We left the two older kids with Sam's sister, Fabienne, and went to Lyon in search of a home since we are what the French call SDF--sans domicile fixe (in other words, homeless). We met with our AWESOME real estate agent, Marie-Laure, who spent two days showing us around last time. You all remember what happened last time, right? We found two apartments--one that was old and huge and charming and adorable with which I fell instantly in love, and another that was old, ugly, up on the 12th floor, no air conditioning, scary high in the sky, but was huge and practical and had a garage. Because was so desperately in love with the older one, we filled out papers for it and hoped for the best. BUT, since we so wanted to have an apartment when we got to Lyon, we went ahead and filled out papers for the other one too and asked the agency to just hold onto them in case we called because we were not yet decided.
Funny thing. The one I LOOOOOVED fell through. The owner changed her mind and now wasn't sure if she wanted to rent or sell. *sigh* Good thing we filled out papers for the other, right? Well, we took our time deciding on that one, too. It was just so high up with no safety net if one of the kids got a little creative in their explorations and wanted to see what was on the other side of that wall (an uninterrupted 12 story fall). Finally, I so wanted to have the assurance of knowing where we were going to live (so I could go ahead and move in, in my mind), that I said, "Okay." But on one condition: we'd have to get venetian blinds. Sure, that wouldn't STOP the kids but it might deter them. The building faced north/south meaning that we would have the sun in (and on) the apartment all day long. With no air, we'd HAVE to leave the windows open. At least if we had SOME kind of bar-like structure across the windows, it might keep the kids from going near.
So, I took a deep breath and resolved to that. Marie-Laure was great. She met the artisan appointed by the rental agency and waited for THREE HOURS while he took measurements and prepared his estimate. The next morning when we called to get it, Marie-Laure was LIVID. The artisan had just called and given her an amount of 8000 Euros for wooden blinds. That's like 12 grand. I could go to Home Depot or Lowe's and buy vinyl blinds for a couple grand at the MOST. Hell, I could go out into the woods and HAND CUT the trees and sand them into blinds for that matter. If I'm gonna pay 12 grand for blinds, they better have gold flakes in them that spell out my name in 47 different languages!!! But then the bomb--Marie-Laure had been called JUST after that and told that the apartment had been rented. They had to have known the day before and still didn't tell her. They let her waste THREE HOURS of her time waiting for that artisan guy to give her an estimate!
Fast forward to now. We were all wary but trying to remain optimistic. So, with a deep breath and a kiss to each kid, we set off in search of a place to live. Marie-Laure was as smiley and as accomodating as ever (which is a blessed rarity--my assumption is that 1) we just really clicked with each other or 2) Marie-Laure is working on sainthood). She met us in front of our first visit.
We stood in front of this HUMONGOUS wooden door with wrought iron handles in the shape of tree branches. As the other agent swung the door wide, I caught a view of the wide stone staircase inside and fell in love. We got inside the tiny elevator (just Sam and I as the other two couldn't fit) and went to the fourth floor, staring wide eyed and mouth agape at the triangular formation of the stairs, the stained glass behind, the little barred windows next to each front door. I took a deep breath through my nose and closed my eyes, drinking in the smell of lavender--they had just cleaned the stairway (and in France, the smell of lavender is like the smell of lemon or pine for us... old school clean).
The agents caught up with us by the stairs. I stood in front of the heavy wooden door with my heart racing, hungrily waiting for the agent to open the door. And I wasn't disappointed. I'm not sure I'll be able to describe what we found because every time we try, my mouth trips over my mind and heart. I'll try to illustrate in simple terms and phrases: Old French building like from a movie, but the walls were freshly painted. Stained glass windows. Wooden floors. Ornate ceilings and mouldings. I can't, I can't. I can feel my heart creeping up on me again. You'll just have to wait for the pictures. All I can really say is that I was in love. IN LOVE. I wanted to move in that instant. I didn't want to look at any other places. I didn't want to waste any time and let this place fall through my fingers.
A picture of one of the rooms (look at the freaking ceiling!!! the freaking glass!!!) I won't be able to show too many pix of the place cuz it hurts too much to see it again:
Sam put on the breaks. While it was literally 3 minutes WALK to work, there was no garage for our about-to-be-purchased minivan. That would cost another 100 or so Euro (and the apartment was already at the limit of what Sam's company would pay). Hot water and other things were not included in the "charges" (they're like community utilities that everyone in the building shares--again, an amount covered by Sam's company). So, we'd have to pay that. It was large at 175 meters squared but only had three bedrooms--no toy room. We'd have to turn the second living room into a toy room. The kitchen wasn't furnished. On top of buying all the appliances, we'd have to buy all the cabinets, too (normal, in fact, in France). That meant a huge initial expense (for which the company had given us a lump sum--with which we had to be VERY careful).
Every new issue he brought up was like a slap in the face. Painful and stinging, but it woke me up a little more each time. As much as I loved the apartment, we had five others to see. I'd have to hold out hope that either 1) all the others would be grody and small and far away from Sam's job or 2) so beautiful that I'd move on and forget about this, my first love.
Well, both happened. Sort of.
The next one we were to see at was the one that Sam had found on the internet before we got to France. It was actually PERFECT. You could see the Parc de la Tete D'or (one of our stipulations) on one end of the street, Sam's job on the other end of the street and one of the best schools in Lyon RIGHT in front of where we parked our minivan. This place was huge and had a garage and a cave and AIR CONDITIONING (something that is rare but to which Sam has grown accustomed). We waited in front of it for the other agent to show up. Marie-Laure's phone rang. The apartment had been rented. Gone. I thought Sam was going to cry. He threw up his hands and said, "But my job is right there! The Parc is RIGHT THERE! The school. The air." We had to coax him away and back into the van.
Marie-Laure said, "Well, I have the keys to the next apartment, so if you want, we can just go over there right now, take a quick look and come back to the next appointment." Now that Sam and I had both been sort of jilted, we just shook our heads silently.
As we entered the building, I wasn't optimistic. It was RIGHT on the busy banks of the Rhone river, cars speeding up the street. We couldn't even hear each other talk and it wasn't even noon yet. The foyer itself was pretty nice, with in-floor lighting and lots of mirrors and columns. There was a fountain out in the back courtyard which was laid with stone tiles and surrounded by grass and viney growth. But then when we called the elevators, none came. When one finally arrived, the elevator was unlevel with the floor. Like we had to step a couple of inches down into it. I hate that. Scary.
The elevator took us to the 10th floor. I had my arms crossed already. The 10th floor? Really? But then Marie-Laure let us in. The first thing I saw was a nice wide hallway with stone tile. Not bad. Then, there was a small room to the left that had wooden floors, a huge window with a view of Old Lyon and--get this--BOOKSHELVES set into the wall. I looked down and saw a cable hookup for internet. An office.
The next room I saw was a huge living room. In spite of the wooden floors, the room was full of light. A granite column stood in the front center. Pretty neat. And the same long windows and view of the terre cotta roof tiles of Old Lyon. Next was a second livng room that had stone floors and glass doors that led to a stone balcony. That would make a nice guest room/workout room, wouldn't it?
Through a hallway actually papered with FABRIC, and FILLED with a thousand cabinets we found a small bedroom with a shower/sink in it. I went to the window and had to catch my breath. No, not a steep drop. There was a small stone ledge to inhibit that. No, I had to breathe because there before me was a view of... ding ding ding... the PARC!!! Not the back side of the old castle-esque houses that line the parc. No. The parc itself. Its grasses, its trees, its LAKE!!! I ran to the master bedroom and found that it had the same view!!! Okay, this could work. The master bath was huge and tiled nearly floor to ceiling. Okay, there was a little bit of REALLY UGLY wallpaper between the tile and the actual ceiling, but who's gonna be picky, right?
There was another small room full of cabinets I can only describe as a sort of walk in closet (if you like your walk-in closets tiled and windowed) and then the kitchen which had another THOUSAND cabinets (we wouldn't have to buy them). There was a long, floor-to-ceiling window in the kitchen and a drop-down penderie (laundry-hanging thing) which I almost took as a sign because I've wanted to stop being dependent on electric dryers. There's a little balcony out from the kitchen where I could grow my own herbs and small fare.
I could make this work.
One of the living rooms (the one that would be the actual living room--and that's Marie-Laure in the phot with Laurel and me):
The second living room (which will be a guest room and place to hide my workout equipment):
One view from the apartment:
View of The Parc de la Tete D'or (in the bedroom part of the apt):
The master bath and water closet (well, you can't really see it with my fat frame in the pic with sleepyhead Laurel in my AWESOME BUCKLE TAI made by TWOMOMMASDESIGNS.COM):
There was a garage and a cave and even a little room downstairs called a chambre de bonne (back in the day, the maid lived downstairs and came up when summoned, by the THIRD (and service) elevator which still works). We had been worried about what we'd do with our bikes and bike trailers and extra strollers and stuff. Not anymore.
It was the apartment the furthest away from Sam's job, but really still only 10 minutes' walk. It was on the park. It was only 70 Euro more than the company would pay for and hot water would be included in the charges so the only utility we'd have to pay would be electricity (and of course, cable). We'd save SO much money.
But I wasn't in love. It was definitely the practical, smart, logical solution. But I wasn't in love. I wanted the fairy tale, doll house apartment.
I sighed deeply as we left for our next appointment.
The agent didn't show up. We didn't know (not even Marie-Laure knew) that we were supposed to have gone and picked up the keys for that apartment. But a second look at the dossier proved it didn't matter. While the place was huge and probably GORGEOUS, it was way too expensive. So, instead of chasing after keys and opening ourselves up to new problems, we went out to lunch. I was hoping that, as usual, we'd find some cool hole in the wall place to eat a great Lyonese salad, but instead we found this cool little bar where they were serving roast lamb and mashed potatoes. It was as close as you'll get to truly French, truly fast, fast food (McDonald's doesn't count and kebabs aren't French, tee hee hee). So, after our little munch and a beer, we headed to our next appointment.
After driving around looking for a parking spot, Marie-Laure and I just decided to hop out of the van and meet the agent ourselves because though we were five minutes early we could see that she was already waiting for us. She was a skinny little bitch in dark Levi's and a gauzy button-down shirt. She would have been pretty had she not been so utterly pretentious. No, but seriously, to the point of ridicule, eh? I almost couldn't help but laugh at her she was so far up her own butt. I hated the apartment before I even saw it just because she was such a little hag. And sure enough, the apartment sucked. It had a huge, great terrasse with little hoses for irrigating plants (it was on the top floor), but the rooms were smaller than my walk-in closet back at home. That, and the kitchen was all torn up. The way the French system works, there'd be no way we could get the kitchen fixed in two weeks. Plus, there's the whole terrasse thing. Yeah, okay, so I could grow all my own stuff and that would be great, but my kids aren't used to balconies and this apt was on the 12th floor or something. No thanks. When asked if I had any questions, I said, "No" and smiled politely. But then, Marie-Laure called me out. "What are your thoughts?" So, I unloaded. I started by saying, "Honestly..." and then I listed all the things I didn't think would work for US. After a pursed lip goodbye and a handshake, I watched her shake her flat skinny booty away down the sidewalk, her prissy little ponytail bobbing up and down as she dug her phone out to text someone. What can I do but roll my eyes and smile. I'm sorry if it sounds judgemental but I used to be just like that girl and I know how OBLIVIOUS she is and I can't help but laugh about it. I hope she finds some substance, poor thing.
Anyway, on to our next appartment. Our last appointment.
It was an OLD apartment in a building we had visited last time and though it was REALLY cool and historic and rustic, it was a little TOO unfinished. I started thinking about health hazards and other problems with the kids. In fact, I never seriously considered it. It was in a busy place, too loud, no garage... all the old problems. Nope, best to go back to the other apartment.
Once there, we walked around for an hour trying to find the garage which we were told was Space #33. There wasn't one. There was a space B3 which seemed close to me, but we didn't have a key that went to it. We did finally find the cave, but were surprised to find a huge cache of slides and some antique chandoliers. Scratching our heads, we set off to find the gardienne. The one on our proposed side of the building was on vacation and after ringing her doorbell a billion times and trying our set of keys again, we went back to the other side of the building and checked with the gardienne there.
She was able to show us RIGHT to the garage AND the chambre de bonne, but we still didn't have the keys for either one. But she was an adorable little woman who assured us that both the garage and the chambre de bonne were huge and in great shape.
Sitting in the foyer, Marie-Laure said, "So?" Well, I think the answer is obvious. If we were moving to France for a lifetime or even for a period of five years... or even for longer than JUST TWO, I would have insisted on the beautiful, love-at-first-sight appartment. BUT, since one of my goals for coming here is to save money, I have to put my heart aside and roll with it. And it's not like the huge apartment won't be nice to live in. It's on the parc for crying out loud. There's an office. Great views. Easy to fix kitchen. Close to everything. Nope. There's really only one answer.
So, there you go. We went to the agency, filled out the papers and now we just have to wait for a yes (um, renting an apartment is like applying for an arranged marriage or something... like we gotta wait for the apartment's father to deem us acceptable)--insert eyeroll.
I was so exhausted from the whole venture (and from carrying Laurel in my AWESOME buckle tai--still, no matter how awesome the carrier, the baby herself is still HUGE) that I fell asleep in the van on the way home (okay, so, maybe the entire pizza I ate didn't help). Maybe part of it had to do with being relieved about knowing where we were going and finding a mental place for all our stuff. (I'm not sure about that because when we got to my sister-in-law's house and I had to show her the pics and explain about the whole dollhouse apartment, part of me resented the one we had chosen. *sigh*).
All I know is what's done is done. We're loading up and heading to Lyon today. We have a very luxurious hotel waiting for us. We have shopping to do--kitchen appliances to buy. Curtains to browse. The fun part begins, right?