A Week of Ups and Downs

These last hot sunny days are ticking away, we’re almost on stolen time, snatching what we can whilst it’s available. Making the most of glorious weather and deliciously warm evenings, hours after dark where we can dine on the terrace with friends, kidding ourselves that it’s mid August and we have weeks of these lazy days ahead of us. And whilst it all sounds like a life of poetry it’s actually been a hectic week of events punctuated with enormous highs and lows.

It all kicked off with the excitement of the Tour de France, Stage 10 in the Charente Maritime. The first time ever that the Tour would take in two islands in the same stage. It started on the Île d’Oléron and finished on the Île de Ré. It is an event that not one of us had ever seen in real life and the fact that it was passing through the next door village was an opportunity not to be missed.

It meant a day off school for two of our girls, justified by the fact that we all felt they would learn far more from this experience than a day in the classroom. We needed to avoid crowds and we wanted a vantage point and so a plan was hatched. We would go by bike as all the roads were closed to cars from 9am onwards. In blisteringly hot sun we set off across the Marais. Backpacks bulging with a delicious picnic, our spirits were high as we peddled through the open marshland. After about 6km we took a detour through the woods and down some farm tracks, arriving at the road where the riders would pass by in a few hours time. There were already a handful of cars and tables set up in the shade, families eating lunch, playing pétanque on the dusty track under the trees, a scene so typically French. So relaxed, so unhurried and so utterly normal to be eating beside a main road with a proper table, chairs and tablecloth and glass of rosé to hand! We left our bikes against a tree, donned our masks, said ‘bonjour’ to everyone as we passed and walked a hundred yards down the road to a shady spot. We were totally alone and set up our own mini feast. Nowhere near as glamorous as that of our fellow French Tour followers! But to be fair we had bikes and they had cars!

We had a long wait but we were prepared, the first thing to pass about a hour and three quarters before the race itself is what is known as the ‘caravan’ a 30 minute long procession of cars and floats, all decorated in every guise possible. Music playing, each advertising some large national company; a supermarket, an organic shop, olive oil, insurance, anything and everything. They throw out tiny cheap freebies as they go past, keyrings, funky hats, laundry detergent, flags, bandanas, candy, mixed nuts, the list went on and the excitement mounted. It’s all part of the day and a really great fun part, especially when you’re there with teenage children and they are throwing themselves into the spirit of things with gusto.

This was followed by a lull of an hour or so before a couple of cars came past announcing that everyone must wear a mask and that the race was close. Then another car and some motorbikes and then they were upon us.

They came by so fast, in literally a few seconds they had gone and all we could see was a bunch of bright colours speeding towards the horizon. I was amazed at the speed, around 55kph. We were standing within a metre of the closest riders to our side of the road. The noise of the wheels as they turned at such speed, that’s all I could hear. Thirty seconds or so went by and then there was the second group, held up due to a crash a few kilometres previously. Another frenzied few seconds and they too rode off into the distance. Our Tour de France was over. But we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Slowly we gathered together all of our things, all of our free goodies and headed back across the Marais on our bikes. The keen wind in our faces making it slightly tough going and I was more than happy to stop for five minutes and take photos. Normally I pass through the Marais in a hurry from one place to another and it’s difficult to park on the side of the road so I made the most of being on two wheels and enjoyed every square inch of my surroundings.

The rest of the week passed by in a bit of a manic blur. Jack was leaving for university in Bordeaux on Friday and we had A LOT to organise. No matter how organised we thought we were there was still more to do. We had lists, shopping to be done, clothes needed, accessories for his studio apartment. And then there were the things to be sorted at home, boxed items we had stored for when the next one of our children headed off on their own. They all had to be found, cleaned, sorted. The list of jobs was endless.

In a normal world it wouldn’t have been so bad, it is after all less than a two hour drive south. We would see him every couple of weeks or so and if he was short on anything I could drive down, but the Covid world is an altogether different place. I truly am not sure when he will come home again, he’s now firmly ensconced in a “red” zone, Bordeaux featuring heavily on the list of cities with a major problem. New stricter measures are to be applied there on Monday so I have read. But he wanted to go, he was so excited. He even said to me, he would take a gap year and skip this year if it would make me happy, but how could I do that to him? Covid is something we all have to learn to live with.

I’m not worried because it is another one flying the nest, he is number three to go and we have two more at home, I encourage them to spread their wings, I love watching them turn into incredible young adults and I’m so proud of them all. But this time I shed more than just a few tears, not because he was going off, but because with covid I am scared. I feel we are safe here in the country, in a small village, in a safe part of France with not a lot of socialising. But university life in a big city with an ever increasing number of infections is another matter. Still I’m proud of him and happy for him and I do know he will be careful.

So that has sort of been my week, up and down. There have been some other major developments which I cannot go into right now, some exciting and some exhaustingly difficult and stressful. I have certainly been pushed to the extreme the past few days.

And then last night I felt as if I had come up for air. After a day of cleaning and disinfecting to the highest levels possible new guests arrived in the cottage. I always enjoy welcoming people here, even with our new stringent methods it is still so much fun. I love picking fresh flowers from the garden to fill vases for them to enjoy.

We’ve always had such incredibly nice people staying, guests who have arrived as strangers and left as friends. Yesterday was no exception, another lovely couple. We stood and chatted (with our masks on of course) for half an hour in the late afternoon sun.

In the evening we had friends over for a bbq. I took a deep breath and remembered to enjoy all that life has to offer. We dined on the terrace, the night air as warm as could be. We drank local red wine, ate salad straight from the garden, we’re lucky and I needed to remind myself of that.

And in case you are wondering why I have written all of this today, it’s really quite simple. This blog and my facebook and instagram are always meant to be real. Just because we live in France and I write about all the positive things does not mean that life is a constant bed of sweet smelling roses and we just drift by on a perfect cloud. Life is good here but tough, super difficult a lot of the time, covid has hit us hard, there have been more disasters than I can mention. But and it’s a big but, there have been enormous highs, the bad making the good so much better and as I said making us realise how really lucky we are. I try to keep it real here. This road which passes through a neighbouring village is on my daily school run. How lucky am I to have such a gorgeous route to take each day?

And if you’ve made it this far with my ramblings can I just have a final word to remind you that this is the last day of our End of Summer Madness Sale. Click Here to go straight to the shop. There are huge savings of up to 70% and the discount is automatically applied at checkout. We’re making space for some super exicting new developments and new things to come in the shop. A n enormous thank you to you all for everyone who has already supported us and to anyone new. Thank you so so much xx

22 thoughts on “A Week of Ups and Downs

  • It will be a lot quieter, and you will have to remember that you now are now cooking for one less in the house. Jack is a wonderful young man, and has had an amazing upbringing. He will be successful at what ever he chooses to do.
    Ali xx

  • Beautiful photos!! Thank you for sharing your family experience with the Tour de France…..Truly made it feel
    “more real”…….you personalize life. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!
    Robert

  • I felt like I was riding along with you to the picnic and riding along emotionally with you as another leaves the nest. It is a scary new world for all but I think no less for mothers watching their children leave home. Blessings that you have two more to dote on

  • what a busy time you’ve had, full of literal ups and downs. thanks for taking us along on your tour trip, one of my dreams. I’m happy for your son, and know it’s always a bit bittersweet – stay well

  • Thanks Sue for all the tour photos ,as our trip to Lyon to see it was cancelled due to Covid 19. The Grandkids will love the pre race photos .All the best to Jack for his next adventure.

  • It certainly has been quite a week, hasn’t it? Having been at a stage of Le Tour in 2014, I understand what you’re talking about. We had a little different view being at the end of the stage and on the Planches des Belles Filles. After a long day of riding and then the horrendous final super steep bit, no one was riding quickly anymore 🙂 It was a fantastic experience despite chilly, wet weather, nothing like yours. We’d go again. I saw where that stage was going to be and wondered whether it would be near you. 🙂

    Glad your have good guests and I know your son will be fine. Covid is certainly the wild card of this year/decade/century and one always wonders and worries just a bit. We’re thinking about Christmas and how that will work. I’m sorry that France is having a bit of a resurgence, at least it sounds that way from the post. Arizona has thankfully calmed down now that people are taking it seriously and wearing masks in public places. At least we, like you, have a number of outdoor opportunities, even though we’re in a suburb and not the country.

    Good to hear from you and may your upcoming week be filled with joy and peace.

    janet

  • I ride some portion of the race with the boys every morning (it’s very early in Arizona!) on my spin bike in front of the TV. I was so excited when I heard they were going to be in the Charente Maritime, knowing that is your home region so beautifully shared through your blog. I had no idea about the experience of spectators along the way and am so happy you provided all the glorious details. This made my day!! I appreciate all that you share about your family and life. Merci!!

  • We are watching the Tour De France every night, having taped it earlier in the day. When I saw it was in your area, I wondered if you and family would go. I’m happy to see that you didn’t miss it. In 1987 I and my husband spent sometime visiting the Dordogne area. That year the Tour was coming near-by. We went with fellow B&Bers for the day. Yes, we took picnic supplies too. And, the Tour went by so fast just as you experienced. But the fun was being out waiting for them and the anticipation of it all. An experience not to be missed.
    Best Wishes to Jack as he begins his university experience.

  • I did not read the above postings due to being w/our DD & g-son & tomorow being a school day. . . . but do know that we wish we were staying in your Gite now. We are out east & not sure just how long we will be here—only God knows all of our circumstances & we await His direction. Be warmed & be filled up & blessings to Jack.

  • Susan I hope all is well. I know your nature is to always be positive and upbeat. Covid is such a part of our lives for awhile to come in spite of what “some”say. Our son and daughter in law “had” a very successful craft beer and wine bar. They have been closed down since April (save three weeks). They remain positive and hope for the best, which reminds me every day to do the same.

  • So exciting to watch the race so closely! As always, I enjoyed your pictures so much & can certainly feel for you in having one of yours leave for something else exciting! Have had our three leave the nest & we encouraged them to do so but it’s very hard not to worry even without Covid. Now my grandchildren are the next to leave the nest! I even have one in Spain right now. We continue to worry and as you know, to be positive. Thank you for your lovely blog!!!

  • I enjoy the fact that you keep your postings ‘real’ for that helps us all to relate to you and your surroundings. Highlighting the ups is good and, as you say, the downs make us appreciate the ups even more.

  • One of the reasons I so enjoy reading your posts is because they are real- about real people living a real lfe with all its ups and downs. Thank you for sharing as always. May your son stay safe and may your lows pass by quickly- your positive approach to life is inspiring.

  • One of the only international sporting events where the spectators can get that close to the action. I’m glad you’ve finally seen it. You’ll make an effort to go every year now, like we do. Best of luck to Jack. I hope university lives up to his hopes (I’m sure it will at least in some form).

  • The French are the ones who say ‘C’est la vie’ and supposedly shrug in a nonchalant Gallic way . . . but what else can one say at the present moment . . .I have always been grateful to Roger Stowell who lives 40 km north of La Rochelle of all places, that he suggested a few years ago that, in spite of lack of time, I subscribe to Instagram. It Altho’ I do not post myself, It suits me. So I knew about your son flying the nest not at the easiest of times and knew you knew about the Tour. Two weeks down , beginning to watch it nightly around 9.30 pm into the wee small hours I have never enjoyed the experience as much as this year . . . so far the Powers Above have spread a blessing over the huge number involved . . . the tragedies of which there have been many, have come from accidents. I smile when I see the term ‘bucket list’ come up as yet again, but the one and only thing on mine is an opportunity to hire a motor home and travel along for three weeks belonging to what truly has become part of French culture and soul . . . Be well . . . hope at least most of your plans end up with a smile . . .

  • Yes, a resounding YES to everything you wrote Susan. I saw that your son has also left the nest when I popped in on ig and my heart went out to him and you, the family. But also YES, we must put up with and adapt to the ‘new’ normal – not normal at all. If everybody is careful, he will do well in Bordeaux, a wonderful, beautiful city and he will be enriched with his new knowledge, new friends, new experiences. Have faith, in him and in life!
    We once, a VERY long time ago, spent some nights in a tiny village in Brittany and we were amazed at just How Excited our hosts were about the Tour de France. I’ve never understood how anybody in their right mind would want to go through all that trouble, and in the hottest time of the year too – but you have a budding sports elitiste at home and you must feel this differently. The best bit – our hosts told us – was that the state paid them a brand-new refurbishing of their road through the village….. The racing bikers needed a top surface and they got it, for free! Still makes me laugh and smile when I think of it!

  • It’s true life is full of ups and downs and the’ups’keep us motivated. Being able to deal with both makes us more resilient. What a fun day yo had.Your description of the Tour is spot on. Exactly as I remembered our first one some years ago when it passed through our neighbouring village. Hours of waiting and then the buzz as they approached hoping to recognise some of cyclists but they whizzed by in a flash and they all.looked he same. But wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Hope your son settles in and finds his feet. Us mothers are so soft when our children are flying the nest. We want them to be independent and find their own paths but we always feel a tinge of sadness shedding a few tears along the way. How sweet of him though to suggest taking a gap year as he knows you’re worried. He sounds a caring young man. Have a great week 😍

  • Thank you Susan for this report about your picnic and adventure along with the boys of the Tour de France. I have been an avid watcher for twenty some years, but I never knew that the peloton was preceded by a parade and someone freebies, like candy, etc. It is a really nice addition since they fly by so fast. I watched the day they were in your area and thought of you while seeing your beautiful scenery. I would love to have a car trip through Brittany and Normandie. Are you considered Brittany or ?

    Enjoy the rest of your blissful weather with outdoor dining. And I pray that your highs will be more than the lows. Life is a challenge! You family outing shows how close all of you are……What a Blessing.

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