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!



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.

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.

 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.


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!