Battle of Kings and Hot Water Heaters!

Ok so there was not an actual battle of kings versus hot water heaters.  However there was a battle of the kings, and M and I did battle our hot water heater, which put up a surprisingly good fight.

A few weeks ago I went into our little storage closet to get the old vacuum cleaner that had been left here by the previous owners.  I was retrieving the vacuum cleaner in order to take it down to the city dump because the vacuum cleaner was no longer functioning. The little storage closet is also where the hot water heater lurks, plotting nasty deeds.  In the process of getting the vacuum out of the closet, I noticed that the floor beneath the vacuum was wet.  And now everyone reading this can sense the impending doom.  Fear not dear reader! We dried up the floor and searched for the source of the leak.  A steady drip was quickly found and contained with a handy bucket.

After some sleepless nights for M, in which she was up at all hours checking to make sure the leak wasn’t getting worse, a plumber finally arrived to fix the problem.  A recommendation from saviors Pierre and Janet led us to Zermatten plumbers, who came  and stopped the leak.  Or so it appeared…

After a couple of nights filled with actual sleep, our electricity went out about 2 am.  Somehow M got the electricity going again after fiddling with the circuit breakers.  Accountant extraordinaire, master plumber and now certified electrician.  There is no end to M’s talents.  This fix lasted about a day until the same thing happened again the next night.  This time, it was master electrician Chris who saved the day and got the electrons flowing once more.  Those electrons flowed until the next morning.

“Wait a minute, how did we get on to the topic of circuit breakers?” some of you readers are asking. “I thought you were writing about the hot water heater!” others of you are pointing out.  Little did we know the deviousness of the hot water heater.  At this point, the hot water heater appeared to be behaving itself.  As it turned out, the hot water heater was doing an excellent job of disguising it’s true scheme.

When the electricity kept going off because of the circuit breaker, I played around with the circuit breaker box until I figured out that the hot water heater circuit was causing all the other breakers to be thrown off.  I called Pierre who came up and decided that we should unscrew the electrical panel on the hot water heater in order to see what was happening.  A leak is what was happening – from somewhere in the hot water heater down through the electrical wiring.  The leak caused the circuit breaker to shut everything off whenever the hot water heater felt it was most inconvenient.

The plumbers came again and after we heard them use the words, “merde” and “putain” a few times, the plumbers decided we needed a new hot water heater.  (I’ll leave you to figure out the meaning of those french curse words, this is a family program after all!)  A new hot water heater was eventually installed and all was right with the world.  Until a different leak started from our new hot water heater.  On instruction from the old hot water heater no doubt.

It turned out that one of our pipes is particularly small and did not properly fit the new hot water heater.  The plumbers came again and patched up the new leak, and as of this writing, there are no more leaks.  We hope that continues for another 25 years or so.

Now, on to battling kings!  The battle of the kings, or possibly queens, is a head butting battle of bulls and/or cows that happens in various places around Europe.  I do not know the history of this event, nor do I know the rules.  The reason I mentioned the possibility of queens is that there are female cows over here in Europe with horns, so you can see where the confusion might arise.  I will use the word “cow” as a catchall term henceforth.  What happens though is as follows.  There is a large ring where usually about 6 cows are brought in at the same time, two by two.  An announcer calls out the numbers which are painted on the sides of the cows.  Those two cows then proceed to battle each other by butting their heads and pushing one another around the ring. When one cow had shoved the other cow hard enough to make it turn around, the match was over and the hardest shoving cow was deemed the winner.

It appeared as though there were about 100 or more cows in Le Tour for the battle.  We think it was a winner moves on to the next round sort of battle, and we didn’t have all day to watch so we do not know who won.  The event was quite popular however, as there were at least 1,000 people in attendance.  Oddly enough, they even played American country music during the times when the cows were not battling.

Following are some links to short videos taken during the event.  One video shows the cows being led to the arena.  Right down our street no less!  A different video shows the cows doing battle.  The final link shows what happens when the cows decide the battle should continue after the contest was over.

Obviously, things have gotten a little crazy around here in Le Tour!  We have had some adventures since those mentioned in this blog that I will hopefully write about soon.

Go out and be consistent!

Road Trip to the Big City

When you move to France, you have to have a medical exam from the French immigration office, known as OFII.  The OFII office nearest to us is in Annecy (pronounced Aahn-see and not Ann-eh-see, because as usual, the French have given up on some letters in the word).  Annecy is about 90 minutes from Le Tour.  That distance and the timing necessitated a road trip.

Emily and I have not had the occasion or desire to do any big road trips since we moved here and do not look forward to doing them often.  At least not yet.  This is mainly due to the fact that we are still uncomfortable driving around in France.  There is no real reason for this discomfort other than the fact that we are scared.  We are scared because we are uncomfortable and vice versa.

The main thoroughfares in France are some of the best roads we have ever driven on.  If there is a bump on the highway we haven’t found it yet.  It is true that the roads through little villages are a bit on the narrow side, slightly wider than a US bike path is normal.  Our journey to Annecy was all on big highways though so there was no need to worry about narrow roads.  There were tolls however and those made us nervous.  As it turned out though, the toll stations were easy to navigate and round trip cost us a little less than 20 Euros.

Annecy is mainly known for it’s lake, aptly named Lac Annecy.  It is a medium sized lake surrounded by large hills and it is quite beautiful.

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Lac Annecy

The lake draws a lot of tourists and there are many boats for rent or for hire, including sail boats.

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Part of the Rental fleet

There are also quite a few statues and other pieces of art to view around town.

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ART!

I think the main part of Annecy reminded me of the Pearl Street area of Boulder as it had lots of restaurants and shops and was for the most part a pedestrian only area.

Our appointment with the doctor went fine and was just a series of questions along with height and weight and an eye test.  The appointment took about an hour and we were on our way back to the car which was parked in a parking garage that had classical music playing.  Of course there were some distractions between us and our car.  Namely shops selling all manner of bread and sweets.  As shown below with Emily having found a small beignet.

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The Beignets are slightly bigger down here!

While I was waiting for Emily, I too found some nourishment.

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A whole Gluten Free store!

Technically the sign on the door says, “Without Gluten Free” but I got their meaning and had to go in and buy some sweets for myself.

We also saw what appeared to be an imminent game of unintentional dominoes.

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I really wanted to see the results of this impending disaster.

Our trip was very successful and we are looking forward to visiting Annecy again in the future.  It is a possible drier winter running area that offers many trails around the lake.

This week is UTMB week which means there are lots of spandex clad runners hanging about the Cham valley.  If you are unfamiliar with UTMB, www.irunfar.com has a nice preview of the various races.  Americans have a fair chance in several of the different races this year so hopefully they can perform on the biggest trail running stage in the world.

Emily and I meanwhile, will be trying our best to avoid the madhouse that is Chamonix during this week.  The main street through town is literally shoulder to shoulder with people and the buses are packed like sardines in a can.  Thankfully Le Tour is fairly removed from all the hustle and bustle.

Now go out and be consistent!

 

Nekkid French people and other updates.

Gotcha!  There are no pictures of naked (or if you are from the south, “nekkid”) French people.

When we arrived at our new place in Le Tour, there was a bed waiting for us in the, “master bedroom”.  Those words are in quotes because it is really just another bedroom.  The bed that awaited us was not what anyone would call the most comfortable of beds.  Some people like firm beds and some like soft beds.  Some people probably like the Goldilocks combo where everything is, “juuussst right”.  The bed here was none of those things, and all of those things, except just right.  It was firm in some spots and soft in others.  You could always count on ending up in the middle of the thing by the end of the night, so at least it had that going for it.  Best of all, it was lying directly on the floor, like the one in your first college off-campus apartment.

There is also a closet in the “master” waiting for us to fill it with our stuff.  Or at least six or seven small items of clothing as that is about all that would fit.  Of course we had to take the accordion doors off the closet first so we would have room to walk around the bed, since when open, the doors took up too much space.

What all of this means is that Emily and I needed new bedroom furniture and a new bed.  There is a lovely store in Chamonix that sells all manner of housewares.  We managed to find a bed with lots of storage underneath and a chest-of-drawers.  Or if you are from the south, a, “Chester Drawz”.  When I was growing up I always wondered who Chester was and why we were talking about his underwear.

Much to our surprise, furniture in Chamonix and France in general is very cheap compared to furniture in the US!  “How can this be?”, you might ask, since lots of other things are more expensive.  It turns out there is a very good reason furniture is cheaper here.  It is delivered to you unassembled.

Some of you out there will be familiar with the fact that M and I, to put it kindly, are not mechanically inclined.  The last home project we tried was replacing the microwave at our place in Frisco.  After three hours we gave up…, on getting it out of the wall.  We had to call our friend Landon to come and finish the job for us.

To say that putting together a bed with storage shelves and a chest-of-drawers was going to be a challenge for us would be one of the greatest understatements in the history of understatements.  Right up there with, “we really need an electric screwdriver!”  Our current list of tools consists of the following: Allen wrench, bunch of screwdrivers of various types (except electric!), and Leatherman.  We had to borrow a hammer from our neighbor Michelle.  I think in the back of our minds we were hoping for something along the lines of, “Some assembly required”.  Wishful thinking is what that was.  Speaking of wishful thinking the, “ALL ASSEMBLY REQUIRED,” instructions stated that our bed could be put together in 1 hour by a team of two people.  It must have been referring to a team other than M and I.  I am happy to report that M and I are both still alive, we have a bed, and it only took us 6 hours!  We reserved the assembly of Chester for the next day.  He only took about 4 hours.

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Lots of work to do!
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The finished product!

Part of the reason for our rush in getting our furniture put together was that sister-in-law Sarah was coming to visit.  The guest room was taken up with lots of our stuff and we needed somewhere to put it so Sarah would have a place to sleep.  We finished just in time!

Sarah likes to hike when she visits us over here so we planned a couple nights at the Loriaz hut in order for her to get further afield than what one can normally do just from our house.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the hut system in Europe allows one to go across and around all of Europe by hiking from hut to hut.  Some of the huts are as nice as regular hotels.  Others are what one would call rustic.  As in, there is no running water and a hole in the ground for a bathroom.  Loriaz is more towards the rustic side of things although some of the bunk houses did have nice wood paneling and comfy beds.

The hike to Loriaz from our house is about 7 miles and does not have a lot of vertical gain.  It is a good hike for people who are unaccustomed to hiking around here as there are no real technical sections.

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The view just below the Loriaz hut.

The hike from Loriaz over the Col de Terrasse (I pronounce it, “Tear ass”) then over to Emossons Dam, which we did the next day, is not for people unaccustomed to hiking over here.  It begins with a climb straight up to a ridge with about 1,800 feet of vertical gain in less than two miles.  The climb also has some easy scrambling over large boulders at the top.  Did I mention there is no real trail and only sometimes a random path through the scree on the way up?

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We had a long way to go.
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Did I mention it was steep?
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It was 90 degrees so that water looked inviting.
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The views once over the top were alright.

Once at the top, you cross into Switzerland which is immediately known due to the fancy trail signs that appear right when you cross the border from France.  The trail signs in France are nice also, but the Swiss signs are a level above.  The trail from the top is basically picking your way over and through large slabs of rock and trying not to trip because you are looking at the stunning views.  After about 5 hours we made it back to Loriaz and took it easy for the rest of the day.

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M and Sarah and I taking it easy in the hut that we had all to ourselves!

While staying at Loriaz, your choice for getting some of the sweat and dirt off, is to use water from the creek next to the encampment.  M, Sarah, and I would generally dip our wash clothes in the creek and wipe ourselves down.  The water was freezing cold so it felt good on the hot days.

The freezing cold water did not stop the French group, also staying at the hut, from getting completely naked and taking a bath!  Needless to say this was a bit of a shock for M, Sarah, and I.  The creek also has a pipe coming out of the ground so you can get water.  The first day we were there, I came around the corner to get some water and there was an older naked guy bathing in the creek.  As the kids say, “Awkward!”  I got my water and made my way onward as quickly as possible.  The next day, I went over to get water and came around the corner to see 3 naked ladies taking a bath.  That was a bit too awkward for me so I went back later to get my water.  Fortunately for all of us, there are no pictures, but Sarah and M can vouch for the facts, as they too had these experiences.

The next day we were ready for a real shower and took the easy route again back to our place in Le Tour.  M and Sarah greatly appreciated having an actual toilet where there was very little risk of getting urine or other stuff on your feet.

M and I had one more big adventure following our Loriaz trip – the annual homeowner’s association meeting.  In France, it is called a syndic, which is basically syndicate, without some letters.  The meetings are exactly like the HOA meetings back in the States, only held in French.  M and I got to meet a couple more of our neighbors including Monsieur Lanson and Monsieur Rob.  The meeting ended with some champagne for all except M and I (to the befuddlement of our neighbors).  The cool part was that the champagne was Lanson champagne.  It turns out that 6 generations of the Lanson family have been in the champagne business, since 1760.

I hope to have more to report soon.

Now go out and be consistent!

 

 

Gilligan’s Island

Hopefully the headline grabbed your attention like I intended.  I was going to write about how Emily and I are living in the condo version of Gilligan’s Island.  Among our neighbors we have a professor, a Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III, a skipper (of sorts), and older versions of Ginger and Marianne.  Emily and I would be Gilligan.  That story line didn’t play out though because there is too much depth of character in our neighbors, and the TV show equivalents would not do them justice.

We had met most of our neighbors on separate occasions prior to a small gathering last Wednesday evening.  Michelle and Jacqueline (pronounced Mee-shell) are our neighbors across the hall.  They are the only other mostly full-time residents and are kind of like the condo/HOA president.  Michelle has worked as a management consultant in far flung places like New York and Columbus, Ohio.  He and Jacqueline also have a place in Geneva and enjoy golf.

We met our neighbor Janet two weeks ago when we got locked out of our place because of the lock breaking.  At the evening soiree, we got to meet her husband, the professor, Pierre.  Pierre is a linguist and has been teaching in and around the subject of languages for many years.  He is now helping Emily and I with our French when we have questions.  Pierre speaks, as far as I know, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and is teaching himself Mandarin.  He can read many other languages as well.  Emily and I are learning a lot about the nuances of languages from Pierre.

Janet…, Janet is hard to wrap your mind around.  If I could put the little exploding head emoji on here, I would probably take the easy way out and just use that as my description for Janet.  I am not sure what all Janet has done in her life for work, but suffice to say it has been a variety of things.  Now she mainly skis and does long trail runs and apparently enjoys technical downhill running (she’s 72)!  Janet is also the person in the know regarding anything going on in the Cham valley.  She helped me volunteer for the race Emily did this past Sunday which helped raise money for the local kid’s Nordic team. Janet is also going to help Emily and I get involved in some of the various clubs in the valley, such as the Chamonix Mont-Blanc running club.

The last, but certainly not least, person at our little gathering was the now unfortunately christened, “Downstairs” Chris.  Chris has lived in the condo below us for many years, and was previously known simply as Chris.  My entry into the condo above her’s resulted in the new nickname.  Chris is a serious cyclists and skier.  She is going to kill me, er, I mean, take me out for a bike ride sometime in the near future.  Although she doesn’t know it just yet, Emily and I are also hoping she will be a guide for us during the ski season.

Our gathering last week had a mixture of French and English along with appropriate translations.  It also had a bit of the history of Le Tour and the Cham valley.  A wonderful mixture of fresh tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and herbs was served with either wine or Champagne.  Emily and I had a wonderful evening and are looking forward to getting to know our neighbors in even more depth as we continue on our adventure.

Instead of Gilligan’s Island, I think we determined our condo is more like a novel.  Something along the lines of Fredrik Backman’s, “A man called Ove.”  Either way, we hope the story continues for a long time.

Now go out and be consistent.

 

Crate and Car

Big things have happened since the last blog update.  A week or so ago our crate from America finally arrived.  We had packed a lot of our winter gear and clothing in a crate that was about 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  The maximum amount of weight we could put in the crate was 1,000 lbs.  Back in April when we packed the crate we managed to only fill up about 3/4 of the crate and its weight was around 700 lbs.  We felt bad about not maximizing our crate’s capacity, but by the time we packed it up, we had already thrown or given away, a lot of stuff.

We were told our crate would arrive at our new place in France in 6-8 weeks from the time it left Frisco on April 20.  The actual time was more like 12 weeks since the delivery company could not be bothered to drive an hour and a half up the road from Annecy.  Our crate was sitting at the delivery company for about 2 1/2 weeks despite our shipping guy supposedly hounding them to get it delivered.

When the crate was finally delivered it was like Christmas, only we were just getting all of our own stuff instead of new stuff.  Some of the most important things in the crate were kitchen items like our iron skillet.  You really can’t make cornbread without an iron skillet.  You can make it, but its just not the same.

We also got our skis and snowboard and biking gear and are now fully kitted out for about half of the outdoor activities in the Cham valley.  The other half of outdoor activities in Cham involve climbing up and jumping off mountains, and Emily and I do not have the gear for those activities.

The other big thing that finally happened was that we got our car.  It took a while since transferring money from the US to anywhere can be a hastle.  I believe it has to do with the fact that the US does not use the metric system but that is a whole other blog topic.

Both times we went to Domancy to look at and then buy the car, our salesperson, Stephane, met us at the train station in increasingly fancy cars.  I do not have enough time to write about all the fancy new tech in German cars, but simply put, we were blown away.  A 4 year old with an Ipad would likely be more able to understand and operate the new cars than anyone over 35.  You don’t even have to touch buttons anymore.  You can just wave your hand around in the air to switch screens or turn up the radio or call your mom.  Or you can just talk to the car and tell it what to do.

Stephane’s evil plan to sucker Emily and I into buying a car that was 3-4 times as expensive as the one we wanted did not work as we are strong willed with weak wallets.  Our BMW 118d has none of the fancy new tech except for navigation which is the first time we have had such a high and mighty thing in a car.  Navigation was crucial however since we are unfamiliar with the European roads.

The other crucial item for the car at least in our minds, was that it have all-wheel drive.  Our little village gets a lot of snow, usually all at once, and we did not want to be stuck depending on the bus in case of emergency.  We will still be using the bus and sometimes the train for most travel though as filling up the car with gas is ridiculous.  3/4 of a tank cost me just under 60 euros!  Still, it will be nice to have the car in case of emergencies like a sudden need for Pizzeria des Moulins when it is too late for the bus.

Go out and be consistent!

Whining.

Unfortunately this is not about a car.  Hopefully that blog will come soon.  This blog is about the misadventures of Chris and Emily so far this week.

It all began earlier in the week when we found that for some reason, the money we had transferred from our American bank account, did not get to our French bank account.  One would think this is a simple process, but au contraire mon ami!  Even though you are not trying to take money out of the French bank account, but actually trying to put money into it, if there is even a period wrong on whatever form you use, the French bank will not accept your money and will send it back to America.  This is not tres convienient.  Basically you have to start over from the beginning and hope it works the next time.

Our next hiccup occurred on Thursday morning when the lock on our door decided it was retiring.  With us on the outside.  “Did you forget your keys and lock yourself out somehow?” you ask.  No, we both had our keys, but neither one would work because the lock itself broke inside the mechanism in the door.  We had also made the mistake of not leaving any windows open or our deck door unlocked, so we had no way to get inside.  Not that it would have mattered since the door would not open from the inside either.

We had to call a locksmith.  Well, actually, first we had to figure out what the word for “locksmith” was in french.  Seurrier, obviously.  The first guy we called spoke less english than I do french, but we did work out that he was retired and therefore not able to help.  All of this led to us eventually meeting our downstairs neighbor, Madame Dupont, who is British but speaks fluent french.  Madame Dupont called around for us and left messages at several locksmith phone numbers, but we had no luck with anyone calling us back.  In the process we found out that Madame Dupont is also a trail runner and has done some of the same races as Emily and I.

Madame Dupont let us borrow tools to try and get the door open and kept us fed and watered during the four hours it took to get our door open.  Eventually a locksmith who spoke english called us back and showed up to fix our door.  He was very nice and we kinda liked the guy!  (For those not in the Baker family, that last sentence was an inside joke).  He ended up having to replace the entire lock and give us new keys.

Our misadventures continued the next day when Emily’s phone stopped working.  She somehow managed to get onto the Orange (the French version of ATT, Verizon, etc.) website, and we began a french chat with a helpful service person.  This person found our file and said he could not help us but would forward the file on to the appropriate department.  Soon after that, rather than fix whatever problem there was, Orange decided to suspend Emily’s account entirely.  She could then not even access her account on the Orange website as it refused to accept her email and login information.  Somehow Emily’s account ended up in the fraud department.  We have no idea what happened or how it happened.

After spending many hours on the phone yesterday, we waited eagerly to hear from the fraud department today.  A man from the fraud department called this morning as we were on the bus headed home from grocery shopping.  As you might have guessed from the reading the rest of this blog, the man did not speak english.  Fortunately, he did speak enough english to let us know that he was sending an email that would help us get Emily’s account un-suspended.  All she had to do was send to Orange via email, all the paperwork we had already sent them including, passport, electricity bill, bank info, height, weight, hair color, favorite candy, mother’s shoe size and father’s favorite word (pulchritude, for those not in the know).  Sure enough, a few minutes after sending in all the details of her entire life, Emily’s phone began to work again! Relief flooded throughout our condo.  We are hoping to not have any more of these type of adventures any time soon.

On an entirely different topic, I did take an interesting picture the other day.  Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on the interpretation of the picture below.

Now go out and be consistent!

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Sign at the train station in Montroc.

 

A car? Really?

Since Emily and I are planning on being here in France for a while, we decided that it would be better if we had a car.  The public transport system here is amazing with buses and trains that will take a person everywhere and at the very least get them close to their desired destination.  There is no real need for a car as long as one has a flexible schedule.

However, there are times when it would be better to have a car.  For example, trying to buy carpet would be easier if we could go and visit the carpet store at our leisure and not have to wait on the train.  Also, we recently found out that the last bus from Chamonix to Le Tour leaves at 7:42 pm.  After that, the bus only goes to Argentiere which is two miles downhill from our home.  So, if one wishes to spend more time in Chamonix at night, a car would be helpful.

In light of all this, Emily and I have started the process of buying a car.  Our village of Le Tour gets a lot of snow in the winter time and is at the top of a road that is rather steep.  We thought it best if we got a car with all-wheel drive, just to be on the safe side.  All-wheel drive is not as popular in Europe as it is in the states and finding a car with all-wheel drive is more difficult.  Particularly if the price range one desires is not all that high.  For some reason unknown to us, car prices in Europe are much more expensive than for the same car in the US.  In particular, used cars are a lot more expensive than the equivalent US used car.  For example, some of the used BMW X1’s that we have looked at which are 2-3 years old, are more expensive than our car was when new.

Emily and I have been researching and debating which car to get since we got here a few weeks ago. We have looked at BMWs, Volvos, Renaults, Citroens, Dacia’s, and Fords. Part of the problem is that French car websites, no matter the brand, are not set up to tell you whether or not the car you are looking at has all-wheel drive.  The website will tell you how much the car costs, how much horsepower it has, which engine you can get, whether it is manual or automatic, and in particular, how much CO2 it emits.  For some reason the Euros are very concerned with climate change even though the Donald has told everyone that it doesn’t exist.  Apparently the Euros do not trust the world’s foremost climatologist who just happens to occupy the White House. C’est la vie.

We had such a rough time trying to figure out which cars had what we needed, for a price we could afford, that we got frustrated and finally emailed a BMW dealership about 30 miles away.  They did return our email and were helpful, but not helpful in a way we could fully understand since their email was in French and sometimes Google translate is not as helpful as one might wish.

Finally we decided to bite the bullet and call the dealership to see if there was someone there who could speak English.  Of course that was very scary for us since our French is not what the French would call, “Super”.

Phone is ringing:…”Bonjour.(lots of fast French is spoken by the answering service before a real person picks up the phone), “Bonjour, (in French) this is so and so at the so and so dealership in Sallanches, how can I help you?”

Me: “Bonjour, je suis desole, mais mon Francais n’est pas tres bien.  Y a-t-il quelqu’un qui parle anglais?

French guy on the other end: chuckling sounds, “Yes, I speak English.”

I am sure my relief was palpable through the phone.  The first guy and I established that I wanted to buy a used car.  He then informed me that his colleague that is in charge of used cars would call me back in a few minutes.  I don’t have the skill to type what happened next, but the used car manager called me back.  Between my terrible French and the English he learned in high school, we managed to set up a meeting!  Miracles do still happened and don’t let anyone tell you differently!

Speaking on the phone to a French person was not quite as painful as I thought it was going to be, and fortunately the guy on the other end of the phone was patient.  The whole experience has given me a tad more confidence in speaking French, so even if we are not able to get a car out of this deal, at least I will be better able to communicate in the future.

Tune in next time for another exciting episode of, “Emily and Chris try to buy a car!”

Go out and be consistent!

 

Process

This will not be a particularly exciting email as it deals with French bureaucracy.  I will include some pictures however to ease the pain.

Emily and I have been dealing with paperwork today in order to get ourselves caught up with the minutiae of moving to a different country.

I will start with the easy stuff.  I decided to ship my bike over here from the US as opposed to flying with it which would have been much simpler and cheaper.  Shipping was close to $400 and has been more complicated than one would think.  If you are a normal person, the following steps would probably occur to you regarding shipping a bike or anything else to yourself in your new home.  Step 1: package up item.  Step 2: have Fedex (or carrier of your choice) pick item up and carry it to your new place.  Step 3: Receive new item and enjoy!  The following is what actually happens.  Step 1: have a professional (thanks Tina!) pack up your bike and ready it for shipping.  Step 2: Fedex requires 43 separate documents that all have your new address on them.  Step 3:  Fedex picks up your bike and somehow gets it to France rather quickly only for it to be delayed in customs for want of more paperwork.  Step 4: Contact Fedex to find out what documents you need in order to have your own property delivered to you.  Step 5: chat with Ulrich on Fedex.com and find out that you need proof of residence in France, you know, just in case you were shipping it somewhere you were not living.  Proof of identification, so as to prove that you are you.  Sworn statement verifying that you have owned the item you are shipping to yourself for more than six months.  Step 6: email all of the above to somewhere in France.  Step 7: item will be released and supposedly delivered to you by six pm that same day!  The bike has not been delivered today as of yet, but they do have a couple hours before six pm arrives.  .

Another item on our agenda for the day was validating our long term stay visa.  Thankfully, that process was rather less painful than getting my bike over here.  All we had to do was go onto a website and fill in some information.  It did involve some payments and a weird “stamp” that you can buy online or in your local tobacco shop, obviously.  Not being tobacco shop type people, we chose the easy route of buying our “stamp” online.  Validating our visa legalizes us here in France and allows us to stay for the full year.

Third on our list today was checking with the Refuge du Lac Blanc to see if they had space available in July.  The refuge is part of a huge network of places to stay along the trails in Europe.  Refuge du Lac Blanc is high up on the side of a mountain next to a lake with spectacular views of Mt. Blanc and does not have internet. (How do they survive?!)  In order to contact the refuge, one has to call and speak with an actual person.  We called, but got a message in French which we totally deciphered all by ourselves!  We were super proud of ourselves as it was a long message!  There might have been an English version of the exact same message after the French one, but we are neither confirming nor denying such a thing.

Moving to a new place involves lots of new processes that a person does not normally have to deal with if they have not moved.   All of the processes could be considered a headache, but we are trying to consider them learning opportunities.

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Hibou Deli dessert!

We are fortunate that Hibou Deli is now open to help us deal with all these processes.  When Emily and I went in the other day, one of the employees recognized us right away and gave us a loyalty card which gives us a free something or other after ten purchases.  It is certainly nice to be recognized, even if you are paying someone to do it.  The people in Hibou Deli are very nice though and in fact have already given us free stuff.  It turns out that if you are a regular customer and you go in at the right time, they will give you free salad because if they don’t sell it all or eat it all, it has to be thrown out.

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 A look back down the valley.

We are also fortunate that there are plenty of outdoor things to relax the mind after a long day of processing.  The above picture was taken from a trail above Le Tour and shows a good view of Argentiere in the foreground and Chamonix further down the valley in the background.  Mt. Blanc is in the top left of the picture in the clouds.  For perspective, realize that Chamonix sits at about 3,000+ feet and Mt. Blanc is 15,700 feet.  That should give you some idea of the steepness we have around here.

Now it is time for more learning and adventure.  Go out and be consistent!

Going to Cham

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The views from downtown Cham are not too shabby!

As you can see from the picture above, views from downtown Chamonix are not hard to look at!  Right now we are making trips down the valley to town on an almost daily basis in order to get various housewares and other essentials.  Since we do not have a car yet, we take the bus and can only get as much stuff as we can take in our grocery bags and backpacks (sac a dos in French).  Hopefully it will not be long until we have most everything we need and do not have to go into town quite so often.  If we happen to venture into town at the wrong time, the bus can be a bit crowded!

The picture on the left is looking forward on the bus, and the one on the right is looking backward.  For reference, the buses are the same size as the Summit Stage buses.  The Cham bus drivers are not afraid however to pack as many people as can possibly fit.  There seems to be no limit as there must have been 80 people on the bus in the pictures above.  More than half of the people in the above pictures were little kids so they are short and you can’t see all of them in the pictures.  Emily and I were squished into our seat so as to allow as many kids from the local UCPA to squeeze in as possible.  The UCPA is like a state supported YMCA of sorts.  They have all sorts of outdoor classes for kids and adults.  On the day the above pictures were taken, the kids were going climbing.  In the torrential rain.  The UCPA people do not let any kind of weather stop them from getting outside.

The one nice thing about having so many people get on the bus at the same time, at least on a cold day, is that within minutes the bus heats up by about 15 degrees!  On warmer days, the windows are usually open so this is not a problem.  Being on the bus when it is that crowded has happened to us a few times and every time we marvel at how many more people can get on the bus when we think it is packed like a sardine can already.

It will be very interesting to see how many people are able to get on the bus when winter arrives and everyone has skis, boards, helmets, boots and packs!

The only really bad part about the bus being so crowded is that you can not see very well out of the windows because they are blocked by people and are sometimes foggy.  When you reach the “S” curves lower down the valley, the bus becomes more like a roller coaster and can make one car sick.  It is for that reason that I recommend always sitting on the right side of the bus.  It allows a better view than the left side where the view out of the front of the bus is blocked by the driver. (Pro tip!)

It seems that most trips on the bus involve some sort of adventure or interesting happenings, so I am sure I will write about it again in the future.

How’s it going so far?

We have moved to France.  I thought that was the simplest way to convey the news for those of you reading this who may not have known.  Specifically, we have moved to Le Tour, Chamonix, France.  Le Tour sits at the top of the Chamonix valley which basically contains the towns from Vallorcine all the way down through Chamonix itself to Sallanches.  I am not sure exactly how long the valley is, but I do not think it is more than about 25 miles in total.  Technically, Vallorcine is probably a little further along the valley than Le Tour, but since Vallorcine is on the other side of the Col de Possettes and the road continues beyond Vallorcine and does not continue beyond Le Tour, we consider Le Tour the end of the Valley.  Also the train runs through Vallorcine and continues on into Switzerland whereas it does not even run in to Le Tour.  As the red neck character in the classic movie, “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” says, “Train don’t run from Stubbville.”  Well the train don’t run from Le Tour either.  Fortunately, the bus does run from Le Tour and is free.  For a while at least, the bus will be how we transport ourselves to other parts of the valley, mainly to Cham (as the locals call it).

Having been here before and living here all last summer, it has been more challenging trying to figure out what to write about.  So far, this trip seems as though we just returned home rather than moving somewhere new.  I think maybe that was the point though.  We feel very at home here.  Summit county was beginning to feel stagnating and we were feeling restless.

My number one blog fan made the comment that this move may be the result of a mid-life crisis.  I always think of mid-life crises as a fifty-something year old male buying a Porsche.  (Steve Deppe, if you are reading this, that was not a reference to you since you’ve been a Porsche guy from the beginning!)  My number one blog fan may have a point, but I prefer to think of this as a mid-life choice rather than a crisis.  Some of you may cry, “semantics”, and I cannot disagree.  Either way, we are happy here.

Now that we have been here for a few days, our routine of last summer is returning.  We usually get up and run in the morning which is always an adventure because of the magnificent trails around the Chamonix valley.  Our new place here in Le Tour offers us many different options for running each day.  Well, to clarify, options are for direction and not for up and down.  No matter which direction we go, we have to either go up first and finish with either an up or down back to the house, or we have to go down first and finish with an up or down back to the house.  Le Tour sits at the very top of the Chamonix valley so there is no option for a flat run unless we take the bus somewhere else.

After running, there is a lot of eating and possibly some work on the computer depending on fatigue level.  It is a simple routine, but one that suites us.  Now that we have internet access we can watch some of the shows we like on Netflix in the evenings, although the programming here in France is different than that in the US, so the same shows are not always available.

Speaking of eating, we have already been to our favorite pizza restaurant, Pizzeria Des Moulins.  The pizza there is always so good.  I tried something new that had a topping on it which I was unfamiliar with, but it did not matter as the pizza was still excellent.  I still do not know what the topping was, or anything about it other than it was black.  It might have been some form of truffle.  Our favorite pasta restaurant, owned by the same people who own the pizza restaurant, is only open for lunch now.  The pizza restaurant however has doubled in size and now takes up the space from what used to be a different restaurant next door.  It is also still packed every night and it remains difficult to get a table without a reservation.  The interior is also much different with used wine case lids making up the ceiling.  Sims’, Goz’s and Strongs and Carvers might find that interesting.  I will try and get a picture of it the next time we go in.

Unfortunately our favorite deli, Hibou Deli, is not open until June 17!  This is hard to deal with when you are a hungry person, but we are managing somehow.

As to our new place, Emily and I realized pretty quickly that we had some work to do in order to make it more livable.  We need new carpet.  Our current carpet is about 1 millimeter thick and is blue.  I thought maybe we could just paint the walls red and go with a Superman theme, but that thought did not get very far.  We also have to get lamps and pot holders and guest towels and about a million other things that we have not had to buy in twenty years.  It is a lot to think about and get done, but when it does get done, the place is going to be pretty spectacular.

Below is the view out of our living room window.  If I had taken the picture a little more to the left and it was not cloudy, you could almost see the top of Mt. Blanc.  I think the mountains just over to the right in the picture are great as well, but that is probably because they are very close.

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I will probably have more to share very soon, and I look forward to doing so.  If any of you loyal readers have questions or blog topics you would like to hear about, please email me at the usual place.

Hopefully some or all of you will visit soon, but not at the same time, so I will end with, A bientot!