Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vacation

We got back to Paris at 4am Saturday morning and I'm very sad to say that my vacation is over.  I feel like it wasn't nearly long enough and I'm not ready to be back in the city and to face reality, and of course my evil teaching job.  On the bright side, at least I don't work tomorrow, and August should be a pretty slow and easy month since most of my students are on vacation.

All in all our vacation was great, though the weather could definitely have been better!  Here are the highs and lows:

The Good:
  • La Dordogne.  Our trip in Dordogne was absolutely amazing and I completely fell in love with this part of France.  We spent 4 wonderful days there, exploring, visiting, discovering and relaxing.  Although the weather could have been better, we were still very happy with our trip and we saw so many amazing things: Sarlat, Domme, le Chateau de Castelnaud, le Chateau de Beynac, La Roque Gageac, Autoir, Rocamadour, Carennac, Martel, la Grotte des Merveilles, la Grotte de Rouffignac, le Chateau des Milandes, le Chateau de Castelnau Bretenoux, St. Léon sur Vézère, le Village Troglodytique de la Madeleine and Perigueux.
  • Le Pays Basque.  Since the weather was so bad and we couldn't really take advantage of the beach, Lionel's parents decided to take us to the Pays Basque for two days since I had never been.  It's a part of France that has never really attracted me, so I was very surprised to discover how beautiful and interesting this region is.  We visited St. Jean de Luz, Sare, Hendaye, Aïnhoa, Espelette, Cambo les Bains and Biarritz and it was all beautiful.  We spent some time along the sea and some time in the mountains and I really fell in love with the area and Basque food!
  • Spain.  I went to Spain for the first time!  On our trip to the Pays Basque we stopped in Spain for cheap alcohol and cheap gas and it was the first time I ever set foot in Spain, so I was pretty excited!  We also drove through the mountains for a little bit before entering back into France and passed through the adorable little village of Bera.
  • Family.  As I've said before, I am very lucky to have wonderful inlaws and we had a great time visiting them.  Since the weather wasn't so great we also had time to visit with some other members of Lionel's family since they almost all live in the Bordeaux area and I had a great time seeing some of his cousins and his grandfather.  We had some lovely, long meals with his family involving good conversation and lots of oysters, fresh fish, cheese, delicious desserts, aperitifs and, of course, tons of wine.  I'm just so lucky to feel so accepted by Lionel's family and it helps me feel like I have family here since my own family is so far away in Ohio.
  • Friends.  We also have some friends whose families are from the Arcachon area and since they were there on vacation at the same time we were able to meet up with them and spend some time with some of their friends from the area as well.  We had one particularly wonderful evening with our friends, their friends, all their children and about 500 kg of food all expertly cooked by Matthew on the grill - shrimp, duck hearts (yikes!...I didn't try that one...), chicken, beef, ventrèche, sausages, camembert on the bbq.  It was a lot, but delicious!
  • Rasteau.  I think our little furball enjoyed being on vacation even more than we did.  He loved having the huge garden to play in, a new area to explore and the other cats to play with.  He barely slept  because he was so excited by all the new things.  It was adorable!
  • Cap Ferret.  We spent a day at the Cap Ferret (even though the weather wasn't so great).  We took the boat across the bassin from Arcachon to the Cap Ferret to visit some of Lionel's family that was on vacation there and the Cap ended up being really nice.  We ate super fresh oysters straight from the waters at one of the little oyster shacks along the sea, visited the area a bit and went to a beautiful, natural beach (though we couldn't lay out or swim).
  • Biganos.  We stopped in Biganos to visit the small but adorable, and very rustic port and had a nice walk around the port and along the river.
  • Andernos les Bains.  We also visited Andernos les Bains at the fond du bassin and had a nice walk along the sea and through the adorable little commercial streets.
  • Gémo Chaussures.  Since the weather was so bad I did a little shopping and managed to get a new cute pair of wedges on sale for only 13 euros!
The Bad:
  • The weather.  The weather was ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE.  In our two and a half weeks of vacation we had 5 days of sun, one of which was too cold to be able to go to the beach and two of which were while we were in the Pays Basque so we were only able to spend an hour at the beach.  The other two days, one was too cold and windy to go to the sea, so we went to the beach at the Lac de Cazaux where we were at least protected from the wind and the other day (the last day of our vacation) was actually hot and sunny so I spent the entire afternoon at the beach before hopping in the car to drive back to Paris that night.  The rest of the time was cold, gray and rainy which made it really hard to do a lot of the activities we were planning.  On the days when it didn't rain we were able to go biking and things but on the rainy days we were basically stuck at the house or shopping.
  • Lionel got a ticket.  Lionel ended up getting a ticket when we were in Dordogne...90 euros for dangerous passing.  Long story short, there was a tractor in front of us that unexpectedly stopped right after a sharp curve so Lionel swerved to pass it in order to avoid hitting it, and unfortunately les gendarmes were coming from the other direction and saw the entire thing.
  • Le Gouffre de Padirac.  Le Gouffre de Padirac is this amazing cave with an underground river and when you visit it they take you on a boat ride along the river and then take you by foot to see the underground lakes.  We really wanted to see it and so we went one afternoon but the line was very, very long and we didn't want to lose the rest of the afternoon so we decided to come back the following morning.  The next morning we woke up early and arrived before opening only to find another very long line and since we had a lot of other things we still wanted to see/do, we finally decided to just give up and visited the prehistoric Grottes de Rouffignac instead.
  • Canoeing.  I love canoeing and I was really excited because we planned to go canoeing twice on vacation.  We had planned a canoeing trip with our friends and their children for the beginning of vacation which was unfortunately cancelled and because of the weather we were never able to do it later.  We had also planned to canoe on the Dordogne River but were unable to because of the weather as well.  So we ended up not being able to canoe at all, which was a disappointment.
  • Les Mardinades.  Les Mardinades is a little soirée that is put on by the city of La Teste de Buch every Tuesday night in July and August at the port.  There are cheap drinks, good food, lots of oysters, live music, and dancing.  When we were on vacation there two years ago we went twice and I really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to going back this year.  We were in Dordogne the first Tuesday but planned to go the second Tuesday.  Unfortunately, because of the weather (which ended up being beautiful), they  cancelled it and rescheduled it for Wednesday night when we were gone in the Pays Basque, so I ended up missing my Mardinades.
I think that about sums up my vacation.  Pictures coming soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Freedom!

Well, at least for two and a half weeks!  Yep, that's right, we are on vacation!  We are leaving tonight for two wonderful weeks far from Paris, and I couldn't be more excited to get away.  We plan to leave around 8pm to head here:


Two weeks in Arcachon.  Of course, this means we are spending our vacation with my in-laws, since they live in La Teste de Buch, the city that surrounds the city of Arcachon.  But that is fine with me because I'm lucky enough to have very nice in-laws who I really like.  Their house is only 10 minutes from the beach and we will spend two weeks relaxing at the beach (I hope, because the weather forecast isn't looking too great for the moment), going out on the boat to the Ile aux oiseaux and the Banc d'Arguin, eating good food, biking around, canoeing with friends, going to the lake de Cazaux, visiting the Dune de Pyla, and just relaxing far from the stress of Paris and our jobs.

We are bringing the little furball with us, and we are going to leave him with Lionel's parents for four days to spend some time visiting la Dordogne, which I'm really looking forward to.  It's a part of France I have never visited and have always dreamed of exploring so I'm going to do as much as possible in those four days.

Don't know if I'll have a lot of time to post while I'm gone, but I'll try, especially if it's raining.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Visas, Residency, Titres de Séjour and the Préfecture

Last week I had my annual torture session visit to the sous-préfecture to renew my titre de séjour, only 3.5 months after I went in to schedule an appointment, and only 1 month after my previous titre de séjour actually expired...but who cares about that.  Lionel took the day off as required and we dragged our butts out of bed far too early to drive over there (at least this time we had a car and didn't have to take the buses!).  As we pulled into the parking lot at 9:15 I gasped in shock as I saw the line for the accueil of the Bureau des Etrangers.  Usually the line winds around a bit inside the building and then heads outside along the front of the building.  But this year, it not only went along the front of the building, but around the side and to the back, effectively covering about half the exterior of the place.

I looked at Lionel with anger flashing through my eyes as I realized we might be in for a very long day.  Then I left him in the line and fought my way through the crowds of foreigners to get inside, clutching the paper stating that I had an appointment for 9:30 and praying that, for once, guichet 2 - the window that is supposed to be for people with appointments or who are just there to pick up their card (and therefore allowing us to bypass the long welcome line) - would actually be open and have a person working it.  Afterall, why should I have to stand in a 3-4 hour line when I have an appointment for a specific time (new this year)?

As I shoved my way past crowds of angry people, people who really need to buy deodorant, hot, crying babies, and strollers and finally got into the actual office/waiting area, I was shocked, first by the number of people already waiting for their numbers to be called only 15 minutes after the place had opened, second by the fact that not a single number had yet been called for any service, third by the sign stating that from June 22-July 15 the office was reducing their already non-existant hours and only staying open until 3:30, except on Thursdays when they would be closing at 12:30 and finally by the fact that guichet 2 was actually open (with a line of people waiting for it!).  Still, thrilled to be bypassing the horribly long line outside in the hot, 35 degree sun, I quickly got in the much smaller line.  Only 15 minutes later it was my turn and I went up to the window, showed my paper for my appointment and got my number: S107.  Excellent, I thought!  Only 7 people ahead of me for the S numbers and the line went faster than imagined!  I glanced back at the screen and realized that in all that time, they still had not called a single number and I gulped thinking, well I hope they get to us rendez-vous people first. 

I headed back outside to bring Lionel in to wait and then finally they started calling numbers, but nothing with S.  By this time we were roasting alive in the hot, over-crowed waiting room which was designed for about 30 people and was accommodating about 100 with no air conditioning on one of the 3 hottest days we've had all year.  So we decided to go outside and wait near a window where we could still see the numbers being called, but have a little air and not have to listen to the crying babies.  And wait we did, in the very hot sun.

Finally, about 10:15 they called the first S and my hopes went up.  I started thinking they would just zip through all the Ss and we would be free!  But no, that was only a dream...from 10:15-10:30 they called S100, 101, 102.  And then stopped.  Until 11:15 when they called S103, 104, 105.  They called those three all at the same time, so I thought they must be trying to hurry up and finish with S before lunch.  Nope.  They stopped again.  Then finally at 12:15 they called S106 and I started to get excited.  Freedom was in sight.  Finally, at 12:30 my number was called and in we went, pushing through the hoards of people, noticing that the line was not getting any smaller and there were more and more people waiting in that tiny room.  But we were the lucky ones, and we went straight back to guichet 7, where the S people were all going.  And then my smile dropped as I recognized the evil witch at the window.  But oh well, I fought through it, we handed her all the papers, she looked everything over, I got my stupid récépissé (again, because it wouldn't be better to just process new cards before the old ones expired therefore eliminating the need for the récépissé altogether), and then I asked my question:

Me:  When will I be able to apply for the 10 year carte de résident? (knowing full well that it is after 3 years of marriage, but after hearing rumors through a Russian friend that her other Russian friend was able to get it after 2.5 years of marriage because it was in the year when she would reach 3 years, I thought I would give it a shot anyway).

Evil Sous-Préfecture Woman:  What?

Me:  When will I be able to get the carte de résident?

ESPW:  What?  The 10 year card?

Me:  Yes

ESPW:  After 3 years of marriage.  So apply next year.

Me:  Can I apply in November when we reach 3 years of marriage?

ESPW: (sighing) You can apply next year...if the law doesn't change before then...(cue ominous music...what scares me is that I've heard rumors that they are thinking of doing away with the 10 year card altogether, therefore requiring yet another temporary, 1 year card and I fear this will somehow end up screwing me over...)

Me:  Okay..........thanks........(for nothing, I mumbled under my breath).

So there you go, I spent about 3.5 hours at the stupid sous-préfecture, roasting alive, miserable and suffering for a whopping 15 minutes at the window.  I was finally seen only 3 hours after my scheduled, time-specific appointment (why even bother to give appointments if they can't even come relatively close to respecting them...they used to just give us a day and say to arrive between 9 and 12), and then finally, at 12:45, we were free...until, of course, I have to go back and pick up my card...probably anytime between now and the end of September seeing as we are entering the vacation period.

However, I must say I am far luckier than my 2 friends.  My Russian friend has been here for 4 years with her Russian husband.  When they came to France he had secured a job here and she was coming as the spouse of a Russian man with a work visa.  Not knowing any French, she decided to spend her first year studying the language, then spent years 2 and 3 completing a Masters in Paris.  Since then, a year later, she has been desperately trying to convince France to let her have the right to work, to no avail.  She isn't married to a Frenchie, therefore she can't work unless she can find a company that will sponsor her.  She's going insane because all she wants to do is be able to have a job and contribute financially to her couple and economically to the country.  Instead, France would rather give her and her husband the CAF.  Seems like it would be cheaper to let her work too, allowing them enough money to pay their apartment by themselves, and letting France collect taxes from her as well...instead, she is constantly fighting with the préfecture, preparing documents and investigating laws to try to find a way to work, and is constantly getting refused.

My friend, Amy, is in even more dire straights as she was just informed, by letter, that she had 1 month to leave the country because France refuses to renew her student card as she did not complete her exams last year due to a death in the family.  She decided to return home for the funeral, and since it was just before Christmas, she stayed home and came back in January, missing her exams in her expensive, private, French language school.  Since she was not doing it for a degree, but only to learn the language after completing a degree in interior design in Paris, she didn't think it was too important.  Since then, she has signed up for the a different, cheaper school, found an internship and been fighting with the préfecture to be allowed to stay.  After months of fighting about paperwork and a million trips to the préfecture she finally got the letter rejecting her request to renew her student card and has to leave the country by July 15.  France said she wasn't "serious about her studies" but she gave them a copy of the death certificate and the papers showing she had already signed up and paid for another 6 months of French language classes, as well as the fact that she found an internship if she could just get the renewal, and they still refused.  Seems a little ridiculous to me for a 6 month student card...

But I guess that's the prefecture for you...here to make foreigners' lives miserable!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July to all the Americans out there!


We celebrated on Saturday night with a barbeque and some friends.  We had a wonderful time and ate plenty of American food including hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, homemade coleslaw, pasta salad, strawberry shortcake and cheesecake (now that I buy Philadelphia cream cheese!!!).

our American flag shortcake

Hope all you other Americans out there are had a great 4th of July, whether in the US or abroad!