Thursday, September 26, 2013

Metz move: settling in

After completing our 600-ish km trip across France, Caro and I arrived in Metz around 9 pm on Thursday night to discover that we couldn't bring the van in to the apartment building's carpark since there was a car parked too far down the driveway to comfortably get the van in, and besides, I don't have an assigned parking spot. So after getting my key from a neighbour (the landlord was away on holiday) we just dumped my mattresses and a few essentials inside and then circled the block for a long time before we found somewhere we could leave the van for the night, then found one of the few restaurants that was still open and serving at that time of night before hitting the sack.

The next day, we were up bright and early, and I raced out as soon as I saw the neighbour up taking his kids to school, to get him to promise to come by on the way back to help us hopefully get the van inside. He, thankfully, managed to track down the neighbour and ask her to move her car up further so we could get the van in. However, she really didn't move it far enough and, thanks to my inexpert direction, Caro ended up in one of those situations where I was seriously concerned she was about to take out the woman's car whether she went forward or back, and/or hit the front of the van on the wall. So I had to go knock on the woman's door again and ask her to move the car further, and geez was she not happy with me. I tried to explain that I was really worried that if she didn't, we'd end up hitting her car, but she bitched and moaned the whole time about how she was going to ruin her suit getting in to the car, she didn't have time for this, where was she going to put the car so we could get the van back out again, etc. etc. How about a little sympathy for the obvious fact that there were only us two girls trying to move an entire van-load of stuff in, and it would really be much, much easier with the van right next to my apartment? Anyway, always good to start off by making friends in the neighbourhood.

Once the van was in, the move actually went really well. By a combination of sliding the whiteware down the front of the van and dragging it in to my new ground-floor apartment (deliberately chosen for ease of moving purposes), we managed to get everything unloaded by midday, took the van back out and abandoned it about a kilometre away where we finally found a parking spot and spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking all of the boxes, arranging the furniture and building the bed (this alone took around an hour). Caro was a real trooper, and by early evening, everything was unpacked and set up ready for my new life.

Well, everything was ready except the small matter that I had no electricity. I seemed to have constant communication problems with the new landlord, whether by phone, text or email. I had asked him the name of the old renter, which the utility companies always want to know, and he informed me (this is not the real name, but very similar) that it was Robert Nestlé le N. Since that doesn't sound like a real name to anyone, I queried back, "Robert Nestlé le N?" only to receive back an email on a completely different subject. Still, I forged ahead trying to get EDF to hook me up in the new place, but they told me they couldn't find the address and they couldn't find Robert Nestlé le N, so I would need to get a number off an old electricity bill and also give them information from the meter. I tried to solicit this information from the landlord by email, but he had gone away on holiday without thinking that it might be helpful to write any of this down for me, so I had to wait until I got into the new place to call. Then when I did call, I just got the same answer - they can't find it, the number on the meter was no use, I needed the number on the old electricity bill.

So when the landlord turned up back from his holidays on the Sunday to do the inspection and the contract etc., I told him of my issues and he produced an old electricity bill. For a different electricity company. Turns out that EDF don't service Metz at all (and I thought they had a near-monopoly in France), and I needed to deal with this other company, which was closed on a Sunday.

So on Monday, I had to leave the apartment to go to work before their call centre opened, and of course my old phone didn't work outside France, so I couldn't call them from Luxembourg. However, my new contract was meant to be activated on Monday afternoon, so I thought I could get in touch when I got home on Monday. Turns out the new phone, which I got from my sister, was locked, so now I had no new phone and my old phone was already deactivated. So I had to get up on Tuesday morning, go to Luxembourg, and use a payphone to call back to France once the call centre opened at 7.30 am (yep, I have to be up and at 'em before that). Thereafter, they were actually really great. It's obviously a much smaller company, so there was no waiting before I got to speak to an operator, everything was set up straight away and - here's the kicker - they turned my electricity on on Wednesday without me even being there. I had grave doubts that it would happen, but I got home on Wednesday evening to see lights blazing in the apartment and to hear the insistent buzz of my epilator (yes, epilator) on the floor, which apparently had been going all day without burning out the motor. After 5 full days without electricity, getting up, taking cold showers at 6 am in the dark and then returning home after a long day at work to a cold meal, also in the dark, it was a huge relief.

So, work. I'm still settling in to the new routine, but it goes a little something like this. Get up at 6 am, get myself ready and run (I seem always to have to run, even with an hour to get ready) to the train station for the 7 am train to Luxembourg. Arriving in to Luxembourg, things are a little more tranquille, since the trip takes a bit less than an hour and I don't have to start work until 8.30. So I have normally been wandering into the supermarket at the train station to pick up a bite to eat, letting the rest of the commuters clog up the first buses before hopping on one of the very frequent bus connections to go to work. The bus ride takes about 15-20 minutes, so by the time I arrive at work, go through security (metal detector and x-ray every morning) and get to my desk, it's a little before 8.30 and I'm ready to start work on time. I can technically start any time from 8.30 to 9, which is good since it cuts down stress about late trains etc., but I have to basically do 9 hours a day from Monday to Thursday, then 4 hours on Friday morning, with Friday afternoons free. There's a bit of flexibility on how long you take for lunch, what time you leave etc., but there's a whole bunch of rules on not arriving too early or leaving too late or doing too little or too much on the one day, so on balance it's easier just to keep pretty much to the same schedule day-in, day-out. I aim to have a half-hour lunch, so that means working from 8.30 to 6 pm, grabbing a bus in time to get to the 6.30 train if I'm lucky, or 6.40 train if not, and then arriving back home at around 7.30 pm.

So it's a very long day, but so far I seem to have taken it in my stride without being too tired. Whether that will still be true when the days get shorter and colder and it just all settles into a humdrum routine, I'm not sure. At least I have no problems getting a seat on the train, especially in the morning, so I can just read the free daily paper, play Candy Crush, listen to podcasts etc. in peace, which isn't so bad.

As for work itself, my boss is super nice still. You may remember from the interview that I have a major girl crush on her, which persists despite the fact that she is preggers with her second child so we are probably not going to end up being BFFs and hitting the clubs together as in my fantasy land. The girl who is doing the same job as me and who has been assigned as my mentor is also really nice, and I think really pleased to have me on board, since the office we share with two others is otherwise silent as a tomb. It took until the Thursday before either of the other two had asked me a single question about my background, why I moved here, etc., which is bizarre, no? I'm not displeased to have a bit of a change from the constant baby chat and singing that went on in the old office, but it's so quiet in there that I'm afraid to open my mouth. Em, my direct workmate, has chatted with me a lot though, and taken me to lunch and so on with her, even offering to let me shower at her apartment until I got electricity, which is really nice (or maybe the cold showers were just not giving me the world's greatest personal hygiene). Maybe we can eventually transition to being outside-work friends, although it's a bit tricky since she lives in Luxembourg. She's on holiday now till the beginning of October though, so I'm on my own.

The work itself is pretty basic and pretty boring, to be honest. The thing is, I don't have quite the right diploma and zero experience in archives, so I can't do anything higher-level for the moment (it is the same for Em, who is obviously also over-qualified for what she's doing). But Girl Crush Boss (GC Boss) seems very hopeful that, with these few months' experience, we might be able to make the case in future that I have attained the three-year experience threshhold and thus move up in the future. Nothing is guaranteed, but I've been chatting to a lot of different people at the company, especially on Friday, when we had a special visit to HQ, and it does seem that a lot of people have been kept on for years, even if that meant bouncing around different contracts and even countries (I am again working for a prestataire - subcontracting/outsourcing company) and managed to move up to better jobs with more experience. Some of the work that got presented on Friday actually sounds genuinely interesting, so let's all cross our fingers that something good can happen in the future and I won't be back to the drawing board in three months' time (I don't think I can manage another move in the near future to be honest).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Metz move: mission accomplished

Right, so things had already been screwed up with the strikes in the last exciting episode, so Wednesday morning dawned with lots still on the to-do checklist. The general plan was to go pick up the moving van, already reserved and paid for online, that evening with my lovely friend Caro, and then complete the move on Thursday morning, leaving Thursday evening for the cross-country drive.

So Wednesday was to be devoted to some administrative stuff and packing, none of which had been done of course due to my being away for the previous 12 days. Back on the 31st, when I was on my way to the airport to England, I had got a letter from my rental agency acknowledging the notice period and telling me that I had to inform them of my leaving date for the inspection at least 10 days in advance. I was literally on my way out the door at this stage, so knowing my phone didn't work in England, I planned just to send them an email to make the appointment. Full disclosure, my route to the airport took me past their office and so I could have called in and made the appointment on the way, but I had already been browbeaten into letting them have my keys to do visits on the Friday before, and there was noooooo way I was going to let them persuade/cajole/threaten (technically the lease says you have to let them in for at least 2 hours each day) me in to leaving the keys with them for the whole 11 days I was going away. My holiday with my parents was already planned long before I got the new job (which would have started from the 1st of September if I'd been available) and had to plan out my move, resulting in some chaotic, stressful timing finding the new apartment and getting everything together. So I wanted to use my holiday as just that - 11 days where I could just chill out and relax and leave the stress behind in France. 

So I'd duly sent them the email from the UK as soon as I arrived (and I had actually already told one of the staff members I was leaving on the 12th), but got no response. So I called in to the office to explain this, and you should have seen the guy flip from all smiles to absolute rudeness the minute he understood that I was leaving the apartment the very next day. He totally refused to listen to me, patronisingly explained to me that email was « not a guarantee » because had I heard of spam filters? (seriously, what is this, 1997?) and said that I didn't give a f--- (vous vous en foutez) about anyone but myself, which is seriously unfair. I'll hold my hands up and say that it would have been better if I had locked down the appointment 100% before leaving the country (but that probably would have resulted in them blowing up at me for going away for almost two weeks without giving them access to the apartment anyway), and I could have tried again to email them (not phone them though, since again, phoney no workey), but the guy was just unbelievably unpleasant, screaming at me and refusing to listen to the fact that I had told one of his colleagues informally and that it wasn't my fault if their goddamn email system doesn't work properly. I mean, when's the last time anyone's ever seriously said to you that they sent you something you didn't get, or vice versa ? It's 2013, normal people do business on the internet. I'll give him the right to be quietly pissed off, but he should have been a professional about it. I'll guarantee you that he wouldn't have spoken to me like that if he'd been trying to get my business. At the end of the day, it meant I was leaving the apartment about 2 weeks early (since I could only send my notice in once my new job had been confirmed), leaving them time to do any necessary renovations and show the place to new tenants in one of the busiest apartment-hunting times of year to their heart's content, while I continue to pay the rent.

So by the time I took care of that, changed my details with my bank, arranged for my electricity and internet to be cut off, took out an insurance policy on the new flat, bought a new sim card since I would need one that would actually work in foreign countries, arranged for my mail to be rerouted and went to the town hall to pick up parking authorisations for the van (turns out it's BYO traffic cone, that I did not know), it was early afternoon. So I packed up as much as I could until Caro turned up and we drove into the burbs to pick up the van at Leclerc.

And here's where more troubles began... We were nice and early for our pick-up time, but had to wait for an age since there was only one woman staffing the desk and taking people out to inspect the vehicles etc. When it was her turn, she confessed that she hadn't been doing the job that long, so she'd go through the checklist for internet reservations to make sure everything was in order. And then shortly thereafter, she flipped her lid because Caro didn't have a French ID. We pointed out this was a normal turn of affairs when you're not French, and here was her passport, UK driver's licence and French proof of address. All of which, by the way, had already been scanned and sent in online at least 2 weeks before. The woman just kept repeating "you're not French, I can't rent to you, I can't take the risk, it won't go in the computer, I don't understand your licence, etc. etc." We tried everything to persuade her, pulling every card out of Caro's wallet – health insurance, French driver's insurance, student card, etc. etc. - to try and prove that she resided here and drove here all the time. Why that was even necessary, I don't know – after all, foreigners have got to make up a pretty big slice of the rental pie, even if not necessarily van hire at Leclerc specifically. It was after 5 pm and the woman, to her credit, was valiantly ringing around seemingly everyone in the entire world trying to get an answer from non-existent higher-ups as to whether she could let us take the van. My heart was seriously sinking into my boots as we heard snippets of conversation such as "that's what I said, we couldn't risk it...", and I really thought she wasn't going to let us have it, and then I have no idea what I would have done.

At long last, she evidently managed to get through to some blessed saviour, who okayed the hiring of the van, so with typical French officiousness, she then took photocopies of everything, retyped in all the information that I'd already entered into the website while making the reservation, and somehow blocked (for a month!) 800€ on my bank card as a security deposit. (She almost gave Caro a heart attack by initially insisting that it had to come out of the driver's bank account, until I pointed out that I had paid for the rental fee with my card, so why not?) All this took at least an hour, so by the time we were finally, happily, on the road with the van, we were even further behind schedule.

Caro had a conference presentation the next day so she had to leave, but once Liz had run her back to Leclerc pick up her car, she (Liz) stayed to help me pack, so we got a good deal in boxes that evening before it was time for bed. We hadn't managed to park the van nearby (I had blocked off a space but someone just moved the rubbish bins in our absence despite my parking permit, thanks), so I set up the parking authorisations on the footpath and just hoped for an opening the next day.

I was up at around 6 on Thursday morning, stressing out about everything that had to be done before the 1 pm inspection (and I had been shouted at that it would be 1 pm PRECISELY and I had to be ready with all my stuff out at that time). At 9, half an hour earlier than I had thought, the doorbell rang and the guy I'd hired to help off leboncoin turned up. He must have been at least 50, and I had stressed repeatedly, by phone and by email, that I had heavy things to move down several flights of narrow, awkward stairs, was he absolutely sure that he could do it ? He was absolutely sure, but it turned out that a key part of his master plan involved making me help him. And here I thought hiring someone meant that I *wouldn't* have to do the worst of it myself, silly me. So I got on the phone to Liz, who had promised to be there before 9.30, but who is always late, and once she got there, the three of us tackled the giant, taller-than-me fridge.

It was actually surprisingly not too bad to get down the stairs, despite a few awkward bits. The worst part was probably that the guy, who was going down first, with Liz and I taking up the rear, absolutely did not understand/listen at any point when we told him to stop. Every time it was like "hold on, hold on, stop, stop, STOP !!!" before he would respond in any way by stopping pulling the item further down the stairs. I'm not sure what the problem there was, since he would almost certainly have the worst of it if we had dropped a giant fridge or insanely heavy washing machine on him.

Talking of the washing machine, the handle on the pipe was broken and so we had to dispatch Liz off to her place to pick up pliers and drop Bob out of the way while she was at it. She took a loooong time about it, first because apparently Bob escaped in her apartment, and then she dropped off the pliers on my doorstep and it took her ages to find a park. Joy of joys, this gave the dude and I the chance to take down the oven and then the washing machine all by ourselves. If you've ever moved a washing machine, you can maybe sympathise on how awful this was. I think I seriously just about died. It was SO heavy. The dude had not a drop of sweat on him and I was about as cool, calm and collected as someone having a massive embolism. Liz conveniently turned up just after we finished with it (I am honestly very grateful for her help, don't get me wrong) and said that I was bright red and looked like I was just about to explode. And she's seen me do a Step class. Added to this the fact that the dude had judged it to be unnecessary to tape up the cords on the back of the washing machine (my side) so I was constantly in danger of tripping up on them going down the stairs. And of course he didn't listen any time I told him to stop because of this, despite the fact that I am quite sure I would have killed him if I'd tripped up and fallen down the stairs with the world's heaviest washing machine on him.

That was the worst of it, but it was still a hugely tiring job getting the rest of the furniture and boxes down three flights (really, 6 half flights plus two short flights of steps by the front door, then across the road – we never did manage to find a parking place for the van, so it was up on the footpath on the wrong side of the road), and I was just wiped out by the end of it. To the dude's credit, I had told him 1 hour just to help me with the whiteware, and he stayed for three and never got stressed out or annoyed about anything (I mean, I paid him for three hours, but still, I could see some people getting less than cheerful in that situation. On the other hand, it would have been mighty nice if he's come with a trolley or some ropes or anything that one might reasonably expect a semi-professional to have to make the move easier). Still, no way that fridge and washing machine were coming out of the apartment with just Liz and me!

By the time the move was over, we had about 45 minutes to try and speed-clean the apartment, which frankly, was not looking great. Caro turned up from her conference at about T minus 30 minutes, so we each took a room and tried to do our best to power clean at least the most grimey spots where 2 years' worth of dust and dirt had settled (under the fridge, for example). I hereby apologise to the next tenant who has to clean my hair out of the shower drain, but I had to do the same when I moved in. Such is the circle of life.

We were still frantically trying to put a few finishing touches on when the agent arrived. He tutted a bit to find the landing full of all the last little bits and pieces (cleaning equipment, for one), reminding me that he had given a strict 1 pm deadline, but overall, this time at least he kept his cool, and was even semi-pleasant. Whether he felt bad about how he'd acted the day before, I don't know. He was meticulous in noting down the damages, essentially places where Bob had scratched the walls, which I'd had no time to cover up and couldn't really deny. Plus the bit where Liz had tried and failed to paint over some mould (when she told me she'd given up because the paint didn't match, I'd pictured a tiny discreet test patch, when in fact she'd gone with a huge stripe before abandoning it, cheers love). So we'll be waiting and seeing how much of the bond I get back (they get 60 days to make up their minds on that one, I'm not holding my breath).

After a quick shower and a bite to eat at Caro's, it was time to hit the road for the 7ish-hour trip to Metz, which was really not bad at all. It was so sweet of her to drive me there (no way am I capable of commanding a giant van for 600 kms of French roads), help me unpack everything in to the new apartment, and of course, drive back all by herself. Liz was an enormous help as well, very lucky to have such lovely friends, although as I sit here by myself on my first weekend alone in Metz, where I have NO friends, I miss them very much ! :(

Saturday, September 21, 2013

France vs. Ryanair - who can screw my move up more?

So much to catch up on! My whole trip to Italy/England, for one. But let's delve into the more immediate past and cover the Metz move first, and then once I have a proper internet connection and can upload photos, hopefully my memories of the Italy trip won't be too hazy.

Talking of proper internet connections, I am still without home wifi. Which is ridiculous, since I am staying with the same operator (Alice, name and shame) and keeping the box etc., so I don't know what can possibly take so long. I probably should have taken the opportunity to switch (especially since they are charging me a reconnection fee and locking me into another year-long contract, grrr), but with everything that was going on, it was just simpler not to have one more thing to worry about changing providers. Tonight I paid 4,95€ for hotspot access via SFR. If you're ever tempted by this, don't bother. The site worked perfectly well when it came to registering an account and paying, and then ever since it's been the world's slowest and crappiest connection. I wasn't too surprised that I wasn't able to get on to stream coverage of today's F1 qualifying (would have been nice though), but I would have thought I'd at least be able to browse ordinary websites without the connection failing every two seconds. Not so. (Thus writing this in Open Office and hoping I can upload it successfully.)

Anyway, let's go back to the Tuesday before last, when I had to get up at 3.30 am to go to the airport for my flight back to Tours (mummy and daddy kindly both accompanying me). Everything went very smoothly – checked in, through security, on to a very sparsely-occupied plane and in to the very front row (ahhh leg room). A short time after that, the pilot came on to say there were air traffic control strikes in France, so we weren't going to make our slot. Ruh-roh. But we were going to keep sitting on the runway and go through the safety demonstration etc. because we could be taking off at any time. Shortly thereafter, it emerged that there was a problem with one of the windows in the cockpit and from my vantage point at the front of the plane, I could see a lot of coming and going of technicians changing the window (in fact, they left the plane door open the whole time and I was freezing my arse off). None of this was announced over the PA system for a long while until the captain eventually came on to say that they had been doing maintenance, but it would be finished before our slot opened up. Then the next thing we heard... "sorry, the flight has been cancelled because Tours airport is closing in an hour for the remainder of the week and our flight time would be 1 hour 5 minutes and they won't hold it open another 5 minutes for us". There definitely were strikes in France, but whether we could have gone if it hadn't been for the window problem who knows.

So we were offloaded and shepherded back through to pick up our baggage and go through security with very little direction on where to go. I managed to be one of the first in line for the Ryanair rebooking desk and promptly burst in to tears when I was told that the next flight to Tours wasn't until Saturday (from London Stansted, at that). Reminder : this was Tuesday, I was moving across France on Thursday and starting a new job on the following Monday. The options I was given were waiting for Saturday and going to London Stansted, travelling from Manchester to Liverpool and catching a plane from there to Limoges the next day, or rebooking with a different airline. And « of course », while they would pay for the flight from Liverpool to Limoges, getting from Manchester to Liverpool, paying for a hotel, and going from Limoges to Tours was my responsibility. The woman also declared that she couldn't tell me whether Ryanair would refund me if I bought a ticket with a different airline, since "she didn't work for Ryanair". I pointed out that this situation must have arisen before, so she must have some idea – and indeed, it was surely part of her job to know such information, but to no avail.

Still crying, I followed other passengers over to the FlyBe desk and forked over around 200€ for a ticket on the next plane to Nantes (including a £40 charge for my luggage, of course). By this time, the line for the Ryanair desk was a lot longer, so instead of queueing up again for the refund of my ticket (which, bought months ago, wouldn't have covered half of the 200€ anyway), I decided just to go through back through security for the second time this morning and try to sort out the money later (still haven't got on to that). It was still only about 9.45 in the morning by this stage, although I'd already been up a good 6 hours, but I decided I might as well kill half an hour before going to my gate with a cider at the bar. I ordered a half just to be sure, drank it pretty quick, so time for another half, then another... By the time I got to the gate at 10.20 or so, I'd downed a pint and a half of cider in around 20 minutes and was a teensy bit tipsy. Luckily enough though I had an exit row seat on a tiny little plane next to a grumpy old man, so I behaved myself on our flight to Nantes, which went off without a hitch.

I'm not sure what time I made it to the train station in Nantes, maybe about 2 pm, but I then discovered that the strikes in France weren't confined to the air traffic controllers – the trains were also striking. This meant there wasn't another train back to Tours until some time after 4 pm, and it was a slow TER train. It wasn't that expensive, on the upside, but it only got me to Tours just after 7 pm, instead of 10 am as originally planned. I lost the whole day, much-needed for moving purposes, and I had to push back my leaving drinks since I got home and had to get a load of laundry out of the way so it could dry before my move. I was so tired that I thought I'd only have the energy to stay out for an hour or so, but I did actually manage to stay from about 9 to after midnight, although it was a very quiet affair.

Turned out there were more hitches to come before I was comfortably installed in the new apartment...