Thursday, 31 May 2007

Still waiting

We havent heard from the agent yet but hopefully all will be ok. David is very busy with work so the kids and I headed out on our own for the day. After doing some grocery shopping, we headed to the phone shop where I managed to get my phone recharged all on my own. If David isnt with me I just have to make do and I think I'll learn more that way. Later this afternoon we headed out to the library which is just around the corner from what will hopefully be our new home. It is a very well stocked library with a good kid's section and I even managed to ask someone what paperwork I will need to join.

But the highlight of the day was when we headed out to a local café to meet some of the members of Expat France, a website/forum David has set up. We met two expats and one local Annecien and got to talk about some of the issues they've faced. One brought two of his boys who got on famously with Lily and Jasper. It also gave us a bit of insight into how quickly kids adapt to moving here.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A day of ups and downs

I swear we bring on some of this drama ourselves with out somewhat unrealistic hopes and expectations of what we can easily achieve as immigrants in a new country. We waltz into such a beautiful and popular town and expect to pick up a fabulous apartment right in the middle of things and plonk Lily down in the most picturesque school in 3 months time. Considering that we are now aware of only 3 immobiliers (real estate agents) in town that will accept less than a 3 year caution bancaire in our situation, we are lucky to be even close to securing the little apartment we are after.

We all trooped into the immobilier this morning after I got sick of waiting for a call and started nagging David! But we were lucky to meet with one of the owners of the business who seemed quite sympathetic to our situation. We were even allowed to open a dossier! He will recommend an 18 month CB to the owner and we are waiting to hear if it is accepted.

So we left there pretty chuffed and headed over to the Mairie (Town Hall) to double check our street would be in the right catchment area for the school we wanted. Oh yes, its in the right area - only problem is the school is full and they are putting people on a waiting list. The sooner we get on the list the better. This caused much angst and agonizing as once again our plans fell into disarray. We can go on the waiting list once we have our rental agreement and Lily's vaccination records approved by the health section of the Mairie. So I calmed down a bit and we popped home to get her health book and were able to get her records verfiied very quickly and efficiently.

I decided to go for a walk to check out the other school they would "recommend" for her if she doesnt get into our first choice. Through a combination of error, nerves and a bad mood, I completely missed the Maternelle school, seeing only the Elementary school, part of which borders a busy road. After arriving home in a state and insisting we now check out the private Catholic schools in our area, we headed to the local playground where David accosted a few mums for their opinion. After another trip to Mairie just to clarify some issues we trooped back to the recommended school, only to find on closer inspection a nice looking Maternelle, a quick walk from our hopefully home-to-be along a relatively quiet road and the zone pietonne (pedestrian area - which comprises much of the vielle ville and some of the centre ville).

So drama avoided, we are happy with either of the 2 schools and can (if its offered) confidently take the apartment knowing that we would be able to get Lily into a school nearby (and let's face it, she doesnt care if her school is on the lake or not - she just wants to go to school!)

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Maybe...

We've seen somewhere we are interested in. Not the place on the main road, that already had a dossier opened on it (not to mention that the agents wanted a 3 year caution bancaire.) But today we have seen a place we like. It is small but as soon as I walked in I felt we could be comfortable there. The building design has nothing special about it but the apartment is on the 6th floor and has a lovely view of the mountains. The balcony will need securing properly. It worries me but it is only accessed through 2 very secure doors. The apartment has a large lounge dining and two biggish bedrooms. Dav would use our bedroom to work in during the day and the loungeroom at night. The kitchen is little but quite lovely with a view out to the hills to the north. Best of all, it is fully equipped with built-in cupboards, sink, gas stove, oven and dishwasher. We'd only need to buy a fridge. It even has a little pantry area.

The apartment is two blocks from the lake and the school and about 5 minutes walk to the vielle ville. We have made enquiries and are waiting to hear from the landlord whether he will accept a caution bancaire. If he does we will open a dossier. Fingers crossed, once again.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Lily's first french sentence

Its been a nice cool rainy weekend after a rather hot week. I got a bit of time off today from the kids to go to the markets on my own and to sit and have a cup of hot chocolate and a St Honoré cake - yummy! Then David came down with the flu so it was back to the coal face. I did get time to make a very good pot of potato and leek soup.

I've been really impressed with how Lily's french is going. We spend a lot of time at the parks here so she is around kids every day. And of course, we have kept up with our plan to speak french outside the home and english at home (although we do mix them up a bit too). A few days ago she started to drop the odd french word into an english sentence (eg "I coloured the coccinelles in rouge". A coccinelle is a ladybird.) And yesterday she said her first french sentence. She was playing hide and seek with Jasper and she said "Maman, Jasper trouvé moi." I was amazed. Ok, so its not gramatically correct but that's how you learn. Today she said " Maman, I a fini." So she is starting to use some verbs which is great as they are more abstract than nouns (Well,that's how it seems to me, not that I'm a linguist!)

Tomorrow we hope to look at an old place nearby. It has everything going for it - its big, appears to have high ceilings, no balconies, 2 bedrooms and hopefully a dining room or some other area that David can use for an office, very close to our favourite school and Lily's favourite park, and what must be an amazing view of the lake ....... BUT, ready for the catch - its on the busiest road through town (although it is actually set back from the road a little). If its not right for us, or if they wont take a one year caution bancaire, I have no idea what we'll look at next - there are not that many more vacant apartments in this area.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Its hard to be a blogger.....

when you dont have a computer or internet access! I write all my posts out longhand every day or two. Then, when I can find a few spare minutes, usually when the kids are asleep and David is home with his laptop, I get to type them up. Then I get him to upload them for me when he next gets online. That's why they come up in batches of three or four at a time. I have yet to see any of my french posts up on my blog but once I get my computer in about 6 weeks I'll be able to go through and read and correct them (that is unless we can actually get a wireless internet card in less time than that!). Not quite how I imagined writing this blog but still.... What's hardest is being out of contact with family and friends because I dont have email. Its a bit isolating as I am quite dependant on email. But there is just not time for me to go off with the laptop to get online. If only there were more backpackers in Annecy, I'd have the perfect idea for a business - an internet cafe - but the type of tourist here just wouldnt be that interested!

Friday, 25 May 2007

A morning off and some good news

We took a long walk up past the chateau to check out the rest of the catchment area of one of the schools we like. There werent many apartments there but it was an interesting walk for me. We then walked further along the lake in the direction of Sévrier and came to the little public beach. It was really nice and peaceful. The water was very cold but Lily splashed around up to her knees and I sat in the shade on the lawn with Jasper.

But the day got worse when Jasper woke up early from his nap and was really unconsolable. We had to take him with us in a foul mood to inspect another apartment. This one was in a gorgeous old art deco building that faced south (we are after some winter sun in the mornings) and had a double séjour (double living area - so that David can use one part for an office). The two bedrooms had an adjoining door and it was very light. The tenant was there moving out and apparently she had little good to say about it. It was on the first floor and she could hear drunks leaving the pub up the road (sounds just like the Valley!), the balconies were very low and because of the sun the bedrooms got up to 39-40 degrees in summer! So another one not for us....

Just when I was starting to feel like nothing was going our way, David rang me from his makeshift office at the Novotel to tell me we had an email saying we had a tenant interested in our apartment in McWhirters at a really good rent and for a 12 month lease. Perfect! Maybe our luck is starting to change.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Our one week anniversary

We arrived in Annecy one week ago today and all things considered I dont think we're doing too badly. David spent some time at his bank the other day and got a few very important things sorted out. (You cant even get an internet connection without a cheque book!). And today we had a look at an apartment. It was near the train station and the exposure wasnt right but it was good to have a look. It was the first apartment I have seen in an "immeuble bourgeois" - one of the many lovely old 1920/1930s apartment buildings here in Annecy that we have our hearts set on. We have two others that we are trying to see but everything takes so long here. We cant even make an appointment to see one of them until Monday. I'm trying to be patient but I feel like there is so much to do and everything is more complicated than it first appears to be. I'm sure in a few months or so when we are all settled in the beaurocracy wont appear so daunting, but for now I just want to find us a home.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Aha!

Now I understand why Jasper has been so out of sorts. A few hours before his temperature finally broke I got really really sick with the flu - but all the sorts of symptoms which a baby cant tell you - fever, aches and pains, headache. Poor thing - if this is what he had no wonder he tossed and turned all night and whinged all day. That's all I feel like doing too.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Carte de Séjour - Part One

It was a return to reality today after a fun weekend spent sampling the best meats and cheeses of the markets, which are held on our doorstep three times a week. (For the record, the speciality cheeses of the region, le Tomme and le Réblochon are a little stronger than I am used to but I hope they will grow on me. For now, I prefer le Beaufort.)

Our first stop, (of course, we all have to go together) was the Courier, the shopping centre which offers free (albeit limited) wi-fi access. Obtaining temporary internet access at home is proving harder than we imagined.

Next up was the Préfecture to apply for the dreaded carte de séjour. After some explanation by David, we made it past the receptionist into the waiting area, clutching our little green numbered ticket, and sat amongst the other hopefuls. The wait was about an hour, during which time we heard the receptionist tell someone she had to go back to Colombia to get a long stay visa before she could apply. When our number came up we all entered the domain of the french beaurocrat. The kids, to their credit, were very good. Lily was on her best behaviour (she had been warned!) and Jasper did pretty well considering he was up again last night with a fever (if this continues, we will be acquainting ourselves with the french medical system earlier than I had envisaged.)

The official asked for my passport and my heart sunk as I watched him leafing through it. I knew he was looking for a visa. "I'm looking for a visa" he said in french, whereupon David whipped out my signed stamped official looking email from the French Consul in Brisbane which stated that I didnt require one. (I'm so glad we had that piece of paper!). He took it and my passport and left the room. After an anxious wait, he returned and started to fill out a checklist of documents I would be required to produce to obtain my carte de séjour, but a visa was not one of the them. He crossed that out! While I should have been elated, at the time I was miffed that the process seemed much harder than I thought it would be given that we were married. Later, when I found out that it would only last a year and that I would have to go through this process every year until I get my italian citizenship, I just groaned! Still, better not get ahead of myself. We have quite a few things to organize before my next appointment on 9 July but at least we have a bit of time.

The rest of the day was a frustrating one for David as he battled the french bank system trying to deposit money to pay our rent here. And once again he tried without success to sort out our internet connection. Still, considering how worried I had been about not having a visa, things could have been much worse.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

La Vielle Ville

After two days here, we have been able to move into our furnished apartment in the vielle ville where we will stay for 5 weeks (we have to move out for a week around Lily's birthday because of the animation festival). We are in a very old building which dates back to the 16th century with old hand hewn stone doorways and big flagstone stairs. Inside the apartment is quite modern and very comfortable. It looks out onto the main canal, the River Thiou which runs away from the lake. I'd expected the canals here to be peaceful slowflowing canals like those in Venice. But this water rushes away like a torrent. Arriving from dry old Brisbane, the water here seems so plentiful. There are wells and fountains everywhere and last night I had a deep bath (with only the tiniest bit of guilt!)

Its really nice to have a place to call home for a while and it seems to have made Lily very happy to have her own room. I think the travelling and uncertainty has been a little hard on her - she certainly has shown the french kids how to throw a real aussie tantrum. They both seem to have settled back into their old routines and are generally happy to go to bed at about 7pm despite the fact that its still broad daylight!

The coming week will be a busy one for us. First stop tomorrow is the Préfecture where I need to apply for my Carte de Séjour (residency permit). Having read many horror stories about the fickleness of french public servants and their refusals to part with these cards easily, I am a little nervous (despite the fact that I have the right to live here and I really DONT need a visa). Then we need to organise some banking and finally start the search for an apartment. Wish us bonne chance!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Ça suffit!

Back in Brisbane, I always said I would have to make the effort to practice my french as much as possible. In fact, it hasnt been an effort to try. While my french is still not very good, I am relatively comfortable using it and I dont have to force myself to do it. Maybe its because there are so many tourists in Annecy but I have found most people quite patient so far. My first words of french were spoken outside the Baggage claim in Paris while I waited for Dav to sort things out. And whilst it might have only been a few words about the bébé to a little 18 month old I was so chuffed with myself for jumping straight in! Since then I do try not to rely on David for little things, although I was glad he was there to help me out when I was trying to buy a SIM card for my phone.

I've had a couple of funny stuff-ups already. Back in Brisbane, I would say a few little phrases in french to Lily. One of them was "ça suffit!" which means "that's enough" and you often hear it from exasperated mums. At the Gare de Lyon in Paris while waiting for our train Dav sent me to buy some lunch. After studying the array of baguettes I managed to order two. The attendant then said something to me which I didnt understand but was obviously "is there anything else?". Instead of simply replying "non", my mind was searching for the words "c'est tout" ("that's all") but what I came out instead with was "ça suffit! Merci Madame." Not the right thing to say in the land of politeness. She didnt say anything or even look at me funny so it wasnt until a while later that I realized just how rude I had been!

And yesterday, I took Lily and Jasper to the Paquier while David caught up on a bit of work. And after a play at both playgrounds, a look at the carousel and a mini-train ride along the lake I took them to Quick Burger for some lunch (Bad mother, I know, but I was in need of red meat and couldnt face sitting in a restaurant with Jasper on my own). I studied the menu whilst I waited in line and decided on a burger meal - a Menu Supreme Cheese (try saying that with a french accent - it sounds so dorky). So I ordered and the woman asked if I wanted "pommes frite" (or so I thought). Now, I already knew I got fries with my meal and I'd sussed out that fries came in "normale" or "rustique" (rustique looked a bit like wedges). So I replied in french yes, please the normal ones. When it came time to pay I handed over my carefully counted out 6 euro 50, only to be asked for another 65 cents. Puzzled, I handed it over and she said it was for the "grandes frites". OK, I thought about that for a bit and then it dawned on me. She'd said "grandes frites"...not "pommes frites". She'd supersized me!! Still when she came back with my meal I was able to say "je comprends maintenant...les grandes frites" and she gave me a smile and I left having learned something else and having had a bit of a giggle at myself!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Annecy, at last!

We are finally here and it was worth the long journey. Annecy is even more beautiful than I imagined. It already has a sense of familiarity to me from all the maps and photos I have pored over and although it is early days I feel sure that we can settle into a happy life here.

The journey here had its ups and downs and I'm very glad that its over and that I dont have to do it again any time soon. Our first flight to Tokyo was fantastic. The plane was half empty and we had bulkhead seats and many other rows to move around and stretch out in. The 9 hours seemed to go very quickly with both kids having a 3 hour nap. We settled in comfortably at the Tokyo Hilton and I was just enjoying a delicious japanese curry with grilled chicken when Jasper woke up with a 39.4 degree temperature. What was to have been a good night's rest became broken sleep with Jasper literally breastfeeding all night for comfort, culminating in him vomiting up his 2nd dose of neurofen and about 8 litres of breastmilk all over me at 2am. For a while there I was worried that we might have to take MBF up on their travel insurance policy but he cooled down a bit by morning and we boarded our next flight.

This one wasnt so good. I'll say this for him, he was quiet when he was asleep...but he mostly cried and whinged all the time he was awake. Lily did great with her own personal video screen (a real treat) and the flight seeemed to pass quite quickly. We made our quick connection from Heathrow to Paris and I readied myself for a grilling at immigration about my "no visa" situation. But we passed through with no problems and it all seemed so easy that I had to check with David that it was immigration we had just passed - I expected further officials to be waiting around the corner ready to pounce! I was on such a high from just being in France that the drama that followed in the baggage claim section almost passed me by. Jasper howled, Lily threw a massive tantrum as there were no toilets and 3 of our 5 peices of luggage were lost. Dav was furious but what did I care? - I was in France!!

Of course, it all got sorted out and the bags were delivered to our hotel later that night. We had a very comfy stay in the Holiday Inn near Charles de Gaulle and then the next morning started the long journey into Paris with our luggage (2 very heavy suitcases, a very heavy wheely case, a portacot, 2 laptop bags, Lily's Barbie backpack, and my back pack). After a couple of train changes we made it to Gare de Lyon and got the TGV straight to Annecy. It was a great trip and I loved seeing the countryside - everything is so lush and green here and there is water everywhere. But at the end, after having slept for about 3 hours, Jasper vomited yet again when I got up and went to the bar. In fact, he also vomited as soon as I set foot on the platform at Annecy and, after our taxi ride, once I set foot in the htoel - I hope he's not trying to tell us something. At least he didnt throw up IN the taxi and in his defence, there were lots of fast bends as we travelled through the mountains.

When we got off the train at Annecy, the first thing I recognized was the building housing the apartment David had pursued in February. We got a taxi as it was raining and with Jasper on my lap (oh, how my standards slip when travelling!), we drove through the centre ville and towards the vielle ville. Everywhere I looked was something I recognized. It was so overcast, I could barely see the lake so the town revealed itself to me by degrees. There was the Bonlieu (Welcome Centre), over there the Paquier (with its 100 year old carousel which we discovered the next day goes VERY fast), and then the canals and the buildings of the old town. It wasnt until the next morning that the clouds cleared and I saw the mountains and the lake clearly. It is a truly breathtaking place that we have chosen to live in.

Monday, 14 May 2007

This is It!

We're all packed and we leave tomorrow morning. All our good byes are said - it was very hard (and as David says - rather bittersweet). But now, we're ready to go and excited about our new journey and our search for our new home...

Friday, 11 May 2007

Mistakes and goodbyes

Its 5 days to go and we're all ready. I've even started packing the suitcases. There was a bit of a hiccup the other day when I realized that I had packed Lily's birth certificate and I need to be able to produce it when I enter France to prove I'm her mum (as part of the requirements for me to enter without a visa). Luckily I was able to get a new one on Tuesday with no hassles. Then, when I was arranging to disconnect all the utilities next week, I managed to cut off the internet at home - not good! But I'm sure I told her the right date. Of course, Telstra offered us a free dial up account in the meantime that doesnt work! It just makes me wonder what else I might have forgotten...

I've started saying goodbyes to all my friends - its really hard. I'm really going to miss them all. And today we farewell Puddy. She is off to a cattery for about 6 weeks until we find our new home and then we'll fly her over. I hope she travels ok - she's no spring chicken - but as David says "No Giorgi left behind".