Rome is a huge metropolis and the public transportation isn’t as efficient as other cities we have visited. That being said, we found an excellent way to see the city while avoiding the hordes of tourists. We began our day early and was surprised that it was already unbearably hot outside. We waited for a bus to take us into the east side of town and it took forever to arrive. I was already missing the convenience of French bus stops, that have electronic boards which tell you when the next bus will arrive. It was also annoying that we didn’t have any change on hand to pay for bus tickets so we just gave the driver €5 and he smugly kept the change. We couldn’t order an Uber because the city only has Uber Black service which is insanely expensive so hot and dirty city bus it was. I have always dreamed of renting a pastel pink Vespa scooter with a matching pink helmet to tour the city pretending like I am Audrey Hepburn’s character in Roman Holiday. So I had the brilliant idea to book a scooter tour for our family. It took almost an hour just to find the scooter rental company as we kept getting sidetracked by the scenery.
Alas, my dream riding around Rome in a pretty, pink vintage scooter were dashed when I saw these red and black scooters lined up outside. Fine, I could improvise with bright red only because it matched my earrings and lipstick. I was ready to hit the road until the guy leading our scooter tour asked us, “So you know how to drive a manual transmission, right?” Uh, err, no absolutely not! He also asked if we had previous experience driving a scooter in city traffic. Now technically, I drove my Mom’s 4-wheeler in the desert once and that ended in me crashing into a cactus while wearing flip flops, so admittedly, not a ton of experience. He laughed and said you think you’re going to drive a scooter in this city (in heavy bumper-to-scooter traffic everywhere). We all agreed, we didn’t want to die that day despite my further disappointment. The guy at the scooter rental place gave me our only other option…take a guided three person Vespa tour. Bravo!!
The downside was the driver wouldn’t arrive for a few hours. We decided to walk around the neighborhood and find some lunch and gelato while we waited.
We were told to check out one of the city’s best gelato places Giovanni Fassi but we arrived before they opened. I was surprised that people were lining up for this place but luckily we were first in the door.
Holy Cow! The gelato was insanely good. Liv wanted another one but we promised to get some after our tour. The place had 1960’s Wes Anderson vibes. We headed back over to the scooter rental place and met our tour guide.
Our guide/driver, Georgio, was amazing! He was so knowledgeable and fun. He asked us what we wanted to see and put together a comprehensive tour of Rome in three hours.
I was elated that we didn’t opt for the crazy scooter ride. We chilled in the Vespa and soaked in the breeze as we drove past poor, miserably-hot tourists walking by.
Georgio made stops at each site and gave an in-depth explanation of the history of the location from the perspective of a bonafide Roman. We learned so much!
The time seemed to fly by. Georgio even swung by the Trevi fountain to attempt another photo but it was the middle of the day and swarmed with people.
We ended our tour by driving past the infamous Spanish Steps and it was so crowded I couldn’t even recognize them!
If you visit Rome and want to book the Vespa tour please request Georgio, he is the best!
We hugged Georgio and said ciao. I had to bite the bullet and ordered an expensive Uber Black to drive us to the other side of town. I knew I wouldn’t survive the city bus in that heat at that time of day. As we were basking in the air conditioned Uber, I totally kicked myself for forgetting to take a photo with all of us and Georgio, boo! 🙁
Well, I was immediately cheered up when we arrived at our next destination.
I was super excited to visit the Galleria Borghese. I followed the museum on Instagram prior to our trip and it didn’t look real in photos. I was absolutely blown away by the vivid colors and the 3-D painted characters.
I highly recommend visiting the Gallery Borghese even though it’s a bit outside of the city center. It was really nice to stroll through the tree-lined gardens after spending most of the day in the crowded, busy city.
We ended our day with another mediocre meal near our Airbnb. I was so tired and hungry I can’t recall what we had but you can guess it was some sort of generic pasta…when in Rome.
Today marks our second year living in Paris! It is still surreal that we have packed up our life in Los Angeles and moved into a 700 square foot apartment in beautiful Paris. At the beginning of the year we met with our immigration attorney to apply for a Passport Talent, which is a four year residency card that would allow Antz to work as a freelance artist. Another benefit of this card is we will receive access to French healthcare. The hard part for us is we will start paying French social services (just like the US public programs, the French pension which is similar to social security) which will be 25% of our income. Our long term goal is to apply for a resident card so we have to show proof of paying these taxes anyway. Antz and I will have to take a French verbal and written test so we will have to crank up our studies. We won’t find out if we got the Passport Talent until April so for now I am crossing my fingers and toes and asking for all the good vibes we can get!
In the meanwhile, we are still loving life in Paris. 2020 has been the warmest winter in France so most days are sunny even though we still have to wear our coats and scarves. I don’t think we will get snow but hopefully we will find some during our upcoming trip to Copenhagen for spring break.
My birthday is in a few weeks. I am super stoked because my favorite video game ever Animal Crossing is coming out with a new release on the same day! It’s called New Horizons and it looks so awesome.
I have played Animal Crossing ever since the first one came out on Nintendo GameCube back in the old 1900s!!! I was so bummed when I couldn’t hook up our Nintendo Wii to our computer monitor but we decided not to buy a TV because they actually have an annual tax on TVs in France. We use our iMac computer to stream TV on Sling, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu and Amazon Prime so we don’t need a telly at the moment. Nintendo is releasing a rad Animal Crossing limited edition Switch so I pre-ordered one for my birthday gift. Liv and I are so excited to play! Let me know if you play too, I will post my friend code on my Instagram. Antz drew a cartoon me with my favorite Animal Crossing villager, cute Bunnie.
I asked Antz to weigh in on our two years abroad and this is what he had to say:
✌🏽So two years have passed and these are some pluses and negatives.
😉Our door buzzer works now and it is great! No more running down stairs to open the door.
🤗We’ve discovered bacon exists at Marks & Spencer (a British grocery store).
🎨I am now working from home as a freelance artist which is nice because I can spend more time with the girls.
🤫We are on a path to getting a passport talent but I don’t talk too much about it cause I might jinx it.
😊I’ve been cooking a lot more (he’s an amazing chef!)
👎🏼 Negatives include, we’ll be paying french taxes soon.
👎🏼 Our plumbing in the shower still sucks!
Liv is in her third term of public school. She started in 2nd grade and is now in 4th grade. She loves her school and last week her class started swimming lessons which she really enjoys. I can’t believe California doesn’t offer swimming lessons given we live in such a sunny climate. Every French student learns to swim and that is such a great life skill to have. Extracurricular activities are included in the school curriculum and it is so helpful to no longer have to rush Liv to private swimming lessons and spend hours in traffic. Liv has started a new hobby on weekends, in French it’s called le roller. So many Parisiens skate, I bought her these peach Moxie skates.
We feel like we have a solid daily routine. Antz takes Liv to school and I handle pick up and ballet. We eat at home more than we did our first year which is saving us money. I recently went to an event at The American Library in Paris because a few of my expat friends were talking on a panel about what it’s like to be an expat in Paris as a person of color. It was so enlightening. I was happily surprised to see a crowded room full of Black expats, some who have been living here for decades and some who just arrived for a semester of school. It was cool to meet people who were going through the same challenges I have been through. I also was happy to venture across the river into the 7éme after dark alone. Lucky for me, my friend happened to be there and she took the Metro home with me.
It is so nice to have two whole weeks of school breaks instead of one week we had in LA. We just returned from a road trip in Germany (I’m excited to share a post from our Valentines day soon). Our next trip will be to Copenhagen which I am super excited about. I have always wanted to visit the Scandinavian countries and we are going to drive into Sweden for a day. I have so much planned!
It’s weird how fast these two tumultuous years have gone by. I have become accustomed to living in Paris yet I still don’t speak French fluently and I encounter issues that I have no control over.
Here is my list of great and not-so-great things about living abroad:
I feel like I have endless opportunities living in France that I no longer had in Los Angeles. I guess growing up in LA, I feel like I had been there, done that so many times that I got bored. Here, everything feels new and exciting. I still haven’t visited every museum, cafe, shop or park in Paris so there’s always something new to explore. I feel so much inspiration being here. I recently bought these gorgeous art supplies from Paper Fashion that I plan to use this spring when it’s warmer. I rarely draw or paint so this is outside of my comfort zone.
I love the freedom from being car-dependant. I occasionally miss my car because of the convenience and especially during colder days I would prefer my heated seats but our lives revolve around walking, public transportation or renting an e-scooter. I don’t miss the traffic or stress of the LA lifestyle. It’s refreshing to walk to Liv’s school and say hello to the guy who repaired my broken necklace, or stop and chat with the local baker. I never had relationships with locals on this level in LA because everyone was in their own busy bubble. There is a sense of take your time here and I notice more camaraderie among strangers because everyone walks. In LA, you spent so much time isolated in your car it wasn’t healthy. I breathe so much better and get more exercise (even though I hate sweating) taking a walk is so beneficial for your psyche.
Our finances have completely shifted. In LA, we were homeowners, we had two cars, we paid tuition for an expensive private school and we had to save for a short vacation once a year. Travel is such a priority to my well-being that I was depressed about not being able to travel more often. Now, we don’t have the burden of debt, mortgage or tuition, we are able to afford to travel more frequently. The best ways we can afford to travel are two factors; swapping our apartment and using my credit card points for car rentals. I still can’t believe I booked our flight to Copenhagen for €15 each.
We discovered Circus bakery! Their cinnamon buns are life-changing.
I wish I could figure out a solution for getting packages in a timely and drama-free way. This is something we Americans take for granted. I have pulled my hair out trying to track down lost packages, waiting weeks (sometimes even months) to get a package from the US. There is no system of accountability (May I speak to your manager only works in America) and the customer service here is close to non-existent. It was more stressful around the holidays because I paid so much money to ensure I would get my packages on-time but Paris had a transportation strike that made things difficult. A few days before Christmas I almost paid a taxi driver to drive me to the UPS facility outside of Paris just to pick up my package. The items were delivered two days after Christmas but I ordered them December 3rd with a arrival guarantee of December 15th. Nothing is on-time here and I’m still adjusting to that.
As many friends as we have made here, we spend more time together as a family than before. We really enjoy hanging out together. Liv and I share the same hobbies, we play Pokemon Go, hunt for Invaders and we like going to shops in Paris that sell cute kawaii items. We are already planning Liv’s kawaii themed 10th birthday party because I have learned my lesson and I am ordering all the supplies months in advance.
The language barrier, it isn’t really an issue in our daily lives however when it comes to administrative things like dealing with our landlord or visa stuff, it can be a nightmare. Google translate isn’t helpful when I really need to use it. You see, the French language is very idiomatic which can make translating it difficult. Imagine having to read the fine print in a contract written in legal terms. It’s English but I still don’t understand what they mean. All I hear is how adults talk on Charlie Brown cartoons.
I translated a recent email and was left utterly confused. I get what they are attempting to say but it feels like it’s written by a robot.
No containment measure now applies to people who have stayed in risk areas (northern Italy, China outside Hubei, Iran ...).
Indeed, these stage 1 measures, intended to avoid the entry of the virus into France, are no longer useful according to health authorities as soon as the virus circulates in France. Only returnees from Hubei province or one of the two "clusters" of French territory (Oise and Haute-Savoie) are subject to such measures as a precautionary measure and until further notice.
Students living in Creil, Montataire, Nogent sur Oise, Villers Saint Paul, Lamorlaye, Crépy en Valois, Vaumoise, La Croix Saint Ouen and Lagny le Sec are therefore asked not to come to the conservatory until further notice and to inform the tuition department for the reasons for their absence.
These measures obviously apply to conservatory staff.
Thank you for your attention and the spirit of responsibility that you will be able to demonstrate alongside us.
The Directorate of Cultural Affairs
I endure this often and it leaves me feeling like a frustrated child. I also find it challenging the way Liv’s school communicates with the parents. I have such limited contact with the staff that I have to use a notebook to send and receive messages. This means Liv has the burden of giving us information from school and you can guess a nine year old isn’t the greatest at remembering things. I feel so out of the loop compared to how overly involved I was in her previous school. We rely on Liv for translating and that can be stressful for her. I feel so grateful that she is so mature and can take on such a task for her immigrant parents.
Sometimes I find myself annoyed with the French logic. Now that I’m an expat, I am more aware of cultural differences I never paid attention to before. For example, I observe people set you up for failure here rather than help you succeed and it feels frustrating to fall into these traps. We wanted to sign Liv up for her roller club. We were told by the skate shop to call 48 hours before the class to register. I called them on time and we were told the class was already full and we should have called sooner. Well, I followed the instructions on the class brochure so… sigh! When I signed Liv up for ballet, I asked several times how much would her lessons cost. For me, this is a big factor when I do anything, how much will it cost? Well, turns out the cost is determined by your tax level, ours being tariff 6 out of 10 (which is on the high end) so I had to go to city hall to get a form that proved our tax tariff. Once at the town hall, there was no one available to give me the tax letter. I had to go to another town hall to get it which was really inconvenient. I tried to set up an account online but there was a glitch in the system that no one could help me with. Weeks later, I finally got the tax letter and submitted the form in person. I was told I’ll get a bill in January and they didn’t know how much it will be. This all took place inSeptember. Liv was in ballet class for four months before I even found out how much her classes were! I was relieved to finally get our first bill but I still have no idea how long we will be billed or what any future classes will cost. This is baffling to me but totally normal to French people. There is no real direct answer to questions. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone at times but it’s manageable. Maybe I need to relax and go with the flow more but I am so accustomed to planning ahead and not being so last minute.
Whoopsie! I forgot to update you on how Lola is doing. Grumpy old Lola is content as can be. She sleeps all day and drives me crazy because she’s up all night, meowing and using her litter (which is in our bedroom because it doesn’t fit anywhere else) 😩 Lola has her own Instagram account now leavemealola she says to please follow. I am looking for a cat hotel to board her during our trip to Copenhagen in April.
Overall, as weird as this may seem, the annoyances are worth it. I know I appreciate simple things more. I encounter more friendly people than not. There are times when I tackle it like a game and I am determined to win the person over. I still am at odds with our apartment manager, she is the hardest nut to crack. I am so proud of our kid for her ability to adapt and thrive in an environment where she is often left to her own devices. I am tremendously grateful for Antz for making sacrifices left and right for us to have this incredible life. He left an amazing job, financial stability, his family and friends to move to this foreign place all to make us happy and if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
So again, thank you to my kind readers who have followed along on this journey with us. We feel supported and in good company. It really warms my heart when someone says to me they read my blog. I love making this connection and I hope to spark the expat fire in you! Throughout all the challenges, we only have this one life to live and I’d rather try and fail then not try at all and never open the possibility of succeeding.