Dan and Judith Talk About Their Two-Year House-Swapping Experience in Provence
5. What were your impressions and feelings when you first arrived? How did you spend your first few weeks?
Judith: We arrived in France in early August,exhausted from all the months of preparation and the last-minute flurry of leave-taking.It was very hot.For the first few weeks,we cleaned the house from top to bottom,something it really needed.We spent hours every day outside,wearing as few clothes as possible,doing nothing: sipping chilled rosé and pastis on the patio,enjoying the view,sleeping in the garden swing.We walked down to the village and did our grocery shopping,then puffed our way back up the hill (a 25% grade) to the house.We spent hours finding the French words for things we needed to buy (litter boxes for the cats,printer cables for the computer),looking for the right stores in Grasse and Nice,and explaining what we needed in our very rusty French.It sounds mundane,but we found it very exciting.
Dan: First impressions and feelings were basically pure sensory overload: the spectacular setting of the village 380 metres (1,200 feet) above sea level; the view looking north up the Gorge du Loup,with Gourdon – the next village,15 minutes by car – perched on top of a mountain 760 metres (2,500 feet) above sea level; the “chirping” of the cicadas that began around 9 each morning,building as the heat increased through the afternoon,subsiding around 6 as it got cooler; the ubiquitous smells of Provence – rosemary,thyme,bougainvillea,jasmine; the intense taste sensations of local produce,cheeses,and wines.And on top of all of that,there was an air of unreality about it all.It was hard to realize that this wasn’t just a short vacation;that we were actually going to live here.
6. Once you settled in,did you have a certain routine for spending your days? What types of activities did you pursue?
Dan: Yes,we did develop certain routines.At first,though,they didn’t fit with the customs of life in France.Time and again,after breakfast on the patio,we’d get ourselves together to go shopping – and find ourselves arriving at the stores just as they were closing for a two to three-hour lunch.We did eventually learn to adjust to the French routine.Shortly afterward, the larger grocery stores began to stay open all day.It was convenient,but not nearly as quaint – and we missed the excuse to go for lunch and a half-bottle of wine while we waited for the stores to open!
In the evening,after dinner,we’d make a point of watching the eight o’clock news on TV.At first we didn’t understand anything at all; it was just a wave of unfamiliar sound. Gradually,we began to distinguish words and phrases,even if we didn’t know what they meant,and eventually we understood most of what was said.
Judith: The days,though,were quite varied.I don’t recall much of a daily routine.I’m an early riser,and I liked to sit out on the patio in the mornings.Dan would join me there when he got up.Some days we spent at home.I would write and clean the house; Dan would cook and do laundry,play the piano(he taught himself to play while we were there),and take photographs.We’d let the cats in to use their litter box and let them out again.We both read a lot.And,especially in the spring and fall,we mowed the terraces.
Other days we’d go out shopping or exploring.We did pretty much everything together: We ate out a lot – you could call wining and dining our major hobby! We golfed occasionally.We went to every event in our village. Later, when we had more social life,we went visiting and to parties.Once a month,we went to a club where Dan played in a jam session that lasted till 3 or 4 a.m.
Dan: Our routines were interrupted when family and friends came to visit.The first spring we were there,we had guests almost every week from the beginning of March until well into June! We loved every minute of it,showing them all the places and things that we had been discovering and learning to appreciate ourselves.
7. The area you moved to is gorgeous. Please tell us about your regional explorations and excursions, your favourite places.
Dan: You’re right; it is a gorgeous area.Our most favourite place was Le Bar-sur-Loup itself.It’s perched halfway up a mountain slope above the Loup River valley;from the village square you can look east across the valley to the Pic des Courmettes,the highest mountain at 1,248 metres (4,120 feet) near the coast,or north up the Gorge du Loup and see the pre-Alps in the background.Le Bar itself is a beautiful,non-touristy village.On the square are the 15th century church,the chateau(built in the 12th century with 18th century additions),and a modern Mairie (town hall) and boules court.Below the chateau are narrow,winding pedestrian streets and steep stairs,and remnants of the old walls that protected the villages from marauders.
Judith: Within fifteen minutes, we could be in Grasse,where Queen Victoria used to vacation,Valbonne,which was laid out by the Romans,Gourdon,a spectacularly perched but very touristy village high above Le Bar,or Tourettes-sur-Loup,another beautiful and well-known village.Antibes,Cannes and St. Paul de Vence were all about thirty minutes from us.And in less than an hour,we could be in Nice or the seaside resorts of Juan-les-Pins and Golfe Juan.St. Tropez was a little further,about two hours away.
Dan: One of our favourite excursions,when we had friends and relatives visiting us,was to drive to Nice,go to the flower market,then drive east along the Corniche Basse,the lowest of three roads along the coast through Villefranche,have lunch in the harbour at St. Jean,Cap Ferrat, and then drive around the rest of Cap Ferrat,past all the big estates, though many are hidden behind walls and hedges.Then we’d continue on to Monaco to see Prince Rainier’s palace and visit Princess Grace’s tomb in the cathedral.One day we saw Prince Albert.If we had enough time,we’d go to the casino at Monte Carlo,or continue on past Monaco to Ventimiglia,the first town past the Italian border.They have a great market there on Fridays.
By this time,it would be late afternoon,time for a drink or a cup of tea.Without telling our guests where we were heading,we’d drive back toward Nice along the Moyenne Corniche (the middle coast road) and stop at Eze,another famous and beautiful perched village.We’d park the car and climb up the narrow pedestrian streets to the five-star Hotel Chèvre d’Or,in the middle of the village.From the bar,we’d lead our guests out onto the terrace and watch their reactions as they first saw its breathtaking view out over the Mediterranean,east to Italy and west to Cap Ferrat and beyond.There,drinks in hand,sitting beside the swimming pool and admiring the view,we understood why this part of the world is the playground of the famous,the glamorous and the wealthy.And we were living there!
View from Eze