On 19 July my boyfriend, our dog Loki and I drove to a house we had rented in the Ardèche region in France, more specifically in Les Grisières in Montpezat-sous-Bauzon. The following seven posts are based on notes I took while on holiday, since the house had no WiFi (nor TV and barely any mobile phone reception or radio).
Warning: the word ‘Adventures’ in the title is a bit of a hyperbole, but I seem to be strangely allured by alliteration.
Saturday 19 July 2014
As usual I had a plan. And as usual life had no intention of following my careful instructions. We woke up at 5.30, earlier than intended, so well in time for the departure at 6 o’clock. We stopped at the cash machine and I withdrew 400 Euros, 300 for the deposit and 100 for any cash we might need along the way. We followed the instructions of the GPS onto the highway. So far so good, we thought. Until a disagreement with the GPS led us to meander through Wallonian villages for an hour in order to switch highways mid-journey. The detour also meant we all needed to use the facilities sooner than planned (well, we assumed Loki needed to do so as well) so we made an unplanned stop at a gas station. The first stop in my planning was around 9 o’clock near Metz. But at this point we had not even left Belgium yet. Seeing as we were hungry and the rest area had some nice tables in the sun we unpacked some breakfast and ate while throwing the dog a ball.
For a while things progressed nicely. My boyfriend kept to the maximum speed and we caught up a little with the schedule. But then we arrived at a toll road and as I dug up my wallet I discovered that my bank card was nowhere to be found. I had left it in the cash machine back in Brussels. What money we had to use was the 100 Euros I withdrew (in addition to the deposit) and another 170 of my boyfriend’s money. As usual I could not remember the pin code for my credit card, so that was not going to be much use. Just the cost of gas would put a severe dent in our funds for the holiday. True to his nature my boyfriend immediately began panicking and I reassured him by saying I could transfer money to his account, if I only got some WiFi somewhere. And, lo and behold, we found a gas station that offered free WiFi! Unfortunately, as the girl manning the shop counter informed me, this happened to be one of the (many) days that the free WiFi did not work. And the same was the case at the following gas station supposedly offering WiFi. Well, once we arrived I could always call my father and ask him to lend us some money for the holidays. Everything was going to be fine.
For a while things went smoothly except for a run in with a French squat-toilet which left me slightly traumatised. We even caught up with the original schedule despite not sticking to my restrictive rest-stop regime. But then the GPS decided to pay us back for our disobedience that morning and turned off, claiming she had no more power. This was a blatant lie, considering we had her plugged in to the car charger. But to placate her we jiggled the USB port until she said she was charging again. The problem was that someone had to keep holding the charger in a very specific position for it to work, and in a moving car it is not the easiest thing to do. Seen as my boyfriend was doing all the driving (I do not have a license) this task fell to me. I spent most of my time turning on the GPS only to have it shut down before I had even selected the destination. But we used our common sense and managed not to get lost. That is until we neared Valance and a traffic jam brought us to a stop. We had informed the caretaker of the house that we would be arriving at the village of Montpezat at 18.30 but as we made our way at a snail’s pace it became ever clearer that we would not make it. In the end the jam cost us an hour and as we cleared it I had to call and tell the caretaker we would only be there at 19.30. We did make that appointment although by then we were exhausted and my boyfriend’s nerves were in tatters. Next followed a hair-raising drive along small mountain roads to reach the house which was situated on the other side of the valley.
As I stepped out of the car the first thing I noticed was the fresh air infused with the scent of everything beautiful and green. Once Loki had stopped his I-am-so-incredible-happy-to-be-out-of-the-car-barking the sound of the river, the Fontaulière, was clear from the valley far below. The evening sun spilled its golden light over the house and garden which were surrounded by verdant hills. The interior of the house had a rustic feel with natural stone walls and wooden beams. The smell reminded me of the summer house of my childhood. A mix of earth, wood and wood-smoke.
Knowing how tired we would be upon arrival we had picked up frozen pizzas to eat that evening. But the oven refused to heat up however we tried. Finally I tried to call the caretaker and realised there was no reception in the mountains. We really were out nowhere. So we had to settle for some bread for dinner and I gave up on the idea of calling my father that evening to ask him to lend us some money.
After our meager meal we decided to explore the neighborhood. Our house was situated in a small cluster of houses on the side of the mountain, but according to the caretaker the other houses were empty. As dusk was falling we walked into the narrow passage between the stone buildings. The first house on the right was followed by what looked like a strange overgrown courtyard joining two adjacent houses. Looking closer it was actually the ruin of a house that must once had connected the two buildings. The child in me that used to read Enid Blyton books rejoiced at exploring what was obviously the ruins of a small hamlet nestled on the side of the mountain. On the right a narrow stair led up to another house. We climbed up and my boyfriend made his way through the junk assembled in front of the door to peek through the window. The inside was empty except for some bedding on the floor. As he pulled the door and exclaimed “No way this is inhabited!” a bearded man clad in a padded jacket appeared in the dark interior and told him “Pas par ici!” (Not through here!). Then he backed away into the shadows, looking alarmed. Judging by the state of the house and the appearance of the man we figured we were sharing this little hamlet with a squatter. Well at least he was unlikely to cause any trouble if Loki’s barking disturbed him in the evening.