Running Hyde Park Sneaks Table Decor linens, flowers
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I’m starting to associate Sasha’s birthday with an adrenaline rush! Last year, we went paragliding in Annecy. This year, we all took a flying trapeze lesson!
The Trapeze School of New York is on the banks of the Hudson River at Pier 40. While waiting to jump off your platform, you can take in an amazing 360 degree view: the New York City skyline, the Hudson River and even the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. It’s worth the climb for the view alone! But of course, once you’re up there, you might as well jump. ;)
TSNY’s logo is: Forget fear. Worry about the addiction. And I couldn’t agree more! It was more of a workout than I anticipated. It inspires me to get stronger and leaner — and do this more often. (In London, maybe?)
Plus, flying trapeze goes on my list of sports that I would do for the outfits alone.
So happy to have Dan here with me this week! We got to pal around New York acting like tourists. The 911 Memorial is incredible. Here are a few other fun places we found and loved:
Rosemary’s, 18 Greenwich Ave. (Amazing brunch - order the Eggs in Purgatory)
Blue Ribbon Suishi, 119 Sullivan Street
Dining al fresco on Stone Street / Restaurant Row
Otto pizzeriea, 5th Avenue and 8th Street
Shake Shack, Madison Square Park
Eatily, 200 5th Avenue
Little Prince french bistro, 199 Prince Street
Energy Academy is a sports camp for kids ages 3-16. The camp is located in Bièvres - about a 20 minute drive from La Tour Eiffel. They provide door to door transportation for families in western paris and neighbouring suburbs. Kids can specialise in soccer, tennis or golf — but they will also have the opportunity to swim, jump on trampolines, etc. This is a very active camp - it definitely lives up to its name!
Languages spoken: French and (in theory) English. The website is in both languages and certainly all languages are welcome. But Sasha said they were all French kids, except one girl (who only there one day).
What I loved: Door-to-door transportation is awesome, and in our case, made the whole experience do-able. The driver is also a camp counselor, so he knew the kids (and the kids knew him). He always called when he arrived and never let her out of the van until he saw me on the sidewalk. I also loved that they provided lunch, snacks and water for the kids.
What Sasha loved: She was never bored. They had endless games, sports and activities. She especially loved the trampolines and swimming.
Room for improvement: The website says you can specialize in 2-3 sports: soccer (football), tennis or golf. In actuality, I think it depends on how the numbers play out. Sasha really wanted to play a lot of soccer. But most of the other kids wanted to play tennis. So she played more tennis than she would’ve liked and less soccer than she’d hoped. But she still had a great time!
How to register: Online (in English or French) via their website. It's worth noting that my written communications with the school were in English, but the driver spoke only French.
Overall, thumbs up! We'd do it again!
Looking for rental properties in London? Here are the four websites I use. The first two seem to duplicate each other, but occasionally one will offer a unique listing. Knight Frank has as many short lets as long lets (but the listings are clearly labeled).
Tip: sign up for email alerts to be notified when new properties come on the market in your price range and location.
p.s. Thanks to my friends F and J for telling me about these websites! I'd been stuck on Foxtons for way too long.
p.p.s. Am I missing any other great sites? Leave them below!
This post is part of a series called Q&A Tuesday: French Visas. Our resident expert is Laurence Raybois from Americans Moving to France and Rural France Resources. We want to hear from you! Send me your questions or put them in the comments below. We'll try to get your question answered in an upcoming post.
This month's question:
I read that we can obtain a long-term visa if we have “sufficient funds to live off during your stay.” My question is - what does that actually mean? How much money do we need to have in the bank? We are a family of four and would like to stay for one year.
When applying for a French visa, the notion of “sufficient funds” has some flexibility built into it. In the case of a visitor’s visa, which does not allow its recipient to work in France, the official amount of resources required is currently at 1, 138.17 Euros per person per month for the duration of the visa. Meeting this criterion can be done in a number of ways, including by showing money in the bank, investment or retirement income, or employment in the case of a person who will continue to work from a distance with a US employer.
However, other criteria will come into play. A person who owns a home in France or will be benefitting from another source of free or inexpensive housing will be given more flexibility, and so will a person moving to an inexpensive part of France. Financially speaking, as in many other ways, living in a rural area of Auvergne will be vastly different from living in Paris and will be taken into account. Also, steadiness of income over a long period of time is highly valued, and a history of peaks and valleys in your income will work against you.
On a related note, I occasionally run into people with considerable income or assets who, upon being asked to document their ability to support themselves, are tempted to show it all. I always discourage them from doing so, since wealth is still taboo in French society. Show what you need to show for the purpose of your visa but no more, unless of course you are being specifically asked for it.
Laurence Raybois Consulting © 2015
Hello travelers! I’m so excited to introduce a new monthly series called Q&A Tuesday: French Visas.
As you know, I specialize in helping families plan long stays in France. And although Americans can stay in France for up to 90 days without a visa, some families want to stay even longer.
So for those families who are planning a year-long sabbatical - I’ve got great news! I found an expert to answer your Visa questions.
Laurence Raybois is a consultant who specializes in assisting Americans who want to live in France. She can help you make sense of the many visa options and find the one best suited to your personal and professional circumstances. Laurence contacts French administration on behalf of her clients and provides highly personalized service - even handling the most unusual of tasks! Once, she assisted a client who wanted to bring his two parrots to France!
Laurence has special interest in helping people move to rural France and is also highly skilled in assisting individuals whose profession is regulated in France.
Laurence is a frequent speaker on the themes of Working and Living in France, Teaching English in France and Buying a Home in France, mostly through various chapters of the Alliance Française and the French American Chamber of Commerce. She is the author of Chez Moi: The Foreigner’s Guide to Buying a Home in France.
Welcome to Séjour Travels, Laurence!
Readers - we want to hear from YOU! Not sure which type of Visa to apply for? Trying to make sense of the highly specific, yet completely confusing requirements? Send me your Visa questions or leave them in the comments below. Each month we’ll choose one question to answer here on this blog.
Here’s next week’s question:
I read that we can obtain a long-term visa if we have “sufficient funds to live off during your stay.” My question is - what does that actually mean? How much money do we need to have in the bank? We are a family of four and would like to stay for one year.
Come back next week for the answer!
P.S. Here are a few of my go-to links for French Visa Resources:
Every summer, I pack all my favorite clothes into a suitcase and fly to Europe. I only bring the pieces that I love - no raggedy t-shirts, no ill-fitting jeans, no unflattering sundresses. The same goes for my toiletries, my makeup and all the crap that’s accumulated in my purse. I only bring what is truly useful or beautiful.
That’s one of the unexpected side effects of travel - you weed out the clutter in your life and focus on what’s most important.
I’m long overdue to bring this philosophy into our home. Our closets and cabinets are filled with things we never wear and don’t use. And now that our bathroom projects are finished(!!!!!), I’ve begun the process of editing/purging all the “stuff” cluttering our house. Yesterday I took 9 bags of clothes to Goodwill - and I’m here to tell you - it was so liberating!
So that’s the theme for this Friday’s Links: How to edit your belongings and live more simply... happy purging!
Fewer, Better. I love this company's philosophy so much, I made it my 2015 goal.
Ready to purge your closet? Ask yourself: Does this spark joy?
How to decide which books to keep.
I do this: Admin Mondays
Cut down on unnecessary purchases with this just one question.
72 Zen Habits. But 72? really? 72 is not zen. Let me paraphrase:
1. Identify what's most important to you.
2. Eliminate everything else.
Our Favorite Places and Activities:
Waimai Canyon (hiking trails)
La Pizzetta in Koloa
La Spezia in Koloa for breakfast (mascarpone french toast)
Koloa Mill Ice Cream (The ice cream is good - but the shaved ice is even better! Favorite flavor: Tiger’s Blood)
Josselin's for tapas and sangria (Don’t miss the short ribs and the white wine sangria.)
Merriman’s Fish House
Read this book!
Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes, a collection of essays on the history and culture of Hawaii. She's smart, funny and a regular contributor to This American Life. You can hear her voice as you read the book...
"Anyone who has been to any of the islands for more than fifteen minutes and hasn't heard Iz's cover of "Over the Rainbow" at least five times is not paying attention."
I'm what some (my husband) might call a fair-weather skier. At best.
In my own defense, I'm from Indiana. Until recently, when someone asked "Do you ski?" I assumed they meant water ski. Sliding uncontrollably down an icy hill seems wholly unnatural to me. And not in a hey isn't this a thrilling challenge? sort of way.
Nonetheless, if the sun is shining, the snow is good (and I'm not in the middle of a good book, or the sunday times or have a spa appointment), I might ski a few runs. Mostly to justify a nice lunch with a glass of wine at the lodge.
My husband and kids are the real skiers in the family. Each one of them is on a downhill racing team. Not only that - Dan is wrapping up a full year of Ski the 12, wherein he finds a glacier/mountain/hill/patch of snow to ski down - every single month of the year. Even in August.
Which is what brought us to Cervinia, Italy. A glacier to ski on - and a spa for mama... :)
Links and Contacts:
Horseback Riding: Maneggio estivo a Breuil-Cervinia (Lucia 3497767002 or Barbara 3396474958)
You gotta love an island who’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Vashon Weird.” Locals are an eclectic group of artists, writers, organic farmers and ex-hippies. The island has a decidedly rural feel, but still manages to support a few upscale restaurants and loads of artists collectives. Here are a few of my favorite places and spaces…
Taking the Ferry
WSDOT Ferry Schedule: Crossing time ~ 20 minutes.
One of my favorite things about living in Seattle is the ability to hop on a ferry and get away for the day. And bonus! Ferries don’t make me seasick, like nearly every other boat on the planet. In fact, it's quite the opposite - I love standing on the deck and smelling the salty air. The views of Seattle and the surrounding mountains are gorgeous - particularly on a sunny day.
Vashon Island Coffiee Roasterie: 19529 Vashon Hwy., S.W.
Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie is something of an island institution. Just for fun, see how many “Keep Vashon Weird” bumper stickers you can spot in the parking lot. Order a coffee and a Rosemary Croissant with Sea Salt and ask them to lightly toast it for you. Take your coffee outside, sit on the long red bench and watch the world go by.
Point Robinson Park
Once you’re properly caffeinated, it’s time to head to Point Robinson Park for a stroll along the beach. The lighthouse is the big draw here, but I think the drift wood is much more interesting. Visitors have built little driftwood forts along the beach that my girls would LOVE. (more pictures below)
There are few cute shops in town, but my favorite is Giraffe, which has carefully chosen kitchen linens and household treasures from around the world. The Vashon Bookshop is also worth a visit, as is Country Store and Farm (if you're into that sorta thing).
I’m told that the best Thai food in the Pacific Northwest is Vashon’s own May Kitchen. The store front is so low-key that I walked past it twice before realizing they were closed for lunch. I ended up at The Hardware Store and could not have been happier. Bustling lunch crowd and yummy healthy food.
So hop the ferry and head on over to Vashon for the day! But don't be in a rush: take your time, slow down and wander. Because, as another popular bumper sticker says, "This ain't the mainland."
Most families plan séjours in the spring or summer -- but why not take advantage of the school break and plan a month-long séjour during the Christmas holidays? Your kids might need to miss a few weeks of school, but I bet you could get a "hall pass" from your children's teachers....
Mountaineers from all over the world make their way to Chamonix to experience the largest mountain in Europe. Mont Blanc is 4,810 meters of rock, snow and ice. The enormity and beauty is breathtaking - whether you are skiing down one of the pistes or shopping in the village. Chamonix is one of the most beautiful ski resorts in the world. Stay in the village for easy access to shops and restaurants.
Family Friendly Les Houches
Located about 10 minutes drive from Chamonix, Les Houches is decidedly more traditional and family friendly. A string of hamlets offers a variety of ski-in, ski-out chalets. Imagine waking up on Christmas morning and heading out for a quick ski!
A few properties... and activities for the whole family!
Better late than never, right?
I'm finally getting around to posting some photos from our June trip to the Amazon jungle in Brazil. I'll admit - I was ateensy bit nervous/excited about this part of the trip! Flying in a float plane has been on my bucket list forever - but I generally prefer to sleep in tarantulas-free environments....
We made it! Our group had to take two separate planes to the lodge, so Dan was there to great me when we landed. No big adventures on the first night -- we mostly explored the grounds surrounding the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge...
Watching the sunset over the Amazon gave me one of those "how did I get here?" moments. So beautiful, so remote.
A few hours later, my friends decided to go on a midnight boat ride in search of tarantulas and other nocturnal creatures. There are times in life when you act brave and do things that scare you.
And then there are times when you decide to have a glass of wine and call it a night.
Traveling abroad (or better yet, temporarily relocating) with your kids isn't nearly as stressful as you think it is. In fact, your children will make your experience better: more authentic, more meaningful, more colorful and more social....
You become part of the community.
Your kids are your entrée into “real” French life – school events, play dates, birthday parties, dinner parties, judo lessons, etc. And because of your kids new friends and activities, you will quickly meet people and develop a natural support system.
You have something to talk about.
Kids are the ultimate conversation starter. People aren’t likely to quiz you about your personal life. But they will ask you about your kids: Oh, how old are they? Do they go to school here? Do they like it? Where are you from? Why do they speak French? Suddenly, you’re having a real conversation with someone – in French!
You put yourself out there.
You want your kids to have a good experience, make friends and enjoy school/summer camp. So even though you feel scared and insecure, you put yourself out there. You strike up conversations, schedule play dates and invite families over for dinner.
You keep calm and carry on.
Not every moment of travel is bliss. It’s normal to feel a little nervous or culture-shocked. But as a parent, you know that you can’t fall apart. You know that you need to set an example. So you smile, laugh and explain your way through one teachable moment after another.
And yes, it’s exhausting.
Sometimes you would really rather not go to that play date or dinner party. You’d rather open a bottle of wine and watch the only English-language television channel you’ve got, even if it’s Fox News. But your kids need to make friends and live a normal life. So you will go on that play date and you will struggle through a foreign language and you will live through awkward silences. And before you know it, you’ll have made a few friends of your own.
One of the biggest challenges I had while living abroad was learning how to parent in a totally foreign environment. I hope my comments will be helpful to you - or at least you won’t be surprised!
Shifting rules and boundaries
In your home country, the family rules are straightforward and the boundaries are clear. You may not know all the answers, but you know most of them. When you move into a foreign culture, many of your old rules don’t apply. You have to make decisions on the fly.
Is it okay for my kid to go on a play date with a girl when I don’t know her parents? When I can’t even communicate with them? Is it okay for her to sleepover? Is it okay to let her go to the park without me?
They sense your uncertainty
Kids realize pretty quickly that you haven’t figured out the new rules and they will quickly use this to their advantage.
Mom, you don’t understand, EVERYONE brings candy on field trips. Mom, you don’t understand anything. They said I could stay for dinner and they will bring me home. Mom trust me, I know what they said.
The new environment brings out different things in different kids
Traveling exaggerated the differences between my girls. Sophia needed more freedom; Sasha needed more mommy time. Sophia needed less sleep, Sasha needed more sleep. It sounds so simple now, but in the middle of it all, it was hard to pinpoint exactly what was going on.
A note on solo parenting
Many séjour families make this arrangement work by sending mom and the kids to France while Dad stays home to work. The hardest part of this (for Mom!) is the emotional responsibility. You will miss your partner, your sounding board, and your co-decision maker. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are taking on a lot by parenting in a foreign country. Just love your kids and enjoy the ride!
I ask you - who needs a smart phone more than a traveler? To find a great restaurant, get directions, take pictures, keep in touch with friends back home… It’s as if smart phones were meant for travelers! And yet... traveling abroad with your iPhone can be complicated and expensive. Here are some tips for avoiding a $2,000 phone bill:
1. Call your provider
Consider purchasing a basic international plan as an insurance policy. Know that even the most expensive plan will not allow you to use your phone like you do at home. It’s easy to exceed your data limits and end up with a $1000 phone bill. I purchase the cheapest international plan so that I can use the phone in case of emergency.
2. Be vigilant about your settings
When you board the airplane, turn airplane mode ON and cellular data roaming OFF. Keep these settings until you get back on US soil.
Wi-Fi – When you know you are in a Wi-Fi hotspot in France, turn ON Wi-Fi (airplane mode remains ON and cellular data roaming remains OFF).
(You can use Skype to call home while on Wi-Fi.)
3. Get a local phone
Séjour families will likely want a local phone number. The easiest and cheapest way to do that is to buy a pay-as-you-go mobile phone in France. The two most popular carriers are SFR and Orange. They have storefronts everywhere and the hip young people who work there will likely speak some English. Go in, pick a cheap phone and a plan, walk out 20 minutest later. 50 bucks max.
Attention séjour families! If you rent a car in France, you need to know this: Many credit card companies will provide collision insurance free of charge - for 30 days only. Before day 31, you'll need to turn in the car, close out the account and rent a new car. Yep. A real pain in the neck. That's why prefer to lease a car instead. Here's the lowdown:
Long-term Rental Cars
Renting a car online is fairly straightforward. It’s the insurance issue that makes it complicated and costly. Buying insurance from the rental agency can run anywhere from $10 – $35 per day. And when you need a car for 2-3 months, the costs add up fast.
- It’s worth calling your credit card companies – they will often provide some coverage free of charge. But be sure to read the fine print carefully for rules and exclusions. For example, the American Express Premium Plan will provide collision insurance free of charge – for 30 days. But before day 31, you’ll need to turn in the car, close out your account and then rent another car.
- Before you leave the lot, make sure you know if you can leave the country. If you get into an accident in Spain, when you weren’t supposed to leave France, you’ll be responsible for the damages.
- And make sure you know how to drive a stick!
Short-term Lease Cars
A great alternative to the cost and hassle of renting a car is to lease a new car (also called Purchase/Re-purchase or Lease/Buy-back). There are regional companies (for example, Renault and Peugeot) who make the process fairly simple for foreigners and the benefits are huge:
- Less hassle and no hidden fees. Unless you really love standing in line at the rental car company and trying to figure out which “extra options” (hidden fees) you need and which ones you don’t. With leasing, the process is simple and the price is all-inclusive.
- Better insurance, no deductible. With lease /buy back plans, the insurance is included in the price and there is no deductible. Most leasing companies also provide free 24hour roadside assistance.
- It will probably be cheaper. If you need a car for 17-30 days, you might be able to find a cheaper rental– if your credit card covers some of the insurance costs and you only have one driver. But if you need a car for a month or longer, it will most likely be cheaper to lease. In either case, the longer you keep the car, the more reasons number 1-2 matter.
- Pick-up and drop-off flexibility. Pick-up in one French city, drop-off in another. No extra fees.
- You can return the car with no gas in the tank. (although to be fair, you will also receive the car with next to no gas in it.)
- You get a brand new car!
Here’s how the whole thing works: Europeans must pay a hefty Value Added Tax on new cars – Americans do not. So the leasing company lets Americans take temporary possession of the car – thereby making it cheaper and easier to sell a few months later (to a European or to a rental car company). Since it’s in their best interest to make sure nothing happens to the car, they offer great insurance coverage.
Leasing companies to use
Each of these companies have US-based customer service reps available to answer questions. You could do the process online, but talking to someone is helpful if you aren’t that familiar with the process.
- Peugeot via AutoEurope – easily my top choice. They have what I’m looking for in a car lease company: a good track record and excellent customer service.
- Renault via EuroDrive – apparently a very good option. I’ve read many positive reviews about this company and people apparently have had very good experiences.
- Honorable mention: Europe by Car –Rick Steves recommends this company, so it must be pretty good. Europe by Car offers leases from both Renault and Citroen.
Driving in France
- Choose a small car – Europe isn’t set up for a giant Costco-sized SUV. If your car is too big, you’ll never be able to park it. Get a car that’s just big enough to hold your luggage.
- Manual vs. automatic – In some cases an automatic may not be available. If an automatic is available, you’ll likely pay a higher price for it. Learn how to drive a stick!
- Gasoline vs diesel – Diesel is far more common in Europe than in the US. You’ll find diesel at most petrol stations, and it’s usually a little less expensive.
- Required items - The following are required in all cars driving in France: 1) hazard warning triangle and a 2) neon vest (to be kept inside the car, not in the trunk). Ask the leasing/rental company if these are included in your car.
- International drivers permit – Although technically not always required, it’s a good idea to have one. It’s super easy to get – just go to any AAA office, have your picture taken and fill out an application. There’s no test or anything – it’s basically a translation of your license into several languages. (You don’t have to be a AAA member.)
- Drive with cash – Most Autoroutes in France (blue signs) are toll roads (péage), so get cash before leaving the airport. Your American-style credit card will not work in unbanned tollbooths. You will also likely pay to park in bigger towns and cities. Paying by cash is usually possible, or by EMV credit card.
How long have you been thinking about this trip? So... what's stopping you?
I'm busy! The planning process is daunting.
You don’t do it all in one night. One little thing at a time. Start by Defining the Dream.
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm actually a little bit scared.
Make list of your fears and what you can do to prepare yourself. Take reasonable precautions, and then go for it. Don't make decisions based in fear.
What if someone gets sick? What if we need major medical care?
- See your doctor before you go:
- Get a clean bill of health and copies of your vaccine reports
- Get extensions on prescriptions, get any necessary vaccines
- Explain your trip. Ask if there is a way to contact their office via email while you are abroad.
- Research the medical care system in the new country. Locate nearest doctors and hospitals.
- Look into Travel/Medical/Evacuation Insurance.
I don’t speak the language.
Yes! So scary! And embarrassing! But it won’t kill you. Start learning the language now. Take lessons when you arrive. Be kind, be respectful and draw pictures. It’s all part of the adventure.
I’m afraid I’ll feel lonely or isolated.
Before you go: Put the word out to friends and family – someone knows someone who has lived in France. Email them. Follow up with them. Learn from them, meet with them if possible.
Connect with the expat community. It’s easy enough to do by taking language courses or English-language enrichment classes. Expats can provide a wealth of wisdom and comfort to the newly arrived.
Make friends with the locals. It’s wonderfully enriching to have friends from other cultures. And it’s nice to know you have a local to call if you need help.
I’m not sure what to do with myself for 2-3 months.
This should be the least of your problems! Take language lessons, art classes or cooking classes. Learn a new skill or volunteer. Go hiking or shopping. Read a book, write a book, start a business or reinvent yourself. Just GO.
Medical issues to take care of before you go on séjour:
- Contact your insurance company and review your benefits information with regard to out-of-network or out-of-country expenses.
- You might consider Travel/Medical/Evacuation Insurance. SquareMouth.com does a good job comparing quotes and coverage from various companies.
- See your family doctor(s): 1) Get a check up and a clean bill of health 2) Obtain copies of your children’s vaccine/medical records 3) Get extensions/advances on all prescriptions and 4) Write down any critical medical issues on a piece of paper and keep them in your wallet. If your child has allergies, it might be a good idea to translate those and keep them handy.
If you need health care in France:
- Pharmacies – Pharmacists in France are able to diagnose and treat some illnesses. If you need further medical care, they can call someone for you. If the pharmacy is closed, they will usually post a sign indicating a nearby open pharmacy.
- Hospitals and doctors – It may give you peace of mind to identify the closest hospital and doctor’s office to your séjour home. You will need to pay your bill out-of-pocket and then contact your insurance company for potential reimbursement. Costs aren't nearly as high as they are here in the US.
- SOS Médecins – This organization is made up of on-call doctors who will come to your home, apartment or hotel room. Although it sounds extraordinarily expensive, it is not. Dial 3624
Emergency medical care:
- SAMU – for an ambulance or emergency medical care. Dial 15
- Les Pompiers – fire fighters, can also provide medical assistance. Dial 18
- EU-Wide Emergency number – Dial 112