Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wipe Out on the Learning Curve

Here I am sunny France, safely arrived without a hitch and pictures at the ready. But I am totally frustrated trying to figure out how to upload them using my little Android tablet...:-( Maybe I will try again...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Weighting for Take-Off

Since Monday I have been more or less concentrating on Packing to get through the Ryanair hurdles. Since I will be coming back around the 5th of September I need to have enough for every eventuality of weather. It's so much easier with a Volvo estate to hand -- 'Simples', as the Meerkat would say ...

Packing makes me feel incoherent. I am always changing my mind and I always take more than I wear/use. But inevitably I leave out something I later wish I had brought. The Man thinks I should be able to cram everything into the one bag of carry on with a limit of 10 kilos. This is not possible -- for me. So I opted for the heaviest checked bag Ryanair allows -- 20 kilos at a cost of 35 pounds. For another 45 pounds I could have had a second bag with a 15 kilo limit. I'm making do with just the one...

By the time I figured out the t-shirts (one can never have too many) and trousers, one skirt, underwear,  cosmetics, creams, shoes -- probably too many, if a mere 6 pairs can be considered too many for 8 whole weeks, electricals, mail, pills, books and other essentials -- my total limit of 30 kilos total is just about upon me. For each kilo I go over Ryanair will charge me another 20 pounds... And of course there is in the back of my head the worry that their scales won't agree with my scales and even if I'm under they won't think so -- oh, help!

In addition, since Monday I found myself incredibly uncomfortable and itching, itching, iching. Welts began to appear on my torso and upper arms and then my wrists. Quick reference to the Internet and I was pretty certain I needed an antihistamine -- which was indeed the case and the condition is more or less under control and as long as I take the little pills, the welts and itchning disappears. Which puts new meaning into the idea of being 'itchin' to go!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taking Flight and Come September

As you can see I ready to go: Passport in hand and boarding pass, too! My date of departure is the 22nd of July and I am relieved to at last have a date! Limoges, here I come... The packing has commenced!

Now then, who is this handsome devil? Let  me introduce you to Sam, my eldest grandson...

Sam is eleven years old. Three years ago he moved with his Mom and Dad, my son, and his two brothers to Korea from Olympia, Washington, where he was born. Of the three boys, Sam has had the most difficulty acclimating to living in Korea. For a couple of years now The Man and I have been discussing with his parents having Sam come to live with us for a while. He desperately wishes to do this and we really want him to come. Two nights ago my son called France, thinking I was there, and had a long talk with The Man. The Man is particularly fond of Sam. They are on the same wave length and were often to be found having long thoughtful conversations away from the rest of us.

So, it looks like Sam will be coming to England in September. For how long we do not know. Sam may be about to learn that lesson about 'the grass being greener'. But for a while at least, he can have a new adventure with Grandma and Grandpa and have a bit of a rest from the trials and tribulations of family life in Korea. And hopefully, be a happy boy again...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Airlines, Passports, and ... and... and

My last trip the the States has ended up being a senility inducing experience. I've reported extensively about the 'Ordeal by Passport'. Thankfully, that is now resolved. My passport arrived last Friday, exactly one week after my visit to the American embassy. Aha, you say -- now you can be off to France! HA! But more about that later.

The saga of my airline reservation rebate is continuing. I wrote in great detail about this several months ago.

I am still waiting for my refund from the airline... Initially, Expedia said it could take up to 12 weeks! That was up on June 12th -- I marked it on my calendar. I have spoken with United -- they didn't have any record of receiving any request for a refund. I could go on and on. I keep calling Expedia -- but since The Man's credit card record actually shows that the money went directly to United Airlines -- it really is the airline that is the problem. At the moment I am calling Expedia every day. But it's wearing me down. The Man and I both think that we will have to take it up with the credit card company. Since he is the primary account holder it will have to wait until we return to the UK in September. The latest word from Expedia is that we should have the refund "any day now"...

Would you believe it ... my delay in going to France is because I am waiting for not one, but two passports to be delivered! My two sons have both had to renew their British passports. One should be here within two weeks -- Tuesday next will be two weeks. The other will probably not be here for at least another 3. And both could be later than advertised simply because it's a busy time of year at the passport office. In fact rumour has it that the passport office is weeks behind. I've decided, however, that I will hang around here until Sunday the 22nd of July. Apparently, it is not necessary to be in to sign for them -- they are delivered by a special service that photographs the place where they have been delivered. So arrangements are being made to have someone check our mail regularly until they arrive. What really is annoying is that our boys both knew they had to do this months ago and they kept putting it off and putting it off!

I think there must be a 'Passport Genie' out there determined to torment me. I'm getting ready to abandon ship...

Oh, my goodness! I've just talked to The Man in France! You'll never guess what's next ...

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Back to France and the "Why" of the Walls!

In answer to a question in a comment from Friko as to why the walls we tore down had ever been put up in the first place. (See It's All in a Day's Work.) It all goes back to the French couple who owned the house before we bought it. They had bought the place in the late 70's as a retirement home. The upstairs hand never been lived in. The house had been a two-room cottage. It must have been very very basic at the time.

The kitchen, separate toilet and bathroom and a small upstairs bedroom were added to the house at the time of the initial renovation -- right up to the property line of our neighbour. What had been an inglenook fireplace was made to hold a wood burning fireplace that also allowed heat to filter upstairs.

The couple must were not very tall. Madame could walk down the centre of the upstairs passageway without difficulty, while I had to scrunch up against the wall separating it from the two bedrooms. They needed this passage way to get to the other side of the first or second floor -- depending on which continent you live!!! 

Here is a floor plan of how it was when we first bought the house:

When we first looked at the house we were not at all happy with the upstairs. But we thought maybe it would be possible to 'fix' it with a little bit of ingenuity. In other words we had a 'plan':

Let's build a second staircase at the other end of the original cottage -- in the dining room. We were very lucky that our neighbour M. Estival, was not only a charpentier and and ebinieste -- he had also constructed the existing staircase as well as all of the other cabinets and windows and doors in the house! We approached him for a quote and discovered that his was by far the most reasonable compared to two others -- he also would build a mirror twin to the existing staircase and would build it of oak and would cut the hole in the ceiling -- all other quotes were for pine and for The Man to cut the hole. And we didn't have to pay him until the work was done and when we got back the following year was just fine with him! We left France in September, he built the staircase over the winter and  was finished when we came back to France the following June.

A floor plan of the ground floor of our house with the new staircase:

I've dreamed of being able to knock a large portal in the wall between the kitchen and dining room to open the whole thing up, but alas and alack once upon a time that wall was an exterior wall and knocking a hole would require the talents a stone mason and be more expensive than we would want to spend on a second home. Having access to the patio from every room in the house makes up for a lot!
I have been shocked to discover that in all the years since the second staircase was built, I have only taken one photograph and that just shows the corner of it! So here is a picture of the original:

And here is a reminder of how the bedroom was when I last saw it at the end of September. 

Since then  the electrics have been re-done (no more light hanging in the middle of the room) the walls have been papered and carpet has been laid. At the moment The Man is starting to build the Closet where the old wardrobe used to be. By the way, does anyone know where he can buy louvered doors -- either in the UK or in France?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

"Minor Tribulations"

I was up early; my appointment was at 7.45. The car was picking me up at 7.00 for the short drive to the U.S. Embassy. I had thought of taking the bus -- only a short walk away-- but decided I would have more peace of mind being taken there. When I arrived 15 minutes later, the line was already forming, but the queue was still relatively short. By the time I was weeded out from those applying for visas I was third in line. So far so good.

Fortunately, I had received an e-mail from the Embassy reminding me of my appointment. The e-mail also provided me with some additional information I had not seen on the website and that was that no cell phones, i-pads, PDA's or i-pods were allowed into the embassy. Good thing I knew that because I had made plans to use my GPS to navigate my way there!

There were two young girls behind me also for passports. One, a student, just needed to add more pages to hers, but the other had been in London for a week and on her first day at the school had had her bag stolen with her passport and all credit cards, as well as her computer, and phone and so on. So her entire week had been marred by this very big upset and she was quite worried about what would happen. She was planning to return to the States the following day to sort everything out. Poor girl! I felt so sorry for her, but tried to re-assure her by saying that the embassy would be very sympathetic and that they were always having to deal with this sort of situation and that everything would be fine. The other girl it turned out had had this same experience -- only in Rome a few years ago. From other stories I've heard it is terrible how these thieves really target the young and inexperienced and how much havoc they cause for them.

OK! I was called into the security area and told to put my handbag through the x-ray. As I was getting ready to put my  other bag through the guard put my bag on top of the machine and said, "You have a camera".

"No," I said.

"There is one in the bag," she said.

Suddenly, I realized! I'd forgotten my small digital Canon! I'd carefully removed my cell phone, but completely forgotten the camera! I  took it out. The guard explained to me that I would have to store it and that that would mean I would have to leave the place and walk up the street a block and a half to a drug store and they would store it for me! When I became totally exasperated and told her to "Just throw it away" she calmly explained that as there were no bins either there or on the embassy grounds I would have to do as she suggested.

I must confess I was on the verge of again turning into a little old lady, but at the same time I realized it would do me no good and I was just going to have to give in to the inevitable. I walked to the drug store, paid 3 pounds and returned to the front of the queue, where they were looking me and let me straight in.

And so in went my bags. I walked through the 'magic' X-ray door and back to the other side of the X-ray. The guard asked to see my keys! I had three sets of keys. The first set he handed back to me. The second and third set, however, had little battery flash lights on the key rings!!!!

"You cannot go into the Embassy with these", he said embarrassed that the keys had not been seen the first time the bag went through!"

I was beginning to think that I was never ever going to get into the building and I would never ever be able to get a new passport! However, much as I wanted to again turn into a simpering little old age pensioner lady -- I didn't. The guard and I discussed the importance of these little flash lights and it was suggested that I could go across the street into the park and dump them into the bin at the gate. This I did.

Again I entered the security room! I placed my bags to go through the machine... Again I went successfully through the X-ray door. And now time I held my breath. And the guards, who were now becoming my mates, were holding their breaths, too! YES! I PASSED. I was allowed onto the grounds and into the building and up to the passport office! And then everything was a piece of cake. I had been slightly delayed -- if I'd gone in the first time, my number would have been '3' now it was '13' -- so not to bad.

And the moral of the story is -- Don't ever go to the U.S. Embassy unless you have absolutely and positively no other choice! By the way, when I went to get my camera two hours had elapsed and you would not believe how many items they had 'stored' for people. I'd just been the first of the day...