The first few weeks in a new country are always a whirlwind of overwhelm. Not only do banks, doctors, local registration, public transport cards bikes, car and somewhere to live need to be organised … but for us, this time, back in The Hague since March, there’s more…
One: transit accommodation.
Being officially just Ian and me, the company offered us a temporary flat for that sleeps three. We have a double bedroom and a single and a bijou open plan living-diner-kitchen-office. We also have a fabulously central location right by Central Station and a super view from our 18th floor over the Malieveld and Haagse Bosjes (green space) to the sea.
Two: boomerang child.
On the day we moved in Sam decided to come back home for a while.
Three: another boomerang child.
Then, two months later, Josh was between jobs and needed to join us at the end of May.
We don’t have a permanent house anywhere so the boys, after time in Germany and Indonesia had nowhere else to go.
Four: more temporary accommodation.
The lovely, large house we do own has a tenant in it and his contract is not up til the end of October. The company pay for the current tiny flat for three months max. We needed to find an alternative, furnished, affordable, convenient, short-term, three-bedroom alternative. Yes, folks, we are on a local contract here, so no perks for us. I spent weeks looking for the Rosetta Stone. Affordable short-term appears to be an oxymoron. Then, finally, the day before Sam and I were due to head off to France, I found the only place that fit our criteria and it’s right by a canal. It’s tiny again and we will need a take-a-ticket system to be able to use the shower and loo, I expect, but it works. Job done. Tick.
Five: Trips to the olds.
Being back in Europe, it was a given that our much-neglected families would be high on the priority list and so we’ve driven there twice, ten hour trips each time through the tunnel, in a hire car.
So, you can imagine how much I was looking forward to that trip to France. To a retreat!! Imagine the yoga, the vineyards, the meditation, the massages by Alice, ayurvedic food and the bliss of Charente sunshine, if you will. It took two days and 12 hours to drive there, in a hire car, but boy oh boy, Chez Vallée,, owned and managed by British ex-expat Amanda Graham, is as warm an embrace as a hug from your bestie. After years in Africa and Kuala Lumpur psychotherapist Amanda (she offers counseling too by the way and yes, she is good!) was ready to create a permanent home for her family, leave her husband to do the overseas assignments and make her dream come true – to create a retreat.
On the first day I sat in what was to become ‘my spot’ on a carved Indonesian teak bench at the front of the large house that was once a distillery, looking over the zen garden. Soon our hostess joined me.
‘It’s place where people come to heal,’ she says. ‘And it’s our home.’
Amanda is petite, dark, youthful and more delightfully, naturally, welcoming than a log fire in winter. That she is truly passionate about her venture, Praana Wellness, which has been open two years now and is almost at capacity already, is evident in her manner, the careful loving renovations and just, well, the way it feels there. Like sinking into a cushiony sofa in front of that log fire.
Sure this is a retreat but Amanda knows what people really want when they come away. There is wine for dinner and cheese…. and coffee available at breakfast in addition to the juices, healthy mostly vegetarian food, much of which comes from her potager and the best gluten-free seed crackers and seed loaf I have ever tasted. Eggs come from her chickens, of course.
A pool, a braai pit, barns with comfy furniture to rest in out of the sun, pets to stroke – cats, Bolly and Moet and the friendliest gentlest Rhodesian Ridgeback, Angel. Soon there will be two goats. Yes there is a fire and a comfy sofa and then, the piece de résistance, a hexagonal yoga platform outside for morning yoga and evening meditation. On top of all this Amanda is as good a yoga teacher as I have ever had, and I’ve had a few. Yup, she is on a par with Hui in Kuala Lumpur, and that’s saying something.
Sometimes we ate in the dining room, other times outside. We had a ball chatting with the other guests, who were all fascinating and fun and, as this was the Charente, there was always Pineau on offer of an evening too, bien sür.
It was bliss on a stick! Further, Amanda offers practitioners the chance to rent the rooms (and the safari tent!) and host their own workshops. As 2018 is almost full, I squeezed a writing retreat in for 13th-18th May next year. Exactly a year away. I’m not sure I can wait. I’ll only offer ten places. Keep an eye on the Summertime Publishing website for details.
I can thoroughly recommend, if not prescribe, that everyone needs to visit a retreat a couple of months after they arrive in a new posting, just to find themselves again and recalibrate.
So relaxed was I and so inspired that I wrote the following poem on my last day:
Only the bees are busy here
skeining through the honeysuckle
while the black rooster
pads between our legs, then crows,
just once, perhaps with joy.
Bolly, the white-bellied Tabby,
assumes his prostrate mountain pose
and Angel, with her age-rimmed eyes
and cowboy’s neckerchief, rests
her gentle bulk against my thigh.
Deep praanic breaths
that lie stifled in the city,
where bliss lurks in a box set
and grabs us unawares
til we forget how to luxuriate
in a morning breeze,
to be inspired by time
that concertinas to and fro –
both vast and limited.
At dusk we count our fingers
then our toes,
press our palms in prayer
and bow in gratitude.
Simple, peaceful, gentle days
that overflow with bounty
as the blousy rose
drips with a natural ecstasy
we long to cultivate