Friday, January 26, 2018

Krakow- our foray into the East

The idea of a last-minute trip to Poland was born when we realized that Nice-Warsaw flights were more than affordable. 

When the next day David texted me and confirmed he was able to take off from work, I had the whole trip planned in an hour. Flights, hotels, tours and a concert all researched and booked. I think I'm getting good at this whole Europe trip-planning thing.

Although we felt like we were savvy travelers, we weren't feeling so confident after landing in Poland. After only a few minutes on Polish soil, we were majorly cheated by the taxi driver on the way to our hotel. Since it was already past midnight (thanks to a delayed flight), we were mostly just relieved to be in our bed and able to rest up for the sightseeing to come. 

More mishaps occurred the next day trying to take the bus to the train station and a train to Krakow. We were eventually successful but accidentally ended up on the slow train. It was cheaper, but took twice as long as we were planning on.

It ended up being kind of fun to be on an old-timey train and watch the snow fall outside the big window for a few hours. We had our own compartment (think Hogwarts Express style). The bummer was that we had less time to explore Krakow before it got dark. 

Our first stop was Rynek Glowny, the main square. There were beautiful and interesting buildings on all sides! It reminded me a lot of Prague.

We also walked around the Wawel Castle grounds and caught a glimpse of the Vistula River.

On the way over to our Airbnb we stopped inside St. Mary's church on the main square. There were no pictures allowed inside, so I found this one online. We loved the colorful interior.

Speaking of our Airbnb, for only $20/night we got an apartment twice as big as our own in Cannes. It was right across the street from the train station and a huge mall. We're big fans of Eastern Europe prices.

Our second full day in Poland was mostly spent visiting Auschwitz. That will be a post all on its own. At night we went to a Chopin piano concert and healed a little bit from all we'd seen during the day.

I wanted to see Krakow's Jewish Quarter before leaving, so on our last day we headed over to the Kazimierz neighborhood. In the Middle Ages, Kazimierz was the only area where Jews were allowed to live. It remained the center of Jewish life in Krakow until WWII. 65,000 of Krakow's 70,000 Jews died in the Holocaust.

This neighborhood was neglected during the Communist era. It was revitalized in the 90s, in part thanks to the movie Schindler's List. Many scenes in the movie were filmed here. Some Jews have since come back and there are several Jewish restaurants, bookstores, businesses, etc. We visited the Remuh Synagogue and cemetery, first built in the 1500s.

Our last tourist stop was St. Francis church. Once again, we loved the fact that Polish churches are colorful. 

The crèche/nativity was still up and we liked that too. The French like to pretend Jesus was born in a Provençal village (French nativities usually consist of entire Provence peasant village) and the Poles like to pretend Jesus was born in a shiny rainbow castle. It's definitely not a stable but I like their style.

We enjoyed the snow and sites on our last walk through Krakow. I was in heaven seeing the snow.

After that last bit of sightseeing we headed back to Warsaw to catch our flight. We had an extra hour to kill and tried to go see a bit of downtown Warsaw. We were unsuccessful in figuring out how to get there (the old town isn't close to the train station).

It turns out that Polish is an incredibly complicated language. I normally hate traveling somewhere without at least knowing the bare minimum basics in the local language. I have an ear for languages and can normally pick up on a few words by studying beforehand and listening once I'm there.

NOT in Polish hahahaha. I tried to do some Duolingo the week prior. We tried to ask some Polish people to teach us how to say hello/goodbye/thank-you/etc. Nothing worked. 

Every time someone said a Polish word, it just sounded like mush. I could not repeat the sounds they made for the life of me. Including Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and more... Polish is the most confusing language I've come across.

To make things harder, most Poles did not have a high level of English. Older people spoke as much English as I speak Polish. I'm guessing this is due to the whole Eastern Bloc thing. Young people mostly spoke English like French people speak English. That is to say... not well. 

It's not an issue for me in France because I speak French, but it did make things complicated for us in Poland. We had to do our best to figure things out on our own!

Instead of getting to sightsee, we had extra time to eat at the airport. I was extremely entertained to find "real Wisconsin cheddar cheese" in Warsaw of all places. Wisconsin cheese=world renowned. So proud.

P.S. I would like to pay tribute to the "Pony Incident" episode of Seinfeld because that was on my mind the whole time I was there. Why would anyone move to a non-pony country when you could live in Poland?

Watch this to understand.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

French Island Paradise

There are four small islands- the Iles de Lérins- that are just off the coast of Cannes. Two are tiny and uninhabited. The others are accessible by a short 15 minute ferry ride from the port of Cannes.

Ile Sainte-Marguerite has a fortress where the Man in the Iron Mask was held captive for a time. That sounded interesting, but we chose to visit the Ile Saint-Honorat instead for the medieval monastery and castle.

We are moving away from Cannes in 2 weeks, so this was a fitting way to start saying goodbye. I've been wanting to do this all year, so I'm very happy I was finally able to! We even got lucky with a sunny, 60 degree day. According to the app on my phone, that means it was 60 degrees warmer than Wisconsin.  :)

Cruising towards the island.

Ile Sainte-Marguerite and the Man in the Iron Mask prison.

The island was very peaceful. Most of the time we didn't even come into contact with anyone else. After walking along a trail lined with trees, we came across the monk's vineyards. We cut through the vineyards in the direction of the abbey.

I loved the combination of beautiful architecture framed by palm trees.

I hope the monks weren't offended that I decided this was a runway.

Our next stop was heading to the coast and castle. 

To our surprise, the castle was open and could be explored. Even better, we were the only ones inside! There were four floors up a narrow and steep spiral staircase (with no railing, might I add). On each floor, the views got better. The view from the roof was the best part!

The water was so clear you could see to the bottom!

That was a nice moment, being alone together on a castle roof on a Mediterranean island. No big deal.

After the castle, we continued along the coast to walk the circumference of the island. We paused for a moment to play on the rocks. The water looked inviting, but when David touched it and felt how chilly it was, we were reminded it was January.

It was about 2.5 miles to completely walk around Saint-Honorat. We saw everything there was to see in about two hours. If we ever come back to visit, we plan on bringing a picnic lunch and hanging out in the park all day.

This time, after our boat ride back, we had some Steak n' Shake on the Croisette instead. I am going to miss colorful Cannes.

To finish a great and relaxing day, this dog (who looks like my nephew Ollie) joined us while we ate. I 100% love that dogs are welcome in public places in France. It was hard not to share our fries with him, but I'm not sure his owner would have approved.

Monday, January 15, 2018

So you want a green card...

This past week we have been celebrating that we finally reached the end of this road- David has his visa! That means we can move back to the U.S.!

Why yes, I did waste some time photoshopping this.
I wanted to elaborate a bit for those who are curious about what type of visa he has and what the process was like. I knew absolutely nothing about American immigration before going through this, so it was all a learning curve for me.

David has a CR1 immigrant visa. The CR stands for "conditional resident," and applies to couples like us who have been married for less than 2 years. When he enters the U.S., David will become a permanent resident. This means he is allowed to live and work in the U.S. for the rest of his life. He will be able to start working right away, and should receive his green card in the mail a few weeks after our arrival.

Two years from now, we will have to apply to remove the temporary/conditional status from his green card. After that, he will be a permanent permanent resident. This extra step for those who haven't been married for a long time is an attempt to weed out fake green card marriages. That means we'll need to send in more paperwork (yay!) and provide evidence that we have a real marriage (joint bank accounts, house ownership, family photos, etc.)

A year after that (so after 3 years of living in the U.S.), David is eligible to become an American citizen! This will mark the true end of the road immigration-wise. Of course, that process involves more paperwork and a lot more money. Technically, he could just remain a permanent resident and not become a citizen... but we all know David's already made his choice. He's already started studying for the civics test.

Here is a rough timeline of what the CR1 process was like for us. We were told to expect it to take 10 months, max 12. It ended up taking 14.

September 2016: We got married. Good times.

October 2016: We moved to France. It took a few weeks to get official copies of our marriage license. After that, we were able to start gathering other documents and filling out forms with the help of an immigration lawyer.

November 2016: We submitted the first big batch of paperwork (form I-130) to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), along with a fee of about $500. The information in the paperwork mostly included every address we've each lived at in the last 5 years, every job we've each had in the last 5 years, other general biographical information and information about our marriage. USCIS knows more about me now than most of my friends ;)

August 2017: Our case was finally transferred to the NVC (National Visa Center). This was the longest wait during the whole process (9 months). We were very happy when we advanced to this step.

September 2017: We submitted another big batch of paperwork (form DS-260) and another $500 payment to the NVC. The major new chunk of information we had to provide this time was an Affidavit of Support. If the American spouse (i.e. me) isn't currently working in America, you need another sponsor to agree to be financially responsible for the immigrant until they become a citizen. I find it silly that they seem to expect spouses to live apart (spoiler alert: we got married because we want to live together) during this long process, but I digress. Thankfully, my dad agreed to be the sponsor.

December 2017: David had his medical visit and interview at the Paris embassy. Everything was fast and easy besides the fact that he didn't have the correct form of birth certificate they wanted. That delayed things a bit because it took a few weeks to get it and mail it in. 

January 2018: The visa was issued!!!!! David may have played the Hallelujah chorus when he received it. It was a long wait. Yes, we got to do a lot of great traveling in the mean time, but it's not fun to be waiting for something and not have control over when it happens. For example, it's made it pretty much impossible for me to look for a job in France or America without having any idea when we're moving.

As I said in my previous post, David's last day of work is January 31st. We will move out of Cannes the next day and then spend about a month tying up loose ends, spending time with his family, and traveling before we make the big move home.

I'm happy we were able to be together throughout this process. I'm happy it went smoothly besides a delay of a few months, and I'm thankful for my family's support. I'm so happy for David that he is about to live his dream of moving to America permanently!

Congratulations to future American citizen David Rubino- I'm excited to start our life together in Wisconsin :)

My previous post about immigration- So you want to live with your husband -about the frustrations of starting my French immigration and his American immigration simultaneously.