Christmas, Part 1: Villefranche

Christmas started early, with my family coming down to visit me this year. [Which is a very sensible idea - why have we never gone away to warm and sunny places for Christmas before? We should definitely do so again. Although you (feckless relatives) bought the rain and cold with you. But I forgive you, because it's Christmas. And because you helped me move.]

It actually went spectacularly well, for a Hill family Christmas. No one got electrocuted, nothing burnt down, we didn't crash in a pit of fiery metal-box-of-death collision. Everything went great! The plan was, for those of you who are eagerly awaiting every detail of my family Christmas - and, more realistically, so I can remember in the future what we did - for my little brother and his girlfriend to come down to us, flying into Geneva where my parents and The Metal Box would pick them up. But my dad ripped his ankle to pieces a couple of days before they were due to set off, so James and Vix ended up flying down to Nice instead, where my parents drove down a more direct route, avoiding Geneva entirely and getting here mid-afternoon. Albeit slightly more stressed than they would have been, had they had the benefit of my fabulous local wisdom and directions, to get them down big main roads, rather than the tiny twisty ones they actually took. Still, they ended up exactly where I had envisaged them being, and no one official came and threw them out, so a success all round.

James and Vix stayed in our old flat, and moved all our remaining stuff over, box at a time, in payment - thank you both, much appreciated! The next few days were spent going round Christmas markets (the one in Nice was good, the one in Monaco was good, the one in Villefranche was sadly non-existent, despite signs indicating the contrary...) and seeing the sights of round here. And shopping and cooking. Our flat is not, it seems, big enough for 6 people for any great length of time... Still, no stabbings, no contamination of vegan food, all sorted! (And this flat, surprisingly - and uniquely amongst all the places I've lived - actually has matching place settings for 6 people. Including champagne glasses.)

We left Villefranche in The Metal Box insanely early on the morning of the 18th December (I hadn't woken up at 6am for a very long time...), to go up an Alp for lunch with my older brother and his girlfriend.

We should all pause here, I think, to be particularly impressed by Vix - not only was she stuck in a very small metal box with my family, who she didn't know at all well, but she was doing so completely unexpectedly, as James hadn't mentioned the metal box element of this trip to her in advance. Presumably on the grounds that she's sane, and therefore wouldn't have come, if he had. I suspect shock and large amounts of alcohol may have been her salvation, but I'm still deeply impressed at how well she coped!

Part 2: The Journey to the Alp and Geneva, to follow shortly...


Ducky wishes you a Merry Christmas too

Best Christmas Present 2009.

He has a family - photos to follow at a later date - and lights up when you smash his head in. Alpine photos and the metal box/car park we called home for a few days to follow too, when I can charge my phone and get the photos off...

Hope you're all having a happy Christmas and that it's not all too stressful and over-wrought!


Merry Christmas!

Normal service will resume when I'm back at a computer and not having to type anything on a iPod using sketchy hotel wifi...

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and that Santa brings you all lots of presents! I want details and photos (particularly of any deeply inappropriate gifts!) from you all after Christmas is over...


Finding a flat in Nice

I have had a request! (There are people who actually read this! I'm shocked!) I've been asked to explain how we found our flats - which is a good idea, and one I should have written about before. Thank you for the prompt, Martin.

The first flat, we found through (on their rental properties board) -I recommend starting looking there, since it's one of the few places I've found that allow landlords and tenants to talk to each other directly, without having to go through an agent. Which means you avoid honoraires (agency charges) - normally a month's rent. It's also helpful if you don't speak a lot of French (and Anglo Info in general has some helpful articles on living in France, if you can wade through their crap website design.)

Another website to consider, particularly if your French is better, is De Particulier a Particulier - this is more use if you're in Paris, where they have lots of properties (we found at least one of our Paris flats through PAP), but they do have some properties in the Provinces...

The flat we currently live in, we rented through an agency - we'd been looking for flats in Villefranche since we first saw the place, and came up with this one, along with the contact details for the agency managing it.

You will need quite a lot of pieces of paper to rent somewhere in France - as with most things in France, actually. Passport (or ID card), proof of income - you are supposed to only rent somewhere that costs 1/3 of your income, and agencies check - proof of your last address (be warned that agencies, particularly, may contact your old landlord for a reference). Probably some other things I'm forgetting, I'll add to this if I remember them...

Price - I've just noticed Martin particularly asked about prices. €550 a month is a cheap 1 bedroom flat in a fairly dodgy part of Nice; prices go up from there. Posh parts of Nice tend to be around €850-1000 a month - you should check whether charges are included (charges compris) or not. If they are, check what that actually means. Usually, it means water (and sometimes gas, if they're using gas) is included, but electricity is not, and taxes are not. But this varies - where we are now, all charges including electricity and taxes are included. So it's definitely worth checking.

Outside of Nice, prices vary. Villefranche is more expensive than Nice, possibly because there are less grubby bits. Monaco is shockingly expensive. If you can afford to live in Monaco, you probably don't need my advice, because you can afford to pay someone to do it all for you. Beausoleil is a slightly cheaper alternative to Monaco proper, but that's not saying a lot.

I'll add to this as I think of more things to say. Martin - and indeed, anyone else who is reading this - if there are specific questions you want me to answer, let me know either in the comments or by email...


Today's photos of winter...

Winter has vastly improved since moving here.


Christmas in Villefranche

Villefranche's half-hearted attempt at a municipal Christmas tree:

We decided it was time to put up our own Christmas tree yesterday. (After I'd hoovered, obviously. For future reference, don't hoover until you've put up the tree, it'll be a total waste of time. Even if it's a plastic and metal tree, they still drop bits everywhere.)

So in the afternoon, we bought our fake tree and Christmas decorations from the tacky Christmas shop, and put it together - with the slight hitch that tacky-Christmas-shop baubles don't come with anything to hang them on. So we still need to hang some of them up today, since we ran out of those wire-tie things.

Anyway, the joy that is our Christmas tree:

In the morning, before we put the tree up, we went for a walk around the citadel - which is also where the Villefranche mairie has decided to put itself (and where the tree at the top of the post comes from). Walking around the outside of the citadel walls to get to the port, it was sunny and hot, and I thought I'd show you some photographs, so you can understand why we weren't totally inspired by the joys of Christmas when it came to decorating.

(Unlike our neighbours in the old flat, who were playing "Last Christmas" by Wham. On a loop. For over an hour. I was close to killing them.)

Views from the citadel walkway:


J'adore la montagne

This is the standard of advertising in France. A generic advert for mountains, shown just now on telly.

(Linked rather than embedded, so you're not stunned by the magnificence every time you open the page. Well worth clicking on though. I might make it my ringtone.)


In which my first aid training is proved not entirely useless

Though I didn't really do much. At least, nothing that I wouldn't have done even if I hadn't been on the course. But thank you, work, for sending me on it anyway. The old man who fell and broke his nose and teeth this evening at the train station would thank you too, if he wasn't in hospital somewhere.

Story in brief: old man trips over something, goes flying, smashes his nose and teeth. Starts bleeding copiously. French people look on, saying helpful things like "He's broken his nose." "Oh, he's bleeding. Someone should call the ambulance." One actually helpful person went in to get the train station staff to call an ambulance, while we picked the man up and I took him inside, since there was no actual guarantee anyone was calling the man an ambulance, and there's nothing like pooling blood to focus the attention. Also, it was cold and raining, and the old man needed to sit down while he was bleeding copiously. Some nice passers-by did provide us with tissues, and the train staff did call an ambulance, then pretty much ignored us, me and this shaky old man who was incoherent and wondering what the hell happened to him. My advice to the SNCF is to provide first aid training to your staff, so you don't have to rely on random passers-by to dredge up half-remembered stuff. Ken the first aid man wouldn't be pleased with me, though, I completely forgot to check whether the poor old man was concussed or not - still, the paramedics were on the way anyway, so that's ok.

My most difficult task was to get this poor man to focus on keeping his head tilted forward so the blood didn't choke him and try to apply pressure to his nose to stop the bleeding a bit; he kept making feeble attempts to mop up his blood, rather than concentrating on leaning forward and letting someone else deal with the blood later on. (Turns out said someone was me, rather than anyone actually paid to do it. At least one of the train station staff said thanks...) And he kept trying to do things that would probably useful under other circumstances, like closing his briefcase, but at this point were a bit of a waste of effort (I closed it for him, since it was obviously bothering him...)

Poor man, I hope he's ok - he doesn't have any family round here and he didn't remember his kids' phone numbers. And he was clearly in shock and shaking by the time the ambulance arrived. I hope the shaking was just from shock or a stress reaction, rather than anything more serious. And I had to go home with blood on my hands, causing fellow bus passengers to look at me a bit oddly when they noticed.


Did it. 50,118 words so far, in 27 days.

The story's not quite finished yet, so I will carry on writing it, but I did my 50k words, which was the challenge. And I earnt my free proof copy. So I will one day soon (once I've finished writing it and done some editing) have a book with my story and my name on it on my coffee table. Can't wait.


Moving house

We have a new and shiny flat. It has views like this from the bedroom and the terrace. (Which is big enough to eat dinner on. If you're in the area, give me a shout...)

Gratuitous shots of this evening in our new village - the largest noise problem we have in the new place is the sound of fishermen talking, and that clinking sound boats make at night, rocking in the small waves. (At least until the bar near us opens again for the summer - we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

And my new flat has 2 bedrooms, and the aforementioned terrace with a sea view, and a bath tub and a washing machine - and even a dishwasher. It's perfect, and I love it dearly. And it's all ours, now.


A night out in Monte Carlo

So, last night was a fabulous taste of luxury. When I win the lottery, I want to live like that all the time!

Paul's work decided to take them all out to see Sir Tim Rice in Monte Carlo last night, to which I was very kindly invited (thank you Paul's work!) and we decided to stay the night at the hotel that the function was at, because how often do you get to go to one of the poshest hotels in Monte Carlo, after all? The evening was wonderful - all credit to the organisers - and Sir Tim was entertaining, amusing, and accompanied by amazing singers. It was a brilliant night.

The hotel room was bigger than our flat - the bathroom alone may have been bigger than our flat, in fact. The bed was enormous - I could lie widthways across it with my arms stretched out over my head and still not reach the edges. Granted, I have quite little arms, but that's still a big bed!

Photos, because I can...

Back part of the lobby:

Hotel room:

This is how much it would have cost if we'd just walked in and asked for a room:

(Also, did you know rich people have bath tea bags? Green tea tea bags, at that?)

View from our window:

View from outside the hotel - ours was the one with the open window:

We also got to use the spa facilities, which were included in the price - the sauna and swimming pool were fabulous.

And these are the views of the terrace and from it this morning after breakfast:


NaNo wordle

Because I'm easily distracted by new and shiny things, I thought I'd share with you the below (from It takes the most frequently used words in my novel so far, and puts them in a pretty order. Bigger words appear more often than smaller words (and common words like "the" and "a" aren't included in the count.)

Derryn, Melyssa and Krystal are my main characters - I like a character-driven novel... I'm pleased - and surprised - that laughing isn't bigger, though. Seems like they spend all their time laughing. It's nice that they're happy, but it's getting ridiculous - I shall have to find some synonyms if I ever get around to any editing of this...


Dissertation feedback

I got my dissertation feedback back today. Apparently my dissertation was "a convincing essay, easy to follow and well thought through". Also, it "is extensively researched and makes a good use of sources" and I deserve "credit for undertaking an interesting and ambitious project that paired a solid grasp of theory with a clear methological framework".

Isn't that nice?

(I think they were on crack, or marking someone else's essay, personally.)


Ding,Dong, the Bugs are dead!

Well, I hope so anyway. We resorted to all out chemical warfare and set off a gas bomb to kill them all yesterday. That or drive them to our neighbours flats, I'm not picky. Though I'd prefer the genocide method of bug removal, if forced to choose.

Having to evacuate my flat (after wrapping everything in clingfilm or sealed plastic bags) for 5 hours meant that I managed to get a fair amount of writing done - I'm up to 35,000 words now in my story. Most of them are rubbish, of course, but that's not the point. Quantity, not quality.

Today's is Monaco's national day. I'm not sure what they celebrate today, but all businesses have to close for the day. Which is nice. Do we have something like that in the UK? If not, we should.


St Paul - photos

Breaking this into another post, because it's my blog and I can...

Photos from Saint Paul, then.

From l'exterieur of the village:

Random sculptures around the village:

Pretty sunlight patterns:

Houses I want to live in, seen from our lunch terrace:

(and, because my camera has a good zoom, a closer view...)


Copyright Nicole Hill, 2009-2010

All photos and text are mine - ask me *before* you use them elsewhere. Don't just copy them and hope I won't notice, it's theft.

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