Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My new place

When we arrived in Lyon, my new company put us up in this long-stay hotel thing called appartcity. It had a small kitchenette, a nice sized bathroom, a couch that folded out into a bed, and a small flatscreen tv I could plug my xbox into. It wasn't bad, and not excessively expensive, but it was small. I arrived here two weeks before my wife did, and I thought the place was cozy, but livable until I found a more permanent place.

When my wife arrived and we started grocery shopping for two and suddenly had twice as much stuff--the apartment also suddenly became chokingly tight. As if the lack of space wasn't enough reason, we also found out from the french government that we needed a permanent address to progress our visa status (which originally expired January 4th, 2009), and with the Christmas and New Years holiday period coming up, we were suddenly tight on the apartment hunting time too.

Compared to the US, finding an apartment in Lyon sucks. I've never lived in US cities like New York or Chicago, where I hear it can be equally crazy, but here it is like buying a house in housing boom days in the States. As far as I can tell, there are no apartment complexes in France. All apartments are simply individually owned units that the owner rents out thru a management agency. Finding an apartment means searching the listings of the 5,000 different management agencies, or just cruising around town looking for "for rent" signs.

Once you find one you may like, then the real work begins. You have to call the agency to either setup an appointment, if they are willing to meet you there or have an open house planned (yes, the good apartments get open houses). Otherwise you have to go to the agency, pick up the key and security code, go to the apartment, check it out yourself (with nobody to ask questions), and return the key the agency. If you are lucky a single agency might have two apartments you wish to visit, so at least you can get two keys at once. Oh and agencies are only open monday-friday, something like 10-6 with at least an hour for lunch. Like most people, I work monday-friday 10-7ish (with at least 2 hours for lunch :-)), so this left most of the apartment hunting to George.

Unfurnished apartments in Lyon are really unfurnished--no stove, no refrigerator, no cabinets, and rarely any closets. Just a sink in the room that is supposed to be the kitchen and a coupe other rooms. The bathrooms, of course, are furnished with a tub, sink and toilet, and sometimes a bidet! We really didn't want to have to buy a fridge and stove, and all that so we wanted an apartment that at least had an "American Kitchen" (that's what they kitchens with appliance and cabinets in them here :-)).

The good apartments go fast. One was rented as soon as George got there to see it, and we saw another late one night, and by time we called the next morning, it was also gone. In the end time constraints and general laziness forced our hand, and we ended up in the ugliest apartment in France. It's not graffiti on the walls, bugs in the kitchen ugly. It's clean, and the neighborhood is awesome, and the layout is cool. It's just ugly.

If you are a fan of the 1950s, or wallpaper in general, you might like the place. You can see it here.

The best thing about our new place though, is it is right across the street from the biggest park in Lyon.

Parc de la tête d'or, park of the golden head, is on the north side of the city, with the Rhône river snaking past it towards the alps. The park is actually bigger than the picture above shows, off to the right of where the picture cuts off is a large zoo, and some playgrounds and sports courts. The zoo is free, and is not separated from the rest of the park by gates or anything, you just walk thru it like the rest of the park. It's quite odd to see rollerbladers, joggers, people walking dogs that are barking at the monkeys, and other things you would never seen in a zoo in the US, but this is France.

Oh, and our place came furnished. We bought a tv, a couple pillows, and some basic silverware and linens, but otherwise we can still fit pretty much everything we own into a few suitcases and a snowboard bag.

I really like our neighborhood as well. Lots of cool architecture, nice shops, wide, tree lined boulevards--it looks to me more like a french city should look than where we lived earlier, which was just plain, characterless apartment blocks next to a shopping mall :-) Our new 'hood is a bit pricey though. The chocolatier down the street had his chocolate on sale for the holidays for just $45 per pound.

Well, I'm off to see if I can find some fireworks or something. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I have internet!

I finally have working high speed internet, and phone, and 180 something channels of cable tv! Funny thing is, except for checking sports scores, and not being able to upload pictures for my blog, I didn't really miss the internet. George however, was going crazy. I'm not sure what she does on the internet, but she can sit for hours with the laptop in front of her browsing and typing.

Communication services (in some aspects) are quite advanced in France, compared to most offers in the US. We have high speed cable internet, cable tv with 180 something channels (including NASN the european ESPN with lots of AMERICAN football and ice hockey), and a land line that lets us call, for free, any land line in France and Europe, and any phone in about 45 other countries (including the USA and Hong Kong). Calling mobile phones in Europe, and calling countries not included in the list of free countries costs alot, but we'll just not do that.

All of the above services are just 50 euros per month, and we have one of the more expensive providers (because it is cable instead of ADSL). These services, of course, make use of VOIP and sometimes even TV over Internet to support such low prices. You can get these services in the US too, with vonage or skype or something, but the big companies don't really support them, and a similar package to what I have here would cost atleast 120 bucks per month in the US.

Mobile phone services, however, are retarded in France. Calling mobile phones always cost more than calling land lines, and calling numbers from mobiles phones can cost more than calling them from a land line, and its not always clear how much. I look forward to lots of surprises on my monthly cell phone bill.

Cell phones do have one positive over the US though. In Europe you only pay for calls you initiate, so other people can call you or text you or send you pictures, or whatever, and it will never cost you a thing.

Now that I have internet, I can upload some pics from around the new 'hood, and of my awesome (ly ugly) apartment. Update coming soon.

Oh, gotta go. V is on (and not V for Vendetta, but V the 1980's alien invasion mini series with Marc Singer). The French love old American TV. I watched Fall Guy the other day!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The fight for internet!

I moved to a new (new to me, built and decorated a few centuries ago) apartment last week, and chose numericable as my internet/phone/cable tv provider. Most people in Lyon have ADSL for their internet, as cable is actually kinda new, and I am lucky enough to live in a part of Lyon that has cable. Cable is much faster than ADSL, and about the same price, so it seemed to be a good choice. And my apartment doesn't have a phone line, and they are quite expensive to install, so Cable I chose.

I had a friend at work help me call to setup my installation appointment and desired services, just to make sure my bad French didn't get me signed up for a bunch of crap I did not want. Everything seemed to go smooth and we had an appointment for Friday. Yay, I will have internet before the holidays. And a phone, so I can call the loved ones.

Friday came and went, and nobody showed up. I called customer service and they asked me for my customer number, which of course I do not have since I am not yet a customer, and so he couldn't help me. He was getting frustrated at my bad French, and I was just frustrated in general, so I gave up on the phone call and decided to visit their office the next day, which was just a few blocks away, and surprisingly open on a Saturday.

Office visit was super smooth. Guy even spoke a bit of English and was cracking jokes. I signed up for internet, phone, cable with the sports channel that shows american football, tivo, all good. Well almost. They were out of tivos, so I had to settle for a normal hd box, and then when they get some new tivos in I can exchange it. okay. We set an appointment for Tuesday.

Tuesday comes, and the guy is actually early. Awesome. Cable guy ran the cable into my house and gives me my cable box and modem. Turns out they were out of HD cable boxes too, so I have the old SD one. That sucks, but oh well. At least I have something.


I have a cable box and a modem now, but... still no internet or cable tv. Some customer services in France are ridiculously bad and unnecessarily complicated--cable is one of them. The technician shows up at your house, drops off the cable box and modem, and then asks if you would like to pay 50 bucks for him to hook it up. hooking up cable boxes and modems is dead simple, you just plug them in and they pretty much work, so I didn't want to pay him 50 bucks for this.

I almost did though, because in the back of my mind I knew that something would not work properly, and it would be best to have him here when it didn't work. but, I am cheap, so I said I would do it myself, and he left as quick as he could.

5 minutes later I had the modem hooked up, and... it didn't work. I hooked the cable box up too just to double check, and it reported the same 0% signal strength. after an hour on the phone (which I am sure they charged me for), we had no resolution, and they need to send the technician back. after the holidays.

Technical service sucks in the USA too, especially trying to resolve anything over the phone, but when a technician is sent to your house, they generally verify the thing they setup actually works. I am still surprised that the tech didn't at least hook the cable box up to make sure it worked--you just plug it in!

I guess its not all bad though. Having no internet forced me to go to the library to use their internet and I picked up a couple books while I was there, so I'll have some good reading over the holidays. Plus all this complaining over the phone has greatly improved my French! Once I get this month's bill, I'm sure I will improve my swear word vocabulary too.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas.

Joyeux Noël, Numericable!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

La Fête des Lumières

The Festival of Lights takes place every year in Lyon on the days leading up to December
8th--the day of the actual holiday. The residents of Lyon place candles in their windows on this day to express gratitude to the Virgin Mary for sparing them from the plague (or maybe it has something to do with good weather, I've heard different stories). Regardless of the original intent, like all good modern holidays, it has been elongated and enlarged to get more people to spend more money. And it was quite cool.

Normal Christmas type lights, and of course the lights in the windows, are common, but also in a few key areas of Lyon, really extravagant light shows are erected. Interesting decorations and lights around popular statues, beautiful light patterns projected on older buildings, and even "movies" projected across buildings. And I don't mean movies like Super Troopers or the Matrix, but cool animations that match the existing shape and contours of the building, and are quite amazing to watch. All of the decorations were cool.

Like all good festivals, there was also lots of good food and drink. Vin chaud, wine mixed with cinnamon and apples and heated, seems to be the preferred drink of the night. It was cold, so I definitely understand why this drink is so popular, and I had a few cups to warm the bones.

This festival is quite popular, and the place was packed. Compared to Seattle, Lyon generally seems overcrowded, but this was like Disney Land crowded. I brought my good camera and my tripod, so I could get good long exposure night shots, and every shot had about 150 people walking thru my picture and bumping my tripod. I got a few good shots though, so to see more pics click here.