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!