Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New apartment


I won't have internet at home until after my holiday, so I will probably put up some photos of the new place then - hopefully it will be in order by that time! The move went well, got it all done well within the time the truck was rented for. The 4 flights of stairs were rather unpleasant, but manageable. I was super grateful to have 2 guys from work helping! They took care of all the heavy stuff without a murmur, cheers!

The next day, I got an oven, fridge/freezer and washing machine delivered. I was super-impressed - they're all from a second-hand dealer, he delivered them the same day, came the first time, moved the washing machine and oven in, came back a second time after calling a third guy to help with the fridge (it is massive, and the stairs are really steep and narrow, especially the last flight) and then came back a THIRD time because the plug on the oven was too big for a normal socket, so he got a new plug and wired it all up. Took him 2 hours total, poor thing! I was so super grateful slash super embarrassed to be sitting there doing nothing while they were dying hauling this stuff up. Yes, I had paid for the delivery, but only 35 euros. Gave him a bottle of wine to assuage my middle-class guilt :)

The place is more or less in order, by which I mean it's still a complete tip, but obviously the whiteware's in, I've put together all the Ikea furniture (except for the door on a cupboard, which I can't figure out how the hinges go on for the life of me), and things are generally unpacked. Hopefully I'll get it sorted this weekend so that I can come back to a nice place after my holiday.

Yesterday I got a text from Geraldine - after I had moved out, she had finally offered me the one and only bit of assistance she deigned to give, the offer of the small TV I had had in my room. I went early in the morning to get it, partly because I woke up really early anyway, and partly to avoid her. I had some suspicions that this was a ploy to lure me back and ask me for money. Possibly that was paranoia, but here's her response to the text I sent to say thanks for the TV:

"No worries, glad someone can get some use out of it. However we need to see each other about the rent for June and July. And it would be good if you could clean your room (including the windows) before Saturday. I'll take care of all the rest and the torn wallpaper in your room. I am moving my cartons tonight so the room will be accessible from tomorrow. And you also need to give me the keys back before the inspection on Saturday morning"

N'importe quoi! Okay, I can understand about the rent, other than the fact that I've TOLD her already that I gave the cheques to the agent and she was sorting it out. She hasn't cashed them, but no way I'm giving G another set of cheques. And the agent told me to drop the keys off at her office, so that's what I'll be doing. But honest to god, can you believe she asked me to come back and clean, and acted like she was doing me a favour cleaning the rest of the apartment? Other than the fact that she knows it's her security deposit at stake (I didn't give one) so it doesn't really concern me, I always did 90% of the housework - I stopped bothering for the last couple of weeks and you could seriously see the difference. And the 'torn wallpaper' she mentions is the work of her cats, as she very well knows, not my fault at all. Besides, while it's true I didn't bother cleaning up after the move, it's an empty room, not a pigpen. Apart from the precious windows (which I cleaned in spring), all it needs is a vacuum. Honestly you'd think you'd be ashamed of mentioning that to someone who you got evicted from their home! I got a variety of amusing responses on facebook as to exactly how I should tell her where to go, but I think I'll just ignore it. If she's dumb enough to turn up at the inspection on Saturday without making provisions to clean the place, good luck to her. Honestly I am starting to think there's something not right about how she can't see the consequences of her actions or how someone else might see the situation!

Oh and PS OMG, EDF opened an account for me over the internet? I'm waiting to find out it's some sort of horrible trap or portent of the apocalypse or something, because I find it hard to believe that the giant company with a (near-)monopoly on France's energy infrastructure is capable of such quasi-efficiency (only took them 2 weeks to respond to the web request and everything!)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bastille Eve

I know it's not pronounced like that, but I can't help picturing dozens of Mini-Mes from Austin Powers...

Went out with some friends to watch the fireworks on the 13th this year. But Bastille Day is on the 14th?, I hear you cry! Some towns let their fireworks off earlier or later, to avoid clashing with all the other little places around. For example, these fireworks were officially those of Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, but because it's basically just a suburb of Tours across the river, we could see them from our side of the Loire. It always seems a bit dumb to me how every little place in France has its own mayor etc., I think there's officially 4 or 5 different towns making up what I would consider to be just Tours and its suburbs...

Anyway, we were a bit late getting downriver to watch the fireworks, so we were stumbling down the banks of the Loire in the dark, glad no-one broke their necks. Anyway, we ended up in a very quiet spot with a lovely view of the fireworks reflected in what looks in the photos like the river. In fact, don't tell anyone, but we were pretty much standing in a swamp!

Bastille Day (or other countries' national days) always provides the opportunity for one of those awkward conversations about New Zealand's peculiarities (which you don't even realise are that weird until you don't live there any more). Example:

Colleague: So what's your national day?
Me: Um, well, we don't really have one as such...
Colleague: What about the anniversary of your independence?
Me: Well, you know, we're still under the Queen and everything... There is kind of a day, but it commemorates when we BECAME a colony, so, you know, a lot of people aren't really too keen on it. So there's always protests and stuff and everyone else just goes to the beach...
Colleague: So you don't have a day with fireworks and stuff?
Me: No! We have a day JUST for fireworks!

So, yeah, we're weird! Honestly though, I can't imagine a big national day full of flag-waving patriotism in New Zealand, it's just not our style. I think a fair chunk of the country would be faintly embarrassed at such a thing...

Anyway, tomorrow I get the keys to the new place, and the move is set for Friday. Quite good since I can try to get things a bit organised before then. Quite excited! :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Doing theses at work again - here's an example of Australia's finest... Btw, I checked, the mistake is in the original, not the cataloguing. Cringe!

Talking of work, we had a meeting the other day where my boss reported back that the policy is that everyone on short-term contracts (like almost all of us in my department) be fired after 3 years. What the hell kind of way is that to run an organization? I may have said this before, but just remember that if you ever hear people going on about French bureaucrats having a sweet job for life and then retiring at age 40, sigh...

I signed the lease for the new place this morning, yay! Now waiting to hear when I can move in, it's empty but they are finishing up some renovations. Soon I hope!

Thanks again for everyone's kind words and support, on the blog and in 'real life'. Special big ups to my sister for being my guarantor and my parents for helping me out on the financial side, love you xxx

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Housing update

I'm always reluctant to blog about things before they happen, to minimise disappointment or not jinx stuff or something I suppose. But all going well, I've found a new flat, I'm just waiting for my lovely helpful sister to send through a giant ridiculous list of documents to be guarantor and then I can sign the lease on Tuesday. I think this is a traumatic experience for her, luckily French bureaucracy taught me to hang on to all documents and sort them into a proper filing system months ago, so I had things like my tax return, insurance certificate, payslips etc. at my fingertips instead of stuffed in a drawer or the bottom of a suitcase (or carried round in my handbag until fallen to pieces) as was my previous wont.

Anyway, it's not far from my current flat, a bit closer to town actually, and really near the pretty-but-plagued-with-dickhead-men park I often go to in summer. Which is good, because still no garden or balcony unfortunately :( However, there is a proper bedroom, living room (not kept locked, suck on that crazy landlady) and kitchen, nice shower etc. and should work out around the same price as where I am now, although I admit I'm nervous about the electricity bill. Also, this is dumb, but I can't remember many of the details of the new flat, I'm hoping I don't get in there and find there's actually like a portal to the netherworld in the living room that I missed when I visited! Everything just blurs together after a while, but when I was in there I know I thought it was okay, so I'll ask a few of the questions that have occurred to me since before I sign the lease and then just trust that it'll be fine!

One thing you might not realise is that, unless they make a point of it in the ad, that in France 'unfurnished' really does mean unfurnished. There's not even burners for cooking, let alone an oven! Plus of course I have very little of my own, and no family or whatever to give things to me, so I really am starting from scratch furnishing the place. I've started trying to pick up some cheap things in the sales, the list seems to get longer though every time you go to the shops and spot something and think, "oh yeah, toilet brush" or whatever. Have fantasies of having nice things and matching sets and so on, but in reality it's just cheap and practical. It is still quite fun 'playing house', and then of course I'll get to arrange everything how I like in the new place :) Good news as well is I went to the local second-hand electronics place and I they deliver and install stuff for only 35 euros, no matter how many items! Great deal I think, I was worrying about getting stuff up to the third floor!

I will fix a date to get the keys on Tuesday - have to find a balance between not wanting to take it too early and pay double rent for the end of July and having time to move. As I think I've said, I leave for Paris/Ukraine on the 2nd of August, so hopefully I can get things a bit organised by then. I think I will start off a few days before whatever I designate as official moving day and just start walking stuff over in a suitcase, it's close enough. Hopefully that way I can minimise some of the chaos and mess, probably not really, but it will be nice to have some of the basics in the cupboards rather than everything coming together in boxes.

Will have to hire a van, my bed is really the only big thing, but since I don't have a car might as well anyway. My friend Liz has volunteered to drive - they won't hire to me because I'm still on a provisional licence here, plus me drive a van ha ha! I'm a bit worried about taking my bed apart too, it might never go back together! It's from Ikea and was fairly traumatic to put together in the first place... I was talking to some of the people at work who've volunteered to help me though, and they expressed reservations about taking a double bed down one flight of stairs and then up three, fair enough I suppose.

Not looking forward to having to open an account with the electricity company and so forth either... Flashbacks to when that was a major and traumatic part of my job in Chamonix. I 'managed' (read: made a pig's ear out of managing) about 200 chalets and half a dozen hotels, a good number of which had their electricity cut over summer, and so, amongst other tasks, I had to arrange for it to be switched back on for the winter season. If you've never dealt with a French electricity company, or any company in a foreign language even, you might not think that sounds too bad, but it was an absolute nightmare. Workers at the electricity company would just laugh and hang up on me when I called, I had chalet owners ringing me 5 times a day to scream at me that the electricity still wasn't on (which, fair enough, I was crap at my job, but still unpleasant) and the electricity company, if they did deign to talk to me, going "oh no, we went and turned it on last week, no idea what they're on about". Actually, all this ringing around flats has gone a fair way to curing me of my phobia of French On The Phone, which also stems from my Chamonix days, let's hope that everything goes smoothly with the electricity this time and I can put some of those memories to rest! (Too much to hope?)

Anyway, that's probably enough disjointed reflections, I'll keep the blog updated as things progress!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Came across a brilliant thesis title at work today:

Life on the edge : Hedgehog traffic victims and mitigation strategies in an anthropogenic landscape

Film rights, anyone?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Hate French bureaucracy so much!

Took Monday off due to stress/lack of sleep/not wanting to go to work. Yesterday the secretary called me up to say now people on contracts have to file their own paperwork with the government for sick days. So, not only do people on contracts officially get no job security (and, as I've discovered, no-one wants to rent to you, let alone give you a mortgage or whatever), fewer perks, lower salaries, and presumably fewer retirement benefits etc., but now we have to do our own goddamn paperwork as well! It's so unfair! It wouldn't be so bad, but I asked for my social security account to be moved from Nice to Tours a full nine months ago (more than that actually, but nine months ago was when I gave them the last of the paperwork they needed), I've been into see them two or three times since, and they haven't done it yet. So that means all this time I haven't been able to claim reimbursement for medical costs, I haven't been able to declare a primary care doctor, and now I don't know what to do with this paperwork. It's effing ridiculous, hate this place.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Strasbourg - Day 1

Thought I'd say a few words on my trip to Strasbourg before I forget (Cambridge is still pending, and I know I never finished off my Venice photos... Next up of course is the Ukraine, less than a month to go!)

Anyway, took the train down on Saturday morning, everything going smoothly & got there about 1.30. By the time I checked into my hotel (nice surprise, I had been expecting a shared bathroom but got a private and a double bed, which was good) and managed to find my way out to a restaurant the check-in girl recommended in Petite France, it was probably getting on for 2.30-3 so I was hungry! I decided to start as I meant to go on by tucking into a 3 course Alsatian feast, starting with flammekueche (very thin pizza base topped with creme fraiche, onions and bacon bits mmm), followed by choucroute (sauerkraut) and a 'kugelhopf icecream' for dessert, which confused me but turned out pretty much just to be vanilla-cinnamon icecream in a ring shape, although it did have some kind of gewurtztraminer liquor in the middle (and a yummy raspberry coulis on the side).

So, how was my first choucroute? I wasn't sure whether I'd like it, although pretty sure I've had Russian pickled cabbage, but thought I had to give it a go when in Strasbourg. Verdict? Actually pretty good, although as you can see, the portion was ENORMOUS, so I didn't make it even halfway through. I think I enjoyed it more the next night when it came as a small side-dish instead of what I assure you is a mountain hidden below the meat here:

After a relaxing lunch, I went to check out the cathedral. All I can say is wow! It's a pity that it's so hemmed in by other buildings, you can't really get a good look at it from a distance. Here's a couple of pics of the facade anyway though:

When I first got to the cathedral, I was amazed at the crowds I could see surrounding it. I was even more amazed when I got closer and found that none of them were actually looking at the cathedral and its incredible ornate carvings and statues, but were crowded around a busker, one that I couldn't even see at first owing to the number of people. When I caught a glimpse, I at first thought he was playing guitar accompanied by a recording of someone singing. Eventually, however, I realised the god-awful noise was emanating from the hideous man-beast himself:

I actually find this guy painful to listen to, I don't know how everyone else could stand it! The worst thing is, he was there like ALL THE TIME, so you couldn't enjoy the cathedral exterior without him polluting the atmosphere, and his caterwaul was audible for blocks around. He even managed to follow me to a cafe where I was trying to enjoy a nice cider, as the people on the next table played their friends a way-too-long clip of him.

Anyway, enough about Mr. Nails-on-a-chalkboard... The cathedral is really wonderful, even though there were a few too many tourists. A few pics:

I liked the kind of dopey expressions on these guys' faces...

Elaborate carved altarpiece

The famous astrological clock

Stained glass windows in the cathedral

The rose window

Statues around the cathedral doorway

More stained glass:

Ooh, scary!

Pop-up dog in a basket! Why you would want this on your tomb, I dunno. And how did they get his legs in there?

And just because I'm immature:

Free Willie! But don't free him near...

I think I had a look in St Thomas's church as well on Saturday (that's where the dog in the basket was anyway), watched the F1 qualifying over a drink back at the hotel, then headed out for a wander and a late dinner around 9. Just another flammekueche by the cathedral, finished off with a really really nice apple strudel, super soft buttery pastry, I think I could have eaten just that with no filling! Reminded me of the AWESOME FUN that was the apfelstrudel show at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Palace - if you can't read a newspaper through it, it's not good strudel pastry!

Anyway, will have to fill in Sunday and Monday's doings and photos on another occasion.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Lounge lizards

Just back from my two apartment viewings. I said I would take the first place, but just heard they rented it to someone else, quite upset about that. So right now I have nothing else lined up, other than the very dirty place which does have some advantages, but price isn't one of them.

Now, the second one... This was flatting with one other girl. On the face of it, it's a nice place, not my ideal neighbourhood, but nicely decorated etc. and cheap. So the woman shows me around - bedroom first, then kitchen and bathroom and then we went into the flatmate's room, where I tried to engage her in conversation and pretty much got nowhere. Then the landlady asked what I thought of the place.

Me: "Um, can I see the living room?" (Which we had already walked past)
Her: (Seriously acts as if it's the most absurd question she's heard in her life) "Oh no, the living room's not for you. The ad said a bedroom, it didn't say anything about a living room, it was very clear on that point."
Me: (Confused) "Oh. So... you live here too?"
Her: "No, we don't live here, we come and use the living room about once a month. The rest of the time it's kept locked" (!!!) "Oh no, we would charge much more if you got a living room too, that would be three rooms - a bedroom, kitchen, and living room - you could charge 700 euros for that!"
A bit later...
Her: "Even though the ad only says bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, you get to use the corridor" (Are you sure? You could probably charge a toll for walking through there you know.)

Firstly, that's what I have now, and I definitely don't pay 700 euros - maybe I would if it was for me alone, but it's called flatting lady. Secondly - WTF, is this the fricking Secret Garden of living rooms? You keep a room under lock and key in someone else's home, you come to use it when you fancy (WHY do you want to sit in a living room in someone else's home?) and the rest of the time you'd rather it sat empty than got used by the people actually living there? Are you insane? And do you not see that being "very clear" in the ad would actually involve saying "there IS a living room, but we keep it locked up and reserved for our personal use, and expect to be able to come round to your home for chillaxing purposes whenever, because we're nuts", not just not mentioning it at all!

Friday, July 01, 2011

More flat stuff

Just got back from an appointment with the agent to talk over what's going to happen with my current apartment etc. She didn't flat-out say that I couldn't find a flatmate and stay here, but she was so discouraging that she might as well have (I would have to find someone whose two parents would both agree to be guarantors for the entire rent, she wouldn't accept my parents as guarantors for me, whoever I found would have to agree to sign a lease only until the end of April when my contract is up and to move out early if I moved out etc.) So I just feel like it's not even worth trying. On a positive note, she said I could meet her again on the 11th of July and let her know whether I would be staying for the month of August - if I do, I only have to pay my share of the rent. However, the electricity and so on might be a problem. I gave her a rent cheque for June and July, which she's waiting till the 11th to either cash or give back to me, depending on whether it turns out that G's parents have paid the whole rent for those months or not (she's still waiting for their cheques to come through). So that at least gives me a little more time, albeit not much for making that decision. I have an apartment viewing tomorrow that I like the look of on paper, and that's available on the 1st of August, so it would be perfect - I leave for the Ukraine on the 2nd, so would have a bit of stress moving everything and packing etc. and then coming back to chaos and perhaps no electricity after my holiday, but at least I'm not at work.

Oh and just to prove this whole thing is the gift that keeps on giving, she asked about whether I would be willing to show prospective tenants around our place. I'm not too keen on people coming and gawking about my flat to begin with, but I'm even less keen on having that to deal with the appointments and keeping the flat super clean on top of trying to go to work and sort out finding my own flat. I said that I thought she should take that up with G, and she said she would call her first, and then me "but G often doesn't answer her phone". Geez, in that case maybe I should not answer my phone either, obviously being responsible hasn't done me a lot of favours thus far!

So wish me luck for this place tomorrow - it's only one room (plus kitchen, so they get away with calling it a one-bedroom instead of a studio) but it has a balcony and a garden, it's in the neighbourhood where I already live, not too dear and it has a properly-equipped kitchen and a bath! My current concerns are: might be too noisy, it's on the main road although I think from going past on the bus it must at least be set back from the road a bit, and I'm suspicious about places with baths that they will be that horrible arrangement I had in Nice where there's no support for the shower head and you have to hold it all the time. Also that it might be kind of depressing living in one room (even a 31 sq m room). However, trying to think positive! Was all cry-y at work today, that is in the 5 1/2 hours I was actually there...

Apartment angst

Got a call on Tuesday night (I still hadn't seen Géraldine since getting back from Strasbourg) from the agent, saying that G's family had agreed to pay back the money but not to be her guarantors, so we had till the end of July to move out. I asked about the possibility of staying on and finding a new flatmate, but she didn't sound too favourably disposed to that. I have a meeting with her tomorrow (right on the other side of town, real pain) so perhaps we can talk more about that. She mentioned the possibility of my staying till the end of August, but I don't really know under what conditions (i.e. if I would have to cover the whole rent, which I can't) and anyway all the electricity etc. is in G's name, so I can't really take that over for one month if I had to leave afterwards. She said that G's parents had agreed that she could move in with either one of them, either near Tours or in the Ile-de-France.

So in a way it was at least good that I didn't have to make a decision on what to do. But on the other hand, now I have to move. I really like this apartment for one, and moving is a giant hassle for another. I have started looking at flats, and, while maybe I'm being too fussy, they all kind of suck. Either too small or badly situated or seem too noisy or too hot or too expensive, and then as I said, there's the problem of furnishing them, especially as several I've seen don't even have so much as a fridge or a couple of burners to their name. The French really take 'unfurnished' seriously...

Above all, it's just stressful. I'm not sleeping very well, as you can tell from the 2.45 am posting, I'm teary and not concentrating at work. Yesterday I was only actually at work for about 5 1/12 hours between apartment viewings, and spent half of the morning answering my phone. In a way, I don't care, and no-one's likely to say anything, but it does pretty much take the piss. I don't feel psychologically ready to make a decision, partly because I don't yet have everything firm in my mind about whether I might be able to stay on here, and partly just the whole "I don't want to move" thing. I saw one place yesterday where they were very keen to have someone sign the contract for tomorrow (1st July), there was another guy viewing the place who was very eager, and I was just struggling not to cry because I felt so pressured by the situation and the guy questioning me about how quickly I could come up with a deposit and all about how much I made etc. etc. He even asked if he could call me early tomorrow morning - "would about 6 am be okay?" I actually blurted out "oh God no" in English and then clapped my hand over my mouth ha ha. I don't think he understood me though!

Am feeling increasingly bitter towards Géraldine. She has apologised, but has yet to ask me about what I'm going to do and how I'm coping. On Tuesday after I got the phone call, I was worried and texted to ask if she was okay - it was getting quite late and I was imagining her really upset somewhere. Then she comes in and is all "oh, I don't know what the problem with the guarantor is, I haven't been able to talk to my dad yet, that's probably why he said no". Firstly, why haven't you talked to him? It had been almost a week by then and the agent obviously had managed to speak to him. And secondly, either she's in denial about the situation or is just not taking it seriously. Not that I want her to be weeping and begging my forgiveness at every turn, but it doesn't seem fair that she seems to be all "oh like, whatever" about the situation when I'm so stressed out - and I don't have the luxury of having family I can go to. She hasn't offered me any help finding somewhere or finding someone to live here, or to give (or at least sell) me any of her furniture and stuff if she is going to move in with her parents. I feel like I've been very understanding and concerned about her and I'm just not getting any of that back, even though she's the one who's completely screwed up my life (and I know that sounds VERY dramatic - I don't mean my entire life forever and ever, I just mean my life as it is right now in this apartment, I just don't know how else to put that).

Anyway, I'm pretty upset so I'll leave it there. For what it's worth, Strasbourg was nice, I managed to relax and forget about all this temporarily, which was good. Even managed a few cultural things between stuffing myself with Alsatian food.