May 31, 2006

Moving to Paris

The reason I moved to Paris was because my girlfriend was offered a job there, and we just went. We thought we were fairly prepared for it, she spoke fluent french, we didn't need work permits, and the removal people were happy to look after all our stuff until we found somewhere to live.

Once we had arrived though, we realised that there were plenty of things we hadn't got a clue about. That isn't to say we were all adrift and way out of our depth, but there were quite a few things that we hadn't really done our homework on.

The first was deciding where to live. We had no idea which was the bad end of town, and which areas where out of our league. Her job was at La Defense, and it seemed a sensible start to find an apartment locally - we had already wandered around the area and not got mugged, so it seemed a reasonable thing to do. We could always move later.

Here were the first signs that we didn't know what we were doing. Firstly, La Defense isn't in Paris - it would take another six months before realising we were banlieu, subspecies to the Parisiens. Secondly, at each apartment we looked at, the landlord or agent would ask for our dossier. We'd look back blankly, wondering how important a dossier could be. Again, it would be a long time before we realised that renting an apartment was impossible without a good dossier, or over-crammed folder full of bank details, references and various irrelevant documents (I've known one landlord to demand from an american friend photocopied proof of not just theirs, and their parents addresses, but also their grandparents!). Somehow we hit a lucky break, and met a landlord who rented us the apartment purely on trust. Apparently a near impossible find we now know.

The next difficulties was the dreaded residence permit (the carte du sejour). There are countless pages out there on the internet describing endless back and forth trudging to get multiple forms and documents, copied and translated in triplicate, misinformation and rules made up as they go along. By this time we fortunately had an internet connection, and was able to get some information, but a lot of it contradicted itself, and the only tactic was to take every document you've ever kept in your entire life, from birth certificate to under 12's bronze swimming award. Each time we returned to the prefecture to hand in more documents, it was a desperate trip to Nanterre (remember we were banlieu, so no Parisien prefecture for us). No matter what the weather was at home, it always rains in Nanterre!

Why am I talking about all this? Mainly so I can recommend this book; Living & Working in Paris. I found it in WH Smiths on rue du Rivoli a few years ago, and it was perfect (so perfect that I lent it to someone and never got it back!). Unfortunately the author hasn't updated it since 2001, but it probably is still fairly relevant (he does have a new book called Going to Live in France, but I've not read it).

The book covers the arrondissement of Paris, with a guide to property and rental prices. We would have known about the magic dossier, and would also have been prepared for the exaperating rudeness of estate agents (I'm still waiting for a few calls to be returned).
Emplyoment issues are explained, with CDI, CDD, period d'essai all covered (that's full time, part time contract, and probation period to all us non-frenchies). Tax is dealt is fairly understandable terms, although it usually boiled down to 'pay lots'.
The residence permit is covered, although I've heard it's going to be dropped soon (I'll believe it when I see it! At the very least it'll be replaced with something even more hideous).

And finally, there's a wealth of knowledge on french etiquette (very important, since they invented the word. Although they also invented the words bureaucracy and surrender!). My favourite was something we had already discovered by ourselves, and that if you're invited to a meal with some french people, take flowers not wine. To take wine will insult the host by saying that they have no taste in wine (while having no taste in flowers only insults the wife's taste in flowers, which is not a problem).

May 14, 2006

Suburbs around Paris

One of my favourite books is Ken Follet's 'Pillars of the Earth' As you probably know, most of Ken Follet's books are spy thrillers, but this one was about building cathedrals during the middle ages. That doesn't sound too thrilling, and in fact before he wrote the book everyone including his publisher advised him against writing it. However, it's fantastic and became one his best selling books. Certainly everyone I've lent it to or recommended it has also found it a great book too.

The book mentions at one point a cathedral in Saint Denis. The story is all about the stone masons who are pushing cathedral building to it's limits, so that they're taller and bigger than anything gone before it, and the hero of the story ends up in Saint Denis to learn how the french are doing it (who at the time were better than anyone else).

Saint Denis is now swallowed up as part of the suburbs around Paris (not really Paris, but what's called the banlieu - Paris is really only the city within the motorway which surrounds it, called the peripherique). Recently I went there with a friend to see the cathedral, inspired to go pretty much just from the Pillars of the Earth book (eat your heart out Dan Brown).

The architecture didn't quite live up to expectations, but that's only because I was probably expecting too much. After you've seen Notre Dame or St Eustache, everything else seems fairly small, and so I shouldn't have got my hopes up about a vaulted roof from a church that was a forerunner of the others. However, what was fantastic was that this cathedral is the final resting place of most of France's kings and queens!

This was completely unexpected - I had no idea that they would be there. Most of the statues or monuments to them are really grand. One even has the king and queen rolling around, naked in bed. Make sure you also go down into the crypts, since there you'll find a crystal urn containing the preserved heart of King Louis XVII, who died as a boy during the revolution (apparently DNA tests have confirmed it was his).

It's well worth the visit. It's very easy to get to by RER, although don't expect to do much else there. It's fairly grey and drab, like many of the other areas of the banlieu I've been too (I used to have to go to Nanterre for my carte du sejour, since I lived just outside the peripherique near La Defense, and somehow it always rained there - even if it was beautiful skies before getting on the RER to go there!). Don't take me too much at face value there though, as I haven't seen a great deal of the banlieu. One area that is supposed to be gorgeous is Sceaux, but I haven't quite made it that far yet.

May 12, 2006

Paris City Guide

This posting is a bit of an experiment. My new city guide sites have been having a little trouble with their DNS entries, but I think it's all cleared up now (-ish, the Venice guide, and the Los Angeles guide are still having problems. Actually, I never realised how fantastic the word ish is until I found out there isn't an equivalent in french. How do they get by?!!?).

Sooo, this experiment is to plaster a whole bunch of links to those sites, make sure this posting has a bunch of relevant categories, and then see what happens. The blog should ping a bunch of RSS feeds, which will list the sites, and then hopefully we'll see if search engine spiders find the sites. Here's the links;

Paris tourist information
City guide to Rome, Italy
Information and city guide to Venice, Italy
Tourist sites, New York, USA
Hotels, restaurants, and tourist information for London
Visitor's guide to Madrid, Spain
Tourism guide to the city of Los Angeles, USA

I doubt I'll see many real people come by, since quite clearly this posting isn't that inducive to readers, but feel free to have a look. The sites are mostly in the construction phase still though, do don't expect much. Of all of them, the Paris city guide is probably the furthest along (unsurprisingly).

May 3, 2006

Book review

A friend recently gave me a book to review, saying that if I reviewed it I'd get to keep it. The book was all about how to make money from websites, and he figured I'd know what I'd be talking about.

To be honest, the subject has interested me, since to keep your website on top of the search engine listings you have to keep abreast of the latest changes, and usually this means reading various blogs and forums. Quite often you come across people who are making a living purely from having a website. This isn't from selling things through websites, but actually the adverts on the pages themselves. I've always been skeptical, and even after reading this book I still am.

Nevertheless, I should at least try and test out what I've read in the book (actually, this isn't a lot, the book is mostly a rehash of the google adsense help pages - which incidentally is the first lesson. You don't need to write new content, there's a whole load out there free to use). So, here's the grand announcement of my cobbled content, advert overladen website;

Paris - Show City Info! A guide for tourists planning a trip to Paris.

A rather clumsy title I admit. The first difficulty was getting a domain name. Everything is taken already! And not by legitimate sites either. I piled through a whole ton of ideas, using thesauruses (thesauri?) and keyword generators trying to get a decent name. When you check out where the URL leads, it invariably was a domain speculator, which really sucked since without them everyone would have really cool URL's... Actually someone swiped before we could get it ourselves (admittedly we were a bit lazy, but they took it within hours of the .eu domains being released to general public). Annoying as that was, it kinda means we're good enough to *be* swiped, so there's a compliment in there somewhere.

Anyway. With luck I'll be raking in 10's of dollars every year with my new site. Maybe this will be the start of a whole new career (how many's that now? At least five...). At the moment the site's still under construction, so I've done absolutely no SEO work on it. Googlebots have still somehow found it, but no visitors. It'll be interesting to see if this blog entry will cause any.

March 4, 2006

Pulp fiction

While at the airport I picked up a paperback called 'The Traveller' by John Twelve Hawks (I guess Hawks sounds tougher than drummers drumming), and while I'm about to slate it, I'll still admit I'm quite enjoying reading it!

I'm not going to slate it for the way it's written, as it's perfect for what I bought it for (to kill hours of mind-numbing waiting around in airports, although frankly I'd rather be sitting by a pool with a large G&T reading it, which also nicely describes this kind of book). What really annoyed me was that it was so desperately trying to be marketable. Here's a quick list of suck-ups to Hollywood in the book:

* Set in LA, with some 'exotic' scenes in Paris (of course)
* Lots of fights with samurai swords
* Car chases with explosions
* Beautiful (but deadly) heroine (Alias anyone?)
* Secret societies (surely not like Da Vinci code)

It was the Los Angeles setting that really did it for me - I reckon I know every freeway through the city now, and I've never even been there! Mr Twelve Toes is clearly begging for the film of the book, I'm surprised he hasn't described the heroine as Jolie-esque. As if it isn't tiresome enough that every American blockbuster is set in LA, now it seems that books are going to be as well...