Friday, December 25, 2009

One month in Lyon!

It’s been a month today that my four Cat Babies and I arrived in Lyon. It’s been a month of beauty, wonderful new experiences, great ‘new’ friends, fantastic food, learning about wine in France, the cheese, the chocolate, and so much more... plus some difficulties and challenges.

Lyon is a beautiful ‘town’! I find it hard to think of it as a city. It is really not that big and with it being so easy and quick to get from one place to another with the public transport, it truly feels rather small. My favorite areas are vieux Lyon, la colline de Fourvière with it’s magnificent basilica, and the areas on the banks of the two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône. Walking through the cobble stone streets of Lyon, popping in and out of interesting little shops, sipping coffee in cosy little restaurants, enjoying lunch or dinner in one of the traditional restaurants, of which many are owned by a husband and wife team, are just some of the many pleasures here. The restaurant owners are often eager to tell you their story, and when you go back to the same restaurant a second, third... time, you are treated like ‘old friends’.

The markets here offer an extraordinary experience! This morning I went to St Jean Cathedral for the Christmas Mass... more about that another time. Anyway, afterwards I went for a walk on the right-bank of the Saône and I stumbled upon a flower market. It was amazing! I can’t believe that one can find such a variety of beautiful flowers even in winter.

Before I left South Africa, I wondered what I would do with regard to vegetables in France... being vegetarian and it being winter over here. Pas de souci! One finds the freshest’, ‘tastiest’, most beautiful looking vegetables partout: at the markets, in the super markets, in small vegetable shops around every corner...

Now to tell you a little about the chocolateries and boulangeries/ pâtisseries. Oh my goodness this is terrible... they are everywhere and the one offers more beautiful looking and more tempting, edible works of art than the other. That is what they are... edible works of art! But the tastes...! Can’t describe this, sorry... you won’t understand, you have to taste it to believe it!

Now to try and tell you about the challenges of settling in in France. Well it works more or less like this: You need a French bank account to rent a permanent apartment, for which you have to sign a rental contract for three years. It doesn’t help to have an international euro account, it needs to be a French bank account. You also need three months of electricity bills with your name and address on them and proof that you have regularly paid the rent of your previous accommodation for at least three months and in certain instances even for longer. Or you have to find someone who will undertake (sign a contract) that they will pay your rent if you don’t. This person is called a guarantor and this person in turn has to proof that he/she can pay his/her own rent, as well as yours.   Obviously if you’ve just moved here none of the above is possible. 

So, with regard to accommodation, over to plan B. Rent a furnished apartment for which it is only possible to sign a rental contract for at the longest, three months, because of tax implications for the owner.

About opening a bank account, As I’ve said you need three months of electricity bills with your name and address on them and proof that you have regularly paid the rent of your previous accommodation for at least three months... I’ve been trying for three weeks now opening an account and still without success. The bank sent a letter via la Poste delivered by the facteur, to my temporary address. I had to sign a carte that I’ve received this letter, which the facteur kept to return to the bank. This was supposed to proof that I really had a place to stay in Lyon. When I went to confirm that the account was activated and to fetch my carte bleu, I was told that before they finally activate my account, they first want to see my carte de sejour. Mmmm! For my carte de sejour I need a permanent address!!!!! Which I can’t get now because... well, as I've explained above...

I’m in the process of organising my carte de sejour at the Préfecture in Lyon, for which they decided that my temporary address will do, but my birth certificate won’t work. They need a different one from the one I have.  This I had to request from the South African Embassy in Paris and will take, I've been told, at least 14 weeks to arrive, because it has to be requested from the Department of Internal Affairs in South Africa. In addition I have to have my birth certificate, the unacceptable one, and my divorce certificate translated into French by an accredited translator. All of this was in addition to a list of documents I needed that was given to me upon my first visit to the Préfecture.  It goes without saying that I took all these documents with upon my second visit. Yet, the previous person I spoke to forgot to tell me about the birth certificate and the divorce certificate that had to translated.  I was number 197 in the queue and there were 52 people before me. Luckily you can leave and return later, which I did. I went to have lunch on the island (Presqu'ile) and discovered yet another very pleasant little restaurant owned by an Italian couple! 

All of this I have to tell you happens within an atmosphere of ‘over’-competence, rather than ‘in’competence! Each person I spoke to within all of the above processes had been very friendly, most ‘helpful’, very serious, very eloquent and rather diligent!

I’m proud to say that all of the above had to be negotiated in French!

In conclusion: thanks to the owners of the first apartment I rented in rue Moncey, until two days ago, I found solutions to some of the challenges. I became good friends with Roger et Dominique Micallef. They are wonderfully kind and interesting people. Through them I met so many other people and learnt a lot about how things function here in France. They were Angel sent!

On 19 January I’ll be moving into a very nice apartment in a really pleasant and interesting area. It’s close to all forms of transport, lots of little restaurants, interesting shops, including a big music shop, boulangeries, chocolateries, etc. This apartment belongs to a friend of Roger and Dominique. I really look forward moving there. Time-wise, everything worked out perfectly, because my shipment should arrive just about 20 January.

With regard to cultural activities and opportunities, I will write about these another time. I can already write a very comprehensive book just with regard to what I experienced within one month and just in Lyon... the rest of France awaits. With the transport being so efficient it is very easy to attend events also in other towns and cities. There are some amazing concerts, exhibitions and shows coming up. The one thing I’ve learnt very quickly here though is that you have to book well in advance! ... this pertains even to the smaller concerts and shows!

I am really happy in France... in Lyon! This feels even more like home than I have anticipated!

Joyeux Noël à tous!

Mikki
Please remember that my old e-mail address doesn’t work anymore. My new address is mikkiflute@gmail.com