Week 2

It’s hard to believe we have been in France for two weeks now. Although it was a fairly rough start with most of the family becoming ill, we’ve managed to settle in nicely and life in France is starting to be more like we had imagined. I’m still getting through some sinus issues and a nasty cough, but have managed to get to work for the second week and I’m attempting to be as productive possible.

After last weeks blog post our air shipment arrived from Colorado, which was a welcome site that brought with it a number of items that has made living a bit more comfortable. We packed a box about the size of a large US refrigerator back in late January with as many items as we could jam into it, including a box of toys for each of the kids, school materials, books, ski bags (clothes, boots, helmets, gloves, etc), several computers, an xbox, games, linens, kitchen items, etc.  With the arrival of our Mac Mini, we have now expanded the number of tv shows and movies available for viewing, which has made the kids quite happy.

The arrival of some of our electronics brought with it a new issue, voltage incompatibility. France uses 220V, where as the US uses 110V, and the frequency is also slightly different with France at 50HZ and the US at 60HZ. What this means is that even with an adapter, if you plug a US device into a French plug, you can very easily fry or burn up the device. Luckily the majority of new computers, including most Apple products, are dual voltage, which means with an adapter they work in both the US and France. But, we did bring with us a number of items that aren’t dual voltage such as our HP printer, xbox360, wii, computer monitor, etc. In order for these 110v devices to work you have to plug them into a voltage transformer.

For some reason, I thought it would be easy to pick up a voltage transformer in France, but I was wrong. First, it is hard to find any US products here. Second, I’m finding at electronics and hardware stores, very few people speak good English and I don’t speak much French yet.  Third, a voltage transformer isn’t exactly a common item and trying to discuss a niche item with a language barrier makes it even tougher. So, after visiting a number of stores in the area including UlbaldiCastorama, and Leroy Merlin, and not finding anything close to a 220 to 110 voltage transformer, I decided to take a look online.

It is very easy to find voltage transformers online, the issue is getting them to France. I’ve recently learned that most US companies, even dot coms, don’t ship to an address in France- something I didn’t know before now. One of the few companies that will ship internationally is Amazon.com. You can easily buy a new 1000w transformer on Amazon.com for $60, but the shipping ends up costing approximately $150 and then another $50 of import fees are added to the total. This brings the total cost of a $60 voltage transformer to $260.

It turns out that the best option for buying a voltage transformer (that I have found so far) was Amazon.UK.  I found a 500w Power Bright voltage transformer for £44.99 with shipping costs of £21.83, which totals to be about $110 US. Still not the best deal, but better than paying $260 to get it from the US.  My advice to anyone moving abroard, buy your voltage transformer in the US before you move and you’ll save a lot of money. Also don’t forget to buy US 110v power strips to go with your transformers. Typically the transformers have one or two outlets and you will more than likely need more than that.

One of the things I have learned in the two weeks I have been in France is that a task that may have taken a quick 30 minutes or an hour in the US (going down to home depot and buying an item), can easily turn into a multi day research project and ultimately weeks before the item you need is in your hand. In the case of the transformer, I spent at least a day researching the best options, another half a day driving around and visiting stores, and another 10 days waiting for the item to arrive at the house. It’s been more than a week since I ordered the transformer now and I still haven’t received it, which means the kids haven’t been able to play xbox and April hasn’t been able to make copies or print from our printer.

Read the full blog post at ayearinFrance.com

Week 1

February 1 to February 8, 2012

As I write this, my eyes are filled with tears. Don’t jump to conclusions, these tears aren’t because I am sad and missing Colorado (not yet), but because I have a terrible cold, one of the worst I can remember. I gave it my all, but after being surrounded by three sick kids for more than two weeks, my body finally gave in and has succumbed to some nasty viral thing. I won’t go into all of the details regarding our various sicknesses (colds and stomach viruses), but lets just say it is the worst I can remember our family being sick at one time- ever.

I was hoping for a perfect introduction to France for the family, a day where we would stroll along the beautiful, blue mediterranean sea together, have a leisurely lunch sitting in the sun on a patio in an ancient village, visit and explore our new house in the countryside, have an afternoon feast on chocolate croissants and other pastries while sipping on espresso, and then dine in front of an open fire while sampling the finest food and wine that this region has to offer.  But the reality is none of those things happened, in fact, the exact opposite occurred. Our introduction to France started with kids barfing on airplanes, kids barfing in airports, kids barfing in hotels, trips to urgent care, more barfing in hotels, trips to pharmacies, barfing in cars, kids coughing, and more trips to pharmacies. Life isn’t perfect and it’s imperfections were glaringly present as we began our new adventure in France. Okay, no more sick talk.

One of the biggest surprises in southern France thus far has been the weather. We were expecting the weather to be sunny and cool during the winter, but in the seven days we have been here it has been near freezing all week and has snowed three days but with no significant accumulations. The day before we arrived it snowed four to eight inches in the area (depending on the elevation) and when we arrived at our house the yard was fully covered in snow. We were shocked to see snowmen built by our neighbors and in school yards in the nearby commune of Opio. The temperatures so far here have been very similar to that of Boulder for the winter, 40′s for highs and 20′s for lows. I’m not complaining about the cold, but it isn’t exactly what we had expected. We were hoping more for sunny skies and warm days in the 50′s or 60′s.

We arrived at our house for the first time on Thursday and couldn’t make it up the drive way for the first half of the day because of a steep, icy driveway. Being accustomed to snow in Colorado, I figured I could make to the top driving a BMW X1, but I was wrong. I made it about half way up and then violently slid back down and hit the hedges on the other side of the road. Luckily, neither the car nor the hedges ending up with any noticeable damage. Although, my pride was hurt ever so slightly by the laughs and comments of the guys standing nearby. The crew that was here to deliver furniture spent an hour or so chipping the ice on the driveway with hammers and other tools so that they could get their truck up to the house. It was something I had never seen before, but it worked as they got their truck up to the house and quickly unloaded furniture.

While chipping away at the icy driveway, our neighbor literally bumped into me, rather slid into me, while trying to walk down the driveway. Turns out that our neighbors are from England and have three daughters that are slightly older, but similar ages to our kids. They have been extremely friendly to us, supplying us with information about the area, dvds, kids toys, and access to their internet connection (although to use it I have to stand in front of their house- doesn’t work from inside our house). We feel very fortunate to have English speaking neighbors and their hospitality is much appreciated.

Even though illnesses and unexpected snow have slowed us down, we’ve accomplished a lot in our first week in France:

-Located multiple stores and shopped for food, pet supplies, pillows, wine, etc.

-Taken our small BMW X1 rental car back and exchanged it for a Peugeot 5008. The new car isn’t as stylish, but with three rows of seating we are much more comfortable.

-Moved into our home and got it set up with temporary furniture and appliances.

-Learned where the nearby Urgent Care is located and how to navigate the French medical system (Thanks Kerry!)

-Learned how French pharmacies work and that groceries stores and markets don’t carry medicines or related items.

-Set up a French bank account and received our Releve d’Identité Bancaire or RIB.

-Researched and signed up for internet access and phone, but are still without both. I’m sure there will be a longer story about this soon.

-Researched mobile phone providers, but have a temporary road block with AT&T locked iPhones.

-Found a english radio station, Riverra Radio. It tends to play some cheesy 80′s music that April hates, but I tend to like it (can’t believe I’m admitting it), especially the White Snake, Poison, and Def Leopard.

-Got our mail box set up and already received some mail from friends in the US for Hannah (Thanks Ava!).

-Met our gardener and pool man. Although I am not sure how I feel about April using the words “ohh, la, la” when they show up.

-Ordered multiple 500 watt Step Down/Up Voltage Converters from Amazon.UK. These will allow us to use our American computers, televisions, printers, monitors, and other electrical items while we are here in France.

-Made it to the office for the first time and started working. Although my work took a set back this week due to being sick.

-Traveled to the beach outside of Antibes for the first time. The kids had fun walking along the beach and hunting for shells and unique rocks.

-Drove along the Mediterranean coast from Juan les Pin to Nice.

The first week has been tough, we are still very happy to be here. The area around our home is beautiful and we feel very blessed to live in such an amazing place. One of the highlights of the first week would have to be the sunsets we’ve seen from our house. Just about every evening, the skies tend to light up with amazing colors of orange, pink, and purple spreading throughout the clouds.

Whew! I’m glad that is over. Although I did very little compared to the movers, we just spent the last three days watching two guys pack up our house and load it onto three different trucks- one for air, one for sea, and one for storage. Even though I didn’t do much more than direct where things should go, take down Christmas lights, and clean up left over garbage, it’s still very exhausting to move and I am glad part one of the move is over.

I’m also very thank flu for professional movers. We’ve been lucky enough to have professionals help us during our last three moves and I don’t how we could ever go back to doing it all ourselves again. I have huge respect for the men and women that spend their lives packing and moving other people’s belongings. My back hurt from moving just a few items, while the movers lifted and loaded a whole house like it was nothing.

I honestly have no idea how Thomas and Garth (our movers) fit the majority of our belongings into a 20 foot container (note to self: next time we need a 40 footer). These guys should perform down on pearl street as they are part magicians, part puzzle masters, with some mad arranging skills.

They also have the social skills to go along with their spacial genius and are darn pleasant to be around. We had a number of conversations over the past three days including talks about kids (9 kids between us), gay cruises, HBC colleges (historically black colleges), the Dallas Cowboys and their lack of playoff appearances, and Shaun the neighborhood wandering kid/man. I respect that they learned each of our kids names and actually spelled “slone” right every time it was written (a big deal in my book).