October 29, 2012

The Kids Drove Me Mad; The Wine and Chocolate Kept Me Sane. Houses Exchanged, Part 2.

I really should be planning my daughter's 7th birthday party, which is in 4 days - eeek!  I haven't made up the invites nor have I finished sewing her birthday quilt which I began last February.  I also have to update my resume and write a cover letter; try to unload our washing machine (pun intended) on Kijiji and perform additional mindless and menial tasks.  Recently a friend asked when I was going to finish up the house exchange post and I realized that I have been neglecting my blog.  So here it goes, le plus rapidement possible.

Let's see... where did I leave off? Oh yes, August of 2012.   We were about to brave some wicked French traffic...

After taking the RER to the airport hotel, we claimed our cute black Peugeot from the underground parking.  Thank goodness for the Frenchies' GPS - we would have been up caca creek without it.  Jetlag; crazed French drivers, chaotic roundabouts, demons wrestling in the backseat, hysteria in the front, all compounded by our fervent desire to arrive alive made for a somewhat dicey journey to Guer.

An obscene toll of 28 euros and 5 hours of erratic driving later, we were driving into the village.  We were immediately charmed by the landscape - lots of lush, green farmer's fields, ancient stone houses and pops of bright flora everywhere.  It was the tail end of the hydrangea display but I did manage to snap a few pictures.

We were very eager to get to our home away from home and when we turned the car into a charming laneway and saw what we thought was the Frenchies abode, I was thrilled.

Richard got out of the vehicle and tried to open the large iron gate.  Nothing happened.  I consulted our papers.
Hmmn... there's nothing about a keypad.

Richard began to punch in random numbers.  I rolled my eyes:  Like this is gonna work, rockstar.

Then he shook the gate a bit.  This would have been funny if we weren't so tired.  Oddly enough, the gate opened and a woman appeared.  Richard said what I can only assume to be something along the lines of "we're here!" but the woman looked startled and then confused.  I got out of the car to help because RB's French is comparable to my German.  Eventually, after some namedropping, the woman deduced that we wanted a maison and she pointed down the laneway.  Ha ha ha, we all laughed.  It was a bit socially awkward and I'm not entirely sure that the woman thought we were sane.

Here's Nathaniel standing in the laneway, followed by a photo of our French hideaway.

The house was pale stucco, very modern in appearance, and nicely situated on a very private lot with lots of flowers and a biggish yard with pear, apple and plum trees.  Without going into too much detail, the kitchen was well-appointed with all the usual appliances, the rooms were spacious, they had two bathrooms (toilets only) and two washrooms (tub and shower).

The Frenchies were very thoughtful folk: they had left us a bag of juicy oranges to use in their juicer;  two bottles of wine and local cider and a note wishing us a pleasant stay.  Also on the table were loads of travel pamphlets and leaflets, a binder with house info (who to call, insurance stuff, garbage day, phone numbers etc).  We signed their guestbook and were surprised to learn that they had participated in four previous exchanges (a different part of France, Spain, Germany and another European destination that I can't recall).

The house was tidy and very comfortable; I was completely at ease. Their decor was upscale Ikea with lots of pottery, bright walls and modern art (they had an abstract mural painted on one cinder block wall which I thought was very cool). The kids liked the the French version of "Craftmatic" beds, which were motorized.  I could get used to those beds; it made reading before lights out, very cozy.  I could also get used to their "femme de manage", who came in once a week, on Thursdays.  No wonder the blasted house was so clean!

I didn't take any pictures of the interior of the house so here are a few pictures of the local landscape:  Guer's trails, farmer's fields, the beach at Carnac, the menhirs, and the next door neighbour's horse.


Biking through the French countryside

on the bike trail, the small Marian shrine, a copy of the grotto of Lourdes

gorgeous countryside on a perfect summer's afternoon

beautiful vista on the bikepath

cairn at Locmariaquer
menhirs at Carnac, dating to around 4500 BC

The festival of the Madonna of the Bikers, which organizers promote as the largest motorcycle “pilgrimage” in France

I have never seen so many motorcycles in my life!

the neighbour's horse

Looking back at these pictures, I realize that I miss our days in Guer:  fresh pain au chocolat, cheap and plentiful wine and cheese, baguettes fresh from the oven for 80 cents and the venerable religieuse: a tower of custard filled pastry that defines gustatory pleasure.  I miss the amazing boulanger that was a minute's stroll from our backyard, the hydrangeas and rhododendrons, the stone cottages, the easy living.  These are the things that I am missing.  Richard is missing the myriad "roundabouts", which are so much more fun, efficient and stylish (if roadways can be stylish!) than stoplights.  We do have one here in London near Trafalgar Road and we rode through it recently on the way to my inlaw's.  I patted Richard's arm to console him.

What I am not missing:  my children fighting in the backseat of the Frenchies' car!

To sum up: I would definitely do another exchange.  When we returned home, our house looked and smelled exactly like it was supposed to, which was a relief.  My houseplants (two orchids, a jade plant, a desert rose and a Chinese money plant) were all very thirsty, but still alive,  so that was good.  The Frenchies left the house in pretty good shape, except for the mirror in the upstairs bathroom, which was splattered with toothbrush detritus and zit juice.  I did have one truly horrifying moment, which occurred the day we arrived home.  When I opened the microwave to reheat my coffee (sadly, an oft-repeated activity during a typical day), I realized that there was something still inside.  The something was three zombified half cobs of corn, writhing with maggots and tiny flies!  Truly repulsive.  I slammed the door and retreated and of course, called the hubs to deal with the mess.  This aside, there were no major problems.

So I suppose, my only problem now is to decide where we should go next and find someone who is ready and willing to swap!

Here is a video that my husband made with some highlights of our trip. I love it!!