Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘expat’

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is in two days, New Years arrives in a week, and Max and I will be flying to Boston in just one month – where did 2014 go? Generally, these breaks in posting correspond to life getting busier, and I just don’t have the time (read: motivation) to write about it. My last post was in early November (about a vacation we took in July), so there are plenty of things that I haven’t gotten around to writing yet :

– My parents visited in September

– Business trips to Berlin and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

– Turns out I have astigmatism

– We’re moving to Houston, Texas in February

And, best of all, Max and I are engaged! (whew!)

The Gouffre de Padirac

Summer vacation plans this year came down to the wire. Max and I requested time off in August, intending to spend a week at the beach somewhere, but quickly realized that most vacation rentals had been reserved months in advance. We spent several evenings poring over the remaining options, unable to come to a decision or make any definitive choices. But two weeks before our vacation was scheduled to begin, Max came home from work and proudly announced,

“WE ARE VISITING the Gouffre de Padirac!”

“Uh what? What’s a gouffre?”

“It’s great! I went there when I was a kid.”

And that’s how we ended up driving three hours through the rolling farmlands of central France, then waiting in line for another hour, in the rain, to see a pit.

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Sure, I may have voiced some doubts in regards to Max’s choice of vacation outing, especially considering his last recommendation from his childhood… but the place was surprisingly interesting. The Gouffre de Padirac is a chasm 35 meters across and 75 meters deep. It serves an an entryway to a series of caves created by an underground river. We had the option of taking an elevator or stairs to the bottom, but after too much time spent sitting and waiting that day, we sped down the stairs. Apparently there are about 9 kilometers of tunnels, and 2 of them are open to the public. The highlight of our guided tour was being transported along the river’s narrow channels, in a tiny gondola, in the dark, with other boats whizzing in both directions.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the caves, and the pictures I managed to sneak didn’t come out too well. So here are some pictures from the official website.

In other news, our terrible Ikea mattress has been slowly developing an enormous dent in the middle, that we now refer to as the “Gouffre de Bedirac.”

Bordeaux, la Belle Endormie

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Here are a few pictures from a day in Bordeaux back in August. Bordeaux is known as the Sleeping Beauty city because of its historic centre-ville filled with gorgeous buildings that were once covered in ash and soot. Today, the city represents the capital of wine country in France.

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The Porte Cailhau, constructed in 1495, was the original entrance to the city.

Fountain at the Column of the Girondins on the Esplanade des Quinconces.

IMG_5932The water mirror on the bank of the Garonne River.

Liberté, Egalité, Sécurité

In today’s episode of Kim vs. France, we examine some challenges of highly-secure European banking. As I’ve mentioned before, Europe is eons ahead of American credit cards and banking systems. And while I’m sure that keeping money safe from hackers and digital robbers is important, have they gone too far?

Last night, I attempted to pay my rent by wire transfer. With online access, the process seemed fairly simple. I logged in with an assigned 12-digit numerical code and 6-digit password. To even enter the wire information, the site requested a secret code from a key card the bank sent by mail. Simple enough.

After entering the account information, I needed to enter ANOTHER code they provided by phone to make the transfer. So I waited for a call or text, with no luck. As it turns out, the account is linked to my office phone. I tried to enter my cell phone instead, but a new number can’t be validated without ANOTHER code that the bank sent by mail a couple months ago. And THAT code is no longer valid.

This morning I tried the entire process again at work, and received the call with the code. An automated voice began barking numbers. Not slowly or digit-by-digit to ensure that it could be understood, but rapidly in French counting style :

SIXTY-FIFTEENTWENTYTWOEIGHTY-ELEVEN*click*

What was that? Sixty-five twenty-two eighty? In France, numbers are always read in two-digit sets. There is no translation for seventy, eighty, or ninety. They substitute with basic arithmatic instead :

70 = sixty-ten           80 = four-twenties           90 = four-twenties-ten

Wait, what? Four-twenties-ten? Yes. It comes from Basque and was adopted by the Gauls and then the French. This has bothered me since they taught us to count in seventh grade French class.

It took several frustrating tries to realize that the code wasn’t 60-15-22-80-11, but 75-22-91.

Next time I’ll just pay in cash.

Whoops…

 

Three months without a single post? My bad. As the days grew longer here, the Loire was hit with a surprisingly mild and warm spring/early summer, offering plenty of opportunities for activities. In April, we took a few weekend excursions not far from home. In May, I hopped back to the US for my brother’s college graduation and quick stops in Washington DC and Boston. June was the beginning of French barbecue season, and this weekend Max and I are headed to the first of three summer weddings for various cousins. We’ll be arriving at the mairie (town hall) for a 10 AM civil ceremony, then it’s off to the church and an entire afternoon, evening, night, and then morning of food, dancing, and shenanigans.

This month, not only is my sister visiting France, but we’re headed to Iceland! At this time of year, the sun never fully sets, so we’ll be filling the days with hikes, Icelandic horses, exploring Reykjavik, and puffin-hunting.

Happy Independence Day!

Facing the music

This weekend, Max and I took a road trip up to Normandy to pick up my early birthday present, a piano keyboard! It may be 10 years since my last lesson (not including several ill-fated years of clarinet) but I’m determined to pick it up again. After a couple days of practicing, it’s become painfully clear that I need to practice playing with the left hand and reading music. I’ve printed out some covers of popular music, but most of it is still beyond my ability, so Max has been recruited to participate in ‘Heart and Soul’ duets for now.

Any suggestions for beginner/intermediate piano music or excercises would be appreciated!

The pitfalls of marrying an American woman

Celebrity gossip is not my first choice of reading material, but this week’s article about the Gwyneth Paltrow/Chris Martin split from the Telegraph offers a hilarious commentary on European-American relationships.

The Pitfalls of Marrying an American Woman

The evidence hits far too close to home :

To marry an American is to accept the word “woo!” into your life. The word is not in any dictionary, but is written deep inside an American’s heart and soul. To an American, if anything vaguely good is happening, one must emit a “woo”. Perhaps a baseball team has hit a baseball. Or a tray of cupcakes successfully made it from the kitchen to a living room table. Anything dimly positive can be greeted with a overly-loud, obnoxiously out-of-context: “WOOO! YEAH! Cupcakes! Awesome!”. It is insufferable.

Excuse me while I look up more recipes for cupcakes. Woo!

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