Tag Archives: Europe

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE?

My wife, Dorianne, and I decided to move to France about 9 months ago. We have been “on the road” since early 2015, when we sold our home in southern California. Since then, we have spent about half of our time in Europe and the other half in North and Central America. We have visited 23 countries and 16 states. I have blogged about some of our wine-related adventures.

After thinking that we would probably settle in Spain, we chose France for two main reasons: first, we feel more at home in France, second, we like the hours that the French keep – not quite so late as in Spain. Both countries have great food and wine, and both have a “work to live, not live to work” lifestyle, so it was a close call for us, especially since Dorianne is conversational in Spanish and neither of us are in French. But France called us, no matter where else we traveled.

We have been to France about 8 times since 2005, staying from a few days to several months, in places such as Paris, Avignon, Nice, Bordeaux, Lourdes, Aix-en-Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Lyon.

We decided on Lyon for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a city, but smaller, less expensive, and less congested than Paris.
  2. It has a well-preserved historic section (Vieux Lyon, where we are currently staying), and beautiful architecture throughout the city.
  3. It has a great culinary tradition.
  4. There are four wine regions nearby (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and Côte du Rhône).
  5. An international airport and access to high-speed rail (Paris in 2 hrs.).
  6. A good chamber music community (Dorianne plays the violin).

So, we began our research – after a brief visit in November, we began to do online research, looking at expat sites and chat rooms, travel blogs, French sites (including government sites on how to get visas, etc.), and real estate sites. We decided to rent for a year or so to get a feel for in which area of the city we wanted to settle.

What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.

We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK) (LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).

Once approved, you get a visa in your passport, which they hold for a few weeks, so plan accordingly. You must enter France within 3 months of receiving the visa. We got our Visa in May and had it dated July 12, 2017 to July 12, 2018. You must enter France within seven days of the first date. The visa is good for the entire EU.

We arrived in Lyon on July 13th, my birthday, and celebrated with a dinner at the Institut Paul Bocuse (LINK) – the restaurant of the famed culinary school operated by France’s greatest chef. It is run by students, and you get a Michelin-quality meal for a great price. They have a small but nicely selected wine list as well – and the wine prices are about the same as regular retail. I blogged about an earlier visit (LINK).

We initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but moved to an AirBnb for, we thought, a month or two, while we looked for a long-term rental apartment. That’s when we found out how difficult it is to rent an apartment in France if you are not a citizen or permanent resident (it’s also difficult if you are a citizen). It is illegal to rent to someone who has anything less than a work visa. And short-term rentals are limited to 3 months. We found that there are landlords who are willing to overlook the requirements, but they demand multiple French co-signers for your lease. It is also illegal to pay rent in advance (say pay 6 months or a year). The French laws are very much in favor of tenants, so the landlords take every advantage they can. We are still in an AirBnB.

We are still open to a long-term rental, but we will be away for December and January at least, so we will wait until we return to look further. Actually, it is easier to buy here than to rent – the limitations on visas, etc. do not apply to real estate purchases. So, we may end up buying sooner than we expected. Prices in the Lyon area are cheaper than Paris, but there are not many bargains in the categories that we are looking for.

Another important tip: if you want to do things like get a French cell phone or a transit card (TCL Carte in Lyon), you must have a French bank account. French banks do not operate like US banks in at least one sense – they don’t seem to particularly want new customers. We entered a branch bank to ask to open a checking account and were told that they next appointment to do so was two weeks away. At a different (downtown) branch, we got accounts right away, but we must do everything via that branch. You can do some things online and at ATM machines, but the system is very parochial.

Once we had the account, and got some funds into it (another issue), we got cell phones and transit cards. You also need a French bank account to rent an apartment long-term, by the way. Once you have a French bank credit card (which work sort of like a combination of credit and debit cards in the US – you need to have funds in your account and can only get credit for up to 500€), you will find it easier to use than US cards in restaurants and shops.

As for our first two months in Lyonlife is grand! We are eating very healthy, fresh food from the thrice per week farmers’ markets (marchés) in our Croix-Rousse (4th Arrondisement) neighborhood. Also, there are plenty of bakeries (boulangeries), butchers (boucheries), prepared food shops (epicères & traiteurs), and fresh fruit & vegetable shops as well. Oh, and every neighborhood has several wine shops (caves).

There are also plenty of restaurants, brasseries, bouchons (Lyonnaise version of a bistro), comptoirs (counters), and coffee shops. And wine bars, too. The food is amazing in just about every place you eat (we avoid the chain restaurants other than some of the local chains which have two or three locations in Lyon).

During August, just about everything that is locally owned and not a national or international chain closes for vacation for anywhere from two to five weeks. So, we drank a lot of supermarket wines during the month, which in France, is not a bad thing. There are very cheap to lower-mid-range (1.8€ to 18€ per bottle) wines from all over France, including Burgundy and Bordeaux in every supermarket. The wines are mostly from larger producers, of course, and you don’t see the premier cru labels there, however, the overall quality is very good. We were drinking wines from Tavel, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Moulin a Vent, Burgundy, and others from the supermarket (supermarché) shelves. I was also introduced to boxed wine at a local party, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Luberon Valley Syrah sold in a 5-liter box for 25€.

THE FRENCH EFFECT

I’ll close with this interesting tidbit. Despite eating and drinking a large variety of foods and wines, I have actually lost a few pounds since arriving in Lyon. My best guess is that there are a few factors in this welcome phenomenon:

  1. The lifestyle here is to walk. I probably average 2 – 3 miles per day at least.
  2. We are mostly preparing our own meals, and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is wine and bread every day, too.
  3. I think that when you shop daily and eat fresh foods (even from the supermarket – avoid those center aisles with the processed foods), and those foods are grown on smaller farms (very little industrial farming in France), your body reacts differently to the foods you eat.

I’ll be posting more wine-centric posts as time goes on. We are itching to explore the wine regions in the area in person and to delve more deeply into the Lyon wine scene. So, stay tuned.

I would be very interested in your comments about being an expat or about your experiences with visiting France and other wine capitals in the comments section below.

Au revoir!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

THE KRAKÒW WINE SCENE

After spending twelve days in Ukraine, the ten days we spend in Kraków, Poland (pronounced crak-of), were a real lift. I am thoroughly enchanted with this charming city and I found the wine scene to be a bit enigmatic. We ate in about 15 restaurants and had wine about ten times. We also had some beer  (Piwa) and some vodka. This is a vodka town.

Oh, the wine is there alright – there are wine bars, wine cellars and a decent range of wine lists at various kinds and levels of restaurants, from a few basic bottles to something resembling a full list (the most I saw outside of one enoteka was about 3 dozen selections). So we had a range of wine experiences, from pretty awful to drinkable to very nice. I will hit the highlights below.

Poland is a part of the European Union, so wines from other EU countries can be accessed pretty easily (meaning without excessive duty fees). So there were French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and even some German wines here and there. There was also a smattering of New World wines – mostly mass producers from South Africa, Australia and South America. The few U.S. wines were, well, sort of an embarrassment (think Suter Home). We did see a Blackstone Zinfandel as the lone U.S. representative on a wine bar wine list.

The Polish wines we tried ranged from drinkable to very good. There is a relatively small number of mostly small producers in Poland (LINK), and their growing season is a bit shorter than Hungary’s, so white wines are generally the best bet, with a couple of exceptions.

A RESTAURANT WITH A NICE WINE SELECTION

Restaurant Padrè (LINK) a the fringe of the Old Town is a classic Polish restaurant. Located in the 16th century basement of a Greek Orthodox Church (but not connected to the church), this is one of the better restaurants in Kraków. The kitchen is excellent, the ambiance is first-rate, the service is great, and they have a well-constructed, if small, wine list. We had an excellent 2013 Chateau LaReyne Prestige Malbec from Cahors, France (which my photo of has disappeared) that was the biggest surprise on any wine list we saw in Kraków. It was the usual, dark, inky, rich and delicious Cahors (LINK).

A RESTAURANT WITH VERY GOOD ITALIAN WINES

Bianca Restauracja (LINK), next to the Cathedral on the main Old Town Square, is a wonderful restaurant with a great all-Italian wine list (LINK). We had a lunch and a dinner here and there was nothing amiss with either experience. We had wines by the glass with lunch. But with the amazing dinner, we had a 2013 Pojega Ripasso – Guerrieri Rizzardi Valpolicella (LINK) made from 45% Corvinone, 45% Corvina, and 10% Rondinella, Molinara, and Merlot, that was simple wonderful. It was the highlight wine of the week. Rich, fruity, beautifully crafted with hints of the earth, it was a perfect accompaniment to our dinner. If you are going to be in Kraków, plan to visit Bianca Restauracja.

2016-09-05-20-04-35

A WINE BAR WITH LOTS TO OFFER

Just two blocks from our Kraków hotel, The Hotel Maltański (LINK), was the wonderful wine bar/café, Enoteka Pergamin (LINK), a great spot that we visited four times during our ten-day stay.

The first level features outdoor seating on a pedestrian street with immaculate horse-drawn carriages coming by every few minutes. Inside is a front kitchen for charcuterie, cheeses, soups and salads, with large display cases for the wares. Farther back is a dining room with a second kitchen behind that. Downstairs is a special events room, a cigar lounge, and a special tasting room.

The food here is very well prepared and presented – everything from international cheese platters to pizzas to main dishes like duck – it was all very good. The wine list is the most extensive we saw in Kraków, with lots of international wines and a good number of Polish wines. On one of our visits, we tasted a number of Polish wines with Polish cheeses and ham. The white wines were generally very good to excellent. The same with rosès. The reds were a bit more of a challenge, although we found a couple of good ones.

One winemaker stood out – Winnica Płochockich (LINK), from Glinek Polski – we liked a red (Remare), a white (Lumini XV) and a rosè from them. We bought a bottle of the Remare and the Lumini XV to take to England to share with friends.

Our regular server, Magdalena, is young, but gaining knowledge about wine. She guided us through the menu and the Polish wine world. At one point, on our final visit, the owner send us some Veuve Clicquot Champagne. The Enoteka is a must-stop for wine enthusiasts in Kraków.

 

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

WINE TIPS FOR TRAVELERS

Dorianne and I have been on the road since March, in Europe and the U.S., and I have been blogging along the way. I thought it might be helpful to do a post about Wine Tips for Travelers.

And, of course, if you love wine travel – join me for our Tour of Bordeaux, Paris, and Champagne in March (LINK).

BEST TRAVEL CORKSCREW

The best travel corkscrew that I have found is this little gem, The Boomerang, I purchased for $6.99. After having a number of corkscrews confiscated by TSA agents at U.S. airports, I began to look for one that did not have a knife blade as a foil cutter. This one has four discs that cut very evenly around the top of the foil. The corkscrew itself seems a bit fragile, but I have opened over 100 bottles with it with no sign of it slowing down. I do, however, carry a backup.

2015-10-21 13.20.47 2015-10-21 13.20.56 2015-10-21 13.21.07

The history since 9-11 is that all corkscrews were originally banned from carry-on luggage because of the knife blade as a foil cutter AND the corkscrew itself. This was relaxed a few years ago, but the ban on the knife blade has continued.

Since I always take a corkscrew with me and I fly dozens of times a year, I needed to find one that I could take in my carry-on luggage, because, well, you never know. A case in point – I was flying across country, and a friend happened to be one of the
flight attendants. My wife and I were in coach. The flight attendant brought us a package wrapped in plastic bags and said, “Mr. Lockard, you left this in the front of the plane.” Opening it, I found a bottle of very nice Chardonnay and two glasses from the first class cabin. My corkscrew was in the pocket of my backpack under the seat in front of me!

I have also blogged about the Best Corkscrew (LINK), the Cork Pops Legacy Wine Opener, but that model, being powered by gas capsules, is not suitable for travel. If you can only afford one of these, get the traveler – it’s much cheaper, and you can use it at home or on the road.

TRAVELING WITH WINE

There are a couple of things that you might want to know about taking wine with you on airlines and cruise ships. First, is how to pack the wine so that it is safe and does not spill onto the contents of your suitcase.

Many times, I have traveled with wine bottles in my checked luggage. What I usually do, if it is just a bottle or two, is either use a special wine bottle protector, or, absent that, wrap the wine in some clothing like a sweatshirt or a bathrobe (what, you don’t travel with a bathrobe?). It is best, of course, to have the protector.

If you are flying with more wine, like a case or so, it is best to get wine luggage and check it through. There are a number of products on the market. I like Lazenne (LINK), a light but stable product that works great for most uses. They also make wine bottle protectors.

Lazenne Wine Case Suitcase
Lazenne Wine Case Suitcase
Wine Bottle Protector
Wine Bottle Protector

I did a blog post on bringing wine into the U.S. and customs duties, etc. Here is the (LINK TO THAT POST). Actually, duties on wine are lower than you might expect, and paying the extra airline fee, if there is one, to ship a case of wine is a relative bargain.

Cruise ships can be another story. Oceangoing cruise lines often have a policy restricting bringing alcohol on board. If you make purchases on shore excursions, the booze is often taken upon re-boarding and held until you disembark. You can usually get away with having some wine in your luggage initially, but that will, of course, be somewhat limited. If you are concerned about this, check with the cruise line to see what their policy is.

River cruises are often different. We recently went on a Viking Cruise Lines (LINK) ship on the Rhine River. We were encouraged to bring wine purchases aboard to have with dinner – no corkage fees. The reason for this is that this cruise offers complimentary wine with meals, so any wine that you bring on board saves them money. I still liked the policy, and we did bring some wine on board to consume.

WINE APPS FOR TRAVEL

I am not a big fan of any of the wine apps I have used so far. I guess the best is Delectable (LINK), which lets you scan the label and view a bit of info and any other reviews that happen to have been posted. It also lets you review the wine. The problem is that, while it recognizes most wines that you find only in Europe, there is a paucity of information and very few, if any reviews on them.

For locating wine venues, from wine bars to châteaus to good wine restaurants, I use TripAdvisor.com and occasionally, Yelp.com and Google.com/maps. These work as well in Europe as in the U.S., meaning that they are okay, not really great. Better to find a local wine bar or wine shop, make friends with the bartender or proprietor and ask questions about the local wine scene. If you know of something better, please leave a comment to this post.

SOME PLACES JUST AREN’T GREAT FOR WINE

While wine has become more and more prevalent in many parts of the world, there are some places where wine either isn’t available, isn’t good when it is available, or is so pricey that there are better options.

We were in Iceland (LINK TO THAT POST) in May for a few days. There is wine there, but it is extremely expensive due to shipping costs and UK duties on New World Wines. As my post at the time indicates, we found some great local beers and did just fine.

Prague is near some decent wine regions, particularly in Hungary, but I found that my lack of knowledge of the local wines was a problem. So we went with the huge array of excellent beers there as well.

Next month, we head to Oaxaca, Mexico for a month of Spanish Immersion Classes and the amazing cuisine of that region (think chocolate, mole sauces, and coffee). Not a wine region in sight, and if there is wine, it will be served at room temperature – about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. No, we will stick with beer and the fantastic Mescals of the area.

FINAL TIPS

So my tips include:

  1. Take a good travel corkscrew and a backup.
  2. Select one or two good options for carrying wine with you.
  3. Learn your online and local wine resources.
  4. Remember – when there isn’t wine, there is always something else.

So never let your travels be dictated by your own failure to prepare. Sampling the local wines when you travel is a great experience (even if the wines aren’t always so good), and the people in the wine industry, from the vineyards to the retail shops, have been great people wherever we have traveled.

We aren’t done. After Cleveland, we head to Southern California, then Mexico, then Hawaii, then Southern and Northern California through January – then, who knows? But you can be sure that I will be blogging all the way.

Journey to French Wine Country 2