Making opera accessible: the Metropolitan’s ‘Live in HD’ at the cinema

I doubt if I would have visited an opera if I hadn’t found an accessible way of visiting. Opera, at least in the UK, is still inextricably linked to the social elite and I imagine – perhaps incorrectly – that the opera house is stuffy and pompous. The cinema, on the other hand… well, I’ve seen some of my favourite films there, and one of my favourite things to do is watch films.

New York’s Metropolitan’s ‘Live in HD’ opera shows, where they transmit operas and other musical performances live to dozens of different countries, offers just that – an easy and familiar way to see some of the best opera performed anywhere. I went recently to see Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ at the Rex in Geneva and I really enjoyed it. I’ve started listening to operas outside of the theatre, too.

Interestingly, it’s typical for people to dress up, wearing outfits that wouldn’t look out of place in the Met’s theatre itself. It was quite something to people in their Sunday best, in furs and diamonds, at the cinema. In some cinemas you can bring food, too – there is often a long interval (we were given free champagne at this recent event). Now this is my kind of viewing: some of the best performances, screening in HD with excellent sound, in a deep comfortable seat and the promise of something good to eat.

When is a walk a hike? Hiking Mont Vuache: a photo blogpost

Me posing and, ahem, wearing tights

At the weekend, Jen and I hiked up Mont Vuache. The small mountain is close by to us and we’ve been there before but this time we took a different route up and down. It’s a moderately difficult hike (that is, you can do it in trainers but not flip flops) and takes a few hours if you amble and enjoy the views as we did. We took the eastern route, which begins in the lovely hamlet of Chaumont and climbs steadily for around an hour before you reach a plateau with a much gentler slope.

An appealing part of the hike are the views. When higher, it offers an almost panoramic perspective: you can see a great deal of the Jura, Geneva and the Genevoise bassin, and Mont Blanc and the Alps. We loved seeing Salève, ‘our’ mountain close to home.

View of Mont Saleve, with the Alps in the background. Our home is down there somewhere.

You know when you’re arrived at the summit because there is a cairn there. You place a stone on the pile, rest for a moment, and if you’re like us, go and find somewhere to eat your lunch.

View from our lunch spot.

The descent was a little more difficult because the leaf fall of autumn hid the loose stones and rocks. Of course, the locals hot-footed it up and down in a nonchalant, carefree manner whilst I walked sideways like a crab, trying not to slip.

On the descent - the remains of the old castle are our goal

So – was this a walk or a hike? And does it matter? Well, it matters in how you classify it for Garmin’s Connect page, or Runkeeper, or any of a host of fitness sites that track and record your sporting activity. As for the definition, well – perhaps it’s to do with intensity, or how long you’re out there, or how fast you move.

We suspect these must be inedible - the locals would have snaffled them otherwise

I’ve tried for a while to define a hike and all I came up with is this: when hiking, you need a decent pair of shoes and you wear a rucksack. If what you’re doing on your own two feet fits this definition, then it’s a hike. Otherwise it’s a walk.

Clear view of Mont Blanc from Vuache, nice

Of course, you could easily walk the route we took to climb Mont Vuache in trainers and without a rucksack. But then it wouldn’t be a hike, would it?

Get the tongue wagging – wine tasting at St Martin at Peissy

Every year of living in France we’ve visited nearby Peissy, in the Genevois basin, to taste the wines as part of the St Martin’s Day celebration of new wines. It’s a fun day – the people are friendly, the wines (especially the whites) are excellent and there is some good food, too. I’m certainly no connoisseur, just an enthusiastic amateur but it’s a great chance to find out what the local Swiss wines are like.

Autumn is here. This barn is by Peissy, in the Geneva basin, where we went wine tasting.

It occurred to me while we were there that the tongue is at the root of wine tasting. Not only does it taste the wines, of course – but you get to talk about them. After a couple of ‘tastes’ (I drink, not pour) it gives you the confidence to speak freely about the flavours you find in the wines – I think it frees the palette, too.

The lunch of champions. The sausage is called an longeole, a long sausage made of beef and pork. Marvellous.

This freedom of the tongue stops short of declaring that the wines taste like ‘sweaty gym shoes on hot tarmac’ but it does mean you get to think about what you drink, which has to be a good thing. You might even find yourself saying things like ‘high tones’ or ‘long oaky finish’ if you’ve tasted enough. That said, no one appears to be drunk, of course – and young adults drink them, too. What an education. It helps understand why people are said to have a healthier attitude to drinking.

View from Peissy over to Geneva. The vines are changing colour.

A wine tasting event like this – which is informal, and run by the people who make the wines, so it’s an enthusiastic encounter, is perfect for tasting different wines all together, one after the other, so you get to compare. This is invaluable, I think – when you taste several together you can really understand some of the differences between them.

What a beauty… kept an eye on me the whole time. Lovely furry coat he's wearing, ready for the snow

Another pleasure is to take the camera. It’s autumn and despite some high temperatures for this time of year, the leaves have begun to fall and vines change colour. So, there’s some good opportunities to capture that my camera. Something for the eye and the tongue, then.

 

Soaked in spirit, buried in the earth: tomme au marc cheese

It’s hard not to like cheese and wine in France and Francophile-Switzerland. (And not just Francophile Switzerland of course, but the German, Romansh and Italian influenced cantons. Which reminds me: over here they occasionally express the difference between the French- and German-speaking parts of Switzerland as the ‘rosti divide’ – the German Swiss eat it, the French don’t. It’s not completely true, of course, but it’s a useful shorthand for the divisions between the two sometimes very different cultures.)

Food is an ideal of which cheese and wine are a reality. We went to a fête dedicated entirely to local cheeses this year. A small affair you might think: but no, it was huge and ran over a long weekend, rather like a Glastonbury of cheeses. I tasted many of the cheese on offer there but none like I was to encounter this weekend.

Vineyards at Peissy, wine-tasting at St Martin

Vineyards at Peissy, wine-tasting at St Martin

We visited the wine tasting at Peissy for St Martin, a festival celebrating the end of the hard farming work of summer and autumn and a time to drink the new and old wines of local vines. Peissy is one of a series of picturesque villages that sit within the flatter lands of the Genevois bassin, surrounded by the mountain ranges of Salève and the Jura. The wines were superb as usual. (It is said to be a big secret of Switzerland that they produce some excellent wines, particularly whites, and exclusively gameret I understand – an idea supported by the fact that the Swiss export very little, preferring to keep it to themselves.) As I tasted I couldn’t help but notice a stream of clear plastic bags help by like-minded tasters which seemed to contain a lump of earth. Another charming idiosyncrasy, I thought. I must learn more…

It wasn’t just a clod of earth at all, or at least not all of it. It was a tomme au marc. Marc, I knew, is a local spirit, akin to grappa – but that didn’t explain the earthy crust.

Tomme au marc: steeped in spirit, buried in the earth

Asking around, we discovered that the thick cake of berries, twigs, and so on that covers the cheese are a result of it being buried in the ground for two months with some fruit. Tasting a cheese that has been is the ground is, as far as I know, new to me. I have to say it was marvellous: nutty, firm, full of a wine-spirit, light but wholesome. The cake added texture as well as flavour – you eat it all, crust ‘n’ all. Is it a cheese tasting of wine, or a wine tasting of cheese? It doesn’t matter: but this cheese brings together those two inimitable French loves, cheese and wine, wine and cheese.

Photo and video blog: Cycling Mont Salève

Me on my bike, at home

When I was a younger man I cycled everywhere – to and from school, to friends and girlfriends, I explored all I could on the bike and loved it. The love affair eventually ended (with my girlfriends and cycling) and the bike gathered dust.

Until just recently.

I had no idea that moving to France would mean I’d be compelled to jump back on the saddle again. But compelled I am because cycling is, to paraphrase a memorable description of another beautiful ‘game’, more than a matter of life and death for Haute-savoyards. Le Tour (the cycling tour of France) is the nation’s sport, a spectacle that seems to visit and then take over every city, town and hamlet for a handful of unforgettable long summer weeks. But it’s my understanding that the Alps region where I live holds a special place for cyclisme – because there are mountains there.

Le Tour: a spectacle loved throughout France

Now, this is wonderful for the enthusiast. There are hills to climb. And then more. Then mountains, even. And when you’re done, there’s the high-speed descent. And all this in glorious Alpine splendour. But for un débutant like me, it is a different matter.

For example: upon leaving my house, there is a slight incline, which, after I’ve navigated my way out of the community gate, is met by another, slightly steeper incline. And so it goes. Until, for me at least, you meet the holy of holies – the ascent from Le Coin to La Croisette, a terrible, forbidding climb up dozens of sharply twisting roads. You’ll know when at the top because you’ll be on a mountain. It is difficult to drive this road, let alone cycle.

Imposing face of Salève, taken from Le Coin

The first time I decided to ‘go around the block’, I took out my downhill mountain bike, a disastrously heavy, angular collection of steel, springs and rubber. I went down the hill and rode back (here, I can tell you that ‘the hill’ would, in my native London, be considered something of an understatement). When I got home, delighted that ‘I still had it’, I bent over and put my back out. I still hadn’t it.

Since then, finding a local route has been fun, because I’m out in the country and there’s always a lane or road to explore. The views are inspiring, although it tends to be colder, especially during the descent. This short video shows you a typical bit of road and what I see when I’m out and about.

Thankfully, I’m lucky enough to have a new bike now. My old one – now known as the ‘tractor’ – has a lively rear suspension, so I bounce when I ride it. Quite comical when writing that, less so when it’s happening. I don’t know a great deal about bikes so I played safe and bought a friend who is far more in the know to help me choose. In the absence of thousands of Euros thrown lavishly at a bike I might never use (my wife Jennie joked that at least that way it would never wear out), I was relatively sensible. I ended up with a Decathlon Alu Carbon Competition bike. As the name suggests, it is a mix of aluminium and carbon, keeping it light and strong. But between me and you, it is white, with a bit of yellow and black and the occasional gear. Here it is.

My bike

Progress has been unusually speedy. Within only weeks I had improved, and now I occasionally stop thinking about the pain and enjoy the ride (enthusiasts might add that I’m doing it right in this case). Finding a route has been fun. It means getting a little lost, exploring new places, something I always enjoy. At the moment, I generally take my bike around the flatter roads of Salève, the mountain that runs from outside my home, connecting Geneva and Switzerland at one end and Haute-savoie and France at the other.

The path more travelled

This doesn’t mean I’m avoiding the hills, just the worst of them. I record all my cycle rides using an iPhone 3G and Runkeeper. The stats it produces tells me that often the climb (which it considers to be a sum of the ascent and descent) goes into the hundreds of metres. I find the stats useful so I can compare my times, try to get better. Bizarrely, I’ve found myself even enjoying the challenge of a hill: as I long as I don’t, like the sun, look it right in the eye.

It sounds corny but riding with the ever-present mountain is inspirational. For me, it is the most brutal of critics, it offers the most tender support. It is a fixed point, solid, impenetrable; it endures – a counterpoint to my dwindling stamina, always reminding me to just keep spinning those legs.

Just keep spinning: "Moon with Salève (Le Grand Piton)"

If you want to see more of my photos, my Flickr stream is here.

Sunrise concert at Lake Geneva

Up at five, we leave the house for Lake Geneva for the sunrise concert. We’re all tired and share a sense of unreality that being awake so early brings. To keep us going, we pack flasks of coffee and ‘l’escargot’, those delicious snail-shaped breakfast pastries.

When we arrive, there are already dozens of people there. The concert is free, but it’s still a surprise to see so many people. The conductor taps his baton on the music stand. The audience settles down. We wait…

This has to be one of the most serene moments I’ve spent amongst a (albeit smallish) crowd of people. The bains des paquis, on Lake Geneva’s rive droite, is usually quite lovely but this morning it was more tranquil than ever. We had promised that one day we’d see the sun come up over the lake. Now here we were.

At first the lights of Geneva and the moon were still visible on the left bank.

The dark before the light: the moon is top right

But soon the sun began to rise and swimmers took to the lake.

Swimmers in Lake Geneva, early morning (sunrise)

After an hour or so, the sun had risen completely and set that dazzling column of light in the still water.

Sunrise over Lake Geneva

The concerts take place most weekends during the summer; there’s no doubt we will be back next year. Like Le Tour de France, and the various beer and cheese fêtes, these concerts will remind us of the long sunny days we’ve spent here.

What I like about France, what I miss about England: leaving the UK, one year on

It’s been a year since Jennie and I left England to move to Geneva Switzerland, and later to nearby France where we live now. I won’t go into the sentimental details of the ‘anniversary’ – suffice to say that there was a little reminiscing over a glass of champers last night, thinking about the year that has passed – so instead here’s a list of how French life is great and the things I miss about the UK. In no particular order…

Why I love France

Weather. It’s hotter here in the summer than the UK, there are more days filled with sunshine, and it’s relatively consistent and predictable too. Summer last year was like the feted one in 1976 in the UK, the one we think all summers should be like. Since meteo.fr is particular to my specific area, the forecast seems always to get it right. There are some indifferent days, of course, but generally it is less damp than England, less gloomy. The barbie gets more use. Conversely, when it snows, it is colder than the UK, colder but a dry cold. What this means is there is a greater range of…

Outdoor activity. In the summer you can plan days out because it’s likely you’ll get decent weather. Since we live in the countryside, more or less, we have some excellent hiking, golf, cycling, climbing, swimming… the list goes on. We have a tennis court and football ground at the end of the road. The key thing is, as the winter comes the sports only get better: when it’s snowing, we go snowboarding or snowshoeing. It’s this kind of year-round activity that is one of my most favourite things about this place.

The mountains and the water. We live in the Rhône-Alpes region, so as you might expect there are lots of mountains and there is lots of water. We live around an hour or so from some of the best Alpine locations anywhere and I can see the Salève and Jura mountain ranges from my window. We have Lakes Geneva and Annecy, which we plan to boat on soon. What’s more, we have Geneva on our doorstep, so we get to do all the city things, too – and there are the all-important opportunities for work.

Food and wine. I’ve done some independent studies* on this and, in short, food is better in my part of France than in the UK. Much better. Even local stores have local produce, lovingly laid out and presented. (There is one exception, as you’ll see.) Even the small fact that France loves whisky, as do I, seems as if it is just the right place. The aisles dedicated to cured meat and cheese found in the hypermarché should be enough to convince you of its culinary superiority; if it doesn’t, try some of the local wines from Satigny, or the Rhône, or…

Secular, liberal, republic. So far, I’ve counted the physical things, like weather and mountains. But there are political or philosophical things, too. One of the latter is the fact that France is a modern, democratic secular, liberal, republic. This generally coincides with my approach, my politics. It doesn’t mean that France is without its issues. But nor does it mean that these high ideals are completely detached from public life either. You’ll find them in bars and restaurants and in the fabric of life out here. I even found a copy of Camus’ ‘L’etranger’ at the local supermarket.

People work to live, not live to work. Shops are closed on Sunday here (some large supermarkets are open in the morning) and often closed on Monday, too. Many more close for a long lunch, between 12.00 and 14.00. It’s annoying sometimes and takes getting used to, but it illustrates how the French try to put living before working. It’s not perfect, and we’ve been affected by strikes and so on, but it’s something I can believe in (and not just because I’m lazy, either).

Before you get on the plane (or not, as the case might be) to leave it all behind, there are some downsides, at least as far as I’m concerned…

What I miss about England

Family and friends. You have to leave your family and friends behind. That is, unless you can take them with you. I’m working on the latter. You get more popular when you live in a nice place and I try to convert every member of my family who comes through the door to move out here. France isn’t a million miles away, either, and it’s only a short plane flight to go to the UK. We all do a lot of social networking stuff, too.

Newspapers. The quality of newspapers here is very high. Le Monde, Le Figaro and even the free or cheap newspapers like 20 Minutes focus on more on news, not just gossip. But since I’m still learning French, I can’t read them effortlessly, which is how I like to read a newspaper, especially at weekends. The French Paper is quite good but it doesn’t have the frequency or sheer heft of a good old weekend broadsheet, stuffed with magazines and reviews.

Marks and Spencer. There’s plenty of good shopping out here, but there’s nothing like a Marks and Sparks. It’s the corduroy, you see – the cardigan. There is one in Geneva but it sells only clothes for women and food. However, I can order online, and it’s fairly cheap at around £5 to ship to France, so all is not lost.

Curry. Despite an ongoing fervent search, I still haven’t found a convincing curry house. The curry in Geneva, even in what appear ‘authentic’ places, is adapted (read ‘made innocuously bland’) to a Swiss and French taste in the places I’ve been. It’s just as well my wife Jennie is a great cook. On a related note, you can get Marmite and baked beans (other staples) but they are often horribly expensive.

Language. It’s hard sometimes to know that everyone around you doesn’t understand what you might want to say, that you are divided by a language, even if you might share common interests and beliefs. The answer is to learn French. If you’re like me, you might find this tough. But when you get a moment of breakthrough – perhaps you listen to the radio, and understand what is being said, at least in part – it is completely rewarding and worthwhile.

I can’t say I miss UK culture – music, tv, movies – because we get them all here. Without them it would be difficult, I think. And I can’t say we’re completely immersed in French culture, either. Some of it, especially some of the pop music and comedy shows, I’m happy to leave aside for now.

If you think these lists amount to my succumbing to the temptation (common in other ex-pats, I’ve found) to criticize their home country when they leave it, then think again: I love the UK and always will. A move away from home can mean that you love it just the same, not less. I’ll be supporting England in the football World Cup. It’s just that I now have another couple of teams to shout for, too – France and Switzerland. Addition doesn’t mean dilution.

But the biggest thing I’ll take, though, is not necessarily to be found in either the UK or France and is this: we feel good because we took ourselves from our relative comfort zones and tried something new and challenging; that we developed a new confidence and broader outlook that comes with the huge upheaval of moving to a country with a different language and culture; that we’ve not just sat and thought it would be nice to move, but actually gone and done it.

It’s not that people don’t do this kind of thing every day, or that it’s particularly unusual or daring or brave. We’re none of those things. It’s just that it is unusual for us, a challenge, something that has allowed us to be different from ourselves and one we’re lucky to say has worked out wonderfully. And who could not love an area like Haute-savoie when it has the motto: ‘In tartiflette we trust!‘ This is a place I’m happy to call ‘home’.

*I mean I’ve eaten in both France and England quite a lot.

On top of the World Health Organisation building

On Friday morning before the day started I had a coffee with Jennie, in the roof garden to the World Health Organisation’s building in Geneva where she works. It was a lovely sunny day and unusually clear, so there are some good views around Geneva and the surrounding mountains.

I planned on taking some photos, but ended up doing some impromptu video instead. The quality isn’t great – it’s taken with an Ixus 80 pocket camera – but I think it does the job. Next time I’ll take the Canon XM2 up there and the tripod – but there’s no replacement for my terrible narration and faltering voice. That we’ll just have to put up with.

Reviewing digital newspapers

One of the (happily few) disappointments of living in France is the difficulty and expense of buying an English newspaper. In time, I hope to read Le Monde and perhaps even Le Figaro. But until then, I’m happy to be reliant on ‘journaux anglais’ – a phrase I know well because I’ve said it in many tabacs in both France and Switzerland to little avail.

We live a little out of town, so the local tabac doesn’t sell an English language newspaper. We could go into Geneva, where several shops sell them – but not as many as you’d think, since the Swiss enjoy a Sunday free from shopping, and even smaller shops close. And it’s the weekend newspapers I miss most. I’ve used the web for news, and WRS (World Radio Switzerland) is in English, and both have served me well. Accepting that I wouldn’t have something to read in the garden away from a computer, I thought I’d try the digital editions offered by The Times and The Guardian.

Both use a more or less identical engine for the main functionality of the paper, provided by NewspaperDirect.inc. You can turn pages, zoom, copy articles, email them, all the things you would expect in a front end that does its best to approximate the real thing. What’s striking is the difference that the format makes. Sure, you could get more or less the same content via an RSS feed or through the newspaper website. But seeing the news in high-res spread across a large-ish screen is very satisfying and it’s one of the reasons I’ll subscribe.

The Times e-edition front page

The Times e-edition front page

The right-hand navigation panel gives useful previews of pages and means you can navigate the paper quickly. If it all looks a bit busy, you can minimise the clutter and just look at the pages. I found moving within the page a bit difficult and the mouse movements counter-intuitive. It just takes getting used to and others might find it suits them. You can open an article and read it in a non-newspaper box, which looks more like the website and undermines the illusion a bit. There’s lots of other things you can do with an electronic newspaper, too – like search, or just look at the pictures.

Where The Guardian group’s Digital Edition adds further value (The Times call it their e-paper) is the ability to share content through a variety of social networking tools. Articles can be saved to Delicious, shared on Facebook or blogged and so on. The latter function has it for me: it makes sharing the content much easier, something that I hope will prompt a some sharing on this humble blog. It is illustrative, I think, of The Guardian Group’s growing embrace of the web, although the sticky subject of how old media will survive or not is still unresolved.

The Guardian Digital Edition frontpage with share icons

The Guardian Digital Edition frontpage with share icons

Both are relative cheap services, too. You can pay a whopping 7.50CHF (Swiss Francs) for a bonafide paper copy, which is about £4 for a Sunday paper that’s sometimes incomplete, with often the best supplements are missing (meaning it lacks the heft of a Sunday paper and therefore one of its most attractive qualities). It will cost only £4.99 a month for The Observer; £3.99 for a month’s worth of The Sunday Times. I guess the extra pound pays for all that social networking goodness. Both have mobile-friendly editions, so you can use your mobile device for the odd read although like many things the screen might be too small for prolonged reading. You can also download if you plan to be offline.

Despite this, I’d really like to see some of the excellent multi-media material we find on both news websites (and especially The Guardian’s) integrated into the editions. Although you can listen to the Guardian’s stories (a function I’ve been unable to get to work), in an ideal world both could follow the example of ‘electric!’, a rich media publication from Virgin Media, which uses the Ceros engine. Superb interaction, although quite unlike a conventional newspaper reading experience and appealing to different markets, a hybird which incorporates existing audio/video from the sites seems possible (from this distance). The image below offers video playback embedded in the publication, and there’s audio too. Try ‘electric!’, you might like it, if not the name.

electric! is a rich media publication from Virgin Media, powered by Ceros

electric! is a rich media publication from Virgin Media, powered by Ceros

So, I’ll have to compromise: I won’t be able to shape a paper copy to my whim, read it in the garden or at the cafe. Lamenting this, in the never ending pursuit for that elusive hardcopy,  I ventured out to the Swiss / French border near Perly following a rumour that they sold English newspapers. Success of sorts: I did find a single copy of the Sunday Mail. It may still be there for all I know: there are standards.

Using the web to emigrate

Men and women, I should say

Men and women, I should say

How did people emigrate before the web? With difficulty, surely. It’s been useful for almost every step and some of our move would have been impossible I feel without it, at least in the time we had. Of course, underpinning all the technology were two people filling boxes, completing forms, driving miles and pulling the levers and pressing the buttons. But the web has been outstandingly useful for several particular reasons. Here’s a quick fire list in no particular order – I’m certain I’ve left some things out – but like Kane’s gang (as if you’ve forgotten!) it’s what we’ve got:

Interviewed for job online. Without Jennie getting a job for the UN none of this would have happened. In her application she sent all documents online; underwent a test that was performed over the net; was interviewed via web-based video conferencing; and finally sent the medical / admin documents in PDF form to Kuala Lumpar for processing.

Google Docs for a to-do/resources list. This was invaluable and still is. It’s not as complex as something like specific to-do collaborative tools like RemembertheMilk, but it worked beautifully. Simple crossing things out with strikethrough was enough to say they’ve been done. We also collected resources, figures, phone numbers and so on here and worked on independently and together.

Synchronising weblinks using FoxMarks. We independently found various links as we browsed the web, hungry for a fix on our new country. I set up all computers with the favourites tool Foxmarks, regardless of operating system, to synchronise the links we dropped into a ‘Moving on’ folder in our browser. Worked well when Google Docs (eventually) became swamped. Sometimes we used Delicious, but not as often as I thought we would.

Sign-up service for moving. There are a handful of agencies online who make it easier to move by you entering some details and they doing some work for you, like letting the gas company know you need a meter reading and so on. We used these with partial success – sometimes the manual way is best.

Royal Mail’s redirection service. We have mail redirected and using this service meant we didn’t need to trundle down to the post office and take our identity documents, they check details online. We’d need the legs for the thousands of times we climbed the ladder to the loft to pack its contents.

Skype telephony. We bought a UK online number, so our friends and family in the UK would only need to call a local (to them) phone number. Skype has worked really well so far and since we’re not settled for a few months, goes where we go. It also works nicely on my iPhone, which saves us a fortune. We were able to stay in touch with our regi (estate agent) easily and without incurring further mobile phone costs.

Keeping the social network alive. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, this blog – all are things we use to share our experiences here and keep in contact with others. This is important when you’re away from home, and I’ve found it really useful to have some sense of continuity in terms of who I’m speaking with (especially when discussing the cricket, which is only available online here via the BBC’s wonderful TMS – this feels like I’ve never left!).

Transferring money. We now have to work with several currencies – US dollar, Swiss francs, Euro and GB sterling – and so being able to transfer them quickly online (and often without charge) helped us enormously. Of course, this isn’t just something you need when you move. What’s more, currency conversion rates online are always up-to-date.

Checking in online when flying. You’ve used this already, maybe, but printing out a boarding pass for flying seems novel still, and helped get things going when we were a rush: Jennie flew to Geneva and back the same day to secure our place in France.

Google chat. Sometimes email isn’t enough, and you need to make decisions through synchronous discussion. Google’s online chat, via GoogleMail, was vital for the hundreds of discussions we had when not together.

Removal quotes online. You enter your details and you get quotes from multiple removal companies. This helps get the best price of course, and is also a necessary part of claiming for expenses.

Google Maps and Google Earth. Knowing where you’re going to live and its local amenities used to something you needed to find out when you turn up. And although it’s still a thrill to find new restaurants and bars, knowing where the bank or petrol station is not so much fun. What’s more, we used Google Maps to find directions. If only it plugged into…

Satellite navigation. We bought a TomTom One XL, and this has the advantage of connecting to the web and downloading changes that users have made to the maps. In short, it corrects the errors that sat navs are annoyingly prone to, especially in areas under construction. Worked like a dream, although I wouldn’t say that it’s perfect even now.

It has helped me learn a new language. There is an embarrassment of excellent online resources for learning French. Some of the best are About.com‘s guide (with the inaptly named – for a grammarian at least – Laura Lawless); and the BBC comes up trumps again. Although not an online app per se, Genius (for the Mac, free download) helped with remembering verbs.

The web helped us find a place to live. We searched a variety of sites to find somewhere temporary in Geneva, and later, more permanent in France. In the case of the temporary accommodation, the website came with an interactive 3D tour of the apartment. Whilst this is pretty advanced I admit, all the websites we used to find a home had pictures. The difference was that we could save time and money using this process.

Hi-resolution floor plans. Houses in many European countries – alas, but excluding the UK it seems – come with detailed architectural plans, even those you just plan to rent. They locate plug sockets, light switches and so on and give precise details of every measurement both interior and exterior. Not sure if your sofa is going to fit? The plans will help tell you. These took seconds to send over email and illustrate how the communication between people in different countries is made so much easier.

Shopping. Inevitably we had to buy several things, oddments which we’d never got before or those things we needed to replace and pack. Ikea figured heavily in equipping our new place. Their website – intuitive, well-organised and with clear illustrations, it’s a good example of how we saved hours browsing online rather than visiting stores. What’s more, it provides real-time stock levels, is an example of how you can use the web to plan your deliveries or visits.

Freecycle. Even if you’re moving up the road you’ll still have a lot of stuff you’ll want to recycle. We used Freecycle online to invite people to collect some of the stuff we didn’t need or couldn’t find room for. They came in the night and collected, as if whisked away by recycling fairies, without us even knowing.

It would be no surprise to learn that one of the first things we did in Geneva was buy a 3G USB dongle to get us online (expensive but very fast).

Do you only use these things when emigrating? No, we use them now for a variety of reasons. It’s only together that they make sense as vital tools for moving country. Did we still print stuff out? Sure we did. Somewhere we’ve got a file with print outs of architectural plans, photos and the like. But this was as much as habit and security than anything: some lay untouched and unread. Is there anything I’ve missed – I expect so – even as I write I think of all the music and podcasts I’ve downloaded, some of which are about Geneva, or local news programmes and such. And booking tickets and… well, all those things we use the web for all of the time.

Now, if the BBC can get iPlayer available outside of the UK I’d pay the licence fee happily…