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Putain de merde! Writing 2020 off of my shoulders

The last week of the year is normally a time of reflection for me as it probably is for many people across the globe. At the end of 2020, I vowed not to. Because… why? What was the point? What could I possibly reflect upon more than what I had already demanded of myself, or screamed into my own ears, or lie curled up in a ball worrying about? With the festive season safely behind us and both feet firmly planted into the new year – that’s 2021 in case you were wondering – it’s probably time to write the traumatic experience that was 2020, off of me, and to regain a sense of hope and even a sense of humour about it all. After all… aren’t people going through so much worse on any given day and what the hell do I have to be so sad about? Well. …

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USA to Paris to the Vendée: Our European Family Vacation

There is nothing like a pandemic and lock down to make you appreciate your past travels. It is hard to believe that it has been one-and-a-half years since my husband and I decided to take a trip to France. With the children. I had been homeschooling my son, Jake (then 9yrs old) and has an affinity for geography, history, culture, and travel. To help encourage these interests, my former colleague and dear friend, Brenda, who now lives in France, began writing to him to share her experiences and adventures abroad. Their correspondence through letters and postcards sparked Jake’s eagerness to go and visit his new pen pal! After some planning and research together with Bren, we decide to introduce the kids to the thrill of international travel. As our family clunk our way down the narrow aisle of the plane, my toddler daughter Sara’s car seat in tow, I pull …

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Out of the pan into the pan-demic

The sun shines through my window overlooking views of the picturesque medieval town of Fontenay-le-Comte. The warm weather of the summer recently passed and is replaced by a crisp autumn sky. I’ve been here one month now and, on my way to fully integrating myself in the ‘vie français’. Let me introduce myself; my name is Liam, I am 28 years old and, like many of us, have taken the somewhat brave decision to leave my native land, family and friends, job security, house, and pub, in favour of new life in the Vendée. After completing my degree and PGCE in music I joined the teaching profession and taught in secondary schools in Buckinghamshire. I ran choirs, rang bells, joined a band, whilst keeping the thought of moving to France in the back of mind for a later date. Fast forward to the 23rd June 2016: 52% of the country …

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A radical life-choice and a patrimony restoration project

For 15 years we were happy on the east side of Paris. My husband, Paul, with his international career for Disney, and I myself was happy as a full-time mother of our four children. Life was good, stable, and every project in the house was done. But when our children became teenagers, Paul had seen too many airports, and I myself needed new challenges. More and more, we discussed what new adventures we could experience. For both of us it was clear: we wanted a change in life. On our wish list was: living in a sunnier area, closer to the sea, old building with character and a terrain with endless possibilities, close to a big city and a train station nearby. It seemed like searching for a needle in the haystack. In the spring of 2019 we made a road trip that started in Biarritz. In advance we made …

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Choosing a Kiss. A memoir of racism in the life of a naïve immigrant

Since the murder of George Floyd, I have been painfully aware that blacking out my profile against racism is easy. Finding words to help in the fight, not so much. But give me a minute, I have a life-story to tell. I remember well the first Algerian family that moved into my grandmother’s neighborhood in the city. I must have been around 10 or 11 and could not understand why everybody called them “Turks”. They were not from Turkey. They were Algerian. The blanket term to cover all Middle Eastern and African families that moved in after the EU opened its borders was my earliest confrontation with racism. Born in ’69, I grew up quite sheltered in the Flanders countryside. I was a shy kid, but also curious. While the people … ‘some people’ … around me grumbled and spat about the influx of migrants in our little country, I …

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Petra of Le Puy Ardouin tests own Tiny House accommodations during lock-down

After a long search for the perfect spot to live in France, Dutch couple Petra and Jan fell for their rustic farmhouse  ‘like a ton of bricks’. We can understand why! Among the ancient trees, across a sloping terrain, one can almost touch the sound of silence. Le Puy Ardouin is an earthly place that speaks for itself, that brings you back to simplicity.  Sunday, March 15th. We’ve just completed a training course in the Netherlands and plan to drive to France tomorrow morning. We hear that from 18.00 that evening all restaurants in the Netherlands have to close their doors. We’re worried about making it back to our place in France, Le Puy Ardouin, because there’s a threat of a lock-down. That’s why we decide to leave immediately and drive through the night. On Monday morning we’re relieved to be greeted by our dog Lola and our friend Peter, …

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The silver lining of lockdown at B&B Au Passage du Gois

When we asked to find a title or tag line for their blog post, Martine told us that she thought the motto of footballer Johan Cruyff was appropriate to describe their almost 2 months of lockdown. She found a balance in routine, in sunshine and in the wildness of her husband Hemko’s confinement beard. It doesn’t happen often, but for the first time in a long time there was something you couldn’t find on Google. What is a COVID-19 confinement in France, how does it work and when will it be over? But there wasn’t much information initially so, we thought… well, we’ll need to come up with some sort of answer ourselves. We sat around the table and made some kind of a plan of action. We said to each other: we will not be sleeping in, but get up at our normal time and get to work, because …

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Owners of L’Etournerie Gites & Camping Vendée look to the future

We have asked a few Vendéen small business owners to discuss their plans for the future whilst coping through enforced quarantine. In a first installment, allow us to introduce you to Renée, René, Jacky, Emma & Mariecke, a Dutch family who own L’Etournerie Gites and Camping where tranquility, good food, and flowers are central to Dutch-French hospitality in the Vendée! In 15 years, you develop habits. Or maybe a rhythm. At the beginning of the year, you start looking at everything that needs to be done before you can announce that you are ‘open for business’ once again. You tick off all those things and then you put up the sign “OUVERT”. Only this year, a pandemic with the inevitable French government’s announcement of a complete lockdown starting March 17th, threw a spanner in the works. At the beginning, everything was so focused on China that no one in Europe was …

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Vendéen private chauffeur goes the (social) distance

We have invited a few Vendéen small business owners to discuss how they are coping with the pandemic. In this installment, please allow us to introduce you to Anne, private driver and proprietor of Melkhior, who has used recent weeks to work on building passenger confidence post-quarantine. Hello! I am Anne, a professional driver in my company Melkhior. I offer private chauffeur services in a seven-passenger van equipped with leather seats, USB socks and Wi-Fi on board. The service is quite simple. We accept reservations by phone, text or email and provide a quote that determines the cost in advance. A typical workday means working with companies and individuals traveling any distance for tours, airport transfers (Nantes, Paris, La Rochelle), accompanying them on business or to touristic sites. From the start of tourist season, I transport many British, Irish, and Dutch passengers as well.  More recently, in March, I was being hired …

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Tourism & hospitality in the Vendée: surviving the immediate future

We have been asked to share our thoughts about whether or not there will be tourism in the Vendée this season. To address this, means we feel it important to address tourism & hospitality in general, as that will inevitably affect what happens in our department. The following are musings and logical thinking as having lived – and survived – 9/11 working for a major airline and related hotel industry, applying the gravity of a pandemic and its possible repercussions. 1/Is Covid-19 here to stay? The answer to this question seems quite logical: as long as the disease spreads and without a vaccine to inoculate the masses, yes, unfortunately Covid-19 is a long-term global health crisis we’ll have to deal with or work around. If we reach back to 9/11/2001, the world came to a standstill in the wake of a shocking terrorism attack that delivered a gut-punch to air …

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Expatriate in lock-down France

In recent years, the thought has crossed my mind many times that if anything could keep me from my mother in Belgium, it might be World War III. Never had I considered a virus-related near-global quarantine. But the very first day of lock down in France my worst nightmare as an expat and as an only child, delivered a punch in the face: my mother, who lives independently, took a nasty tumble down the stairs in the middle of the night. It was the third time she would be in hospital this year, and the eighth time since my husband and I moved to Europe from the US after announcing she didn’t want to fly anymore, anywhere, let alone across the ocean. But when I think back in my expat life of twenty-eight years, it is only the third time that I have experienced a roller-coaster of stress as extreme …

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A Day Trip to Oradour-sur-Glane

Truthfully, it was a bit of a drive from where we live near the Marais Poitevin in the Vendee, but Oradour-sur-Glane had been at the top of my imaginary list of places in the world “to shoot”. A poor choice of terms, I realize. But photoshoots in decaying, urban settings or ruins are actually “a thing”, even if amateur photographers like me must achieve their subject using dubious ways and the most unimaginable backdoors. The village, located in the Limousin area of France, is quite famous among photography enthusiasts. I’d say it is as coveted a subject as the fairy tale worthy, Neo-Gothic Chateau Miranda was (located near Brussels in Belgium, it was -sadly- demolished in 2016), or even Chernobyl (of the infamous nuclear disaster), though Oradour-sur-Glane is much easier to reach, doesn’t require bribes or radiation meters, and once you arrive doesn’t require breaking and entering. After a leisurely …