Moving Abroad: Scouting Trip Week 3

In week three of our scouting trip, we discuss our first experiences with remote work on a different continent. But it's not all about work. We visit the cities of Grenoble and Chambéry, and return to further explore Geneva.

My partner and I are taking a preliminary scouting trip to our new potential home in Annecy, France. Three weeks into our journey, we reflect on the peculiarities of working from home when home is abroad.  We also continue to explore additional cities around Annecy as we assess our future needs and aspirations.  You can read more about our plans and preparations ahead of the trip here, or revisit week one and week two.  The transcript below was edited for clarity and length.

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Tess:

We’re here at the end of week three.  There’s no sunset today. Clouds are gathering.  The rain is coming.  We have dishes waiting in one sink and laundry in the other.  We’ve just wrapped up simultaneous international zoom calls for work.  Everything is being held together with duct tape.

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Tess:

We’re here at the end of week three.  There’s no sunset today. Clouds are gathering.  The rain is coming.  We have dishes waiting in one sink and laundry in the other.  We’ve just wrapped up simultaneous international zoom calls for work.  Everything is being held together with duct tape.

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Em:

Yeah, but it’s okay because it’s France, and it’s magical, so I’m alright with a little chaos.

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Em:

Yeah, but it’s okay because it’s France, and it’s magical, so I’m alright with a little chaos.

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Tess:

You have had a few weeks now to work from France during US hours.  Can you describe how that has gone?  How did you think it would work? How has it actually worked?  Is it working?

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Tess:

You have had a few weeks now to work from France during US hours.  Can you describe how that has gone?  How did you think it would work? How has it actually worked?  Is it working?

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Em:

I think it’s working.  I needed to learn the things to do and not to do.  It’s very important to set boundaries.  After 4pm Kansas City time, I know now that I cannot be in a meeting unless it’s extremely urgent.

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Em:

I think it’s working.  I needed to learn the things to do and not to do.  It’s very important to set boundaries.  After 4pm Kansas City time, I know now that I cannot be in a meeting unless it’s extremely urgent.

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Tess:

Because that’s the middle of the night.

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Tess:

Because that’s the middle of the night.

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Em:

It’s the middle of the night here, seven hours ahead.  Basically, I have learned that if it is a normal work day, I can get up and maybe run errands or go to the store, and I still have the energy to work a full eight hours after.  But if we get up early and visit another city, take a long walk, and then come back right when I need to start working, that makes a really long day.  It’s not impossible, but probably not something I want to do long term.  I have really enjoyed the mornings.  I don’t have to set an alarm.  I can sleep in, watch a show, run errands, or go for a walk, and then start my work day when I want to.

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Em:

It’s the middle of the night here, seven hours ahead.  Basically, I have learned that if it is a normal work day, I can get up and maybe run errands or go to the store, and I still have the energy to work a full eight hours after.  But if we get up early and visit another city, take a long walk, and then come back right when I need to start working, that makes a really long day.  It’s not impossible, but probably not something I want to do long term.  I have really enjoyed the mornings.  I don’t have to set an alarm.  I can sleep in, watch a show, run errands, or go for a walk, and then start my work day when I want to.

Work from home means that with fast internet and good wifi no one can tell if we are in the office or in France.
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I have been very happy with the technology situation.  I knew there was good internet here, but I wasn’t sure how seamless it would be to be on a phone or video call or messaging people in the United States.  I think if I didn’t tell people I was in France, they would have no way to know.

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Tess:

I have been very happy with the technology situation.  I knew there was good internet here, but I wasn’t sure how seamless it would be to be on a phone or video call or messaging people in the United States.  I think if I didn’t tell people I was in France, they would have no way to know.

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Em:

I agree.  One person who knew I was in France told me my connection was better than our fiber connection in Kansas City.  There are some times when people in my meetings learn I am out of the country and are surprised to hear it because it has been so seamless as you said. 

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Em:

I agree.  One person who knew I was in France told me my connection was better than our fiber connection in Kansas City.  There are some times when people in my meetings learn I am out of the country and are surprised to hear it because it has been so seamless as you said. 

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Tess:

And now that we have figured out wifi calling, we don’t even need a phone plan or sim card to call back home.  And there are a lot of technology options for calling anyway, but when we are in the apartment now, we can just use our phones like phones.

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Tess:

And now that we have figured out wifi calling, we don’t even need a phone plan or sim card to call back home.  And there are a lot of technology options for calling anyway, but when we are in the apartment now, we can just use our phones like phones.

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Em:

I think it would have been nice to have internet access or an international data plan to make it easier to look up restaurants or train schedules when we are out, but it’s not impossible.  We can find free wifi internet.  We just have to work a little harder for it.

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Em:

I think it would have been nice to have internet access or an international data plan to make it easier to look up restaurants or train schedules when we are out, but it’s not impossible.  We can find free wifi internet.  We just have to work a little harder for it.

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Tess:

It’s not all about work in France.  We have been travelling as well.  South of Annecy, tucked in a cozy mountain valley, is the beautiful city of Grenoble.  What did you think of our visit?

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Tess:

It’s not all about work in France.  We have been travelling as well.  South of Annecy, tucked in a cozy mountain valley, is the beautiful city of Grenoble.  What did you think of our visit?

Walking is a delight on the tree-lined Avenue Alsace Lorraine in Grenoble.
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Em:

I really loved Grenoble.  I think it’s a beautiful city surrounded by some very pretty mountains.  It’s a city with lots of modern buildings but also a large old town that was fun to explore.  We did something very touristy – we took the cable car up to the Bastille.  And it was so worth it.  It was a beautiful ride up – a little bit terrifying, but mostly beautiful, and we had some really amazing views of the city.

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Em:

I really loved Grenoble.  I think it’s a beautiful city surrounded by some very pretty mountains.  It’s a city with lots of modern buildings but also a large old town that was fun to explore.  We did something very touristy – we took the cable car up to the Bastille.  And it was so worth it.  It was a beautiful ride up – a little bit terrifying, but mostly beautiful, and we had some really amazing views of the city.

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Tess:

And while we were up on top of the fortress there, we had the entire city before us, and we could see where we went, and see the extent of the city.  And it was a great way to take it all in.

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Tess:

And while we were up on top of the fortress there, we had the entire city before us, and we could see where we went, and see the extent of the city.  And it was a great way to take it all in.

Panoramic views of Grenoble from the Fort de la Bastille
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Em:

It was a fun thing to do.  I think everyone should do it at least once if they visit Grenoble.  Overall, I felt like the city was a very livable city.  It had the “magical” areas I’m looking for.  It did take just under two hours to get there with a direct train from Annecy.  It’s also a little bit further from the lakes we love.  It’s closer to Lyon, but further from Geneva, so there are some tradeoffs depending on how we want to connect to other parts of France and Europe.  In terms of location, it feels like it is off on its own out there, but it’s a pretty great city.

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Em:

It was a fun thing to do.  I think everyone should do it at least once if they visit Grenoble.  Overall, I felt like the city was a very livable city.  It had the “magical” areas I’m looking for.  It did take just under two hours to get there with a direct train from Annecy.  It’s also a little bit further from the lakes we love.  It’s closer to Lyon, but further from Geneva, so there are some tradeoffs depending on how we want to connect to other parts of France and Europe.  In terms of location, it feels like it is off on its own out there, but it’s a pretty great city.

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Tess:

I really loved Grenoble.  It’s bigger than Annecy.  It’s smaller than Lyon and Geneva, which we have visited.  But to me there was just so much to like in Grenoble as a potential home.  Because it is a bigger city, there is a little bit more going on. There are lots of neighborhoods full of things to see and do.  I really appreciate how well designed the city is.  It has great transit with streetcars crisscrossing all over the city.  It is easy to get around.  But it’s not just that there is a streetcar on the street.  It is a streetcar on a beautiful street running through a grassy median flanked by comfortable bike lanes, with boulevard drives that give easy access for businesses, and towering trees that give you lots of shade. It is just a joy to walk around the city, and it has a little bit of everything. 

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Tess:

I really loved Grenoble.  It’s bigger than Annecy.  It’s smaller than Lyon and Geneva, which we have visited.  But to me there was just so much to like in Grenoble as a potential home.  Because it is a bigger city, there is a little bit more going on. There are lots of neighborhoods full of things to see and do.  I really appreciate how well designed the city is.  It has great transit with streetcars crisscrossing all over the city.  It is easy to get around.  But it’s not just that there is a streetcar on the street.  It is a streetcar on a beautiful street running through a grassy median flanked by comfortable bike lanes, with boulevard drives that give easy access for businesses, and towering trees that give you lots of shade. It is just a joy to walk around the city, and it has a little bit of everything. 

Grenoble has many great streets, each unique in their own way.
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Tess:

There are grand, modern boulevards.  There are “Parisian” style blocks with stately buildings facing fountained plazas.  There are cozy little old town alleys and passageways with lots of history.  There are new neighborhoods and old neighborhoods, and it all just seems to work really well together.  There were so many moments where I thought, “This space feels really good.”  So I felt like Grenoble put its best foot forward for us.  I was very impressed.

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Tess:

There are grand, modern boulevards.  There are “Parisian” style blocks with stately buildings facing fountained plazas.  There are cozy little old town alleys and passageways with lots of history.  There are new neighborhoods and old neighborhoods, and it all just seems to work really well together.  There were so many moments where I thought, “This space feels really good.”  So I felt like Grenoble put its best foot forward for us.  I was very impressed.

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Em:

I agree.  It’s a great city.

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Em:

I agree.  It’s a great city.

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Tess:

Thinking about Grenoble as a potential home and Annecy as a potential home, how do they stack up?

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Tess:

Thinking about Grenoble as a potential home and Annecy as a potential home, how do they stack up?

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Em:

Well, I think that Grenoble is a really wonderful City but I still like Annecy better.  It has the lake.  It is a little bit smaller city, and that might make it easier for you to get around, especially since you are still dealing with long covid.  But I think Grenoble is somewhere for us to think about in the future.  Because if we move to France and Annecy is our first choice, it doesn’t have to be the choice forever.  We can move to a different city in France because we want to try something new, or maybe your health improves and you are wanting to walk around and explore more.

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Em:

Well, I think that Grenoble is a really wonderful City but I still like Annecy better.  It has the lake.  It is a little bit smaller city, and that might make it easier for you to get around, especially since you are still dealing with long covid.  But I think Grenoble is somewhere for us to think about in the future.  Because if we move to France and Annecy is our first choice, it doesn’t have to be the choice forever.  We can move to a different city in France because we want to try something new, or maybe your health improves and you are wanting to walk around and explore more.

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Tess:

We were also able to get back to Geneva this week.  What did you see on this second visit (or third visit depending on how you think about it) that you didn’t see on our brief visit before?

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Tess:

We were also able to get back to Geneva this week.  What did you see on this second visit (or third visit depending on how you think about it) that you didn’t see on our brief visit before?

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Em:

During our last visit we took transit through some of the more modern neighborhoods, but this time we really got to walk around and see the city.  I agree with what you said last week that Geneva has a lot of good bits and pieces that don’t always seem well connected or cohesive.  But there are lot of beautiful neighborhoods in Geneva. 

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Em:

During our last visit we took transit through some of the more modern neighborhoods, but this time we really got to walk around and see the city.  I agree with what you said last week that Geneva has a lot of good bits and pieces that don’t always seem well connected or cohesive.  But there are lot of beautiful neighborhoods in Geneva. 

People watching on the Rue de Rive in Geneva
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Em:

There are lots of international residents too.  I heard many people speaking English – more than in other cities.

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Em:

There are lots of international residents too.  I heard many people speaking English – more than in other cities.

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Tess:

English and German and all sorts of languages.

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Tess:

English and German and all sorts of languages.

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Em:

Lots of different languages.  If we ultimately decide to move to Annecy, it is going to be an amenity to have Geneva so close.  We can potentially connect with other foreign residents, and perhaps make friends more easily while my French is improving.  I can join a club or visit a theater and be able to access some of those other types of resources and support with such a global city so nearby.  But I don’t think Geneva is somewhere I want to live.  And I’m also thinking about how Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

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Em:

Lots of different languages.  If we ultimately decide to move to Annecy, it is going to be an amenity to have Geneva so close.  We can potentially connect with other foreign residents, and perhaps make friends more easily while my French is improving.  I can join a club or visit a theater and be able to access some of those other types of resources and support with such a global city so nearby.  But I don’t think Geneva is somewhere I want to live.  And I’m also thinking about how Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

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Tess:

In the world.

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Tess:

In the world.

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Em:

So it would be hard financially for us to live there.  Another alternative is for us to live in Annemasse in France, which would be more affordable.  But Geneva doesn’t seem like it is the place that I just have to live there.

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Em:

So it would be hard financially for us to live there.  Another alternative is for us to live in Annemasse in France, which would be more affordable.  But Geneva doesn’t seem like it is the place that I just have to live there.

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Tess:

Geneva is a delight to visit and there were lots of lovely streets and spaces and moments we enjoyed there.  I wasn’t blown away in the same way that Grenoble impressed me or that Annecy has captured my heart.  My other random observation of Geneva is that it’s interesting to me that obviously many, many people bike in Geneva.  There are bikes everywhere.  That’s true of many of the cities we have been visiting so far in our trip, especially compared to the United States where biking is very rare.  So lots of people are biking around Geneva.  But my impression is that the infrastructure is not necessarily up to par with the number of people who are biking.  I think compared to some of the French cities nearby, there are fewer places for people on bikes.  The sidewalks are a little bit narrower.  The traffic moves a little bit faster.  There’s just less space for people on the streets of Geneva.  But saying that, the number of people biking everywhere shows that it can be a very bikeable city.

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Tess:

Geneva is a delight to visit and there were lots of lovely streets and spaces and moments we enjoyed there.  I wasn’t blown away in the same way that Grenoble impressed me or that Annecy has captured my heart.  My other random observation of Geneva is that it’s interesting to me that obviously many, many people bike in Geneva.  There are bikes everywhere.  That’s true of many of the cities we have been visiting so far in our trip, especially compared to the United States where biking is very rare.  So lots of people are biking around Geneva.  But my impression is that the infrastructure is not necessarily up to par with the number of people who are biking.  I think compared to some of the French cities nearby, there are fewer places for people on bikes.  The sidewalks are a little bit narrower.  The traffic moves a little bit faster.  There’s just less space for people on the streets of Geneva.  But saying that, the number of people biking everywhere shows that it can be a very bikeable city.

Charming Cour de Saint Pierre in the old town of Geneva
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Tess:

Our third excursion this week was a little bit closer to Annecy.  We visited the historic city of Chambéry.  What were your thoughts?

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Tess:

Our third excursion this week was a little bit closer to Annecy.  We visited the historic city of Chambéry.  What were your thoughts?

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Em:

Chambéry is a very charming city.  It has a very large old town and I think the reason I’m drawn to Chambéry is that the old town seems to still be the heart of the city.  Many other old towns, including Lyon and Geneva, seem to be more touristy and maybe not as lively.  But in Chambéry, it seems like it is a place where people live.  There’s shopping, grocery stores, restaurants, and places for locals, not just for tourists.  That makes it feel like it would be an easy place to live.  I really loved all of the different alleyways and tunnels connecting different parts of the old town.  It was very fun to wander around and explore the city.  It’s something that I don’t think would ever get old.

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Em:

Chambéry is a very charming city.  It has a very large old town and I think the reason I’m drawn to Chambéry is that the old town seems to still be the heart of the city.  Many other old towns, including Lyon and Geneva, seem to be more touristy and maybe not as lively.  But in Chambéry, it seems like it is a place where people live.  There’s shopping, grocery stores, restaurants, and places for locals, not just for tourists.  That makes it feel like it would be an easy place to live.  I really loved all of the different alleyways and tunnels connecting different parts of the old town.  It was very fun to wander around and explore the city.  It’s something that I don’t think would ever get old.

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Tess:

I think you could take an evening stroll and find a different path every day for the rest of your life.

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Tess:

I think you could take an evening stroll and find a different path every day for the rest of your life.

Chambéry's Place Saint Léger is full of history and bustling with activity.
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Em:

It just seems like a fun city to be in.  I would say that Chambéry is much smaller than Annecy, so ultimately there are fewer things to do.  And while Chambéry is not far from a lake, you can’t easily walk to the lake the way you can in Annecy.

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Em:

It just seems like a fun city to be in.  I would say that Chambéry is much smaller than Annecy, so ultimately there are fewer things to do.  And while Chambéry is not far from a lake, you can’t easily walk to the lake the way you can in Annecy.

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Tess:

I was impressed with Chambéry as well.  The old town is much larger than the old town in Annecy.  And that has an appeal since part of what we are looking for is that historic urban form that is different than where we come from.  And as you said, in the old town there are a lot of people living and working so it is not just a sleepy tourist visit.  So I enjoyed it a lot, and like you said, whether it is a passage into a courtyard you couldn’t see from the street, or a staircase that leads through a medieval gate to a shady park, or a windy alley that is a shortcut between two places that seemed far apart but are actually very close together, it is full of surprises and little moments that charm you. 

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Tess:

I was impressed with Chambéry as well.  The old town is much larger than the old town in Annecy.  And that has an appeal since part of what we are looking for is that historic urban form that is different than where we come from.  And as you said, in the old town there are a lot of people living and working so it is not just a sleepy tourist visit.  So I enjoyed it a lot, and like you said, whether it is a passage into a courtyard you couldn’t see from the street, or a staircase that leads through a medieval gate to a shady park, or a windy alley that is a shortcut between two places that seemed far apart but are actually very close together, it is full of surprises and little moments that charm you. 

Chambéry's winding alleys and passageways offer surprises and charming moments at every turn.
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Tess:

While I was in Chambéry, I had a thought, “Does this place simply have more of the type of experiences we are looking for than Annecy?”  And that was on my mind as we returned to Annecy and started walking around again.  But then Annecy said, “No no no.  Lest you forget, here are some beautiful canals, gorgeous parks and plazas, a river flowing from one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.  And the mountains that surround us.” And the magic of Chambéry was kind of swept away.  Once I was back in Annecy, I was reminded why we started here.

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Tess:

While I was in Chambéry, I had a thought, “Does this place simply have more of the type of experiences we are looking for than Annecy?”  And that was on my mind as we returned to Annecy and started walking around again.  But then Annecy said, “No no no.  Lest you forget, here are some beautiful canals, gorgeous parks and plazas, a river flowing from one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.  And the mountains that surround us.” And the magic of Chambéry was kind of swept away.  Once I was back in Annecy, I was reminded why we started here.

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Em:

I agree.  I think Annecy is the place for us.

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Em:

I agree.  I think Annecy is the place for us.

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Tess:

Speaking of Annecy, we spent some time this week continuing to explore different neighborhoods.  Is there anything new you discovered in week three, or personal revelations that you have arrived at now that you have seem more of the city?

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Tess:

Speaking of Annecy, we spent some time this week continuing to explore different neighborhoods.  Is there anything new you discovered in week three, or personal revelations that you have arrived at now that you have seem more of the city?

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Em:

I think it has been really nice to walk around Annecy and explore neighborhoods.  We looked at places that maybe we didn’t think we wanted to live, but now we want to reconsider.  Or areas we were considering which in person we can confirm feel like places where we could be very happy.  This week, it has been fun to go out to eat.  We tried some local pizza that was recommended by our host.  Last night we had some tartiflette – a regional specialty that is cheesy and delicious and perfect on a cool evening.

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Em:

I think it has been really nice to walk around Annecy and explore neighborhoods.  We looked at places that maybe we didn’t think we wanted to live, but now we want to reconsider.  Or areas we were considering which in person we can confirm feel like places where we could be very happy.  This week, it has been fun to go out to eat.  We tried some local pizza that was recommended by our host.  Last night we had some tartiflette – a regional specialty that is cheesy and delicious and perfect on a cool evening.

Tartiflette - a warm and cheesy Savoyard specialty
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Tess:

We haven’t talked a lot about food.  We have talked a little bit about grocery shopping.  Obviously, France is known for its cuisine, and especially its unique regional cuisines.  We’re not moving to France for the food, but I have to say that if the region we are considering is known for gooey cheese and warm bread, I am here for it.  Maybe I am not the audience for the high cuisine of Paris or the foie gras of the Dordogne, but hearty comfort food with cheese, bread, ham, and potatoes will suit me just fine.

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Tess:

We haven’t talked a lot about food.  We have talked a little bit about grocery shopping.  Obviously, France is known for its cuisine, and especially its unique regional cuisines.  We’re not moving to France for the food, but I have to say that if the region we are considering is known for gooey cheese and warm bread, I am here for it.  Maybe I am not the audience for the high cuisine of Paris or the foie gras of the Dordogne, but hearty comfort food with cheese, bread, ham, and potatoes will suit me just fine.

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Em:

On this trip we have been more focused on finding the right city and finding the right neighborhood, and most of our meals have been from the grocery store.  But when we move here, I definitely look forward to trying more regional wines and cheeses and different dishes, and finding our new favorite restaurants.

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Em:

On this trip we have been more focused on finding the right city and finding the right neighborhood, and most of our meals have been from the grocery store.  But when we move here, I definitely look forward to trying more regional wines and cheeses and different dishes, and finding our new favorite restaurants.

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Tess:

We have one more week left and we still have some things on our list to see and do.  We still plan to visit Aix-les-Bains nearby.  We plan to look at some of the towns on the French shore of Lac Léman, and maybe explore some of the villages around Lake Annecy.  Is there anything you are especially looking forward to in our final week in France?

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Tess:

We have one more week left and we still have some things on our list to see and do.  We still plan to visit Aix-les-Bains nearby.  We plan to look at some of the towns on the French shore of Lac Léman, and maybe explore some of the villages around Lake Annecy.  Is there anything you are especially looking forward to in our final week in France?

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Em:

I am excited to visit some new places, but I am most looking forward to wandering around Annecy one last time, and soaking in the experience of the neighborhoods where we want to live.  I don’t know what else to say, really.  Annecy hasn’t lost its magic yet, so I keep wandering around and feeling very lucky to be here.

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Em:

I am excited to visit some new places, but I am most looking forward to wandering around Annecy one last time, and soaking in the experience of the neighborhoods where we want to live.  I don’t know what else to say, really.  Annecy hasn’t lost its magic yet, so I keep wandering around and feeling very lucky to be here.

After three weeks, Annecy hasn't lost its magic.
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Tess:

It’s a good sign that we are three weeks in and still feel like there is so much more we want to experience here.  It’s looking good so far.  But next time we talk we will be back in Kansas City, far from mountains and lakes and charming medieval cityscapes.  With a little bit of distance and perspective, we will have a chance to do some reflection on the trip as a whole and think about what that means for what comes next.  Or maybe we will just start planning our next visit.

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Tess:

It’s a good sign that we are three weeks in and still feel like there is so much more we want to experience here.  It’s looking good so far.  But next time we talk we will be back in Kansas City, far from mountains and lakes and charming medieval cityscapes.  With a little bit of distance and perspective, we will have a chance to do some reflection on the trip as a whole and think about what that means for what comes next.  Or maybe we will just start planning our next visit.

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Em:

Sounds good. À bientôt!

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Em:

Sounds good. À bientôt!

The conversation continues!  Click here for week four.

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