What’s New In The World Of Gwen And Blaise?

Since our last post in May there have been a few major developments in our little family. Watch this little video of our bookworms to see the kids in action.

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

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Biscuits and Pixar. Sweet together.

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E-I-E-I-O

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Gwen’s News

In September 2014 Gwen started at the local Ecole Maternelle, which is technically school but is a lot like Kindergarten. They have a proper classroom, but they spend a lot of time playing in their cafe, drawing, playing games and the like. She LOVES it so much. Every morning she acts shy, but by the afternoon she’s running around like a crazy thing playing with all the other little kids. Also, she’s becoming less fussy about food as she’s at school all day with a proper school lunch. They eat really well (and there’s no alternative food), so I’m sure that’s why she’s trying lots of new things at home now.

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Pretty and ready for a birthday lunch

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Summer nights!

She is gorgeous.

A postcard? For ME?!?!?!

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Gwen’s in a class with older kids, which is probably good for her in terms of learning French. The class of kids her own age are a bit less talkative. Why is she with older kids? Well, for starters she’s one of the youngest kids in the school (there were about 40 kids in our town bumped up from creche to school early because there wasn’t enough room for them in the new creche). There are two classes of Petit Section at this school, and they tried to make the older kids go in one class and the younger ones in the other. But the numbers didn’t add up, so 5 lucky kids got chosen to go up to the next class. By surname. Me, I would have chosen the oldest kids, but whatever. As I said, I think it’s actually doing her some good.

First Day Of School (Maternelle/Kindy)

She’s started talking in French more often to us, and it’s clear from a few conversations that she understands what’s going on at school. When she speaks French to us, it’s usually a full sentence, then she switches back to English. So, she’ll say “J’ai fini!” or “Qu’est-ce qu’on fait?” randomly, with a sprinkling of “Alors” when she’s trying to think of something to draw.

The latest development is that Gwen turned three (see the video of her blowing out candles)! She’s currently obsessed with her new kitchen from her great Nanny. Blaise is too – that thing rocks. Gwen’s also big on dinosaurs and books, so she got lots of them for her birthday too.

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Bruce took Gwen on a special birthday adventure the day after her birthday (because in France there is no school on Wednesday afternoons), but he hasn’t uploaded the pictures yet. It will have to wait for another post.

Blaise’s News

Blaise finally started walking pretty much on the dot of turning 18 months. That was also a big turning point for teeth and talking too. He got four new teeth (for a total of 8) the week of turning 18 months. Then a week later he got another 4 molars coming through. So much teething pain!

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Yes?

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LOVES his bike.

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Nee Nor, Nee Nor

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On the talking front, he mostly said “Oh dear!” and made animal noises before 18 months. Since then he’s taken up a couple of new words every day or so, both in French and English. Blaise has also started at a new creche, which is bigger than the other one so he gets to hang out with kids his own age. I think that helps.

Blaise is totally obsessed with cars (and Pocoyo). He has piles of toy cars and trucks which are the best things ever. Also, the steering wheel toy rocks, and he lives for the times when papa takes him for a drive in the real car. He LOVES Top Gear, but gets angry when they stop driving their cars. He starts yelling at them, going “Broom BROOM!” and “No. Ready steady GO!”

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He has also grown quite a bit since our last post. Check out this cute little smile. 🙂

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Holiday In Cahors

At the end of August we went on a camping trip in Cahors (Reflets de Quercy), which was more like Glamping than camping, but without the glam (if that makes sense). The tent was furnished and had all the kitchen things we’d need, like a fridge, cooker, crockery and cutlery. Most importantly, the tent was in a campground that had an awesome pool and play area, which we made good use of.

Reflets de Quercy Pool

Kitted out tent

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Hello!

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Bouncing!

We went on a couple of great daytrips in the area. The big trip was to Padirac Cave (see the official site and some tourist info) and then Rocamadour (more tourist info). The campsite organised a bus tour, which we realised later was the best way to see the caves as you didn’t have to wait in the MASSIVE line. Anyway, those caves were amazing – the best I’ve ever seen and probably the best I will ever see in my life. Photography wasn’t allowed, so check out the websites to see how impressive it is (the official site has a brilliant virtual tour). Also, we got one official photo taken (on a gondola in the cave), but I don’t have the digital version of that just now. I’ll add it later [Edit: Added]. Rocomadour was also pretty amazing. It’s a castle and a cathedral on the side of a cliff. We spent a few hours there and got a tour of some parts of it.

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Rocomadour

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The other big daytrip was a road-train ride around Cahors. We were right in thinking the kids would love the train, and we’d love seeing the sights without having to carry the kids. It was about an hour and a half of sight-seeing, and I swear they hadn’t run out of interesting stuff to show us by the end of it. Quite a fascinating town, really. Wouldn’t mind living there!

It’s now months since the holiday. Gwen still asks when we’re going back to our tent. 🙂

Singing

Bruce and I are both still singing with the local choir, and I’m still singing with the Lotelles Trio, as well as branching out alone.

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Family Mailing List

If you’re part of the Alcorn family, sign up to hear about all of our endeavours. You’ll get a post once per week (or no post if no-one’s written anything) with any personal blog posts any of us made, including Jennie’s dogs. And if you’ve got a blog that should be included, bug Ange.

If you’re a friend of Ange (or family that’s not from the Alcorn side) sign up to this one instead. 🙂

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.

Brief Catch-Up for November and December

Well, we’ve been rather busy the last few months. In November we did a whirlwind tour of the Eastern States (in Oz), spending about 3-4 days in any given place and then racing off to the next one (see pics from the QLD bit, Port MacQuarie bit, the Sydney bit or just browse the whole lot – actually, that’s still not all the photos). We had a total of 12 days in Australia, so please don’t get offended if you weren’t one of the people we managed to catch up with!

The point of the trip was for Bronwyn’s Wedding, which was lovely even if you can’t tell that from our awful photos.

We got back to Europe and found lots and lots of snow everywhere but our house. We’ve still only seen a tiny bit here this year.

December has been mainly quiet, although we did head to the Space Museum in Toulouse for a day and a visitor (Tets!) from Australia for a couple of days. We also squished in some concerts and carolling in there.

The Space museum was awesome, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

With Tets, we did some rather interesting sight-seeing. 🙂

Here’s a highlight from the Christmas concert:

So, that was the end of 2010. I still haven’t finished uploading all the photos (or explained what we’ve been up to for most of the year), but feel free to browse through what is in the 2010 set and get a feel for what we’ve been doing. Happy New Year!

A giant catch-up post – April to August

Okay, so it’s been quite a while since the last update. Sorry all! I’ll try not to leave it so long again. We’ve had no regular internet access at home since June, so it makes blog posts just a little more difficult.

Generally, we’re both well – healthy and happy. Bruce now has a permanent position at Agralis, we have a new house, so we’re feeling more settled and still soaking up as many French lessons as we possibly can. I’m studying French madly – 1-6 hours of audio lessons per day while I work. Plus, I watch movies, try to read things etc. But really, I just need to hear and speak more French. My understanding is still heavily academic. I need more French friends (that don’t know any English). But, that will come when September starts and France stops having its month-long holiday (called August). I’ve found a few choirs to join (although they seem a little old), so at least that will get me out of the house, singing and chatting to Frenchies. Bruce has the exact opposite problem to me. He needs to speak French at work & he hears office French all the time, which is draining – he comes home wrecked every night. It’s really very tiring to translate all day. But he never gets a chance to do lessons, so he’s speaking very broken French with awful grammar. End result is that he’s far more confident talking French than me, while I ponder my sentences more and the conversation races off without me. But enough about French.

Bruce has been extremely busy working and driving all over France. And since driving isn’t something you can decide to go home early and not finish, he hasn’t really had much time for anything else. He comes home close to 9pm most nights after travelling, which is just enough time to feed him and send him off to bed. Crazy. This also means that he doesn’t have time to hassle our internet provider about getting the house some internet. During Winter/Spring he was off on work trips 2-3 days a week. Even when Bruce isn’t off driving, he works late most days (until 7-8). Anyway, what this means for me is that I’m the one doing all the cooking, shopping, cleaning, housework, unpacking, errands, bookings for travel, organising our lives, etc on top of my own work (not complaining, just saying). I’m basically Bruce’s personal assistant and housewife (he doesn’t see it that way though). It’s also tough doing all this without a car. C’est la vie!

A huge part of feeling at home in France involves syncing with the locals – working out when to work and when to run errands. I think I’m just starting to get in sync. At first, I kept trying to do the errands first thing in the day (since they were more time-critical), but France doesn’t really work in the mornings. It’s actually best to head off to run errands at about 4:30-5pm. That way you’re just ahead of all the office-working errand-runners (who tend to run errands 5:30-6:30). If you try before midday you run the risk of places not being open at all. Between midday-2pm is lunchtime and barely anything is open. If it is, they’re understaffed and it will take you an hour to do anything. 2pm onwards is when things really pick up, but I hate interrupting myself in the middle of my day to run errands – It takes too long to get started again. Since most places stay open until 7:30pm you’ve still got quite a while to get stuff done. It just means you have to be used to eating dinner around 8-9pm. So, if I eat a snack at 4:30pm and then head out to do errands it all works out perfectly. And, all of this is made even easier with our fantastic new location.

We’ve moved into a new townhouse (see the youtube tour) in a nice part of town which is part of a small closed-gate community which shares a communal pool. It’s a 5 minute walk into Le Passage shopping district, where there’s a Wednesday/Saturday food market, two supermarkets, bakeries, lots of other shops, a café, a wine cave, DVD place. Old Le Passage is only 10 mins away (slightly different direction), which has the Mairie (mayors office), library and the bridge over to Agen. Just across the river is a huge selection of restaurants and bars – it’s the big food district. There’s also the main park where fairs and exhibitions are. It’s only 25 mins walk to get to that part of Agen (the Jardin/Garden district). From there, you’re minutes away from Boulevard de Republique, which is the main heart of Agen with shops all along its length. Our favourite toy shop is at our end, while the Sunday markets (another 15 minutes walk) are at the far end. Basically, we can walk to most places we want to go within 30-45 mins. And if you take a bike it’s even quicker. Another bonus is walking the other direction – It’s only 10 minutes walk to the canal. Plus, our closest section of the canal is the tree-lined bit which is really pretty. Back to the house itself, we bought beautiful, old furniture from our old landlords and got all our new whitegoods in one hit. We’re still busy nesting and setting up the new place, plus we have a patch of empty backyard that needs a vision. But essentially, our house has pretty much everything we need except internet.

The internet dilemma is a great one and a fantastic lesson in how not to privatise government monopolies. France telecom is as messed up as Telstra & has more power. We made the mistake of signing up for phone and internet bundled through a competitor, Free. Free needs France Telecom to set up our phoneline before anything can happen, so naturally France Telecom don’t care and have put the request at the bottom of the to-do list. Meanwhile, we can’t break our contract with Free or in fact do anything except wait. We know now that we should have signed up with France telecom first and then transferred the number. Oh that 20-20 hindsight. Anyway, as soon as France Telecom actually set us up with a phone line, Free will hopefully get us connected quickly and we’ll be back online. My current arrangement is using a 3G dongle, so it’s the same as using internet over a mobile phone. It’s slow and expensive. What would normally take one hour takes five hours using this internet (and costs about 35 € or $70). In the meantime, I’ve managed to sneak some photos online while I worked at Bruce’s office on occasion, but without enough time to explain them to anyone.

Anyway, I’ll have to try and squish all the main events of the last five months into this one huge post. Here goes. As you will soon see, we’re living it up here – enjoying the sun, the fact that France is so close to everything and that there’s so much to do in Europe.

April brought in some warmer weather, letting us eat outside most evenings. Over the Easter weekend (sadly, while Bruce was away) I got a brief visit from Tim and one of his friends. We also cruised around one weekend and got acquainted with some of the local towns.

We started May with a trip to the farm of the mother of Bruce’s boss. We stayed there for a weekend and went to the Musée de Goya and took walks around Revel from there. It’s a very, very pretty area.

May gave us teasingly warm days and then torrential rain. It’s beautiful to watch and shows clearly why Spring is just so much more exciting in Europe than in Australia. There’s flowers, greenery and birds EVERYWHERE. Adelaide’s seasons just seem so much more subtle.

Just before our Paris trip, Bruce somehow managed to drag me on one of his work trips to a lovely (almost seaside) town of Perpignan for one night, which was a very unexpected bonus. It’s down near Spain and feels very Spanish (well, it does to me, but I’ve never been to Spain).

Paris with Jason Standing was an amazing whirlwind tour. It was my first time in Paris and Bruce’s first time in the centre as a tourist. The main event was Bobby McFerrin, but we figured we could do high-speed sight-seeing while we were there. We got straight off the train and went to the catacombes. Good plan, since we lined up for nearly two hours before we got in. Incidentally, Jason had planned to go to some other catacombes in Paris, but somehow we wound up at these ones. Jason met us in the line, so we had plenty of time to catch up before touring. Many, many dead bodies later we were appalled to find ourselves starving hungry and back in the mid-afternoon daylight, but that didn’t stop us wolfing down some Moroccan food before more touristy stuff. We took in some beautiful gardens, a decent beer spot, the outside of the Notre Dame, some cutesy restaurant district and finally found our hotel with just enough time for a quick shower before heading out for the show.

Bobby McFerrin was every bit as good as the word-of-mouth hype we’d hoped so much was true. He launched into some mellow, but beautiful piece to begin with, mesmerising the whole audience for a solid half-hour or so. When we came out of our trance he was ready to get the place jamming. The rest of the night was spent bouncing between listening to him performing amazing solo works and watching him include members of the audience for some improvisation and tricks. A surprise guest was Camille (of “Ta Dolouer” fame), who he’d become friends with during a recent workshop. They performed her song with Bobby jamming in his merry way, which led to some fun duo improv. Over the course of the night, everyone in the house had a great sing (see this youtube clip for an idea) and was left with no doubt that Bobby McFerrin is both a fantastic musician and a brilliant entertainer – and he clearly loves every minute he gets to sing!

Sunday we checked out the Georges Pompidou art gallery, and quickly checked out the opera house, Eiffel Tower and other tourist hotspots, then it was back on the train home for us.

Read more about our Paris trip by Jason here or check out Jason’s pictures here.

June was fairly uneventful travel-wise as we were busy searching for, signing for and moving into the new house. We started June with a quiet birthday party for Bruce, then Bruce went and proved he was getting older by doing his back in. Just in time for moving house – unfair! So, I got to move all the boxes by myself (Aside: his back is mostly better now). On the fun side, I got to spend one day taking kiddies to a fair (It’s a hard life). We were also treated to a visit from the lovely Jen, who timed things perfectly for being able to see both the old house and the new house. Later in the month, we were shown how birthday parties are really done.

Bruce and I went to the local wine cave to see if it was any good. It was FANTASTIC. This place is within 5 mins walk of our house. We walked in, said we were new to France and that we wanted to try wines. They sat us down, fed us tapas (all of their food was amazing) and the best part of a couple of bottles of wine. They tried talking to us and soon worked out how bad our French was. But, they kept trying. They were all very friendly and they obviously loved the place, the wine, the atmosphere and the food – as did we. We bought two bottles of each wine we tried, and somehow ended up only paying about 8 € ($16) for all the wine and tapas we had while we were there. Then they also gave us a waiter’s friend. Seriously, we’ll be back there often. 

In July, we went for a trip to Toulouse (for Leonard Cohen) and Bruce took a long weekend so we could explore a little. Leonard Cohen was a great show. He pulled an enormous amount of talent on stage, created some amazing new versions of his music and managed to stay sprightly all evening. The evening was indeed magic and we are so, so lucky to have seen the show.

The Friday afternoon, we were lucky enough to catch a pedestrian tour of Toulouse in English. This was a great starter to our weekend of exploring, because we’d seen most of the important old buildings, learned a little of the history and had clear ideas where we were going to spend more time at over the next few days. Lucky for you guys, we also forgot the camera that day (I know!!).

One museum we spent most of a day in is the Musée des Augustins. The building itself is a museum piece (an Abbey from way back), but inside there’s a huge variety of ancient stuff and relatively modern artwork. It’s actually got the biggest collection of Roman statues in the world (if I remember that right), plus it’s got  good selection of medieval tablets, gothic church statues, gargoyles, paintings and whatnot. Quite worth spending a few days wandering around. It’s also got concerts in the church regularly, so we’re hoping to cruise over for some of them soon.

We also spent quite a significant amount of time in Jacobins, since it lends itself rather well to photography (see the youtube clip of entering Jacobins). We need to do more research and go back for another trip, because we’ve already forgotten most of the important history of these places.

When we were in Toulouse I got to fill up a couple of shopping bags with Indian spices, so I’m able to make pretty much anything Indian (and most Asian stuff) as long as I have a recipe (please pass any great recipes my way!!). Oh curry. I really miss good curry – and Thai food. France really isn’t big on anything that even sounds like it’s heard of spices. There’s Asian restaurants, but it’s very French Asian. Same goes for Indian, although I think it’s a little more authentic. But African is win. We went to an awesome Moroccan restaurant in May and I think it’s my new favourite restaurant. 

The night before Bastille Day is when Agen has the Bastille Day fireworks display. We’d forgotten about them, and so were at home watching movies instead of by the river in Le Passage like the rest of the town. We stepped outside to see if we could catch a glimpse and were treated to a fantastic half-hour display right from our back door.

We raced over to England on a whim (planned months ahead) for a special weekend at Bletchley Park. We were only in London for a day and a half. Expensive craziness, but it was fun. We caught up with Richard and Hilary on the first night. Bletchley took up most of Saturday (with tours, lectures and geeky awesomeness – Craig, Cecilia and her boy were with us here), then we caught up with Aussie friends in London (Craig, Michelle & Jen, plus some RADA friends of Jen’s) until the wee hours of Sunday morning. We slept in an excellent youth hostel (called “The Clink” – it’s a restored watchhouse) for about 3 hours and then made our way back to the airport for a 9:50 flight (which we nearly missed). Ryanair only does one flight to our part of France on a Sunday and they’re basically only running the flight in order to run a more reasonably-timetabled flight to pick up English people who have spent the weekend in France. I think the most unexpected thing about our trip to England was arriving in France and feeling like we were home again (especially since we’d arrived in a city we’re not exactly familiar with).

August began with a delayed Christmas in July. We couldn’t pin down our guests until August, so that’s the way it goes. We had gifts, pudding, ingredients and recipes sent from Australia, so all we had to do was cook it all up and host a long lunch. As I prepared away, I realised that all the bits of lunch that the French see as vital (like entrées and cheese) were not quite in sync with all the compulsory parts of the meal which I had been sent recipes for. So, the menu just kept getting bigger and bigger – I wrote it out for a laugh. After stuffing ourselves with goodies and opening presents, the afternoon turned into an excuse to play every game we owned, do puzzles and teach kids how to juggle. As you do.

After much badgering from the girls, we finally went for a trip to Parc Walibi (2 mins up the road from us – check out the Parc Walibi website). Yes, that’s the French-Belguim theme park’s own special way of spelling Wallaby – the wallaby is the park mascot and there are little cartoon wallabies all over the place. I thought it was going to be more of a waterslide fun park, but it turned out to be more like Seaworld. We saw sea-lions, rollercoaster rides, the world upside-down, terrified kiddies, water all over us and lots and lots of lines. Fun & exhausting. I’ve still got a sunburn line.

We’ve spent most of the rest of August lying low, saving pennies (well, Euros), setting up the house, unpacking a bit and chilling out. Since France is essentially on holiday for all of August there’s not really a lot that can be done. This is a good thing, since we just need to not do much for a bit. It’s sunny and warm, so we’ve spent evenings walking to the canal, playing games, reading, listening to music, watching movies. General summer holiday excitement. It’s a bit of a bummer that we don’t have an outdoor table setting yet, but since the backyard isn’t much to look at yet (and it’s bloody hot out) we’re not too fussed.

I did manage to spontaneously go along with another of Bruce’s work trips to Perpignan last week, though this time it was just for the day. We picked a random seaside town for me to hang out in (Canet) for a few hours while he worked, then on the way back we detoured past a statue and an old ruin we’ve been eyeing off from the highway for a while. Perfect daytrip – hope I get more of them!

Just to keep you all in the loop, future travel plans will involve us heading to Barcelona with some Aussies in England, plus we’ll be heading to Adelaide.

I’m still trying to upload pics from the start of the year (and last year!), so some of these photo albums will fill up a little more over time. In fact, I’m sneakily adding one or two pics to new albums just so I can link to them when I post this blog post. Sorry that’s a pain, but that’s the way it is. Coming soon: Bruce losing his hair, Bruce’s trip to Vienna, a random work trip of Bruce’s, more of January. There might also be short videos added to some albums. Er, later.

By the way, if you want to know our new address for any reason, it’s available for friends to see on my Facebook profile, or you can email us and ask for it.

Okay, well that’s it for me and this post. I’ll try very hard to not let it slide for that long again. Bruce may even write something one day too (I’ll believe it when I see it!). Maybe if I update more frequently I can actually get into some detail instead of just barely managing to cover all the important bits. Even with stealing paragraphs from emails here and there I’ve taken most of a day to write this. *sigh*

Right. Bye for now!

Getting from December to March

Sheesh. I can’t believe January and February flew by like that. Sorry for failing to update! Hi all. It’s Ange writing again – Bruce promises to start writing sometime soon.

We left Lyon on early January and drove over to Agen, where we’re now living and settling in properly. The drive over was a saga, which nearly left us with a car that didn’t quite fit all of our gear. We spent two hours re-packing the car until it all finally fit in.

We spent January living with a lovely family who helped us to organise our French paperwork, taught us some French, fed us lots of awesome French food and generally made us very welcome. These people are also Bruce’s bosses, so he’s pretty happy that he’s working with nice people.

Bruce wasn’t able to start work straight away, despite EU legislation being clear that he could, French authorities want things to be done their way and we had to get him a titre de sejour first. So, January became one big saga to get Bruce a titre de sejour. We would have had to do this anyway, but it was nice to have a native French person helping me to work out what was what. To get it, we eventually collated around 200 bits of paper with French explanations as to what it all meant, official French translations of birth certificates, proof of French housing, bank details, passports, proof of entering the country, proof of employment, proof that we plan to pay French tax, insurances, Australian tax returns, payslips going back half a year, proof of housing in Australia etc etc. Luckily, you don’t have to pay to apply for the titre de sejour, but you do have to pay for the official translations ($50 per birth certificate/wedding certificate) and spend hours and hours chasing up bits of paper and collating them ready for submission. By the end of the month, we had a titre de sejour, so now he can work. Woo!

So, Bruce now works at Agralis, troubleshooting and fixing soil moisture monitoring probes (Some from Sentek, some from competitors). He has a 6 month contract, which will be renewed if his French has improved, presuming Agralis has enough work for him. He’s also on the website. He seems to be doing a lot of travelling for work at the moment, since he helps people to set up their probes correctly and goes to conferences. He went to Vienna for a conference but I haven’t uploaded the photos yet (Bruce took about 400 photos of a couple of swans and I have no idea which ones to keep – seriously).

Oh – I forgot the big news of January. Bruce got a haircut for this job. The head of the company thought Bruce looked like a hippy (and didn’t approve) so it’s gone now.

So, that was January in a nutshell. The picture version of January is here, although I still need to add some photos.

February saw us moving into our own place-ish. We’re renting part of a mansion from a couple known to our previous hosts. It’s a very nice house and we have heaps of space. Downside is that it’s not permanent, since the owners are trying to sell. But, we can unpack as much as we can be bothered and the rest can live downstairs in storage. If we’re still here when it warms up we can make use of the pool out the back, too.

Our new landlords are also a lovely couple, who I’ve now had a meal with (while Bruce was away at the SIMA agricultural exhibition in Paris) and gone for a nice wander around a forest.

Bruce also got sent to Biarritz for a work thing, so I tagged along and we made a weekend of it. We managed to stay in a hotel run by an English guy who had lived in Adelaide for a few years. We had to leave before we found out that we’d been to school with his family or whatever other Adelaide effect was in store for us.

I guess this is a good a time as any to mention that the Grillies got their own blog. Silliness ensues.

So, February was mainly settling into the new place and Bruce settling into the job. I’m finishing up the last of my degree and hunting a few more bits of elusive paper which will ensure more permanent titre de sejour. The picture version of February is here.

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. 🙂

Getting to France

Well, we made it! The last few days before leaving Adelaide were a stressful flurry of action and organisation, but we made it on the plane in the end. Thanks to everyone who said goodbye at the last minute, sent cards and texts, helped us out, rescued us when cars broke down and/or let us leave them with piles of household stuff we no longer need. You are all excellent and helped us a lot.

The actual trip was very long – especially after an average of four hours a night sleep for the week before we left. We were lucky that we got amazingly good food the whole way.

During the Adelaide to Malaysia leg of the trip, we were stuck in seats where the screens weren’t working, so no movies or reading lights for us! I (Ange) got travel-sickness for the first time in my life after reading for 5 minutes, becoming extremely nauseous, clammy, faint and going a magnificent shade of green/pale. So, I decided to avoid reading for the rest of the trip. Seven hours of flight with no movies or reading is pretty boring, I have to say. Also made my 40kg carry-on bag of books pretty useless.

We spent five hours in Kuala Lumpur, trying to find the least annoying place to spend some time. We settled on a cafe that had airline staff actually eating there, bought the most expensive cans of beer we’ve ever paid for ($17 Malaysian Ringgits = AU$7.20 each) and listened to a horrible clicky noise come from a drink machine for the next half an hour. Sleeping at the gate was far better in the end.

The leg from Malaysia to Amsterdam was over 13 hours. Our bodies still believed we got on the plane around 1am, so, we were wrecked. Most of the flight was darkness, so Bruce caught up on sleep while I watched all the movies I knew Bruce would never be interested in. The attendants realised I’d broken my body clock and was stuck awake, so they brought me snacks every hour or so. We then tried a Malaysian breakfast of Sambal squid and chicken curry paired with croissants. Strange, but interesting.

We found some nice, comfy chairs to rest on in Amsterdam, where we watched the sun rise and had some decent coffee while brushing up on French.  We didn’t realise it at the time, but we went through immigration there. They saw my two passports and asked if I wanted a stamp as well, making some joke about it being $10. It’s strange to think I might have moved to the other side of the world without even getting a stamp in my passport. And, to think I spent all that time ensuring I had copies of wedding certificates etc and carried them on my person the whole way only to have them completely ignored. Better that way around rather than the other.

The last leg of the trip was on a teensy, tiny Fokker 100 run by KLM/British Airways/Air France (whatever logo they felt like showing you at the time). We had awesome croissants and coffee, which made us pretty happy. By this stage we reeked and were somewhat delirious. Lovely French people kept trying to get us involved in their conversations, but as I understood about 10% of what they said I just smiled at them and looked hopeless. The airline attendant who had seen me reading the French phrasebook frantically spoke to us in English as we left.

Getting into Lyon, there was no drama with lost bags or customs, as we pretty much just walked straight out. Technically, there was a customs area, but we walked under the “nothing to declare” sign and were out the other side without even talking to anyone. Crazy!

Navigating Lyon’s public transport in French after very little sleep was a challenge, however I managed to get a map, buy tickets to the right places and get directions to the right place. The train from Lyon airport that I’d read up on before leaving Australia didn’t seem to exist in the end, which was a little frustrating as we then had to catch a bus and two metro trains (subway) to get the the apartment. This is with ALL of our luggage now. Luckily, most of it was on wheels. Unluckily, most of the lifts were broken. Underground train stations are a pretty awful place to be with piles of luggage. Stairs and escalators are not much fun at all.

We found our flat and got let in and shown around. It’s this gorgeous little 1850s apartment block which is right near one of the rivers in old Lyon (Vieux Lyon). There was a little stress while we got my laptop out and paid the rest of the fee via paypal in front of our new landlord (who speaks only a little English). The landlord and friend quickly left after they realised we’d been travelling for over 30 hours and were exhausted.

By then it was nearly 3pm in Lyon, but we really needed a shower and a rest. This is where I made a very silly mistake. I set the alarm on my phone for 5pm so that we’d only nap for two hours and then go for a walk to find some dinner or something. Pity I forgot to change the time on my phone before going to sleep though. So, I slept for a good nine hours and now I’m awake in the middle of the night in Lyon. *sigh* Bruce is a champion sleeper though, and I’m sure he’ll stay asleep until morning.

So, we’re in Lyon and we’re a little less stressed now. This is where we’ll be until the 3rd January. Apparently, there’s a good market 50m out the back of the flat. So, I’ll be heading there when it’s daylight to find some food. When I uncover the camera I’ll take some photos, however it could be even longer before I find cables to get those pics online.