It is very safe to say that I strongly dislike AT&T. I was never a fan of them living in the US, but now that I am overseas I have complete disdain for them. I’ve been to France three times between June 0f 2011 and now, for a total of about 7 weeks, and my AT&T bills during this time are easily over $3000 USD. I’ve followed all of their instructions, turned on international plans, followed the usage monitors on their My AT&T iPhone app, turned off data roaming, placed my phone on airplane mode except when in use, and used wifi for downloading data, yet somehow I always end up with an insane bill from AT&T. One of the biggest issues is the AT&T customer service representatives have little to no training regarding international services and they cannot accurately advise you on how to use your phone when abroad. Argh! I’ll stop discussing this now, but I promise to dedicate an entire post to this wonderful topic very soon.
Just to be very clear: DO NOT USE AT&T mobile services if you are traveling internationally, especially their data or text messaging services. If you do, you will be unpleasantly surprised with how much data you supposedly have consumed and consequently are being billed for. If you plan to travel aboard to be safe put your phone on airplane mode when you are not using it and/or go under your iPhone settings > general > network, and make sure data roaming is turned off.
If you are moving internationally, your options with AT&T are much worse. First, if you bought an iPhone from AT&T or Apple, that phone is locked forever- which means you can never use a SIM card from another provider. You can try to jailbreak and then unlock your iPhone, which would allow you to use a SIM from another provider, but this is really more trouble that it is worth and there are no guarantees that it will actually work. Your only option is to buy out your contract with AT&T or keep the phone on with the basic service until your contract expires. The phones themselves can be used with wifi in France or internationally, so they end up becoming iPod touches and not completely useless. In our case, we are going to leave our iPhones on for the next year with the basic service and then start using our current Colorado numbers again when we return back in 2013. If you need to reach us, we would prefer that you call or text us on our French mobile numbers.
Which leads me some good news- we bought an unlocked iPhone at the Apple Store in Nice this past week and plan to buy another in the near future. The unlocked iPhones sold at the Apple Store in France are 100% unlocked and you can use SIM cards from any provider. We have chosen to use Free.fr as our mobile provider after already choosing them for internet, cable, and our home phone. The cost of mobile service with Free is a fraction of what it costs with other providers in France and the US- we pay roughly 15€ (reduced for one SIM because we already use their internet/phone/cable package) and 19€ per month. So far the Free Mobile service has been very good and we have no complaints. I’ll let you know what we think about Free after we have used them for a few months. It was encouraging though to see the three guys helping me at the Apple store all using Free as their mobile provider as well.
As you can see, the Apple store in Nice, France looks about the same as any Apple Store you would find in the US. They are just as busy as the stores in the US and appointments are advised for the Genius Bar. The workers even look similar to what you would find in Boulder, except most speak French.
Here’s a quick peek at my new unlocked iPhone 4S with euro plug. The only thing I’ve noticed about my iPhone bought in France vs the ones I’ve bought in the US is that the screens look slightly browner or less white and crisp than the iPhones I’ve bought in the US. I am not sure why that is, but there is a noticeable difference if you look at them side by side.
After visiting the Apple store, which is at Cap3000, the only American-like mall we have found in France, we decided to take short road trip to Italy and Monaco. Actually when we left the mall, we had no idea where we were going, we just decided after we got on the road where we would go. One of the really cool things about living in southern France is that you can easily hit three countries in less than an hour.
The hills along the coast in Italy look similar to that in France, except the Italians seem to maximize their use of the land for agriculture more than the French. Almost all of the hills are terraced with olive trees, greenhouses, mimosa trees, and other plants that are sold at local markets. We’ve also been told the vegetable markets in Italy are a third of the price in France, yet we haven’t experienced this for ourselves yet.
After spending a few hours in Italy we headed to Monaco to visit all of the main tourists sites. First stop, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. The Palace is still the official residence of the Prince of Monaco. Built in 1191 as a Genoese fortress, during its long and often dramatic history it has been bombarded and besieged by many foreign powers.
Monaco is actually quite a small country, covering an area of 197 hectares (487 acres) of which 40 (99 acres) have been reclaimed from the sea since 1980. Prepare to park your car and walk everywhere, as most of the key tourists attractions are only accessible by foot.
The photo below shows part of the area that was reclaimed from the sea.
We checked out the Monaco Cathedral. Built with stones from near by La Turbie in 1875, this Roman-Byzantine-style building houses the burial places of past sovereigns, including Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.
The Oceanographic Museum was inaugurated in 1910 by Monaco’s modernist reformer, Prince Albert I. This monumental architectural work of art has an impressive façade above the sea, towering over the sheer cliff face to a height of 279 feet (85.04 m). It took 11 years to build, using 100,000 tons of stone from La Turbie.
Some interesting facts about the museum:
• The museum is home to exhibitions and collections of various species of sea fauna (starfish, seahorses, turtles, jellyfish, crabs, lobsters, rays, sharks, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, eels, cuttlefish etc.) both stuffed and in skeletal form.
• Jacques-Yves Cousteau was its director for many years, beginning in 1957.
• The Museum celebrated its 100th birthday in March 2010, after extensive renovations.
The photo below is a view of the museum from the St Martin Gardens.
Our final stop was to check out the Monte-Carlo Casino and Opera House. We didn’t actually go inside the casino, but instead opted to take in the scene of expensive cars both parked and driving past the casino and nearby cafes. It was definitely a scene and would be an ideal spot for an afternoon of people and car watching from Le Cafe de Paris next door.
Some interesting facts I found about the Casino on Wikipedia:
• The citizens of Monaco are forbidden to enter the gaming rooms of the casino. Identity documents are checked at the door to enforce this rule.
• The idea of opening a gambling casino in Monaco belongs to Princess Caroline, a shrewd, business-minded spouse of Prince Florestan I. Revenues from the proposed venture were supposed to save the House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy.
• It was built in 1893 by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opera House.
• Monte Carlo and its casino were the locations for a number of James Bond movies, including Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye, as well as for the Casino Royale episode of the CBS’ Climax! television show.
• The casino is visited by Gremlins, Pacers, Hugos and the Trunkovs in Cars 2 for the lemon meeting.
• Until recently the Monte Carlo Casino has been the primary source of income for the House of Grimaldi and the Monaco economy.
We only had half a day in Monaco and it was definitely not enough. We saw the major sites, but spent no significant time at any of them. We plan to go back very soon to spend more in depth time at places like the Oceanography Museum. If you are visiting us, we will probably take you to Monaco, so do your research and let us know what you would like to see.
We also bought a car this week. After several weeks of looking at cars, we finally decided on a 7 seater VW Touran. It’s a great little car and it’s like driving a cross between my VW Jetta and our previous VW Eurovan. It’s a 2010 with 16k kilometers, diesel, and another year left on its warranty. We even got the dealer to agree to buy back the car from us in a year or whenever we head back to the US. We are hoping this vehicle will be our trusty friend as we criss-cross Europe on our upcoming adventures.
Here’s to five great weeks in France! Through all the hardships of setting up life in France, we are still very thankful for the opportunity to be here. We are creating ever lasting memories and can’t wait for our friends and family to share them with us (note: the calendar is filling up- if you are coming to visit, get it on the calendar soon).
Until next week…