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Strangers in a strange gîte
Where 10 different fruit bowls might not be enough.
Welcome to the mysterious side of AirBnB. Due to lack of availability, we had to be transferred after 10 days, across the field to the owner’s other cottage. The first one had its quirks such as lack of draining rack meant a row of wine glasses all sliding off onto the floor, then reaching to the back of the cupboard, find the remaining two already cracked. Aside from some very large spiders coming from the cracked walls, unusable upper floor due to the heat coming through the roof and no sofa to be seen, it was peaceful, oh I forgot, except for the continuous reverse alarm of the fork-lift truck in the builder’s yard across the field and a farmer’s noisy electric well-pump over the other wall. Anyway, after 10 days of relatively okay living with loud music to assist focus while hot-desking, we packed up the van and drove it the 400m to the other place, which on the current listing looks exactly like a small, detached cottage with a nice garden for less rent than a Yorkshire terraced.
After a long day lugging luggage, food and work equipment, I parked my boxer-clad seat on a sun lounge in the new private garden for a cold drink and sweat in 38 degrees, looking back over the field at where we’d just come from. Settling back, I hear a ‘s’il vous plais'?’ as the landlady appeared at the low wire fence. Slightly embarrassed I stood up and put on my best decorum in the circumstances. She’d kindly brought an old sim card we’d left behind but apparently needed to grill me in French about any use of additional beds at either property attracting a €10 fee. I assured her we had not already (I may have attempted a short siesta on one of them). In case we were considering committing the same crime at our new place, she exclaimed ‘Bedclothes, c’est nécessaire!’ three times to adequately inform and had the effect of making me feel quite small in my attire.
I bid her a ‘bon-journée’ and slunk inside to start to find my way round our new kitchen, by far the largest room in the house with 16 drawers, 16 cupboards (two of them for housing 10 different fruit bowls) and a 4m wide, floor-to-ceiling fitted-wardrobe for a larder. I admit the place has 8 beds and communal eating is very important for the French, and judging by the content of some of the drawers, the owner may have been a dentist. After some re-organising and hiding all the fruit bowls, it was no longer a ten-minute walk to fetch a teaspoon or a day’s hike west for the peanut butter.
The roof is poorly insulated and after two hours upstairs on the first night we bailed from the heat and lack of air to the marginally cooler downstairs sofa-bed and the van, which, I might add, has the most comfortable bed I’ve so far ever been in, thanks to our luxury Futon company mattress. Let me tell you about the upstairs a bit more. The lighting is madness. You have to hold down the clever-dim light switch for about 10 seconds before going through the bedroom to reach the bathroom to repeat the lighting act, where the massive shower has a special French shower radio station, a steam-room function, an outdoor temperature display and another mysterious button marked “!” which makes a loud-piercing alarm sound when pressed.
So, everything was good for two days until the other part of the house (which I’d previously thought unused or perhaps inhabited by a little old lady) was filled with two large families complete with dog on holiday, and kids being kids, five teenage boys used the grass next to our ‘private, quiet, not-overlooked garden’ for football, squawking and gawping.
The next day I wrote an email.
Dear Christophe, everything about the gîte is fine except we chose your property on Air BnB because the listing said the garden is "quiet", "private" and "not overlooked". Unfortunately there is a group of people gathered next to the garden so it is none of these things. I am sorry to complain but we feel let down and do not want the rest of our stay to be uncomfortable as it is right now.
I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Indeed the vacationers told me that the children were rather excited last night. I hope this will not happen again. If so, please let me know. Sincerely, Christophe.
He’d sidestepped the issue, a bit like his mum did when we asked about the farmer’s noisy water-pump - smothering us with assurances, carefully honed niceties, smiles and small-talk. I pulled the van onto the kids makeshift soccer pitch and reclaimed some of the ‘non-overlooked, quiet privacy’ in the garden. Of course the kids returned again later, but hey, at least now by listening to them we were learning a bit of French, and again that night when I discovered how thin the partition wall is, as at 6am I had the pleasure of listening to a phone call and someone’s body noise.
If this sounds like a long-winded Tripadvisor moan, it’s because it may end up as one. Unfortunately the booking complication meant we agreed to pay outside of Air BnB, thus relinquishing any rights of recourse or function of a fair review.
A terrific storm last night brought relief for the crops and helped put the fires out fifty miles away and we’ve had a bit of smoke in the air again. The area is lovely for walking and cycling, handy for shops and yesterday we parked by a quiet lake all day. It’s unusual not having friends around us but we’ve lots more thinking (puzzling), meditating, writing, working and language-study time.