It’s been a while. What HAVE we been up to?

It’s terrible how it takes so long to get back into blogging when you’ve been ignoring it for a while. You see, just to catch you up on the main events of the last year and a bit would involve giving you just one sentence or so for huge events like the birth of Gwen. And since that really doesn’t cut it, it doesn’t get written. So, I’m going to stop all the silliness and just write until I’ve said a bit about a few important things and then leave it at that. Is that alright?

Gwendolyn Coraline Alcorn

Our biggest piece of news since January 2011 (when we last updated the blog) is that we had a baby. Gwendolyn was born in October 2011 and she has proceeded to change our lives in all the best ways possible. We’ve set up a special page on this blog just for Gwen, with tidbits of information about what she likes, plus a few good photos and links to where you can see more. It will update slowly over time.

New Baby

We’re also awaiting another baby, which we’re expecting in late March. As we did for Gwen, we’re not finding out the gender until it’s out in the real world. We’re excited and happy that Gwen and sibling will be pretty close together in age (17 months).

Visitors

This past year has been light on visitors, with Jayne, Tony and Felix visiting in April and Mum & Ian visiting in October/November on either side of walking the Camino de Santiago. We also caught up with Alan and Patricia near Carcassonne for lunch while they were in France.

Work

Not a lot has changed: Bruce is still working for Agralis and Ange is still working for MakeUseOf.com with some singing gigs for Lotelles and associated things. We have added new roles and things to do, but still enjoying where we are. Bruce got to take a trip to Finland for work just before Gwen was born and he’s currently in London getting some training. Ange also flitted over to London while pregnant with Gwen for a gig with the Monestier Big Band.

Play

Despite spending most of our time doing baby stuff now, we still go to choir and just take Gwen with us. It was easy at first with Gwen as she was quiet. Nowadays she’s more inclined to run amok and distract everyone. We’ve got a concert on Feb 10th, which is the last one we’re doing before the next baby is born and I guess we’ll have to rotate rehearsals or something in order to sing again when we’re ready.

Other than singing, we’re really doing a lot of housebound stuff at the moment (being winter and all). Around all the nappy changing and attempts at sleeping, we can usually be found reading to Gwen, playing board games and occasionally getting the chance to watch a movie.

Over the summer in 2012 we had an awesome camping trip in the Pyrénées (which was where I realised I was pregnant). Gwen absolutely LOVED it, so we’ll be doing lots more camping as soon as the new baby is ready for it.

For Christmas 2012 we were invited to a great many things and finally got to do the traditional French Christmas Eve celebrations with our lovely friends. Christmas day was a quiet one with just us (as was Christmas 2011). We’re trying to piece together our own little family traditions. So far, a highlight is that mid-afternoon we need to have hot Milo, which is about as Aussie-in-Winter as you can get.

The Future

Well, with a baby due soon we definitely won’t be heading to Oz in a hurry. Feel free to come visit us here, though!

The next few months will be a blur of baby-related stuff, but thankfully I get two months off work to deal with it (paid maternity leave for freelancers in France – yay). Gwen’s already at crèche three half-days a week, so she’s got a little bit of independence and other fun stuff to do. That will also make it easier when I get back to work, too.

At some point in the not-too-distant future we’ll also need to think about moving into a bigger place. We’re hoping we can get by here until we’re ready to buy something, but we’ll see how that goes. It might just be more sensible to rent somewhere bigger for a while. BTW, we recently got interviewed about looking for houses in France, if you want to read that.

Right, I guess it’s time to add a sprinkling of photos throughout the post and get it online for you all. Generally speaking, if you want to see what we’ve been up to, checking Flickr is the best bet. Sometimes it’s slow to be updated, but not usually as slow as writing blog posts. 🙂 I’ve also tried to link to relevant photo albums from this post, so take a look if you’re keen to browse.

Poisson d’Avril!

So, just like that it’s April.

Time in France is sort of like lunchtime. As in, not merely an illusion, but doubly so. Today, left to go to the market at 10am, got invited to lunch and suddenly it was 3pm. I’m sure this disappearing day syndrome is far better in summer – and for people without work to be done.

But nevermind. Today’s lunch introduced us to the French variety of April Fool’s Day. Our favourite french kiddies drew fish and stuck the pictures on our backs. Bruce wasn’t at all surprised, but I found myself faced with a kid looking sneaky and holding something behind her back, innocently saying “Quoi?” (never a good sign). Anyway, when I finally realised they were trying to stick something to my back (and let them) there was much screaming of “Poisson d’Avril!” and giggling. I have to say, it sure beats glad-wrapping the toilet bowl.

Well, March then. It’s hard to say what happened in March since it passed in a haze of lunchtime. Well, except the first bit. March began on a hectic note for me as I was handing in the final assignments for my degree. Done now. Mostly marked. One can only assume I am allowed to apply for my degree soon – then it’s all just admin.

Minutes after handing my last assignment in we lost internet access (I’m not kidding here. Half an hour later I couldn’t access net banking and it never came back). Since it’s our landlord’s account we kind of had to sit tight until they sorted it out. They’re not very geeky, so it took some effort to sort it out. Two weeks later, internet was returned.

In the meantime, I did a lot of resting and a little sightseeing. I was stuck at home for days waiting for the shipping to arrive as it kept getting delayed. It was a bit of a drama, but it’s all here now.

Bruce was away most of the time we had no internet. In fact, he’s away on trips once a week, really. He’s seeing quite a bit of the countryside by car and train, plus the occasional plane trip. The theory is that I’ll go with him on occasion, but convenient occasions are more difficult to come by than we’d hoped. Tomorrow he’s leaving on a train at 5am for some place in the far north. I was invited, but to join him would mean paying 120 € for trains just to spend one night in a hotel and not have much time to spend sight-seeing anyway. Maybe next time.

We did manage one daytrip drive together, which gained us a nice collection of photos. In other photos, there was a trip into town where I was taking a photo every hour. Another big photo day was when we had friends around for a lunch. All the pics from March are here.

We’ve had a few people recently tell us they want to visit in the next few months, so I wrote a page for this blog dedicated to helping people plan the trip to Agen. So, if you’re thinking of visiting, take a look.

For those of you who are wanting news from us more often, take a look at my flickr as pictures do tend to make it there occasionally. Or click on all the links in these posts (they all lead somewhere). For the more adventurous, here is an rss feed which pulls selected posts, pictures and video from things both Bruce and I write around the internet (well, it will have Bruce’s stuff when he writes something).

Also, if you want us to call you, please give us your landline number. Better still, if you’re on Skype then add me (smange) and we can do video chats.

Finally, we have a video hello to show you. A lot of Facebook people have already seen this. But just for those of you who haven’t, here is a video hello from us.

Lyon Exploration

Hello all, This is another post from Ange as I can’t seem to convince Bruce to write anything yet. I’ll work on him, I promise.

So, we’re over our jetlag and starting to work out which way up we are now. We’re also getting the hang of where things are, somewhat. Just in case you haven’t been given these links yet: this is our house location, this is a good overview of Lyon and this is a link to some random landmarks in Lyon.

Also, there are two numbers you might like to know in order to get through to us cheaply from Australia (cost of a call to Adelaide):

  • Ange Adelaide Skype
  • Adelaide VOIP (when we set up the handset later today)

Ask us for the numbers. Please be nice and call after 7pm Adelaide time, otherwise you’ll wake us up (even thought we might actually deserve it).

Also, we took some pics of our flat and some things right near it.

One of our most exciting jaunts so far was our trip up the Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourvière. This ominous building looms over Vieux Lyon (the medieval bit of town, where we are) from the top of a very steep hill. We didn’t know what it was or why we had to go there, but we did. We checked Google maps and found the best path up there and wandered up there by way of rue de Boeuf (Beef Road), a bloody great staircase and a pretty rose garden. As the sparrow flies, this is probably less than a kilometre from our house, but it is a long way UP. It’s also well worth the trip. The cathedral is exquisite (even the crypt is exquisite), the view over Lyon is amazing and the walk up there is gorgeous. We took LOTS of photos.


We also ducked into the Smoking Dog pub on the way home, which we instantly fell in love with. I’d heard about it long before getting to Lyon and figured it was a must. It’s got a wall of books opposite the bar! It also happens to be an English pub, so while we were having a quiet drink the place filled up with rugby fans. After a few beers, the idea of hanging out with random English people and watching England Vs New Zealand looked pretty appealing. It was very unexpected, but kind of fun.

Changing topic completely, we’re loving the Lyon Markets. They have so much awesome food for sale every morning until lunchtime. However, we still felt the need to seek out the Asian grocers so we could get a few bits and pieces. Chinatown was surprisingly easy to find, but the prices are still fairly steep and the Asian veggies didn’t look too crash hot. Now if only we can find Englandtown..

We still speak French pretty badly. I’m sort of at the stage where I can read most stuff (and guess the context of the missing words). My grammar is okay, thanks to all that high school French. I am doing well with the Pimsleur and Michel Thomas lessons, however none of those conversations seem to come up on a day-to-day basis, so it’s not been very useful yet.

So, most conversations just go something like this:

Shopkeeper: Bonjour!
Us: Bonjour!
Shopkeeper: !@#$% !@#^&^$@$ @#$^&*%^%
Us: *terrified look* Je ne comprends pas.
*some serious pointing ensues, followed by a purchase that we hope is the right thing*
Them: Aurevoir!
Us: Aurevoir!

Madness, I tell you. 🙂

Our satellite TV claims to have multiple language options on most channels, so we get kind of excited when we see shows that we know are in English originally, only to find that the only languages available are French and German. Or sometimes something really unexpected, like Turkish. We’re really not sure why the English sound isn’t one of the options. However, we did find a run of Law and Order shows in English one night which was truly relaxing to take in.

Today we’re hoping to do something a little touristy and look at Lyon’s secret tunnel system (traboules). There seems to be a self-guided tour of the public traboules which explores the buildings surrounding our house. Apparently some of the more impressive ones are on the other side of the river, so we’ll probably do that another day.

PS. If you want photos of our jaunts around Lyon as they happen, then keep an eye on here.

Now, our biggest problem of recent weeks has been our air freight. The original booking our agent made with Thai air was changed after problems in Bangkok, so our gear ended up with QANTAS. For some reason, QANTAS decided it was okay to leave it sitting around in London (1.5 hours fight from here) for 5 days. After some frantic emailing to Jetta and their head boss yelling at QANTAS, our stuff finally got handed to Air France who got it to Lyon.

Then the trick was getting the air freight. This turned into a paperwork chase reminiscent of “Love and other catastrophes”. We knew it was going to cost a lot, but we weren’t prepared for the headaches. This was very silly of us, since everything about France says “You will drown in bureaucratic paperwork”. So, we hopped onto a bus to the airport (17 €) only to be told the cargo area was nowhere near the main airport. We ate some airport lunch (10 €) so that we didn’t get too grumpy. Then we jumped into the biggest taxi we could find and drove around to the cargo area. The Air France person couldn’t find us in the system as all our tracking numbers were for different airlines. She found us eventually because we knew exactly when the flight got in the night before and how it came to be in their possession. Then she gave us a form and told us we’d need to go to customs and get it signed. She also said that when we got back we’d need to pay her 40 € for something or other.

We ran over to customs and got pointed into a rabbit-warren of office windows and shown the correct window. The people behind the window were lovely, but could only speak French. So, they couldn’t tell us what they needed from us. I handed over my phrasebook/dictionary in the hope that they’d find what they needed (Note to self: next time get them to write it down and look it up myself). The guy there got the giggles and started reading all the most useful phrases, like “I am pregnant” and then looking at his belly and saying “C’est vrai!” (“It’s true!”) and laughing himself under the table. It was actually funny and it was hard not to just stand there laughing all day, except that we had a taxi outside, a tonne of boxes to pick up and limited funds to pay for the taxi. They did understand we were in a hurry when I mentioned the taxi, and somehow worked out what they needed from us by photocopying my passport, looking at my wedding ring, getting me to write down our address and tell them we had an inventory of goods with the baggage.

But that was only getting the piece of paper stamped. Then Air France had to get 43.91 € from us. Unfortunately, they had no change because they couldn’t find the cash box (they didn’t think to look while we were at customs?). So, we wound up grovelling to the taxi driver for change. With that paid for, we then had to wait for the gear to be moved outside (they didn’t think to do that while we were at customs? or at least while we were paying?). But, it only cost us 20 € ($40) for the taxi to wait for us that whole time, so I think we got off fairly lightly. The trip into town cost another 44 € (50 € including a small tip). So, all up, the day cost us around 140 € ($280), about 4 hours, some gratitude to the nice bureaucrats and taxi driver, plus a diminished life expectancy due to extremely high stress levels. But it’s over for now.

The big news is that we’re moving to the other side of France (Yay – more logistics!). Bruce will be starting a contract in January with Agralis in Agen, presuming we can sort out the paperwork involved. This is fantastic, as they need someone who knows the industry and knows Sentek gear. He’ll need to learn French madly in all free moments, though. Bit of a challenge. 🙂

We’ve started looking for a house in Agen. It seems that there are lots of tiny apartments but they are all very cheap! It’s hard to find something that isn’t a teensy tiny apartment (even if you’re willing to pay). However, we’re talking prices of under 200 € per month (About AU$400/m) for a small, very average flat or 300 € per month (Approx AU$600/m) for a much nicer, tiny flat with a pool. Considering we were paying $800/m for our last place in Adelaide, which wasn’t very big and had terrible space usage, I think these places look great. We’ll just have to be very selective about layout, size and conveniences. Plus, there’s still the option of fully furnished houses for just under 400 € per month if we’re willing to live a bit further out (not far at all). There just aren’t as many of those to choose from.

We might have to drive across to Agen once or twice in the very near future. This is a pretty scary prospect to say the least. We’re not even used to being passengers on the wrong side of the road, let alone driving! I’m scared that I’ll go the wrong way around a roundabout or something. Or that I’ll shut my eyes and scream while driving the correct way around it. Something like that. In fact, the hardest bit will be turning corners: making sure we get into the right lane will be a trial, as will making sure we look in all the right places for cyclists. Scary scary scary!

Anyway, that’s me all blogged out. I’m working on developing a habit involving more frequent, shorter posts. Hopefully by getting Bruce to write some of them. 🙂