Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Abnormal Saturday

At first I was going to call this 'a normal Saturday,' but then I realized that this year it really isn't normal for us to not be traveling on the weekend ;)

Don't laugh, but I feel like spring has started to spring on the Riviera. People are starting to come out of hibernation. There are people out on the streets again. It's really been a ghost town since late November, but it looks like it's starting to wake up!

We have had some beautiful sunny weather this week, and certain flowers are starting to bloom. We had to take advantage of that and start our weekend with a walk by the water. This is officially the second best walk by the water in Mandelieu. The first best is by the castle, obviously.

Second best walk:

First best walk:

For lunch we drove over to Cannes and made David's dreams come true by going to an American-themed restaurant- the Little Rock Diner. It is hilarious to me that there are American-themed restaurants here. They are usually styled like 50s diners. Our food was even adorned with tiny American flags.

I didn't find it to be 100% authentic American food (I mean, what diner has no grilled cheese on the menu: blasphemy)- but they really tried and it's a cute place. David was in heaven. He decided we will go there to celebrate when his green card is approved.

Our other reason for heading to Cannes was some apartment hunting! We're in the process of looking for a new place. This was the first one we were able to visit.

It was pretty good but a little expensive and a little far from David's work. It did however, have a modern kitchen, big bedroom, big closet, and balcony. And it's just a few hundred yards from the beach. Did I just make you visualize an episode of House Hunters? Because that was my goal.

We will try to see some more places this week and make a decision. The rent will be painful, but I'm excited to have our own place and to be in a bigger city! We did have our current place to ourselves at first, but now the owner of the apartment (family member of David) comes on the weekends.

Our exciting and exotic Saturday ended with some grocery shopping. I'm such a good wife that I got some supplies to cook for Valentine's Day. Just kidding, a good wife would probably cook a little more often than that. Actually, considering my cooking skills I'm probably being a good wife by not cooking.

On our next few weekends we will be in Gap, Milan, and flying home from Belgium (that one's just me). See what I mean? This weekend of sticking around was pretty abnormal.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Romans in France

Our living situation is a bit unique right now! We aren't paying rent (yay), but since December we haven't had the place to ourselves on weekends. It hasn't been an issue at all so far; since while I was gone David went home every weekend. But now that I'm back, we have to think of creative solutions until we move.

The solution for my first weekend back in France was to do a little sightseeing. I chose a few places that weren't too far away that have been on my bucket list.

We first drove 2.5 hours to get to the Pont du Gard, which is the tallest Roman aqueduct in the world. It was built in the 1st century A.D.

A nice surprise was that the bridge is surrounded by a big park filled with hills and trees. We ended up staying longer than planned because it was fun to walk around and it was a beautiful sunny day. Yep, 60s in February. That's the South of France ;)

Just about 15 minutes down the road was our hotel in the village of Uzès. We were originally planning on staying in a bigger city, but when I found a nice hotel in Uzès it seemed like a good opportunity to explore a small medieval town.

The building of the hotel itself was built in the 1400s!!

Here are the views from the hotel's rooftop terrace. I am easily won over by cathedrals. I love this one's tower- reminds me of the Tower of Pisa!

After dropping off our luggage we set out to walk around the town before it got dark. It's always nice to just wander around with no plan. The most exciting moment was finding a castle without trying to. Apparently there is still a Duke of Uzès who continues to live here.

View from the edge of town:

In town:

After dinner we happened to come across a French travel TV show where they were visiting... wait for it... Wisconsin! They went to Milwaukee, Madison, Door County, and Chicago. It was very entertaining to hear a French perspective of my state. I'm a little ashamed that even I learned some things haha

We drove to Nîmes (30 minutes away) the next morning for church. Afterwards it was time to see the Roman sites downtown. 

The Nîmes Arena is the main thing to see. It's basically a mini-Colosseum, and used to host gladiator fights. 

The major difference between this place and the Colosseum is that it's still used for events- bull fights and concerts. All of the stone benches are covered up with wooden seats, and there are 21st century safety-approved railings everywhere. I thought that was too bad because it didn't look as ancient on the inside.

I liked getting to see some views of Nîmes from the top of the arena.

I learned on this tour that David is a very faithful audioguide-er. I usually get bored and eventually give up, but he made it through every one of the commentaries. Good job David. But I got a little bored waiting for you. One interesting thing I did learn before I gave up was that during the Middle Ages a few hundred people lived in houses inside the arena. The arena walls protected them from being invaded.

I even took a cute picture of David really concentrating on the audioguide, but I will be a good wife and not post it. I'll post these instead because they won't get me in trouble.

Unfortunately we didn't have the same lovely weather the day before. Winter came back (and by winter I mean 50 degrees and rainy). So it wasn't ideal to walk around the city. 

We did stop at one more place- the Maison Carrée, which was a Roman temple.

Like everything else we saw on this little trip, it was so well preserved for being built in the first century. I thought it was pretty!

And that was that. Just 2 hours later we were back home in Mandelieu. One of the things I've always loved about Europe is how much there is to see without traveling very far. And as this weekend proves, there's not just French history to see! There's a lot of Roman history all over France, but especially in the south.

If you're interested, I also wrote about what I've been up to and the exciting things to come, and a funny story illustrating one reason why we won't be staying in France.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Starting out 2017

I started out my 2017 in Wisconsin, where I stayed for a whole month while waiting for my visa. Here are some things I enjoyed doing during my time in America (besides the obvious- spending time with family).

-Getting to spend quality time with my baby Buttercup. I’ve been so dog deprived in France!

-Going with Jenna to see the touring Broadway play of the Sound of Music. It’s one of my favorite movies and it was great live.
-Getting to catch up with my friend Elvera. She drove all the way from Madison 3 times to hang out because she's cool like that.
-Cleaning out our basement. Yes, this was actually fun for me. I wish I could have done more. We’ve lived in our same house for 24 YEARS, and have accumulated a lot of junk. I felt like an archeologist digging through layers of different eras. I threw away a lot of VHS tapes and other 90s memorabilia, and found some gems from my childhood to keep.
-Watching lots of American TV. I’ll miss you TLC channel, and all of your shows about wedding dresses and weird people. Until next year, old friend.
-The French visa process going smoothly. Maybe because I’m a pessimist, but it was a little scary to have no control over when I could see my husband again- and not even knowing 100% that my visa would be approved. Thankfully, everything went well and it didn't take long at all for the visa to be processed. 
-Finally getting snow the week before I left! Pretty much no one loves winter and snow more than me, so I’m glad Wisconsin came through for me.

And now that I've been back in France for a week, here are a few things I'm looking forward to in the coming months:
-My cousin Brittany visiting at the end of February. We’ll spend 3 days in Paris, go with David to Milan for the weekend, and then spend a few days touring around where we live in the South of France.
-After I take Brittany back to Paris for her flight, I’m doing a 1 night solo trip to Bruges, Belgium! It’s a city I’ve wanted to see for a few years, so I’m making in happen since I’ll already be up north. 
-Another weekend in London at the beginning of April. We liked it so much in December, we had to go back! The flights are cheap, so why not?
-My whole family visiting at the end of May!! As of now, the tentative plan is to meet up in Geneva, Switzerland, spend some time around our home turf in France, and then hit up Venice, Florence, and Siena in Italy! It will be an epic family reunion.
-Our honeymoon in Greece in June! I know it’s obnoxious, but all of these things really do deserve exclamation marks, so you’re going to have to deal with it. We’re so excited to relax and sightsee around a new country together.
-I’m also looking forward to small road trips around southern France. And spending lots of time at the beach this summer. Also, any other travels we’re able to afford and squeeze in would be a bonus. I’d love to do Israel and a few places in Eastern/Central Europe (Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Krakow). David is dying to go to Vienna.

So what else is new for the Rubinos?

We’re planning on finding a new apartment soon and will hopefully be moving to Cannes. Obviously living rent-free was worth it, but I’m ready to leave our small town and to have more privacy and control over our own place.

Now that I have the visa (well, first I need to have it validated and do a medical visit- could take another month or 2), I can also look for some kind of job. Really not sure how that will go or what I will find... but I will see what's out there.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why we're not staying in France: a story

I usually like to write about the more glamorous side of living abroad: traveling! But once in a while it's fun to vent and document some of the downsides. 

I got back to France this week after an entire month at home in the U.S. I was excited to get back to my husband and our plans for this year. Unfortunately, the second I got home there were some issues to deal with. Enjoy this timeline of my annoying week...

Saturday- The lock on our front door is broken. It was broken on purpose by a locksmith because the owner of the apartment got locked out and wanted to get in right away. Not really clear on why it was so urgent or why the locksmith couldn't put a new lock on right away, but you know, it is France.

Sunday- The apartment sits open (with our stuff inside) with no one staying there- David was home with his parents for the weekend.

Monday- I travel for about 15 hours. I don't sleep on planes. I am tired and I want to take a hot shower followed by a long nap. I can't do either of those things. Since David is at work- it's my job to chill in the unlocked apartment and wait for the workers to show up. They were supposed to come at 2, so I wait. Then they called and changed it to 4:30. I wait. Then we don't hear anything from them until the next day. The door doesn't even stay closed, so we push a table against it before we go to bed.

Tuesday- The new plan is that they'll come between 8-11. I get up early and wait. Silly me. They show up at 1, and work for 3 hours. 

I'm happy to see them go.

However, it turns out they did a terrible job. The lock was loose on the door, which didn't seem right, and the funniest part was that the bar (the purpose of which is to go down into the hole in the floor when it's locked) was too short and didn't touch the hole.

I would have been happy to leave it as is since we won't be staying much longer ;), but that was not to be. 

Wednesday- They are supposed to come at 5pm to fix it. Someone comes at 7 and doesn't fix anything, just investigated to see what the problem was. When we asked what time he was coming back the next day, he gave us a whiny speech about how he was tired from working all day and couldn't possibly predict what his schedule would be like. 

Thursday- I'm stuck inside all day since he couldn't give us any indication about when he was coming. He arrives at 2 with another guy, who immediately asks me to make him coffee lol. I'm not your waitress. I also didn't have coffee (and wouldn't how to make it, for that matter...).

They work for an hour. My favorite part was when they took a break and decided to go out on the balcony for a while. Sure, go ahead and just walk through the apartment and hang out where you please. 

Thankfully, after another hour, the lock is finished! It seems to work much better, so hopefully the saga is over.

By the way, there was never any explanation or apology about why they kept canceling appointments or why it was done so terribly the first time.

The bottom line is that a lot of things are less effective here. You have to have patience. Things usually get done eventually, but no one seems to be in a rush about getting things done when it's convenient to the customer.

Example #2... David bought a car in August, and he's only driven it for about a month since then. The first time we took it into the shop, they had the car for 3 months. A week later something still wasn't working, and now they've had it for another month. That would never in a million years happen in America. No one needs 4 months to fix a car.

There are a lot of great things about France that I love, but the typical attitude toward customer service would get pretty frustrating if we lived here forever. Since our time in France has a foreseeable end, it's easy to just laugh about these ridiculous situations. 

Does this illuminate for anyone a little bit why we're leaving a Mediterranean paradise to return to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin?  ;)