Category Archives: History

All post that talk about what happened in time.

Treacle Trick

Treacle |ˈtrēkəl|noun

British term for molasses.

• figurative, cloying sentimentality or flattery: enough of this treacle—let’s get back to business.

We had this idea for a long time. Our biggest question was how to become involved and respected in the village. Since we are Dutch (foreign!), not very good with the French language, and basically exotic for most people in the French countryside, we came up with the Treacle Waffles Trick.

We bought 80 packages of traditional Dutch waffles, stuck invitations on each of them, and delivered them in all the mailboxes of Tourteron. Fifty of the 180 inhabitants came over to meet us and to see the mill. It was a huge success. We met the mayor, the noblemen, the attorney, and the baker. Most of the close neighbors came over to shake our hands.

We’ve also learned that the French do not drink wine nor eat cheese at a reception. That’s food. A reception is not for food. They prefer to drink beer, cider, gentian or even plain water. They also don’t eat meat or sausages (food), although they empty the potato chips in a blink of the eye. Next time we’ll buy only these for sure. It’s much easier, anyway.

Ever since our Waffle Reception people salute us when we drive by. They even come over to the mill to talk about the Citroen 2CV that we’d like to buy. We’re happy that we made some friends that day!

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At some point …

… you start to doubt. OK, we decided, let’s fly in a specialist. Someone who knows what to look for and how to assess the value of the property in all its aspects.

The wooden construction of the mill is ...

The wooden construction of the mill is ...

So we contacted a retired building inspector and asked him what he thought of the project.  He’s undeniably a decent man and a skilled negotiator. he said: “Marco, you’ve bought a beautiful barn, but I doubt whether you will be able to live in it.” And he smiled.

“OK, so the roof is not so good?” “No.”

“OK, the tiles are not so good?” “No, not really.”

“OK, then, and the wooden construction?” “Son, it needs some work.”

“Great! So it needs some work. Fine! How much?” “Over 200k euro’s worth,” he said quietly.

Silence. That we could calculate.

In the photo here you can see the outside tiles. In January 2010 you’ll not be able to see any of this. It’ll all be covered and hidden behind fresh, new white plastered walls.

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Just the beginning

When you think you have seen it all, it’s usually just the beginning. In the period while we were still working on the finance we got a call from Madame Picard. During the heavy rain of that night the stream didn’t hold the extra water and…you guessed it: flooded the Mill.

The clay residue of the flood

The clay residue of the flood

Now that was a big surprise. The mill apparently floods at least once every 5 years. At least! We were in shock! And so were all our friends 🙂

We claimed an extra cut on the price, but this time the French owners really said: “Pas possible!” So what to do next? We were this close to buying a mill with a high risk of flooding. We thought about it for a week or so – you know late night wine drinking, talking about risk, chances and dreams. And we decided to do it. “We’re Dutch,” we thought. “We”ll find a way to stop the water!”

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The next steps are always less easy.

So…you say YES, and then what? It’s almost like the first steps in learning to walk: we didn’t have a clue! What to do next, where to start, who to call. We did know that 1) it was the first house we’d ever bought, 2) it was in France, 3) it needed a lot of renovation, and 4) we didn’t speak a word of French besides bonjour and merci.

We were stitched to the floor when we heard that we’d bought the house. We said YES to the original amount and they said OK. C’est simple.

WOW.

Now it’s for real. We need financing, signatures, papers, insurance, mortgage, the whole thing. In our earlier search for property we met Mr. Creme. He was our agent at Commercy. The man is extremely pleasant to work with. He’s honest, open, and direct, plus he speaks fluent English. Even thought it was not his region (it’s about 4 hours’ drive away) he was willing to help us with the contract, checking the bank stuff, talking to the mayor et cetera, et cetera, et cetera and so on.

And we did need him because there were some ‘small’ issues; knowing this was a water mill we knew the chances were good there was a water issue. And there was, BIG TIME! the mill was flooded once in the past 30 years…at least that was the story told by the seller.

But days after our wedding, we found an approximately 4000-square-meter section of our land to be a lake. The sweet little stream in the middle of the valley happened to have a winter offspring running through our property, creating a sweet little lake right at the place where we planned to put the pool. This was not a good sign.

Winter Pool

Winter Pool

We knew that we had nettles, wild blackberries and other unwanted herbs in this part of the garden, but we had no idea it turned into wetlands during winter. And worse: nobody told us.

We really needed our French contact to help us get some money off the price we had agreed upon. This made everybody involved quite nervous. Even the mayor told us not to have friends asking around about the land and its wet history. We can tell you this much: In France one does not start a discussion about a price once there’s an agreement. 🙂

All of a sudden they found papers on dyke construction works, and promises by the government to raise our land as protection. Even the attorney said it would all be ok. Yeah right: bien! Sure, they held back serious information, and we wanted our money back! This is not going to be fine AT ALL unless we had some additional money to raise this part of the field so we could create that pool. Anyway…

Wouldn’t you fight for it?

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The first step to a Super Gite

On September 30, 2008, we received a call from our Dutch / French agent. He’d seen an old water mill that was about to go on the market, and he guessed correctly that we’d be eager to see it. He knew the real estate agent and said we could have the first look as bidders. Four hours later we drove up the small path and saw the mill for the first time.

The silence was deafening. The location at the bottom of a ridge was superb. The village was only 10 meters uphill. The view was absolutely spectacular!

We knew instantly that this was a Super Gîte to be!

The price was set at an affordable level, but it went up the same day. Luckily we had already expressed our sincere interest. After doing some calculations and drawings that evening, we called the next day to give it a GO.

Then the real story began…

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The Start of a Dream

Entrance

How  do dreams start, you wonder? Well, this one started at the ancient monastery of Belval Bois des Dames in the heart of the Lorraine. As we walked through the half-demolished house, all kind of visions passed through our minds. We were completely fascinated by the atmosphere of the ancient building and the peaceful green valley. Hidden in a dark forest surrounded by fields of cows owned by the only farmer of the valley–who also happened to be the mayor of Belval (population: 80).

Priory and Chapel The monastery used to be much bigger than the current barn (left), priory (center) and chapel (right). The priory is 16th century, the chapel dating a few centuries older. The whole complex was protected by large wall of which you can still see the foundations in the field around the buildings.

From the outside the house looks more or less undamaged. It still has its proud, religious stature. The symmetric facade of the priory carved in the yellow sand stone is magnificent. The chapel to the right had been in use until the late ’50s. The mayor even went there for ceremonies.

First floorThe inside is a different story. Everything was torn down, with rubbish and debris everywhere. Yet this is where the dream started! We were drawing a picture of these rooms in minimal design with just a few local wooden artifacts that matched the exterior. You don’t need much if the building has this feel: a simple Hästens bed, good light design, a rain-style shower, stone walls with limestone floors, a wooden cross or a statue of some saint. Perfect. The old abbey would live again for people who are looking for tranquility with quality.

And so it happened. The Super Gite concept was born.

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I might as well …

… start writing.

Let me explain where I’m coming from. About three years ago my partner and I started to look for a place out in the country. Amsterdam is cute, lively, liberal and fun yet very crowded, noisy and hectic. Not even close to places like Madrid, New York or London, but still.

A place outside of Amsterdam was not going to be enough. We needed S-P-A-C-E. And the Netherlands do not have space at all. You could try the corners of this tiny country like east of Deventer or north of Groningen, but there’s nowhere you’ll find a place with just the sound of birds.

Besides that we’ve always wanted to live abroad. Spain, Italy or France: you name it, and we’ve been there to check it out. Our #1 choice has always been Spain; the country is great, the people are special, the food is fun (and muy delicioso!). But all that is a flight away. Spain–or at least the Sierra Morena which we aimed at–is simply too far away for a weekend out of the country. You need to book a flight, pack stuff, check in, wait, fly, pick up your car, drive to the house, and then… you’re even more tired then before you left!

Chateau de la Forge

Chateau de la Forge

So we started seriously looking for homes two years ago in an area between 4 to 6 hours’ drive from our home. We looked seriously at several places.

The first contender was this beautiful Chateau de la Forge in Commercy. A bit too far… around 8 hours from Amsterdam…but –OMG– it wa s a dream house. Eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, two living rooms, a drawing room, two dining rooms. This house was great! The garden was the size of a small park; yes, it was huge and so was the price. We made an offer just a bit on the low side and they never wanted to talk with us again. That was a pity, since it truly was a remarkable mansion. (BTW, if anyone is interested, it’s still on the market.)

Monastery at Bois des Dames

Monastery at Bois des Dames

A few months later we got a second call from our contact in France. This time he wanted to show us an ancient monastery chapel. Really our thing, he said–and he was right.

The chapel and priory were situated in a valley surrounded by forest. The Dutch owners had started some renovation we’d call demolition. Demolished ceilings, half-broken fireplaces… it was a mess to say the least. Taking all this into account, we again offered miles less than the owners wanted. We saw a crisis coming and we sure didn’t want it to be our crisis.

The Dutch owners took it off the market again, and they are continuing their dramatic work.

We sure hope the ghosts of the 48 Germans buried in their garden do not obstruct the renovation.

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