We were particularly excited about this visit – firstly because we were going to see what the builder had done with the ground floor – he had been working on it while we were in the UK. The concreting is critical to how the whole ground floor will look and what we can fit into it.

Secondly, it was a chance for me to spend an entire day in Ikea – buying our first furniture. The plan was to make this an ‘easy’ visit – no heavy lifting as Steve had injured his shoulder badly skiing on a dry slope in January.

His shoulder is still very sore and and weak and he has not been able to do any serious work with it for 10 weeks. We were meant to come in February but had to postpone the visit.

Tuesday 21st March
Left home at a bewildering 6.30am to get the 9.30am flight from Liverpool to Carcassonne.

We had arranged to hire a transit from here and go to the Ikea at Toulouse, buy the furniture (all in one visit) then journey home.

We arrived at lunchtime – we were delighted with the warm sunny weather and the whole district looked like mid-summer with the blossom on the trees and the birds and bees humming….

Our first surprise was that the van was a 3 ton box van complete with rear hydraulic lift rather than a large transit! It was massive and totally oversized for what we needed. There had not been a transit availabe.

However, we decided to go with the flow and luckily Steve had driven this kind of vehicle before.

It was slightly surreal driving this monster through the tiny villages (we decided to take N roads to Toulouse) and we encountered a number of low bridges which caused us problems! Eventually arrived at Ikea hoping to avail ourselves of the restaurant – it was now 2.30pm and we were decidedly hungry and thirsty.

Second surprise – restaurant closed due to reorganisation of the store – eeek! Decided to push on and managed to get almost everything we had planned from home. This comprised of: a double bed, two single beds (also the slatted bed bases, mattresses and all bedding for these), a double and a single wardrobe, two chests of drawers, three side tables and rugs, lights, and everything else you need to make a bedroom.

Had to make a couple of substitutions but were quite pleased all in all. When all this was in the van it still looked empty! We could have fitted a whole house full in including a three piece suite but we are not ready for that yet. Debated over whether to buy a dining table and chairs and decided not yet – it would become too damaged and be used as a work bench etc.

Staff at Ikea were amazingly helpful and could speak some English, which made the whole process much easier.

Also, as it was mid-week, the store was empty so we got better attention and it was easy to park. Almost fainting with hunger and thirst (not even a vending machine) we decided to pay and grab a McD before setting off.

Thankfully my credit card coped with the huge bill fine and we couldn’t believe it had gone so smoothly! At Toulouse you have to collect some of the larger furniture from a separate depot about 10 minutes away on the same Z I. Went to collect the mattress and oh dear – it was the wrong one!!

We had been charged for a wooden framed one which would not have fitted into the bed frame we had chosen! Horrors! It was now 7.30pm and the store due to close at 8.00pm!

Left the mattress at the depot and shot back to the main store. Unfortunately nobody spoke any English and it was incredibly difficult explaining that we needed an exchange and the other mattress was at the other depot still. Eventually we managed to make ourselves understood and we were sent back to the depot to collect the other mattress and debit our card more Euros.

Moral of the story: always check on the receipt that you have been allocated the right mattress before you collect it!!

We were terrified that the depot would close before we got there, retaining our mattress – it was a three hour drive from the PO so we certainly didn’t want to do what they originally suggested and ‘come back tomorrow’!

With five minutes to spare we got the other mattress and loaded it. Arrived at Coustouges at around midnight – we were unbelievably tired. Opened the door with trepidation at what the floor would be like.

We were overjoyed with the result – the floor is fantastic. The builder had been over and tidied the whole place up, even left a heater on for us to warm the place up!

The whole ground floor had been given definition and our builder had made all the right decisions. Steve was all for unloading and building the new bed, but we decided to give that a miss, left the van in the car park at the bottom of the hill and slept on the sofa bed. We would worry about the unloading the next day.

Wednesday 22nd March
Our builder woke us up at 9.00am – he had come to see if we liked the job (and collect his money!).

Had a long talk to him about the work and helped Steve back the truck up the hill and unloaded all the stuff with him. Steve started to assemble the furniture while I started work preparing the other bedroom for floor varnish.

This involved sanding, cleaning and scraping which took most of the day and was incredibly hard work. Eventually I got a decent first coat down.

The bed took ages to build (even for an experienced flat packer!) then we worked together to build the wardrobe and the side tables. We were determined to sleep in a bed that night!

The difference to the room was amazing – we were delighted with the result.

Got a second coat of varnish down and spent the evening talking to our English friend who had called round. She is a trained masseur and was extremely concerned about Steve’s shoulder and the strain he had been putting on it.

She worked on Steve’s shoulder intensively which really helped him the next day. Slept like the dead in our brand new bed, with brand new covers etc

Thursday 23rd March
After a morning visit from our friend who had come to do more work on Steve’s shoulder (it had been really hurting) and a third coat of varnish on the other floor, we set off for Brico Depot.

Now the floor was in we could measure accurately for the French door we needed to install downstairs and wanted to get this while we had the van.

Unfortunately the concreting had resulted in a huge pile of rubble and rock in the rear garden (together with what was already there) which would need shifting first.

Our builder had not had access to a car with a tow bar to shift it (and did not have the time anyway). We were disappointed at just how much there was  and decided it would be madness to install a new door with that to move.

Decided to get the door and see about moving the pile before installing it.

Also wanted to obtain plasterboard to face the stairwell and chimney breast next visit. This is going to be a big job and it will make a huge difference to the appearance of the stairwell, which is just a mess at present.

Called into Carrefour for some food and household items first, then hit Brico. It took a long time to decide on the right size of door and even longer to decide on the quantity of plasterboard and the fixings we would require. Steve had to do all the calculations in the van when he had seen what was available.

We then had to go back and buy retaining straps to keep the plasterboard upright and load it. It was unbelievably heavy so with Steve’s shoulder problem we got assistance and the hydraulic lift came into its own.

Also bought sand/cement and other building requirements and two electric radiators for the bedrooms as it had been so cold in December. Eventually arrived back early evening and had a good meal. Again, very tired and then started to assemble the furniture for the other bedroom as the varnished floor was now dry. Left the truck again in the car park to unload the next day.

Friday 24th March
Realised that the bed needed some adjustments to be made which were really important so spent an hour or so on this, then completed the furniture in the other room.

Also, Steve had to re-route the bedroom door and put on door furniture – this was incredibly fiddly and took ages, but at least we now had a third door that closed tight.

Next he put up curtain pole in our bedroom, again difficult due to the solid rock construction – nothing is easy here!

Finally the part we were dreading, unloading the truck! Getting the door out was unbelievably difficult and I suggest at least three strong men required, not one injured man and a 5ft, not very fit woman!!

This was very difficult as our street is on a hill. Thankfully our French neighbour came to the rescue just at the right moment and we got the job done.

Unloading the plasterboard was also really heavy work – but not as challenging as the door had been.

Finally the sand and cement and all the other things we had bought. Again, without the trolley, extra help and hydraulic lift we would have been in major trouble.

After this we were both completely gutted and had to rest for a good hour and regain strength. The unloading took almost two hours in total.

We had arranged to go out for a meal to La Regalade with our English friend that evening and were too tired to do anything else except clean the place up and get a shower. Had a brilliantly congenial evening at the restaurant with good food, good company and plenty bon amie with the local people of the village. Sadly said our goodbyes and did some last packing ready to go as it would be an early start.

Saturday 25th March
Left Coustouges for the long truck drive to Carcassone. Arrived in good time to have lunch and caught the 12:45pm flight back to rainy, cold Liverpool.

Again, the time had flown by but we had achieved everything we had set out to. The only disappointment was the size of the rubble pile in the garden which needs moving before we can install the door. We are thinking we may ask our builder to do this for us in our absence. Also, the truck was much oversized for our needs so fuel consumption was disproportionally high, as were tolls. (40 Euros all in all).

Costs this visit : Flights were cheap at £75 for both of us both ways inc. taxes. Van hire: £150 for the 4 days from Europcar (should have been a transit but we weren’t charged any extra) fuel: £40 tolls: £40 (double for vans) bill from Ikea (£1300 ouch!) bill from Brico: (approx £300 including the door, radiators and plasterboard) food and household items: £68.00. Other cash & incidentals 200 euros (including meal at La Reg) Builders bill: £1100 including all materials and labour and including installing electrical conduit to the fuseboard for the sockets to the ground floor, damp course and reinforcing mesh.
All in all very expensive visit!

Steve is intending visiting at Easter for another four days together with his father, who can do the plasterboarding work as Steve’s shoulder is still not ready for work and in the meantime we are hoping that the builder can be contacted and persuaded to move the rubble (at a price of course!).

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