Tom and Susan's Blog
Octover 8th, 2017
Unfortunately, this may be a rather dull, boring blog entry. Our internet is *STILL* not working! Here is the whole story ... when we got this apartment, it came with internet and the télévision numérique terrestre, basically 25ish "free" television channels that anyone/everyone can get. For people renting short-term, this is sufficient. However, we were told that we could "upgrade" and pay the different into a better plan. Great ... so we moved into the apartment in July and in August, the agency we work with said that upgrading was "too difficult" and that we should just get a plan in our own name. They accompanied us to the same company that has service here already, and we signed up. We had 3 different appointments with 3 different technicians to install Fiber in the apartment ... no luck. So then we canceled. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding and the owner turned off the internet service. For about 3 weeks, we were just using our phones as hotspots for the PC and iPad. So then we spoke back with our original agent, and after also talking to the president of (basically) the home owners group, we decided that we would try Orange fiber service. So we went through the same sign-up process and had the first appointment. It was a bit better, but still didn't get it installed. We were able to have our agent come over and speak with the technician. Seems they have to string the fiber from the other building (we are a secondary building in the courtyard), through the basement, and to something on the ground floor. Here, they need to have us get an electrician and install a door so that they can have access. Then they will have to string it from there to the 1st floor (how, I don't know) so that it can go into the various outlet areas in the living room. So we are waiting for the agent to get someone to come do that work. Oh, but it doesn't stop there ... then they also said they would need access to a specific door in the basement of the other building, which is actually (we found out later) a private cellar/storage area and is not accessible. So it will be interesting to see what happens when the Orange technician comes back. In the meantime, Orange has provided a 4G hotspot that we can use ... with 10G of data ... and when we run out of that, we have to take it back for a new card (geez!). That works for the PC and iPad, but not for our Vonage phone, which works only off cable and not Wifi. So .. stay tuned to see when/if we actually get internet!
September 25th, 2017
Wow, such a quick turnaround time on a blog! Yesterday (Sunday), we joined a set of friends from the AIT (American's in Toulouse) for the Fête des Vendanges Solidaires at a Chateau about an hour-ish SE of Toulouse. This was our first "grape harvest" and it was for a really good cause, a group called Autism 31 (31 being the department number for Haute-Garonne, which is where Toiulouse is). We got to harvest grapes and then wine tasting, lunch, and fun with friends. It was a really well-organized event and we had a great time (along with great weather), so we are thinking of making this a yearly event! Full details and pictures, including the actual harvest and the AMAZING views from the fields are on our Fête des Vendanges Solidaires blog.
September 23rd, 2017
Our internet is *STILL* not working ... thank goodness we have 100 gig data plans on our phones :-). Not sure how much air-time the French Labor Law (Code du Travail) changes have gotten in the US, but it is one of the major things going on right now. Various days, there are strikes and/or protests around France. Here in Toulouse, we have had several demonstrations, including one today (which we saw on the road coming back from shopping) and one the other week, which we took pictures of for our Code du Travail Strike blog. There have also been road blockages on some of the major motorways (so we are attempting to drive on some of the smaller roads when we have to drive), and we get to watch pictures of the protests going on in Paris on TV.
September 10th, 2017
I'm a little slow getting this one out, but I have an excuse ... our internet has been not working since we got back from our last road-trip ... and using the iPhone as a personal hotspot is a bit odd. However, here it is ... we did a 3-day road trip to Montauban, the Gorges du Averyon, Cordes-sur-Ciel, and Gaillac last week. The catalyst for the trip was "winning" a free canoe trip (3 hours for 2 people) from the tourist offices that were setup in Toulouse near Capitole just after we moved here. So we wanted to go ahead and use that and so we picked a couple towns nearby. Things didn't really go exactly as planned (and we found out that we planned poorly as well) ... read all about it in the Canoeing blog.
September 2nd, 2017
Today we decided to head just outside of Toulouse to Plaisance du Touch and go through the African Zoo Safari park. We saw it on our way to play golf one day and so we decided to pick a day and head back. It wasn't too crowded and was a nice weather-day, so it made a perfect little get-away. The website says to give about 3 hours, which is about right. There are a couple of shows to see (Sea Lions and Birds) so make sure if you go, you pick times so that you can make the shows. You start in the car going through a semi-free section. Some of the animals roam around while others (the more dangerous ones) are kept in enclosures. Then after that, you park and head into a more normal "zoo" part. All of the pictures (although not that much commentary) can be found in our full African Zoo Safari Park blog.
August 27th, 2017
The Plage! That is ... The Beach! Today is the last day for the main section of the Toulouse Plage, which include 3 different areas for relaxing and activities during the summer. The closing of this somewhat indicates the end of summer and the fact that la rentrée is upon us. "La rentrée literally means "the re-entry". In August, most of France goes on vacation and the cities empty out. We stayed here in Toulouse and saw many businesses, stores, and restaurants closed for 3-4 weeks. We also found out that this is also the time for these same stores and restaurants to do their renovation work. Then in September (September 4th this year), la rentrée signals the return to normalcy ... students and teachers go back to work and everyone else goes back to work so things are open again. So ... anyway ... I wrote up a little Toulouse Plage blog, as we had gone on the Ferris wheel at one of the plage locations and got some good pictures from high atop the city.
August 21st, 2017
It was quite a busy weekend. We did a day-trip on Saturday to two villages within an hour South of Toulouse: Rieux-Volvestre and Muret. Rieux-Volvestre was a quiet little medieval village while Muret was a bit larger and had more going on. We are still within the summer vacations, so even Muret was a bit quieter than probably it will be in another 3 weeks after "la rentree" or the "re-entry" from the August vacations. You can read all about these two towns in my Rieux-Volvestre and Muret blog.
Then Sunday, we stayed in town but went to the outskirts to visit the ruins of a roman ampitheater, as well as a roman thermal bath complex. Toulouse was a very important Roman city and there are ruins found here and there throughout the city. Many were only found somewhat recently during construction projects, like underground parking garages, metro stations, and apartment buildings. The ampitheater has been known about for quite some time, but the thermal baths were found, and excavated, in 1968 when they broke ground for the foundation of an apartment building. Even today, you can only visit them through a guided tour as they are literally in the basement of an apartment. You can read all about both in my Roman Ampitheater and Thermal Baths blog.
August 14th, 2017
Just a quick little blog entry today. We are officially members of a golf club here in Toulouse! We played one round at 5 different courses: 2 that are individual clubs and 3 that are owned by a group called UGolf. They were all unique, some being hillier than others, some being in better shape than others. At the end, we decided to join the UGolf clubs (you actually join with a membership that allows you to play at 4 different courses around Toulouse). We chose the 5/7 membership since we don't really think we will play on weekends. At one of the courses, we played with a very nice couple, Marie and Michel, who also are members of UGolf and we are planning to play with them again next week. If you are interested in the courses, you can look at the UGolf page (http://jouer.golf/nos-golfs-jouer-au-golf-ugolf/) of courses and look at the ones under Sud Ouest. The courses that we can play are Toulouse La Ramée, Toulouse Seilh, Toulouse Téoula, and Étangs de Fiac. Seilh has 18-hole courses .. a "normal" one and then a "compact" par 64 course. Fiac is a bit far .. about 45-50 minutes from Toulouse so we probably won't play that one too often.
August 9th, 2017
Our first "festival" in France is this week ... we joked with friends who asked us about what we would be doing in our retirement and I would say "play golf, drink wine, go to pickle festivals" ... not quite a pickle festival, but we happened to find out about a Pink Garlic festival (yes, Pink Garlic, never heard of it before, but it is "famous" in the town of Lautrec) and decided to pop over for a day. Lautrec is a little medieval village about an hour from Toulouse and so it was an easy little road trip to start. We detailed the drive, the village, and the garlic festival in our Lautrec Pink Garlic Festival blog.
July 31st, 2017
And here we big goodbye to the month of July. It has been relatively hot here, although drier than in Cary, and less humidity. We've gotten all moved into our new apartment and are even starting to buy flowers and herbs to grow on the railing of the windows. This week, I have a Market Blog. One of the things that we like about the "lifestyle" in France is the markets. There are multiple markets here and it is different than in Paris, in that while there were markets in Paris, you could actually buy from stand-alone stores and not really go to them. However, while there are butcher stand-alone stores, in general, there are no Fishmongers or Fruit/Veggie vendors outside of the markets. We try to do about 80% of our shopping at markets ... only getting a few things at a supermarket (yogurt, milk, cereal, etc). There are even epiceries where you can buy spices by the 100grams and put them into your own little jars (which we bought the other day). Full details in our Market Blog including descriptions and pictures of an actual day in the various markets.
July 23rd, 2017
We've been here now 3 months and our first lease ended and we moved to another apartment this week. We had done the first apartment "sight unseen" and knew it was a short-term apartment as it was a Studio. We needed a larger apartment, with parking, and space for what little we shipped from the US. Monday was "Moving Day #2" including picking up our new (used) car. I've got it all detailed on our Moving Day blog. If you JUST want to get to the apartment, you can go directly there in our 2nd Toulouse Apartment blog (also linked on the right under Personal Stuff.
July 15th, 2017
We spent our first Bastille Day in Toulouse in town. Although we missed the parade because we were watching the televised coverage of the parade in Paris, we did head out after dinner to watch the fireworks. They were shot from barges in the middle of the Garonne. Full details on the Bastille Day 2017 blog.
July 9th, 2017
We did a 3-day weekend trip over to Bordeaux the other weekend. Interestingly enough, we never got to Bordeaux during our 2 1/2 years of living in France previously, so this was all new to us. It is the wine capitol of France and most people will recognize the city name as a type of red wine, although they also make white's in the Bordeaux area. We didn't do any vineyards this time, focusing on the city historical sights .. although we DID throw in quite a bit of wine, wine education, and wine tasting. Our full blog starts here.
July 4th, 2017
We spent our first 4th of July in Toulouse, although we did attend a little picnic/BBQ slightly outside of Toulouse on the 2nd with the Americans in Toulouse (AIT) and France-Etats-Unis (France-United States) groups. It was a nice BBQ, with as much typical "American BBQ" food as we could get (hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, corn on the cob, and watermelon). Of course, instead of beer, we had wine (we ARE in France!!). It was nice to see a set of friends that we've met since we have moved here, as well as meeting others who are living here. Pictures along with a video are posted in our Independence Day 2017 blog.
June 19th, 2017
We've been here now about 2 months, and I thought I would add a blog about the things that we like and don't like ....
The likes are pretty long ... Toulouse is a great walkable city. You can walk from the South to the North within the HyperCenter in about 20 or 30 minutes. The majority of the roads within the HyperCenter are pedestrian-priority, which means that while they can have cars on them, many of them you have to have a keycard to get the barriers to drop. This allows for deliveries but keeps them mainly pedestrian. There are TONS of things to do, especially (we have found so far) in the summer. This past week, there was a 4-day archeological festival where there were lots of free things all around France, for example, a discussion and walk to look at 2 specific places in Toulouse where there are remnants of the Roman remparts (city walls). For about 4 weeks, there is a Coen brothers film festival (you have to pay for the movies) where they are playing almost every Coen brothers movie. Starting next month is a 6-week Cinema en plein air (open air cinema) festival where they show movies outdoors. They had a similar thing in Paris when we lived there. They are showing French, American, Italian, and Spanish movies, all in Version Original (original language) with French subtitles for anything not French. You have to pay for these as well, but it is somewhat unique to see them outside on a great bit screen (they start at like 10:30pm because the sunset is so late here).
What don't we like ... this is a pretty small list so far, and they probably are pretty specific to us :-) There is less here in English than I would like .. although this means we need to improve our French faster. While we've gotten through the issues with trying to rent an apartment, it is one of the dislikes that we have .... it is a bit difficult to rent without history in France and without a job. They don't have a "credit rating" here, nor would we have one anyway, and the laws here realliy do benefit the renter and not the owner ... so they are very particular about who they rent to since it is really almost impossible to evict someone here. It is getting quite hot, and they just don't do as much air conditioning here as in the US. So there are times when we are a little uncomfortably warm here.
Anyway ... so far, we are quite happy with where we are. I think things will get much better next month, when we move to our new apartment, our stuff from the US comes (so I have more than 2 pair of shorts), we buy a car, and start playing golf!!!
June 11th, 2017
We've been looking for the last 5-6 weeks or so for our next apartment. The plan was always to stay in this little studio apartment for 3 months and then move to a larger apartment for a year. At the end of that year, we determine if we want to stay in Toulouse (and if so, we look for an apartment to buy) or if we want to move to another city and try there (if we don't really like here). Renting an apartment here is a bit of a challenge in a few different ways. We had no issues when we were moving to Paris 10 years ago, but I believe it was because we had someone that was paid to help us and so we never saw the complexity. As well, we had a full guarantee from a huge, international corporation so the owners never had to worry about us not paying. We saw a set of apartments, worked with a set of agencies and owners, and have finally got confirmation for our next apartment. I've gone through all of the apartments and the whole thought process in our Apartment Hunting blog. If you don't care to read about all of them, if you scroll to the last one (Chalets), that is the one we selected.
June 5th, 2017
The first Sunday of each month is "Open Doors" for the city museums, and they are free. This time, we went to two different museums: The Museum Saint-Raymond, which is an archeological museum about the area specifically in and around Toulouse, and the Convent of the Jacobins. The full details are today's blog. The first page is the Museum and then covers our lunch at the Victor Hugo covered market and the Fete du Rugby. Then there is a link to a second page for the Covent (so that the pages load a bit quicker).
June 3rd, 2017
A lovely rainy day here, after such a gorgeous day yesterday <boo>. We had a bit of excitement this week with the French bureaucracy. When we got our visa in Houston, we were instructed to send in a form to the OFII (Office of French Immigration and Integration) and then we would be notified to come in for an interview and medical exam. Early this week, we both got phone calls from the OFII. I ended up speaking with one person, who indicated that the interview and exam were not required for "our type of visa" ... we were confused. They also seemed to have had issues mailing us a letter stating this, which we understood since we have an issue with our mailbox here. So we gave her additional information, and Tom's letter arrived on Thursday. They called me again on Thursday morning and seemed to also say the same thing about we had "nothing left to do". However, Thursday I also had a French friend here call and basically they said I had the "wrong type of visa" for their office and that they had torn up my paperwork. This never a good thing in a country that LOVES paperwork! So Friday, we made the trip up to the office in person and spoke with them. They again indicated we didn't have anything to do this year (the exam and things would maybe come next year) and I asked if I could also get a letter stating that, like what Tom had been sent (they seemed to understand my bad French and hopefully, I'll get that next week). So ... we think success. Then came the Certificat de Residence ... residence certificate required for our household goods, which are now sitting in Rotterdam waiting for customs clearance. For this, we headed to the Mairie (Town Hall) and it was AMAZINGLY quick and easy .... we showed a passport, our signed lease, and voila ... a certificat de residence! SWEET!!! 2nd success for the week!!
May 27th, 2017
One of the reasons that we moved to Europe was that there are so many towns that have long histories, that are within close proximity to almost anywhere that you live in Europe. We've been living in France now for about 5 weeks and we took our first day-trip, an out-and-back in a single day to Albi, which is about 85 km (just under 53 miles) northeast of Toulouse. Albi dates back to the Bronze Age, then was a modest Roman settlement until the 9th century. Additional trade, especially in pastel, allowed the city to grow wealthy. It now contains several fine houses that date back to the 16th & 17th centuries, in addition to the Bishop's Palace, the Collegiate Church of Saint-Salvi, and the "gem" of the city, the Cathedral of Sainte-Cecile. We spent the whole day walking around before taking the last train home. Details (and lots of pictures) can be found in the Albi blog (it is also linked on the right under the city name).
May 21st, 2017
I know it's been a bit longer than I wanted for my next blog, but I got a bit behind this week. This weekend, we went to our first ever Rugby match and with FREE tickets no less! It was interesting for us because we have never seen a rugby match and so we were trying to see if we could figure out all the rules. We were thinking about the movie "Blast from the Past" where while the Brendan Frazier character is growing up, his father explains baseball to him and he doesn't quite understand. Then he see a game and he goes "Oh, NOW I understand!". So we had read up on things but unfortunately, it wasn't an Ah-ha moment ...while I think we understand some of it, we still don't quite totally understand it all. Anyway, you can read all about it in the Rugby Match blog.
May 11th, 2017
We've made it through the election and (in my opinion), it ended much better than the election in the US. While the absenteeism was fairly high, Macron won in a pretty resounding victory. There seems to be quite a bit of upheaval now ... people talking about changes coming in the Front National including the stepping down of Marine Le Pen's niece from one of the major positions in the party (she said for family reasons, she has a small child, but it also seems that she is more hard-line than Marine took the FN party to try to appeal to enough voters) ... some in the Socialist PS party are looking to make the move to Macron's En Marche (now named The Republic En Marche!) in advance of the parliamentary elections in June.
We've also done a bit more traveling around on the public transportation, including a couple busses out to the suburbs to go to IKEA and some of the car dealers. We haven't yet rode the Tram, but we've been on the Metro and Buses now quite a bit. It is fairly easy to understand if you've ever ridden a metro before, and Tisseo (the company that runs the Bus-Metro-Tram system) has a really good website and mobile app. You can look at every bus line and see every stop and the schedule and also do an itinerary between two places starting at a given time. Interesting story here ... this is where it is better to just assume they know what they are doing (yea, I know ....). So we were going to IKEA to look at furniture, which is way out in the boonies. Take the metro to the very end, and then Tisseo told us that the options were to wait 30 minutes and take the 50 bus, or wait 45 minutes and take the 117 bus. But there was a 50 bus right there ... leaving in like 15 minutes .. why not just take that one? So us over-thinkers decided that we knew better and took the 50 bus. Riding .. riding ... we're good, and then it stops and everybody gets off but us. Hmm... so I go up and ask the driver about if this goes to "Bois" (the stop we want to get off on) and she explains to me (in French of course) that no, the 50 has 2 different terminus stops, and so no, this one doesn't (Oops). Then she goes "IKEA?", I'm like ... yes ... and she explains how to walk there. 20 minutes later, we get passed by the 117 bus as we are making our way finally to the shopping center. For more details, you can read my full Metro blog.
May 1st, 2017
I don't plan to do a blog daily, but today is unique. Today was May Day (May 1st) and there was a parade here in Toulouse (as well as other places in Europe). Fortunately, there was no violence (that I am aware of) here unlike Paris and Istambul, where there were some instances of violence. The majority of the parade here in Toulouse consisted of either the unions (like the CGT) or various political parties that (mostly) were marching AGAINST the Front National (Le Pen's party).
For more details, you can read my full May Day blog.
April 30, 2017
We've made quite a bit of progress so far while we've been here, and it has only been two weeks. Amazing how time flies! We joined a gym this week after checking out several of them in the area. One thing that we miss is that $7 a month gym we had in Cary. No such luck here! Not only are the gyms really not quite as good (machine-wise) but they are much more expensive! We opted for a more basic gym that seemed to have the majority of the equipment Tom wanted for lifting. Others that we looked at had a sauna, or a relaxation room with a massage chair, or TV screens on all of the cardio equipment ... but we didn't feel those things were worth the extra 30 a month for each person! One thing that most have is "virtual courses" ... so the group classes but no live instructor. We're going to try one this morning on Abs (well, Tom says I'll try it).
We also got our Tisseo "carte pastel", which is their public transportation card. You can load it with either individual trips (which we did to start with) or unlimited rides by day/week/month/year. We then took that and did a trip using both metros and buses out North to where a set of the car dealers were and took a look at Renault, Peugeot, Citreon, and Ford cars. Later this week, we'll head South for VW, Honda, Toyota. Have to find a car that fits the clubs :-) I've done a short Metro Blog that talks about the use of the Tisseo network including Metro, Bus, and Tram.
Tomorrow is also May Day, which is the International Workers Day. Almost everything will be closed but we'll be out-and-about seeing what celebrations (or protests) there are and will report back!
April 23, 2017
The first round of the French presidential election is in-the-books, and it will be Macron and Le Pen in the second round in a couple of weeks. I did an Election Blog Part 1, to explain a little bit on the election process and the differences with the American system, as well as a view of the candidates. I must say, I'm happy that Macron won, but disappointed that Le Pen made it into the second round. I wasn't shocked, since the polls were showing this anyway, but I was just hoping that Fillon could get a couple more percentage and overtake her in the final voting.
April 20, 2017
This is roughly day 7, so almost a week here. We've been doing a LOT of walking in various areas of the city, trying to look to see where we want to try to find our next apartment. How far away from the markets is it? Is it "dirty"? Does it seem loud? Are there restaurants and bistro's nearby? Boulangerie? We've also started trying out the local gyms to see which we want to join long-term.
So I thought I would give my "first impressions" for both good and bad:
Bad: gyms here are much more expensive and normally don't seem as good. There are gyms this expensive in the Cary area for sure, but there is no "Fitness 19 $7 a month" here anywhere. Meat seems to be more expensive, as does electronics. European showers are terrible (bathtub with the hand-held shower head basically down with the faucet ... you basically either sit in the tub and use the hand shower head .. or you have to hold the shower head between your knees when you need to shampoo/soap up). We are getting used to it, but not really our cup-of-tea.
Good: Fruits and veggies (which we should eat more of) tend to be cheaper. There is alot of energy in the city .. people walking around everywhere. The people here seem to be helpful and will sometimes switch to English (sometimes when we don't want them to because we are trying to use our French). The markets are quite nice .. we've been to a few of them so far (I'll have a Market blog next week). They each have pros and cons, and some are very specialized (organic market in Capitole, or the fresh herb market that we'll try out on Sunday). And you just can't imagine the amazing smell that you get walking around a corner when the magnificant aroma of fresh baked bread hits you from the boulangerie on the street. And they are everywhere, so almost every street, you get that wonderful fresh-bread scent.
April 15, 2017
Our first full day! Today, we checked out of the hotel and got into our first apartment, which we rented for 3 months. It is somewhat of a holiday rental, so fully furnished but with a small kitchenette where you can cook. You can rent the apartments by the week or month. We decided to do this for a couple of reasons. First, we had to have somewhere to live when we went to the Consulate to apply for the visa, and we didn't really want to fly over and spend time here looking for one in advance of that. We had to put down a small deposit but it wasn't too bad if something weird happened and we had to cancel. Also, we didn't want to spend all that much time in a hotel as we wanted to have a kitchen. Three months was a good middle timeframe, which gave us enough time to really get a feel for all of the various parts of the city and determine where we wanted to live more long-term, and then find an apartment to rent. If you are interested, you can go to the details page for our First Day to see pictures of the apartment (also linked under Personal Stuff to the right as the first Toulouse apartment).
April 14, 2017
We've made our trip over, traveling from North Carolina to New Jersey to visit friends and family, and then to catch our flight from Newark to Toulouse, via Lisbon Portugal. Everything went quite smoothly except for one minor hiccup, that we solved fairly quickly. We were able to take time and visit with Susan's brother as well as some in Tom's family (his father, brother, and one sister). We were discussing whether this blog page should contain all of the information and pictures, or have a separate page. Susan had a concern that this page would get TOO long, so we opted to have a small summary and then a link to all of the details and pictures. So if you are interested, you can go to the details page for the Trip Over.
April 7, 2017
I happen to be typing this one day early, but Tom and I are now officially RETIRED! My last day actually in the office was Thursday, and it was a real bittersweet day. While I am happy and excited about being retired and moving to France, my friends and colleagues at IBM have been another family for me for almost 28 years. I am very sad to be leaving them, and actually ended up crying most of the way home tonight. We still have a few more things to do, and a few more friends and relatives to meet up with prior to our flight to Toulouse, where we will start the next chapter in our lives.
March 31, 2017
I've officially submitted my resignation from IBM, effective next Friday, April 7th. From there, we take about a week visiting some of our family on our way to Newark Airport, where we catch our 1-way flight to Toulouse, France. We are taking the plunge and relocating there for our retirement. We've figured that we should go ahead and retire while we are fairly young and healthy, so that we can really enjoy things while we still are able to. Relocating to France is an interesting thing, as there are lots of things to take care of. I'll be blogging about our travels, but also just life as a retired Expat living in France and everything there is associated with that. I hope you enjoy!
March 25, 2017
I've attempted to redesign our website to make certain things easier to find. Along the right, I have put all of our City travels sorted by city so that it is easier to find if you are looking for a given place. I also have a separate page that separates them by country as well. Then here, I'll be adding more of a blog. I've somewhat played with Wordpress and other real "blog" spaces but they didn't really give me a good way to have my city archives, so I've decided to just make my own blog area.
Last Updated: Oct 8th, 2017
**Disclaimer: In the pages linked below, I do copy information on the cities/buildings, etc directly from sources such as Wikipedia and tourist information websites.
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