One of our favourite walks, around the château in Le Grand-Pressigny, March 2019.
The last time we were in France in March was two years ago, in 2019. That year we managed our usual pattern of visits, arriving mid March and not finally leaving until the end of November, having spent only 180 days in France by returning for a couple of visits back to the UK over the year.
Just to refresh readers' minds, that is no longer possible due to the Schengen 90/180 rule where we can still spend 180 days in France but only 90 at a time. It's not quite that simple but in reality, however you look at it, the 90/180 rule means that you have to effectively swap three summer months for three winter ones. Gone are the days when anyone who has a house in France can legitimately turn up there on 1st April and leave on 30th September.
The best way round this is to get a visa. A six month visa allows a person to come and go as they please over a six month period. That then gets added onto the Schengen allowance at the end of the visa period, the only stipulations being that you have to physically leave the country when the visa expires before returning and, of course, you can only stay for 180 days in total.
It's the best option we have at the moment for doing what we did before Brexit, but involves a lot of extra expense and hassle. There are three centres where you can apply for the visa, Edinburgh, Manchester (Salford) and London.
Having spent hours, if not days, searching for, gathering and photocopying all the necessary documents for our "interview" at TLS, the people who handle such things for the French Embassy, we set off for Salford Quays yesterday morning.
The journey there was truly horrible. The weather was atrocious and could only have been worse if it was snowing. The traffic was awful, the condition of most of the roads is appalling and there were numerous sets of road works. For the 52 mile journey it took us over two hours.
We arrived early, having allowed nearly four hours, just in case, which is what you have to do when you go anywhere in the UK these days. We parked in a car park just by the Salford Quays tram station and right next to a pub called the Matchstick Man. The TLS centre is literally a two minute walk away. (Five minutes if a tram arrives as you have to walk across the tram lines.) Our appointment was at 1.30pm so we decided we may as well have lunch there. We had the worst cheeseburger we've ever had anywhere. I think next time we'll take a picnic and eat it in the car!
The "interview" turned out to be just an exchange of documents. We waited in a hall something like a post office or bank and looked for our reference number to come up on a screen. In fact more like when you wait for something you've ordered from Ikea!
We were held up by the other people who were already being dealt with. Every single booth occupied was dealing with someone who was struggling with lack of the correct documents and they ranged from the ill prepared to the totally clueless. Waiting in the hall we could hear a lot of what was said and the lack of preparedness in some cases was shocking. The staff deserve a medal for their patience!
This did not help us feel any more confident that we had got things right as we sat there nervously waiting our turn and wondering what we might have got wrong. The English couple at the counter next to us had been there for an hour by the time we arrived and were still there when we left.
Thanks to Nick's superb preparation, we sailed through. We handed over the relevant documents in the order they were asked for, first Nick then me, and left the whole lot, and our passports, with them to be sent to the French Embassy in London. There the decision is made whether or not to grant us a visa and the passports are returned to Salford for us to collect, with or without the visa.
The centre no longer offers a courier service to return the passports so we have to make the journey there and back again to fetch them.
On leaving the building we found that the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. We took a different route back which was about ten miles longer but much more scenic, less fraught and took about the same amount of time. Now we know where we're going we'll use that route next time.
A friend once told me that the only time anything is hard to do is the first time. After that it becomes easier and easier. I think we were discussing serial murderers at the time but it's very true and applies to most things in life, I have found.
I am going to write to the Right Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, who has been given the post of Minister for Brexit Opportunities, and put forward my idea for one of the bits of EU red tape he has asked readers of the Sun newspaper to identify to see if he can remove them. The red tape that the French have obliged us to conform to that denies us the freedom to visit our French house when we please and requires a huge palaver and expense in getting a visa. I wonder if he will reply!
If anyone else would like to write to him the address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
The article in the tabloid paper can be seen here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17603553/sun-readers-tell-me-of-eu-regulation-abolished/