…we choose for ourselves.
We have had more social interactions in the past month than during the past 11 months put together! First, Richard’s mum came to visit (see last blog post), then a friend of mine from school came to stay, then Richard’s sister and husband had a short week with us and finally we took a flying visit whistle-stop tour to Hong Kong to catch up with people and sort out our flat, which we have just sold. It’s been a whirlwind of social activity and now I have a week to mentally prepare myself for the world of work again!
So let’s start at the very beginning (sorry, now I’m singing it my head too)… my friend Sean drove all the way through France to stay with us for a couple of nights. He and Rich are both interested in photography so they compared notes on cameras and processes leaving me baffled. The only photos I take are snaps on my phone (and some of them turn out ok but most of them don’t). I was quite pleased with one that I’d previously seen on Instagram (and had been impressed by) and then I was amazed to walk past the exact same spot so I snapped a pic:
I love the fact that someone was desperate to show national pride and did it in the most creative way I have yet seen! I also enjoyed snapping the photographers at their craft:
We had a lovely few days welcoming Kay and Steve to Vence and showing them round our new home city of Nice. One of the things I would encourage visitors to do is the Little Tourist Train of Nice (yes, social death to teenagers as my French cousin, Catherine and I dubbed it when we were teenagers in Rouen and vowed never to get anywhere near the Little Tourist Train except now I’m middle-aged and the Little Tourist Train does all the hard work while we sit and let it take us round the sights)! We booked online the day before (only 10 Euros per person) then turned up on the Promenade des Anglais just before the allotted time to find that they were running behind schedule. When the next one did turn up he was telling people NOT to just get on as a big group had pre-booked. Luckily I could have a quick chat with him and he made an exception for us so we hopped on the very back seats and the rest of the big group piled in front. We were expecting a 45-minute tour but, due to heavy traffic conditions, it lasted about an hour and a half. The train took us around the main sites and up to the Castle Hill which we had not explored previously. We got some great photos and learned a bit more about the history of Nice (and nearly jumped out of our skins as the midday gun went off)!
Another highlight of their trip was a day walking around Antibes. We had only visited once before, to have a lovely lunch with Rich’s family friends, Annie and Johnathan. This time we wandered around enjoying the sights and sounds and found another place to have a lovely lunch (yay, I found my 4th flat white in France – thank you Lucky Break Coffee Shop, you join Joe & the Juice, Coffee Club and Bonobo Montpellier in a very elite club of flat white providers in France – someone PLEASE tell me where I should be looking as I’m sure I must be missing lots of places)…
The other highlight was an open-air concert in our home town of Vence. Every year the whole town is captivated by Les Nuits du Sud and, over the course of a few weekends in July and August, the town periodically shuts down access to anyone except ticket holders for various concerts held in the main town square. It’s a great atmosphere with all the restaurants putting out long tables right out into the square and everyone joining in the party mood. We saw an excellent band originally hailing from Sudan (via New York) called Alsarah and The Nubatones followed by one of the last remaining members of Earth, Wind and Fire with a 12-strong band. The recognisable hits had people dancing and the atmosphere was friendly.
After we had waved off Kay and Steve we packed up our own suitcases and got on a flight to Hong Kong via Frankfurt. Little did we know when we left our house that we would not actually get to our destination for almost 48 hours! A security incident in Frankfurt airport led to delays on all flights in and out of Frankfurt resulting in an announcement as we were about to land telling us to queue up to seek hotel vouchers as there would be no more connecting flights that day. So, at 11pm, we joined what was frankly the longest queue I have seen bar the queue for tickets to Wimbledon tennis! By the time we got to the front of the queue 2 hours later we were told that there were actually no hotel beds left so the airline had set up camp beds in one of the airport corridors. At this point we just wanted to lie down so we went up to check it out. We both tried to get some sleep despite feeling like we were in some emergency shelter (complete with occasional announcements on the tannoy). By 5.30am we were ready for some breakfast and luckily the airport had plenty of choice on offer. With a whole day to kill we took a taxi into the city to do some exploring and were pleasantly surprised to discover a lovely city with a river running through it and plenty of leafy shopping streets to wander down.
We got back to the airport in good time to catch the evening flight to Hong Kong and managed to have a second night with little sleep (who manages to get quality sleep in an economy class seat?) so after nearly 48 hours of travelling in the same clothes we were delighted to finally arrive in Hong Kong at our beautiful little flat in Sai Kung. I have never been so happy to see my bed!
The next few days were a whirlwind of meeting up with friends and doing admin jobs (including not one but TWO trips to the French Consulate in Central…)! It was so lovely to catch up with friends from all aspects of our former lives in Hong Kong: school colleagues, quiz team and film club members, yoga buddies and good friends going back all the way to our time in Qatar over 20 years ago! We missed a few people who were still on holidays or busy (and we just didn’t have time to contact everyone we would have liked to see) but it was great to see so many people and to feel as if we hadn’t been away for a whole year. I have always referred to my Hong Kong friends as my Hong Kong family (as friends really are the family we choose for ourselves).
Coming back to France this time in the knowledge that we have made the decision to settle here feels a bit surreal as I consider Hong Kong to be my home (and the UK as my first home) so I’m hoping that France will one day also feel like home. At the moment it still feels like a very indulgent long holiday but I am sure that getting into a routine of work will help to make it feel more permanent.
On that note, I don’t know how much time I will have to blog once I am back in the world of work…so thank you to everyone who has read the blog thus far, commented or mentioned to me that they have enjoyed reading all about our French adventures. I’ll leave you with pictures that Rich took of our new home town from the hills which look down onto it (and the transformation of our car into a fully fledged French vehicle).