07 September, 2014

Where, Oh Where, is La Fère?!

Dining room with space to move!
Congratulations to us!

We live in an apartment tall enough for adults!

Our apartment is finally big enough for us, but La Fère is smaller than anywhere either of us have ever lived. Fortunately, it really does have multiples of everything we ever need: 4 grocery stores, 2 pharmacies, 3 doctors, 3 cafés, our bank, 3 bakeries, the post office, and other random stores we have yet to enter. There are also at least 5 hair salons that we will never use.

For as much stuff as we don't have, and for as many times as both of us have moved in our lives (we're somewhere around a combined 25 times, plus the now 5 apartments in our 6 years of marriage!), we have been exceptionally slow at finishing this move-in.

Living room with real couch!
My club was extremely helpful in so many ways: all of our things were already in the apartment when we arrived, and they even painted, decorated, and set up all of the furniture in advance as well!

Kitchen with huge fridge!
Anything we have needed, they have come through for us, and we have felt very welcome and included in everything.

Kitchen with toaster oven!
There was A LOT of cleaning to do. We were the first to live in our last two French apartments, which still demanded a level of cleaning, but not to the same extent. We also think the apartment had been empty for a while...as evidenced by the overwhelming spider population and cobweb presence in every room.

Bathroom with rain
shower head!
(I literally just stepped away from the laptop to kill another spider just now.)

And by every room, I do mean that, yes, we have more than one room! We have so many doors (5!) in this place, we don't even know what to do. We live on the first floor on the one-way street that takes you out of town, so the noise level in the front living/dining room is loud, but easily ignored.

Bedroom with France map!
The front room has access to the bathroom (with a really nice new shower) and the kitchen (with our first oven-like appliance in 3 years). The kitchen acts as a quasi-hallway to our bedroom in the back (we can't hear the street at all, it's amazing), and the backyard.

Backyard with work!
The backyard has been a hot mess of rotting plums, flies, and bees, but we're hoping that once the plum tree is finished, we can open our back window more often. I hate yards, I think all they make is extra work for everyone, and this yard is no exception.

I did put in a solid two hours of work, picking up rotten plums and dodging bees. I also picked as many good plums as were left to make what hopefully ends up being a decent jar of plum jam. Our neighbor who shares the yard cut back the tree a ton and cleaned up more of the plums. The problem with the plums is the day after everything has been cleaned, there are just as many new rotten plums all over the ground again.

Like I said: I hate yards.

Doesn't every French entrance have fedoras, coats, slippers, and champagne?
I don't know how old our building is, but I would definitely categorize it as pre-1900s. Most of the structures in La Fère date between the 1840s and World War I. During those 70 years, La Fère was a bustling French village, boosted by a Royal Artillery School, and it fit itself nicely. Don't get me wrong; this place was never a metropolis. The largest population ever recorded was barely 5,400 inhabitants...in 1891.

The building across the street.
Now, not even a century after World War I, La Fère is dwindling around 3,000. As we walk and drive around, the history of a larger town is obvious: abandoned homes, businesses for sale, buildings completely overtaken by nature.

La Fère is dancing on the fence between future boom town and future ghost town. 

We hope it will continue to lean more toward the former. The infrastructure already exists, and the population of the city is surprisingly very young. We will do our part to help while we are here, for however long that may end up being!

Aside from documenting #whereohwhereisLaFère on Twitter, Instagram, and the fresh new face of the blog, we have, of course, already lined up our next couple of adventures! I am also very excited to announce that Marc will be "guest blogging" monthly to give an even deeper insight into our life here!

I have 3 volleyball matches in Paris this season, and plenty of friends to stay with while I'm there! I'm also going to be able to continue to tutor about 2-3 times a month in Paris, which is such a blessing/relief/miracle because I love working at the engineering university so much!

In mid-October, we're taking the Eurostar to London for a night to catch a show and visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Yes!

For Christmas, we are flying to Madrid! We will be doing day trips all over central Spain, and hopefully getting to bask in some sunshine while we're at it! Get ready for #NavidadenMadrid2014 on the Spain blog pages!

We may be "out of Paris" now, but we are still very much in Europe, and we hope you will enjoy this new small-town perspective of our lives in France.

The cathedral down our street.
Being in the middle of nowhere in France is happily 
still in the middle of somewhere in Europe.

01 September, 2014

The Voorschoten Venture

VOORSCHOTEN

On my way to somewhere.
This was a true bike quest day.

You can imagine my delight when Wikipedia revealed there was a castle within biking distance (20 minutes).

Horses.
I set out for the Kasteel Duivenvoorde (I cannot pronounce this to save my life) underneath misty skies. I pedaled slowly through pastures, next to tractors, and past resting horses.

When I arrived at what was supposed to be an entrance, all I saw in front of me was a large locked gate. To the right was a V-shaped walk-in door that swung back to let you in, then forward to let you out.

Driveway.
What was I supposed to do with my bike?

I loitered on the driveway for a few minutes, alone in the vast expanse of swamps, fields, and trees. Could I wedge the bike through the V-door? Will the gatekeeper come and unlock the gate soon? Is there a latch I'm not pulling correctly?

Gingerbread garden house.
A Dutchman zipped up on his bicycle. I slowly asked him, "Does the gate ever open?" He shook his head, "No," and proceeded to lift his entire bike over his head. He stepped right into the V-door, then left out of it, hopped back onto his bike, and disappeared down the drive.

Barn.

I should have asked him to lift my bike over the fence...but I hesitated, and by the time I realized that was the best idea, he was gone.

Princess and the Frog bridge.


I pretended like I could lift my bike over my head, too, for about 5 seconds.


I finally just decided to lean the bike up against the side of the fence in the grass, and hope for the best upon my return.

The cows and sheep called out to me as I walked silently down the pavement toward more trees. The canals along the driveway were bright green with the reflections of the trees and light. I passed a gravel parking lot where I think I was supposed to buy a ticket to walk the grounds...but I didn't.

Bayou boathouse.
I passed a maintenance barn and garden house. Not a soul in sight. I took a right turn to the boathouse and went down the path that may have said, "Verboden."

I walked toward a large field of freshly mowed grass and looked out at the farms in the distance. As I turned back around, there it was: the Kasteel Duivenvoorde.


Canoe on the moat.
This castle is not particularly significant for any reason, except that it is a castle - and those are always worth my time. I didn't go inside, or on a tour, or see anyone else the entire hour I was inside the gates.

Narnia bus stop.


I had this nagging feeling that I wasn't supposed to be there, sneaking around with a camera...which made me love it even more.

It was simply my castle for that hour, and I was enjoying my extensive grounds.


Need to live on this street, STAT!
I may have gotten a little bit lost in neighborhoods on my way back to Wassenaar.

But being a little lost just makes you that much more satisfied when you finally make it back home.

Thanks to the rain and my bicycle for a great week!

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