Les Jardins Secrets de Vaulx

About 30 years ago, a couple (Nicole & Alain) decided to buy and renovate an old, dilapidated farm in the countryside of Vaulx, around 20 km from Annecy. This is what it looks like now.

Each grandchild even has their own fountain dedicated to them.  Coolest grandparents ever!

Les Jardins Secrets is open everyday (even holidays!) until mid-October. An adult ticket is 7,50 € and there’s also a restaurant open in July & August. In the meantime, there are cold drinks and beignets available (made by Alain who claims they font pas grossir.)

Sunny Easter Day in Annecy

I even got sunburned a little while reading out in the yard. But first we played with Mélina. I’m not a particularly baby-friendly person (I know virtually nothing about babies except for the fact that I do not want one), but I make an exception for my niece.

I only speak to her in English, so she always looks at me weird. Or it could have been the sunglasses.

She was playing with David’s cell phone, but then became more interested in my camera. The more expensive it is, the more fun it is to drop on the ground!

David trying to get her to walk. She’s only 9 months old. When do these babies normally start walking? And when will she start talking so I can teach her zee English?

How do we feel about Vincennes?

David received the paperwork so that he could put the cities in order of preference, and for the Paris position, it is actually listed as “Vincennes – Institut de la gestion publique et du développement économique.”  I know Vincennes is right outside of Paris and very densely populated, but do you think it’s a place I would like? The château and the bois de Vincennes look nice at least.

So far he’s put down: 1. Chambéry, 2. Lyon, 3. Strasbourg, 4. Dijon, 5. Nantes, and 6. Caen. Besides all of the Ile-de-France cities, he still needs to decide where to put Digne, Nevers, Châteauroux, and Saint-Denis.  And apparently he has heard so many bad things about Châteauroux that he wants to put it at number 17, after Saint-Denis in La Réunion!  I don’t know anyone who lives there, but David seems to think it’s the most awful place in France. Please someone tell me he is wrong because I would rather be there than Paris…

Thank you for all your input on this! I appreciate it!

Which will I hate the least? Bobigny, Cergy, Evry, Versailles or Paris?

There is very little chance that David will be in Chambéry, or even outside of Paris. We got the list of the 17 people admitted to the DGCCRF (along with what departement they are in), and David is number 10. Number 2 on the list lives in Savoie, so he will most likely take Chambery.

And in fact, since no one ever wants to go to Paris in these concours, the others will put the cities outside of Paris at the top of their lists. And since there are only 9 cities total outside of Paris (excluding Saint-Denis), David will be the first one assigned to Ile-de-France. What great luck we have.

(I do have to say I’m tempted to put Saint-Denis down because the person who lives there is number 12.  I could be an English assistant again and get paid the same amount that I’m making in Chambery. And there’s so much sun there… I’m not serious, but it is a nice thought to get out of mainland France.)

Honestly, I don’t mind not staying in Chambery because I’ve wanted to leave the Rhone-Alpes region for a while. And I am scared about the cost of living in IDF, but I suppose I’m more saddened about the fact that we have to live apart next year.

The thought of both us living in tiny overpriced studios, separated by a 3 hour TGV ride or 5 hour car ride, makes me want to cry. I cannot and will not give up my job because I like it too much, but next year is going to be hard on me. There’s really no point in me living in Chambery until September, especially since that would mean paying three rents for the months of May and June, but it will be harder to find a place to live then. And if David does have a studio, that would be awful to live together with the cat in 20 meters squared.

Luckily I have many lovely blogger friends in IDF that I will be able to see often when I move there in May 2010. But we need some help putting the IDF cities in order of preference. I know nothing about these cities except which departement they are in. I’d like to be near the countryside or some type of espace vert (if that’s possible), but being close to an airport would be nice too, so I can escape more often.

So if you had to choose among Bobigny, Cergy, Evry, Versailles or Paris, which would you choose?

Adventures in Driving in France

Luckily I don’t have to drive as much as other people do in France. I only work 3 days a week, 24 weeks a year. I’ve only got three more round-trips to Chambéry before we move and I couldn’t be happier. I will be so relieved to no longer have to shell out 250 € a month on gas and tolls. I wish France could be like Germany and have free highways, or even like Switzerland where you just pay 30 € for the entire year. (Though I hear there are no toll roads in Bretagne – is that true, you lucky jerks people?)

I tend to take the back roads – the route nationale – when I have extra time and know there won’t be much traffic. But today I was almost late because of all the craziness on the road. Even getting out of Annecy took a bit longer because of the construction. Well, lack of construction really. You see, a roundabout in Seynod has been under construction for months now and was supposed to be finished in January 2009. It is still not finished and every time I drive through there, absolutely no one is working, regardless of the time of day. Maybe the road sign clearly stating the dates is just a random estimation?

But even before I got to that roundabout, I had to wait in a long line of cars because of a temporary light. The two-lane road had one lane blocked by a pile of dirt and an empty tractor. This was noon, of course, so no one was actually working then. I waited my turn through 4 red lights before I got out of there, and then had to go excessively slow through the roundabout because of the un-level asphalt.

Oh roundabouts, how I detest you. I will admit they are useful when you get lost and need to turn around. But the fact that no one seems to know what the rules are for entering and exiting a roundabout drive me crazy.  The majority require you to yield to cars that are already in the roundabout, but if there is no Vous n’avez pas la priorité or Cédez le passage sign, then it defaults to priorité à droite and you actually get to go first, while the others in the roundabout have to stop for you. But of course, no one pays any attention to this rule because everyone just assumes there is a yield sign or that all roundabouts are the same.

Even if someone yields or doesn’t have to yield, they usually choose the wrong lane to get into (if there’s more than one). Why can’t people remember: right or straight, stay right… left or turn around, stay left. Is it really that hard?? And don’t even get me started on how 98% of people don’t use their blinker to tell others where they are turning. And how scooters just zip in and out of traffic, even though it’s completely illegal. Seriously, does everyone driving a scooter have a death wish? Cars tend to move over and let the scooters by, but I just want to yell, why are you encouraging them? I know the police rarely stop people for speeding (the radars do their job for them), but I wish there were more police on the road to stop people from breaking every single law. Because honestly, for French people, driving laws really are merely suggestions.

I take the highway more often to avoid (for my sanity’s sake) heavy traffic and roundabouts. But the highway is expensive. I now pay 4.30 € each way, thanks to an increase in price on April 1st. Highways in this part of France are just two lanes though, and trucks have to (well, are supposed to) go much slower than other traffic. And even though it’s often forbidden for trucks to pass each other, they still do, which slows down everyone behind them in both lanes to about 80 kph. The speed limit is normally 130 kph.

A part of the A41 is under construction right now, and all traffic going north is simply diverted to the other side of the guardrail. Which means that north and south traffic are on the same side, only separated by orange cones. Sure, the speed limit is lowered to 90 kph, but with the mixture of French drivers on the highway and piddly traffic cones to protect us from running into each other, I don’t feel very safe!

Anyway, one of these trucks was another reason I was running late today. After exiting a roundabout in Aix-les-Bains (by turning right from the right lane, thank you very much), I had to stop abruptly because the truck in front of me realized at the last second that he was much too tall to fit underneath the 4m tall bridge. So he had to slowly back up, waiting for the cars behind him to back up as well, or just drive over the sidewalk (with pedestrians walking on it!!!) like some of the impatient idiots did.

Thankfully my car is tiny, and he was able to back up next to me while I patiently waited for him because I would rather be a few minutes late than crushed in a car or crushed under a bridge. Of course, the people behind me did not appreciate that and thought that I should just drive on the sidewalk too, and they started honking at me because I was wasting their precious 5 seconds.

But I did make it to work on time, only to discover the network was down and none of us could access the lessons, much less even sign on the computers, for the two audio-intensive and exercise-heavy vocabulary classes. So I had to improvise for 3 hours. But that’s another story for another time.

I do not miss Michigan (this week).

It’s been rather nice here lately. Mid 60’s and sunny. I even took off my coat and lied down outside on the grass today during my break. I have missed the sun so much!  And the sun doesn’t even set until 8:30pm these days!

In contrast, my parents have like 5 inches of snow on the ground. In April.

I love that even though the most southern point of France is at the same latitude as Detroit, the weather is much less cold and extreme here than it is in Michigan. Thank you Atlantic Ocean for your warm currents. This frileuse appreciates it!

Needless to say, I’m feeling good this week.  I’m sure the weather, spring vacation, and the Dominican Republic all have something to do with it. But I’m also happy for the new English assistants who just received their acceptance e-mails. (Almost a month earlier than last year – way to go embassy!)  It reminds me of when I received my acceptance letter and was so excited all summer long before coming to France.

And my excruciatingly long, 12 hour Tuesdays are finally finished! I had a crappy schedule this semester, but the morning labs have finished already, so no more wasting time and nearly falling asleep between classes. One more day of work before spring vacation, and then afterwards, only three more days of work before I finish on April 27 and have all summer off (until mid-September!)  And it’s paid vacation, of course.

Tentative Travel Schedule

I’m trying not to go crazy with stress about David’s job placement but I am seriously scared that someone else is going to want Chambéry and David will end up in Caen or Nantes or Paris (no offense to anyone who lives in those cities – it’s just that they are really far from my work!) And then we’d have to find two apartments and live apart until May 2010. ::sigh::

I know there is no use worrying now since I can’t do anything about it. But Toulouse was just replaced with Saint-Denis (yes, Saint-Denis in LA REUNION) on the liste définitive, which leaves only Digne-les-bains, Chambéry and Lyon in the southern half of France. All the rest are in the northern half. Usually, the candidats choose the city that is closest to their current domicile so that they won’t be too far away from their family. This is actually why Saint-Denis was added to the list. But what if someone from mainland France actually wants to go there and that person in La Réunion must then come to France??

I know for a fact that someone ranked higher than David who lives in Ardennes wants to move to the south where there’s sun, so he’s going for Digne first and Chambéry second. And if one other person wants to move to the “south” s/he will choose Chambéry (which isn’t actually the south and there’s not much sun there anyway) because geographically, it is furthest south after Digne. Lyon is most likely out too, since there’s a candidat who lives in Lyon who is also higher than David on the list. I know I’m over-thinking this and should just stop, but I can’t.

I’ve tried to keep my mind occupied with my trips this spring and summer, but they are starting to stress me out too. I’m worried about the Dominican Republic in an extremely irrational fit of paranoia because of what happened to Céline et Sarah. And the others are hard to plan because I don’t know where I’ll be living in a month, so it’s a bit difficult to buy train and plane tickets when I don’t know my city of departure!

April 15-20: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic [brother’s wedding at Riu Palace Macao]

May 18-30: Milan, Lake Como, Genoa, Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Aix-en-Provence, Montpellier, Nîmes, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Carcassone, Toulouse, Cerbère [train & road trip with Michelle & Jason]

June 7-15: Istanbul, Turkey [with Jason to see Martha]

July 20-August 9: Michigan, Virginia [sister’s wedding at House Mountain Inn], Washington D.C.

I did buy a GPS though, and I made all the hotel and car rental reservations for the May trip. That’s something, at least…

Avis Favorable

I officially received word that there was an avis favorable for my renewal, so I will definitely be a lectrice again next year! I’m set until September 2010 at least. Then I’ve got to figure out what the heck to do with my life. Continue teaching English? Get a Master and a completely different job? But in what? I suppose it all depends on where we’ll be living, which the French government is in no hurry to tell us…

I’m not going to worry about that now, though. It’s actually spring here and the sun is shining, so I’m going outside!

Take your time, France. This isn’t that important.

Apparently David will know around April 20 which city he is assigned to for work. Since he’ll be in Montpellier until June 12, and he’s supposed to start work June 15, we need to move before the stage even begins on May 25. One little problem – even though David just found out he will become a fonctionnaire and need to move, we still have to give 3 months’ notice to our landlord. Normally if it’s a “mutation professionnelle” you are allowed to give only one month notice. But since David is resigning from his CDI on April 30 and because he’s changing sectors or whatever, it doesn’t count.

So we have to pay rent through June, unless we can find someone to take the apartment. We are still going to move at the beginning or middle of May, but pay rent for that entire month. And then we hope someone else will be here for June so we don’t have to waste money on two apartments. Needless to say, I’m a little annoyed and a lot stressed. I can’t do anything yet to prepare and it’s driving me crazy.

The not-yet-definitive/could-be-completely-wrong list of cities for the positions are: Strasbourg, Caen, Nantes, Dijon, Lyon, Chambéry, Digne-les-bains, Toulouse, Chateauroux, Nevers, 2 postes à Paris et 3 en région parisienne (Versailles, Cergy, Bobigny). But since there are 12 people before David, who knows if he can get Chambéry. I will seriously cry if he is forced to go anywhere near Paris.

Only 5 more days of work before spring vacation…