Saturday, January 17, 2015

First week in Europe: Recap

It's been just a smidge over a week since I landed in France, to begin my ~11 month residency, so I thought I would post a quick recap of the impressions and thoughts I've had so far. I actually spent 6 days in Hamburg, Germany, visiting my sister's family, so I don't have many thoughts on the expat life in France...yet. However, I think the initial experiences I've had might be somewhat interesting. Food for thought, perhaps!

In Geneva

1) Je suis Charlie - The terrorist attack in Paris on the office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has been front and center since I arrived. The attack took place the day before I left the US, and when I landed in Lyon two days later, two of the suspects were still at large. Of course, everyone is united in grief and solidarity for the victims of the attacks; there are "Je suis Charlie" signs up in business windows here in Grenoble, the servers at a restaurant in Hamburg wore the phrase on their shirts, and there have been massive marches in Paris in support of the victims. When I first heard about the "Je suis Charlie" movement, I was behind it too - boo, terrorists!! amirite?? - but it turns out that was a very simplistic view of the issue. Now I'm hearing it framed as a freedom of speech issue, which is turning out to be a bit problematic for many people. The main issue, as I understand it, is the double standards afforded in regards to freedom of speech in this country and, to some degree, in much of the rest of Europe. For example, how is Charlie Hebdo's offensive content different from "hate speech," which 54 people not related to the attacks were arrested for? Or what does it mean when world leaders march together in Paris, while in their own countries certain speech is restricted? It's a complicated issue, and I don't claim to be able to explain (or even understand) it fully, but it has been quite the backdrop for my arrival.

2) Apartment search - The day I landed, Alex picked me up and we hit the ground running, visiting 4 apartments in Lyon that afternoon. We decided to apply for one in the 6th arrondisement, and surprise! We were accepted! I'll have photos later, natch, but for now I can tell you that it's a small townhouse-like apartment with two bedrooms, a bathtub (yesssss!), and even a tiny yard for the puppy dog. It's also close to the Charpennes metro stop, grocery stores, and within a 30 minute walk to the Parc de la Tête d'Or. I'm very excited and will have more info on Monday when we talk with the estate agent. The interesting thing about renting in France is that you must provide your own appliances. Yup - we get a sink and a water heater and that's it! So our shopping list includes a refrigerator, stove/oven, and washing machine... In addition to all the furniture we need.

3) Hamburg-Geneva, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Ride-Sharing - This is an interesting tale. We flew from Geneva to Hamburg on Sunday and got a ride to the airport from Alex's dad. On the way back on Friday, however, we weren't so lucky, and had to find a way back to Grenoble from Geneva on our own. There is a bus service that we could take, but the tickets would have been 90 Euros for both of us. No thanks!! So instead, Alex pulled up a ride-sharing site,, and looked for a ride for us from Geneva to Grenoble. We found someone leaving Geneva a couple hours after we landed (at around 3 pm), which wasn't ideal, but the total was only 25 Euros, so we booked it. We had to meet this guy at CERN, yes THAT CERN, the one that's going to create a black hole if they're not careful, because he was headed home to Grenoble and wasn't done with work until 5:15.
Yup, I was there

So we figured out how to take the Y bus from the airport to the CERN stop - a 30 minute ride that cost about 6 Euros each - before waiting outside of "Building 33" for our ride. The gentleman pulled up in his Prius and we all hopped in. We were stuck in traffic trying to get out of Geneva for at least an hour - no, I am not exaggerating - and you know what? I just happened to notice that we drove RIGHT PAST THE GENEVA AIRPORT. We had just taken a pointless, 12 Euro, waste-of-time round trip to CERN and back. Plus it was raining (see picture at bus stop) so I was also damp. We ended up getting dropped off at a bus stop outside of Grenoble around 7:45 that evening, waiting in the cold rain, until Alex's angel of a father appeared and picked us up. As you can imagine, I was thrilled. Oh, and did I mention that I already had a cold that began in Hamburg? So, after about 9 hours of travel that was only 1 1/2 hours of flight time, and involved way too much time lugging suitcases through the rain, I decided that I had better get used to not having a car of my own. Oh, and did I mention that Lyon has an airport of its own? #grateful #itsthesmallthings

4) Shampoo vs. conditioner - On a note so light it just might float away, I discovered that I don't need to use conditioner here. I don't know if the water is just super soft or what, but shampoo alone makes my hair soft and smooth. #thanksFrance

So there's the first 10 days in a very small nutshell. I'll continue to keep you posted!

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