Leaving Monpazier we made our way south and west, skirting around the main town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot to reach the municipal area of Allez-et-Cazeneuve, where we would soon be living in a comfortable renovated former boulangerie for a few months, early next year. This was the location of our second upcoming house-sit, and we’d arrived to both familiarise ourselves with the property and to spend time with British owners Monica and Ken.
They are both keen open water swimmers and occasional triathletes, like us, although their challenging, long-distance swimming exploits put us to shame. We had long chats about travels and possible future adventures as we toured their property and ate wonderful home-cooked food, fresh from the garden, washed down with very tasty home-brewed beers. We were greatly impressed by Ken’s artistic skills, expressed through his classical guitar playing and photography. We had a local guided walk around the nearby leafy countryside, before checking out their sizable vegetable patch and lands. After a slow breakfast and more animated chat, we said our goodbyes until our return in the New Year, after which Monica and Ken will be sunning themselves on the opposite side of the world.
We drove a further hour west to the outskirts of La Reole, into the small hamlet of Barie to meet up with Jane and Roger, with cats Tilly & Ozzie, the hosts for our first winter house-sit. Another British couple living in France, they own a large stone farmhouse backing on to a kiwi orchard, with the river Garonne running fast by the front – such an idyllic, rural setting. We got our bearings of the property, learning of its idiosyncrasies, with a constantly-refilling glass in hand. We had a wonderful dinner and chat, then relaxed into what will be our room for the duration. Later we had a local riverside walk with Jane to help gain our bearings as Roger dealt with a last-minute plumbing issue. With us settled in, they left early to drive back to the UK to meet up with family and together fly to Australia for Christmas. We awoke the first day under glorious blue skies in South-west France, our home for six weeks, as the willing staff of two adorable cats.
There will likely be fewer posts from us over the next few months, as we’ll not be passing through interesting, beautiful places that cry out to be described or recorded, but instead living a more insular, quiet existence. It will be more a journey of self-discovery, a personal tourism, as we adjust back to staying still and having a consistent, daily schedule as we look after pets, a home, a garden, again. Staying in one place for a few months will also free up even more time for us to utilise, play, learn, engage with or sleep through, depending on our mood and energy levels. We are starting our house-sits with grand plans to occupy our time; along with catching up with the many things we miss from our previous lives like gardening and cooking, we have set ourselves specific goals to fill our hours:
Physical: Set up a daily exercise task of stretches, weights and core work, to get stronger and more flexible. We’ll run more, longer and faster to an organised schedule, getting fitter with an eye on completing a marathon in 2018.
Mental: Learn / improve our spoken French, spending at least a half hour (or more) talking, listening and playing app-based games, alongside listening to podcasts during exercise or walks. And watch a few French movies too.
Musical: Learn to play the piano. This will be totally from scratch (for me, not Nicky), but there’s one in our second house-sit, so we have the means and opportunity – all we need is the will and dedication. Learning to read music is also a part of this.
Culinary: Bake many various breads (and cakes), testing and learning different styles and recipes and seeing which ones are the most successful. Tweaking and finding the best options for simple bakes in Benny when we’re back on the road.
Literary: Read lots of books not yet read, and aim to produce and develop more interesting and challenging writing pieces, rather than simple, descriptive diary-entry blog posts. We have plenty of ideas, but no execution as yet.
Writing out these five goals, each set in a different field of study, is one small step towards making them happen. Creating the time to undertake them, by organising two restful, relatively long-term house-sits, is the second small step on that long path. All remaining steps will be subject to us garnering the requisite determination and resolve to use our free time productively. Whether we manage to complete all of these self-enforced tasks, no matter how much we wish to do so, remains to be seen.
We’ll post occasional updates of our progress to help keep us honest.