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Driving the mediterranean coast

Week in Review: Voltage Transformers, Gourdon, and Saint Raphael

It’s hard to believe we have been in France for two weeks now. Although it was a fairly rough start with most of the family becoming ill, we’ve managed to settle in nicely and life in France is starting to be more like we had imagined. I’m still getting through some sinus issues and a nasty cough, but have managed to get to work for the second week and I’m attempting to be as productive possible.

After last weeks blog post our air shipment arrived from Colorado, which was a welcome site that brought with it a number of items that has made living a bit more comfortable. We packed a box about the size of a large US refrigerator back in late January with as many items as we could jam into it, including a box of toys for each of the kids, school materials, books, ski bags (clothes, boots, helmets, gloves, etc), several computers, an xbox, games, linens, kitchen items, etc.  With the arrival of our Mac Mini, we have now expanded the number of tv shows and movies available for viewing, which has made the kids quite happy.

The arrival of some of our electronics brought with it a new issue, voltage incompatibility. France uses 220V, where as the US uses 110V, and the frequency is also slightly different with France at 50HZ and the US at 60HZ. What this means is that even with an adapter, if you plug a US device into a French plug, you can very easily fry or burn up the device. Luckily the majority of new computers, including most Apple products, are dual voltage, which means with an adapter they work in both the US and France. But, we did bring with us a number of items that aren’t dual voltage such as our HP printer, xbox360, wii, computer monitor, etc. In order for these 110v devices to work you have to plug them into a voltage transformer.

For some reason, I thought it would be easy to pick up a voltage transformer in France, but I was wrong. First, it is hard to find any US products here. Second, I’m finding at electronics and hardware stores, very few people speak good English and I don’t speak much French yet.  Third, a voltage transformer isn’t exactly a common item and trying to discuss a niche item with a language barrier makes it even tougher. So, after visiting a number of stores in the area including Ulbaldi, Castorama, and Leroy Merlin, and not finding anything close to a 220 to 110 voltage transformer, I decided to take a look online.

It is very easy to find voltage transformers online, the issue is getting them to France. I’ve recently learned that most US companies, even dot coms, don’t ship to an address in France- something I didn’t know before now. One of the few companies that will ship internationally is You can easily buy a new 1000w transformer on for $60, but the shipping ends up costing approximately $150 and then another $50 of import fees are added to the total. This brings the total cost of a $60 voltage transformer to $260.

It turns out that the best option for buying a voltage transformer (that I have found so far) was Amazon.UK.  I found a 500w Power Bright voltage transformer for £44.99 with shipping costs of £21.83, which totals to be about $110 US. Still not the best deal, but better than paying $260 to get it from the US.  My advice to anyone moving abroard, buy your voltage transformer in the US before you move and you’ll save a lot of money. Also don’t forget to buy US 110v power strips to go with your transformers. Typically the transformers have one or two outlets and you will more than likely need more than that.

One of the things I have learned in the two weeks I have been in France is that a task that may have taken a quick 30 minutes or an hour in the US (going down to home depot and buying an item), can easily turn into a multi day research project and ultimately weeks before the item you need is in your hand. In the case of the transformer, I spent at least a day researching the best options, another half a day driving around and visiting stores, and another 10 days waiting for the item to arrive at the house. It’s been more than a week since I ordered the transformer now and I still haven’t received it, which means the kids haven’t been able to play xbox and April hasn’t been able to make copies or print from our printer.

Espresso Machines at Ulbaldi

After spending half a day wandering through French stores in Antibes and Sophia-Antipolis, I decided we needed to switch gears and do some exploring. So, we headed into the mountains about 13km from our home and drove up to the village of Gourdon. We spent about 30 minutes exploring the village, but due to the cold temperatures we didn’t stay very long. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera, but I did snap this shot with my iPhone of the village from the road on the way up and another looking out towards the Mediterranean. I’m sure we will be visiting Gourdon often as the views are spectacular and it is very close to our home.

Village of Gourdon
View from Gourdon

We ended our Saturday by eating out for the first time as a family at a restaurant in the village of Valbonne, Cafe Latin. The restaurant staff was very friendly and spoke enough English to make ordering and communicating fairly easy. The food was good enough that the kids ate more pasta in one sitting than I have ever seen before. We will definitely be back to Cafe Latin many times as the food was good, the atmosphere was welcoming, and the staff was very accommodating to our family of five.

Cafe Latin in Valbonne

On Sunday we decided to explore the Mediterranean coast and took a drive from Cannes to Saint Raphael. We’ve learned that on Sunday’s people tend to stay home and off the roads, which makes taking a road trip much less crowded and more enjoyable than on a Saturday. With the warmer temperatures, Cannes was surprisingly active with people sitting in the sun, sipping espresso, socializing, and reading papers. But once we drove through Cannes and past Theoule Ser Mer we left the crowds behind and found that the coast was more primitive, less populated, and quite peaceful. This route seems to be very popular with cyclists as we probably passed a hundred or more of them cruising along the windy roads by the sea.

Where the United States landed in 1944 to help French

We also happened upon a US War Memorial and the General Dwight D Eisenhower Square. The spot that we visited along the beach was where the US landed in 1944 to help France fight back the Nazis. Even though we are more than 5000 miles from home, something about this spot made me feel a little closer, it was a special feeling that I can’t describe.  It was hard to believe that the spot where we were walking was the place where thousands of US soldiers first landed in France. What was already an amazing day along the coast with the family became that much more special by an unplanned visit to a war memorial and a place that is so important in the history of France and the World.

US War Memorial, General Dwight D. Eisenhower Square

Part of the reason behind this drive was to search for that perfect beach spot that we can visit again in the summer. Many of the beaches from Cannes to Nice are very populated, commercial, and even nude- not really our scene. I wanted to see what the coast was like outside of Cannes and ideally find a nice beach that can be our spot for the summer.  While we did find some great spots and the drive is beautiful, I can’t say that we found that perfect beach to revisit yet.

Rocky Red Cliffs on the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean
Red rocks and the Mediterranean, near St Raphael
Where the United States landed in 1944 to help French

Week two ended on an extremely happy note thanks to the arrival of a package containing our Free internet/cable equipment. Just to clarify, Free is the company that is providing us with internet and phone service, and it isn’t actually free. I was very impressed with the quality of the packaging and hardware that Free sent to us, it was very nicely designed (s+ark) and well presented (YouTube video demonstrating design and functionality). Installing the equipment took me about 30 minutes total and we’ve had internet and cable service since. So far, so good- no problems with the service. So, if you want to Skype or chat with us we are now online and reconnected with the world.

Freebox by S+ark
  • Love this, keep them coming! Drew is so jealous.

    February 17, 2012
  • Susan


    let me know if you want me to bring you some US 110v power strips ??

    February 18, 2012
  • Christian


    Great updates Mike. You and April are very brave. Hope the job is going well and can’t wait for the blog post from Chamonix.

    February 18, 2012
  • Jennifer


    I am an american living in Charleston, SC, married to a french man. We have an apartment in Cannes and are considering moving there for a year if not longer. We have our businesses in US and will commute back and forth as we know other people successfully doing this. My question is, do your children speak French, and if not, what school are you enrolling them in. We have an eight year old son and a 16 year old daughter who speak a small amount of French. We are pretty sure we will enroll our daughter in the IB program and are collecting options for our son. Merci, Jennifer

    March 30, 2012
    • April Slone


      Hi Jennifer, sorry for the length of time in answering your question. We decided prior to coming here to homeschool our kids since we moved here in January. They do not speak French, we are all learning. I have met several people who move here speaking only English and enroll their kids in the local public school, but after meeting with our local public school I did not think this was a good option for my kids. We were not made to feel welcome, and quite frankly, I understand that my non-French speaking kids are a burden on their overcrowded, underfunded system, just like non-English speaking kids in the US. There are options for private school but we find them very expensive. Since our kids are young, and we are here for just a year, we thought that the experience alone would be educational and it certainly has. As for English speaking schools, there is Mougins School and the Nice International School. There are a few bilingual schools like EBICA and a couple of montessori schools, one being Les Calibres. There is also an anglophone section of the French public system–Haut Sartoux, Trois Collines and CIV (Centre International de Valbonne) but all have lenghthy wait lists, will not enroll children mid-year and the children MUST speak French and pass a difficult test. It is not easy to bring kids who don’t speak the language to a new country and put them into school, I have a new appreciation for the families who do it. Ultimately, as difficult as homeschooling is, it gives us the freedom we want and keeps our kids learning for their return to the US system in a year.

      April 13, 2012