30 April 2008
Super quick background: Hillary Clinton and John McCain have both suggested suspending the federal excise tax (about 18 cents) on gas for the summer travel season. What a stupid, short-sited, politically motivated idea. As if tackling our energy problems from the short term supply side is going to solve anything. Like Friedman says today, "This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks."
How about this as a quick summary:
One way to judge a politician is to see how reluctant they are to use the baldest forms of pandering and bribery to win votes. Even when they know the policy in question is stupid and counter-productive, their short-term political interest always takes precedence over sound policy. This gas tax holiday crap is an almost pure example of this. And McCain and Clinton have both signed on to it. If you want to know about political character, this tells you a lot.
OK, sorry. No more politics (for now).
27 April 2008
By the way, check out Kevin's official results from last week's Boston Marathon. Pretty good time if you ask me.
25 April 2008
I keep telling myself that is has to be number one or two, but just to be sure I’ve begun to compile a list of our travels, and I mean the longish trips we’ve taken – often involving an overnight or two. While compiling the list I decided to add up the total distance we have traveled on these trips. Then, just to make my stomach hurt, I divided that by my estimated fuel efficiency and muliplied that by the cost of gas. Ouch. I’ll show you those numbers at the end of this post.
But here are the major (about 100km one way or more) trips we have taken and the estimated length of those trips measured in kilometers and round trip:
- San Remo, Italy (day trip twice @ 160 km = 320km)
- St. Tropez (day trip = 190 km)
- Giens/Toulon (day trip = 225)
- Monaco: (6 trips @90 km = 540 ) Monaco doesn’t really count because it’s so close, but we’ve been so many times (mostly to show visitors) that I’m including it.
- Modena, Bologna, Venice Italy (5 days = 1050 km)
- Milan, Como & Switzerland (4 days = 1300 km)
- Valberg/Entrevaux (day trip = 210 km)
- Chamonix (5 days = 1000 km)
- Lyon (3 days = 890 km)
- Agivnon & Western Provence (4 days = 1150 km)
Rough Total = 7000 kmNow, with respect to fuel, let me first remind you that we are driving a ‘mini-van’ of sorts in a country where fuel prices -- adjusted to US dollars -- is in the range of $8 per gallon (I'm glad my paycheck is in Euros!) Taking into account only the trips above (and not, for example, our many trips to Nice to watch hockey, or to Cannes to go to the beach, or to the mountains to go exploring) our total fuel costs for these trips was about 850 Euros, or $1300. That figure, I might add, does not include the hefty tolls that French and Italian motorways often require.
Next year I’m considering changing the name of this blog from French for a While to Broke in a While.
Ah, but it's all worth it. The simple fact is that numbers 1 and 2 from the top of this post both explain why we have decided to travel around so much. We're not going to be here forever so we're just doing as much as we can while we can. Carpe Diem.
[Note: if you would like a copy of my spreadsheet for these calculations, email me.]
24 April 2008
23 April 2008
Thanks for the gifts and thank you soooo much for coming to see us!!! Hope you're having a great time in Paris!
22 April 2008
[obscure reference guide: valley of ashes]
19 April 2008
On Saturday afternoon we went to Monaco with some friends from DC and some friends from here in France. At one point I was standing near the Grand Palais looking over the wall at one of the two main harbors. As I turned away from the wall, a little girl of 3 or 4 who was walking near me tripped over my foot and hit the ground pretty hard. Of course, I felt terrible and quickly said how sorry I was and helped her get up and find her parents. Her mother came over and I apologized to her as well and let her know it was an accident. Incident over? Not by a long shot.
About 1 minute later a man who looked to be in his 60s (the girl's grandfather, perhaps) walked over and started shouting at me (in French), telling me I was 'sick in the head' because I knocked over this girl 'on purpose.' I was a little suprised by this and I repeated by apology and tried to explain that it was an accident. But he would have none of it and he continued to tell me how 'sick' I was and started yelling that I should 'go back to my own country' and that he was 'so tired of foreigners.' Then he called me an 'a-hole' (connard?) about 4 or 5 gimes. I didn't really know what to do so I threw my hands in the air and turned away. That seemed to make him more upset and he continued his rant as he and his family began to walk away.
[Quick note: I only know about the 'go back to my country' and 'tired of foreigners' line because our French friend Jerome translated what he was saying after the incident was over. If I knew French better I would have taken the opportunity to whip out my Carte de Sejour after he made those comments, then I would have said something like: 'Hey buddy, read this. I live in France. Ahhhh Snap!']
Anyway, after the guy called me some more bad names, several of the other people in the area began to jump to my defense. One woman who sitting on a bench near us told the guy to 'stop shouting and go away.' Meanwhile, Kerri and the kids just looked on, hoping the ordeal was over, which it was.
But just for the record...if things had heated up some more, I think I could have taken the guy.
18 April 2008
The weather should be better tomorrow.
17 April 2008
16 April 2008
Yesterday afternoon we decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and go the beach in Cannes (don't forget we're on break, hence the free Tuesday afternoon). At one point Kerri, Julia, and Henry were playing with a soccer ball and Patrick and I were looking very American playing (American) football (we were playing that very fun game where one person throws to the other near the sidelines -- drawn in sand -- and he tries to make a spectacular catch while getting both feet in bounds. It's great fun in the sand because you can really dive for the ball and not get hurt). But I digress. Suddenly we looked up and saw a strange man approaching. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't really pinpoint it. Then he walked right up to us and asked: "Are you French for A While?" That's when it hit me. Before I could even get the words "Yes!" out of my mouth I realized that this strange man wasn't so strange after all: he was the guy from La Vie Échangée, a blog that we read quite often. It's amazing how the mind works.
La Vie Échangée is a couple with 4 kids from Arizona. They are here for a year (but perhaps more?) on a house exchange program. They live in Mougins which is just about 15 minutes from us. We spent quite a while chatting on the beach with them and their (French-speaking only) friend. It was a lot of fun getting to know them a bit and talking about some of our similar experiences. Just before we left we took this photo (you might notice that two of their children aren't in the photo. We'll get them in the next one):
If you want to read about yesterday's 'chance meeting' from their perspective, check out their version of the story at La Vie Échangée.
15 April 2008
SINCE WE HAVE a two week break we decided to take a long weekend to the western part of Provence. So last Thursday we loaded up the car and headed west to begin our trip in the Avignon region. (A friend asked us why we were going to Avignon and I simply responded that our family is really, really into Pope Clement V.). Our goal for the weekend was quite simple:
- visit the vinyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape -- they are beautiful.
- visit Avignon and teach the kids a bit of medieval/roman/papal history.
- visit Arles -- the ancient Roman city that dates to the 1st century b.c. and has a spectacular coliseum that was started in A.D. 90 (actually, Patrick and Julia knew more about Arles than we did because they have been studying this period in their history class).
- Visit some really cool castles and fortresses (we found a fantastic one in Les Baux)
- Try not to spend too much money.
Let's see how we did: check, check, check, check, not-so-much-a-check.
We have video footage coming, which is a good thing because our digital camera battery ran out after day 1, but here are a few photos of our trip.
Looking out from Chateauneuf toward Avignon
Oh look, mommy and daddy think they're cute.
Daddy with the kids in a 12th century castle. Mommy with P & J at the same ruins.
Another fun thing you can do with Google Earth is track a trip you have taken. Here's our general route -- and the fun things is that this map should be interactive so you can zoom in or out.
View Larger Map
13 April 2008
NASN is showing most of the NHL playoffs and right at this very moment Patrick and I are watching our beloved Washington Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. We're sitting about 2 feet from the TV and squinting a lot.
Pathetic? Yes. And we'll be doing the same thing every time the Caps are on.
08 April 2008
I'm not sure what I hit, but while driving home from work one afternoon I ran over something in the road (or was I driving too close to the side of the road) that popped my front right tire. And I don't mean I got a flat -- I popped a frickin' hold in the wall of the tire! The next day I took the car into our local garage to inquire about what it was going to take to fix the damage. The very nice mechanic did some checking around the car, consulted a couple of catalogues, and informed me that the cost for two front tires that would fit my car was going to be 125 euros. Now, you should know that I know very little about cars, or tires, or labor costs in France, so I wanted to make sure I had it right. I asked if the 125 was for both tires. Or I should say I thought I asked if the 125 was for both tires. When he nodded and said, oui, I thought I had the answer I needed. Add a bit more for labor and little more for tax and I should be out of the garage for about 200 Euros.
Of course, you know where this story is going. The tires I 'chose' were 125 Euros apiece! And we haven't come close to factoring in labor or taxes yet (I underestimated on both). So now I have really expensive tires on my really cheap car and that makes me really feel like I'm in Langley Park (local DC joke there).
07 April 2008
Lyon was a heavy favorite, having finished first in the league in dominating fashion. But that didn't matter as Nice rallied from a two goal deficit to win 5-4 (photo at right). It wasn't like watching the Capitals in DC, but it sure was a fun game and the whole family had a great time (although Julia claimes the most fun was picking up all the confetti that was being thrown around).
I had my video camera and took some shots during the post game celebration (really embarrasing, I know). You can see it on the official Nice Hockey website or over at You Tube. Or just right here:
But now, a short four months later, the Nice city government has announed that....they are going to tear up the Place Massena and start again!!
Why, you might ask? Because, according to a spokesperson, the newly created traffic patterns don't seem to be working. There is still too much congestion. So the city will soon begin work on a 12-month re-re-restoration project in the heart of Nice. Splendid!
04 April 2008
Full report when we return.
02 April 2008
Today some of my friends in Europe have a new twist to the joke -- it now goes like this: Q: What's the difference between 1 Euro and 1 dollar? A: About 1 Euro.
We're not quite there yet.
01 April 2008
British Airways just opened a state-of-the-art new terminal at Heathrow called T5. It has now been open for 5 days and the only word to describe how it is going so far is: debacle!
Terminal 5 was supposed to be the saving grace for BA and London Heathrow, one of the busiest and most congested airports in Europe. Instead, the swanky new terminal has run into problem after problem, resulting in huge delays and the cancellation of more than 250 flights already. Here's the official statement from British Airways on their website.
We are extremely sorry for the disruption our customers flying from Terminal 5 have experienced since the building opened on Thursday 27 March.
We accept the level of service we have provided has not been good enough. We are working hard to overcome the initial operational difficulties we have encountered.
Look, I love British Airways and have always enjoyed their service when I have flown with them, but this kind of massive screw-up (whatever the reason) is interesting to watch. The Financial Times is estimating that BA will lose more than 50 million dollars because the problems. And just to give you an idea how seriously people are taking the T5 disaster, shares of BA were down 2.5 percent yesterday. All because of some gliches with a new terminal.
Who could have predicted this when the Queen herself inaugurated the terminal a couple weeks ago.