Venturing out

Against what was beginning to seem like truly all odds, life in France has begun to return to something vaguely resembling “normal.” After more than six months of lockdown, May 19th was the first day of dĂ©confinement, and folks here have wasted no time at all in rediscovering all of the things that make Paris Paris.

Dani and I are certainly no exception 😅

I can only speak for myself, but things had been pretty bleak since about February. The novelty of living in Paris (even in lockdown) and beginning a brand new job had helped keep my spirits up through the first couple of months of confinement, but once cases really began to climb at the end of January and into early February, resulting in a 6 PM curfew, things got tough. I was not in a great space mental health-wise, so when May 19th rolled around, I was more than ready to reintegrate.

That very first day, we practically ran around the corner to have lunch on the terrace of La Belle Equipe, a restaurant that we’d enjoyed getting takeout from during confinement, and we were so excited to finally have the chance to actually sit there and have a meal. And honestly? It was like nothing had even happened – the restaurant was full and bustling, and the servers were dashing about as if it had only been six hours since their last sit-down service, and not six months. At one point the skies opened up and it began to pour rain, but the weather didn’t even phase us – we were just so damn happy to finally be free!

Since then, we’ve been filling our weekends with as much as we can, whether it’s a trip to a museum

at the MusĂ©e d’Orsay

a lunch with friends in the suburbs

Post-lunch cheese platter (none for me, the cheese hater). Unfortunately this was the only photo I managed to take all day!

or even a short trip outside of Paris:

For years, each time we’ve come to Paris, our friend Liz has insisted that we simply must make time to visit Giverny and see Claude Monet’s gardens. We had never managed to make time for it; not for lack of interest, but it just seemed like a hassle, and we’ve always had such limited time in Paris that it was hard to justify leaving it for a day.

Well, now that we live here, we figured there’d be no better time for a trip to Giverny than a weekend in May before the return of tourists (and when the flowers are all still in bloom). And honestly? We couldn’t believe what we had been missing!

We woke up early and took the train from Saint Lazare out to Vernon, a small town just barely within the beginning limits of Normandy. Our original plan was to spend some time poking about Vernon before catching the shuttle over to Giverny, but given that the shuttle was a bit expensive (ten euros round trip, per person!) and we had the time and energy to spare, we decided to walk the one hour and fifteen minutes from Vernon to the Fondation Claude Monet.

It turned out to be a great decision – the walk took us along the Seine, where there was plenty of greenery, flowers, and cute houses to gawk at. There was even a nature trail that let us get off the main road for a bit.

Once we arrived in Giverny, it was like walking into a fairy tale village. Old stone houses with painted shutters and stone walls covered in roses and ivy…it was as if we’d wandered directly into one of Monet’s paintings.

To say nothing of the gardens themselves! The entire property – the house, the grounds, the cows moo-ing in the field just beyond the famous bassin aux nymphĂ©as – was magnificient.

A must-visit, no doubt about it.

We topped it all off with a lazy late lunch (complete with frosty glasses of rosĂ©) in a cute little courtyard before catching the shuttle back to Vernon. On the train ride back to Paris, we marveled at our newfound freedom and the instant attitude adjustment that comes with simply spending some time outdoors and away from the city. We’re both very much looking forward to taking more little trips like this throughout the summer!

Spring in France

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been six months since we moved to France and began this new adventure. An entire half year already; it truly feels like just yesterday that we arrived, and yet the days in perpetual lockdown can seem so long…it’s funny how that works.

Since there’s nothing much to report in terms of fun new cultural discoveries, here’s a photo dump of Paris in the springtime.

We’re lucky that the weather has (mostly) been nice enough to spend lots of time outside, taking long walks. Before the latest round of lockdown restrictions that came at the end of March, we were even able to sneak in a small day trip down to Fontainebleau, a small town about an hour south of Paris. There’s an enormous chĂąteau there in the middle of the town, and a huge park/forest to explore. I was too busy enjoying the weather to take any photos, but luckily for me Dani is good at documenting these things.

Lucie has also been enjoying the sunshine. Our apartment, while bright, does not get a ton of direct sunbeams, much to the consternation of our sun-worshipping pup. However, she’s recently discovered that our window ledge does get some sun for a short while in the afternoon, so she quickly got over her fear of the ledge and is now back to begging to be let out, and then back in, and then back out, about 30 times a day. (I hesitate to call it a balcony, because it’s not really, even though we can squeeze two small stools out there and pretend we’re on a terrace.)

Unfortunately for her, the direct sun doesn’t last for that long, which means she has to get creative.

My office reopened at the beginning of 2021 to welcome back a limited capacity of workers. We’re each allowed to go to the office one day a week (though not required, since we are a “remote first” company). While I enjoy remote work and truly don’t mind hanging out at home most of the time, I’ve been taking advantage of the one day a week rule and braving the metro up to the 19th arrondissement so I can get out of the house and, you know, see real people on occasion.

Dani’s position with Duolingo is fully remote with no option right now for office access (since their only European presence is in Berlin) but once the COVID situation calms down a bit she might be able to find a nice coworking space. For now, working from home full time doesn’t seem to be a bother.

Here are a few photos of my office:

Normal, quoi.

My commute is a bit longer than I’d like (~1 hour) but I do make it a little harder on myself since I try to minimize my time on public transportation as much as possible; that means about 45 minutes of that hour is actually spent walking, so I only have to use one metro line. But it’s a good way to get my steps in and catch up on some podcasts, so I don’t particularly mind ; plus, it beats having to wake up at 5 AM so that I could get to work by 6:45, which was my typical day as a teacher. I admit that it’s really nice to have a more “traditional” 9-5 job that I can leave at the office when I’m done. My anxiety has decreased exponentially – no more “Sunday scaries” or late nights grading, lesson planning, or worrying about what’s going to happen the next day. I feel much, much more balanced and healthy, mentally and physically.

That’s it for now! We’re looking forward to the next couple of weeks when there should hopefully be a lightening of lockdown restrictions. The latest round has not been particularly successful, as cases remain high (we’re on a plateau of about 35,000 new cases per day) and vaccination remains slow, but it seems like the French government has decided to adopt a “live with it” attitude for the time being. People are very, very tired of lockdown, and it’s been a nightmare for the cultural sector in particular, which has been entirely closed since the end of October.

Hopefully the progressive reopening doesn’t result in a new explosion of cases, and that the vaccination campaign will start to pick up more speed so that we can have some more interesting things to report!

Gone

Coming back to this little space of mine to keep my sanity in check during this period of total insanity that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Since I have a little bit of extra time on my hands and we’ve been talking about the importance of daily writing in one of my classes, I thought I’d make the attempt even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

Today was day 2 of our official “lockdown”; we’re not quite as shut-in as those in other states or countries, but nevertheless, with all university activity going remote and all “non-essential” businesses shut down, there’s just simply not much else to do but stay home. Dani and I also have the added layer of needing to self-quarantine for two weeks, as we’ve just come back from traveling abroad. While Mexico isn’t a hotbed of coronavirus activity, we spent four days at a resort surrounded by people from all corners of the world and took a total of four flights during our travels. So, better safe than sorry.

If I had to pick a word to characterize the last few days, it would be gone. Everything is just suddenly…gone. The town is empty. The grocery stores look like they’ve been ransacked. There’s no toilet paper, anywhere. Normalcy is gone, and nobody knows when it will be back, if ever.

But there are silver linings to be had as well. These strict measures will hopefully help to “flatten the curve” to keep our health care system from being totally overwhelmed. Carbon emissions are down, which means our planet gets a much-needed break. People are helping each other. This morning I took a live yoga class via Instagram, thanks to a studio in NYC that has moved everything to Instagram (for free) while everyone is stuck at home. Even the instructors appear to be teaching from their apartments. The liquor stores in Pennsylvania are shutting down indefinitely, but they put everything on sale, so I was able to get four bottles of my favorite wine for the price of two normally. It seems trivial, but I’m clinging to the little things.

Still, I can’t help but feel some trepidation and fear of what’s to come. It’s the same feeling I remember in the wake of 9/11, one that I was still too young to fully understand at the time: the feeling that the entire world was about to change, but without any idea of what that new future would look like. Perhaps we can make something good of it.

Odds & Ends

Life has been rolling merrily along here in France. My teaching schedule this semester has been mercifully easy – so easy, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll ever adapt to having a “regular” job again. I only teach one class on Thursday evenings, and then three classes in a row on Fridays, from 8 AM until 2 PM. That’s left plenty of time to explore Lyon, read the MA list, and put in some hours for freelance projects.

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Some of our best moments in March

We’ve not done as much traveling this semester as we would really like (the passage of time has always and will forever follow an academic calendar), mostly due to the dog and Dani’s school schedule which is a bit more punishing than my current five-and-a-half-day-weekend situation. Taking a trip back to the States also set us back a bit financially, as one of those trips was an unpleasant surprise. Spring Break is on the horizon, though – and we’ve got an adventure planned!

Until then, we’ve just been enjoying the little pleasures that come along with living here. The weather has been exceptionally nice, so that has meant lots of afternoon picnics in the park and walks along the river. We try to hit the open air market at least once a week, and enjoy a coffee or a pint on a terrace in the afternoons. I also recently had the pleasure of finally meeting someone in person who I have known for years online; she is part of my personal learning network on Twitter and was in Lyon with students for their spring break. We were able to have dinner together, and it was so nice to finally get to speak with her face-to-face!

Also, just a few days ago we went to our first European soccer match. It was a match between the local team, Olympique Lyonnais, and the football club from Rennes for the “coupe de France” which, as far as I can tell, is the game that decides the best team in France. In an attempt to fill up the stadium, tickets went on sale for only 1 euro! A local friend of ours, knowing that we’ve wanted to make it to a match this year, bought a few and invited us along. Unfortunately, OL lost to Rennes in the last few moments of the match, but it was fun and exciting nonetheless! A few months back Dani bought a ticket package to the last three matches of the women’s World Cup, so we’re looking forward to (hopefully) seeing the United States play at the same stadium in July.

We’ve also settled on a return date to the United States: August 7th. It’s exactly one week shy of the one-year “anniversary” of our arrival in France. I’m trying not to get too down in the dumps about going back home, but it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the countdown. There is still a lot to look forward to in the months to come – we have a TON of travel plans coming up and our best friends are coming to visit in June. I just know that once the “busy” season sets in, as summer begins, that the days and weeks are going to fly by even faster than they have been. So for now, I’m enjoying this “slow” season and trying to soak up as much as I can with the time we have left.

Winter in Europe

The time is passing here much more quickly than we would like, as is evidenced by my lack of posting. I feel like I just wrote about our trip to Krakow (heck, I feel like we just went to Krakow) but here we are, end of January already.

We really enjoyed the Christmas season here. Between the Christmas markets that pop up at the end of November/early December and the FĂȘte des LumiĂšres in Lyon, it felt so much more festive than it normally does at home. The only thing missing was the snow – not that I particularly enjoy snow, but I did miss it during the holidays. Though I have to admit, it’s been really nice to be able to spend the season walking on (mostly) dry streets and in temperatures that have rarely descended below freezing.

 

We kicked off winter with a trip “up North” to visit our friend, CĂ©lia. We spent the weekend snuggling her new baby boy, visiting the Christmas market in MontbĂ©liard (seriously impressive) and gorging ourselves on raclette and crĂȘpes.

The weekend after was the FĂȘte des LumiĂšres, a yearly celebration where the entire city is lit up by various light displays and installations. Even though it was a “meh” year, according to our local friends, we were still sufficiently marveled. The atmosphere was just so nice…for four nights, everyone was outside exploring the city, and just about every cafĂ©, store, and restaurant in town had a small table set up outside to serve vin chaud and other snacks to help keep everyone warm while they took in the sights.

Dani’s parents came to visit on Christmas. They spent two weeks with us; one week at our place in Lyon, and then we took off on an adventure to Paris (obviously) and Annecy, a small-ish city in the Alps. It was absolutely freezing cold in Annecy but ho-ly crap I could not have cared less – what a charming place. The mountains! The lake! The food!

Since they left, we’ve been hunkered down in Lyon, just enjoying the day-to-day. We moved apartments in mid-December and have been so glad to have a space that’s just for us. It’s tiny, but it’s perfect for the two of us and Lucie.

We have some fun travel plans coming up in the next few months, and I do want to re-cap a couple of other things from Krakow that we really enjoyed, now that my teaching schedule has been greatly reduced and I have the time to do more writing.

Daily Life

It’s been a minute since my last update, but life went a little crazy once the semester started! Then the next thing I knew, six weeks had gone by and here we are, halfway through the first semester with Christmas quickly approaching. We’ve started to settle in to life in Lyon…there are still a few kinks left to work out, but so far we’ve just been enjoying ourselves and lamenting how quickly the time’s been passing.

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our neighborhood

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the roman ruins just up the street from our place

Dani’s been keeping occupied with her French classes, which she has for a few hours each day. She’s been also working remotely for her former boss in Michigan; finding a job in France is super challenging, even moreso if you don’t really speak any French, but for now she’s plenty busy. I currently teach seven classes per week, down from the NINE I originally had for the first month of the semester. My students range in abilities from A2 (beginners) to C1 (advanced), and each class that I teach lasts nearly two hours. The curriculum for each course has already been designed by another teacher; we’re invited to put our own spin on things, but thankfully I don’t have to create anything from scratch. I don’t know how I’ll go back to teaching high school after being relatively spoiled prep-wise at both Penn State and Lyon 2. This semester I only teach on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which means I have time to pursue other projects (freelance, reading the Master’s list, play with the dog) on Thursdays and Fridays. I am not-so-secretly hoping for a similar schedule in the spring, but I don’t think I’ll be so lucky!

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the view from our current apartment

Other than that, we’ve just been enjoying living in a city once again. There is no shortage of great places to eat and drink, or things to do and see, so our weekends are normally full. We’ve instituted a weekly “Wine Wednesday” tradition, which involves mostly finding a bar or a restaurant to have a glass of wine (or beer) and perhaps a couple of snacks, so that we can enjoy as many different places as possible during our time here. Luckily for us, the concept of “happy hour” is alive and extremely well in Lyon! If we don’t go to an actual bar, we’ll usually opt for something al fresco next to one of the two rivers than run through the city. The weather has been so good that we’ve been trying to soak up as much outside time as possible, before it turns gray, rainy and cold.

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the campus of the university where Dani takes classes; I teach at technically the same university, but a different (and MUCH less photogenic) campus

Lucie has been adjusting well, too – lots of new things to sniff in a city this size! I think she feels a little cooped up in our current living situation (not a lot of room for her to roam freely) but other than that, she’s been enjoying the freedoms that come with being a dog in France. Unlike in the US dogs are permitted basically everywhere here, with a few exceptions – it’s not uncommon to see a dog on the floor at a restaurant, or running through the aisles at a grocery store.

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weekend open-air markets

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the banks of the Rhone

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velo’v, the city bike sharing system

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a rare glimpse of fall leaves at Parc de la TĂȘte d’Or

A Year in France: the FAQ

So, if you’ve been following along on social media, you’ve no doubt seen that we’ve been preparing for a trip abroad. There’s been no “formal” announcement, but as most of our friends and family know (and those who’ve been reading closely), this particular trip will last…about one year! Last October I was offered the opportunity to participate in my department’s international teaching exchange in Lyon, France; it’s always been a goal of mine to get back to France at some point, and at this stage of our lives – no kids, we’re not homeowners, not tied down by any one job – it just seemed like the right moment.

That said, we weren’t certain it would actually be happening until about two weeks before our scheduled departure date, as there was some drama with my visa application. Thankfully it all worked out for the best and we were able to leave as planned, with no delays or rescheduled flights or any of the other nightmare scenarios that ran through my head every night from May until…last Tuesday, when we were sitting at the airport and waiting for our flight to Paris.

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We made it down to Lyon yesterday afternoon after an unintentionally busy week in Paris and are just starting to settle in. Now that I have a little more free time to write, I thought I’d take a minute to address some of the questions that have kept popping up as we’ve told people about our new adventure!

Wait…what? You moved to France? Why?

Yep! Well, kind of – for a year. The university where I am doing my graduate work offers two year-long teaching exchanges in France – one in Strasbourg and one in Lyon. We happened to visit both cities in 2015 and we preferred Lyon (zero shade to Strasbourg though, which is a lovely place) and so when the time came, I applied to participate in the Lyon exchange.

What are you teaching?

Not French! For the first time in my career, I will be teaching English! My target audience is French university students. I’m not sure what variety of English classes I’ll be teaching just yet, but these exchanges usually involve helping students with their speaking.

Are you taking classes, too?

No. Participating in the exchange puts my degree progress on hold for one year, so this does not count toward my Master’s degree. I am expected to return to Pennsylvania at the end of my year in France to finish up my degree.

What will Dani do?

Dani is also here in France! Bringing her along made the process a little more challenging than it otherwise would have been, as we had to figure out a way to get her legally into the country for a year, but luckily she was able to sign up for some classes and obtain a student visa. She didn’t have any super solid things going on in Pennsylvania that she felt she couldn’t walk away from, and has always wanted to live abroad (though Australia, not France, would probably have been her target country if it were up to her) so…why not? Her plan is to take French classes during the week and do some remote work to make ends meet, and eat as many croissants as she can cram into her body.

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At the airport, waiting for her first flight!

What about Lucie?

Moving a dog to a foreign country for a year seems like a crazy idea, and we briefly considered leaving her in Michigan with her Nana and Puppa (Dani’s parents), but we just couldn’t do it. She’s a part of our family and we really hated the idea of being apart from her for so long, so we began the process of getting the paperwork in order to bring her to France. Luckily, France is pretty lenient – so lenient, in fact, that the border agent didn’t even ask to SEE the paperwork that we had to drive 2 hours to East Lansing to have endorsed by the USDA – and as long as she’s microchipped and up to date on her vaccinations, she’s good to go and doesn’t have to spend any time in quarantine. It made our initial travel arrangements a bit more expensive, as we had to find a direct flight to France; normally we don’t mind flights with layovers and flying through Dublin is pretty cheap, but as Lucie is not allowed into the UK or Ireland and entry regulations can vary from country to country within the EU, we thought it best to fly direct. She was a champ on the flight and on the train and has so far been adapting to life very well as a city dog!

What did you do with all of your stuff?

Dani’s parents are saints and helped us pack up and move most of our stuff from Pennsylvania back to Michigan (despite having just done the opposite trip a year prior), so most of it is currently living in their house. We did purge a TON, however, which felt really great.

Have you found a place to live?

We have! We were lucky enough to secure a place before we left the States, which we had hoped to do, but knew that the odds weren’t particularly in our favor. The rental market in Lyon is crazy – it moves quickly, and requires a ton of documents that are challenging for us to provide, particularly when it comes to income. Most landlords in Lyon require a French guarantor, who must also provide copies of their work contract, three most recent pay slips, three most recent tax returns, bank account verification…it’s really mind-boggling. Though we wanted to have our own place, we ended up finding an apartment with some roommates. The place is HUGE and is smack in the center of Lyon, with an amazing view and a rooftop terrace. It’s only been a day so it’s really too early to tell how it’s all going to turn out, but so far so good – both girls have been super welcoming and kind, and Lucie and the cat (“Mouette” is her name – it means seagull) have gotten along well.

That should cover it for now – we hope to post here regularly, so that we can keep everyone updated on our adventure in France. We can’t wait to see what unfolds!

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The view of Lyon from the terrace of our new place.

The Life List

  1. Learn the piano (like, for real this time).
  2. Learn how to garden successfully.
  3. Live abroad for more than just one year.
  4. Live in NYC again.
  5. Get a Master’s degree.
  6. Get published.
  7. Learn how to make fancy coffee drinks, barista-style.
  8. Own a historic home that is at least 100 years old.
  9. Run a whole 5k without stopping.
  10. Visit South America.
  11. Go on an African safari.
  12. Visit India and Nepal.
  13. Learn a third language.
  14. Write a book.
  15. Work in the tourism industry, perhaps as a tour guide or in student travel/study abroad.