Tag Archives: settling down

Settling In, Settling Down, But Not Settling For

It was bound to happen after several years of travelling from country to country over a 3 year period. We were going to want to settle down, buy a house again, and settle in. That doesn’t mean that travel and travel writing or photography is off the radar, but it does mean that we’ll have a stable base to work from. And neither of us feels like we are settling for less than something wonderful!

We thought we had found home in the South of France, but as you have read in past posts, we were unwilling to commit ourselves to a country that wanted 60 percent (and climbing!) of our income in taxes and which would never provide a pension when we retired no matter how many years we had paid into the tax system in France.

Ah well — back to Australia we came after several years away and we landed in Melbourne 7 and 1/2 months ago. But no matter how much we love this city, it really isn’t quite what we are looking for long term. It’s bigger, busier, and noisier than what suits us — so we’ve been looking further afield. And we found it!

In exactly 7 weeks, we”ll be taking possession of our new house in the completely charming regional city of Ballarat — a little over an hour northwest of Melbourne. May I just say that working through the stacks of paperwork for a new mortgage were not my happiest moments, but I had a light-hearted attitude throughout the process because I was working towards our long-term goal. We got the pre-approval and then went looking for a house and what we found is a 1950 ranch house with 3 bedrooms and a huge lot that needs a LOT OF WORK in the months and years ahead. But what fun we are going to have as we transform it.


Front of our 1950 ranch house.

Front of our 1950 ranch house.


I’m putting this in print so that we can ALL remind Mark that he said this. I showed him a pristine and brand new house that he wouldn’t have needed to do a thing to other than fit out the garage with his racks of tools. But did he want that? No! He said that was too boring and he would prefer a fixer-upper that we could put our own stamp on. There you go — it has been documented!

There will be lots of posts in the coming months of various stages of renovation. And amidst all of those, I will sprinkle more travel posts and photo essays from Melbourne and regional Victoria and even some from Europe. If you plan to come to Australia, you mustn’t just stop at Sydney and forget about Melbourne or Victoria. It’s simply stunning over here.

Now you know why I’ve been posting rather sparsely lately. I’ve been slammed with paperwork and planning and house hunting. But we’re completely thrilled even with the prospect of years of work ahead to make it our ‘forever house.’

Bye for now!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.

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!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.

Perhaps France For Now?

There are days when we can barely believe that it has been 14 months since we left Australia to live and work in Europe on our ‘Grand Adventure’ that was meant to last for a mere 6 months. As I edit photos for my various stock agencies, it is a bit startling to comprehend that some of the images from England, Scotland, and the Netherlands are either a full year old or very nearly there.

Living out of a set of suitcases and snap-lid containers, packing and unpacking every few weeks — well, let’s just be truthful and say that it is getting more than a little tiresome on occasion. For several months now we have been acknowledging a growing sense of travel fatigue. And it never fails that when you need one particular item of clothing, it’s always right at the bottom (or even worse, in the middle!) of those two practically-body-bag sized suitcases that came with us from Oz.

We carry rather a lot of technical gear too — computers and multiple cameras, lenses, 3 back-up drives, a printer, and more — much more. So all of that needs to go into separate bags that go in and out of the van every time we arrive and depart. And did I mention the basic household items and cooking supplies?

Each time we leave, it takes us several hours on the day prior to departure to get organised and go through the checklist as we repack. Then on the day of departure it takes approximately 2 hours for the darling Mark to repack the van so that it all fits into the back like puzzle pieces. Guess what? We are both tired for an overlapping day each and every time we change locations!

Checklist and paperwork for getting a Carte du Sejour -- a French residency card

We just need to stop for awhile — and we are completely uncertain if this is the final stopping place (country-wise), but FOR NOW we’ve decided to give France a try. The photo above is my checklist from the Prefecture in St. Lo and my paperwork. I am getting my residency card for France — the Carte du Sejour. Mark doesn’t require any of this since he’s already an EU citizen by holding a British passport.

The plan (which, to be truthful, is always in flow!) is to wait here in Normandy for a few more weeks until the laminated card comes back from the government offices in St. Lo. When we went into the offices yesterday to inquire about the time, they told us that it would take at least another 15 days and I have to come pick it up in person since they won’t send it in the post. Today Mark is in Coutances getting his Auto-Entrepreneur paperwork done so he can work as a freelance artisan here in France.

Once we have all of the paperwork in hand, we’ll go down to the south of France for a much shorter time than originally planned, and then go on to Italy for awhile. And after that? It’s likely to be either a trip to the USA to visit family or, if our schedules don’t line up, looking for an apartment to rent here in France for at least 6 months and finding some renovating or building work for Mark. I really need to get stuck into the editing work for several uninterrupted months since there is that big a backlog!

The idea of completely unpacking and seeing ALL of our clothing for the first time in 6 months is rather thrilling, too!

Writing and editing in my pajamas

Now, while the house is quiet and Mark is out, I’m going see just how much I can get accomplished in the next few hours. Feet up, MacBook on my lap, good internet connection — life is good. But it will be even better once the key that opens the front door goes into our OWN little home — no matter how long we live there!


Oh my — not going quite a smoothly as expected. Mark has to show the registration office here in France some paperwork indicating that he had a business in Australia and that he was in business for himself for over 3 years. Well we certainly do have all of that paperwork, but it’s in a box in storage in Australia! Who in the world would think to travel overseas with your former business paperwork with you?

I’ll keep you posted as I try to determine how to get the Australian government paperwork that we need. Sheesh! Another time-wasting challenge that I really don’t need! There goes my productive work day. (sigh!)

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.