Thursday, 31 August 2017

Drinking wine

Rosé, that's my kind of wine!

A few years ago, we invited a couple of friends (she's Irish and he's American) for dinner. It wasn't anything fancy really, just finger food and some drinks.

As soon as they arrived, the husband  started apologising. He told me they were a bit stressed at the idea of going to a French house, that they realised they had to bring some wine,  but they didn't know which kind. So they brought a bottle with a cork, because if it was a bottle with a screw cap, I would have probably been offended. Yes, apparently, French people are supposed to hate screw caps; I just didn't get the memo. It must have happened after I left the country. On a side note, I find screw caps so much easier, it took me years to figure out how to use a corkscrew without making a mess!

Anyway, they proudly handed me the bottle, a Red wine, Cotes-Du-Rhones 2011... And I burst laughing:

"Thank you guys, you shouldn't have gone through so much trouble and stress. I don't know anything about wine, and I don't drink red anyway!"

The bottle didn't go to waste though, my husband enjoyed it very much.

Why does everyone assume I know about wine, just because I'm French? It's like presuming every Irish person knows about beer, but trust me, I couldn't differentiate a Bordeaux from a Bourgogne or a Merlot from a Cabernet Sauvignon. And when I have to buy wine in the supermarket, I choose the one  with the pretty sticker, that is not too expensive, and I hope for the best.

I hope for the best for the people who will drink it because I don't like red wine. Actually, it's not that I don't like it, I just don't know how to appreciate it. There so many different varieties, I don't think I could tell if the wine is good or not.

There's something I really don't get though, and that's people drinking glasses of wine in the pub, especially women. Do they think it makes them look more elegant or something? For me, wine has to be drank while having a meal and not on its own. I know this is really a French thing, but I will stand by it!

In fairness, I can have a glass of rosé on its own (or a few...), but I still prefer to enjoy it with food. Maybe it's just the way I was brought up. Wine accompanies food, you don't go out and get drunk solely on wine (except if you're a student, it's "Beaujolais Nouveau" night in the bar, and the wine is free...).

The strange thing is, after writing all this, and explaining how, even though I'm French, I know nothing about wine, I realised I definitely have a French way of drinking it...!

Friday, 25 August 2017

6 tips for a smooth airport experience

We're finally back from our holidays (where I got to see the beach by the way!) after some misadventure at the airport. This eventful experience made me reflect on everything that happened to my and my husband while flying out over the years. So here are some "tips" for a smooth airport  experience...

Don't lose your flight tickets

Nowadays, with online check-in and mobile boarding passes, the likelihood of losing your ticket is slim, but 15 years ago, when most people were going to the travel agent and had to hold onto their tickets for days or even weeks, the risk was real! I had booked my tickets for the big Irish move and placed them in a very *secure* place (the kitchen table) only to realise the day before leaving that they were gone. I suspect my mum threw them away by mistake as they were probably buried in between a pile of rubbish... Unfortunately the travel agent wasn't able to re-print one and I had to buy a brand new ticket. She opened an investigation with Air France to make sure no one used the spare one, and I got a refund ONE YEAR after! Since then, I'm an organised freak when it comes to travel documentation!

Make sure you leave for the airport well in advance

That goes without saying, right? Even Google sends you reminders to leave on time! You should be at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight, so you should take in account all possibilities that could occur on the road and even the airport. At least that's what my mum says: "There could be a car crash, a traffic jam, snow (in summer, seriously??), you could also get lost, who knows...". Most importantly a few of those things could happen at the same time.
Back in July, my mum drove my husband to the airport after he dropped the kids for the summer. She hadn't been to that place for a while so he had the GPS on. They got stuck in a traffic jam for an hour because a car had broken down just before a roundabout. Once they finally got out, they made their way to the airport but the GPS directed them to the military airport instead of the civilian one, and my husband arrived only 10 minutes before the plane departure. He was let onto the plane only for the fact that he had to be in Dublin the same day to leave for Mauritius the following day for his father's funeral. So, if you don't want to stress too much, anticipate all possibilities!

If you're dropping someone, stay until the plane takes off

And that's because, once again, you never know what could happen, especially if the airport is a long distance from your home. About 10 years ago, I went to France for a few days, and my parents drove me back to the airport. I checked in and started to queue for boarding so my parents decided to leave. As it happened, the plane was cancelled because some protesters invaded the runway and the plane we were supposed to take couldn't land. Unfortunately it was a small airport and they only had flights to London (I was connecting) 2 days after. My parents were gone already and I tried to ring them but their mobile phone was off. I only managed to reach them once they were back home, an hour and a half later. Then I had to wait another hour and a half for them to pick me up... The moral of the story? Do not leave someone until their plane take off, or keep your phone on.

Have a valid passport

This is a common mistake if you don't travel a lot. It happened to my mum with her ID card, but she managed to get a new one just in time. One of our friends was even at the airport when she realised her passport had expired so that was the end of the trip. But the worst thing that happened was when my husband's passport was only 5 months valid at the time of our trip to Mauritius (If you fly outside the European Union you should have a passport valid for more than 6 months after the return date). We flew out without any issues, and he was supposed to renew his passport while over there, but he was so busy catching up with family and drinking Mauritian beer that he didn't think too much of it. He was sure there wouldn't be a problem, but in the end, the airline refused to let him on the plane back to Ireland and I had to travel on my own with a baby, for 12 hours...

Do not leave your luggage unattended

*All luggage left unattended will be automatically destroyed*. I always laugh when I hear that announcement in the airport. After all who would do that? Well, when you're travelling with kids, inattention can happen. My husband was transiting through London with the kids, and of course, one of them wanted to go to the toilets. The eldest was carrying a suitcase and the small one had his bag pack, while my husband had another suitcase. The youngest complained his bag was too heavy, so in a panic and with the child almost peeing himself, he took the bag pack. After a minute or so, he realised he wasn't carrying his own suitcase anymore. But when he went back, it was gone. He went to the lost and found desk, hoping they hadn't blown his suitcase up already, but no, it was just being scanned. Then the agent asked him what was inside to make sure it was his. The problem was, I was the one who packed it! He did opened it once before to put the kids' hoodies in so he kind of knew (and it was just children's clothes). After he got his suitcase back, he had to fill in the longest form ever, detailing all the addresses he lived at, all the jobs he had, and the same for me (even if I wasn't even there!). MI6 probably has him on file now!!

If you book connecting flights, make sure you have plenty of time between both flights

We came back from Brittany last week-end and when we arrived at the airport, we were told the plane was delayed for 2 hours because of a crack on the runway (!). We got transferred by bus to another airport an hour away, which means we missed our connecting flight in London. There was only 90 minutes in between the 2 flights, but I had booked that one because I didn't want to be home at 1 o'clock in the morning. Also, I thought that in the event of something happening on the last flight, we would be stuck in London for the night. That was without counting the appalling Ryanair Customer Service who stressed us out even more (their only solution was a flight on the following Thursday!!). We almost considered renting a car and travel to Holyhead to take the ferry home. At least their agent at the airport was a bit more helpful. He initially told us they weren't doing any stand-by for the last flight, then, after an insane amount of begging he finally agreed, but there was someone before us on the list. "So you actually do stand-by!" I told him. He replied it was an old lady. Fair enough. Except the old lady was actually a 25 years old guy whose first flight had also been delayed. Ryanair, you never cease to amaze me (in a really wrong way!). In the end, we had to pay 400 pounds to fly out that night, all that because there were less than 3 hours in between our 2 flights. Lesson learned I guess.

If every trip went without a hitch, we wouldn't have any stories to tell, wouldn't we? So, even if there's always stress involved at the time, we always manage to laugh about it afterwards!

What about you, any interesting airport stories you want to share?

Friday, 11 August 2017

The "holiday"

Will I have time to even see that beach??

For a start, I just want to give an update on my "childcare nightmare" situation. We have finally found a solution and just in time before flying home for the holidays. In the end the kids will take the bus in the morning and they will stay at the creche only for the after school. With the price increase, we're actually going to end up paying the same as last year. Oh, and to do all that, I had to change my work hours. It's in these times that I'm grateful for a flexible boss!

At least we won't have to stress over childcare during our holidays, because let me tell you, a holiday home is absolutely exhausting. We're not there yet but our week is almost already planned minute by minute. OK, not quite, but you get the idea.

I usually put a status update on Facebook to let me friends know were coming and after that, it's first come, first served. I also text the couple of friends who are not on Facebook, but if they're not quick enough, tough!

So far we're booked on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, Monday all day, and Wednesday all day. I still have to arrange to meet two other friends so I hope they won't be looking for the same day because I can't divide myself (and they live more than an hour apart so a joint meeting is out of the they don't really know each other, which would make the whole thing a bit awkward...)

On top of that you have family. The old auntie you don't really want to see but your parents kind of force you to visit (after all, it could be the last time), the cousins you would love to see but they're all scattered around the area and are impossible to gather at the same time, your sister and brother you want to spend so much time with but just can't, your own parents you want to chat with but get on your nerves after 2 days...And well, your kids you haven't seen for 6 weeks and who will probably make you pay as soon as you arrive.

And then you've got shopping. We only have hand luggage this time, but the years we go home with the car we take at least a half-day just to go to supermarket! We mostly buy wine (typical!) and few things we can't find in Ireland. I also love going to my local market as there are always arts and crafts, and of course food from the region. Plus, I usually get to bump into a cousin or someone I haven't seen in ages...

I usually go clothes shopping as well, even if I hate it. French fashion is just a breath of fresh air compared to the Irish style. Sorry but there are fashion choices here that I just don't get, especially at the moment where I feel like I'm back in the nineties every time I step into a shop. I was a teenager in the nineties, the last thing I want to do is dress like that again!! I just need my fix of "safe" shopping in Camaieu or Cache-Cache.

So yeah, between the friends catch-ups where you try to squeeze in as much news as you can in the space of few hours, the visits to the old uncles and aunties, kids time, parents time, sister time and shopping time, I wonder if I'll actually have time to go to the beach at all!!

Mind you, the weather is supposed to be... well... like a Breton weather, so mild and possibly wet. At least I'll have the wine to forget about it!

What about you, does it stress you out to go on holidays at home?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Another year, another childcare nightmare

And here I thought our childcare problems were over... Last year our childminder let us down but we found a creche who could take the kids before and after school, provide meals and even help with homework. On top of that we were not paying them during school holidays if the kids weren't attending, which was a huge relief especially for summer as they're spending 6 weeks "practicing their French" with my parents.

The kids were happy, we were happy, everything was fine. Except we just got a text from the creche stating they undercharged us last year so this year we would have to pay almost 900 euros a month just for 4 hours a day...And they "forgot" to charge us for breakfast, which comes at 5 euros a day per child. I know the creche has running costs, needs to pay staff, insurance, rent etc, but I doubt breakfast costs this much...It's not like they get a full Irish every morning!!

Anyway, the thought of having to pay more childcare than mortgage is just killing me, and it is expensive because we both work full-time. But today I checked the new scheme the government has put in place to help with childcare costs. And I'm just even more pissed off. It seems great and all for kids under 3 years old (if you're happy with a 20 euros per week discount), but once they start their free preschool year (which is only 3 hours a day!) what do you do? Then I checked what other help was available for older children but we don't qualify for anything because we work... which doesn't make sense at all.

I do feel as parents we are taken hostage by childcare providers, be it childminders or creches. Both childminders we used made us pay when we were taking holidays and it was free when they were taking time off. But they were almost never taking time off. And when they did it was on their terms so I always had to find a solution to manage when it happened. I know part of the problem is we don't have any family around to help, but I'm pretty sure it happens to Irish people as well who don't have parents nearby.  Even last year, it costed less to fly my nephew over from France than to pay for 2 weeks full time in the creche. There's something wrong here...

Anyway, enough rant for today! We still haven't figured out what we 're going to do comes September. All the other creches I contacted are either too expensive or they don't have a bus service to drop and collect the kids... A childminder would be ideal but the last one dropped us because the school run was unbearable so I don't want the same thing to happen. The kids are going to different schools next year and they finish an hour and half apart (and they won't start at the same time either!), so I don't know if I'd find someone happy to do it. I think we will scrap the before school care and maybe put the kids in the bus to go to school, or I'll have to try and change my hours or I might just give up work (although that's unlikely because I would just go crazy at home!)

I am longing for the day the boys will be able to walk to and from school, but unfortunately that's not going to happen for another 5 years at least!! In the meantime I will just have to suck it up once again and find a solution... Wish me luck!!