Just a brief post today (internet service is poor and expensive). Right now I am 3 days out from New York City, nearly halfway to Southamptom, England, on the majestic Queen Mary 2. This is the view out my cabin balcony. The ocean is shrouded with fog. We are moving along at 23 knots, slower than the liners of old that made the crossing in 5 days — a concession to fuel economy and an attempt to keep the ship as stable as possible in the rough waters. Surprisingly, the outside air temperature has been warm in the high 60s. It is windy, but comfortable out on deck with just a light jacket on despite the date being January 6th.
The 7 day crossing allows adequate time to stop and contemplate the wonder of this world of ours, tucked away in a spiral arm of one of billions of galaxies. There is so much water here on our planet! It is hard to appreciate unless you spend days on a ship crossing an ocean. Of course not many people have time to spend a week on ship, especially hard-working Americans. By the time you arrive at your destination, your week of vacation is over, and you’d have to fly back. Indeed most of the travelers on the ship are British, of retirement age, or both. Ship travel is actually a bargain, considering what you get. It is like eating in a fine restaurant 3 times a day, staying in a fancy hotel for a week, and traveling to Europe all for just a little more than a plane ride. Yes you can do it for less than a thousand dollars a person. But time is money and one thing people don’t have much of these days is free time for themselves. So instead we have to suffer being crammed into ever-shrinking space in airplanes.
The ocean is ever-changing and yet always seems to remain the same. Now that we are beyond the continental shelf, it is miles deep. There is a vast unknown world out there. It is an awesome and fearful sight. It reminds me of how weak and small we are compared with the power of nature. One can’t help but admire and wonder at the pluck and certainly foolhardiness of those who first crossed it in their fragile wooden boats.
Early this morning we crossed close to the site where the Titanic went down, over a hundred years ago, perpetual reminder of how we are never as smart or clever as we think we are.
My wife and I are heading back to Europe again for an extended stay. A year ago we did the same thing, moving to Paris right after we both retired from our medical careers. We are planning another 6 month stay. Prior to this second visit, I was able to think about the things that we did right and the things we did wrong on the first visit. Here’s some of the lessons learned:
- Staying more than 3 months in France. This requires a visa (in the UK you can stay for 6 months without a visa). Or, you need to be or be married to a European Union citizen. If you are married to an EU citizen, as I am, you can apply for a Carte de Séjour, which is what I did last time. Be warned: it is much easier to get a visa! If you go the Carte de Séjour route, you must bring your birth certificates, marriage license, financial records, must open a bank account in France and show you have a steady income, must get all your documents in English translated into French by a state-approved translator, and must be prepared to struggle with the French bureaucracy. Only the persistent persevere. I was able to complete the process, but I don’t recommend it unless your are planning permanent residency in France and have no other option. Fortunately it will be easier for me this time. Due to a recent change in British law, I was able to obtain UK citizenship via my mother’s being a UK citizen when I was born (prior to the recent change in the law, you could only claim citizenship through your father, believe it or not!). So I don’t need a visa and can stay in Europe as long as I want through my new UK citizenship.
- Packing. Last time my wife and I took two moderately sized suitcases each and our carry-on bags with us. This time we are down to one suitcase each. We ruthlessly cut down on what we are bringing. In France nearly everyone dresses in black or gray clothes, so no point in bringing any other colored items. Except for our dictionaries and this essential book we are not bringing any physical books. They are just too bulky and heavy. As much as I love real books, this is one situation where eBooks are essential. Last time I brought stuff I didn’t wear or use at all. Not this time.
- Electronics. In order to continue writing posts and developing apps in Europe, I need my electronic gear! When I first came over last year, I was worried that I couldn’t get by with just my laptop with its 15″ screen, as opposed to my big screen system at home. As I have already discussed this is not a big deal anymore and I am totally comfortable doing all my computer work on my Mac Book Pro. Since I do Android and Apple app development, I need at least one device of each for app testing. I have my Android phone (Motorola Droid Maxx) and an Apple iPad Mini 2. I called Verizon about unlocking the phone and apparently all their 4G phones are unlocked by default (an interesting tidbit I hadn’t known). When I get to France I will take out the sim card (it is removed by pulling out the volume control) and get a French sim card. Cell phone data and phone minutes are very cheap and easy to buy as needed in France. Never use your US phone service in Europe, even something like Verizon’s International Plan. It is crucial to turn off your service when you leave the country, or you might be stuck with huge data fees. With all the data syncing that phones do in the background, you can easily run up hundreds of dollars of fees in a few minutes. Fortunately, at least with Verizon and AT&T, it is possible to put your contract on hold while you are abroad. You pay a minimal fee ($5-10 per month), are able to restore service when you return to the States, and as already mentioned, get to use the same phone in Europe with a European sim card. Note that the phone needs to have GSM capabilities which most modern phones have, and may need to be unlocked by the cellular provider — call them to do this. The only disadvantage to suspending or pausing your service is that the contract period is extended by however many months you suspend service, and your eligibility for a phone upgrade may also be delayed.
- Pausing other services. Services like cable, satellite, internet, phone, trash pickup and so forth should also be paused. This is easy to do online or by calling each company. Again the monthly cost is low while these services are paused, and it is easy to resume service once you return. Mail delivery is a special case. For a brief trip you can have the Post Office hold your mail, but for a trip lasting months this is not possible. We use a mail forwarding service (US Global Mail) that can sort and scan the mail we get, with the option to open and scan or forward what we want to us. It is important to try to go paperless with all your utilities and services, so that you minimize the physical mail you receive, as it costs money to forward mail to France.
- Health insurance. It is necessary to carry Health Insurance abroad. We use GeoBlue. It is relatively inexpensive but requires you maintain a Health plan in the US as well. We are working on getting health insurance in Europe which would be cheaper, but you can only qualify for this if you are European citizens.
- Internet. I should mention that the internet service in France is very good, especially compared to the disgracefully slow service I get living just outside of Denver. Free internet at cafés and restaurants is somewhat less available than in the US. Usually you have to ask for a sign-on code to use this. There are some public hotspots in parks, though this is not as widely available as I would like. TV and internet phones come with residential internet service, and the internet phones are handy for calling back home for free.
So these are some of the tricks we’ve learned from our last extended stay in France. I’ll be happy to answer any questions either here or on Twitter (@manndmd).