Living Abroad: Fun in France. Maybe.

by missfootloose on April 30, 2013 · 14 comments

in France, living abroad, travel

It rained. It poured. It was cold. It was the South of France. In April.

Sodden vineyard

Sodden Vineyard

Would you like to live in France? Many of us have romantic ideas about all the loveliness of the South of France, colored by stories about remodeling an old farmhouse, growing your own olives, drinking wine from your own grapes, the sunshine, the wonderful food, and so on and so forth. You know what I mean.

Since my prince and I are free to live wherever we want, we decided to check out France. In early April. Before the beginning of the tourist season. Spring time.

It rained. It poured. It was cold. I’ll tell you, I could have been in my native Holland. The French complained themselves, blaming the bad weather on climate change.

But hey, this way we could really experience what it would be like to live there when it’s cold and rainy and the sun is nowhere to be found and the world is a sodden mess. It’s good to know the reality. Even if you’re on vacation. So we told ourselves.

But don’t despair, I’m going to stop my Jeremiah-ing right now and show you the light side, because there was one! The food! The wine! Rain or shine, food and wine was still there. And looking around that freezing first night, I even found some flowers.

Monstpellier tram

Rain or shine, les tramways in Montpellier offer color and cheer with several different designs.

As serious devotees of my blog know, I have a thing for mannequins. I spotted some in Montpellier that, rain or shine, offered up a smile:

French mannequins

We cruised through small towns and little villages, along acres of dormant vineyards. We roamed the streets and alleys of the small town of Pezenas, a fun little tourist town. It was rather quiet because, well, it wasn’t tourist time, but we found good food and wonderful strong café crème. Most of the time we sat inside, admiring the few French people who would sit outside, coats on, drinking their coffee or eating their lunch. These people really, really like to sit outside. As do the Italians, as we observed in Rome in a very wintry February last year.

Here and there flowers appeared in small pots on door steps and balconies, their owners eager for some spring cheer. (Yes, they’ve got some very old houses in the town centers!)

French window with shutters

You’ll be shocked to know, however, that placing potted plants outside your front door in streets and alleys is not without risk, as you can see on the photo below.

Ne volez pas les plantes

 Don’t steal the plants, please. They grow here for the enjoyment of everybody. Thank you!!!

When I first read this, I was so amazed at myself for actually perfectly understanding every word. (Wow! I’m making progress!) Then it struck me how very polite a sign it was, including a please and a thank you. For not stealing, mind you. I could imagine a similar sign in America or Holland sporting verbiage of an entirely different caliber, possibly quite shocking to more delicate souls.

We explored the outdoor markets in the pouring rain, huddling under an umbrella, as did everyone else. Quelle misère! My feet were soaked and freezing, and my umbrella kept getting caught in everyone else’s. It wasn’t at all the love-fest captured on the photos you see in travel and cooking magazines. Sorry, I’m moaning again. Anyway, we hauled away kilos of mystery cheeses and various patés along with fruits and vegetables. Foreign supermarkets too are always a treat for me, since I love seeing what funky or interesting foods are for sale. Below is the picture of a product you don’t find in your standard Dutch or American supermarket.

Duck fat
And what might this be, you ask? Duck fat. In packages of 500 g (a little over a pound). Not long ago, while living in Moldova, a small East European country, I roasted a couple of village geese. I ended up with a mother lode of fat. Doing a little research, I learned how fabulously healthy goose and duck fat is. I announced my abundance of this marvelous white substance to my expat friends, offering to share, and they all went running in the opposite direction. I used some of the fat myself here and there, but sadly, several of the tubs lingered in the freezer until I had to dispose of them in the trash because we were moving. It hurt to do it, but so it goes.

We stayed in the Languedoc-Roussillion region in France for almost three weeks, and in the end we did have some nice, sunny days. We even went to the beach, but kept our clothes on. We had a fabulous seafood lunch which included some edibles I was not familiar with. I never found out what they were.

A few times we even managed to sit out on a terrace, eating lunch or drinking coffee, watching the people. The sun made things look so much more appealing. And not long before we left, I looked at the vines in the vineyard we passed every day and saw this:

French grapevine

 Your next bottle of wine in the making.

If you look carefully you will see the pink and pale orange buds sprouting out of the old woody grapevine. Miraculous, really, don’t you think?

Will we move to France? We don’t know. We’ll do some more research this summer, when it will probably be really hot and we’ll be sweltering and sweating and wishing it would be pouring rain and cold.  So it goes.

* * *

Have you ever been surprised when visiting a country and finding it wasn’t what you thought it might be like?


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria April 30, 2013 at 9:28 am

I would move there just for that glorious tram!


Michelle | The American Resident April 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Ooo! Those mannequins are almost scary! But your tour is lovely. I love how you find something interesting wherever you’ve been/will go!
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missfootloose May 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I try looking for the unusual or the “little” stuff you normally don’t notice. It’s what I always find interesting in the photos and stories of other people, so I try to be aware of it myself. What is hardest is to find the fun in your own familiar surroundings because you are so “blind” to what you see.


Sarah P | The Travel Spotlight April 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I visited Spain and was expecting it to be wonderful (since everyone had raved about it) but I found I didn’t quite like it! Madrid was too large & bustling and the other parts of Spain were quite dead in the winter season! Literally, barely any shops were open!

I think part of it was probably that I visited Spain at the wrong time (in winter! just as you visited France in a non-tourist season!) but maybe it’s also because I didn’t make it to Barcelona! Apparently, Barcelona’s the crowning jewel of Spain so perhaps I missed out on the best part!

On a side note, I absolutely LOVED Portugal even though I honestly didn’t have any expectations!
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missfootloose May 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Barcelona does get a lot of great hype! But as with everything, different strokes for different folks. Portugal seemed a bit “downcast” to me, not too cheery. then again, maybe I wasn’t in the right place at the right time! It takes more than a few weeks to figure out the true all-over character of a place.


Mara May 1, 2013 at 7:21 am

I saw some mannequins in a local shop over here in Haugesund the other day, and I think they were the same! Mannequins go global!
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Ana O'Reilly May 1, 2013 at 7:57 am

What a bummer! At least you got to know what the place is really like sometimes. That’s good.
I had a similar experience in Geneva, in the sense that I had all these romantic ideas of the place and it turned out to be a regular city. It even had graffiti on the walls! I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
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missfootloose May 3, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Ana, yes, we do get trapped by our imaginings!


Sami Veloso May 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

What a beautiful colourful tram! I liked the sign on the plant too, quite funny. My daughter lives near Marseille and she has also been complaining of the cold and rain of Spring!
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Grace @ Sandier Pastures May 2, 2013 at 1:06 am

You could always tell yourself: “It’s just the wrong season.” especially after those gushes and raves of the charm of Southern France in travel magazines.

I would still live in France (South, North, East, West!) if given a chance 😉

Fascinating post, as always!
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missfootloose May 3, 2013 at 2:47 pm

We’ll go back in sunnier times. No place is perfect 12 months of the year. Of course I may be wrong 😉


guyana gyal May 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm

What an exciting trip, rain or no rain! As for those mannequins…they are the best yet…wild ‘n’ weird!

Rain is very beautiful in Jamaica, I’ve never seen anything like that before! But it’s NOT beautiful when you’re walking in the streets, in the city, it is harassing, distressing.

If we had sun all year round here, we’d have a drought 🙁
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Clarissa Johal May 10, 2013 at 8:25 pm

I love, love your photos! And that metro–so colourful! I have lived in several countries and had the pleasure of experiencing different cultures. Happy times 🙂


missfootloose May 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Clarissa, great to see you here! Love to hear more about your travels!


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