case of Normandy chose us! We had visited almost everywhere else in France and never had been to Normandy, when a friend invited us to come and spend a weekend with them and attend another friend of their’s annual party. It turned out the friend was a New York interior designer and his chateau was for sale. So pretty much by the end of the party Steve (my husband) had decided to buy it, as he had fallen in love with it. I liked it too but I thought we were actually looking to invest in an apartment, so it was a bit of a shock. We really did fall under Chateau Jonquay’s spell!

You spend part of the year living in Australia, what do you most look forward to when you return to France? 

The thing we most look forward to is actually spending time with the French friends we have made in our town. We feel so lucky to have been accepted by them. Not surprisingly, I also look forward to the food and wine, but love having a base that makes travel to other European countries easy. It is a great feeling to have a “home” to come back to and we are always amazed at how it really does feel like home. 

How have you adapted to life in your village and your village to you? 


We have loved making friends with our local community. We were particularly surprised at the power the mayor has in each village. Basically,  we were told our renovation approval would take a minimum of 3 months but it only took 3 weeks. When we asked 'why', we were told the approval came through so quickly because the mayor liked what we were doing and it only needed his approval. We often make the comment to ourselves “only in France”! 

If you can’t live in France, what do you think is the best time of year to visit? Apart from your special place in France, do you have any favourite French places that you would recommend to other families?

I like the spring and the summer so anytime from April through to October. Having said that I also like December and January in the snow! Arcachon and Provence are favourites, but not in the height of summer as it is very hot and too touristy.

I talk frequently with families who feel that their French would not be sufficient for either living in or buying in France. What are your thoughts about the level of language required?

I think that having a basic understanding of French is fine as long as you are prepared to learn more. Speaking French is one of the joys of buying in France as we were hoping to make friends with the locals and immerse ourselves completely in village life. Everyone in our region expects you to speak French, they rarely speak English, but we like that. I think you should probably only buy if you are prepared to enhance your language skills, but our experience has been that people are very friendly if you try. They don’t expect you to be perfect and they love the fact you are trying.


In Part Two, Jane will take us for a little look inside the castle. Or, for a sneak preview...

PS Links here to catch up on previous 'Aussies in France' posts, where we have met Jodie, Tahnee, Meredith, Fiona and Annette.

'But you are in France, Madame' is our French story and is available in print or Kindle by clicking here.















Monday, 4 March 2019

Dejected


Despondent, let down ... a few other words come to mind right now.

Back in January, I wrote a post here that began with frustration and ended with optimism.

Today, I can't muster optimism.

Yesterday, I received a registered letter from the Italian Consulate (yep, they did not want me to miss it) dated Feb 26. Not sure, why it had taken 6 days to get here, but that is relevant to the story. The letter was in Italian and even though I have been super diligent with my Italian lessons (not a day missed since I found out 43 days ago that I needed to learn Italian), I could not fully understand it. To add insult to the injury I was just about to receive in writing, in trying to download the free Google translate app, I inadvertently downloaded a paying, subscription-based app. Not off to a good start.

The letter advised that I had ten days from the date of the letter to present a certificate to the consulate showing successful completion of a B1 level (not beginner's) in Italian, or else my request for citizenship would be definitively rigettata and, yes, the rejection was in bold AND underlined.

I felt so cheated. After all, I had submitted ALL the documents that the online submission form had requested. It had taken me months and nearly 1000 dollars to convert the mumbo-jumbo of the convoluted process into understood outcomes and then collect the required documents. At my January interview in the Consular offices, I was asked for yet another $100 and was told to go and learn Italian, as this was a new, undocumented requirement, about which no details were yet available. Off-handedly, I was also told that the period I would be required to wait for a response to my application had changed, just like that, from 2 to 4 years. "See you in 4 years", she had said.

As you know, I was never opposed to learning the language of the country whose citizenship I was legally allowed to obtain. To the contrary. But, I have 3 days remaining to do so and provide proof of said learning. Failing that, and I will fail, I have to start the whole costly process again.

Should I pay all this money again and wait more than five years on the off-chance that my application will by then be viewed favourably?

Addio Italia.  Right now, I need to turn my head and look for my sunshine elsewhere.

PS If you feel like cheering me up, reading 'But you are in France, Madame' would help. Many thanks in advance.




Monday, 25 February 2019

Rue la-di-dah-di-dah-di-dah


I am usually on the ball when it comes to our French anniversaries (leaving Australia, returning from France, the days prior to both, holidays, visitors ...) so to realise that I did not remember the day four years ago that we signed the final papers on our French home comes as a bit of a surprise.

Opening the door of our French home for the first time
Admittedly, on Sunday, which was the anniversary of this event, I was rather pre-occupied with making new friends around the world thanks to the kind invitation of the FB group We Love Memoirs to be in their author spotlight. Even posting THE photo of me opening our French front door for the first time did not trip my memory.

Following that joyous occasion, and it was just that, we had less than four weeks to create a home for ourselves and our holiday guests. Our first quickly drawn up to-do list grew hourly and we discovered that metre-thick stone walls are not easy to pierce, that old houses with oddly shaped rooms are difficult to carpet, that you can return from a holiday more exhausted than before leaving and that our son's appetite for visits to the hardware store is limited.


Our home away from home


No spoons? Luckily, we had a salad server on hand.














He maintained good humour despite his self-proclaimed kidnapping by mimicking the GPS voice as it attempted French street names with a strong English accent. Rue la-di-da-di-da-di-da, though, was the ultimate in distortion and had to be re-driven just so that we could take the edge off our all-consuming house set-up with a good belly laugh. After all, the first time, surprise had got the better of us.




Not really that funny, except to two stressed parents trying to find 'squiges' and 'thingamyjigs' in French in above-mentioned hardware store, the following conversation between lost woman X and passer-by womanY:

Woman X: I've lost my husband.
Woman Y: Make the most of it.


Mine hadn't lost his wife. I was taking just a minute to stop and sit down.


To read more of our French adventures, 'But you are in France, Madame' is available as both Kindle and print options here.

To find out more about our holiday rental click here at ourfrenchvillagehouse 

PS Linking with #allaboutfrance. Head over for your dose of French inspiration and stories.