Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When we rented our apartment, we did not get to see it in person, just in pictures. So although we knew what it should look like, we were hoping not to have any surprises once we arrived. Fortunately the place is wonderful, comfortable, and very well kept. The neighborhood also seems great, a vibrant and convenient location. I think we're going to enjoy living here.

Our building, according to the architect's signature on the facade, was built in 1893. You arrive at the portes cochères (carriage doors), a massive double door at the entrance that's hardly ever opened; you actually enter through one of the two smaller doors within the large door. On the other side of that door is a small passage that leads to the Gardienne's apartment and to the actual entrance to our building, as well as to a courtyard that leads to a smaller interior building.

We're on the first floor, which in France is one flight up from the ground floor. So fortunately we don't have to use the tiny elevator that much, which as with most old buildings in Paris had to be retrofitted. As you enter the apartment, a small foyer leads to the living room and a small bathroom. This small bathroom is known here as the toilette, literally, the toilet. A great French invention, having the toilet separate from the rest of the bathroom.

The living room is large and comfortable and gets some nice sunlight in the morning. The apartment does not have a hallway; you reach every room from the living room or the dining room. From the living room you access one of the bedrooms as well as the dining room, which also is quite spacious.

From the dining room you access the kitchen as well as two other bedrooms. The kitchen is well equipped, and is large for Parisian standards—it even includes a small table where we can have coffee and breakfast. From the kitchen you have access to another bathroom. It's about the size of an airplane bathroom, with a shower at the end, but it's functional.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wait, is that a Starbucks?

Today I noticed the "Starbucks - Opening Soon" sign next to our building. Did we just move 5000 miles to the city that's famous for its sidewalk cafes to live next to a Starbucks?

After living for 11 years in Seattle, where Starbucks was born, you'd think I'd feel more favorable to them, but I've never liked their coffee very much. Besides, why would I ever want to go to Starbucks instead of a local cafe?

Starbucks has been in France for about eight years but has never made a profit. Sure, you'll see many tourists who want to feel at home or walk around with big cups in their hands and young locals who want free wifi, but in general Parisians, with their entrenched coffeehouse culture, look at Starbucks with contempt.

.   .   .

The store opened a few weeks later. On Sunday mornings they sell pancakes, so we decided to try them. Here too baristas use name tags and customers have been trained to stand in line, place and pay for their orders, and then grab their things and find a table. The pancakes weren't great, and even by French coffee standards their espresso was bad. We never went back.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We arrived!

Although a bit off schedule, we finally arrived in Paris on Thursday at around 3 PM local time. The trip started with a three-hour delay in Seattle, which meant we would lose our connection in Reykjavik, Iceland, so the airline immediately rebooked our connecting flight for a much later (almost 24 hours later) flight from Reykjavik to Paris. We managed to alert our landlord by email that we would be arriving much later than expected, but when we landed in Reykjavik the Icelandair crew informed us our original connecting plane was waiting and they managed to rush us through immigration and security straight to our connecting flight, making it the briefest layover I've ever had. But merde, we did not have time to alert our landlord of our new arrival time, which would now be just less than two hours later than originally expected.

When we were issued our long-stay visas, we were explicitly told by the French consulate to make sure to stamp our passports upon arrival, because we'd need to show this stamp at some French office called OFII in order to validate our visas. But we never passed an immigration booth after getting off the plane at Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 1, and once we got into the 1970s "avante-garde" tangle of escalators inside plastic tubes that put you directly in the baggage area, there was no going back.

So we walked aimlessly for several minutes until we saw a customs officer and asked him where we could do this, and after explaining to him that we had arrived via Iceland, where our passports had been stamped, he said that that counted as our French immigration stamp since Iceland is also part of the Schengen Area, which operates like a single state for international travel regarding visas and border controls.

After claiming our bags we located a public phone. Fortunately we had a couple of 2 euro coins with us and enough time to figure out how to use the French pay phone and managed to reach our landlord just before being forced to evacuate the terminal because someone left a bag in the lady's restroom.

It was a beautiful sunny summer day as we finally rode our taxi into Paris. Dianny and I had to catch our breaths when we got off the highway and turned into the beautiful Paris streets. We were met at the apartment building by the landlord (actually the landlady) and spent the next two hours getting to know each other and doing a full inventory of the apartment's contents and condition (the état des lieux), something one should not have to do jet-lagged after a long overnight transatlantic trip.

And then a little grocery shopping at the local Monoprix so we'd have something to eat the next day. We managed to extend the day till about 10 pm before crashing, but we all still ended up waking up around 3-4 AM. After a couple of restless hours everyone fell asleep again and slept till noon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Au revoir, Seattle

The past couple of weeks been crazy. I've been working on a small freelance project for Microsoft that I needed to deliver before leaving, and at the same time we've been organizing and packing everything we need to bring with us for a year and making arrangements for the things that will stay behind, like our house and our car.

We managed to fit into the ten suitcases allowed by the airline plus several carry-on bags and we were ready to go.

We fly Icelandair via Reykjavik and arrive in Paris tomorrow. There's excitement, anticipation, even some nervousness... Will the taxi van be waiting for us on arrival? Will the apartment turn out as nice as it looks in pictures? Will we like the neighborhood we picked? Will the kids have trouble adapting or studying in French? Will Dianny and I ever want to leave Paris?

Au revoir, Seattle. The adventure begins.