As many of you know, 2013 started out with a change of itinerary for our retirement abroad. We’ve been having the most amazing time this year, life in France, being retired, and traveling. So many new and exciting things for 2013.
On January 7, Alan retired from Truckee Meadows Community College after 20 years of teaching Criminal Justice, and 16 years in law enforcement service. It was a bittersweet day as he left behind some amazing colleagues, great students and many, many friends.
January was also the turning point for our retirement plans. After devastating news from the Italian consulate, we regrouped with a world map and some post-it flags and decided that our goal of living abroad was still achievable. Less that 72 hours after selecting France as the place we would like to go, we were at the French consulate in San Francisco. Fearing the same challenges that we faced with the Italian consulate in Los Angeles, we were hopeful but still had Spain as a backup plan. All our backup plans became unnecessary as the French consulate saw fit to grant our visa, and return our passports within 48 hours of our appointment.
In less than a week we were able to completely rearrange our retirement plans, find an apartment, book the appointment at the consulate, purchase airline tickets and receive our visas. We were more than ready to go!
We spent most of February making decisions. What to bring, what to leave, who to give things to and not to mention the hours upon hours of scanning over 15,000 photos! [Thank goodness we went digital a long time ago!] We then gathered up the photos and sorted by child. Group pictures were dealt out like cards and then all the photos were shipped off or delivered to the kids.
But we still made time to drive to the coast with Debbie and Gerry and spent a great weekend with them, including a trip to Carmel and Dog Beach. Kiara got to see the ocean for the first time in her life. Up close and personal as she was nearly swept away by a small wave. She got wet and those of you who knew her will understand the understatement of saying she was displeased by the whole thing.
March was a whirlwind of activity, selling Alan’s Smart car – which left us on foot for two weeks, a short trial to our car-free status in France. Our going away party was near the end of the month and gave us a chance to say goodbye to some of our nearest and dearest.
We also received news that the family had expanded and were happy to welcome Carson to the family on the 14th. Always great to have new family even when they live far away!
On the 21st we headed to Sacramento to do our paperwork for Kiara so that she could travel with us without fear of quarantine, and in the cabin of the plane where we could comfort her if she got scared. But our fearless angel handled the flight amazingly well and was a big hit at all of the airports we stopped at along the way. While dogs must be in their travel crates during a flight, none of the airports have restrictions so she was able to get out and run around and meet people. We were more than amazed with the Salt Lake City airport as they had puppy restrooms in the airport, complete with fake grass and fire hydrants!
April flew by so fast it was just a blur! Our arrival in France’s Charles de Gualle airport on April 1st (love those overnight flights) was just the first step, then we had a two hour layover, a flight to Toulouse, then an hour long car ride to the apartment. By the time we arrived it was 10 pm and we had been up for nearly 48 hours!
Our landlord showed us how to work all of the appliances, but neither of us could remember a thing the next morning. Thankfully, Jason is around quite a bit and was able to stop by and give his welcome speech to freshly rested travelers.
It took Kiara a while to get used to living in an apartment with tile floors. Apartments in France and colder than those in the U.S. but she adapted well once we moved all the throw pillows to the floor.
We both suffered from a bit of culture shock, especially when at the grocery store. While many things are recognizable even if they are in French, some things had us laughing in the aisles . . . ketchup flavored chips, need I say more! But we had little trouble adapting to the wonderful array of wines and dessert offerings as well as the many fine cafes serving the amazingly delicious cafe creme.
Tracy was the first to celebrate a birthday in France and it was a very nice day, lunch at the Indian restaurant a few blocks from town center, dinner at home prepared by Alan, and there was wine and eclairs . . . yummy!
On the first day of May we had our first picnic in France. The three of us (Alan, Tracy and Kiara) packed up a lunch and headed over the Pont Vieux to the lovely little park by the river, found a picnic bench and enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day. Kiara was able to go leash-less for the first time in her life at the two parks closest to our apartment. She loved going to the park and after a month, we barely remembered to bring a leash when we left the house.
By the end of May we had another college graduate in the family, plans for him and his fiancee to visit, our first Immigration appointment over and done with, and plans to spend six weeks walking across Spain.
Nearly the entire month of June was spent on planning and training for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a little 500 mile hike we couldn’t wait to start. 3 to 5 mile hikes with our new backpacks. Rearranging and reorganizing our gear and supplies to our liking, purchasing items we thought would minimize the load or take up less space. It was like a real-life game of Tetris putting it all together.
July was a ton of fun. Adam and Liz came for two weeks and we traipsed all over Paris, Sacre Couer, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arch de Triumph, Pont de l’Archeveche (with the “love” locks – Adam and Liz participated!), then to Carcassonne for the Bastille Day celebration and fireworks over La Cite, Adam spent his birthday with Liz at La Cite at the Smashing Pumpkins concert. What are the odds? His favorite band, on his birthday, in Carcassonne, at a medieval castle — of course we had to buy tickets! Then we were off to Barcelona for a few days to see the amazing works of Gaudi, Casa Mila, Park Guell, Colonial Guell, and the breathtaking Sagrada Familia cathedral. Then back to Carcassonne for a few days, a day trip to Narbonne to for the kids to see and play in the Mediterranean at Narbonne Plage, then we sent them back to Paris on their own before they flew home. A wonderful visit!
In July during our outing to Narbonne Plage an unexpected thunder shower took out Tracy’s computer with nearly a quart of rainwater, thankfully there is an Apple store in Montpellier, so we decided to wait until we returned from our Camino trip and deal with it then.
The family also welcomed Hamilton on the 17th, this family just keeps getting bigger and bigger, it’s awesome!
August was our most bittersweet month of the year, after nearly 5 years we lost Kiara to complications from her seizure disorder on August 12. Needless to say it was devastating to both of us. As a friend put it, “she was such a large part of your life’s journey” and saying goodbye to her was incredible tough. We wrapped her in her favorite blanket and took her for one last walk through the park near our home, “Kiki’s Park,” before taking her to the veterinary office to say our final goodbyes. It’s been over 4 months and it is still affecting us both. She was such a big part of our life that it still hurts to realize that she’s gone.
Two weeks after losing our little angel, we started our Camino hiking adventure. We left Carcassonne on August 25 by train and arrived in St. Jean Pied-du-Port that evening. Our hotel was charming and well appointed. We spent the evening taking photos and wandering around the little town, taking in the sights, walking up the hill to the official “start” of the Camino, and visiting the chapel where we lit a candle for our baby girl.
August 26 we started out on our adventure and were met with a wet, drizzling, cloudy day, but nothing could dampen our spirits . . . we were on Camino!
We spent the entire month of September (the Camino took us 42 days to complete) walking 15 to 30 kilometers a day — we stayed in places such as Valcarlos, Roncesvalles, Biskerrit, Zabaldika, Cizor Menor (just outside of Pamploma) Puenta La Reina, Estella, Villamayor de Monjardin, Torres del Rio, Logrono (where we had Spanish tapas!), Ventosa, Azofra, Granon, Belarado, Villafranca, Ages, Burgos, Rabe de la Calzada, Hontonas, Itero de la Vega, Poblacion de Campos, Carrion de los Condes, Ledigos, Bercianos del Real Camino, El Burgo Ranero, Mansilla de las Mulas, Leon, Villadangos del Paramos (or close to it — the town didn’t really have a name!), Astorga, Rabanal del Camino, El Acebo (and visited Cruz de Ferro), Ponferrada (this is where Tracy’s cell phone was stolen through an open window in the albergue), Cacabelos, La Portela del Valcarce, O’Cebriero, Triacastela, Sarria (100 kilometers from the finish line!), Portomarin, Palas do Rei, Arzua, O’Pedrouzo, and finally ending in Santiago on October 7.
We celebrated the end of the Camino with some of the best Italian food in Spain, more wine and a hotel with ensuite bath, and laundry service . . . woohoo!
October 10 saw us on our first ever road trip in Europe as we rented a car to drive to a city an hour from Lyon to pick up our new puppy. After six weeks of walking it was a nail-biting experience to be in a car and on the freeways in a country where we barely speak the language and trying to navigate from a printed map as well as read the road signs. Not to mention the flashbacks into Spanish and Italian after being in a different part of the world. But after a very, very long day we were finally back in Carcassonne and welcoming Sami to the family, in English that she didn’t even understand since the breeder had only spoken French to her. To this day she still gets wiggly and excited when someone baby talks to her in French.
Sami the iDog, so named since her legal name is I’Sami. All pedigree dogs in France for 2013 must have “I” as the first letter of their name. We spent the rest of the month introducing our little iDog to the big world and spending lots of time cuddling and kissing on our new baby. Sami has helped begin the healing our hearts needed after losing Kiara. She is lively, funny, quirky and adorable. Our family feels whole again with the addition of our little iDog, with all the kids grown we realized a while ago that having a dog fills that empty place in our home and gives the house the extra bit of noise that we need to feel comfortable. [If you’re a parent you probably realize that silence is not always a good thing!] While we still miss our Kiara very much, Sami’s puppy energy doesn’t leave us much time to grieve — Kiara was a quiet and cuddly pup who was very easy going — Sami is the complete opposite. Sami loves being the center of attention and isn’t happy until someone is playing with her, cuddling her or holding her or throwing the ball, throwing the ball, throwing the ball . . . you get the idea!
In November we had another chance to visit Montpellier, to the Apple store again to have Tracy’s drowned computer repaired. We took some time to pick up a few things at IKEA and to the enjoy Swedish meatballs! Sami was able to accompany us in her chest carrier and was able to have her very first meatball, a treat she enjoyed immensely.
Near the end of the month, Alan celebrated his birthday on a chilly but beautifully clear day. Though we stayed close to home due to the weather, it was a great day!
We also had our first ever Thanksgiving in France, a FaceTime call to Tracy’s sister allowed us to visit with family in Reno later that night as they were preparing to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal together. Our dinner was not the full size turkey feast we put together in the past, but we were able to find a nice turkey breast (dinde) and with a few substitutions from our normal Thanksgiving menu, have ourselves a very nice dinner.
Sami really liked her Thanksgiving dinner as well, and still believes that all food should be served with turkey gravy on top!
Christmas in Carcassonne is like walking through Wonderland. The city really goes all out for the holidays, the castle and the squares are decorated, barely a tree is left unadorned with lights. There is ice skating at the market square, lights over the bridge, torch light parades at dusk, a complete holiday market from December 6 through January 6 with hot wine, roasted chestnuts, Christmas carols on the sound system, a ferris wheel and carousel, larger than life nutcrackers, Santa, trains, rides and games for children, French treats in nougat and chocolate and even cotton candy! The city delivers Christmas trees to every, single business in town and they decorate them for the windows, the street and the business interiors, nearly every street has light decorations hanging across them, and the music plays through the night.
Early in the month, Alan surprised Tracy with a miniature tree with ornaments, lights, garland and a pretty, red tree skirt. The perfect table-top tree that was puppy-proof and out of the way of a teething pup.
We spent our Christmas Eve walking rather than attending midnight mass. Sami still has a bit of separation anxiety and we didn’t want her to wake the neighbors so we settled for an hour long walk at midnight and had the entire city nearly to ourselves. It was magical!
Christmas Day arrived and we welcomed yet another member to the family, Neveah. Hope you’re keeping up with the expanding family tree, there may be a pop quiz later!
We celebrated the day by shooting video of Sami opening her presents, it took nearly 90 minutes for her to open all four, but she managed without assistance although she took long breaks to play with the bows! Christmas evening we had a lovely dinner, French champagne (yummy!), and delicious French pastries. Tracy received a special gift from her daughter, a two hour video chat online. She was able to see the granddaughters open their gifts and to chat with Lorelei as well — a perfect gift! That evening we also had the opportunity for a video chat with Tracy’s family in Reno as they were getting ready for Christmas dinner at her sister’s house.
New Year’s Eve included a selection of French and American favorites set out tapas style by Alan, foie gras, polenta with black truffle, sausage, chorizo, salami, a cheese plate, blinis with smoked salmon and caviar, and champagne, and a nice long video chat with Tracy’s mom.
This has been a fabulous year and we thank all of you for following us on our adventure!