Archives for April 2013

April in Paris-Jardin du Luxembourg

Finally the trees have green leaves, tulips and flowering shrubs are blooming, and it is much more fun to visit the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens) only about half a mile from our apartment. These are the gardens featured in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables! The 60 acre park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It includes traditional French and English style gardens, an orangery, fruit (hundreds of varieties of apple and pear trees) gardens and hot houses, the latter of which are only open to the public during European Heritage Days, this year, 2013, the 14th and 15th of September. The hot houses contain tropical orchids. The park also features beautiful fountains and about 100 statues. We will visit often as the place is a magical, green haven away from the bustle of the city. Currently the fence surrounding the gardens displays photographs of the Tour de France bicycle race. It is fascinating to see race photos dating back to the 1920’s. Until July 21st the Musée du Luxembourg (museum which is on the park grounds) has an exhibit of Chagall’s art that is on my list of things to see.

The Palais du Luxembourg shown in several of the photos has a long history. It was built in 1615 by Marie du Médicis, mother of King Louis XIII and member of the Médicis family of Florence, Italy. The Palace was a museum forerunner of the Louvre, one time home to Napoleon Bonaparte, Cardinal de Richelieu, and to Hermann Göring during World War II. It was used as a prison during the French Revolution and since has been home to the French Senate (which is not to say that the French Senate is being held in prison).

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Phones in France

Phones in France
When we left for France we really didn’t know how we were going to keep in contact with people in the US or how we would communicate by phone with each other and others in France after we got here. This article describes our rambling, imperfect process. We use Apple’s iPhone, but if you have a different phone, the process with your US and European carrier should be similar. We wanted our friends and business clients in the US to still be able to contact us on our US phones while at the same time be able to use the French mobile phone system to call around France and to provide a more reliable way to reach us should someone really need to do so.

With those goals in mind, and also that to start with we had two US iphones, we decided to keep one and unlock the other to use in Europe. My phone had been in our AT&T plan for long enough to allow unlocking. The linked article from AT&T provides the unlock request form and instructions from Apple regarding unlocking. Basically you need to back up your iPhone just prior to unlocking because you’re going to erase the entire contents of the phone. I unlocked my iphone when we were still in the US.

We had heard about an Iphone application called LIne 2 that could run on Brenda’s still working iphone and have a 2nd phone number set up as a 2nd line. The application is marketed as a way to have both your home phone and business phone on the same line, but it also works in our situation to have both our old cell phone numbers on a single US phone in Europe, with the ability in Line 2 to make IP only calls from that phone to the US and to receive calls and voicemail on both phones still. So to be clear, Brenda’s US cell phone doesn’t work at all over the European cell network, but with Line 2 either of us can use it to call the US for free, and people in the US can call us if we are in a wireless network such as we have at home in Paris.

Our idea with line 2 was to keep both of our US cell phone numbers so that anyone trying to reach us would still be able to at least leave a message that we would receive. To make this work, we decided to port my old cell phone number to line 2 installed on Brenda’s cell phone. Part of the Line 2 set up lets you port a cell phone number from another phone to your phone with Line 2 (rather than just picking a new number that you like). You’ll need your carrier’s permission to transfer the old number, but it was not a problem in our case. If I recall the process took about a week. The other major consideration for using line 2 in Europe is that we needed to forward Brenda’s working US cell phone to the line 2 number (my old cell phone number) prior to leaving the US. You need to tell the US network to forward all calls to the number that can receive calls over ip since the US cell phone can’t connect once you arrive in Europe. We forgot and had to call the US for technical assistance to get this done after arriving here.

So we arrived in Europe with my cell phone unlocked and not working at all, Brenda’s cell phone with line 2 installed and able to call the US over the internet. Both old cell phone numbers could receive messages and sometimes ring Brenda’s phone with calls from the US. When we moved into the Adagio Vincennes apartment hotel, our home for the first month here, we found that the free Internet service was also very slow. It also dropped the Internet connection whenever it was idle for a few minutes. That pretty much messed up our ability to receive phone calls on Line 2. Still people could leave voicemails which would also be emailed to us (as an audio file attachment), so we had a good way to know when people were trying to reach us.We had 2 iphones, 2 ipads, and a laptop computer. Each device could be upgraded to a higher speed internet, but still very slow compared to what we had in our home in the US, for a cost. We didn’t want to upgrade speed on all our devices, and at that point we were still trying to figure out how best to use Line 2 and how to get Brenda’s US number forwarded. So at that point we also got a Skype account.

Skype is free as long as you are talking to a friend computer to computer. Skype also provides very low cost calling to multiple countries from your computer to landlines or mobile phone numbers. To use the free part of Skype, all you do is enter your friend’s Skype name in the application and send a request to them. Once they acknowledge your request the 2 accounts are paired and you can use your computer to contact them. If they see your call and acknowledge on their computer, you can talk with or without video. I opened a Skype pay account for unlimited calling to US landlines and cell phones, but in fact we haven’t needed to use that very much. We use the free part of Skpe to make scheduled calls with family and friends and use line 2 to call voice only for most other needs.

Once we had a French bank account, we were able to convert my old cell phone to a French cell phone. We use the French mobile carrier Orange. For €29/month we have unlimited calling, texting, 2GB of data downloads, music downloads and a bunch of other stuff I don’t use. Most people staying shorter times in France don’t opt for a plan like we did, but instead just get a cheap phone that can purchase blocks of minutes and other options like texting. Orange offers these types of plans too. The Orange store activated my old iPhone by installing a new sim card compatible with their system. Then all I had to do was synchronize my phone with the saved download in my computer and everything from before was restored. Voilà!

As an aside, every time I turn off or reboot my cell phone, the Sim card locks and when the phone next starts up it asks me to enter the unlock code. Below the message to enter the code, it says I have 3 tries remaining. Knowing that my phone would no doubt be turned off again more than 3 times, I was worried how I would make the phone useable after 3 more times. We went to the Orange store, where the sales person explained to me that the message means I have 3 tries to get the code right, not 3 more tries to use the phone before it goes dead. If you fail after 3 tries, there is another code to revive your ability to try entering the code again.

When we moved into our apartment, the landlord provided a landline from Free.com, a French company. Free.com provides Internet, TV, and phone service for one low price, and part of the plan selected by the landlord was unlimited free calling to the US – again that’s an IP phone call. The Internet service is reliable and of comparable speed to what we had in the US – much better than at the hotel. The TV is not so good – it’s hard to connect without rebooting all the devices. We don’t use the land line much because we have so many other ways to call.

IP phone calls are generally great – the audio is as if the person you are speaking with was in the room with you – better than the regular phone. IP phone calls also drop the line unexpectedly so you can plan on occasionally having to reconnect with the other person during phone calls. The last thing is that the French phone carriers are on to all this money they are losing with international IP phone calls, so recently the French Government filed charges against Skype for not being a telephone operator in France. This could throw a monkey wrench into all the IP calling so you need to remain aware of it.

Sunday in the Marais

Yesterday, April 14th was sunny and warm (74 degrees) in Paris- the most enjoyable weather since we arrived at the end of January. Hugh and I spent the afternoon in the Marais, the lively historic, gay, Jewish, Chinese, trendy district full of specialty shops, restaurants and art galleries. It is only a short walk from our apartment. Because it was such a gorgeous day and a Sunday, the neighborhood was teeming with Parisians and tourists. Street musicians, from blues to jazz singers, steel drum and classical piano players to performers with eccentric costumes and instruments entertained us. Tmode was a fabulous exhibit of 95 contemporary artisans who had their jewellery, clothing, bags, shoes, hats etc. for sale. I bought a vintage art blouse from Rose de Fountaine. She kindly agreed to let Hugh take our photo. One must watch out for dog shit on the streets and sidewalks! It is everywhere. Parisians do not believe in picking up after their dogs. So far neither Hugh nor I have stomped in a pile. Oh, fashion trend women with extra tight short shorts paired with tights and high heels. On Sunday I was only able to get a photo of one of the more tame of these outfits-blue jeans shorts with plain black tights. I will get some shots of the wilder versions. Stay tuned.

Getting a French Visa

French visa

You can’t stay in France for more than 3 months without a visa.

Most tourists coming to Paris from the US never have to worry about getting a French Visa, but since 2009, to remain in France for longer than 3 months, you must have the permission of the government. Though we arrived in France in late January, we started the procedure to obtain a Visa early in November, 2012 by making the trip to San Francisco to visit the French Consulate. The French Consulate in Seattle does not process these Visas. The San Francisco Consulate is located close to Union Square, so it’s possible to combine business with pleasure when you go. We made an appointment in October via their web site (the only way you can do it) bought plane tickets and made a hotel reservation, etc.

For that visit we followed their detailed checklist of materials to bring. In our case we were applying for a long stay visitor’s visa, so we needed to present the following items:

1. ID photos – a separate photo is placed in your passport. The French government is particular about the appearance. T&C photo in Poulsbo provided everything we needed, but you’ll want to remember to be sure to bring the requirements along to your photo session.
2. A completed application form
3. Original passport plus copy of the identity pages
4. Status in the US (green card if you are not a citizen).
5. Letter promising not to engage in employment. The French don’t want visitors to be employed because it is very difficult to fire a worker in France, and they don’t want to add additional burdens to their social safety net.
6. Letter of employment in the US stating compensation and earnings.
7. Proof of means of income. Since we could not easily estimate business income, we brought every piece of financial information we had to prove to the Consulate that we would have sufficient funds to remain in France.
8. Proof of medical insurance. They were particular about ensuring that our US coverage also provided coverage in France. Though not necessary for us, we found that there are companies that will provide insurance that provides the necessary coverage.
9. Marriage certificate
10. Proof of accommodation (this meant we needed to have our hotel reservation, which meant that we needed to know our date of departure from the US).
11. Processing fees of $127 per person
12. A residence form with the top part completed. We searched Google until we found a student web site that translated the form so I could complete it correctly.
13. E ticket or reservation confirming the date of departure for France. (So in November before knowing that we had a visa, we had to make all reservations for lodging and travel with a firm arrival date).
14. A self addressed pre-paid express mailing envelope so they could return completed documents to us.

The application procedures made it clear that the Consulate might request additional documentation, that submission of the documents does not guarantee visa approval, and that approval does not guarantee the right to enter in France, which is still subject to immigration control procedures once we arrived. Do you think this was an uncertain time for us?

The visit to the Consulate in San Francisco actually went smoothly. The procedures require you to have a copy of every document but what they do not explain is that they want you to have copies because the Consulate doesn’t want to keep your originals. In our case we had a giant mound of paper including originals and copies of all bank and financial statements and every other document in the list above. The first thing the man at the consulate asked us was “Why so much paper?”. Still we must have done something right because by Wednesday of the next week we had received via snail mail our passports back with French Visa’s. Yes, you must leave your passport at the Consulate!

Now fast forward to a month ago. After we arrived in France it took us about a month to find a permanent residence, and because of the uncertainty of when we would be living where, we delayed our visit to the French Office of Immigration and Integration (called OFII here) until we were living in our apartment. At that point we completed the original residence form returned to us from the Consulate and mailed it (by registered mail with return receipt) to the local OFII office in Paris. Along with the form, we also needed to send copies of our passports including the pages with the stamp when entering France and our visa pages.

A few days later we each received an acknowledgement of receipt of our application forms. Everything was written in French so we had to scramble to interpret the web site and documents. Perhaps a week later I received a letter from the consulate scheduling an appointment, including a physical exam, on April 2nd. There was no letter for Brenda. We didn’t want to call because speaking French to talk about the terminology of our visas would have been difficult for us. Twice we trekked over to the OFII office only to find it closed both times. Finally we decided to just go to my appointment and ask about her at the same time.

April 2nd arrives and I’ve compiled the paperwork needed for my appointment – another passport photo (thanks T&C Photo in Poulsbo!), a copy of a letter from our landlord certifying that we live at our address, and funds to pay the €241 (a little over $300 US) tax for my visa. Funds had to be in the form of stamps, like postage stamps. They are sold at some tobacco shops and online at a government web site. I was wary of using the online purchase since I didn’t know how long it would take to receive by mail and since I don’t have a way to print at home. We decided to visit tobacco shops – there was a list of those who sold tax stamps. An hour or so before my appointment we go to the first tobacco shop on our list – no their stamp machine is broken. We go to another shop – no they don’t have €241 in stamps, but they suggest a government tourism office down the street that might be able to help. We never would have understood this except that we were helped by an English speaking hotel concierge from across the street, who happened to be in the shop. We go there (walking blocks and blocks to all these places, first in the Latin Quarter, then over by Hotel d’Ville) and are able to purchase the stamps. We debate whether to purchase stamps for Brenda too, but decide against it because we don’t yet have her letter.

Then we go to OFII (walking of course – over by the Bastille in an office that looks like a hole in the wall). Perhaps 100 people are lined up outside for a 1330 appointment-I thought I had the only one. There are all nationalities, many Chinese, Africans from various countries, Japanese, Brazilians. Most are students but some are new wives of French citizens (we didn’t see any new husbands) or people coming to work in France. There was one older American couple who seemed to be in our situation-sort of stupefied! The sign on the doors said that OFII wouldn’t reopen after lunch until 1400, so we all just stood around and waited to see what would happen. Eventually there was movement in the line.

A big security guard examines each person’s paperwork as they enter. I explain in poor French to him that Brenda is my husband, and he laughs and lets her in without paperwork. Inside we pass through a reception desk, where I provide my passport photo, passport, and tax stamps. We ask about Brenda’s situation, and the woman processing forms says there’s no time now and we must ask later. We receive directions to go sit in a cramped waiting room, where officials start calling out names and issuing instructions in French – I can’t understand much. I’m shuttled to another waiting room where I eventually am called for a cursory physical. They measure height and weight, take blood pressure, a blood sample, and a chest x-ray, then shuttle me back to the waiting room. Then I am interviewed by a doctor, who pronounces me fit and sends me back to the waiting room. Eventually I receive a letter certifying that I am medically acceptable to remain in France. Then I get back in line at the reception desk, where I receive my Visa sticker certifying that I am OK to remain in France. Voilà!

Meanwhile we don’t yet know about Brenda’s letter. We ask when I am receiving my completed visa and the lady says we’ll just have to call OFII when we get home since they didn’t have any information there to help us. We go downstairs where Brenda asks again at the front desk. The woman there marches us back upstairs, reads the riot act to the woman who told us to go home, reaches down and pulls Brenda’s letter out of a stack sitting next to the lady at her desk. Next thing we know Brenda is getting her physical completed. Once we have everything done we’re back at the reception desk providing passport, photos, etc., so we can complete the process. The woman asks about Brenda’s tax stamps. We don’t have no stinking tax stamps for Brenda! It’s about 10 minutes to closing time when she tells us to run to a tobacco shop just down the street. We rush over there and, guess what, they have lots of tax stamps. We purchase Brenda’s and hustle back just as they are beginning to lock up. The woman upstairs issues Brenda’s completed visa, and we are ecstatic! 3 1/2 hours of fun.

Imagine working in a chaotic office where you process 100 mostly non French speaking people through the visa pipeline every afternoon. Our hats are off to the workers at OFII. An aside, we only had to get the tax stamps because our trip occurred in the interim period before implementation of a new law that requires long stay visa holders such as ourselves to pay the tax at our visit to the consulate in America.

Paris is pricey, but it’s the best city for students

This article from The Local, a French newspaper for English speakers, describes some aspects of what it’s like to be a college student in Paris. The Sorbonne is just up the street from us, we were just standing in the square in front of the Sorbonne (photo in the article) this afternoon. Students interviewed in the article have very favorable things to say about University life in Paris, including price of school, ease of obtaining a visa (we’ll chime in on that in a separate article), quality of school, and what a great place Paris is (what were you expecting).

If you need us we’ll be over at La Crocodile.

Paris is pricey, but its the best city for students – The Local.

Merci beacoup pour la Bonne Journée!

My friend Ali Zeitoun is Egyptian. He speaks Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and English. When he is not traveling the globe he lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has a friend he met in the forest lands of Brazil who moved to Paris about a year ago to marry a Parisian. Ayna speaks Portuguese. Ali arranged a meeting via Facebook between Ayna and her husband and me and Hugh by translating Portuguese to English and back again! When we met José, Ayna, and her son (also named José) we communicated in French! Fortunately for us José Sr. was very patient and able to explain carefully and slowly so that we could understand! Merci beaucoup José, Ayna and José for a wonderful day. They took us to the famous Rue Moufftarde and treated us to the best crèpe in Paris. Then we walked to the nearby  Grande Mosquée de Paris, founded in 1926 as a token of gratitude to the Muslin tirailleurs, 100,000 of whom died in WWI defending against the Germans. Next we were taken to a tea room for hot sweet mint tea and delicious pastries. Our final destination was the famous Les Arènes de Lutèce, an ancient Roman arena where gladiators fought in the 1st century AD.

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Lauren Meyer bonne journée

Hugh, Lauren, and Brenda at dinner at Le Reminet

Hugh, Lauren, and Brenda at dinner at Le Reminet

Late in March we had the opportunity to have dinner here in Paris with Lauren Meyer. She works for a company on Bainbridge Island planning tours like the ones you might receive from your alma mater, “Join us for a 2 weeks on the French Riviera!” or something like that. She said that the Naval Academy and Georgia Tech, both of which send Hugh mailings with these types of travel opportunities, are clients of her company. Lauren was in France doing some advance planning for one of these trips (she was working the whole time), but was able to take a break her last night in town and have dinner with us at Le Reminet, a local restaurant about 50 yards down the street from our apartment. Unfortunately husband Greg didn’t get to make the trip. She sent us a nice note after returning home:

Hi Brenda and Monsieur Ewg,

I am filled with memories of a fun, relaxing evening surrounded by two lovely people in a beautiful room with stone walls and warm light.  Thank you so much for the delicious dinner in Paris. It is tops on the list of moments I enjoyed on my trip to France.  Your home away from home is lovely. I hope you get hours of curling up in that “book nook” with the world’s best view.

Thank you Lauren for taking time from your busy schedule to spend time with us.

Just goes to show that it’s not all work and no play if you have a chance to visit us in Paris.

April Fool’s Day

April Poissons

April Poissons on the door of a local chocolate shop in the Marais

Credit to Wikipedia for the information in this post about April Fool’s Day in Paris. In France as in Belgium and Italy, children and adults traditionally tack paper fishes on each other’s back as a trick and shout “April fish!” (in French. “poisson d’avril!”). Such fish feature prominently on many late 19th to early 20th century French April Fools’ Day postcards. Try this on your boss next April first to see if he/she has a sense of humor.