Category Archives: Frugal Living

Haven’t Disappeared Altogether — REALLY!

It has been ever so long since I updated the site and there are a lot of reasons for that. Short explanation…

1. Some health issues (now completely resolved!)
2. Buying a house
3. Moving and unpacking (and that is still an in-process situation)
4. Renovating

Additional delaying factors…
1. Trying to decide whether to stay in Australia or go straight back to Europe
2. Busy with the stock photography (surprisingly, on the upswing!) and uploading
3. Writing not one but TWO books.
4. Being a total nut-case and signing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and trying to produce 50,000 words of a rough draft novel in 1 month. Did it — in 15 days with not enough sleep. But the novel isn’t done and will probably end up being about 70,000 words. So yes, I still have the rest of November to slog away.

 

NaNoWriMoCertificate

 

Got oddly Mother Earth-ish (small doses!) and decided to try doing a smidge of gardening after over decade away from that and have been remarkably successful thus far.
 

Freshly planted garden bed.

Freshly planted garden bed.


 

Seriously? It has been so long since I did one of these posts that I had to go back and refresh my memory on the html coding!

Plan to TRY and do better with keeping up on this site once again. Lots of things are percolating now that our lives have settled down and there are some big plans afoot.

Also — am rebuilding my portfolio with a new agency. Plan to upload weekly (fingers crossed!) or more often examples so you can see what’s up for sale as stock. As soon as I get several more dozen images up, I will post a link. In the meantime, here’s an example of what I will have on there for one time rights.

 

Sydney Harbour Bridge on a stormy day.

Sydney Harbour Bridge on a stormy day.


 

More soon!

 

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SAVINGS on Travel Insurance for Overseas Trips

Whether you are an expat, a round-the-world traveller, or simply someone who is headed off on their annual holiday, a comprehensive travel insurance policy is a VERY necessary item when you leave home. And anyone who fails to purchase such an essential thing may be taking their lives and their financial future in their hands. Rather a lot of people think that they are the ‘lucky ones’ and that no accident or theft or illness will befall them because they are alert and aware and prepared. But, as I can share from personal experience, life’s a little messier than that!

Before you even make a travel insurance purchase, there are ways to save on your overall costs. They usually mean you have to be patient enough to look at quite a few online options, compare the coverage, decide what you don’t need to trim things down a bit, and then consider paying a higher excess or deductible.

Why pay for action sports coverage if that isn’t your thing? And if you aren’t carrying a lot of tech gear with you the way we do, you can probably use a more budget-oriented company that’s a bit ‘no frills’ except on the essentials like medical coverage and missing luggage.

In the past, we have repeatedly used World Nomads as our travel insurance provider. I have nothing but the highest praise for this company and would recommend them to anyone. They were quite reasonably priced, were very pleasant to deal with, and we were quite satisfied with the service we received when we unexpectedly had to make a claim against travel insurance for the first time ever in 2012. They paid a week-long hospital bill for me when I was incredibly ill in France last summer and I would have been stuck with that hefty bill if we had not had an active policy at the time. An episode like that is one of the reasons that I continue to remind fellow travellers to ALWAYS have insurance because the unexpected really does happen more often than you can imagine.

That hospital visit left me in a tricky position though. I now have what’s known as a ‘pre-existing condition’ since it is an issue that could potentially reappear in the future. World Nomads was quite clear on their website when I checked a few days ago and it stated that yes, I could purchase travel insurance that would cover all of the other things like lost luggage or cancelled flights and so forth. But they would NOT COVER any medical issue that had been paid out in the past. On my!

That set me on an almost 3-day search of site after site to try and find good quality travel insurance that I could purchase by simply being honest, stating that I had been hospitalised for a previous issue, and paying a slightly higher premium. Easy, right? But when the companies that I was researching were moving from my budget-target of £500 for the two of us for a 6 week trip and zooming right up to over £1,200 for that short a period, I was a bit stunned. We paid that much for a full year of comprehensive travel insurance a mere 2-1/2 years ago!

I looked at quite a few companies in the UK and discovered that, one after another, they rejected our applications because Mark was British (so he was eligible to buy a policy), but I was Australian and therefore was not. Telling fibs and pretending to be a UK citizen or resident wouldn’t have been a good idea since it would have negated the insurance coverage completely.

When you are preparing to purchase your own travel insurance, you will need to make sure that you answer truthfully what country you are a legal resident of. Since we’ve given up on living in the UK and I didn’t bother doing the paperwork to become a legal resident, I am still a citizen of Australia so I did a web search on insurance for pre-existing medical conditions from the Australian Google site. Simply search from your own country so that if there is ever a problem, they can air-ambulance you back to your home country.

Some of the bigger companies that I included in my search were BUPA, Travel Insure Direct, Medi-Bank, Worldcare.com.au, and 1-Cover as well as the policies offered by banks in Australia. They were all over £1,000 for 6 weeks and CoverMore was the most expensive at £1,249.

Finally (whew!) on Day 3, I found what I was looking for — insurance that covered everything, had a medical certificate stating that I had declared my condition, and we were both covered for all the rest of the baggage, delays, and such. AND, triumph of triumphs, it came in at under £500 for the two of us.

The company we are using this time is InsureAndGo and they have branches in several countries. Securing that insurance for our upcoming trip was the final puzzle piece for the adventure ahead.

Come back soon for more pictures from Newcastle Upon Tyne!

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Life Changes, Life Planning, & Leaving France

Saying goodbye to France was something that we had not considered when we moved here last year, settled in, bought furniture and appliances, and began to make friends. But recent changes in the taxation structure since the election of Francois Hollande as President of France, the bureaucratic quagmire that all of us who move to France are forced to endure, pension issues, and several other boulders in the road that frequent readers of this site will already be acquainted with, have made this a place where we no longer wish to invest our emotional energy or our money. We are moving on after 10 months here in the South of France — with regret — but the decision has now been made and we are in the process of sorting out our last few weeks here in St. Girons.

And where are we going next? Well, to be truthful, we aren’t certain! We are flinging ourselves into the arms of the angels again, waiting to see where feels right, and then trusting that our choice is a good one. Our furniture and 100-plus boxes are being picked up in 2 and 1/2 weeks and taken to England to go back into storage. But then the fun begins as we go back on the road for awhile and we look for someplace to settle down. Living out of a suitcase wore us out after a year the last time and after spending almost 9 months in Normandy, we stopped moving in St. Girons. Who knows where we will be when we send for the household goods the next time!

 

A quiet moment between two women visitors at MACBA, the contemporary art & design museum in Barcelona, Spain.


 

The next few months should be very ‘interesting’ and we’ll need to be flexible. There is an unfolding book about life in France as an expat and I’ve even written the introduction chapter — but we’ll discuss that in another article.

Right now we are making lists of things to do, notifying the utility company, and packing-packing-packing. (again!)

Stay tuned as we find our feet on shifting sands!

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Boxes, HEAT, & A Bit Of This & That

A bit of personal and non-travel related commentary today. And no, I didn’t drop off the face of the planet and all is well in our world. But we’re still wading through the boxes that were delivered from Australia via ship to England and then delivery truck here to France.

When we were ‘back home’ in Australia on our 7 and 1/2 acre rural property, we had a studio space/storage area in a separate building from our cottage. And that studio space was bigger than this entire small apartment in France!

Let’s just say we are a little challenged space-wise right now. So a second culling of our possessions is under way. And the apartment is a &*^%$£! disaster zone as a result. We sold off 99.99% of our furniture, donated or sold hundreds of books and movies, pared down the clothes, and then stored the rest (including Mark’s rather massive collection of tools!) for 20 months. 21 months later, they have all arrived and in spite of what we thought was a serious purge back in Oz, we have too much stuff.

I have thinned out the books and music cds and movies (again!) and am donating them to a Cancer Support France group here in the South of France that helps English speaking expats who have relocated to France deal with cancer issues. It’s probably a god-send for them to have such a group since I can honestly tell you that if French is not your native language, being ill in a foreign country can occasionally be a very unsettling experience. So this felt like just the right place to send all of these lovely books and media items.

Our other ‘challenge’ for the last few weeks has been the intense heat and staggering humidity — and it isn’t just here. Huge swathes of France have been on alert due to the high temperatures that soared upward and then stayed there. The last time that this kind of heat arrived in France was in the 2003 heatwave when almost 15,000 people died in France alone. This a country where fans are the norm for coping with summer, air conditioning is a rarity, and along with the many other French businesses that close down for a month, a large number of medical practitioners go on holiday for the month of August.

We’ve also been making a concerted effort to drink huge amounts of water every day to avoid dehydration or heat-exhaustion. Just walking those few blocks to the Saturday market this past weekend (with a hat on and smeared in sun block) saw me returning home dripping wet and weak at the knees from the heat. I was weak and nauseous for the entire rest of the day along with some other rather unpleasant symptoms.

And did I mention that I have been living in a sarong for most of the last 2 weeks? Other than unpacking and sorting, this has not been the most productive period I’ve had since arriving in St. Girons and it is all down to the nauseating heat which has left me, and tens of thousands of other people, feeling quite incapacitated.

I still have the last 2 slideshows to post from 2 weekends ago when the Autrefois was in St. Girons, but for now there may not be any new photo ops until I feel that it’s safe to walk around outside for more than half an hour without feeling like I am going to collapse. Don’t I wish for (and remember fondly!) the body-resiliency of my 20s and 30s — a physical state that I unfortunately no longer have.

Ah well — until the next time — stay cool wherever you are!

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When In France, Patience Pays

Deciding to stop travelling, pick one country out of several options, and settle in the south of France has been an interesting proposition on a variety of levels — so I thought I would share a bit of that with you. The Midi-Pyrenees is a stunning part of this beautiful country and after much consideration, we believe that we have made a good choice. So we’re taking that leap of faith and staying!
 

St. Girons from the Avenue Francois Camel bridge


 
If you read the previous post, you will know that I have some additional freedom again now that I have my own little Peugeot to zip around in. However, it took TWO DAYS of hanging on the phone, leaving the car firmly parked because it was uninsured, and then wading through my kinda-sorta ok-ish French to get a new insurance policy. But as of Saturday afternoon, that’s all sorted and I’ve been out and about already doing essential errands and tracking down the correct government offices for each task.
 

A bit of freedom courtesy of a new-old Peugeot for Deborah


 
Yes, the updates on the site have been a bit thin for the last couple of weeks, but we’re fine and still doing the settling-in thing. That means lots and lots of paperwork from government departments that never seems to end. Mark’s life is a bit more straightforward than mine is right now — he gets up in the morning and goes off to work at various astonishingly scenic places as he renovates French houses. I am here in my home office, making endless copies, sourcing more government information, sending flurries of emails, and then waiting, waiting, waiting for things to get done by whatever French government department I am currently dealing with.

Getting registered in the health care system is still ongoing and that has, I must admit, been ridiculously time consuming. But I feel confident that my own paperwork will be completed this week. And I’ll be very happy once I see two copies of the laminated Carte Vitale, the essential item that gives us full access to all of the French healthcare system.

Things came to a grinding halt recently when I had to get an official French form to then obtain an official French translation of our birth certificates from English into French — and then the official French translation form had to be stamped and signed by an official French Civil Authority in a government office. That finally happened yesterday, but not easily!

After getting the translation completed last week, I took all of the correct paperwork to the Marie (the mayor’s office) in St. Girons yesterday and was directed to the office for Civil Registry. There I found a woman behind a desk with rather a lot of stamps and pens on her desk. Good — I must be at the correct place — right? Perhaps not since she looked rather alarmed when she realised that I wanted her to put her stamp on the official translation of (shock-gasp!) a British birth certificate and an American birth certificate. Seriously, she looked at me like the sky was falling!

Shaking her head and repeating, “Non, non, non!” several times, she pulled out an instruction sheet for what she could sign off on and waved one finger at it saying that her office was for people from France, not “etrangers” — strangers (which is what they actually do call anyone who isn’t French). I just stood there and waited with a calm expression. She went off in a huff to talk to the woman in the office next door, her supervisor, and came back with a very thin smile on her face. She had just been corrected by the supervisor (lovely woman!) who told her that since we were registered to live and work in France, she was required to copy and stamp all of our documents.

Kachink-kachink went the stamps, 2 on each form plus a date and signature, and finally I was handed 8 “official French” forms. I kept a pleasant look on my face, thanked her very sincerely, and suppressed the urge to dance down the hall outside her office and whoop out loud once I reached the parking lot!

I have no idea why, but for some reason I have rather a lot of patience with this unfolding process. Maybe it’s because this place feels so right. And for a change, Mark isn’t neutral, he really LOVES it (in all capital letters!) here in this part of France! That’s an important change because he’s always liked the places where we lived in the past two decades in Australia, England, and even those brief few years in the USA — but he hasn’t LOVED them. Nice, eh?

Getting new passwords for our online account required a trip to the bank to meet with our account manager — and as I was walking through St. Girons yesterday, I was smiling. It was interesting to see how many people turned and smiled back because I was walking around feeling like a lightbulb was on inside my face. St. Girons is just lovely in that picturesque faded-French-beauty way that makes my heart happy. The photo below is of Rue Gambetta and my bank is underneath those arches at the end of the curve, just before the parking lot in the square beyond. Now seriously, if you looked at your local business district each day and saw this kind of charming view, wouldn’t it make your own heart sing?
 
The curve of Rue Gambetta in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees, France
 
In the larger view, we are both quite happy that we waited, that we had patience about making a decision about where to stop and where to settle down again. We enjoyed our time over the last 18 months immensely as we travelled and worked in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, and France. And we met lovely people in each and every place that would have introduced us to the right people, helped us with our language issues in the non-English countries, and generally assisted us in negotiating through the ever-present paperwork in the EU.

The place that we have finally chosen, France, seems to be particularly attached to ‘les papiers’ and, in direct contrast to the way things are done in the UK or Australia, online processing of forms is practically non-existent. So everything moves at a snail’s pace. If you do choose France, you must know that ahead of time and accommodate yourself to their pace

Time to stop for today and get back to work. My next challenge is getting quotes to have our household goods delivered to us here in France. We had the very happy news from our shipping company in Australia that they had mistakenly quoted us for a larger amount than we actually had in storage. Once they picked it up last Friday from our storage unit, compacted it, and measured it on Monday, they sent us the actual figure which was approximately one third less than what the quote was based on. So we are saving a little bit of money off the sticker-shock prices that we were dealing with up until yesterday. Our boxes will arrive in the UK in a few months and then be trucked down here to France, a process that is (rather oddly!) cheaper than having them sent directly to France or even to Spain which is only one hour south of us.

Ah well — c’est la vie!

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The Peugeot Paperwork Pause

Waiting, waiting, waiting. (sigh!)

So I bought a new-old little Peugeot 306 today from a friend of a friend here in the Midi-Pyrenees. Yes, it has a few dings in the doors from encounters in the local parking lots, but it’s an appropriately inexpensive option for our frugal lifestyle — a very basic little getting-around vehicle that I hope will serve me well over the next few months as we get sorted out here and I begin to look for a more permanent place to live.
 

The front of the new-old Peugeot 306


 

The back of the new-old Peugeot 306


 
That should all be quite straightforward — right? Trust me, there is never, ever, ever anything straightforward in France if it involves paperwork. I have been on the phone and online for over 5 hours at this point just trying to get insurance for it that doesn’t cost half of the total value of the car per year in premiums!!!

Our insurance agency that has our previous policy is headquartered in the outskirts of Paris and they take a lunchtime break on Friday that lasts from noon until — wait for it — four in the afternoon. And THEN they re-open for business. It took me ever so long to get anyone to even answer the phone, then I hung online for almost half an hour, and then they gave me a list of documents to scan and attch to emails. I had to send 6 different emails with one piddly attachment (at a greatly reduced pixel size, I might add) on each one.

So here I am now now — waiting, waiting, waiting to hear back.

If it goes smoothly, I will be driving the new wee beastie this weekend. If not (mustn’t even think that!), it will be Monday before I can get on the road. Let’s see, how many really rude French expletives can I think of to mutter as I walk around the house? (sigh!)

P.S. It’s 7 hours later and after 6 PM now — so I guess I won’t be out and about this weekend. And did I fail to mention the mini-heatwave? That certainly wasn’t helpful today either!

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Life In A Tiny French Village

Perhaps I should title this article “Life In A Tiny French Village — For Now”?
 

The Midi-Pyrenees village of Engomer


 
We arrived in the Midi-Pyrenees almost 4 weeks ago and have settled — temporarily — into a house that we are renting in a small village. It’s a pretty little bend in the road, I won’t deny that. But this particular village is so small that there isn’t even a village shop or bakery or any kind of amenities.
 

River bend in the village of Engomer in the Midi-Pyrenees in France


 
Pretty and quaint is all well and good, but you know a place is wee-tiny when the post office is only open a few hours in the morning, and only for 4 days during each week. The woman who runs the place was actually quite put out that I wanted stamps for cards and letters to Australia and the USA instead of to other locations in France. Sheesh!
 

Village post office in Engomer & it is only open 4 mornings a week!


 
The picture below is of our way-too-large house as seen across the village tennis courts. We rented this house sight unseen at the recommendation of a friend here since she knew we’d be arriving with no place to live and no time to search because Mark would be starting work a mere few days later. It’s charming and fully furnished, but thank heavens we have a month to month option!
 

Our rented house seen across the village tennis court


 
For those of you who have followed my writing for years and were familiar with our darling little eco-cottage back in Australia, you will know that a big barn of a place like this is not really our style. The ground floor of this house is as large as our entire little house back in Australia! We are firm believers in a frugal lifestyle with low energy consumption, and this house may be charming, but it certainly won’t be energy efficient. If we want to splash out a bit, we’d rather invest in a new piece of computer or camera or sports equipment — not an electric or fuel oil bill!

A plan is being formulated. Twenty minutes from here is the larger town of St. Girons and that is where I plan to aim my search. We are going to look for a house with a much smaller footprint and a lock-up garage for Mark’s tools and supplies. We are putting the wheels in motion for our household goods to be shipped from Australia as soon as the shipping company can pick everything up within the next week or so.

We had hoped to manage with only one vehicle. But Mark needs the van every day for work and there is no public transport in this tiny spot. In a similar way to our life in Australia, the distances between each village or town means that we are going to be forced to purchase a small car for me. We may have that sorted out in the next couple of weeks and then I can begin the search for another house to rent.

St. Girons is a lovely and old-fashioned market town, but it has quite a lot of amenities. There are narrow streets and tall old houses pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, market squares, and lots of cafes and pretty little shops. It’s the kind of place where you can get out and walk to the shops, the hairdresser, the bookstore, or to a cafe for lunch or dinner with friends. How fab would that be!

As always, I will keep my readers apprised of our progress as things unfold. And thanks for all of the charming off-site notes that you have sent to me privately expressing your happiness about our adventure in resettling in a new country.

Finally, enjoy a slideshow of more village scenes including two shots of the snow covered mountains as seen through our livingroom window.
 


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©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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