A Month On, Still in France

by Karen
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So we have now been in France for just over a month, how is that possible! Sometimes it feels a lot longer, other times shorter, depending on if its a good day or not.

We are mostly now having good days, I think, slowing down and settling into life on the road. We don’t get up much before 9 am but that’s fine, we are not in a rush. The days start cool, gradually warming up, and the best part of the heat is between 12-8 pm. The more relaxed mornings are working for us as a family, Olivia gets an hour or so to do what she wants before having to be dressed. Usually, she reads, plays with her small figures or lego.

We are not going out all day every day, some days we just stay at the RV and relax, get jobs done and rest. We are also all choosing things to do during the week, roughly setting a plan at the beginning of the week so we all know what to expect but allowing for change if we don’t feel up to it or if the weather changes.

Food

Supermarket/food shopping trips are still pretty hateful, though we know a bit more about what we are looking for and carry €1 coins at all times. We are mainly sticking to the same foods, chicken, mince, sausages, ham, salad, broccoli, peppers, cucumber, mange tout and cheese. George is loving the bread, and we’ve finally found some everyone likes and can eat (with Olivia’s front teeth coming through crusty/hard baguettes are difficult for her to eat) but still nothing we like to toast.

We have also worked out that Intermarches are expensive, Geant, Carrefour and Auchan are better priced, though you have to shop in different ones for some of the things we like. Although this has meant we are mainly eating the same food each week which is getting a little boring. We are trying to mix it up and try new things like prawns, salmon, foie gras and beef cannelloni.

I do really like the fact that the milk in France is mainly A2, and that the ice cream is made with that milk as it has meant for the first time in a very long time I can enjoy Ice cream with our worrying about how much I have.

Eating out

We’ve eaten out at restaurants twice now, the first time was not very successful! We spent a while choosing a restaurant online, looking at menus and reviews. Picked a lovely looking place which served a meat and bread board, followed by steak and fries. When we got there it turned out it was a set menu due to it being Sunday and it was all about seafood, (not something we are great with). The starter was Prawns, Mussels, Oysters and Tuna stuffed boiled eggs, followed by an entrée of stuffed mussels!

Thankfully the kids’ menu was chicken and chips, although dry and bland at least it was something Olivia would eat. To be fair the prawns were good, we both gave the stuffed mussels a good try and finally concluded the sausage meat and tomato stuffing was nice but that neither of us liked mussels! Also, we felt better for at least trying it than being like the older English adults sat behind us who kicked up a big fuss and ate kids food too!

A plate of stuffed mussels and rice
Stuffed Mussels

The second meal out was much better with George and I both having pizzas we liked and Olivia having a nice bowl of Bolognese.

A plate of pasta bolognese
Bolognese

Friends

After Olivia finally plucked up the courage to say Bonjour to some children at a park we went to she has been much happier to try and talk to other children and adults. The aire we are on has been great as it has a little park and Olivia has made friends with quite a few children, mainly two little girls who are here 3/4 times a week as their parents work on their small hold attached to the site. They speak a little English and Olivia has learnt some French, enough that they can get by and play happily together.

She also made friends with a lovely British couple in their late 20s/early 30s, they played football and ping pong with her and we spent the evening chatting and having a laugh with them. They have popped back to the UK for the weekend so we are looking after their plants and they are kindly picking us up a few things from the UK.

Aire

The aire we are currently on is nice but has no shower or toilet facilities. This means we have to use the ones in the RV. This is fine but you get through a lot of water very quickly, so showers are being limited slightly so we don’t have to fill and empty every other day which requires moving the RV to the service point and back. But it has large enough space for our RV and car (and many other RVs really). There is also a nice little park for Olivia to play in, and it’s lovely to see chickens and peacocks walking around. It’s a relatively good location for things to do and only cost €12 a night including water and electricity.

Language

Our French is improving a bit but nowhere near enough. One of the big issues we are having is that we work out what we are going to say, then because we have spoken in French, the person we are speaking to replies in French at what feels like a million miles an hour! You just about catch a few words of what they have said but not enough so you end up just nodding, standing there embarrassingly looking blank or trying to converse in English as it’s just too hard. The other thing that happens is we use our school French and we know we have said the correct thing but maybe our accent is not quite right and they just look at you blankly and shrug! The French are not the most welcoming of people if you have trouble conversing, and many will just shrug or ignore you.

Weather

Finally, the weather has warmed up! It’s been a lot sunnier which makes everything more enjoyable, although it’s also been quite windy at times. We have had a few days with the sides in on the RV as it’s just been too windy.

Roads

George is both enjoying and hating the French roads in the BMW. Some of the roads have been great fun, twisty, well surfaced and it’s been great to have the roof down and drive through the gorges. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it’s been too windy to have the roof down and Olivia gets too cold, or we have too much in the boot due to shopping or off doing washing to have it down. But George’s main hate is that fact that a lot of the French roads are in bad condition, have a million speed bumps or crazy arches on their bridges meaning we regularly scrape the bottom of the car! We have even been known to turn around and not go to places as the roads are full of so many potholes or don’t appear to be more than a farm track.

Given that we want to visit a variety of countries, and head north into Scandinavia, George is thinking of replacing the BMW with a boring SUV or even worse, a CUV.

Internet

We are still struggling to get good internet, we tried getting a French SIM card but even that has proved to be a nightmare. Partly due to the language barrier but mostly due to the fact that most places only sell ones that you need to have a French address and bank account which is obviously not helpful.

We’ve ended up with a Lebara Mobile SIM which has a reasonable amount of data and can easily be reloaded. It’s still less than half the data offered by a similarly priced SFR SIM, but we can’t get one of those.

Sight Seeing

We have been really enjoying sightseeing and trying to see and do a wide range of places and activities. There are obviously a lot of medieval and Roman cities and cathedrals to see which for Olivia can at time be a little boring, but so far most of them have been very different. We have also been trying to ensure that we are able to take Olivia to local parks to play during our visits to the cities which has been helping. But a big must is to always have snacks, drinks, paper and pencils and for us to make sure Olivia’s phone is charged so she can take her own photos and notes as we are going round various places.

Work

George has found it hard to find suitable remote work, though he’s not looking too hard while we get used to travelling. Agents mainly want to speak to him about high-up roles where he will need to be in the office full time which is amazing for his career, but not really what we want right now.

Mess

We have been to some really lovely places and I absolutely loved the mountains, gorges and volcanos areas we have visited and some of the old medieval villages have been stunning, but with the good comes the bad as with any country.

It’s a lovely day, you’re walking around admiring the beautiful cathedrals and historic buildings when you take a step, and your foot feels the funny squish, it slides a little, your breath catches. You just stepped into one of the less-than-magical aspects of France – DOG MESS!!! They can strike anywhere, on the sidewalk, on the street, in the middle of a stairway. You just never know when you’ll hit a landmine.

You’re supposed to pick it up!

When I was doing some research into the laws on picking up dog mess in France and also just trying to find out why the French just don’t seem to care about their towns and cities I found this article in the Guardian. Turns out a law was passed in 2007 stating that you should pick up after your dog, but I guess the French people were not actually told or just don’t care. The article states that “A 2015 survey based on the amount of poop bags sold across the world by the company Beco Pets saw France come bottom: 3,600 bags, to the UK’s 1.85m.” That is just downright horrific!

Some parks in France are even kind enough to place free dog bags for you to use at the entrances, they are always full and yet there is still so much dogs mess that the French have dedicated teams that drive around on scooters (Zaragoza) with a hoover on the back sucking the dog mess up!

A dog mess bag dispenser, filled with bags

The other day while walking from a Cathedral to the local park Olivia said “Mum I don’t think the French care about anything! They leave everything in such a mess” I seriously did not know how to respond because it feels kind of true.

With this sheer amount of dogs mess everywhere, coupled with the deteriorating buildings, derelict buildings and graffiti, it makes it hard to fall in love with many towns or larger cities in France.

Education

As for home education/world schooling, we have not been doing much formal work. Occasionally we get the workbooks out, but I think Olivia’s been learning a lot from our days out, talking with us and speaking French. Off her own back, she regularly reads both fiction and non-fiction, uses my laptop to write stories and poems, and research information on where we are going or have been. She has loved hearing about the myths and legends around the volcanos, dragons and Roman gods. It has been lovely hearing her making up her own stories when playing with her lego, and small world figures. We are just going with the flow.

Conclusion

All in all Olivia and I are starting to feel more settled with our travelling and we are actually enjoying it more, but I think George is still finding it a bit of a struggle.

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