Tom and Susan's 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: June 19th, 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.
Archives by City