Sunday, September 30, 2012

Summer vacation in Alsace and Lorraine

Hunawihr, Alsace, France

When living on the French Riviera, going North for the summer vacation is actually a good plan: Temperatures are a bit cooler but it's not freezing yet and all the people have left for their summer vacation... to the Nice area, we can attest!

We spent the last 2 weeks of July in Alsace, thereby living at such a "contre-courant". We visited family and reacquainted with some old friends. We attended the baptism ceremony of my godson's brother Jonas in the best part of the wine region (Riquewihr, Ribeauvill√©). We spent some time in the Vosges mountains (picking blueberries and carefully removing ticks), and we visited some of my best friends in Lorraine.

The newly baptized Jonas in full armor... and slippers
Visited by a stork during the reception that followed the baptism ceremony
"I just love vineyards... and wine!"
A typical landscape from Alsace
Wild blueberries
Picking blueberries right by the "mur paien"/"Pagan Wall"
Panorama over Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines and valley
In the peaceful Vosges mountains at dusk

But... where are we gonna put everything?

From the first visit, we had had a crush for the apartment we ended up moving into. We liked the location – our favorite market, bakery, butcher, ice cream factory are all in the vicinity – and we liked the set up: a 1920s building with 5 floors, the owner of which – an 85 year old lady – lives on the last floor. One apartment per floor, and a great downstairs neighbor who loves pets and plants.

The apartment itself has a North to South exposure with a balcony on each side. What would be the living area is overlooking a quaint old building masked in part by tall trees. And no painting required before moving in!

A first glimpse into the apartment:

Now, as most apartments in France, this one came with no equipped kitchen. Only a sink on top of a two-door cabinet. So building up the kitchen became our priority.

A kitchen... with a sink!!

The endeavor was challenging as we didn't plan to fully design a kitchen in an apartment that did not belong to us, and because we were not supposed to "fix too many things up on the walls" in order to preserve the wall finish (according to the rental agency)...

We were allowed to attach cabinets in the kitchen though so we did that. We hooked up an oven and an induction stovetop with the help of an electrician (we needed a special socket and an extension from its original location in the room). A couple of months later we are almost there, but we still miss a counter top on one side and a drawer and door on one of the cabinets.

Live and let drill
The guy who actually did the job:

At this point we are also clear from most of cardboard boxes in all rooms, except for a pile in our living area where a book shelf should go, and in Q's office where clothing have been waiting for a closet.

The place is even ready to welcome guests: our first one (one of Chrysa's friends) was actually here earlier in September!

In the living area
A much less lonely sink ;-)
Ready to cook 'n bake!

Sticking our heads out of the boxes: "Look! There's the French Riviera!"

Villefranche-sur-mer (Nice is behind the hill) around Easter

Coming from Denmark, Winter in the South of France is pretty mild. Spring down here is almost like the Danish summer!

We did our best to not forget amidst our installation that we were living in a place where people typically go for their vacation :-)

On April 9 (according to the picture file dates) we actually dined out on the terrasse of a wine and cheese bar on the harbor in Nice.

Enjoying cheese and wine on the harbor in early April!
Beaches, coves and bays which tend to be crowded with people, boats, and jet skis in the summer were stunningly still. Didn't expect the contrast would be so drastic! In the town Villefranche-sur-mer that we both like very much, we could hear the wind in the shrouds while walking along the harbor...
On the beach in Villefranche-sur-mer in early April

The bay from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to Monaco is free from boats...
Walking along the coastline in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat at sunset
The harbor at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in early April
Wisteria flowers in full bloom by a fountain close to our apartment
The moon showing her pale face over palm trees in Nice

The unpacking process: When will our home be free of cardboard boxes?

Now, with our move (finally!) into a more permanent place, we were able to ask the moving company to resume with transporting our stuff from Denmark down to Nice (it had been stored somewhere in the UK while we were sorting out our apartment situation). Then the question became when our stuff would actually make it down here.

Two months after the movers showed up in Aarhus, they made their way into Nice. Their super long lorry actually was not authorized to get to our place downtown, for security reason. There's actually a law about that in the whole city of Nice, and apparently cops are pretty good at enforcing it, since they use video cameras to watch traffic in town.

The drivers knew about this (it was their 3rd time driving to Nice with an over-sized truck!), but failed to tell us so until the day they actually arrived, which was only a day before our scheduled delivery. They would not get a tip for failing to figure that out ahead of time but Q spent his afternoon trying to sort this out via phone calls to various authorities in town, and the most helpful info came from a car rental agency in Nice. We learned it was actually possible to park the truck at some dispatch center on the outskirts and we rented a smaller vehicle for the movers to transit our stuff from the lorry to our apartment.
The over-sized truck parked on the outskirts of Nice

Fortunately, our belongings did not fill up that truck at all (only about 1/6th of it) so it took only two trips for the movers to get all our stuff.

The truck is getting emptied of our stuff...

We were glad to see our belongings again, even though we were both quite tired of seeing again so many cardboard boxes, some of them dating back to our move from Boulder 2.5 years earlier — yeah, we've been that good with recycling boxes! We can now also confirm our original hypothesis that the sturdier boxes were the ones that had been used to ship solvent bottles to the Chem store at CU Boulder  and that we had been saving over our last months in Colorado :-)

An example of a box that we've been carrying around since our time in Boulder...

Moving is so much fun! Or maybe I am smiling cause laughing was the only way to keep our sanity!
That was back in late May. Four months later we've gotten rid of most boxes, but we still have a few persistant ones, mostly cause we haven't found the proper furniture to organize their content yet!

Picking up where we left off: Meeting some waves upon settling down in Nice

Well, sorry it's been a while, but the moving process hasn't been as smooth as we had hoped, even though it hasn't been completely terrible either!

The first issue was that the agency which is managing the apartment we had picked in Nice was just inflexible regarding having someone with a long-lasting credit history in France guarantee the lease. Q's parents could be of help with that formality, but unfortunately the agency also insisted that the person would come to Nice to sign the lease with us. Timing was not optimal for them (Q's parents).

So we decided to pick another apartment at the last minute, and we asked the moving company that had our stuff from Aarhus to put it in storage until we'd found a new place.

Where we almost moved (top left 3 windows) but ended up staying only for a week

We did find a new apartment, larger, with brand new hardwood floors, a nice sunny balcony, well located, in a more quiet street, but still within the same neighborhood. We moved in knowing that the apartment would require some painting work before being completely livable — we did not see ourselves enjoying for very long walls which had been painted 20 years ago with yellow glossy paint, neither did we like the cheesy wallpaper mural ;-) We thought we had understood we would get financial support from the owner to do that work (expenses amounted to at least 1,000 EUR). But once we moved in, the son with whom we had interacted up to that point was replaced by his dad who was the actual owner, and thus the final decision maker. And he was not willing to help us as we had expected.

Oops. That was our second issue.
Glossy yellow paint and now grey baseboards
The mural: Did that ever look nice?

How did we solve that one? The owner gave us two options: 1. "You paint and I will fix the ceiling in the hallway" — oh yeah! let's not forget about the ceiling... Over 25 years ago the landlord had covered the ceiling in the hallway with some linen in order to "mask the pipes" at the request of the tenant at that time. Of course the cloth was dirty and dusty after that much time, so we had removed it with the plan to paint what was covered instead. Option #2: "You can stay until the end of the month in order to find another place [we were in early April] and you get your money back".

C and I thought the paintwork amounted to more than what tenants should be asked to do (even though in France it is more or less expected that paintwork is up to the tenant and not the landlord), because moldings on the ceiling needed to be painted as well, paint chips were coming off the heaters, and so forth.

Furthermore, we were both feeling uneasy about having been caught in between a son and his dad from the outset, and we did not feel very comfortable either that the apartment was geographically located precisely in between the dad's house and the son's apartment. We could actually see them on their respective balconies on both sides, and they had a full view on quite a few of our windows. Talk about privacy!

So our feeling was that instead of asking for a rent of 1,000 EUR per month, the owner and his son should probably agree with each other to do the renovation work and then just increase the rent to 1,200 EUR or more — the actual rent of most places that size in that part of town. Had they done that, we would just not have been interested on the first place.

Too much work if we're just renting!

Hence, we decided to accept proposition number two, and all went smoothly with the landlord from then on. We just had to move out our stuff again, which we had just moved from C's former studio or that we had recently ordered. That included new appliances, such as a washing machine, a fridge, and an oven. We hired somebody for that! We found ourselves crammed in the little studio until a new solution would present itself...

We were back to square one — still without an apartment to move into — but we knew we had made the right decision when the owner called Q one day and asked him to "please close the shutters when you leave so that the sun would not damage the new hardwood floors"... We also came across the guy who would have been our neighbor and he told us he was sad we were not staying, but then he also told us about his "battle" with the landlord after water damage from the roof that the landlord did not want to take responsibility for.

"Sun-sensitive" hardwood floors ;-)

Fortunately, by the end of this mini-saga, we were close to the Easter vacation in France. Q called up one of his very best friends in Eastern France, and she actually ended up being the one who would guarantee the lease for the first apartment we had considered. She and her family were looking for a beach vacation, so why not Nice and helping us out at the same time. Needless to say we are eternally grateful for their gesture!

So we signed together for the apartment I am writing this blog post from!
More about that on the next post (and with a few more waves...).

Apricot pie by the balcony of our apartment in Nice