Trying to find a new place to settled down and call it home is definitely not for the faint hearted. You need a big bag full of patience, an eye for potential and loads of patience – did I mention that already? Since we arrived in France we have moved four times! We stayed in Colmar for a week, then moved to Illkirch for a month and then moved to Strasbourg City Centre for the last two weeks before finally, Algamdulilah moving into our own place on the 1st October – Shuk Allah!
For the first month we went every week to view about two to three different apartments but nothing that would work for our family, nothing that ticked all our boxes. When we eventually had to view our current apartment I told hubby that I did not like the place – I hated the bathroom and kitchen BUT it had potential, it had many positives like decent sized bedrooms, a nice quiet area – lots of trees, birds and a river, a park right next to the apartment for kids, within walking distance to the shops and halal butcher and near the tram and bus routes – very convenient! Hubby could see the potential the place had but I could not look pass the ugly blue tiled bathroom and weird-looking layout of the horrible white kitchen. The kitchen for me is like the heart of the home, where all the magic happens, where memories are made and the look, feel and layout must work! We had to weigh our options – do we want a small, expensive place but within walking distance from the schools or do we want a decent sized place but needed to take the tram or car to school? The answer was simple and the decision was then an easy one.
Just imagine, living out of your suitcase for two months with everything around you being foreign and nothing to remind you of home. I needed to make a list of items we needed for when we had to move into our own place like beds, bedding, pots, pans, couch etc and the first place I wanted to go was IKEA. For anyone that has never heard of IKEA – they a Swedish founded company that designs and sells ready to assemble furniture. They also sell home and kitchen accessories and decor but its on another level, really a shop on steroids!! lol no jokes 🙂
When we first went to IKEA I wanted to compare their prices, designs and quality to the other places here. We spent about 5 hours in the place (it did not feel like 5 hours!) and to top it all off we got lost haha – we did not know how to get out!! I was getting nausea as it felt like we were walking in circles, following the arrows on the floor but just not finding the exit! IKEA is organised in a showroom style which allows you to visualise how your space will look like. You then have to record what you want on a piece of paper that they provide with the serial number, number of the row and shelf number – so before leaving you go pick your own stuff in the warehouse – see below (there is staff in the warehouse to assist you, but I think you have to pay extra for their services) and then you scan and pay for your stuff at the various terminals.
Oh yes! Something I failed to mention was that here in France you do pretty much everything yourself!
- You won’t find petrol attendants at the garages – it’s a DIY pump business that you first put in your bank card to pay and reserve the amount of gasoline you want and then that is the amount that gets pumped.
- They have DIY car wash spots where you add your tokens in and then you choose what you want like wash, rinse, foam etc – no one around to assist you – we had to use Google translate to figure it all out.
- At the grocery stores you won’t find packers – you need to pack your own groceries! Now just imagine how shocked we were when we bought our initial groceries and the cashier just sat there after scanning our stuff – I thought maybe she is waiting for the packer to come pack our groceries only to find the people next to us were busy packing their own groceries! I looked at hubby and thought oh my goodness, seriously?! We had to purchase their recyclable bags and pack our own stuff!? Rolling eyes – not cool at all but when in France you have to do what the French do, I suppose.
About a month after our first episode at IKEA we decided it would be best to go alone without the kids so that we could focus on what we needed, pay for it and have it all delivered by the time we got the keys to the new apartment.
Fast forward to the day we got the keys to the apartment our IKEA order arrives Algamdulillah without any hiccups – all in boxes with nuts, bolts and allen keys included as well as instructions with just pictures!! haha no words in the instruction manual just pictures. Hubby had all of us to help him so we managed to put all our beds together – went to bed just before 2am the following day! What a mission! We then put the couch and TV stand together the following evening only.
Algamdulillah, our landlord is really a nice man and has given us permission to do what we want inside the place to make it ours. One of our neighbours, an old lady complained to him when we just moved in about her dirt that could not go into the bins because of our dirt we put in the bins!! haha seriously and the other neighbour complained that our flattened boxes we put in the recycle bin filled the whole bin and there were no space for her recycled items – these are the problems our neighbours have here! haha shame. Mr landlord just shook his head and told them that it is not everyday people move in – next week there won’t be so much dirt and boxes!
On a sidenote – I made friends with one of the English teachers at the big kids school – she is from Pretoria but has been here in France since 2003, lives in Germany with her hubby and two kids. She has honestly been my biggest lifesaver! Her name is Anya – and she has given me about 3-4 bags full of homeware – from table cloths to mugs to an electric handmixer (she received two as gifts and gave me one!) and so much more! Shukr Allah for sending her to me! So according to her, it is traditional to give bread and salt as house-warming gifts and she gave me loaf of bread, salt with rosemary, Lindt dark chocolate with salt, hazelnuts as well as Alsace pottery. So sweet!
Important points to consider when setting up home here in France:
- Consider getting help from a local – someone who speaks the language as this helped us tremendously. Hubby’s work assigned Mrs B to assist us and she has been absolutely great in getting the apartment and getting kids into school etc.
- In the City Centre – the apartments are smaller and the rent more expensive, consider finding a place just on the outskirts where the apartments are decent and the rent is lower.
- Check for tram and bus routes to see if it passes your apartment – CTS runs the tram and bus routes here and its super convenient and easy to jump on the public transport system here in Strasbourg – no traffic jams on the trams!
- Accept help from people – do not think you can do it on your own because it is not easy!
- Check if parking is included with the apartment or do you have to pay for private parking – this could cost you extra per month.
Algamdulilah, our new place is a work in progress project for us as it is still very cold and empty inside. But as soon as our container arrives we can add our personal touch to the place and make it comfortable for us – make it our new home.
It is now finally time for routine, for normality and for order – holiday vibes are officially over!
“The best view comes after the hardest climb” – Unknown