Early on in our relationship, Andy and I got into the habit of listening to podcasts when driving long distances. Our usual hours-long car ride was the journey between Buffalo and Pittsburgh to visit with Andy’s family, but the original trip that started this tradition was our 9 day trek through Iceland. Though we were pretty new into our relationship and I’m sure could have filled the time with the usual “getting to know you” questions or silly childhood stories, we both enjoyed hearing the eclectic stories and sharing our options at the end. I really do believe that you can learn a lot about a person when listening to a podcast together. What kind of shows do they gravitate towards? Does the theme of the shows align with your beliefs and lifestyle? Do the topics conjure thoughtful debates and discussions? Are you on polar ends of your opinions of those discussions? Is sitting and sharing this podcast a mutually enjoyable event? During that time our podcast of choice was This American Life, usualling listening to three on the way up to Buffalo and three on the way back.
We had packed up our car and set the Google maps to Uzès, a commune located in the Occitane region about 25 miles West of our stopping point, Avignon. We were scheduled to see two homes around Uzès and had planned to make the stop as we drove through, on our way to the hotel. It was about 2 ½ hours from Carcassonne to the agency, landing us there around lunchtime. I furiously scrolled through the episode offerings, trying to find one we hadn’t listened to yet. “I think we’ve actually listened to all of these,” I said, scrolling to the previous year's episodes. “Are you serious?! What will we listen to?” Andy exclaimed, backing out of the spot. Up until that point, we had opted for French radio for our shorter trips to home visits, but were exhausted by the continuous stream of top 40 American music mixed with the random French classic. We didn’t like listening to that kind of American music at home, and didn’t really care for it across the ocean either. “A few weeks ago I saved a post on Pinterest of the top 10 podcasts you should be listening to. Let’s try something new,” I urged, opening up my Pinterest app. “Ok, what about The Memory Palace?” “What’s it about?” “The podcaster tells the stories behind untold pieces of history,” I summarized the description. “Boring. I’m not trying to be put to sleep here!” “Ok, ok,” I scrolled down to the next one. “What about Lore? This one is about exploring legends and folklore.” “Eh, maybe. What else ya got?” “Heavyweight, Jonathan Goldstine helps ordinary people find closure for unresolved situations in their lives,” I read the description. “Any examples,” he pressed. I opened a new tab to search for some past episodes and started to scroll to the beginning of the page. “Here is one, twenty years ago, Gregor lent some CDs to a musician friend. The CDs helped make him a famous rockstar. Now, Gregor would like some recognition. But mostly, he wants his CDs back,” I looked at Andy for a response. “Intriguing, let’s do it!” He said, pulling his phone off of the holder and handing it to me so I could find it on his podcast app. I loaded the episode and hit play, settling in for the long drive.
By the time we pulled into a sunny, tree-lined parking lot in Uzès, we had listened to two and a half episodes and arrived 45 minutes early. Uzès was the first larger town we had booked home tours in. It wasn’t quite a city, with around 9,000 inhabitants year round, but it wasn’t as tiny and quiet as the other towns we had visited thus far. It was the perfect size, small enough to walk to all amenities, but large enough to have all the commerce that we had originally hoped for. I looked around, admiring the bustling neighborhood. “This could work!” I confirmed to Andy with a head nod. We got out of our car, stretching our legs and looking around for the agency. “It says the agency is across the street and down a little,” I said, pointing in the direction of the map’s arrow. “We have time to kill, let’s walk around the town and see what’s here,” Andy said, crossing the parking lot to the sidewalk lined with buzzing businesses. No wondering where the bread was here. As we weaved our way around the town, every street we wandered down had varying businesses with brightly painted, welcoming facades. Some were selling artisan ice creams, others tropical plants, some had window displays full of spices and oils, and almost every street had a boulangerie or patisserie with windows piled high with the most beautiful confections! Each street also had a packed to the brim café that spilled into the sidewalks, catering to the hungry lunch crowds. This was exactly what we were looking for!
As we got close to our appointment, I messaged the agent via What’sApp, letting him know we were here. “Parfaît!” Laurent replied, “I will pick you up in front of the agency and take you to the home.” I looked at Andy. “Ummm,” I stopped near a fountain, pulling off of the path to respond. “What is it?” Andy said as he stopped, looking a bit confused. “He says he wants to drive us to the house,” I said, flipping my phone to face him. “Maybe it’s on the outskirts of Uzès? Not sure why we’d have to carpool,” he said with a shrug. “Tell him we can’t, we have an appointment literally right after his. We need to have our car with us.” I typed the message, pausing frequently to reword things to sound more culturally appropriate. Surely he couldn’t be offended if we had another appointment after his. We were house hunting and seeing multiple listings. “You can follow me to the place in your car,” he replied, not acknowledging the mention of the second listing. We made our way back to the car so we were closer to the agency. This particular stop had one home that Andy was really excited to see and another that was at the absolute top of my list. “The Cave House '' was a home whose pictures looked as though they were mostly set in a wine cellar. Curved, tanned brick stones lined the walls and floated up to the arched ceilings, giving the space a historical, village feel. It also had an outdoor terracotta balcony that had a summer kitchen and enough room for a dining table and a plethora of potted plants. “The Chic Home” looked as though a Parisian designer had hand selected each item, carefully curating the color palette with soothing off whites and tans. These people obviously didn’t have any children, was my first thought, as everything looked gleaming white and untouched. My favorite picture, though, was of the large open kitchen, decked out with matching off white Smeg appliances and a beautiful stainless steel stove and oven. A classic chandelier hung delicately over a large, worn white farmhouse table. Yes, this was my kind of kitchen! It looked like something Ina Garten would be found working in, her linen attire floating behind her as she moved from the sink to the stove. I too could picture myself moving about the space, chopping and sautèeing as Andy worked at the large butcher block island, typing away at his computer.
“It’s almost one. Let’s head over to the agency,” Andy said, slamming the car truck closed. We followed our map across the sidewalk and down the street, finding a chic agency resting at the corner. We climbed the stairs, entering through two enormous glass double doors leading us into the cool marble entryway. I saw a woman who appeared to be the secretary at a large teak desk sitting amongst a mound of papers in another room off to the left. We entered softly, not wanting to disturb her work. “Bonjour,” I paused the expected three to four seconds. “Bonjour?” The receptionist replies in more of a question, looking up from the document she was holding. “J’ai un rendez-vous avec Laurent,” I continued. “Ah, oui. Une minute,” she replied, picking up the phone. After a brief conversation, she set the receiver down. “Il arrive devant l’agence,” she said, pointing to the double glass entryway doors. “Merci!” I replied, beginning to leave. “She says he is arriving outfront of the building,” I relayed to Andy. As we walked through the door a sports car stopped abruptly in front of the building and slickly rolled down its window. Laurent leaned his head over the passenger side seat. “Bonjour, do you want to follow me?” “Sure,” Andy began, “but where exactly are you going?” “To the house of course,” he said with a chuckle. “Yes, yes, but isn’t the house in Uzès? The listing says Uzès.” He gave Andy an exasperated sigh. “It is a five minute drive from here. Too far to walk,” he explained. “Follow me, I wait here for you,” he said, rolling up his window to prevent any more questions. I looked back at Andy, raising my eyebrows. We started towards the car, a little unsure of what we signed up for. Up until that point, our agents had been foreigners, all with a little rough around the edges, small town feel to them. Maybe the size of the town coincides with the self importance of the agent, I thought.
We pulled our car behind Laurent, who was busy shuffling his hair between his fingers in his car’s rear view mirror, trying to achieve a flawless tousled look. He caught a glimpse of us behind him and self consciously adjusted in his seat, kicking the car into drive. We slowly drove around the parking lot and headed the way we came just an hour before, out of town. Hitting the first roundabout, we turned off in a new direction, the surroundings instantly turning into picturesque French countryside. The gravel road was lined with ancient plane trees, shading us from the afternoon warmth. Sunflowers grew in the fields that lined each side of the road, tilting their faces up to sun, soaking in its rays in unison. “This is so quintessential French countryside,” I squealed, trying to take it all in. “Yes, but we are definitely not in Uzès anymore,” Andy said, scrolling out on his phone’s map. The trees started to become fewer and finally we spilled out into a paved road that led into a small village. Driving past a pharmacy, homes started to appear, lining the street. Laurent flipped on his turn signal and slowly pulled into a parking spot along the side of the road next to a small cluster of homes. We followed suit, parking next to three homes that sat neatly attached, rising up from the sidewalk. Laurent glided out of his car and to the sidewalk, taking care that his Italian loafers didn’t touch a speck of dirt. He buttoned his camel-colored sports coat and smoothed out his matching dress pants. I looked at Andy, feeling a little undressed in a simple flowy black sundress and pair of worn out sandals. We got out of the car and met Laurent in front of a tall, skinny light stoned home with large mauve shutters. Andy looked around as cars buzzed up and down the main road in front of us. “So, where exactly are we?” He asked, still looking around for a sign or placard to explain. “You are in what is called Arpaillargues, a five minute drive away from the amenities of Usèz, but with all the classic country charm of a southern France village.
It truly is the best of both worlds,” he said, turning his back to unlock the door. We were immediately led into one of the rooms from the photo. High, rounded vaulted ceilings hugged the main area, spilling around a wall that divided the large room into two separate spaces. I looked around the first room and noticed the whole left wall was complete stone, as if the room had been built into a mountain. A large piece of rock jutted out from the wall and had what looked like a plexiglass cover resting snuggly on top of it. I walked over and looked down. It was completely black. I tilted my head to catch a different angle with no help. Laurent shuffled over to the rock and flicked a light switch next to it. The space illuminated into a long, dark hole. This caught Andy’s attention who came over to see what was going on. “It’s the old well,” Laurent started. “They wanted to keep it, but make it safe and so they added this glass on top and light to make it visible.” “Is there still water in it?” Andy asked, thinking of all the damp homes we’ve toured so far. “I actually don’t think so,” Laurent said, shaking his head.
Around the wall and into the next room sat a double bed and small desk. Off in the corner of the room was a small, dated bathroom. Functional, just not aesthetically pleasing in an off color, 70’s shade of green.
There wasn’t a door to the room, with completely open entrances on either side of the wall, making it an odd choice for a bedroom. “Did someone use this as a bedroom,” I asked. “Only when they had too many guests. Despite the lack of doors, it’s quite private,” he added. The front room had light pouring in from the front windows and the small window cut into the door, but this space was poorly lit and dark, even with the lights on. The lack of windows along with the vaulted curved walls made the space feel cavernous. I turned my attention to the little bookshelf that hung next to the desk, stocked with English and French reading materials of all genres. Andy noticed my gaze. “Is this a French owner?” He asked. “It is. It is a single woman who is looking to downsize. I think she wants a home with minimal amount of upkeep as she gets older,” he said, walking back around the wall and towards the curved staircase that sat in the middle of the first room. “Up the stairs you have your kitchen and a sunken living room,” he started up the stairs and stopped at the landing that spilled directly into a terracotta tiled kitchen. The set up was shaped in an “L” configuration with floor to ceiling windows taking up the other half of the wall where the counters ended. The room felt very open with a small dining table in the center. Sunshine poured in from the windows that faced the main street and Andy walked over and peeked down to the traffic below. “Off the kitchen is a small living room,” Laurent said, tossing his hair, trying to look casual. He led us around the kitchen and down a step into a simple, but bare living room. “It’s a big enough space,” Andy said, peeking his head into the room. “Yes, enough space for some furniture, a lamp or two and bookshelf,” Laurent agreed, studying the room. “The next level is just the main bedroom and bathroom, let’s go take a look,” he said, backing out of the room. “You know, I lived in the U.S. for quite a bit,” he said, starting to ascend the stairs. “Oh, really?” Andy said, “Where?” “I was an agent in New York for a few years. I loved the lifestyle, but wanted to raise my daughter in a more traditional setting,” he finished, reaching the top of the stairs that left us directly in the bedroom. After hearing a little about Laurent’s background, his suave appearance and demeanor made more sense. I could totally see him schmoozing highbrow clients in swanky dimly lit restaurants in NYC. I looked across the room at Andy in his drawstring khaki shorts and tevas and wondered if Laurent regretted his choice to leave the big city and more posh clientele. I let my mind drift back to Pittsburgh, where while getting my masters, I worked at a local French restaurant owned by a Frenchman who had married an American. He reminded me a lot of Laurent. Always dressing as if he was attending Paris fashion week, stopping at any mirror he passed to fix his hair and straighten his suit. The restaurant was his passion project, but during the day he sold luxury cars, toting that Americans think of luxury when they think of the French. He was smooth, came across as elegant and could charm anyone into buying anything, even if it was a few hundred thousand dollar car. With his presents, appearance and accent, I’m sure Laurent did quite well in the New York City real estate market. Andy and Laurent were discussing something in the corner of the bedroom and I snapped out of my thoughts and back to our home visit.
“This house is very different from a lot of places that we’ve seen strictly based on the fact that the only door in the place so far has been just the front one. It’s fine because it’s just us, but this place really lacks privacy,” I added walking deeper into the space. “The open concept is very hot right now,” Laurent said, waving his hand to show off all of the space not restricted by walls. The room sat directly on top of the kitchen, mirroring the space below with the same terracotta flooring throughout and large windows, illuminating the space and backlighting the bathroom. The only difference on this level was that the bathroom was located where the living room had been downstairs. I walked over to the bathroom space. The sink and mirror sat open to the bedroom against a wall that held the door leading into the bathroom. “Wonder why this isn't all in the same room together?” Andy asked, peeking into the bathroom. I followed suit, looking around the functional but not aesthetically pleasing bathroom. In both bathrooms, choice of color seemed to be the common downfall of the spaces. Each were functional and even livable for the foreseeable future. If anything, it was all aesthetics. This bathroom was done in a cotton candy pink shade that made it feel as though a bottle of pepto bismol was being poured on you when you stepped into the room. I heard the clicking of Laurent’s heels and turned to see him ascending a completely metal stand alone spiral staircase to the next level. Andy and I looked at eachother, backing out of the bathroom and following suit. “This space is where most of the living happens,” Laurent said over his shoulder. At the top, was a small sitting area that connected itself via two sliding glass double doors to a beautiful terracotta outdoor balcony, the space from the photos! Andy went directly to the doors, jarring them open and slipping out. The space set back from the roof, giving the location complete privacy and it was the perfect size, small enough to maintain, but large enough to really be functional. Andy walked over to the summer kitchen and started to study all of its facets while I walked over to a little door built into the brick exterior of the house. I studied it for a moment before pulling the latch and prying it open. It was empty, with a rope hanging there and descending into the dark below. “Laurent, what exactly is this?” Laurent stuck his head out of the door and looked around for where the question came from. “Ah,” he said, spotting me. “It is a pulley system,” he said, walking over and beginning to pull at the rope. A few moments later a bucket appeared. “It is how they would get items from down stairs up here with more ease. Your wine or snacks for your apèro. You know, things like this,” he said, checking the bucket to see if anything was in it. “How cool,” Andy said over my shoulder. “There is also a waterline up here. You could use this for laundry or perhaps a bathroom,” Laurent said, pulling Andy away to look at the feature. I took this moment to check my phone. We had 25 minutes to get to our next appointment. I clicked open Whatsapp to see if Clément had sent a message with our meeting location yet. He had, “Mairie in Arpaillargues. I opened my google maps and typed in “Mairie Arpaillargues France” and my map zoomed in on the location. I took a moment, studying it when I realized my phone's blue dot locator showing my exact location was on the map, what looked to be a street away. I clicked “directions.” A two minute walk appeared as my journey time. Well, that’s quite convenient, I thought, turning back around to catch up with the boys. Resting my arm on the warm ledge of the balcony, I watched them through the double glass doors, crouched down and fiddling with the water hook up. Laurent rose and dusted off his pants and I crossed the balcony to join them in the sitting room. “So, tell me more about this town. I noticed a sign for a boulangerie two doors down, but they didn’t appear to be open,” I said, a little thankful that such delicious pastries couldn’t be purchased with such convenience. “I believe he opens every other day, this baker,” he said with a nod. “There is also a restaurant on the corner by the Mairie and, around the back road, is an incredibly famous chateau that is now an inn. People come here from all over the world to visit it. They have the most incredible lunch and gorgeous pool. As a resident you can pay I believe 5 euros a day and you can go to the pool and make a day out of it. It’s such a great amenity to have so close by,” he said, overly excited about the proximity to wealth and luxury. “Is there a weekly market,” I asked, sliding the double doors shut, signaling it was time to shut the place back up and begin our descent to the main entrance. Laurent took the hint and headed towards the stairs. “There is not,” he began, “but Uzès has two weekly markets and is a short car ride away.” We reached the kitchen, walking through it to reconnect with the stairs and get to the lower level. “I have a feeling we’d be hopping in the car and heading there for lots of things,” Andy began, “like dinner or some of the specialty shops or to go and lounge at a café.” “Yeah, it is conveniently close, I agree, but I guess we’ve never discussed the aspect of a car. Do we want one? Would we rent one? Do we want to live somewhere where we’d have to drive to do anything? It’s a lot to think about,” I said, reaching for the door handle and stepping out onto the sidewalk next to our car. “Why don’t you take a walk around the village and walk over to the chateau. It’s quite beautiful!” Laurent suggested. “That is a great idea,” Andy agreed. “Well, our next viewing happens to be in this town too and we're meeting him at the Mairie, so we’ll get to see some of the sites before the next listing,” I said, checking my phone time again. Andy, always focused on the not-so-positive, latched on. “Should I be worried that there are so many homes for sale in this tiny town?” Andy said, turning to Laurent. “I noticed the for sale sign in the neighboring home’s window. For a town that doesn’t have a lot of homes to begin with, why are so many people looking to leave?” Laurent seemed a bit taken aback by Andy’s accusatory tone, as if he was hiding some grande scandal that was taking place in the town. “I assure you this is all circumstantial for the sellers,” he said, raising his hands in a “I surrender” gesture. “And stop. Let’s go see the other home and then we can walk around the town and see what we think. We wanted to live in a town like Uzès, but have a slower pace of life. Maybe five minutes away isn’t too far?” I said, still daydreaming about the next home and the possibility of building a part-time life there. “Yes, Rachel,” Laurent said, pointing his sunglasses at me. “You will see! This town is the perfect balance of what you’re searching for,” he unlocked his car with a soft beep that punctuated his statement. “Once you get to Avignon and have had some time to unpack and grab dinner, you can let me know if you have any questions,” he said, walking over to his door and opening it. “It was nice meeting you both, please have a safe trip,” he slid into his car and before we were able to respond he was off. We looked up and down the main street, which didn’t have any open businesses on it and no people walking around, but it did have a lot of cars wizzing up and down in front of us. Seemed like not too many people wanted to stay here, but many wanted to use the main artery to go somewhere else more desirable. “I’m here!” A Whatsapp message popped up on my screen. The chime brought me back to the moment. “Clèment!” I said, reading his message. “We gotta go, he should be right up here on the right,” I told Andy, who was taking a step back and taking in the house. It was as if he was taking a mental pause and making sure that he was 100% present in the moment, taking it all in. I was eager to see the next home and so, I started walking, hoping Andy would follow me when he snapped back to. After a few steps I stopped to Look back at him. He was gazing longingly at the home and I started to panic. I knew the look in his eyes. I knew he was falling for the house.
**Above is our journey from the Spanish boarder through the whole south and all the stops in between. You may notice Vaison is not marked, it was a totally by chance we ended up there!
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! I'm Rachel and this is my story documenting our experience buying a home in France. If you are looking for advice on home buying, feel free to e-mail me or check the bottom of the home page for a link to a basic guide.