A frosty surprise

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Driving home on Monday afternoon, I was momentarily distracted by white specks suspended in the air. It took me a moment.

“It’s snowing!” I said

“Really?!” asked Silas

“Yes, look in the air. The floating white specks. I’m pretty sure it’s snow.”

For the second time in two days I was very thankful I’d already changed to winter tyres.

I gingerly drove up the winding road to our mountain village, quickly revising the plans I’d had in mind for the afternoon. Best to stay at home for this first snowfall of the season.

Once home and out of the car, Silas and Delphine performed a snow dance on the rapidly whitening lawn. The snow fall became heavier.

We bustled into our ski gear keen to get out for a walk around our snowy village. I put tomorrow’s drive back down the mountain out of my mind, closed the door resolutely behind me and gambolled in the snow like a child.

First snow on La Route des Crêtes

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We unexpectedly found ourselves on La Route des Crêtes yesterday. It was a golden late autumn afternoon and I’d taken us for a Sunday post-lunch drive. Motoring in Alsace is a pleasure. The roads are well maintained, the scenery is stunning and the numerous scenic routes lead you through one charming, tidy town after another.

So, while there’d been a misunderstanding between me and the GPS (I call her Henriette) and we’d ended up not quite where I’d expected, it had been a delightful drive. We’d driven all the way up the valley, following the river Thur. There’d been a few turns but it had been a relatively relaxing drive compared to some of the huge up and down circuitous mountain roads I’ve been tackling lately.

After a wander around the town we’d unexpectedly landed in, I punched in “Geishouse” into the GPS and set sights for home. I’d thought we’d be sent back the same way, but “Henriette” had decided to take us the high way. Back along La Route des Crêtes.

Originally constructed by the French as a strategic passage for troops during World War 1, today La Route des Crêtes is a scenic tourist drive that runs the backbone of Les Vosges mountain range. Dotted along its length are countless starting points for rambles in the alpine wilderness of the Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges as well as a couple of ski resorts. It’s not a drive for the faint-hearted. The road reaches around 1 350 metres at its highest point as it passes by the aptly named “Grand Ballon” (Big Ball). For the most part, it’s winding and narrow, with sheer drops just metres from the road’s edge.

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We’d traversed the Route the week before. I’d wanted to get it under my belt before the road closed for the year. It usually does so in mid-November at the first sign of the snow. So I thought I’d ticked that one off my list. But Henriette insisted and so off we went.

Higher and higher. There were plenty of cars coming back in the opposite direction and this seemed reassuring. But I did notice the temperature dropping. 4 degrees, 3 degrees (automatic warning from car: risk of “verglas” – black ice) 0, then -1, then -2. And then, wintery magic. Fragile trees covered in a dusting of snow, white powdered road, crystal sunlight. We’d left autumn and arrived in winter.

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I was shocked. I wasn’t ready for winter yet. I definitely wasn’t ready for winter driving – and not on this sky-high alpine road. But there was no turning back. So with gritted teeth and both hands firmly on the wheel, along we went. Winter regressed to autumn and then advanced once more to winter as we dipped in and out of gullies, which welcomed winter early, and then back to hillsides still kissed by autumn’s glow. It was a seasonal dance of ducking and weaving.

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Some of the natural magic was somewhat dissipated, however, by the chorus in the backseat. Silas and Delphine, bored of the long drive, had regressed to a loud repetitive recital of bodily fluids – mostly in English, but with the occasional French. At least they were working their bilingualism.

It was distracting but I couldn’t afford to let my attention wander. Certain sections of the road are precipitous. A mere arm’s length between the side of the car and a terrifying drop. I tried to occasionally glance sideways to glimpse the stunning view but between “poo!” and “wee!” and the prospect of impending doom, my priorities were clear.

But I couldn’t resist the Route’s parting gift to us as we peaked at le Grand Ballon and began the descent down into the valley: a hazy pink sunset behind the layered Vosges mountain range. I pulled the car off the road, admonished the children to stay put and ducked out of the car to snap a few shots in punishing wind.

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What beauty! This place is gently but relentlessly wooing me. Even a gastroenterological soundtrack couldn’t take the pleasure from that picture. Time and time again, I wonder why this enchanting part of France isn’t better known outside of Europe. But what a blessing to be continually surprised by splendour.

Commemorating 100 years

Military cemetery at Moosch

Military cemetery at Moosch

Today in France it’s the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. As a British-Australian, it’s a poignant time to be here.

In the lead up to Remembrance Day today, I’ve been listening to Richard Fidler’s series of Armistice “Conversations” on ABC radio. He tells the story of Australian troop experiences in the north of France through a series of interviews with relatives and local French people, and through reading excerpts from soldier’s writings. The diaries are particularly touching. So understated in their depiction of courageous and selfless action. 53 000 Australians died in France in WW1.

But Australia isn’t part of the war story in Alsace. Here, theirs is a different tale. It’s a complicated and painful history. Alsace was occupied by Germany for most of the war. Overnight, school children were taught their lessons in German not French. Alsacien men were forced to fight for the Germans against their own French countrymen. I can only imagine the complicated emotional legacy.

On our drive to school each morning, we drive past a cemetery with hundreds of little white crosses. It only dawned on me yesterday, as I saw uniformed “pompier” (fire fighters – but they have a broader community role here) making preparations for today, that these crosses were for those who’d fallen in war. The pompiers were preparing for the arrival of an eternal flame that was to be brought by foot from the neighbouring town to its final resting place here in Moosch. I realised what it was that I had encountered earlier that day, when I had had to manoeuvre around four pompier jogging along the mountain road flanked by flashing lights of the companion car.

Later on that day, I sat in the dining room of a lovely German family whose son is in the same class as Silas. We chatted together in French as we watched our children playing in the garden. Beyond the backyard fence, in the distance, we could see the famous Black Forest of Germany just over the border. Our conversation was that of parents the world over. Concern for our children, hope for their future. French, German and English mixed as we talked to our children and to each other.

Such an ordinary scene.

I sat there, watching our two boys playing at being chevaliers in the backyard, trying to make sense of this contradiction of grand geopolitical affairs and lived reality. It might be state leaders who start and end wars, I thought. But sitting in that living room, I felt how our common humanness transcends all this and how in sharing our lived experience, true peace between nations is found.

An ode to autumn in Alsace

All the locals say we’ve been lucky. It’s a particularly spectacular autumn. It’s been perhaps the biggest surprise: this mountainous landscape of golden hues.

Yesterday, Delphine and I drove up a winding mountain pass where we stopped half-way, high up on the saddle, to eat elevenses of fresh bread and cheese bought from a local market. Sitting on Delphine’s upturned jacket crunching baguette and gazing at the view, for that one moment, I was content simply to be.

The big day arrives

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We all arose well before the sun, too excited to stay in bed longer. It was our first day at school. Silas couldn’t wait: “Is it time to go yet?” It was 4.30am.

Thankfully, Google had predicted a 30 minute drive to school and, with school starting and finishing earlier than at home, this reduced the wait time.

With the sky lightening behind the mountain silhouette, we stepped out the door, backpacks bulging. Five minutes later, I was gliding down the curves into the valley, more confident than the last time I’d tackled them, but soon after we joined the highway on the valley floor our pace slowed. Traffic. I hadn’t expected so much in this rural area. In places, we crept along. The 30 minute route was looking to be more like 40-45 minutes. Was it really going to be worth the commute? I was starting to think I had too off-handedly dismissed the length of a drive I would do every day.

I hadn’t found an exact address for the school so we had to cruise slowly along the street. The mist was thicker in the valley, and it was hard to find our way. But the school’s golden yellow glowed through. Like a beacon. There it was! I was as excited as the children. I’d gazed at photo after photo for a year, and now, the school rose before us in all its beautiful buttercup yellow reality.

Hand in hand, we walked up the stairs to the front doors. I introduced myself to the first person we’d met, who passed us through to Delphine’s classroom in the “Jardin d’enfants” (“Children’s garden” – early childhood school). And just as we entered, so too did Delphine’s teacher. I recognised her immediately from the photo she had sent: warm, open and friendly. She walked us out to the playground.

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What a scene from halcyon childhood days! Autumn trees had laid a blanket of golden leaves on the ground and some still flickered on their branches. A trestle table was set up with homemade brioche with coffee and tisane (herbal tea). Children rode around on balance bikes and up and over a mound of dirt that had become a makeshift mountain bike route. Others wheeled little barrows of sand into the sandpit. Two fast friends cozied up in a little cubby made of interlaced willow branches.

Next door in the primary playground, a campfire was burning and children were wrapping bread dough around sticks to bake on the fire. This was sufficient attraction to entice Silas to step away from the only two people he knew and into his new school.

For Delphine, this was her first ever day at school, not just her first day at a French school. So she was more uncertain. Yet, there was an irresistible pull for her too – balance biking on a dirt hill. Giving into the temptation, she mounted one of the little bikes and joined the troop of miniscule mountain bike riders.

Outside play over, we moved into the classroom. What a beautiful space! A low wooden table and chairs for children’s meals, a charming selection of handmade toys, autumn treasures from nature decorating the windowsills. We followed a pattern similar to our own playgroup in Canberra: morning tea around the table, seasonal songs and free-play. Delphine was increasingly at home.

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We finished where we’d started, with outside play and more happy balance-biking. Silas came to find us. Smiling broadly. His class had also finished for the day.

“So how did it go?”

Face ecstatic, “Great!”

“What did you like about it?”

“English class!”

He’d been the only child in his class of seven who hadn’t mumbled their way through “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” but had instead sung with gusto.

I looked at Delphine free-wheeling in the playground and Silas relaxed and happy. I felt like a bride on her wedding day, sure I couldn’t feel any happier than this. What a joy to see my children in a place that childhood dreams are made of. And I was there to see it. So often we’re only offered a window into our children’s lives, but on this precious day, I’d been there for it all.

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First impressions

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I drove past it once, twice before the photos in my mind and the reality before me merged. There it was, the stairway tucked just below the level of the road. I parked the car, turned off the ignition with relief and sent up a quick prayer for safe arrival. We’d done it! And 1.5 hours earlier than I’d predicted.

It was also 1.5 hours earlier than I’d informed my hosts, and they were still readying the chalet for our arrival. We exchanged apologies between expressions of delight at finally meeting.

Our host ushered us into our new home: sunny, charming, homey and a koughloff on the table. We were truly in Alsace. I’d expected a tiny chocolate box of a chalet, but instead, I discovered a small cottage fit for a little family. Separate kitchen equipped with everything needed for a long stay, combined living and dining with a view right out over the valley. Then a curved stairway upstairs to a delightful find – a landing area with a wooden chest full of toys. The children rejoiced. I did too as I wandered into my bedroom and took in the view: a village clinging to the side of a hill, graced with a church spire and behind it, the “grand ballon” mountain with its dusting of snow. The children’s bedroom was gorgeous too. Tucked under the eaves with a large ceiling window and children’s pictures on the walls. We were home.

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I felt the full warmth of an Alsace welcome as our enthusiastic host shared a little of her native region with us. Seeing us begin to droop, she solicitously asked whether we had had lunch. I’d forgotten my plan to buy something at the airport, and explained I intended to go back down into the valley to buy supplies.

“No, but you’ve only just arrived. Do the children like pasta? I’ll bring some. And then you can write a list and I’ll send someone down to do the shopping for you later.”

I was beginning to feel truly blessed. And then Delphine lost it.

She collapsed into the inevitable tantrum that I’d just been holding off for so long. Our host diplomatically left and I sat with Delphine as she cried out all the tension of 30 hours of change, challenge and sleep deprivation.

Once the tirade had passed, we lunched on koughloff and tea, and then stepped out in the fading autumn sunshine to explore our new home.

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Back along our street, down to a little gully with a shrine to Jesus and Mary, across a grassy path and up to the church where we chatted with a volunteer gardener in the old presbytery garden. Then up to the local school and Mairie, and follow the road around back home.

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I’d taken a gamble that this little hamlet in the hills would be the right place. But I hadn’t been sure. There’d been previous experiences where a perfect-looking place had not turned out to be a home for a happy holiday. But this time, if felt good. Immediately.

I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, but it’s hard not to feel that our time here might be a trip to remember for all the right reasons.

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The Epic Journey

I’m writing this at the other end of the journey. Yes, we made it! But already the memory of those epic 30 hours is starting to fade as I melt into the seductive embrace of Alsace in autumn. So I’m going to dash this one down quickly – raw and unedited.

Departure day dawned with a last minute collywobble. I’d presumed that we’d be clearing customs and immigration in Sydney. After all, we only had 1 hour of transit in Perth. But, au contraire. When I called to double check with Qantas, we were indeed flying out of the domestic terminal. This meant that on arrival into Perth, we had to alight from the aeroplane, work our way through customs, immigration and security, then find our way to the gate – all in less than 1 hour. It didn’t seem possible. But as the unhelpful customer service representative told me on the phone “you chose that option” and “if it’s a flight combination on our website, then it should probably be possible.”

I felt all my careful planning crumbling. A tear stole down my cheek. But I wasn’t going to give up. I asked to speak to the representative’s manager, had a very reassuring conversation with her, and gratefully received her promise to seat us towards the front of the plane and have ground staff speed our passage.

I pushed the upcoming transit sprint from my mind, got dressed and got on with it.

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I’d dreaded the farewell from Robert. But when the time came, I was so focused on the job at hand and keeping two skipping children in my orbit, that the sting was less piercing. We sailed through domestic security and onto our first flight, tear-free and in good spirits.

It was a tight fit: three across and a big backpack full of tricks. But I was so glad that I had every single item. With no TV and only me, I needed it all. We did playdough, we puzzled, we read, we stickered, we looked for Wally, we discovered little toys in pouches, we Uno-ed. We did the lot. And this was only the first 4.5 hours. In fact, worryingly, this was the first fivehours. With strong headwinds, we were half an hour behind. Our 1-hour transit challenge had been reduced to a half-hour mission. A night in Perth was looking likely. How could we get through it all in just 30 minutes? I felt fatalistic.

Even when we were let off first from the plane, I wasn’t hopeful. But then I saw the deserted security and immigration area, and just beyond it, a queue of passengers boarding. Our flight was the last out of Perth. It had to be ours. Spirits rose.

Ensconced in our seats, the elation of having made it onto the London flight wiped away the fear of the upcoming 17.5 hours. And as it turns out, this flight was the easiest. With the wonders of television, my entertainment services were no longer needed and I could finally relax. The only distraction was headphones that were not three-year old friendly and kept falling off Delphine’s head. We’ll buy child-size ones with an airline jack for the return journey.

But apart from this, my preparations had been working well to ease the journey so far. So I should have known there would be a red herring. A risk that came out of the blue. But how could I have foreseen that I would lose my bra?

I’d brought along pyjamas for us all. We’d changed into them for our fitful 4 hours sleep. The problem became clear when I went to change back into my clothes. Where was my bra, which I had discretely stored in a cloth bag? I looked everywhere – through all our backpacks, in the overhead locker, under and around the seats. Nothing. Then, cringing slightly, I asked each of our three, male flight attendants if they had seen it. No luck. I started to despair. And wandered back to my seat, trying to spy it along the aisle. A fellow passenger turned to me and asked if I was looking for something. “This is somewhat embarrassing to confess,” I said, “but I’ve lost my bra.” “Ah, so it’s you who’s missing it”, she said, and handed me the bag. I returned to the bathroom to dress with great relief.

As we landed into Heathrow, a wonderful dawning realisation– “we’re well-over halfway now, I’m doing it, and it’s not horrendous.” Heathrow was big and our transit required a bus and a train, but it was all straight-forward. But Delphine’s exhaustion was now evident. She was getting close to losing it at the smallest provocation and it was taking all my creativity to avoid the impending massive tantrum. Thankfully, I had one last trick in the bag. Fruit roll-ups. A steady supply got us onto our third and final aeroplane, through the flight and mollified a wait in our new car (brown – none of us had correctly guessed the colour) while I wrestled the bags into the boot and fitted Delphine’s car seat.

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And then the most fearful moment of all. I took a deep breath and turned the key in the ignition. Driving was terrifying. I couldn’t gauge the width of my car extending to the right of me. I drove at least 20 km below the speed limit on most roads. But my route-memorisation paid off. We didn’t miss a turn. And then there was a treat to finish. Turning off the main route along the valley floor, we followed the winding road up towards our mountain village. It was like a stroll through an autumnal garden; gently curving bends bordered on each side by a forest in full autumn-glory.

Lulled a little by the beauty, I was brought upright again behind the wheel when we arrived into our village. Tiny, steep roads greeted me and gave a last frisson of excitement as we arrived at our final destination. 1.5 hours earlier than I’d predicted in my careful calculations.

We’d done it! All 30-odd hours of it. Silas and Delphine had been remarkable. Bouncing along on so little sleep and so much change. I felt relieved to be able to reward them with the beauty of this place and the charm of our chalet. But more on that in the next blog post.

Getting Peugeot Perfect

A nervous grin.

A nervous grin.

It’s two days away from D(eparture) Day, and I’m over my second thought jitters. But in their place is a more imminent concern.

In fact, I’m scared. And what scares me is getting behind the wheel on the left-hand side of my new car, driving away on the right side of the road and navigating my way out of the labyrinthine airport maze and out onto the freeway.

I’ve never driven in France. I’ve never even driven on the right hand side of the road. So I’ve been preparing for my maiden voyage with nervous dedication.

First step, get familiar with the car. I’m using a handy holiday lease-rental scheme called Drive Away where technically you buy a new car, which you lease for the period required and then sell back to the company. But in reality, it’s simply like renting a new car. I’ve never owned a brand new car. So that’s the plus side. The down side is unfamiliarity: left-hand drive, using a gear-stick with my right hand, unfamiliar clutch, window wipers and indicators on different sides. I know I’m doomed to be turning right with the wipers for the first month.

To handle the mounting tension, I decide I need to meet a cousin of the car I’ll be encountering in a daze of jet-lag at the airport. So a few weeks ago, we made our way to the local Peugeot dealer for me and the children to sit in the car and start to make friends. This was a good move.

Practising being focused driving in France.

Practising being focused driving in France.

I discovered that the Peugeot 2008 is a cosy car. We all felt at home and yet our three suitcases fit in the boot. I learned a little of the car’s personality: distinctive handbrake, low steering wheel to view dash across the top, easily accessible child-seat anchor points – easier than our Forester even! For the other critical points I need to master before driving away, I plan to find the car manual online so I know how to operate cruise control, pair my phone for child-amusing music and launch the GPS.

The most light-hearted part of our familiarisation exercise is trying to guess our new car’s colour. I’m hoping for red. Same colour as the Alsace logo.

Next step is to map the route. A fellow France travelling friend recommends I check out the Michelin route planning website – Via Michelin. It’s a find. Not only does it provide step-by-step instructions about direction and route numbers, it also provides details on what the signs will say that point to the route you need to take.

Monsieur Michelin advises that I’ve got three challenging intersections to master. I’ve printed them out in zoomed in detail, looked at the Google Street View version and attempted to commit them to memory. Apart from then swallowing the paper 007-style, that’s as far as I can go in preparing for the drive.

Then it’s onto reorienting my whole driver’s perspective. For all of my over 20 years driving, I’ve been doing it on the left. Now it’s time to make a change. I’ve had a few good tips:

“As the driver, you’re always on the midline. So drive along keeping the centre dividing line along your left shoulder.”

“Follow the car in front to keep right” (as long as they’re going the same place as you I presume)

“The thing to watch out for is turning left. Make sure you return to the right.”

And then the other little trick – roundabouts. I’m a Canberran, so I know about roundabouts. What I don’t know is how to do them anti-clockwise.

But I’ve got a theme song to keep me sane. And thanks to Bob Marley, it goes likes this:

Don’t worry, about a thing,
’Cause every little thing, is gonna be all right.
[or in my case: ‘Cause, all you gotta do, is stay on the right]

This will be my mantra. And you’ll know if it’s worked if I post a future blog next week. That’s because this is the last one I’ll be writing before boarding the aeroplane on Thursday and getting this adventure underway.

Wish me luck!

Little school: big dream

Photo courtesy:  Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace

Planning our Alsacien adventure, I needed to find a school for Silas and it needed to be a particular type of school, a Steiner School.

Silas has thrived in a Steiner education, an approach which is a better fit for the creative way Silas experiences the world. After getting off to a rough start in school, it was clear by Year 1 that I needed to look at other options for him. We visited a few different schools. Silas knew when he had found his fit: 10 minutes into his trial day at Orana Steiner School, after a morning run around the grounds, he turned to me with a hopeful smile and said “I could get used to this.”

I wanted more of the same in France and starting with the Steiner Education France website, I found four schools in Alsace.

Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace had a rather boring website: slightly out of date, few photos, lots of official text. Not particularly inviting. But there was a reason. Squirrelled away in a bottom paragraph was a reference to the school moving location. There was a link to click on to find out more.

One click and I was captured.

Unfolding in post after post was a story of a little country school with a big dream: this school of just 60 families had had the audacity to buy an old abandoned school building and to start renovating it themselves.

Photo courtesy:  Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace

They’d secured a low-cost loan, held fund-raising events, put windows out for “adoption” to fund double-glazing. With this, they could buy the dilapidated building. Apart from the professional-looking renovation plans, it appeared that everything else had been done by the school community – from bricking around the windows to make the double-glazing more affordable, to whitewashing the walls, to laying the wooden floors. From what I could tell, they were almost there. 

Photo courtesy:  Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace

Hours disappeared as I sat engrossed, watching the transformation through a journal of posts and videos. The big day the scaffolding came down and the building's elegant shape, with its distinctly Alsacien steeply pitched roofline, emerged. The moment the paintwork was revealed - Alsacien yellow, as beautiful as buttercups. The video showing the sweet mezzanine sleeping space for the tired tiny ones. The installation of the heating; an occasion to share sustainable heating technology with the local community.

Photo courtesy:  Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace
Photo courtesy:  Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace

I browsed through working bees showing happy parents and their children. I wanted to know them and I wanted to be one of them; community-minded people setting aside their weekends to make their dream of a better school for their children, into a reality. The photos showed a warmth I wanted to be a part of and a joy at achieving something so wondrous that I wanted to share. We had to be there for the first year in the school's new home.

I tracked down the email address and, using my most polite French, made our request to spend a “season” with them at Ecole Seiner Haut-Alsace.

I waited 7 days.

Then there it was. The response was full of all the warmth I could have hoped

“Merci pour votre joli message ! C'est incroyable que quelqu'un parle de notre petite école à l'autre bout du monde!”

Thank you for your message. Unbelievable that someone from the other end of the world is talking about our school!”

I smiled as I read the words. The delight I’d felt at finding them was now being experienced in reverse: what a surprise to be admired by an Australian family a million miles away!

Photo courtesy:  Ecole-Steiner Haut-Alsace

Beginnings

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In just over three weeks, I’ll be boarding an aeroplane with my two young children for a three-month “living in France” experience. Come share the journey with us as I push the “go” button on plans I made almost a year ago.

It all started in the heat of last year’s long hot summer when I dreamt of a white Christmas.

School had broken up some weeks ago and my little family felt cast adrift without the rhythm of the school-week to hold us steady. Heat-fuelled arguments were frequent between Silas, 6 years, and Delphine, 2. I wanted to escape.

I dreamt of happier times and more temperate climes. I wanted to recapture the enchantment I had felt as a child at Christmas time. I had always been drawn-in by the wintry scenes on the Christmas cards that arrived from the English side of our family. Long had I felt the charm of a traditional magical Christmas of snow-dusted turrets, cinnamon spiced biscuits and a Santa’s market-place decorated with fairy lights.

Taking refuge one children’s nap time, I skulked online and escaped into a wintry wonderland. And there it was – Alsace – France’s Christmas capital: home of the Christmas tree and famed for its Christmas markets.

Christmas Market at Strasbourg, Alsace

Christmas Market at Strasbourg, Alsace

I’d never heard of the place. Better yet, it seemed that not many English-speakers had. A quick online search of books about the region brought up a surprisingly small return.

I was beginning to be seduced by images and thoughts of life in rural France: of weekly visits to the local market, morning croissants fresh from the boulangerie, educative conversations with the butcher on how to prepare local dishes.

I let my thoughts wander to more than just a short Christmas break. How about a whole winter? Enrol the children in school there? Live for a season on the other side of the world? Exchange this dusty southern summer for a white Christmas in Alsace?

Could I actually do it?

It’s almost nine months down the track now, and most of the pieces are in place. I’ve had a few hic-cups along the way but the count-down to 1 November has begun.

Before we leave, I’ll share how our travel plans came together. And after our arrival in France, you’ll have a window onto how us three little Australians in Alsace are adapting to our new life.