Around Amiens

Here are some photos of our new home town, Amiens, actually taken last year on our two visits.

amiens-landmarksThese are the two most striking landmarks in the town. On the left is the Cathedral: the largest gothic cathedral in the world and completely amazing. Inside it is a lot lighter than many such buildings in France, making it rather more appealing to me.

On the right is La tour Perret (the Perret Tower), which is a mix of office space and flats. It was designed in 1942 by Auguste Perret but not completed until 1952. It currently tops out at 110m, which is carefully under the height of the Cathedral spire at 112.7m!

You can see these two buildings from quite a distance and each has its own appeal.

amiens-gareThe station, above, is quite an impressive building, close to the tower. At only an hour or so from Paris by intercity train, the town is well connected.

amiens-centre1 The town centre is attractive, with a long pedestrianised area. The shops do suffer from the competition from large out-of-town shopping areas where choice tends to be better.

amiens-centre2The river, La Somme, flows through the town and is a pleasant place to wander or to eat.

amiens-riverThe statue in the middle tends to change his clothing depending on which student has most recently got out there to dress him!

Amiens does have many different facets: the charming old centre, the modern University and Hospital areas in the south, the narrow streets of terraced brick Amienoise houses just out of the centre, the huge modern-ish tower blocks of the north.

A final facet is the Zone Industriel Nord, which we drive through on our way in. We top a hill and there before us is this huge industrial sprawl of factories and huge belching chimneys: very different to the Cathedral area! The industrial area is declining, which is part of the reason for the high unemployment rate (about twice the national average).

Searching, Searching…

Just in case you thought we were here in La Somme on a nice little winter holiday… we have been busy searching for long-term accommodation: an unfurnished flat or house in or very close to Amiens.

While being here in the countryside is lovely, it does mean we are about 45 mins drive from Amiens and 15 mins drive from a reasonably-sized supermarket (in Flixecourt), which means we do a lot of driving.

We began by researching all the local estate agents (agences immobilières) and trawling lots of websites. After looking at some places and finding a house we really liked, within budget and in a good location, we quickly had a big reality check. Because we are volunteers and not employees, to rent through an agency we basically need a guarantor (or garant, in case we stop paying the rent), which we don’t have.

So on the advice of various friends we then turned our attention to websites which connect you directly with a landlord/owner, not to an agency (le Bon Coin being the most useful): sometimes it is possible to find a property owner who is willing to rent to people like us, who can show we can afford the rent even though we don’t have an employment contract or a guarantor.

Here we are, then: searching, searching… for a miracle in reality!

Bien Installé

Well we made it back to France fine on 2 January, with just a little delay at the tunnel but not much, and a very easy drive down to the valley of La Somme. We settled into our gîte (holiday cottage) very well, warmly welcomed by our lovely hosts.

gite-frontYes, that really is a tennis court in front of the building! We don’t expect to be making use of it during our stay, though…

We are in the depths of the countryside near Domart-en-Ponthieu. Since we arrived it has been cold. I mean cold: minus 7 degrees C first thing in the morning, with a “feels like” of minus 17 (with wind chill). This is a panorama from the back of the gîte:

gite-pan-backAnd over nearby fields:

gite-nearThe countryside is achingly beautiful and very quiet. We can hear several owls in the evenings in different parts of the valley and the stars are just incredible.

A couple of days ago we were immensely privileged to see a female wild boar and ten (yes, ten) young ones, running through some woodland in the valley, all in a big long line. Beautiful creatures!

So we are incredibly blessed with our temporary accommodation, which is also beautifully warm. As the French would say, we are bien installé, meaning well settled in.