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Archive for the ‘French Things’ Category

The great thing about where we live now is the easy accessibility to many places of interest including Annecy.

I had never been to Annecy before and had heard great things. I know there is quite an expat community there and normally expats are drawn to touristy type places. Even my Mum (Grandma Piglet) knew about Annecy and had been hankering to visit it for the last couple of years, but when we were living in Lyon the long drive and battle with traffic to leave the city was off-putting for everyone.

My image of Annecy was mainly of the lake. I am drawn to lakes (water in general) so this had been my focus point, my reason to want to visit. The lake (Lac d’Annecy) is nearly 15 km’s long and 3.5 km’s wide. It is surrounded by mountains and is the second largest glacier lake in France, after nearby Lac de Bourget (near Aix les Bains).

The decision to go to Annecy was last minute. BabyPiglet had slept pretty much through the night and I had awoken that morning with plenty of energy, a rare occurrence. So I suggested to my parents and Mr Piglet that we make hay whilst the sun shines (this expression has a lot of truth in the countryside I have discovered) and head to Annecy.

Because of the last minute decision we didn’t get chance to research and we all piled into our little C4, BabyPiglet included. Thankfully we were only in the car for 45 mins before we arrived as we were squashed in like sardines!

Upon arrival in Annecy, our first thoughts were deception. Grandma Piglet began to wonder if she had imagined all the nice things she had read. The buildings were new, the architecture mediocre. As we sat in a traffic jam waiting to enter a car park we were all quite glum, no-one fancied walking around a commercial centre.

We parked easily and left the car park the opposite way to which we entered it and we were greated with Annecy’s fabulousness. It was like how I imagine Venice!

Arrival in Annecy - one of the first views we had

Medieval buildings rising out of the water, a canal like passage running through the street. All that were missing were the gondolas. The streets were buzzing with tourists and brocanteurs – an antiques fair was in full swing with ice cream eating tourists swarming around the stalls like bees around the honey pot.

Annecy - view from the lake edge

Annecy - walking along the water's edge

The outing was our first trip out with BabyPiglet so we were anxious to be comfortable and ensure she didn’t get hot, tired or hungry. Not easy for new parents with a small baby! Pretty much as soon as we arrived we stopped off at a small restaurant adjacent to the water and overlooking some really picturesque buildings. On the other side of the water canal was a hairdressers shop – we wondered how anyone could access it to have their cut.

After lunch we carried on walking around for a while, but I soon became achey and wanted to rest again. By this point we had arrived at the Lake and had spotted THE tourist trap – tour boats! Mr Piglet had passed his river and coastal boat license last year so that we never had to go on these boats again, but seeing the water, the boats and knowing that we could go on one there and then I was like a kid. A few quick checks with the company re-assured me that there was a shaded area and that we could get the pram onboard so off we set! Baby Piglet’s first boat trip!

The Tour Boat

The trip itself was a bit of a downer, the boat was packed and Baby Piglet became a tourist attraction herself. If I’d asked for a Euro for every time someone peeked over at her I would have probably have had enough to rent a private boat for a few hours. I was delighted though as she was totally unfazed about being on water as opposed to dry land and was quiet and relaxed throughout the tour.

Baby Piglet on the boat

Next time we'll rent one of these

If I win the Euromillions you may find me living around here

Afterwards, we decided it was time to head back to the car before she got tired and grumpy – the dreaded feeding marathon was approaching. Every evening from about 6pm she feeds non-stop stocking up for the night. It’s hard work but the reward is well worth it – uninterrupted night sleep for her and me!

On the walk back we couldn’t resist stopping off at one of the hundreds of ice cream parlors and each having an ice cream. There are ice cream parlors everywhere in Annecy, it was amazing. I had never seen anywhere in France with so many ice creams! Definitely not a place to go when you’re on a diet!

Once back at the car we were all tired and pleased to be on the road back to the house. Mr Piglet informed us that we’d only visited part of Annecy and that we still had the shopping area left to visit. It wasn’t possible to visit that area on the same day as we’d run out of time so we will have to plan another trip back next time my parents are over.

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Little Miss Piglet

The clock is ticking and Little Miss Piglet could be here any day soon! I’m in full blown nesting mode which is really hard when you’re not in your own home. I have re-arranged parts of the in-laws house, scrubbed the floors and the bathrooms, dragged Mr Piglet to IKEA at 8am on Saturday morning to buy furniture and ironed countless baby clothes, burp clothes and bits and pieces without setting fire to anything.

There’s no way now that we have any chance in being our own home (even if rented) by the time Little Miss Piglet arrives, so we have resolved ourselves to making the best of a bad situation. I’ve also had to wave goodbye to giving birth in the birthing centre I had chosen in Lyon and on Sunday we went to check out the hospital in Valence. Thank goodness we did as I wouldn’t have fancied trying to find the birthing suites when in active labour, especially as it is 45 minutes drive from where we’re staying in rural Provence!

I’ve taken great pleasure today in arranging all Little Miss Piglet’s 0-3 month clothes in her new wardrobe which we bought from IKEA on Saturday. I just hope she loves clothes as much as her Mummy!

Contractions have been coming regularly now and are getting more and more painful. A crazy midwife whom I visited last week for a check up called me an adventurer (if only she knew the half of it!) and said that it could be any time now, everything is ready. She also said that Little Miss Piglet is BIG – boy, I’m worried now…

Last night was a full moon and they’re supposed to cause an increased possibility of labour in the following days and according to my biorhythm chart I should give birth on Wednesday or Thursday this week:

Biorhythm on my ownBiorhythm with Mr Piglet

I doubt I’ll be able to blog when it happens as internet access from my phone is not great, but if you’re on Twitter and want to follow progress I’ve created a hashtag #babypiglet which you can follow for updates. Simply search #babypiglet on the Twitter search and you’ll get my latest tweets! Maybe it’ll be a live labour, who knows!

 

The House

The house, the house… where to start? Yesterday we were supposed to complete on the purchase and today we were supposed to move in, obviously we haven’t otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this!

We’ve not had any official news from our notary since the devastating call we received and we can only deem him as being absolutely useless! I am at despair as to what to do about him but we’ve decided for our own sanity to seek information directly from concerned parties in the meantime.

I was so fed up of not having any news last week that I rung the estate agent and vendors notary directly, seeking clarification on what was going on as I was in despair at the thought of not knowing anything until May 15th. It transpires that our notary had grossly exaggerated the gravity of the situation and that whilst the SAFER had used their right of pre-emption it was on behalf of a local farmer who claimed to exploit the land. We were told that this isn’t true and that the farmer boy has to prove that he exploits it or has reason to want to exploit it and that he’s not after the house anyway. So it may be that we can find a compromise!

As we’re beginning to understand what the countryfolk are like, I can bet that he is someone the present owners annoyed and he is now seeking vengeance by trying to mess up their sale! It all sounds so very like a story you’d see on a farmer boy TV show that it has to be that – especially when you take into consideration how awful the current owners are and how they have treated us. If I wasn’t so desperate to buy I’d say it serves them right and is the bad karma they deserve!

I’m keeping my swollen toes and fingers crossed that we’ll have some news after the Easter bank holiday, one way or the other, I’m past the point of caring just as long as we can move on with our lives.

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Mr Piglet and I wish to thank you all for your kind words and support following my post yesterday. We are overwhelmed by the number of messages of support and advice that we have received here, on twitter and via email. Really, it is wonderful to know that you are all there and that good people exist in this world. Thank you so much everyone, you’ve helped us get through the weekend and find some positive energy.

This morning we started off with much higher spirits, determined to find a rental property quickly so that as soon as we got confirmation from the SAFER later this week that the sale is blocked, we could move in and get on with our lives hopefully before Little Miss Piglet makes her grand appearance.

Alas, as I’m beginning to expect now, things are not so simple.

I wish I could just go back here for the next few weeks whilst everything sorts itself out.

First of all, we still can’t find out when the meeting with the SAFER people is. Our notary does not know and the vendor’s notary is closed today. We tried to call the SAFER directly but no luck either. So no further advanced there.

We then started calling the rental properties I’d found on the internet. There are only a handful available so it didn’t take long. Because the size of house we are looking to rent is large and the area rural, they are few and far between so we only had five on the list. The first two places we called were no longer available and then the third place was still available but the guy was totally booked up for visits today and tomorrow and was expecting it to be let within the next few days. He proposed a slot this pm at 4 and Mr Piglet and I were all set to jump in the car and go up and visit but then we spoke to the notary again.

I wanted to check the financial and legal aspect as to where to stood with regards to the sale now that the SAFER are involved and the notary was calling us back to explain. In our panic on Friday we had overlooked this and didn’t really know exactly what our position was but before committing to a rental property I wanted to be sure as we can ill afford to lose our deposit money or pay for two removals right now.

I should have guessed that it was time for another BOMBSHELL! The SAFER have until May 15th to decide what to do reference the sale, so whatever the outcome of the meeting this week, it could be a month before they make a final decision and we get official confirmation whether or not we can still buy. Until we know that, we’re not really at liberty to commit to a rental place so we’re stuck in limbo.

We have loosely considered getting a gite with internet access this morning which we could move into immediately, but right now I don’t think I could stomach a move to another “temporary” place with furniture that isn’t mine. What’s more, with the Easter school holidays, a two bedroom gite is well over 1500 Euros per month sometimes far more, if we can find something available…

So, for the time being, at least for the next two weeks we’ve decided to stay put, I’m going to concentrate on keeping calm and we’re going to go to a nearby spa for a few days to relax.

Hopefully things will become clearer in before Little Miss Piglet is born, but right now, we’re stuck “living in limbo”.

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Our bad luck has continued and words have betrayed me ever since the latest news in the house saga came in on Friday morning. Since the bad news came in, I have not been able to stop crying, teary fits of hysteria have become common place and I feel like a butterfly floating around with no-where to go. I will be 38 weeks pregnant as of tomorrow. I don’t think I have ever been at this level of desperation and I am clutching at the ropes right now.

Friday started pretty well, a gorgeous sunny morning with record breaking temperatures. I’d planned to spend the day relaxing on the terrace, soaking up some rays and reading the baby books I’d purchased. Fairly early on though, I could see that Mr Piglet was agitated and was trying to come to terms with something. He had one of those looks on his face and was flitting around, trying to occupy himself, as if he wanted to tell me something but couldn’t bring himself to do it. After nearly 12 years together I can pretty much read him like a book so I suggested that he tell me whatever he needed to say and I promised I wouldn’t hit him.

As it turned out, I could have killed someone but he wasn’t to be the one and I am still working out who it will have to be today. Our notaire had called to advise us that the purchase of the property wouldn’t be able to complete on the 18th April after all. The SAFER had utilized their right of pre-emption on the land and property and had forcefully stopped the sale and purchase going through!

What on earth is this all about you’re probably wondering? Well, the SAFER is a French government, supposedly non-profit organization whose job it is to preserve the French countryside and look out for agricultures interests. As part of its role, it can stop a sale going through if there is someone with an agricultural interest in the property or land that is being sold.

Each time a property with agricultural land is being sold the SAFER must be notified. You can pay (or as Fly from “French Leave” put it “bribe”) the SAFER to treat your request quicker than normal as we did by writing a cheque (for a couple of hundred Euros BTW) and supposedly get a quicker response, or you can wait two months for them to come back to you and find out whether or not they want to buy instead.

For most property purchase this is just a formality, a piece of paper that you have to obtain, just like obtaining the piece of paper from the Town Hall regarding their right to pre-empt. Never in a million years did anyone expect the SAFER to utilize their right and to put an end to the sale!

As the notaire tried to explain to a devastated Mr Piglet, the SAFER had (at the very, very last minute) notified the vendors notaire that they would be putting a stop to the sale as they had a “paysan” (farmer) who wanted to buy. The notaire explained to Mr Piglet that they could impose a lower sales price on the vendors, forcefully stopping the sale of the property to us and if the vendors weren’t in agreement then the case would have to be presented to the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) and it would be up to them to decide. Being familiar with the French legal system (I have had a business court case that has been going on for nearly five years now), this spelt things out pretty clear to us: we were in the s**t!

The land in question


According to our notaire there is a meeting next week between the SAFER and the vendors and we will try and attend also with legal representation as we are sure that there is something fishy going on:

1. the property we’re buying has only 1.4 hectares of land (not all of which is considered agricultural) so we cannot see what interest the property truly represents to a farmer or how the land needs to be preserved

2. the immediate surrounding land are all residential

3. the adjacent residential buildings for the most part are all new builds (the small hamlet contains properties from the same era as the farmhouse) but the properties adjacent to the land are all new. This leads one to believe that someone may have their eye on the land for building purposes

4. there was some suspicion back in March as the Town Hall utilized their right to pre-empt the purchase but then quickly withdrew it when it was queried by the vendors notary. No-one knows the exact reason they gave (as they didn’t give one!) which is fishy as now it’s been pre-empted again but by the SAFER! Could this be linked to point 3?

Writing this has been quite therapeutic as the facts are in black and white – we are stuffed unless we can prove one way or another that something dodgy is going on and try and fight it. Of course if everything is legitimate then we must also have a plan b so we have two things to work on:

1. Find out when the SAFER meeting is and seek legal representation (a lawyer) urgently. I have told Mr Piglet that I will look after this as I need to have some role in what is going on to make me feel as if I am doing something rather than just sitting back and accepting the crap that is being thrown at me.

2. Find somewhere to live! Little Miss Piglet is due to arrive and we cannot continue living with my in-laws, 2 hours from our friends in Lyon! We need to find alternative accommodation and quickly! Mr Piglet is going to start hunting this week for a rental property that can accommodate us, our furniture and the baby as soon as she arrives. Just what we needed!

So there you have it! The latest saga in our quest to purchase a property in the French countryside and after months and months trying, we’re still not any closer to realizing our dream. Rather off putting isn’t it? Mafia and Barons spring to mind, maybe I’ll write a book when this is all over, who knows…

PS. Buying French property isn’t usually this hard – our first property purchase was easy and took just two months.

PPS.
Find out more about the SAFER here

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Dear French Social Security People,

I know that you have an ever increasing “hole” in your budget and that you have been trying to find solutions for years on how to maintain the French healthcare system and yet save money so to ensure its future sustainability. I know that you have been unsuccessful and that currently you continue to spend far more money than you collect.

I’m not one for great ideas, especially when it comes to saving money (I am very good at spending it), but I do have an idea that could be mutually beneficial and help save you lots and lots of Euros straightaway but also for years to come.

Currently 8 months pregnant, you have been paying for me to have twice weekly back massages at a physiotherapy since Christmas. I’m not sure of the exact price of these massages as you pay for them, but I think they are in the region of 19 Euros each. So far, that must be over 400 Euros and by the time I give birth, you would probably have spent over 500 Euros on them.

The thing is, the massages don’t really help all that much. Yes they relieve some of the pain but it is a short lived solution. You see, with a big pregnant belly, I cannot lie down but have to sit on a chair. Sitting on a chair is one of things that cause me back pain the first place so it is a catch 22 situation.

But, I have the perfect solution which solves my back problem that you’re already paying for, but also covers other issues at the same time. I consider it as a kind of buy one get several solutions idea. I visited a hairdressing salon and they had the most wonderful massage chair at the wash basins. The hairdresser installs you at the wash basin and the chair reclines automatically into a lying down position elevating your legs (excellent for reducing cankles) and then proceeds to massage your back whilst the hairdresser washes your hair and gives you a relaxing head massage.

The back massage is far more comfortable than at the physiotherapists and much more effective. The head massage is excellent for alleviating stress and tension in the shoulders – something that lots of pregnant women suffer from due to the extra weight they carry on their tummy. Elevated legs reduce swollen ankles and improve blood circulation reducing the need to invest in expensive support tights (which you pay for and which I ladder constantly therefore needing new ones). Finally, the pampering of having one’s hair done at the hairdressers is excellent for boosting self esteem and no doubt has a knock on effect in the future probably saving thousands of Euros in therapy costs post partum.

A once weekly visit is much more effective on me than my twice weekly physio visits, thus saving you half of what you’re already paying as well as the other savings I have mentioned above.

Multiply the savings by the number of pregnant women in France (ie lots!) and you’re probably well on your way to fixing that deficit!

Therefore, I highly recommend that you seriously consider implementing this for all pregnant ladies suffering from back pain. If you would like any addresses or if you have any questions please let me know and I would be willing to assist (for a consultancy fee of course).

Yours Faithfully,

PigletinFrance
Currently sans domicile fixe

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Who here pays their electricity and gas bills by automatic direct debit? Did you know that it is likely you are financing the utility companies by doing this?

I’ve always been useless at paying bills, I would open them, put them on my desk, have a couple of really busy days and they’d soon be buried under mountains of paperwork and forgotten about. Fed up with getting reminder letters, I set up direct debits for all of my utilities thinking it was the right thing to do…

Only it wasn’t, I’ve had some astronomical bills come through since and last summer I started paying scrupulous attention to what I was being billed and debited. The thing with direct debit is that because it’s so automatic and doesn’t require much effort we can have a tendency to not pay attention to how much we’re paying.

Since last summer I have been carefully checking our electricity consumption and comparing it to the bill. Each bill I have received since has been erroneous; the first one by about 30 Euros, the second one by 150 Euros and yesterdays bill by 400 Euros! Each time these amounts are debited from my account and I have to call up EDF to get them to correct it! It’s ended up taking me more time to sort out than simply writing a check and it’s always them that owe me money, never the other way round!

Yesterday really took the biscuit though as I was not expecting to be debited more than 700 Euros for my electricity bill as I hadn’t paid attention to the bill when it arrived so was caught rather by surprise.

Thankfully a quick call to EDF resolved the situation without any upset and the lady was really helpful, even suggesting I ask my bank to refuse the direct debit if it had put me in difficulty (not exactly what you want to do when you’re trying to get a French mortgage mind…). I have never come across someone as helpful as she was and I was truly grateful for her for not making things difficult for me. Within 30 minutes I had a corrected bill and credit note (a reimbursement would take 3 weeks and we’ll be moved by then). This is one of my only examples of good customer service in France but it goes to show that it does exist, albeit very rarely.

It appears I’m not the only one to receive high bills from EDF, I read on TF1 about some poor bloke that got stuck with a bill for nearly 60 000 Euros at the beginning of January. The poor guy still hasn’t managed to sort it out with EDF now, so he’s obviously not had quite as much luck as I have.

I can no longer afford to be financing these companies; if I want to invest money in them I’ll buy shares thanks very much! It’s easy for them to get away with debiting and billing what they want and then taking time to rectify, so from now on I’ll be paying all my bills by good old cheque thank you very much!

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Lyon: a beautiful city, shame about some of the people... Photo credit: Piglet in Portugal

Lyon city is fantastic but due to the high density of people living here, you also get a high density of jerks! One of the things I am looking forward to in the countryside is a slower pace of life and hopefully a less “dog eat dog” attitude from fellow inhabitants.

I had two encounters last week that made me desperately happy to be leaving city life, although of course, I do realize that jerks are everywhere but I really do seem to be living in jerk central currently!

Jerk 1:Carrefour! Down the road we have a mid sized Carrefour where I often go to do my grocery shopping. I popped in at about 5pm at the end of the week to buy a pack of cheese and the place was absolutely heaving. I dodged all of the trolleys and avoided tripping up over peoples bags and those pull along baskets. Queues at the checkouts were at least 5 people long so I finally made my way to the priority till and proceeded in requesting each person if I could go to the front, signaling my pregnant belly, my one packet of cheese and the fact that I had the correct change in my hand. All was well until I reached the front when I came across a big lady with the fullest shopping trolley you could ever imagine. You name it, she had it in there, it was that full! When I asked her, she curtly said no, I couldn’t go in front of her and that she had a disability card and had as much right as me to be in the queue.

I’m not normally one for quick witty answers, normally they come to me two hours after the occasion has passed, but on this occasion my pregnancy hormones did the trick!

“ah bon?” I quickly retorted “maybe so, but on this occasion I do believe that I am considered to have more of a disability than you, for starters I couldn’t even push that trolley round! Plus I only have a pack of cheese AND I have the correct change, surely it wouldn’t hurt you to wait 30 seconds longer?”

After much encouragement by the other shoppers the lady finally caved in and I paid for my cheese and left her to it. I felt a bit guilty afterwards – but the lady didn’t look disabled in anyway so if she truly did have a disability then it may not have been obvious to the eye, but surely if she could push that big heavy trolley around she could wait 30 seconds longer?

Jerk 2:Driving back from Carrefour, I had a near accident which could have wiped out both me and little miss Piglet. We get lots of greasy haired, self important jerks in the city that drive large cars and consider themselves superior to everyone else and that the world revolves around them and them uniquely. They are the type of people that park in disabled spots, outside my garage door or that try and run you down on a zebra crossing. They talk loudly into their mobile phones and never turn up at an appointment on time. They don’t consider it necessary to queue in banks or at cash points and can often be seen with trophy wives. Unfortunately this was an encounter with one of them.

I was driving calmly straight on when I had a green light, when suddenly I had to swerve and miss a huge BMW 6 series that was aiming itself at my door! I was absolutely petrified and my heart was going ten to the dozen as I swerved to miss him, leaving me in the middle of a busy road at a standstill, heart thumping as I narrowly avoided being run into. On closer inspection I saw that not only was he holding his mobile phone to his ear but he was also smoking a cigarette! He must have thought he had super powers to be able to drive a car as well… He seemed totally oblivious to the accident he had nearly caused and didn’t even have the courtesy to stop or hold his hand up to apologise.

I wonder what countryside jerks will be like? Tractor bust ups perhaps?

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