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Who Blows It Up Better . . . Nice? Canne? or Philadelphia?

24 July 2010 1 comment

Here I am sitting in a hotel room in St. Joseph, Missouri and I am finally back on the Internet to write about Bastille Day. Right now, Drury Inn is my friend with free wi-fi and not even having a password to log into it.

So how did my first Bastille Day go?  Well the night before the Expat MeetUp group planned a Happy Hour at our same spot with the nice panoramic view of the city and the sea.  Unfortunately the bar officially stopped the Happy Hour specials and tried this DJ night instead.  So drinks were back at their regular expensive prices and the staff became very unaccommodating.  Nonetheless, we took over some tables and still had a good time with a bottle of rosé to compliment the summer heat.

Notice the white parked van and the dark object to the right

Notice the white parked van and the dark object to the right

Afterwards, the host of the group invited some of us over to her place by the port.  A few of us still had not eaten a formal dinner and the host offered to quickly make some pasta at her flat instead of trying to find a restaurant.  We had wonderful evening just chatting away and drinking even more wine.  There was of course the entertainment in the streets of Nice outside of her apartment.  After witnessing a car and motorcycle accident (unfortunately all too common in France), I saw how these recycling trucks work and was mesmerized.  Definitely click the picture to the right for a full view of the event. In France there are these huge containers throughout the city.  They are either labeled green (for glass) or blue (for paper and magazines) for recycling purposes.  So it is a common site to see the French drag out their little carts on the way to the supermarket and deposit their recycling at these huge containers.  Well tonight the recycling

Recycling Truck with Crane

Recycling Truck with Crane

truck came along in the late night (like 2 in the morning) and quickly extended this huge crane with claws.  The truck stopped in the middle of the street next to the container.  Notice that there is a parked van in between the truck and the container.  The crane successfully reached over the van and clamped the container and brought up and over back to the truck where the operator some how banged the container in a certain way to release all the contents.  Then swung the container back to the sidewalk without hitting the parked van.  It was a brilliant execution.  The whole thing happened in minutes before the truck drove off to find another container.  Here I have to give props to good French design.  On the other hand, I know to never park near these containers.  I am sure these operators may slip once and a while and hit an occasional parked car.   It happens. 😉

Coastline at Eze

Coastline at Eze

The next day I spent it with a new friend at a nice beach further east outside a village called Eze.  Again, this beach is on the road to Monaco.  I really have to say I enjoy these beaches.  In spite they are stony beaches and not sand, they are at the base of these huge cliffs.  Plus they are small beaches so there are not a lot of people because there is not the room.  Consequently only the natives go here.  You do not have the amenities at the more popular beaches so you have to remember to bring everything you need including food and water.  It was such a beautiful and calm day taking in the sun and going in for an occasional swim – and no jellyfish to be seen!

After a full afternoon at the beach, I headed home to complete some domestic activities.  This

Waves crashing in at Eze

Waves crashing in at Eze

holiday landed in the middle of the week and I had to return to work the next morning.  I was going to watch the fireworks from my terrace but my friend convinced me to join him and his friends in the Vieux Nice (old city).  I took my velo bleu (rent-a-bike) and headed down to meet up with them.  The promenade was packed with people and police closed it off to be pedestrian only for the night.  I do have to say the fireworks were alright.  I have to commend Philadelphia for its efforts at fireworks.  Nice’s display seemed a bit disorganized and didn’t have music to go along with it whereas Philadelphia’s has always been on-point.  The real fireworks, I heard are in Canne.  Canne actually host a fireworks competition all summer long.  Each display is presented by another European country and by the end of the summer a winner is announced.  The winner gets to present at the following year’s Bastille Day.  This year’s dispaly on July 14th was by Austria, the 2009 winner.  Just before I left to come to the States, Czech Republic was presenting their display.  I hope to make it to one of these competitions before the summer is out.

Half-way through my trip State side, heading back home to Nice on Monday.

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Categories: Everyday Life

I Showed my Patriotism in . . . Little Africa

13 July 2010 7 comments

Again I apologize for my absence on the blog; it is still due to the fact I still do not have Internet in my apartment.  In France’s defense, it really isn’t her fault (and yes, the French refer to their country as a woman and use the female pronoun profusely).  In hindsight, there is a much simpler way in getting Internet here.  Back in June when I was in transition and the relocation agent was helping she offered to get me signed up for Internet along with my electricity, bank services and parking.  Of course, I just said “yes” believing she would have been the expert.  First it took her a while to getting around to open my account for me as she balanced several other clients.  Then since she was opening the account in my name, she had to deal with the main office of Orange (France Telecom) that is based in . . .  Lille, a town way up north practically in the country formally known as Belgium (another topic for another day).  Everything is set-up in my name but everything has to be completed through the mail now.  So I have received my converter box.  In addition I have received the letter acknowledging my request to open the account , which I had to sign and return back.  Now I am so ever so patiently waiting for the “access code” so that I can properly use the converter box.  Again this code is coming through snail mail.  Does everyone go through this long process?  No, because Orange has boutiques in all the malls here.  So I could have gone there in person in my makeshift French and literally walk out an hour later with the converter box, access code and all paperwork signed.  One thing I would say about France is they love their processes and don’t disrupt it if you are in the middle of one.  Hence why I am not going to the store now and try to alter the outcome.

One repeated word of advice since I have gotten here is “be patient; things go slower here.

So let us back up a minute – what did I do for the 4th of July?  Well I went to Petite Afrique (Little Africa).  Some of you are biting your tongue at this moment because you probably already figured out how I was disappointed at one level.  Yet it really was a fantastic day.  One of the expat MeetUp.com groups that I have joined to meet people planned a nice day at the beach for the Americans.  The beach was called Petite Afrique and is outside a beautiful village, Beaulieu-sur-Mer (literally translated Beautiful Place by the Sea).  Of the beaches I have experienced, this one has several pluses.  For one, the stones are much smaller and easier to walk on.   The biggest disappointment (to me) about the beaches in Nice is that they are not sand but huge stone beaches.  It is actually uncomfortable to walk barefoot in Nice.  Petite Afrique is more tolerable.  (You want a sand beach?  You’ll have to go west to at least Antibes or Cannes for that.)  Another positive is that it is a true locals beach and not a lot of tourists.  We were the only group there speaking English to prove that point.  You won’t find this beach in your tour guide as you do have to drive a bit to get there.  The view is magnificent as the cliffs soar above this beach.  You float in the water and just look up at these looming natural structures above you.  Then there was a float in the middle of this tiny bay that you could swim out to and dive off.  Of course the kids dominated this float for the afternoon but that didn’t stop us adults from coming out and taking over.  We were bold enough to take with us bottles of wine and glasses to the float.  We chilled there drinking our wine and simply relaxed and taking in the sun on a Sunday afternoon.  I am sure what we did was illegal even by French standards, but the lifeguard on duty didn’t bother us.  You can only imagine how well I slept after a full day at the beach, eating and drinking (click to view image).

Of course the second African factor is that the World Cup is over.  South Africa succeeded in pulling off one of the greatest international events. I just hope it feels some economic benefits from all this attention. Then Ghana gave an amazing performance as an African voice in the tournament.  I am disappointed in myself for not watching more of it.  Without having a television, it has been a challenge to have access to the coverage.

Luanda, Angola - The most expensive city to live in

Luanda, Angola - The most expensive city to live in

Another African factor this week was the recent expatriate report by Mercer that my fellow Notre Dame alumnus, Michael Barrett, brought to my attention.  This firm routinely does an analysis of all the cities in the world and calculates the cost of living from an expat perspective.  Then rates them from the most expensive to the cheapest.  The big buzz this year is that several African cities are at the top of the list!  For you economists out there, this news is big because it is showing the changes in currency and who has the purchasing power.  So many things are fluctuating right now at a global scale.  It is exciting and unsuring at the same time.  So where is Nice in the report?  Nowhere in the press highlights which is a good thing – I believe.  My friends of stronger economic background can correct me but I believe you don’t want to be at either end of the list.  You don’t want to be living in the cities at the top of the list because you will spend all your salary on basic necessities.  Then you won’t have much left in your wallet.  So you will be living in this exciting foreign city but not able to do anything; envision the concept of being house poor.  You may be attracted to the other end of the list because those cities are all dirt-cheap.  True, but don’t forget your salary will be in that currency too so you still won’t have much purchasing power particularly if you want to travel to the surrounding regions.  I believe the best places to live are the one that fall in the middle of the list and do not attract attention of the press.  Those are the places where the currency is solid and you do not have to use all your money on just surviving.  Paris is only coming in at #17 and I know Nice is cheaper than Paris.  Interesting that cities like Milan, Italy and Oslo, Norway are more expensive than France.  Even more interesting is that there are not any American cities at the top end of the list, including New York City (#27) .  A clear sign of the weaken dollar.

So what is next?  France’s turn at patriotism as Wednesday is a national holiday equivalent to the State’s 4th of July celebration.  Can’t wait to see the fireworks from my terrace!

Categories: Everyday Life

Reality sets in . . . . all 7 of them.

1 July 2010 2 comments

1) This morning I started my day finding the elevator wide open waiting for me. Believing this was some random act of generosity by fate, the dream shattered.  The elevator ended up being en panne – (broken).  It was not moving and started my journey down 7 flights of stairs to get out of the building.  Sigh.  Of course it wasn’t too bad going down but I was already loathing coming home and having to go up.  I was even planning to grocery shopping after work and that was looking at little bleak at the moment.

2) Today I did finally get around to taking the bus to work.  It is another reason why I enjoy my apartment because I have choices in how to get to work.  The bus stop is literally around the corner and it takes me straight to Amadeus.  You can’t ask for anything better . . . or can you ?

Reality

Reality

You do have to accept that it is a bus and it has to stop at several places.  I found myself becoming anxious because I wanted to get going even though I wasn’t in control.  I wasn’t even late for work, I just wanted to get going.  I find it all strange having those feelings since I spent my past 10 years in Philadelphia relying on public transportation.  The reality here in my commute is that the traffic has gotten worse and now I am understanding what people were talking about. Yesterday’s drive home by car and today’s ride home by bus both took an hour.  Up until recently I have been able to drive to work in 30 minutes ; an average commute.  Of course timing has a lot to do with it, these last few days I have going in later and consequently leaving work later.  I believe if I continue to being counter-culture to the French ways (getting up late) and heading out early, I can get ahead of the traffic.

3) It is very typical in Europe that every window and screen door has an internal metal shutter.  With the shutter you have a crank on the inside to raise and lower.    Mostly it is a security feature but it also keeps the heat and sun out.  Well I have been enjoying the sunlight and haven’t used them since moving in.  Finally I decided to lower the one in my bedroom that leads out to the upstairs terrace as I left for work.  Then I could come home to a nice cool apartment.  Well what went down, stayed down.  I cannot get the bloody thing to raise ; it just makes a horrific noise.  So now instead looking out to the Mediterranean Sea from my bed, I only see a metal shield.  My bedroom has become a cave. Luckily since it occurred in my first month here, I reported it to my propriétaire to be fixed.  I believe by law he has to fix.

4) I am still without Internet / TV / phone at my apartment.  It is killing me that I can’t be in better touch with folks back home.  I did though get a letter from Orange (France Telecom) acknowledging my request.  Of course I had to sign several sheets of paper and put it back in the mail.  Within 15 days I should recieve the needed converter box to plug into the wall and I should magically have all three. I have resorted to buying one these new 3G keys that I can plug into my computer and use my cell phone network.  Unfortunately that is something where I had to pay for certain amount of hours and it isn’t unlimited.

5) There is a mysterious bag in the outside hallway that has a funky odor. I have no idea where it came from but it clearly has some food leftovers that are rotting.  If no one claims it soon, I will have to throw it away myself.

6) When I got home I was relieved that the elevator was back in service.  I continued on with my journey to do some grocery shopping.  All was well with that excursion except for the fact I realized how many more things I still need to buy – what I would do for a good bread knife right now.

7) I also got a message from Air France as I had applied for their credit card so I can rack up some frequent flyer points.  So after listening to the voice-mail several times, I finally figured out the number to call them back.  Tonight I sat down to return their call at rough 6:55 p.m.  I got through just fine to the agent who then stated he needed some additional information in order to process my application.  One thing he needed was my net income (after social taxes) and not my brut income (before social taxes).  So I had my first pay stub in front of me but got flustered in trying to find that number out as I had to take it times 12.  Well in the process I hit the wrong button on my iPhone and hung up on the guy.  Ooops.  Well double-oops. It is now 7:02 and the phone lines close at 7:00. I couldn’t get back through.  I’ll have to try again later this week.

Just around the corner

Just around the corner

So is all this frustration worth it ? Absolutely.  There is no paradise but you can easily forget it all when you have a beach.  I am typing away on my laptop literally on the beach as the night comes rolling into Nice.  There is lots of activity around me from taking a late swim, enjoying a pizza to going for a late night run on the promenade.  Ahhhhhhh . . .

Categories: Everyday Life