Thursday, January 27, 2011


Ailbhe and I were sitting outside on the steps of the nearby church this afternoon, watching the trams come and go, and looking out for a man laden down with IKEA bags. Ailbhe had a little basket with her. "Maybe someone will come and put some money in my basket" she said to me. "Really?" I asked (as I do). "Yes, people do that you know, one time Grandad gave money to a man in Waterloo."

I know we are very dressed down by French standards, and particularly so today, since Ailbhe was wearing tights with nothing over them (we had a long battle about it but she was adamant) but at least no one mistook us for panhandlers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Success at last

We have the keys to a rental house at last. In fact, we have many keys to a house, 6 in total (outside gate, garage, front door, door from garage, one to open the mailbox from the street, one to open the mailbox from the yard).

The more keys the better, we are very security consience.

The house is small, one room downstairs, which is the kitchen and sitting room combined, and 3 bedrooms upstairs. I think it will work well for us. The kids say they love it and were ready to sleep there tonight despite the fact that there's no furniture.

Connell is going to IKEA tomorrow with a long list. You can rent vans at IKEA to drive your furniture home, so no IKEA wine for Connell tomorrow.

The house is close to Fiacra's school. Ailbhe will have to move schools but she doesn't mind. It will be great to have them both at the same location.

Finian is 6 Months Old

Finian is 6 months old today. Fiacra and I tried hard all day to get a photo of him smiling. Fiacra would make him laugh but as soon as he saw the camera, his lovely laugh would turn to this:

Eventually we called in the big guns (Daddy) and recorded a smile.

Finian now has his two front top teeth which surprised us last week. He can roll over even when wearing his boots and bar. He likes nothing better than being manhandled by his brother and sister.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Telephone Harassment

For the last week, Fiona has sent me a load of texts telling me to phone the rental agent to see how our attempt to rent the latest house was progressing. That's the first harassment.

Eventually, I would cave in and phone. My French is still weak and I find it particularly hard to communicate over the phone. This was the second harassment. I feel bad for the poor lady. Every day, my calls to gain information went like this:

Me: C'est Mr. McCluskey.

Receptionist: Le blah, le blah, le blah.

Me: D'accord. (Okay.)

I would then be transferred to the rental agent.

Me: C'est Mr. McCluskey.

Rental agent: Le blah, le blah, le blah.

Me: Je ne comprends pas. (I don't understand.)

Rental agent: Le blah, le blah, le blah.

Me: Je ne comprends pas.

Rental agent: Le blah, le blah, le blah et puis je vais vous rappeler. (... and then I will call you back.)

Me: Je ne comprends pas.

Rental agent: Le blah, le blah, le blah et puis je vais vous rappeler. (... and then I will call you back.)

Me: D'accord. (Okay.)

And then I would call Fiona to tell her what I learned - which would lead to more harassment.

After today's call, my understanding is that we will meet at the house to be rented tomorrow afternoon to sign a rental contract. I hope I'm right because I'm tired of calling her to say that I can't understand her.

Keep your fingers crossed.


On Friday afternoon, Connell and I were downtown and bought scooters for the kids. They won't have bikes here so scooters seem like the next best thing. They fold up easily so fit under the stroller for taking the tram. We see lots of kids with these scooters. 

Happy kids.

We didn't buy them helmets as we weren't sure which size. Ailbhe refused to scoot outside without one. So Connell and Ailbhe went shopping on Monday at lunch. There are now exactly two scooting kids in France with helmets.

We took advantage of the nice weather and the kids' long lunch break today, and all took a turn with the scooters.

"Dad, can I have a turn"

"Dad, my turn"

"Dad, come back"



Saturday, January 22, 2011


We have found another place to recommend: Saint-Émilion. We drove there today in less than an hour. If you visit with kids, then you should go for the day. If you visit without kids, then you should stay for a couple of nights.


It is a medieval village in the heart of a famous wine region. It is not a reconstructed medieval village with people in costume. It is a village that for the most part looks like it was built a few hundred years ago. And the main industry is selling wine. Most of the shops in town seem to be wine shops.

Sign in a shop window

The town is also famous for macaroons, a type of cookie. Very yummy.

Most of a macaroon

Additionally, there is Tour de Roy which, unfortunately was closed today. Most of the restaurants were on holiday until the middle of February and the tower was joining them on this.

Tour de Roy

The village is built on a limestone outcropping. One consequence of this is that it is hilly. And since it is a medieval village, a lot of the roads are rough cobblestones - not very stroller-friendly.

Our lunch spot

In spite of many things being closed, it was still fantastic to see. We'll go back again - after the middle of February.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rental update

Well we didn't get the apartment but we have been led to believe we have the nicer house. Our application alone wasn't enough to convince them. Since we are not paying tax in France, if we leave without paying rent, they can't track us down. They seem a little obsessed with us leaving without paying rent, I think they missed the whole Canadian aspect. Do that many French people really run out on the rent? Anyway, Julian to the rescue again, this time with his sister-in-law who is an MD, so highly regarded in France. His sister-in-law (whom we have never met) has signed a form stating that she will cover the rent if we take off. With this form, they have agreed to rent us the house. We should get the keys early next week.

As tenants, we have to get property insurance for the house. We are on the losing side here, in Canada as house owners, we get the property insurance, in France as renters, we get the property insurance, hmmmmmm.

I am so glad we have found somewhere to live but will be happier once we actually have the keys. The IKEA challenge is back on.

The Wombles

Anyone remember the Wombles from their childhood? I sure do. When we were in Ireland over Christmas, we were picking out books to leave with my parents for bedtime stories for Fiacra and Ailbhe after Connell and I had left for France. I saw a whole set of Wombles books in the bookstore. Bloomsbury has re-released these fantastic books which were written in the early 1970's.

The Wombles live in a burrow under Wimbleton common. They pick up and recycle all the rubbish left by Human Beings. Wombles choose their names from Great Uncle Bulgaria's atlas as soon as they are old enough to leave Miss Adelaide's Womblegarten and start tidy-up duty.

We have just finished reading "The Wombles at Work". Fiacra and Ailbhe loved it.

We have a little friend in Canada who has Womble tendencies, right Addie.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This time we took pictures.

We went back to Tour Pey-Berland on Sunday.  Last week, Fiacra Ailbhe and I climbed 184 steps to the first viewing platform and didn't think to take any pictures.  Fiacra was determined to go back and get to the top: 231 steps.

Tour Pey-Berland

The tower was built to hold the bells for the cathedral next door.  It was built as a separate structure so that the vibrations from the bells wouldn't damage the cathedral.

The cathedral as seen from the ground.

The cathedral as seen from the top of the tower.

Two gargoyles spotted at the top.

Boy spotted at the top.

Ninja spotted on the way down.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Still almost living in France

Connell and I have been busy looking for somewhere to live. We now have three good possibilities, two houses and an apartment. We submitted our application for one of the houses today, will submit for the second house tomorrow and for the apartment on Thursday. Here's what is contained in our rental application:
  • Passports
  • RIB from the bank
  • Connell's tax form from 2009 and 2010
  • Connell's last 3 payslips
  • Letter from Connell's university in Canada stating he is a permanent member of staff, that he will be receiving his full salary for 2011 and that he will be spending 2011 at the university in Bordeaux
  • Letter from the university in Bordeaux stating that Connell will be spending 2011 here
  • Letter from the hotel saying that we are fully paid up
  • The rental agreement for our house in Canada which we have rented out for the year
  • A character reference from Julien, Connell's friend who is conveniently French

Hopefully we will be approved for all 3 and will then be able to choose. The apartment is in the historic center of Bordeaux which is beautiful but the kids would both need to move schools. Both houses are close to Fiacra's school, Ailbhe would move to the Ecole Maternelle at Fiacra's school.

We are stopping looking now and assuming that we will get at least one of these, fingers crossed.

Connell and I were talking about the various pros and cons of each at lunch today, Fiacra was listening and suddenly burst out with "Maybe we'll get all three, then we can live in one and sell the other two". Sounds good to me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Canadian life in France?

At the end of this year, I hope that we are living a semblance of a French life, rather than attempting to maintain our Canadian life in France. To this end we have some questions for the French people -

  1. What do you eat for breakfast? Do you actually eat chocolate cereal, the only kind which seems to be available?
  2. What do you do at the weekend? We were out and about all weekend, around town and in parks, and we didn't see very many kids.
  3. When moving from one rental house to another, do you actually remove all light fixtures and take them with you? Most of the houses we have looked at so far have not had light fixtures, or any kitchen appliances, or even in some cases any kitchen cupboards.
  4. Why do all doors open inwards? Besides front doors of houses, all doors in both Ireland and Canada open outwards, I am assuming this is the case because I attempt to open every door here by pulling outwards. I have even said to Connell "That's odd, it's closed but the listed hours show it should be open." That's closed as in inward opening.
For some reason, Connell is reluctant to ask these questions to his colleagues at work.

I think we will gain a window to French life through the kids. Each time we go to a patisserie, Ailbhe says "I want to try something I haven't had before". Today she picked a large donut shaped sweet bread which had a gold paper crown wrapped around it, for the 4 of us to share. As I was breaking it into pieces, Ailbhe asks "Do you think there's a toy in it?" Next break, what is sticking out? A toy of course, or possibly a small porcelain religious choking hazard icon. Turns out Ailbhe had this bread at school on Friday. Looking closer at the toy and combining it with the gold crown, I think it's one of the 3 wise men and the bread is for the Epiphany. See, we are making inroads to French life already.

Epiphany bread minus choking hazard.

Lessons from big brother

What is Fiacra doing here?

Teaching Finian to punch of course.

Enter a bit of sanity, that's better.

The Crazies - Week One

The kids have finished a week in school and it seemed to go fine. Both have settled in and made friends. Fiacra was playing freeze-tag at playtime one day, just like he does in Canada. I asked Fiacra what he had learned this week, "I learned to work hard, that's what I learned" was his answer. I think his teacher is fairly strict.

There are some definite differences from what they are used to in school in Ontario. A difference for Fiacra is that he is learning to write script rather than print, which I think they do later in Ontario. Math seems to be at pretty much the same level, simple addition and subtraction, which is "easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy" according to Fiacra.

Ailbhe's class seems to do less here than the Ontario equivalent. So when Ailbhe gets home from school, she gets down to work, insisting I give her a spelling test.

Once we get a bit more settled, i.e. actually find somewhere to live, and have to pay less attention to staying sane in a hotel room, I will work on their English reading with them.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Housing Problems

Renting a house in France is harder than we thought. Initially, the problems were related to not having a French bank account. However, you can't open a French bank account unless you have a permanent French address. That Catch-22 was solved last week, by getting a letter from the rental agency to show to the bank to get them to bend their rules. But we have to return to the bank with proper documentation of an address - a utility bill in our name would do the job.

Recently, we learned that we didn't get the house that we thought we would. Because we are being paid by companies in Canada, instead of France, we look dodgy to the insurance company. The reason an insurance company is involved is that they would cover the rent if we took off in the middle of the night. The owner could waive this insurance clause, but won't.

So now we are looking again, having wasted a bunch of time thinking it was all settled. We want to look in the same area because the kids have already started school, but there doesn't seem to be a lot on the market right now.


While the coffee here certainly is tasty and we do enjoy sitting outside for coffee in January, I am seriously questioning the caffeine content of French coffee. Connell felt the same for the first few days but now seems to have adjusted. Clearly one of us is more committed to our coffee addiction than the other.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

First Trip to IKEA

Our kids are in school from 9-12 and 2-5 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. (We could have them stay for lunch and eat in the school canteen, but this hasn't been organized yet. And 9-5 in a language they don't understand is a bit much for the first week.) A 3 hour block isn't enough time to get from the schools to IKEA, do some shopping and get back to the schools again.

So, we went to IKEA on Wednesday when there was no school. It would be a family outing. We would have lunch and supper there. The kids could take a turn in the play room for an hour and we could get a lot done then. Maybe they would go back for a second hour.

Getting there wasn't too bad. The tram leaves from outside our hotel - yes we are still in the hotel. We took the tram to the end of the line. Then took a bus for a while. Then we got out and walked through parking lots and across big streets for 20 minutes (with kids starting to go wild) until we got there.

The playroom has the biggest ball pit I've ever seen, but it turns out that the kids can only stay for 45 minutes at a time.

We rushed through part of the store, loading up and writing down notes about beds and such that I would come back for on another trip. Then we got the kids and went to the restaurant for a snack. The restaurant was a bit of zoo - a tightly packed zoo. And two of the wilder animals were in our little group.

Then we went back to shop some more. It turns out the kids can only go into the playroom for one visit per day. It also turns out that IKEA is a miserable place to be when your kids really need to be running around a park. A few tantrums later (my tantrums), we had grabbed as much as we could to carry and went back to the restaurant for supper.

In true French fashion, they only serve supper at supper time. That is, after 7:00pm - not any old time that some Canadians come by looking for supper. On the positive side, they'll serve wine at any time of day. That's right, in French IKEAs you can buy wine - by the bottle, glass, small carafe or big carafe.

A little while later, our poorly nourished family had bought 270 Euros worth of supplies (no furniture, though) and headed for home. We avoided most of the parking lots, but had to wait an eternity for a bus. We got off at the wrong tram line and had to take two trams - but this turned out to be a little faster. The trams were jammed full of people to the point that you would never want to be there with 3 kids, 1 stroller, 2 backpacks and 4 large bags full of loot from IKEA. But at least the restaurant served wine.

Exhausted, we finally made it home to our tiny hotel room.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First day of school

Fiacra and Ailbhe started school yesterday. Ailbhe was eager to go in the morning, Fiacra not so much. We heard many times "I don't want to go to school". We used the baby step approach each time he said this, "okay, but let's just get dressed", "okay, but let's just have breakfast", "okay, but let's just brush our teeth", "okay, but let's just get our shoes and jackets on", and finally as we are approaching the school "okay, but it's the law that 6 year olds go to school" and in we go.

Ailbhe is in Ecole Maternelle which is for 3-5 year olds. There are 3 classes, la petite, la moyenne, la grande. We think she is in la moyenne. Fiacra is in the first class of Ecole Elementaire. Their daily schedule is the same. School from 9 - 12, lunch from 12 - 2, and school again from 2 - 5. No school on Wednesdays. There is both a morning and afternoon break time for outside play. For lunch, kids can stay in school or go home. All schools have a canteen, the amount you pay for lunch depends on the parents' salary but the maximum is 2.70 euros (about $3.50 Canadian). Fiacra and Ailbhe are coming home for lunch, at least for now.

I was a bit worried that the schools would be less controlled here than in Canada but not at all. The playgrounds are fully enclosed. At Fiacra's school, the door opens at 8:50, the kids say goodbye at the door and go through the school to the playground. The bell rings at 9 and the kids line up outside their classrooms. Same procedure at 1:50.

Yesterday morning, Fiacra's teacher met us at the door and brought us to see his classroom. She told me (in French) that she does speak English but wouldn't be to Fiacra. She also said that there is a boy from New Zealand in his class. First smile from Fiacra since arriving at the school. She then told me to leave and showed Fiacra the way to the playground to wait with everyone else.

Fiacra wasn't thrilled about it but did go back in the afternoon without too much complaint and went this morning with almost none, once he had verified that tomorrow is indeed Wednesday and he won't have to go to school.

We thought that this week Ailbhe would just go to school in the mornings and build up to the whole day but no, Ailbhe, as usual, has her own plan. She announced at lunch that she would be returning to school in the afternoon. And she did.

Fiacra's one interesting thing from his day, as told at dinner, he had made some friends, one of them showed him an older boy spitting, it took Fiacra a while to understand what he was saying but eventually did or at least thinks he did.

Ailbhe's one interesting thing from her day, her teacher is also the principal of the school.

Fiacra and Finian on the way to school.

After school, still smiling, in relief I think.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sights Around Town

After a few days of sorting out the details of our new life (schools, bank, renting a house), we went out on the weekend to show the kids some of the neat stuff in town. Here is a two-story merry-go-round. It was built in 1900.

All day, Ailbhe didn't want her picture taken. But she couldn't resist running in and stopping in front of the camera as I was about to take a picture of her brother:

Next is a local ninja practising his skills on top of some local art in front of local 500 year old gate.

This is part of a huge fountain at the bottom of a huge tower. No water in it in January, though.

We climbed 184 steps in the tower below to get to the first viewing platform. (Another 47 steps would have gotten us to the upper platform.) Then about 30 steps from the bottom we saw someone on their way up with a camera in-hand. After a quick vote (which was not unanimous) we decided not to go back up to take a picture ourselves. A 4 year old can only do so many stairs.

Below is the cathedral. Or, if you are between 4 and 6 years old: below is a few pigeons that you can chase:

The pictures don't do Bordeaux justice. It is beautiful. But be careful about the ninjas.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The joy of a hotel room for 5 people

We are currently staying in a hotel apartment, essentially a large room with a tiny kitchen, two single beds, and a double bed and a crib in a small alcove.

Tonight Finian was asleep in his crib, Fiacra and Ailbhe were settled in their beds and about to fall asleep, I was on the computer, and Connell was reading his book. The lights were mostly off. Connell got up to replenish our wine glasses.

And out of the darkness came


We are being policed by a 6 year old. Can I add that it was 8:25pm!!!! Are we ready to move into a house? I would say so.

The IKEA Challenge

Can we furnish a 3 bedroom house for 5 people entirely from IKEA for 1500 Euros or less?

What we have somewhere in our 8 massive bags -
  • A mixing bowl
  • 3 sharp knives
  • A muffin pan
  • A loaf pan
  • A mini whisk
  • A bodum
  • A towel each
  • 2 dish cloths
  • Baby blankets

What is in the house -
  • microwave
  • fridge
  • stove top

What we need from IKEA - everything else including oven, dishwasher (we may not end up getting this), kitchen table and chairs, pots and pans, tableware, beds, bed linen, couch, book shelves etc.

Can we do it? I sure hope so.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Boarding School

A few days ago, just after arriving in France, I got a cell phone for the first time ever. Before this, I had rarely used a cell and never sent a text. Not even once. Someone had showed me the basic mechanics of it a few years ago. To get a, you press 2. To get b, you press 22. To get c, you press 222. And so on, with the other keys to get the other letters. Nothing to it.

So I thought.

I was heading out to the airport when I received a text. Just reading it took me about half an hour. Above the number keys, there is a little square button that lets you choose up, down, left and right, should the mood strike you. To either side of that is what looks like a single button. In fact each of these buttons is really two smaller buttons, hidden mischievously under a single button pad. It seemed like the phone had no way of actually opening a message - until I realized that I was pushing the wrong spot. Finally, problem solved. Back to doing 2, 22 and 222.

So I thought.

When I was finally starting to answer Fiona's message (asking me where I was), I was about to board the plane. Okay, I thought. I will just text her: boarding. To get the first letter, I pushed 22. After the first 2, I saw the screen flash an a. After 22, I had ca, except that the "c" had a little French cedille hanging off the bottom of it. Not knowing what was going on, I pushed 2 again, and ended up with bac staring back at me. I ignored it and tried to get the rest of my word typed out. So I pushed 66 in order to get the o I needed for boarding. Instead, I saw that my bac grow into bacon. Normally, I'm never upset to see bacon, but this wasn't the time or place for it.

Next I tried to do: b o a r d i n g. Same word, but one letter at a time, with spaces in between. I forget what that gave me but it had nothing to do with getting on a plane.

A couple of hours (and no successful messages) later, I was off the plane and trying again. Eventually, I realized that it was using a version predictive typing (that most of the world probably knows about, but not me) where you just hit the numbers that have the letters you need, and it will figure out what word in the dictionary you want. Except ... since I bought it in France ... it was doing it with a French dictionary.

Luckily, by now I had totally figured out the hidden buttons, and could navigate the menus. A few minutes later, I switched the language and was able to send the message: In London, having supper. It would have been better if my breakthrough was just a little later, as I was getting on my second flight. Then I could have used my original message: boarding.

The Crazies are Here

Connell, Finian, and I came to Bordeaux on Monday to find somewhere to live and to get somewhat settled. On Wednesday Connell flew to Dublin and came back on Thursday with Fiacra and Ailbhe. Suddenly our little hotel apartment seems a lot smaller and louder.

We found a park and playground close to the hotel today and right beside Fiacra's school.

Ailbhe, Fiacra, and Connell caught in a spider's web.

Fiacra, just after throwing a huge pile of leaves at Connell.

Finian slept the whole time.

Getting there - almost living in France

We're getting there.

We have a French bank account and the much sought after RIB (Releve D'Identite Bancaire - essentially a printout of your bank account details which is then used for direct deposits and withdrawals).

We have found a little house to rent and have given all our information to the rental agency, including the RIB, and hopefully will be approved to rent early next week. We had to do a bit of juggling here as the rental agency needed the RIB to let us sign the rental agreement and the bank needed the signed rental agreement in order to give us the RIB. In the end, the rental agency wrote a letter stating what our address would be should we ever get an RIB and the bank accepted this and gave us the RIB.

We have a medical clinic and physiotherapist.

We have registered the kids in school, Ecole Maternelle for Ailbhe, Ecole Elementaire for Fiacra. Both start on Monday.

We both have cell phones. Somehow, we ended up using each other's phones today, Connell's phone is all in English, the cheater!!!

Not bad for 4 days. We haven't really seen much of Bordeaux yet or even drank any Bordeaux yet.  This will be remedied tout de suite, j'espere (actually being remedied right now)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thanks Santa

Santa, with a little help from a friend's granny, brought me a kindle for Christmas. There was no room for books (well no room for books for me, we seem to have fit kids books) in the 8 massive bags we packed but a kindle squeezed in nicely.

I have just finished Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. It takes up where Eat, Pray, Love ended but is really an examination of marriage, the history of marriage and what marriage has meant and now means. I liked Eat, Pray, Love but loved Committed. 

We also read Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn to the kids. This is the first book in the amazing Tumtum and Nutmeg series, we have read all the other books but had missed this one. The kindle is perfect for bedtime chapter book reading.

I have downloaded Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, to start tonight.

I will use the kindle a lot this year. Thanks Santa.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

First visit to a doctor

Finian's chest was still wheezy today after a week of medication. I took him to the doctor's office that someone in the rental agency had recommended.

Correct procedure at medical clinic:

Come in and say a sunny "Bonjour" to toute la monde in the waiting room. Toute la monde replies in same. Sit down and take careful note of all those in the waiting room thus noting place in the queue. Once everyone who was present when you arrived has been seen and the doctor comes out for the next patient, stand up and greet the doctor by warmly shaking his hand. Enter the doctor's office.

Incorrect procedure at medical clinic:

No sunny "Bonjour" to toute la monde. Focused on finding a receptionist and somehow registering, walk straight into the doctor's office where he is seeing a patient. Mumble something in a mixture of French and English and sit down. So embarrass your five month old that he has to spend the next 30 minutes, smiling insanely at everyone. Pay no attention to who was in the waiting room when you arrived and smile nicely each time the doctor comes out and says to just you "please sit", "please stay seated" "please wait" etc. When everyone looks pointedly at you, you know it's your turn. Enter the doctor's office.

Finian still has a chest infection, got a prescription for him and a referral for 3 sessions of physio to loosen the mucous in his chest. I used the correct procedure at the physio clinic.