Wow, I can’t quite believe 3 whole months has passed since we arrived and it’s been 1 month in our ‘new’ home and almost the same time at school. Our first 2 months really were like a big holiday (with some crazy administrative tasks thrown in) but life has started to feel a bit more normal since we arrived in Bellocq and have started settling in to French life.
We first set out for a town called Salies-de-Bearn because it was not too small (population 5,000), had stores, cafes, a grocery store. On our arrival, as some of you know, our accommodation didn’t work out so we had to find something new, quick-smart. I’ll leave all of the other getting settled in France/pulling our hair out administrative tasks to another post, but in a nutshell, we needed to find a furnished house within in a week and found a great place about 5 kms outside Salies, in a town called Bellocq. This is the type of hamlet we didn’t want to come to. The quiet place that has 1 restaurant with funny hours, where tumble-weed rolls through, our voices echo on the buildings as we walk to school and is super quiet, other than the trucks rolling through to the abattoir on the other end of town. Hmm, yup, that’s the place we didn’t want to be and here we are, nestled in and loving it.
Bellocq has a lovely school of 65 kids. Our kids are number 64 & 65. They are spread across 3 classes from kindergarten (they start as soon as they’re toilet trained here so Charlie will go next year at about 3 yrs old) and goes up to about 10 yrs old. Oliver is in with the younger grades (5-7 yrs) and Spencer is one of the oldest is his class (8-10 yrs).
Day 1 at school was nerve-racking for all of us. Butterflies rumbled for a few days before and I tried to talk to the boys about how they were feeling, without trying to focus too much on it, and make them more nervous. We collected the extensive list of stationery items we were given back at our introduction to the school in June and set out clean clothes for the first day (no uniform here!). We all walked together to school, not seeing anyone else along the way, as many kids come from just outside the village, so drive in with parents. We knew we were being watched, from cars and windows, but smiled and gave our most friendly ‘bonjours’ to mask our anxiety and nervous tummies.
The doors to the school open at 8:50am and we were allowed to go in, find where to put their bags, have a quick chat to the teachers, before leaving our babies for the day.
More eyes stared, kids whispered and our boys held our hands tightly. It was time to say goodbye, we left them in their respective line ups and expected tears, but drew none. The walk home with Charlie was quiet and Charlie instantly felt the loneliness. ‘Where the boys?’ he said often. We stayed busy that morning, nervously waiting to pick them up and hear all about it.
We picked them up for lunch at 12pm, expecting the worse, but finding smiles and happy chatter the whole way home. Spencer described it as ‘amazing’, Oliver followed suit, despite probably feeling a bit overwhelmed, he following his big brother’s lead.
And so it has continued, since Day 1, the boys really enjoying school, coming home with new words every day. Using them in context. Combining english and french words in the same sentence. Running around with friends. Learning the French National anthem, The Marseilles. Asking about playdates. Wanting to stay for lunch, instead of coming home. School was becoming a success and we were relieved as so much hinged on them settling at school and being happy.
The community of Bellocq has greeted us with open arms. Rob introduced himself to the farmer down the street and has been helping out with the vendange – the grape picking tradition that has exists ever since people have been making wine. He’s learning about the crops, harvesting, the hard life of a farmer. He loves setting off and getting involved in the local life and they have reciprocated with interest in our adventure, sharing of their home-grown grapes, wine, vegetables.
Another way that’s helped us get settled in is to get the boys involved in local sports. We found out how to get registered for soccer (foot as they call it) and also rugby – which is the more popular sport in this region. Saturdays have turned into our sports day with soccer training & games in the morning and rugby in the afternoon. Both of the boys play soccer very well so have been welcome additions to their teams and scored goals in their first games. Their confidence bloomed and comfort levels increased as they were accepted into the close-knit groups of kids & families.
Amidst our month of settling in, we’ve also welcomed our first sets of visitors with our dear friends Carolyn & Martin arriving from Melbourne for a week, followed by my parents, Omie & Opa, who are with us now. So in between getting the boys settled, we’ve been touring the countryside, visiting small towns and showing our visitors the beautiful area we call home. With San Sebatian only 1 hour away, we’re happy sampling Pintxos again and again. In the other direction, the stunning Pyrenees whisk us into their breathtaking space and recharge our batteries with the sights and sounds in the clean mountain air. We’re quick to take up some good weather and the right tides, to venture over to the coast in Hossegor, 45 minutes away, for a quick surf and dose of salty air.
So many of the reasons we chose this area, and I haven’t even started on the food!
While Rob finds joy in getting stuck into local farming & sporting life, Charlie and I have been hanging out in our playground at home. With a huge property to run about, a sand pit, apples and fruit to pick, I’m relishing in the peace of the countryside and spending time with mon petit bonhomme. I have to admit, I oscillate between ‘what am I going to do with myself’ and embracing the ‘this is what I’m doing with myself’ daily, if not hourly. I’ve always worked and do find fulfillment in being involved in creative businesses. Once the tourist season winds down at our home, I hope I can find a balance in living & soaking up the tranquil days with some creative ideas I have for my business and myself. In anticipation of this, I’ve been squeezing in listening to interesting & inspiring podcasts and reading articles I saved months ago. One online tutorial I stumbled on and never thought I’d be doing, is all about preserving and canning. It takes me miles away from webinars about Facebook ads, website traffic and building email lists to a sweet place, that will hopefully find its way into my kitchen soon. Martha Stewart, watch out!
Want to find out more about Habitots and my journey, read here.