Sunday, October 4, 2015

Watch Out, France! Asian Woman Driving

Do any of these signs indicate the actual street name? Nope.  Welcome to French driving.

Sierra and I slept in until 11:30am the next day.  This was mainly due to the powerful blinds that kept our bedroom a dark cocoon.  Jeff and Tenzin were already awake, which was a role reversal.  They tend to be the night owls, whereas Sierra and I tend to bound out of bed every morning.

Using his limited French, Jeff managed to purchase a baguette and a croissant at the local bakery.  It was delicious to bite into freshly baked bread first thing in the morning.  I didn't even miss my morning smoothie.

Since Jeff had been awake since 4am, he needed to nap.  Thus, I marched out of the house with the girls on a mission.  Since I had been hesitant to drive in France, we walked down to the bus stop a block away.  As we waited at the bus stop, I noticed that no buses were going to our destination.  One of the hardest things about traveling is making decisions on the spot.  It is even harder with children in tow.  Thankfully, neither of them were squirmy.  They just waited patiently and I told them that we would have to go back to get the car so that I could drive to our destination.

"What?" asked Sierra. "Will you be okay?"  She already knew about my reluctance to drive.
"Of course, we'll be okay," I reassured Sierra.  I was also trying to reassure myself.

Even though I read French, the street signs here elude me.  There are about 5 signs at each intersection indicating all sorts of useful information.  Unfortunately, I usually cannot spot the actual street name.

When we got to the car, I instructed both girls to look out for the big street I needed to turn onto, Rue Jean Moulin.  When we got to the street I believed was the one to turn onto, there were no indications I could decipher.  My instincts told me to turn, so I did.  "I think this is the wrong street," I told the girls.  A few seconds later, I spotted it: Monoprix, our first destination.  "Yay!  We did it!" I shouted.  A miracle.

Can you guess where the street sign is located? It's not the green or white signs. If you count from the top, 1-Green, 2-Green, 3-White, 4-White, and then finally right under that last white sign is a tiny dark sign that says "Rue Jean Moulin."  It's not even visible from the street!  I took this picture on a walk later with my friend Ritu so that I could actually see if the street sign existed.

My girls and I went to Monoprix to take photos for our monthly metro passes.  Since the girls and I are staying in France for an entire month, it was more economical to purchase a Navigo card.  The actual physical card costs 5 Euros.  Then, it is 70 Euros for a monthly pass.  There was no discount for the girls, unfortunately.

Have you ever taken an official photo in France?  Here are the instructions:
1) Don't smile
2) Keep a neutral expression
3) Keep your lips closed
4) Don't wear a hat
5) Show your ears
6) Don't tilt your head
7) Make sure your hair is not messy (well, this last one is my guess as to what the instructions were saying)

This is how our photos turned out:

Scary or what? All I could think about was "don't blink, don't smile, keep your lips closed."  We're not winning any beauty pageants with those photos.  I think Tenzin looks the toughest.

This is the cute little Renault we are driving.  We swapped cars as well as houses with the French family, so we can go anywhere we want.  Of course, gas prices are more expensive.  Don't worry, France, I'm not driving into Paris.  We are in a cute little suburb called Antony where cars are just a bit slower, and that is just my pace.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Day 1: Journey to France & House Swapping

I woke up this morning with unusual anxiety and excitement.  "We are going to France!" I thought.  But first, I needed to clean.  Not only were we going to France for the month of October; we were also swapping houses with a French family.  This was our first time swapping houses, so the task turned out to be bigger than I had anticipated.

We had some last-minute mishaps.  My computer completely crashed as I was printing out the 6 pages of instructions that detailed information such as WIFI passwords, how to use the television, and when to take out the trash. Then, the garage door stopped working properly.  All was solved as I thumb-typed on my iPhone on the way to the airport.

Two weeks.  It took two weeks to sort, clean, discard, organize, and wipe every surface imaginable in our house.  By the time we left for the airport, I secretly wished we could spend a day at home just to experience our house in this never-before pristine condition.

Tenzin at SFO

Plane travel with my girls has gotten easier throughout the years.  When we took our first overseas plane ride to Taiwan five years ago. Tenzin was 4 and Sierra was 2. Thirteen hours on the plane could easily make someone go mad. Luckily, that never happened to us during our four trips to Taiwan.  Our 10-hour plane ride to Paris was quite fun, especially now that everyone has a screen.  I am so thankful we restrict screen time so that these plane rides are easy.

The exchange rate at the airport ATM was not too good, but we used it to get us going with cash.  Plus, it was much better than changing actual dollars to Euros.  Our taxi ride to the house in Antony cost 86 Euros. Sierra kept looking for the Eiffel Tower, occasionally shouting out, "I think I see it!"

Jeff found rocking chair in the living room and immediately relaxed into it.

Our house in Antony is quaint, clean, and cozy.  The girls went to each room excitedly to explore.  We were shown around by Nadine, the mother of Sandrine (the house owner).  Nadine spoke English because she lived in America for 20 years.  My French is still incredibly rusty, so it was nice she spoke English.  Jeff and I were getting more and more tired but managed to stay awake as she explained how to work the alarm, the door (the lock seemed impossible!) and the car.

The girls sunbathe in the backyard.

After Jeff and I napped, we walked down to Franprix, the local grocery store.  We found a rotisserie chicken and basics for our food supply.  Thanks to my sister Kelly, we now have the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card.  That means no transaction fees when we use it overseas.  We used it at Franprix and it worked!

We also found a BNP Paribas ATM, which is the sister bank to bank. That means we don't have to pay the $5 withdrawal fee.  That ATM had a much better exchange rate than the one at the airport.

Sierra and I are so excited to be here!

We came back to the house with all the provisions, made some rice and veggies, and ate a hearty meal.  After dinner clean-up, we explored the path to the RER, the metro line that serves the suburbs.  It was only a 5-minute walk, and we also found dessert. 

It was definitely a fun-filled day.  I can't wait for more.