Author: Muffin (page 1 of 4)

Post Lock-Down Week 3 – Bathrooms & Boo-Boo’s

The week where we fell in love with a view, became confused by a bathroom suite and I fell off my bike! At least our weeks are never dull!

The views from the Bastide at Laparade are magnificent. You can see for miles upon miles. The River Lot in the foreground and the plum and hazelnut orchards all around. Dan’s comment on seeing this was ‘well this view might have just sold the area’ πŸ™‚

It’s May 25th and this week for the briefest of moments I met a lovely lady who was celebrating the start of the next chapter of her life. Having just blown out some 60+ candles on a recent birthday cake she had decided the time had come to move back to ‘Blighty’.

As ever on this journey its the people we meet along the way that provides us with the priceless experience. It’s a gift that Dan and I didn’t anticipate that fills a hole we didn’t realise existed!

The passing comment she made “I don’t want to grow old here” firmly lodging itself in my brain. A thought for my future consideration perhaps as I reflect how fortunate we are to be free to live in the moment we are creating. Covid restrictions permitting obviously!

I wondered seriously for the first time what our ‘old age’ might look like. If perhaps in 20 years time we might also be looking to return to England?

Some folks come to France for a pre-defined number of years, some move to scratch an itch or experience a different way of life. Some come for a while and stay forever while others arrive and leave in the blink of an eye.

I know which one I hope we will be!

It feels like there is an equal number of people leaving France right now as there are those trying to get here. I imagine it’s always quite transient with ex-pats but perhaps the political and world health situation is focusing minds more?

I heard this week that there is a spike in Parisians and those in major cities buying property in the countryside. People want a back garden if the next Covid arrives! Historically old country houses have been the prey of the international arrivals with ‘locals’ preferring new builds within easy reach of amenities. Maybe times are changing?

This week has seen our property search focus on the Lot et Garonne department. The views and landscape really are spectacular!

As Macron announces more de-restrictions to Covid lockdown starting on June 2nd there is a real feeling of life starting the return to the new ‘normal’.

The housing market is also waking up. One agent told us that this week alone they have sold 5 houses! Foreign buyers are starting to arrive for viewings and if I am frank there is a little worry bead starting to form that our unique opportunity may be starting to wane.

We are under no illusion how fortunate we are to be able to view property when the majority of the ex-pat buying population is stuck on the other side of the borders. Until now it felt like a blessing! The de-restriction whilst encouraging, has also started a countdown in our brains. We must see as much as possible before our ‘competition’ arrives! It’s an odd kind of self-applied pressure!

On the flip side – with so many Ex-pats stuck in the UK there is a unique market forming with Gite’s being made available for long term rental.

This very French house shall soon become the next chapter of our adventure!

It goes without saying that the effects on the property market are significant but seem minor when compared to those of the holiday industry.

We have so many friends now that own Gites or B&Bs that are seeing huge losses with cancellation upon cancellation. Its hoped that Macrons encouragement for the French to plan to holiday at home this year will help but it certainly focuses the mind!

A great many of those who are now seeking to book holidays in France are favouring private access and private facilities to limit their exposure to others. The talk of cleaning requirements has gone through the roof on social media as rental owners try to keep up with expectation and demand.

It’s partly due to this situation that we started to see if there could be a mutually beneficial arrangement to be made. A few gite owners preferring to secure a long term rental and a set income over the uncertainty of the holiday market.

I need to just point out here that there are legal & tax ramifications to a Gite owner changing the use of their accommodation to long term rental so please be aware that it is not a simple swap.

Interestingly this avenue also identified for us that there are a lot of property owners that can’t currently maintain their homes and gardens do to the closed borders. A business idea is forming…watch this space!

We need to rent in France to help our case to remain at the end of the year. Being a motorhome dwelling nomad is great but without an address in France that we can call our own, we would struggle to tackle some big steps required to reside here permanently.

Just the little things like opening a bank account or buying a car need an address. We also need to register our business asap so we can start to make some money and replenish our savings.

Renting (either furnished or unfurnished) in France is a bit of a minefield and many of the major agents won’t even consider you if you don’t have a job contract and a bunch of french paperwork to prove who you are.

We fell into a category of not being legitimate enough to easily rent via normal means but wanting more independence to support our right to remain (bills in our name ) than most holiday rentals could offer us.

Just to clarify – the ‘bills in our name’ comment. Ultimately most things can be done in France if you have a utility bill in your name. An EDF electricity contract is a great one and can be used to prove your address. Another option is the Tax Foncere in your name although EDF is slightly easier.

After a lot of searching, we found a great place near Duras that ticked all the boxes. As it happened we found a solution that met all our needs and helped another person out! Win/ Win! We pick up the keys this week and can move in at the start of June!

Our house hunting continues and we find more and more that the advert and reality are not always aligned! This place was described as a ‘turn-key’ business when in actual fact it’s not been a business for a long time and would take months to get it back to a standard that could be let out.

A huge plus point of viewing houses in our motorhome is that we carry around our conveniences! If we need to wash our hands after a particularly grubby explore of the loft space or put the kettle on to wait for a late agent we can!

I mentioned above about reality and the adverts not always being aligned. The pattern continues this week…

We have reached the stage now where we fully expect the property to not really match the advert. The bones marry up but the detail is often different. Its a huge realisation and actually changes the way you house shop virtually.

Its not a very easy thing to account for when trying to narrow down the properties that you want to visit so you avoid wasting everyone’s time. You do, however, become familiar with your market and price point after a while so we have gotten quite good at predicting if there is going to be anything wrong before we arrive.

If its too good to be true then it probably is! Simples!

We have modified our search approach this week to try and take into consideration the ‘description effect’ where the faults are rebranded as ‘features’. Aka the airy ambience is code for drafty!

You might remember me mentioning about the development tax last week? Well the discussions with the Maire continue….they have now confirmed that we can develop the buildings if we want (so long as we put a pool in as a fire management tool) but they cant confirm the development tax implication…we need to talk to a different department for that.

The development tax concern remains for us and its also partly due to its potential impact that we have also made some adjustments to the sort of property we are looking at.

Its been a useful chance to re-evaluate what we are searching for now that we are a couple of weeks into the physical search and we are armed with more information than when we started.

Our ‘shopping list’ is pretty well defined now. As is our focus/ priorities in terms of where we feel comfortable spending money materially e.g we understand building costs better now and are confident that we could estimate a realistic refurbishment cost should we need to.

As I sign off for this week I want to leave you with the bathroom…and me falling off a bike…

Check out this fabulous shower room I saw this week while house shopping! The majesty of the tiles has lodged itself in my brain somewhere between retro cool and retina burn?!?!
A little known fact about me…I am a terrible cyclist! I can’t be trusted to not fall off! Thankfully not a big issue and mostly just my pride damaged!

Until next week! A special thanks to our wonderful group on Facebook that despite our recent absence have been checking in with us regularly to make sure we are doing ok!

Find out what happened last week here

Post-Lock-Down Week 2 – Bureaucracy & Zombies!

Apparently it’s not at all normal for someone to consider the Zombie proof defences of a property as a selling point?!? Who knew!

A standard conversation that Dan and I have is about the concept of ‘prepping’. Prepping is a lifestyle approach that’s pretty big business in the USA but in short its the process of future-proofing yourself for a whole host of possible eventualities.

These future scenarios can range from one extreme to another. Apocalypse and total loss of world order at one end of the spectrum and failed harvests/ contaminated water supply at the other.

As with anything some folks take this to a whole other level and build bunkers in their gardens with air filtration systems and stockpile years worth of food – ‘just in case’

Google apocalypse bunkers and all sorts of random stuff comes up. This mega build even comes with a widescreen TV and treadmill!

Dan and I are not quite that extreme but I won’t lie…I would love my own bunker! I mean, why not?!? How cool would it be!! Also just to clarify, Dan is mostly just entertaining my occasionally ‘out there’ brain thoughts and we are NOT buying a bunker!

Our level of prepping is more about food stocks but I fear that may be less to do with self-preservation and more to do with my general love of food and fear about where my next creme egg might come from!

You may remember my winter excitement when I found said Creme eggs in the local supermarket?!?

Anyhow – Today we went to see a property that would a be perfect ‘end of the world’ house! Should we need to hunker down and defend ourselves…big electric gates/ high walls/ middle of nowhere/ own water source… Its ideal!

I feel the need to add here…we didn’t go and see this property as a result of its potential zombie defences! It was just a happy coincidence!

Note to self: this intro may be exposing our readers to a few too many of my inside thoughts…lets test it and see what happens! πŸ™‚

It did, however, get me thinking more about self-sufficiency generally and a huge part of our new lifestyle choice is to afford ourselves the time and freedom to become more self-sufficient. High on our wish list for the perfect home is its own water source and fruit trees.

Sadly the Zombie house (all houses now have nicknames so that we can differentiate) is not quite what we are looking for. Perfect is so many ways (we are only joking around about the zombie thing just in case you hadn’t picked that up yet…) but not quite right in so many others.

Such a shame really because it happens to be the same house that is indelibly marked on my heart as the place I rescued an owl!

This (literal) Little Owl found himself stuck in a bedroom having entered through an open skylight. Apparently a good omen and a symbol of change (or so our Facebook group follows tell us).

The little fella was not happy about being locked in the house so I scooped him up and took him into the barn on the property where he flew happily back to his perch.

I could have quite easily gotten carried away with this house (I love Owls and who wouldn’t want their own resident owl!) but Dan and I have worked out quite a good system of talking through each property sensibly. Dan does still need to peel me off the ceiling every now and then when I get a little too excited about a property before fully understanding it.

Although I am sure most people can relate to that!

Seeing your future self living the dream life before fully embracing the cold hard facts like the entire house needs to be rewired which will cost more than we can afford IF we also want to remove the terrible peach bathroom suits! These are the new kind of life choices I need to make!

This week sees the house shopping continue as we pursue the elusive ‘dream house’ but our list of what we don’t want/ need grows daily which is helping to focus our minds and search.

Another useful thing we have been doing of late is leaving the motorhome at the house we are viewing for a few hours (subject to agreement from the agent) and exploring the immediate area on bike/ foot. It can be eye-opening what you find! It may even explain the price of some properties!

One such exploring session saw us put a note in the next-door neighbours letterbox to see if we could have a general chat about the area. Within 24 hours we had been invited around for a socially distant cup of tea and a good catch up!

Apart from being a lovely experience to hear about their lives and the local community the conversation also identified a current water issue in the area which required some further investigation!

It seems that a house on our shortlist does not currently have drinkable water and the utility company provides bottled water (sporadically) to the houses impacted!

Its amazing what you can find out by just asking some open ended questions!

Incidentally, the agent and the local Mairie profess to know nothing of the contaminated water issue! Our investigation continues…

We are getting to know this local Mairie quite well actually as they are also helping us with some queries we have regarding something called a development tax.

The French Development Tax – requires some further investigations which are ongoing but the concept was identified to me on a French forum as something to be aware of. In short, the government can charge you a tax to develop.

We will report again on this at a later date once we understand things a bit better (hopefully) but it could be as much as €750 per square meter and would potentially be applicable to a big barn we are looking at which is next to a lovely old house.

Given the barn is over 100 square meters that COULD be a lot of tax! Preliminary investigations seem to suggest that the local Mairie could potentially void the liability? Its another foray into the world of French bureaucracy but may be a deal-breaker!

Still at least we are aware of it before we buy and not afterwards!

The discovery of the possible tax impact got us thinking again about our property search strategy and pointed us in the direction of sales which require renovation instead of development to try and bypass the possible issue.

Obviously we may well get a lovely email from the Mairie shortly that tells us we won’t be liable at all! We shall keep you posted!

On the off chance, our budget won’t need to fund both the actual development and a hefty tax bill we have pulled together a business plan and mocked up some drawings to see what it might be like!

This is a visual of the ground floor of the barn. Split into two separate properties which could in theory sleep 8 people in each. One of the perks of having a father in law that’s an architect!

The benefit of being a buyer (in a past life) and having a father in law thats an architect! Between us, we can measure/ draw and cost the project. Dan does a superb job of quantity surveyor!

We think its quite a healthy approach to make some broad assumptions about costs (assuming the worst!) and length of time until we start to see some income from the development to be able to make some sound judgements about overall feasibility.

Attention…geek alert…you were warned…(from a very proud geek/ nerd!)

The little excel tool (yes! I do love a bit of excel!) I have created means we can modify the inputs and exchange rate and it will tell us how much money we should have left at the end. It’s a sort of affordability checker for us! It’s also quite useful to use when we are considering how much to offer on a property!

A tool to help us be rational in our thought process when buying a property. #gettingmygeekon

We are told that we are a little unique in our buying approach in France. We only have a certain amount of money to play with. No obvious guaranteed income to depend on (inc pensions) and a strict life plan to avoid borrowing any finance. As such we are having to be quite calculated in our shopping approach.

Its a learning curve for sure but having some clear boundaries is really helping us to think clearly and plan for our best possible future here.

Movement and restrictions.

Its now May 18th (ish) and since May 11th France has been gradually removing the lock down restrictions. You can certainly tell! The aires becoming busier and the roads are almost back to pre Covid levels of vehicles.

Biron castle behind us…the views from its grounds are stunning!

We revisited one of our very 1st stopovers for the evening. Biron Castle (pictured above) is a stunning place and the views from its little perch are glorious.

Having been used to the quiet life our bubble was well and truly burst when we were joined by another 7 French vans over the course of the evening! One trio in convoy set up a little awning party right beside us which was a little annoying to say the least!

It seems the recent rule relaxation about travel is having an effect. Here’s hoping that the number of infections continue to reduce and the situation remains managable!

Winter update!

In terms of our winter lives – Some exciting news came our way this week from the mountains! Not only are we fully planning to return to the same jobs later this year but the company is growing! If you are new to this then you can read all about our winter exploits here.

Effective December 2020 we will have 5 chalets to look after which is an increase of 2! We got some sneak peeks this week of the new accommodations and facilities and we can’t wait to get back over there to check them out!

Drop us a note if you fancy coming to stay in one of the Chalets we look after next winter! I will leave a little photo of one of the new Chalets below as a teaser!

Fully catered and sleeps 10. Stunning!

Until next week stay safe and well!

Much love Katie & Dan

Post-Lockdown Week 1 – House Shopping Begins!

France entered lockdown on March 17th at 11:00,  56 days later our restrictions started to ease.

Throughout this unprecedented time, Dan and I referred to our lives in France as being on hold. We embraced the opportunity to pause and reflect. Learning some new skills and dedicating time and attention to the neglected elements of our lives.

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Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 12 – Snow & Soup!

Week 12 actually started on for us February 29th. Time is speeding by and I am going to have to start to put actual dates to weeks as they blur into one!

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Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Covid 19

It’s hard to know precisely how to begin this story.

A good place to start is to just reemphasise that Dan and I are safe and well.

Frankly, it’s taken a couple of weeks to digest what actually happened and even now it feels a little dreamlike.

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Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 11 – Half Term!

Welcome to pandemonium!

‘Half term’ – The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ​'(in British schools) a short holiday in the middle of each term’. It’s typically a time when lots of families take breaks and do things together. February ‘Half Term’ has traditionally been a busy time in the mountains with families doing exactly that, taking holidays in the snow.

Dan and I don’t have kids and it’s been a very long time since we were of school age! Half term as an event therefore has not had much of an impact on either of us. The only obvious thing we have noted in the past is the roads are a little quieter during the morning commute and it was easier to find a space in the car park at work in our old life.

WOW! Things change! Half term in the tourist industry is huge! It’s quite obvious when you think about it but given this is our first real foray into the tourist industry and a seasonal one at that its quite astounding to see the impact on a ski resort when UK schools take a holiday. The links and reliance on each other is almost symbiotic.

Obviously we therefore choose half term week to try and complete on our house sale. Thinking, how bad can it be?!? All the while not really appreciating back in January when we set the completion date that half term week might be a little more demanding than normal. Silly us!

The build up to the masses arriving was quite spectacular. The buzz around the resort was palpable and ‘horror’ stories were being banded around between chalet companies and seasonaires alike about the invasion of the ‘children’ (like they are something out of a low budget horror movie) and super demanding parents.

How the pistes would be so full that venturing out during time off this week would be pointless. Lift queues in the 1000’s. Suspicions that the roads would be blocked for miles due to the volume of traffic and there would be cars and people everywhere. That literally everything would be harder during half term.

To top it all off the French unions chose this Saturday change over day to strike and close off the main route into and out of the mountain. Consequently all our current guests transfer companies have been in touch to pull forward any outgoing departures to avoid the expected traffic jams. I talked a little about the strike action a couple of weeks ago – see here

Arguably the busiest changeover day of the season. The unions chose well in terms of absolute potential impact!

Turns out, the Unions did is a favour! For the first few days at least the slopes were remarkably quiet! The mass flight cancellations due to Storm Dennis in the UK also had a big part to play as 40,000 holiday makers were impacted. None of our quests had their flights cancelled but it seems a lot of other chalets were impacted.

In reality the worst bit about this week was actually the fuss and hype leading up to it!

The guests and the children were ace and it made a lovely change to have some little people floating around the chalets. The joy of a kids face bobbing around in the hot tub with their armbands on is just amazing!

What I failed to appreciate is that while there are a lot of small people out on the slopes the majority of them this week seem to be in organised lessons. The consequence of this is that they are everywhere but all in well ordered (normally) little lines following their instructors like baby chicks paddling behind the momma duck! So cute!!

The other awesome thing about there being so many children around is that the baby ski school that is specially designed ski creche was full to capacity. It takes kids from around 2 years old and honestly I could watch them for hours! With their little legs that don’t bend due to the ski boots reaching above their knees and zero coordination or control -they amaze me!

They also quite often make me chuckle with their absolutely fearless approach. Watch long enough and you will see at least one domino effect as a tiny tot at the front of the line falls down and takes each of the others in the line down with them.

The parents all stand around watching and taking photos and videos of their babies and the ESF staff work so hard to keep picking each of the children up every time they fall down and trying to work out why at least one kid is screaming for no obvious reason.

You will also find a handful of kids that just look totally oblivious to whats going on around them…they get on a magic carpet (a moving walk way that takes them to the top of the slope)…they fall off at the top and get picked up then they point downhill, crash into a barrier at the bottom and get picked up then do it all over again.

I would love to share some photos so you can truly appreciate the cuteness overload but as it’s kids and they are not mine I cant. I will however share this photo and say when ever I see some seriously tiny tots skiing it makes me smile all the way to my ears. Such joy! I love it!

Just occasionally a little ‘chick’ will fall out of formation and go hurtling down the hill out of control. Legs pressed further apart than seems physically probable in a panicked snow plough verging on the splits. They tumble, never seem to hurt themselves and wait for either another little chick or the instructor to pick them up and set them on their way again.

The parents on the other hand…and a totally different story!

Whilst the kids are safely in lessons the parents certainly make the most of the freedom and I can safely say that this week has been the most worrying on the mountain as so many holiday makers who’s ability level is far less than they believe take long boozy lunches and then try to ski home in one piece. I had to spend far more time on the piste this week looking over my shoulder for threats coming towards me in the form of out of control adults!

Some days it’s just not practical to get out on the mountain to board. On average we can normally get some piste time on about 4 days a week but on the days where we can’t then quite often Dan and I go for a walk.

This week we ventured up to a little nearby village that literally sits at the end of the road. Hauteville has some truly spectacular scenery and no through traffic which makes it super quiet. A little collection of non uniform properties almost all of which are lived in all year round so its got a lovely sense of community about it.

My favourite image of the village. The roads through the houses are only passable on quads or walking so there is a barn at the entrance of the village that each house has fixed their post box to so they can receive their mail. 10 houses in the village and 10 different little boxes.
The walk up to the village along the river is glorious. The snow melting and making way for some beautiful colours.

I honestly thought that when the snow arrived it would be here to stay for the season but it seems that it melts so fast between dumps that the landscape is constantly changing before my eyes.

As half term week drew to a close we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for! Exchange and completion!

We are no longer home owners in the UK and we now have the capital to purchase in France!

The keys have been handed over and the money has landed into our bank account. The moment we have been waiting for since we put our house on the market in October 2018 has arrived.

I have to confess I teared up a bit when it actually happened! So surreal to know that we wont ever return to that house again! Its been almost 4 years in the making. Renovating the house and getting it ready to sell then going through viewing after viewing until we found our buyers.

We actually got the phone call while we were in the middle of the weekly Chalet shop at a big supermarket down the mountain so you can imagine the odd looks I was getting pushing a trolly around filled with enough toilet roll, bin bags, hand soap and beer for 32 people whilst crying!

I kid you not regarding the contents of the trolly!

Each chalet does their own food related shop each week and I pick up all the booze, soft drinks, toilet roll and cleaning products. The end result is typically a really eclectic collection of just a few items but significant quantities of each!

This week was 10 cases of beer, 6 bottle of coke, 72 rolls of toilet paper, 60 bin bags, 9 packs of kitchen sponges, 18 litres of washing detergent and a tub of bees wax. The looks I get are priceless and then they see my chalet uniform and just shrug like shopping in this way is totally normal in the mountains!

Our great news deserved a little celebration so that evening we broke out our little raclette grill that I had given Dan for valentines and had a wonderful grilled cheese filled evening just the two of us πŸ™‚

Copious amounts of meat and cheese (and the resulting heart burn) punctuated by some serious house shopping and mulling over our options.

There is no earthly way that I can seamlessly segway from raclette celebrations and the house sale to this wonderful sight but I felt I just needed to share with you all.

What else should you expect to see this week when getting off a chair lift at 2400m?

A chappy wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes whilst on skis! Obviously!

People stood around watching and listening in awe. I am not sure if their impressed faces were to do with skiing in a kilt or carrying around his bagpipes all day! Either way an unexpected and impressive sight!

So we survived half term and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as we were expecting. We sold our house and managed to put the money into a locked savings account before I could get over excited and spend it on random crap. I saw a kilted man ski and we found an assorted collection of post boxes. We ate raclette and we managed to not have any accidents with the alcohol infused parents on the pistes. Pretty good week all round!

To sign off this week I shall leave you with this image. Taken by my wonderful Dan. A glorious evening sky over Les Allues. This week has been good to us and we are forever grateful to those around us whos ongoing support continue to make this adventure possible.

You can find out what we got up to last week by clicking here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 9 & Week 10 – Progress!

Its the end of February! How is this even possible! The season is literally speeding along and we are now in our 3rd month in the mountains and I feel like I blinked and missed it! The more time that goes by the more I feel thankful for writing the blog to remember all that’s been happening!

As time starts to run away with us I am finding myself more and more contemplative about our life and surroundings. Noticing things around us that I have taken for granted a little. Like this evening view of the local church.

Did you know that legend has it – the small circular ball at the top of the spire was originally created to hold the towns deeds! I have no idea how they retrieved documents if they needed them!

Its quite interesting to see how life and its priorities change in the mountain seasonaire bubble. How a simple guest arrival time on changeover day can make or break the team.

On Sunday each week I have a meeting with the owner to run through the next guest arrivals. We talk about everything from dietary requirements, ski passes and equipment hire, special requests, bed set ups (singles/ doubles), transfer information and expected arrival time!

I also get to hear a little about the guests themselves. Have they stayed with us before, where they are from and if the groups are mixed friends or small families. Its a great way to get a bit of a head start in terms of what to expect.

Sundays are an admin heavy day as its also the time to balance all the accounts ready for filing – for those that know me well you will remember how much I love a good spreadsheet! πŸ™‚ We track weekly and season spend for each chalet – I find all the data analysis stuff super interesting and consequently create lots of visuals to monitor trends.

Once I have the information for the next check ins I can then break it down and provide each chalet team with the data they need to plan their menus and the working week to best support the guests.

Its also the point at which I get asked the ‘make or break’ question…what time are the new guests arriving?!?

Now. I had no idea previously but my answer to that question and how I present the information can have such an impact on the team moral!

You see, changeover days are notoriously long and physically taxing. The team gets very little down time on Saturdays. If guests are scheduled to arrive early (pre 1pm) or late (post 5pm) the news is typically met with enthusiasm. If however the guests arrive between 1 and 5 then the response is not so enthusiastic…

It basically means that the teams need to hang around in the chalet once the change over is complete and wait for the guests to arrive which reduces their down time and break in between shifts.

This week though I came up with a cunning plan!

It involved me locking myself in a chalet with a good book and a brew.

One chalet this week had a 3pm arrival so to give the teams a little downtime between guests one chalet I swapped with them and took my book and brew and chilled in 5* luxury for a few hours while I waiting for the guests to show up. Its a hard life on occasion! πŸ˜› I am always happy to ‘take one for the team’ and relax on a comfy sofa with a trashy novel…and English TV!

On a side note of dietary requirements… I kid you not there are requirements now with names that I have to google! For example…what do you think a pollo-pescetarian is?!? I had no idea!

We do absolutely everything in our power to cater for everyone’s needs and wants but the one diet which is notoriously harder (but not impossible) to cater for at altitude is Vegan. The distance to the shops and the freshness of food make catering a little more interesting!

My favourite dietary request so far this season has to be the vegan that would like some turkey on Christmas day! A super chilled guest who turned vegan out of a moral obligation to help save the planet but who’s Christmas Day would not be complete without a slice of Turkey…

Two new things happened this week!

Our new Chalet Host arrived and so I have been re-promoted once again and I got some new snowboard boots after my old ones started to cut off my circulation!

Boots first…

These rather beautiful creations represent the possibility of snow fun whilst retaining all the feeling in my feet!

I am fairly confident that no money ever leaves the mountains.

As soon as pay day arrives most of the seasonaires that I know go out and buy new shiny things almost immediately. Thus far I have resisted the urge but alas I could hold out no longer…I am telling myself its an investment!

Fast forward a mere 2 hours…the new boots where a terrible idea! My feet are on fire! Upside is that I am getting far more foot rubs from Dan in an attempt to keep going.

Research is telling me that it takes a while to break new boots in. I cast my mind back 6 years to the last time I had to do this. Now I remember it vividly! What a truly stupid invention! I cried last time. I fear there will be tears again!

In all seriousness, I am managing to save quite a lot of what I am earning over here. Aside from hot chocolate, beer and shiny equipment there is not a whole lot to spend your money on. Its still quiet an odd feeling however to be earning about the same amount of money each month as I did in my fist ever job out of university as an inexperienced filing clerk some 15 years ago…

Back to the new person!

A great addition to the team! It amazed me how many applications we got for the role. What surprised me even more was the significantly higher number of guys applying than girls and how few applicants actually read the job description…

What potential recruits don’t fully appreciate is the time it takes to actually recruit. Reading every CV, interviewing, references…admin generally. Its exhausting and time consuming. Therefore, if you are reading this blog with a view to perhaps doing a season…please for the love of all that is important in the world….read the job description!

You mind find the following tips helpful in your job search:

  • Personalise your application
  • Tailor your cover letter/ CV to the job you are applying for
  • Get to know about the company you have applied to work for
  • Understand the job you are applying for and make sure you have the right qualifications/ experience
  • Follow up on all applications
  • Ask for feedback
  • READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION

Its not rocket science but I am learning that job applications are a big thing. An entire industry exists solely to help you get the job you already found and want to apply for.

Something slightly unexpected also happened this week and a Cadbury Creme Egg from the foreign food counter came to the rescue!

Egg-way….(seg-way…see what I did there?!?) This Creme Egg has a lot to answer for! In a good way.

Not once since we started this big adventure have I felt ‘home’ sick. We brought our ‘home’ with us when we hit the road in our motorhome in May 2019 and its all been very exciting and hectic since we left. Almost not enough time to even think about what we might be missing.

This week I had a bit of a personal low. Nothing in particular bringing me down really but I was just momentarily overcome with a lack of familiarity. France is our home and where my heart belongs but on a seriously dull day in the mountains where the drizzle blocked the view I got a feeling that I needed something ‘familiar’.

One of my regular tasks is shopping for last minute things that the team needs, normally due to dietary changes (see above Pollo-pesc!). This specific demand resulted in a trip down the mountain to the local supermarket…wandering aimlessly, feeling a bit sorry for myself with no real justification and collecting the bits I needed I found myself in the ‘foreign food’ aisle.

There, like a beacon of light was a wealth of familiar UK food stuffs. Not least of which some Cadbury’s Creme Eggs! Two creme eggs later and a quiet moment in the car park surrounded by no one but radio playing the song Fast Cars (a personal favourite tune of mine) and the cloud lifted and so did my spirits! Folk-law suggests that an apple/ glass of wine (fill in your own here) a day keeps the doctor away…for me it was a creme egg! Its the small things!

Some may not know (you certainly wont be able to tell from my mobile phone images I use for the blog!) but I have had my own Photography company for a good few years now.

Its been on the back burner for about 18 months while my full time job paid for the mortgage and the grand move plans developed.

I simply found that there was not enough of my soul to give it the attention it deserved so I quietly put it on hold until the time was right to jump back in.

That time is now! My Photography was always going to come with us to France but perhaps not in the same vein as was previously. A booking for a wedding in the summer kick started a revamp of my website and bringing back online all the things I loved about my company.

Its so lovely to be visually creative again so watch this space as the website is progressing nicely. Photography is not only my true passion but also a big part of our long term plans over here.

The other big part of the puzzle that needs to fall into place is our UK property…

House update…waiting for exchange…its a lot like waiting for paint to dry… we have now been waiting for over a week. Each day the very well paid solicitors and estate agents tell us – “today’s the day”

We continue to wait…but we are very quickly running out of time to make it all work. The delays are unbelievably stressful and having almost no control over the situation is a really uncomfortable feeling. Our families are all lined up in the UK to move us out of our house and into storage, everything is in place and ready to go but we are in limbo.

The past few days have been filled with ‘what if’ conversations. What if we move out before exchange and it all falls through..what if we wait until exchange happens before we move out but then we wont have the resource in place to actually do it and we will have to fly back to the UK. So many what-ifs! It felt a bit like the ultimate gamble with no obvious winning bet.

Whatever option we choose to go with there are financial implications. In the end it came down to a leap of faith that the sale would happen and we set the move out plan in motion incurring all sorts of costs but keeping everything crossed that our leap would not result in failure.

Sometimes you can’t control everything and you just have to go with the flow…many sleepless nights of going with the flow!

Its actually quite odd selling a house and not purchasing another immediately! The chain is broken! The excitement of the next chapter will continue for a good while yet which is ace!

The house hunting in France has ramped up now. We have a spreadsheet of all the properties we have found that we are interested in and they have been ranked against various criteria. I love a spot of analysis! It feels like the number of people searching for property in France has significantly increased recently. All the forums are buzzing with folks that want to move before the end of the year. I am hoping he additional competition does not make our lives harder!

Part of the analysis is all about business potential. We can’t afford to retire yet so whatever we buy will need to sustain us financially.

A huge perk of the winter jobs we are doing is the level of exposure that we are getting to the business side of things. Its a massive learning curve but invaluable. For example the cost of laundry is astronomical! But on the flip side we now know the average catering costs for guests and the sort of food they would expect should we provide catered accommodation in the future.

When we were initially job hunting for the winter season we got talking to a lady with a property in Morzine. She offered us exclusive use of the 10 bed chalet in exchange for a fixed price for 6 months. We would be responsible for selling the beds and providing any services to the guests but we would keep any profit left after she had been paid.

At the time we felt it was a bit beyond us given our level of experience and didn’t want to wipe out a large percentage of our savings on something totally unknown so we opted out. Turns out that this is quite standard practice in the mountains. Not many chalet companies actually own their accommodation – they lease it from the owners for a fixed term/ price contract.

Also turns out that this way of doing business is on decline due to an over saturation of properties in the mountains and a reduction in independent chalet companies. The new offering is a profit share scheme where the financial liability is shared between the property owner and the business owner. All quite fascinating and yet another insight that would not be possible without working in the industry.

We still have so much to learn but each step brings us closer to our forever dream and we hope you stick with us on the journey!

Much love Katie & Dan

You can find out what we did last week here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 8 – a bit bitty!

This week has been super ‘bitty’. The sort of week where lots is going on but you don’t feel like you have achieved all that much!

The biggest news of the week is that the snow is back! Bucket loads falling from the sky! Not too soon either as the slopes were looking quite patchy. Also very well timed for an off piste group joining us for a week of lessons in the fluffy powder!

This is also the week that the UK left the EU! Filled with apprehension and confusion about what impact it might have on Dan and I it ended up being really rather anti climatic. Just another day…

Time will tell as to how this will ultimately effect us but for now we have adopted a strategy to keep plugging on and strike a fine balance between ignoring the hysteria and keeping our ears open for ‘real’ news about what will happen next.

There were reports in the UK of people having leaving parties. I can’t think of anything more vulgar right now and feel a sense of loss about what could have been for my generation and the future generations.

Talk has also started about what will happen to the seasonaire life moving forwards. Effective December 2020 I don’t think it will be quite so straightforward for the hundreds of companies in the mountains that rely on a transient & international (UK heavily represented) work force each season. No doubt the added complexity will impact , at least short term, on costs. Perhaps ski holidays will become even more expensive?

I am sure its purely coincidental but there has also been rumblings within the French season workers and strikes are planned for the next few weeks. All French CGT unionised staff (which are a high proportion of the lift staff) are striking over unemployment changes which will apparently leave them short changed.

I didn’t realise until now but these workers are employed all year round and only work for 6 months of the year. For the remaining 6 months they are on a retainer which pays them a significant proportion of their contracted rate (much higher than the proposed unemployment benefit)

Consequence for us specifically is that the strikes are planned for the UK Half term and currently they include a blockade at the bottom of the mountain to stop people getting into the resorts.

The lift staff (‘lifties’) are a high percentage of the striking union workers. At least they have a sense of humor though – this fabulous creation is located at one of the major lift stations and its made entirely out of lost property!

On a totally unrelated note I realised something this week. There are no mosquito’s!! We spent the entire summer and autumn being plagued by the little swines and being munched on by at least one Tiger mosquito which (if you believe Google) means I am now going to get a hideous disease – Note to self:- don’t read Google for medical advice…

We are mosquito free! We are also mostly spider free incidentally so perhaps winter living all year round might have some upside!

I also realised that if this lifestyle continues to work for us e.g summer on the West coast and winter in the mountains I am unlikely to see spring or Autumn in all their glory again.

We left the Dordogne before Autumn fully arrived and came straight into winter in the Alps. Come spring we will likely not see the glorious abundance of colour as its delayed in the mountains due to the snow cover and once our contracts end we will head straight into the summer arms of the Lot & Garrone. Still processing this…not sure how I feel about it to be honest. I love the smell of spring and the magnificent flora & fauna it brings.

Back to our current reality…things break sometimes! Part of Dan’s job is to fix things when they do. On this occasion it was especially important as it’s a vital tool of our jobs. The washing machine!!! Normally only used for chef blacks and kitchen towels but most recently its been washing some of our chalet linens due to a laundry mix up leaving us short until replacements arrive.

We think Dan’s ability to fix pretty much anything with a motor will form part of our long term survival strategy over here and its part of the reason we are looking for property with land and a barn so he can have a workshop. A useful place to also store all of his tools!

Dan has always had a ‘can do’ attitude. There is nothing he wont try. He might not know the required information to fix something but he goes off and he finds it. Consequently he never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge and desire to keep growing intellectually. He also has a pretty amazing ability to teach people the most complex things in a super simple way. Its one of the things I love about him as he always takes me on his learning journey.

I have never once felt that I can’t do something.

Sure there are things in life that I seriously do not want to ever do. Holding a tarantula or sky diving are quite high up there! There are also things that I am limited in my ability to do e.g running a world record 100m sprint – physiologically I am not really built for running! Having said all that where there is a will there is a way. I was always taught to dream big! Go big or go home!

I think the above is why I struggled with a guest conversation recently. Some of you may have seen it on our Facebook group.

Guests are normally quite interested in what Dan and I are up to. So many conversations start with a little perplexity about why we have given up perfectly good careers and a nice house etc in favour of the unknown with significantly less financial security. The chats soon turn to legitimate interest about how/ why and the finer details. I can’t lie, it still gives me a little warm glow when I can share our journey with people. Its also strangely satisfying to challenge peoples preconceptions about seasonaires. We are not all ‘ski bums avoiding life’ (yes that’s an actual quote from a guest!).

A few weeks back I was sharing our journey and plans with some guests. For the most part I got the standard reactions ranging from brave to crazy! I did get one reaction that surprised me though.

‘Some people just can’t’ – The guest was utterly convinced that whilst our life plan was amazing and they would love to do something similar that they would never be able to so.

This was not about money, timing, commitments, family constraints, societal expectations etc… This belief was purely down to self confidence.

This person had limited their own potential before even starting. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous in anyway here – Each to their own! This conversation did however make me a little sad that this person really wanted to do something but felt that they couldn’t.

It also made me eternally grateful for my Husband, family and friends who have supported every (even dubious) decision I have ever made with little more than a guiding touch. I appreciate how fortunate that makes me.

Personal circumstances to one side for a moment. I want to introduce you to a guy called Robert Merton. Sadly he is no longer with us but his legacy as a highly influential American sociologist lives on.

He coined the term β€œself-fulfilling prophecy” (SFP) in 1948 to describe β€œa false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true”

In short – if you believe you can’t you probably wont.

Mini rant over…I hope that if you get anything at all from reading about our experiences its that self believe is key. My mum also used to tell me when I was younger and competing (athletics and swimming) that I need a positive mental attitude. PMA can result in some truly exceptional results.

Sadly no amount of PMA or positive thinking could disperse the ridiculous crowds this week! Its not even half term yet and thanks to our continued snow fall and avalanche risk/ securing, lots of the resort was closed. It resulted in a heavy burden on just a few lifts. This was where our intimate resort knowledge came in handy to skirt around the queues and head for a quieter section of the resort. Winning!
In other news this week. I was demoted again!! A shoulder stripe removed and my apron pulled out of storage!

This time I got the chance to be a Chalet Host at our premium chalet working alongside an amazing chef. It was a baptism of fire as I had to jump in mid week and pick up service for a group of guests that were already in the chalet.

After a very busy 48 hours learning the ropes and getting everything sorted we, the chef and I, had a simply fantastic week culminating in a nice tip at the end which always goes down well!

Sadly the hosty that I replaced decided that seasonaire life was not for them and went home. I have given the rest of the team strict instructions that no one else can go now! I jest obviously! Joking-Not Joking!

On a serious note though our little team really pulled together this week and it was a pleasure to be a hosty! The job itself is bloody hard-work and my hair/ clothes stank of kitchen every-night while my feet throbbed in a way I last experienced when I was 16 working in a restaurant!

Recruitment has started in earnest to fill the gap but in all honesty I am in no major rush as I am really enjoying it!

Have I mentioned its snowing yet? SOOOO Happy for some fresh powder!

Strikes or not at least the snow is going to keep falling…upside is that the pistes might be unusually quiet if the blockades work!
She really is glorious when there is fresh snow fall and big blue skies!

A side effect of all the new snow this week. Other than countless hours spent by Dan clearing snow! Is an annual event at a local pub in Meribel.

I swear I am not making this up… ‘Rump & Pump’ hosted by Brewers Den (a bar) consists of them moulding the snow in their car park into a giant bowl and then people (frankly nutters!) do tricks in the snow bowl on their skis/ snowboards. Jumps, kickers, splats…the latter is not an actual trick…its just the sound they make when they get it wrong!

The ‘Rump’ refers to the steaks they serve and the ‘Pump’ is all about the tricks around the bowl!

Loads of people turned up and it was a really good afternoon. Super fun to watch but definitely not up my street for taking part! The bar puts on discount drinks and some great grub. Throw in a bit of music and the place was literally bouncing!

Top right of the photo you can just see a daring fella in brown trousers about to slide into the bowl off the roof of the garage. Bonkers!

To round off our week this week we had our first French hair cuts! Exciting right?!? In all honesty its something I have been dreading with the language barrier. I had a worry that my request would get lost in translation and I would end up looking like a scarecrow that’s been dragged through a hedge backwards!

Turns out that I need not have worried and we got a seasonaire discount! Comes in handy! πŸ™‚

My worry was immediately suppressed when a lovely French lady rocked up at our door (home service) and announced that we should not fear as she is married to a welsh man! I worry that our little seasonaire bubble is perhaps not representative!

I plan to take this as a win however! Its not a fully immersed french haircut experience but its a half way house I am happy to embrace while I work up the courage to book into a salon!

Its these little things that you don’t think about when planning a move to a foreign country! Sadly the hair dying experience (by my own hand) did not work out so well but fortunately there is no photographic evidence of that!

Last but not least this week…France is expensive (unless it’s the sort of property we are looking for or wine you want to buy). Ski resorts are another level expensive. To prove the point – behold my lunch below!

This rather small portion of burger and chips cost me a grand total of €16 (Β£13.28)!
It tasted lovely mind but with those prices we can’t afford to eat out often!
This is where tip money comes into its own! The wages pay our bills but the tips feed us junk food! πŸ™‚ #starvingseasonaire

After our very bitty week this week we are sincerely hoping that next week will bring with it some kind of routine with no hidden surprises and perhaps even an exchange on our UK property!

You can find out what happened last week here.

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 7 – So Sad

She may be beautiful but she is also hostile when she wants to be.

I am opening this weeks post up with an advisory. This week has been extremely difficult and writing this is no easy task.

I want to be upfront with you all so you can choose if you continue to read on. A very sad thing happened this week and I want to try and share with you in the most sympathetic way possible.

A young man lost his life. Rest In Peace Corey.

I have been putting off writing about this for a couple of weeks now as I really wasn’t sure what to say or how to even explain.

The seasonaire life is full of people that you live in really close proximity to for a huge portion of the year and yet many of those people will become just a face you recognise but who’s name you will never learn.

Its a truly odd environment to live and work in. A mix of a continual freshers week and a never ending holiday with a bit of work thrown in.

On January 22nd I met a fellow seasonaire on my way up to the mountain for a day of skiing. We got talking. Shared our stories. Later that night I saw him and his friend (Corey) in my local pub.

A face but no name. A shared experience but our own little worlds.

The very next morning I woke to a desperate plea on social media to help find Corey.

Corey was 24 years old when he died in a tragic accident after a night out with friends when when he became lost from his group and fell into a crevice.

I didn’t know Corey but the shock reverberated around the entire resort. Seasonaires and locals alike joined search parties to try and find him before it was too late.

The impact of his death was quite profound.

Grief affects us all differently. The magnitude of my sadness, for someone I didn’t know blindsided me.

A young life gone. Taken from this beautiful place and leaving behind a brand new sense of apprehension that whilst she may be beautiful she is also hostile.

My heart goes out to his family and friends but if they can take anything from this horrible accident its that we seasonaires have a better appreciation for how fragile life is.

Our transient population has become so much more aware. This can be a dangerous environment to live in and there is a feeling now that even if we don’t take a moment to learn each others names we will still look out for each other.

We are a slightly odd and dysfunctional family but we are a family all the same. We shared, we cried and we drank to Corey and celebrated the legacy he left behind for us.

Its a week that shall remain in my memory and I send love and hugs to his family.

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 6 – The week of good fortune

Its the second full week in January and the press are referring to something called ‘blue Monday’. Apparently its the most depressing day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. By all accounts there is an algorithm to identify the specific date using information about weather, sleep, stress and proximity of the next holiday.

There is nothing blue about my Monday! Half a pint of hot chocolate anyone? πŸ™‚

This week has been fantastic and not at all blue in any way, unless of course you are referring to the sky? In which case its very blue as the snow continues to elude us!

Our week is extra special for 2 reasons. And again..its all relative!

I remember learning about a very clever fella called Maslow while studying for a professional qualification. He has a theory about peoples needs. Its a hierarchy, working on the principle that people are motivated by five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.

In this theory, higher needs in the hierarchy begin to emerge when people feel they have sufficiently satisfied the previous need.

This week we secured a little tick in the boxes of Physiological and safety (see above – Physiological is things like air/ water/ food/ sleep. Safety is things like security/ resource and employment).

Dan and I both received an unexpected pay rise! I have mentioned previously that the seasonaire life wont make you rich in monetary terms. It has its own unique non financial perks. Having said that a pay rise is a very good thing! We are currently resisting the urge to immediately spend it on shiny things for playing in the snow…A few more pennies in our pocket at the end of the month gives us a little extra security and allows the savings to last a bit longer.

Next up, and potentially as significant as the payrise is that we both got an extra day off work this week! Not only that but it meant that we got two whole days back to back.

This occasionally happens over the course of the season when we have quieter weeks and its an added perk! We made the most of the extra day off by taking to the mountain. As standard, we get Mondays and Thursdays off work which works well but we loved the additional day and managed to fit in a few extra hours of sleep to recharge the batteries!

A payrise and an extra day off! A very welcome week of good fortune!

That Maslow chap is onto something and the ‘extras’ we got this week have done wonders for our overall morale! I even found time to play with a Christmas gift from my mum! A jigsaw puzzle! Not any old jigsaw though! A sunflower puzzle which is my all time favourite flower. We have such a rock and roll life! πŸ˜›

Some light hearted evening entertainment! The impossible puzzle! This image is one of the strongest reasons why I love France as much as I do. The sunflowers in full bloom are a sight to behold and are rather magical.

The extra day off was in part helped by us not having as many guests as normal this week. After the Christmas and new years rush the remainder of January is typically a little quieter. A welcome break before the February school holidays arrive.

A quieter week also proved to be super useful in allowing us to get our newest team member up to speed. We now have a full compliment of staff once more and I have been promoted back to Chalet Manager again!

Having a full compliment of staff again has made such a difference to the overall work load. It was also really interesting to see how they integrated into a very well established and close team. Not an easy task for anyone in reality but it all seems to be settling down nicely.

This environment can be taxing, the team live, work and socialise together. Add into the mix that Dan is the only guy it has the potential to be a hormone centred vortex of emotions and stress. A bit of a proverbial pressure cooker!

Its one of the reasons why its so important out here to make time for your mental health and wellbeing. Sure its a stunning place to live and work but I am learning very quickly that the emotional roller coaster is not a fleeting experience. Its here to stay and therefore its necessary to find a release.

This is my release. A cold afternoon walk along one of the winter footpaths was just what I needed. Some quiet time to reflect. Perspective is a prized commodity!

The extra time this week also gave me enough head space to reflect on my own personal journey. I came to an interesting conclusion; I am learning more about myself then I thought possible. Some of the same business traits I have come to rely on over the years are apparent regardless of the environment or industry.

I am also learning that my age and experience has softened me (in a good way I think). In years gone by I would have struggled with some of the more pressurised guest interactions but now I can go with the flow with a little more ease.

This season in the mountains is also huge eye opener regarding guests and the spectrum of personalities. Diverse and not always expected! The knowledge we are getting working in the French tourist industry is invaluable and I am confident the payback for our own business venture will be 10 fold.

Sure, there are some bits that we would love to avoid in the future if at all possible but its almost reassuring that we get to experience the lows, mistakes and faults while someone else is steering the ‘ship’.

Once such lesson this week was regarding the French plumbing standard…look away now if you are easily grossed out or eating!

A hard lesson to learn when trying to wash up after 8 guests have finished a 5 course dinner. No functioning sink due to food waste blocking the pipes. French pipes seem to be much smaller than the UK equivalent but I am not convinced a UK sink could have done a much better job with this much detritus!

Avert your eyes!!! This grim looking bowl of gunk just happens to be the reason why the team had to bring all their washing up home with them! The sink got blocked! Super Dan to the rescue. Its not all glamorous!

On a much brighter note our week ended with a little trip over the valley in search of the Mother In Law…not the actual mother…just a piste with her name on it! She was quite chuffed to get the photo!

We took a little trip to Val Thoren to find the Mother In Law!

Your can find out what we got up to last week here

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