25 August 2013
We are still settling, so much is happening, but in order to establish some sort of routine, I am trying to take up running again. For those who don’t know me – I am not good if I don’t get enough exercise: I get cranky, back-achy and overall a bit unhappy. To keep my family and myself happy, I have tried to get back into my Lyon running routine of doing 3 – 5 runs a week.
I realized the first time round that running here in Sweden is a completely different affair from the civilized 6km morning run through my local asphalt jungle and along the Rhône: Here in Sweden, I have the woods and a huge lake on my doorstep. So out I went one morning thinking I’d do half an hour’s wake-up running. It all started off well on tarmacked paths. Getting to the lake, I suddenly fancied a little along its shore, because there is actually a loop around the lake. “Hoorah”, I thought, “I’ll do a bit of that.” So off I went along the lakeshore, in brilliant running weather, and with no other person in sight, just me, the lake and the woods…. It was a pity though, that I had left the sign-posted path pretty much after the first 100m… I kept running and running, thinking that it was not worth turning round, since surely, the lake can’t be that big and that I was half-way round already anyway.
It turned out that that was not the case. And it turned out that I was lost. I would have had immense difficulty tracing back my steps. So when at some point, with my trainers already soaked and heavy, I realized that I had, by chance, hit the loop again, I was very relieved. Mind you, being on that path does not mean being on comfy jogging terrain: The path was more like a trail, where I had to climb in places, walk short passages as they were so slippery/ muddy/ rough. I enjoyed it, though, because the challenging terrain just kept me going. However, the enjoyment started to cease when
A: I realized that the lake is huge.
B: I became very aware of the fact that there was no-one around, I did not have my phone on me, it was getting quite late in the morning. I started worrying about slipping, injuring myself, and then being unable to call help.
To cut the story short: 13km and 1 1/2 hours later I arrived back home. I was glad to be back, and will definitely do that run again. It will be a great if I know what I’m in for from the start.
By the way: I got lost again the next time I went running and that time was really scary for me. I ended up in a forest without paths, but with lots of boggy places, rocks, and deep, deep grass. The morning was pretty cold for August (only 9 degrees Celsius), the gorgeous sunshine had disappeared and it was starting to drizzle… I managed not panic and luckily found my way out of the woods again, but I am definitely more careful now:
Lesson 1 learned: The wilderness starts 300m from my doorstep.
Lesson 2 learned: If I intend to leave proper paths and in the future, take a phone or GPS.
Lesson 3 learned: Running in the wilderness is still a lot of fun…
I am pleased to say that I have now already been out twice without getting lost/ cold/ soaked already!
29 July 2013
Here are some pictures I took on my way home. You can get cycle routes from Google Maps in our area. I’m following the first recommended route, no scenic detours.
On a normal day (ie. when I don’t take photos) it takes about 50 minutes to get home. The reverse route is a bit faster, thanks to the descent.
Aren’t I lucky? :)
28 July 2013
We’re still around, still thinking about blogging and yes, we arrived safe and sound in our new house in Sweden about two weeks ago. We’ve been too busy with other things (i.e. life) to blog. But we are slowly arriving in our new home in mind as well as in body, plus it’s raining like mad on this quiet Sunday morning, so THE perfect occasion for catching up on the blogging front.
Our move from France has been very stressful due to poor planning and support on behalf of the removal company, but luckily all our belongings arrived on time in Sweden and we have now unpacked about 130 boxes and see the light at the end of the tunnel with only about 10 or 15 left.
The first couple of weeks here have been wonderful – we arrived to an incredibly sweet Swedish summer with lush, long and sunny days. What a perfect start to life in a new country!
We have been incredibly busy with making the house a home and occupied with our forest clearing (I prefer that to calling it wasteland…) that is to become our permaculture inspired garden in due course:
At present, we are still a far cry away from having a thriving garden, as the land is full of stones, big and small, waste from building works, etc. While the weather has been so good, we started cleaning up rubbish and to remove some stones. Amongst the rubbish we found treasure such as some gloves, parts of ancient shoes, a pretty door knob and some explosive that is still sitting in a borehole in the rock… (we’re still trying to sort that latter one out and have instructed the children not to connect the wires that are sticking out to a battery).
I am also learning about our land by watching the animals that visit, the light, the wind, and by taking note of which plants grow in which places. Since yesterday, we have had a lot of rain, so it is interesting to see how the water flows, where it gathers, etc.
Conditions so far appear promising in our spot. We get plenty of sunlight, but will need to create areas sheltered from the sometimes very strong winds. I am hopeful that we can turn the soil that is at present hard, rocky, and very depleted into a beautiful lush garden in good time.
We have already made a start at enriching the soil with natural fertilizer by adopting this cute little creature :
This is “Crazy Harry”. We visited him at the local animal shelter a week ago, instantly fell for his charms, and got everything ready to provide a new home for him last weekend. I found a second-hand hatch on the internet and building a spacious run for him turned into a fun family project. Since we picked him up from the shelter, he has been busy helping us in the garden by munching dandelions and leaving nutritious droppings on the ground. He is also a lovely character, friendly, inquisitive, and very sociable. Lucy is so happy to be having a pet at long last… and me too – I find his company rather therapeutic.
We will also have chickens to help us fertilize the garden – this is my own “pet project”, but I have decided to wait until next spring before taking on a bunch of feathered ladies to provide us with fresh eggs: The summer in Sweden will end soon and as I am planning to raise chicks, I felt it’s better if they can grow up during the warm season. I have already decided on the breed: It will be “Swedish Flowers Hens”, an old traditional breed that is adapted to the climate and hardy enough to survive the cold winters.
But apart from working on the house and the garden, we also made some time for fun. We have been swimming several times – we are surrounded by lakes big and small and we have been going for swims in the local lake which is just a few minutes away by bike. It’s marvellous, the long evenings mean that we can go for a quick dip after the day’s work has been done. It feels like an utter luxury at the moment and in fact a bit like a holiday – it’s like perfect camping – while the good weather lasted, we spent almost all our time outside, but still we got to sleep in our own beds and have a fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher at our disposal… At present, it feels like we can be happy here for a long time. People are friendly, our neighbours are helpful and kind, and I think that we won’t get lonely, but will have visitors frequently.
In fact, there was a knock at the door yesterday and, lo and behold, a friend of Lucy’s from her old school in Lyon and her mum had come for a surprise visit en route to their holiday destination in the northwest of Sweden. Though they don’t live in France themselves anymore, they had got our new address through the international grapevine and had decided to come and see us. We all really enjoyed seeing them, so that was a GOOD day. I am now hoping for many more good days … but I’ll have to watch this space. We are very pleased so far, but everything is still so new and everyday brings new surprises, so life will remain exciting, challenging and sometimes frustrating – like the other the day when I cycled into Gothenburg through the woods. I was ok on the way there, because I was with my hero who knows the area, but got utterly lost on my own on the way back. Let me assure you, the woods are expansive here and you don’t want to lose your way completely. Luckily some kind people helped me out so I found the way home eventually. I am still grateful I did not get eaten by a bear or chased by the mighty moose…
26 May 2013
If we wanted to, we could start counting down the days to our move now. On the whole we’re doing ok with the preparations and all the really big things seem to fall into place: Rolf will be leaving France next Sunday to start his new job the following week. We will also complete the purchase of the house so he can move in on his second day in Sweden, with just a suitcase and no furniture. This shall be interesting… I think he is still undecided whether to buy a proper bed or an air bed for these first few weeks in Sweden until we all arrive with a lorry full of our stuff.
We just have a few hick-ups to deal with, such as the process of trying to register within the Swedish state system. This has been a pain in the neck so far, much more so than it was when we were settling in the UK or in France. At the root lies the problem of obtaining a Swedish Social Security number (personnummer). We applied for one in April (remember: my husband has a permanent work contract, he will be paying Swedish income tax as of next week, and we have a place to live) but we have been rejected nevertheless, on the grounds that Rolf had not started work yet. This does not sound like a big deal, but in Sweden, it is. Without a personnummer, you can’t open a bank account, take out a mortgage, obtain home insurance, or get internet access for your home. And these are just a few examples. I won’t even start on the difficulties we have with health insurance during the transitional period from living in France to moving to Sweden.
I do not understand why they make it so difficult, but it’s all part of the experience – and this problem with the personnummer is well known, everybody trying to settle in Sweden seems to struggle with this. Luckily we have a very able and well connected estate agent, who has helped to make things go more smoothly, but we’re not quite sorted yet. Our current endeavour is actually the home insurance which we would like to have once we own the house. I am still trying to find a company prepared to sell us a policy….
We are also trying to find a removal company. This has been interesting: I emailed a total of six French companies with the request for a quote and had a total of: no replies at all. I also contacted an English company and had a quote within an hour, it took a mere two days for a Swedish company to provide one. We are still undecided which one to go for (I’ prefer the English one, we’ve used them before and they were great) but we are in agreement that we will not pursue the idea of finding a French company help us with the move… :)
I am also, obviously purely to prepare for Sweden, on a light shopping spree here in France. I have recently obtained a nice pair of wellies to keep my feet dry in town and when digging in our garden (we also need this kind of equipment in France right now, the weather is not at all up to speed for this time of year). I also bought some reclining chairs (unbeatable offer but, unlike the wellies, not at all useful in Lyon at present). And the best thing: the wellies as well as the chairs are Made in France. I like them all the more for it and I am still surprised at how irrational this is. But the same thing happened to me in England, I bought some very English stuff I absolutely had to take with me before we left the country. I think it’s some sort of adult comfort thing, like a cuddly toy for a child with the smell of home. My smell of home seems to be in my wellies…
16 May 2013
You know the situation: you travel on a plane, it touches down, and well before the captain turns off the Fasten your seatbelts signs, most of your fellow passengers open their buckles and jump up to make sure they’re first to the overhead locker and first out of the plane. Of course this inevitably means they are standing in the aisle and waiting for the plane doors to be opened for varying amounts of time. I always thought of myself as smart for staying sat and waiting for the most impatient travellers to leave before retrieving my own hand luggage. Well, I got punished for that habit the other day. Birgit and I were going back from Gothenburg to Lyon after the house buying negotiations. We had to go via Frankfurt, and when I got up after that first flight to get my anorak from the overhead locker, it was nowhere to be found. There was a black blouson jacket that looked somewhat similar to mine, so it was pretty clear that someone had taken mine for his own and left with it. I informed the flight attendants and the airport staff, and I did my best to look for someone carrying my parka in the airfield buses that were picking us up, but to no avail. I then got under pressure to get on the bus myself, because there was not a huge amount of time left until the connecting flight. It was only when we had already left on that bus that I realized that I had not only lost that old The North Face piece of garment, but also my car key, which I had safely placed in one of the zipper pockets. I immediately tried to get help from everyone who looked like they worked at the airport to ask whether there might be a way to catch up with the purloiner of my impermeable. The response was underwhelming, the most help I got was from someone who rang the lost property office from the gate desk. Of course, it was much too soon for my goods to have been handed in — in fact, we had reason to assume that they had not even left the security zone (and the office is outside). So we were going to fly back to Lyon without the car key, and thus without a means of removing our car from the rather expensive airport car park. In the end, we managed to get a hold of Linus, who was at home, was able to locate the spare key, and was willing and able to get on the tram shuttle and meet us at the airport. Need I tell you he was our hero that night?
The modern programmed electronic key fobs that enter an encrypted wireless dialogue with your car electronics to unlock the doors, the immobilizer, and the ignition are expensive to replace (minimum €250 in France). So we were still keen to get my outerwear back. Have you ever tried to get in touch with someone from Lufthansa about something other than booking a flight? Let me tell you, it seemed nigh impossible at the time. What did work in the end, though, was filing an online complaint. After ten days, a friendly, cheerful lady from the complaints department rang me up and said that she had traced my property. Apparently it had been handed in, now all I needed to do was to email my address and it would be sent to me in the mail. Five days later I did indeed receive a package containing my short rain coat and — tadaa! — the car key.
While I did get fairly annoyed at some point with the jobsworth attitude of those people in Frankfurt, I did in the end have a lot to be grateful for. After all, Fortune smiled on us when we found a painless way to get home from Lyon St Exupéry, when the person who had taken my jacket made a move to correct that mistake (they must at least have taken a detour), when the car key decided to stay in the pocket during all those travels, when the find was recorded in a traceable manner, and when my complaint went to someone who was able to connect the dots.
We’ll write more about our experience of property hunting in Sweden some time soon, so watch this space :-)
Blimey, it’s almost three months since I last posted anything. I just checked whether this blog still has visitors and, lo and behold, we have readers out there. Thank you for dropping by! I much appreciate it and it certainly motivates me to post again.
Life has been so busy for our family. We are about to embark on our Sweden adventure with only a good 12 weeks left in Lyon and we have been preparing this big step for the last few months: We’ve visited Sweden to look at schools and explore our new hometown, I had an informal interview (which I am pleased to say went well, so even for me, the trailing wife, the job situation is somewhat promising!)
Very importantly, we also looked into housing and now we are currently in the process of buying a place way up in Northern Europe. This is all very exciting and a new experience for us — the process only bears some similarity to our previous jump onto the property ladder in the UK. But all seems to be going well so far and hopefully we will be able to finalize the purchase of the house in the near future.
But I was not really going to talk about all this, which is just external, preparatory stuff for our life in Sweden. I find it so much more important to share with you how wonderful it is that we have the opportunity to start a brand new life:
We will be moving from our beautifully quirky, shabby-chic Lyon town centre apartment into a house just outside Gothenburg. A huge nature reserve boasting beautiful lakes will separate us from the city. We are in fact swapping city-life for something akin to countryside living. This was, at least for me, not an easy decision to take, because I love living in town, I love people watching, hanging out in the cafés, enjoying the sunshine (yes, we skipped spring and went straight into summer just this week!) and being able to go out any time to see a movie or benefit from some retail therapy, all without having to use a car.
Gothenburg will be different. Although we will be very well connected to the town by public transport, we are going to live in an oasis of nature, peace and quiet (or so I think, we’ll yet have to wait and see ).
I became so acutely aware of how much I will miss the city life just yesterday, when I went to the market. Lyon was teeming with people enjoying a sunny, warm and lazy Sunday morning. This is so typical: As soon as the sun’s out, people seem to be out on the town and that’s what I like so much.
This is will be different in Sweden: From what I could gather, people in Sweden live very much in tune with the seasons, their short, bright summers and the long, cold winters. They seem to go out in the summer and get cozy indoors in the winter. We decided to go along with this and looked for a spot that offers us comfy hibernation accommodation. We think we have found just the place. It is great that with this house also comes a decent sized garden that has already inspired me to no end. Lucy and I are planning on fostering our countryside-tendencies by keeping chickens and growing vegetables in a permaculture. I have been reading about both and universe after universe of fascinating knowledge keeps popping up.
I am so excited about having the opportunity to try country life and I can’t wait to put all my farming plans into practice. (Although I have the option of escaping to Gothenburg town centre by bus within 20 minutes, or even by bike ;) )
So once we have successfully managed our move, transferred those belongings that survive the clear out from France to Sweden and unpacked at least the essentials, I will start gardening and I will have loads to write about. Bear with us until then, we are all inspired about getting creative with gardening and I have a feeling that this blog will move into a new direction over the next year or so.
Have a great day and I hope, wherever you are, the sun is also shining on you!
29 January 2013
I have been toying with the idea of buying an e-reader for a while now. Initially I wanted one to help me manage and annote research papers, but the internet tells me that e-readers are not great for that kind of thing. So I came off the idea. Still, I almost, almost bought one last week. I did not do it in the end, because I am reluctant to read on screen. I spend too much time in front of the computer as it is and an e-reader would not help matters. I am also a person who literally likes to stick there nose in a book and take in the smell of cheap paper, glossy paper, old faded paper, fresh ink, remnants of solvents (oh, I go for those :) ). Another argument against it is that in my experience electronic gadgets have a shelf life of a few years. Does it make sense to fork out 100+Euros for a thing that might only work for four years? And there is the tying yourself to a company like Amazon and giving them access to your device… So as yet no e-reader in the Heckemann household.
But the thought sticks in my head. How on earth did it get to be so obstinate, persistent and hard to eradicate? I always thought that I don’t easily fall prey to lifestyle products, but on the contrary, my case is worse: Easy prey, yet late adopter. How uncool is that?
So I am still undecided, but I thought that I should at least give e-readers a try. So at the weekend I bought my first e-book which I am now reading on my Mac. Quite aptly it’s Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, a book about real books, old books, e-readers, Google and a secret cult. This is a novel that I have been wanting to stick my nose into for a few months.
Now I am just reading it, not smelling it. So far the experience is ok. I can read easily on screen, the print is nice, obviously I can fiddle with the background and font size. Turning pages by pressing buttons feels odd, but it’s just a matter of getting used to, I guess.
This experience has again fed the “e-read-weed” in my head. My cunning brain has now convinced me that an e-reader could be of use to me after all: To store those novels that I like, consume and that, as hard copies, afterwards occupy shelf space waiting to be passed on to someone else. Alas, they often do not get passed on. So basically I am (yet again) responding to the argument that by buying a product I can make my life and living space less cluttered and more organized. This is just like Ikea catalogues work!!! (And yes, just think about the imminent move! All those boxes full of books that could be avoided). So much for my free will that somewhat does not feel too free at present :). I’ll keep on pondering for a few days and see if the “e-read-weed” shrivels up and dies a natural death or whether the only cure is to buy yet another gadget to simplify my life.
Enjoy whatever you’re reading!
PS: If you are planning to read Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, do it within the next couple of years! It is a cool book and it provides a snapshot of the current state of art in computing as well as on social interaction and a few other things. It will read weird and dated though in ten years time… and our grand-children will marvel at the funny things they did back in the second decade of this millenium :)