I thought that the transatlantic experiences of my long-time online friend, Alison Kerr, would be of interest to the readers of My French Life Magazine… and she agreed to be interviewed.
What’s my connection with Alison Kerr
I met Alison Kerr around the mid-2000s, in what we used to call the ‘blogosphere.’ I was keeping a blog at the time, and following a few bloggers, including Neil Kramer, a New Yorker who was then living in Los Angeles, whose writing I found both gripping and hilarious. Alison would often comment on Neil’s blog, and I soon realized that she was an American expat living in France and that she was originally from Pittsburgh, where I had lived for 10 years. She had also gone to college not far from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where I was teaching. I decided to follow her blog. She was (and still is) an incredibly creative woman and a fantastic writer.
A few years later, Alison returned to the U.S., where she settled in Lexington, KY. She would travel back to France regularly and, on one of her trips in June 2010, we managed to finally meet in person and have dinner in Paris with another fellow blogger, an American woman living in France. I met Alison in person again in March 2016 when, while visiting her family in Western Pennsylvania, she swung by Clarion and had lunch with me.
Soon, we all moved on to Facebook and gave up blogging. I have kept up with Alison ever since – even after she left Facebook for Instagram.
A few months ago, Alison embarked on a journey back to France, where she plans on staying for at least six months, managing a property that friends of hers, a Franco-American couple, own in the Cognac region. Alison is also a writer who is finishing her first novel and is very interested in all kinds of creative endeavors.
This is part 4 of our conversation:
First trip to France
French citizenship, to USA & back to France
Artist colony & reconnecting with France
Part 4 – this one
Favorite Places and Advice
FINAL PART 4/4: Favorite Places and Advice
Q – What is your very favorite place to visit in France? (There may be more than one.)
A – I love visiting Paris, for obvious reasons, but I’d say my very favorite place is La Rochelle, where I lived from 1994 to 2004. I’m fortunate to still have friends there, so I have good excuses to visit! I love the Vieux Port, and it’s so nice to just flâner; it’s been fixed up to be much more pedestrian-friendly. When I lived there, there was two-way vehicular traffic between the cafés on the sidewalk and the water! It’s also interesting to see how much more touristic the city has become in the last 30 years. My feelings on that are pretty mixed. I also worry about the effects of climate change and rising sea levels on the city.
Q – What is your favorite restaurant?
A – Since we’re in La Rochelle, I’ll mention two: Pattaya, a Thai/Chinese restaurant tucked into an alley just off the Vieux Port. I have a soft spot for this place, because my kids and I used to eat here a lot (relatively speaking), and I also taught the family’s two daughters at the University of La Rochelle… some 25 years ago! But the food is excellent as well. Save room for an orange givré for dessert.
André is a La Rochelle mainstay, a large, rambling restaurant with one entrance on the rue St. Jean du Pérot and the other on the place de la Chaine (a 15-second walk from Pattaya). This is the place to go if you want excellent seafood and excellent service.
Q – Any tips for finding affordable but decent hotels/lodging for those who plan on traveling to France?
A – Where to start? Back in the days before Airbnb, I would find apartment rentals via the tourism office wherever I was going. Now I tend to use Airbnb, and I have never had any issues, but I have had friends who’ve been ripped off. Thankfully, the company seems to have stepped up its customer service game, and there are now guaranteed refunds if your rental doesn’t match what’s on the website.
My husband and I share a hotel-branded credit card, and I have used points to stay in Paris on occasion, as well. If I’m just staying somewhere for one night, a hotel suits my needs. If I plan to be somewhere longer, I want to have a kitchen, so I usually choose Airbnb, and I’ve found excellent places to stay for less than 100€/night.
Q – Finally, if you had one piece of advice or warning for those who are thinking of moving to France permanently, what would you tell them?
A – Oh là. This is tough because I’m a French citizen and I’m here for just six months, staying at my friends’ property. I haven’t had to open a bank account (I’ve maintained my account here since I left) or find a place to rent. And those are the two hardest things to do here these days, from what I understand. I guess my piece of advice would be this:
Gird your loins, because the French administration can be extremely frustrating. Do your research, find out exactly which documents you’ll need, and be prepared to hear “Non.”
Again, I haven’t had to deal with any of this stuff for years and years, so I’m not the best person to ask. The French Embassy website for your country likely has a lot of information about what to do if you want to move here. The stickiest wicket will probably be getting a visa unless you hold an EU passport, but the French government has a handy-dandy visa wizard to help determine whether you need one or not.
Q – Anything else you’d like to add about your transatlantic crossings?
Just that I’m extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had. J’en suis reconnaissante.
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Merci Mille Fois