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Life in Grenoble – about the initial settling down and necessarities

We have been living in Grenoble for almost four months now.  During most of the time, we are distracted by paperwork and by my pregnancy.  But still, we are learning and enjoying living here, every single day.  Hopefully, our experience will help people who are coming to Grenoble.

Housing.  Not much that I can talk about, because we live in a friend’s friend’s house.  We occupy the so called basement – it’s actually the ground floor, or first floor.  The first floor in France equals the second floor in USA.  We pay a rent, which includes utilities, so I cannot tell you much about the utility companies either.  For us, sharing a house with the landlord is the best choice, because we knew we wouldn’t be here for long.  Plus, I have always enjoyed this mode of housing in USA!  I have had great landlords/friends!  We fell in love with the current house at the first sight.  Our rooms are spacious and decorated with art.  We later found out that our landlords, a retired French couple, are writer and artist!

Food.  Big supermarkets (hypermarché) are out of the city center, but there are many smaller supermarkets in every neighborhood.  Common brands are: Casino, Carrefour City, Carrefour market, Simply, and Monoprix.  We go to Simply most, because there are two of them close to our home.  I find Simply is also cheaper than the other supermarkets.  But more importantly, Simply seems to have better selections of vegetables.  We like the Chinese cabbage and white radish (daikon) there!  Most vegetables one finds in the supermarkets in USA are available here in Grenoble.   Other than from supermarkets, one can buy vegetables and fruits (and even seafood) in farmers’ market.  These markets have designated locations.  Some have specific days when they’re there.  For example, there is a small market close to our home.  I noticed that vendor #1 is there almost everyday, but vendor #2, who has more selections, is only there during the weekends.  We like to get Fuji apples from vendor #2.  The vegetables in these markets tend to be fresher.  If you are from Asia, then you have to check out the Asian supermarket called Le Carré Asiatique.  They have good sushi rice, and stuffs like cooking wine, soy sauce, noodles…  There are also frozen food: raw shrimps, hot pot stuffs (fish balls, thin-sliced meat, etc.), and dumpings.  Not much vegetables though.  No meat.  They have prepared food, but it’s a bit sweet.  We always take bus C5 to go there.  My husband has to carry 10kg of rice (€38), every month.  Oh, to get Japanese stuffs, Ozenya in the downtown is also a good choice.  Everything is imported from Japan, so don’t be surprised by the price.

Banks.  We are using Society Générale, because it’s only five minutes away from our home.  To open an account, they ask for the work contract, proof of residence (a water bill, etc.) and documents that show you are living in France legally.  They will give you an IBAN number, which is used for getting salary and paying for the health insurance (mutuelle).  If you want, you can get a credit card (actually more like a debit card!) for a small fee, ~ €5 per month.  Yes, banks in France will charge you for services!  Cash back? Rewards? Forget about it.  The other thing annoys us is that they set a low spending/withdrawing limit for us.  I am already used to getting refused with online shopping, and I even experienced getting declined in supermarkets.  So, I always bring my US credit card with me.  One more point, Discover card is not accepted in France (unfortunately).  Other cards seem to be fine.

Transportation.  One thing I love about Grenoble is the tram system.  I simply love trams!  They are clean, fast, and cute.  Every tram station has a vending machine for tickets.  In 2017, one ticket is €1.5, ten tickets are €14, and thirty tickets are €39.  One ticket is valid for an hour, so you can transfer, or you can even do a round trip if time allows.  At the tram station, there are tickets validating stands.  You can insert the ticket, and the machine will print out the time of validation.  There’s nobody checking tickets.  However, they do random checks on the trams.  I heard the fine was €400!  Anyways, please buy tickets. The same tickets can also be used on buses.  You validate the ticket when you board the bus.  The same one hour rule applies as well.  If the ticket is validated for a second time within an hour, the machine will only print a * mark after the previous validation.  We have not tried transferring between trams and busses, yet.  Nowadays, my husband is using the APP (Tag &a Pass) for the transportation.  He just needs to scan the QR code on the validation stands.  Each trip is €1.4, but the total amount tops at €59 per month.  There are other monthly plans/passes as well.  One thing I want to mention is that sometimes the trams and busses are free to encourage people to use public transportation.  This happens when the air condition is bad!  Last winter, there were more than ten free days.  The information is broadcasted in tram stations, on trams and on their website.  The other thing is that you can use APP (MetroMobilite) to check the time of trams and busses.  They are pretty much on time!  The train station (also a bus terminal for long distance buses), Gare de Grenoble, is located close to the downtown.  It is served by tram A & B.  One can go to Paris in just three hours by a TGV.

Cell phones.  Common carriers are Free, SFR, and Orange.  All of them can be found in downtown.  Free seems to be the cheapest, but the coverage is not as good.  For us, we don’t make phone calls, because we don’t speak French!  Plus, we spend most of time in places covered by wifi.  So we decided to try the €2 plan first, which includes 100 min calling and 50 MB data.  Looks like it’s enough for us.  In some places, there’s Free wifi network.

Laundry.  There are laundry shops (laverie) in the neighborhood.  Washing and drying take about an hour, and cost ~€5 (for a small load).  I usually do laundry by hand, but for big things such as bed sheets I go to shops.  If you have washer and dryer at home, that’s great.  If not, it’s not the end of world.  I saw many people went to laundry shops.

Electronics.  One necessary thing is the hair dryer.  It is not found in small supermarkets.  We bought one in Darty.  For computer kind of stuffs, Fnac is the place to go.

Clothes.  We are not that into fashion, especially that I am pregnant.  For the price, one may want to check out Kiabi and H&M.  For styles, there are Galleries Lafayette and many brand shops in the downtown.  Oh by the way, the center of the downtown is around Victor Hugo and Maison de Tourism.  Tram A and B go through the downtown.  For babies, one big store is called Autour de Bebe.

Post office.  It is often necessary to use mails.  For example, to cancel the health insurance (mutuelle), you must write to the company, and you must use a special service that gives you a proof of the delivery (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception).  To do that, there’s a form (yellow color) where you write down the recipent’s address and yours.  Stamps are sold on self-service machines.  Weight the letter on the scale, select the type of service, pay (by card or coins), and then you will get the stamp.  If it’s special service, then hand the letter to the counter.  Otherwise, go outside to find the mail box, and deposit the letter (pay attention to which box to use for the correct destination).

These should be enough for the beginning.  I will update if I come up with something else.




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White Pocket – favorite in our Grand Circle trip

I don’t remember how I knew about The Wave, but I was immediately attracted.  Every day, only twenty people can go into that secret place.  Ten permits are given out through the online lottery, and the other ten are drawn in the visitor center in Kanab.  Out of our eight days’ travel, I decided to try three days.  And if we could get the permit, we would give up any other plans!  In fact, because of The Wave, we rented a 4WD jeep instead of a standard car.

Comparing to The Wave, White Pocket has some similar features, but is probably not as carefully crafted (could be intentional though!) by nature.  Nevertheless, White Pocket is White Pocket – it has some unique features, and it does not require special permit.  We were afraid that we would not be able to go to The Wave, so we decided to try White Pocket first!  But to be honest, later I thought that even if we could see The Wave, White Pocket would still be as worthy!  White Pocket is not a second choice or a backup.  It’s the best choice we made in our Grand Circle trip!

We drove from Page with 3/4 tank of fuel.  We thought there would be gas stand on the way, but, we were wrong!  So we have been worrying about running out of gas for the whole day!!!  The route to White Pocket can be found online.  It’s not very difficult, but it’s nothing like following google map.  We have had doubts a couple of times.  And we actually got lost once!  The road condition was not too bad that day (be sure to check with the visitor center in Kanab).  However, there’s one deep ditch we had to cross.  We stopped in front of the ditch, and was checking out the condition.  Interestingly, there’s another jeep parked not far away.  One old man, who perhaps has sensed our hesitation, said to us that our jeep should be able to do it.  With that encouragement, we jumped into our car.  My husband switched it to 4WD.  Slowly and carefully, he did it!  (I don’t think I can do it.)

Shortly after crossing the ditch, we passed a small parking lot – several cars parked there.  It looks like a trailhead.  Later we knew that it’s the trailhead for The Wave!  There are restrooms, and even bottled water, which are left there to save people’s lives!  Because The Wave requires more than 3 hrs’s hiking one way.  No wonder that people started their trips early when it’s cooler.  Anyway, we kept driving to our destination.  For White Pocket, the driving is long ~ 3hrs, but no hiking.

As I said, our gas was low.  Therefore, we turned off the AC, and left the windows open.  The road is rocky, but not as sandy as we thought…  We have met only one car… If we ran out of gas, we would not be able to get any help!  I have never been to a place as wild as this!  Oh, maybe the volcano island in Hawaii is comparable, but there seem to be more people around.  When we got closer to White Pocket, the road turned more sandy.  Our jeep got a small stuck once.  Overall we were lucky to have missed spots with deep sand.

Finally we reached White Pocket!  We saw a group of three were leaving.  They said us that it’s worth it, and it’s all yours now 🙂  Yes, after they left, we were the only human beings there.

Now it’s the difficult part of writing, because White Pocket is non-describable.  If I can only compare it with the volcano land in Hawaii, I would say that I can imagine and understand the volcano land, but I cannot imagine or understand the formation of White Pocket!  It’s like nothing else in this planet.  And of course, the feeling of being alone in this amazing place was … amazing!

My photos show some views of White Pocket, but being inside of it is totally different.  White Pocket truly awaits you to discover with your own eyes.

That day, it’s the thunderstorm dragged us out of White Pocket… otherwise it’s difficult to notice the time!






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Declaration of pregnancy and CAF

CAF stands for caisses d’allocations familiales, and it belongs to social security system.  Declaration of pregnancy to CAF (and to the health insurance company if you have mutuelle) is necessary.  Theoretically it needs to be done before 14 weeks, but sometimes it’s just impossible.   For me, it’s almost 25 weeks.  The form, so called “nous attendez un enfant”, was from the sage femme or midwife.   She wrote the DDG and signed it.  Then I filled the personal information including the temporary social security number, and mailed the form to CAF.  (BTW, two copies of the form mailed to CAF, and one copy mailed to the health insurance company.)  Actually the distance from our home to CAF and to La Poste is similar.  But I suppose going through La Poste is faster than making a RDV (appointment).

About two weeks after mailing out the form, we got our CAF number.  And since then, our “conversation” with CAF has been going on and on.  They have requested these information/documents in separate mails:   (1) more personal information (declaration de situation); (2) birth certificate; (3) declaration of income in 2015; (4) residence permit (sejour).  I always try to respond as soon as I can, then there’s long wait.  Now I am still waiting for them to process the documents I sent three weeks ago, and I don’t know what they will ask for next time.  Anyway, it’s interesting.

CAF is slow, but who is not?  At least CAF helps people.  It gives financial help to families in need.  Students without income can get assistance on housing (Aides au lodgment).  And in the case of pregnancy, CAF gives “prime a la naissance” to families to welcome their babies, and babies can get monthly allowance afterwards!  These benefits are granted and calculated based on the situation of the family.  We are not expecting anything, because we are very grateful for the health insurance already.



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Antelope Canyon – magic of light

For our Grand Circle trip, Antelope Canyon is a must see in the list.  It is the heaven for photographers!  The access to the canyon is restricted, because it is in the Navajo Nation.  Only guided tours are allowed to enter Antelope Canyon.  Thinking that it’s so popular, we booked our tours one and a half months earlier.  Still, the Photographer’s tour was already fully booked.  So we just took the Sightseer’s tour for the Upper Antelope Canyon, which was $50 each.  We could pick a good time – 11:30 to 1:10, when the sun is up high in the sky.

It was a sunny day!  We arrived at the tour company 30 min before the tour, and got the tickets.  The tour trucks took us to the canyon.  Forgot how long it took, but it was not very long.  The tour trucks were open aired but with roofs.  You probably don’t expect to see clean and air-conditioned bus anyway.  In fact, the funky shaky tour truck made everybody even more excited!

Entering the canyon was like entering a magic land.  Outside – so bright so hot; but inside – so quite so mysterious.  With that perfect amount of sunlight – no more and no less – the rocks, in my eyes, looked like flowing water that stopped at some point in the past.  It seemed like time has stopped.  I guess I can’t find a way to describe my feeling…  I could feel that everybody was amazed.

Since the canyon is narrow, we had to keep moving.  There’s no time to look for the best angle and the best setting for photos.  On the way, we passed a few photography tour groups.  They are all with tripods and quietly waiting for us to pass by!

I wish I could have taken better photos!



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In France, Laboratory and Pharmacy are independent from Hospitals

Here is what I know about the healthcare system in France.  Everybody register with a family doctor – a généraliste.  In most cases, people go through the family doctor for treatments so that the cost will be properly reimbursed.  I heard it’s also easier to get an appointment with a specialist through the family doctor.  In the case of maternity, however, it’s not necessary to go through the family doctor.  We don’t have a family doctor, and we went directly to see a sage-femme (midwife).

People go to laboratories to do various tests and scans requested by doctors or other healthcare professionals.  There may or may not be laboratories in or close to the hospital.   Seems like laboratories are independent from hospitals.  People can have their own choices of laboratories to have the tests done.  In my case, the SF gives me a paper, which lists the blood test and urine test to be done.  She uses a hospital stamp, and also signs on the paper.  In the laboratory, I give that paper and my health insurance card to the register.  And then, they will take samples for the tests, and give me an instruction about how to get the results online.  By the way, they will confirm my birthday, because it’s the password to access the results online.

Similar to the laboratories, pharmacies are also independent from hospitals.  There are so many pharmacies around the city.  Just show them the prescription paper and the health insurance card.  Depends on the type of medicine, the reimbursement percentage varies.  I have had Fe and vitamin D supplement, which are 100% covered by social security and mutuelle.  In comparison, for the pain reliever (to take during the irregular contractions at home), only 15% is covered.

One important thing if you do not have the carte vitale yet.  After all, it takes months to get the carte vitale, even with best luck!  The temporary social security number on the health insurance card (from mutuelle company) should work as well!  But some people in the laboratories and pharmacies may not know that!  For me, the first visit to the laboratory took me more than half an hour to register.  Partly due to the language barrier, but mainly because she did not know about the temporary social security number.  At last I took out the form of Declaration of Pregnancy that I was about to mail to CAF, and somehow she believed in that form (filled by us) more than the health insurance card.  After that, my visit to the same laboratory has been easy and fast, although they still ask me whether I have the carte vitale every time I go.  Similar things also happened to me in a pharmacy.  People in one pharmacy insist to see the carte vitale.  So I went to a different pharmacy, where people (not all) there know what to do.


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Echographie in France: Un garçon!

In France, échographie is typically done three times during the whole pregnancy.  First in the 3rd month; second in the 5/6th month; third in the 8th month.  I did the first échographie in China.  Actually I did three times in China… within one and a half months.  They only checked very briefly though (a couple of minutes), probably because it’s the early stage.

After the first meeting with my sage-femme (SF), it’s the right time for me to do the second échographie.  It was done in the same hospital, CHU.  The purpose was to estimate the delivery day, and to examine if there’s any abnormality.  A SF and a student performed the échographie.  The student speaks some English 🙂

It took more than half an hour!  They did very careful examination, and explained to us what we were looking at.  Suddenly, they asked us whether we wanted to know the sex of the baby.  We nodded.  Un garçon!  A boy!  Although we were not sure how they could tell, we were quite excited.  In the end, they provided a detailed report containing many photos.  Due to the positioning of the baby, they could not get everything that they needed.  Plus, the size of the baby seemed smaller than expected (based on DDR).  Therefore, they suggested to do another échographie, which was done in the following week.  Also, they said the first échographie done in China should be more accurate to estimate the DDG, so a translated report would be helpful.  In fact, there’s only one measurement in the Chinese report – LCC.  Based on that LCC, the SF estimated a new DDG, and she thought the size of the baby was okay.  We were kinda relieved.

I did the third échographie at 33w+3d.   Again, the SF measured a lot of things, and everything seemed normal.  The calculated weight of the baby was ~1900g (25~50% in their database).  The positioning of the baby was good, which I was very pleased to know.

Oh, I forgot to mention that after the second échographie, they somehow could construct a photo of the baby’s face.  Will our baby truly look like that?



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Meetings with the sage-femme – monthly checks during the pregnancy

After getting our temporary social security numbers and mutuelle numbers, the first thing we did was to make an appointment with a sage-femme (SF) in the hospital.  A friend helped us with that as we cannot speak French.  Grenoble is not very big, so we could get an appointment pretty soon (a week from the call).

It took us 10 minutes to find the hospital… Then, we went to the Accueil.  The lady there cannot speak English, but we slowly got what we needed to do.  There’s a room with several counters, and they are calling numbers (later we knew it’s the registration place, where the payment is taken care of).  People outside are waiting to be called in.  So we also got a number.  When it’s our turn, we went in and showed that we had an appointment with XXX.  There’s a young lady who speaks English, so she helped to put in all the information.  Basically she only asked for my passport and the health insurance info.  After that, she printed out a paper that has many stickers with my name and date of birth.   We were glad that we could use the health insurance (social security takes care of 70%, and mutuelle pays for the rest).

Paperwork was done.  We went to the consultation section.  There’s a small Accueil.  Again we said we were here to see XXX, and we showed the paper with stickers.  We were then pointed to a waiting area.  Around the agreed time, somebody came to the waiting area, and called my last name.  She was the SF!  Luckily she speaks a little English!  Since it’s our first meeting, she asked a lot of questions about our medical history and our families.  She also checked my condition (blood pressure etc.).  In the end, she gave me a list of tests need to be done in a laboratory, scheduled the next meeting, and asked us to go to that small Accueil to schedule an echography.

After that first meeting, we are kinda familiar with the hospital and the processes: where to register, where to wait, and where to schedule for appointments.  Then, after the pregnancy proceeded to the seventh month, the registration place put a pink note on the paper with stickers.  They told me that I did not need to register any more – just go to see the SF or doctor.  So, it seems like the registration place only deal with payment.  Since social security covers all the cost after the 6th month of pregnancy, no registration is needed.  For each meeting, the SF takes away one sticker, not the whole paper.

Up till now, we have had four meetings with the SF.  During the meetings, she checks my weight, blood pressure, tummy, and listens to the heart beat of the baby.  She logs all the information and the results of laboratory tests into the computer.  For me, I ask questions, and I tell her how I feel.  She prescribes Fe (every month), vitamin D (once), blood test -sugar (once), urine test -sugar/protein (every month after the 6th month), and blood test -toxoplasmose (every month).  Everything seems going well.  She also introduced us to a SF liberal for the classes (100% covered by social security), and gave us a lot of information on how to prepare for the big day, for example, what number to call when the time comes.  She is really helpful!



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Public or private hospital for my baby?

Although our choice is a public hospital (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Grenoble Alpes), we still don’t know whether it’s a good choice or not.  All I can say now is that I found that hospital so far so good 🙂

We did a lot of research online, and we asked a few friends about their opinions.  Private hospitals, or clinics,  tend to have better services such as single rooms and faster appointments (less patients).  More importantly, you will have designated sages-femmes and/or doctors, so you will be taken care of by somebody you are familiar with during the whole pregnancy.  In comparison, sages-femmes and doctors in public hospitals work in shifts.  You cannot guess who will be receiving your baby.  You might even be surprised by the presence of students in case of a university hospital.  Public hospitals cannot guarantee you a single room either.

In terms of money, the cost in public hospitals is almost fully covered by the social security in France.  Private hospitals/clinics are more expensive, but I don’t know how much more.  Actually, we have complementary health insurance (mutuelle), so even if we chose a private hospital/clinic, the cost would be largely covered, I guess.  The cost is not a deciding factor for us.

What makes public hospitals stand out and made us decide to go to a public hospital is that they are more capable of dealing with emergencies.  In fact, private hospitals/clinics do transfer you to public hospitals when something unexpected happens.  This transferring process just does not sound good to me.

To us, safety is far more important than better service.  However, I sometimes think that *maybe* the private hospitals/clinics do a better job in tracking the pregnancy because they can and do spend more time with the patient.  But don’t forget that sages-femmes/doctors in public hospitals may be more experienced as they receive much more babies every year.

Nevertheless, luck is important!  People get good or bad experience everywhere.  Right now, I feel good.



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Grand Circle

In 2015 summer, my mom visited us in the United States.  We took the opportunity to go to those national parks in the (mid-)west.  It’s a nice trip!

Here’s the overview of the Grand Circle we did:

Day 1.  We took an early flight to Grand Junction.  Had a quick lunch at Subway in the airport.  Picked up the rental car (4wd), and drove to Moab (1h46m).  Checked into Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn.  Got takeout from a Sichuan Restaurant.  Drove to Arches National Park ~4:30 (got a NP annual pass).

Day 2.  We got up really early to go for the sunrise at Mesa Arch (49m drive).  Then went back to the hotel to have breakfast.  Checked out the hotel, and visited Arches NP again!  After some hiking in Devil’s Garden, we left Arches NP, and drove to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (2h44m).  Stayed in The View Hotel, which gave us stunning views!

Day 3.  Sun rises behind the monuments.  We can enjoy sunrise from the balcony.  However, I still went out to have a better angle.   In the morning, we did about 3h hiking around the monuments (wildcat trail, 4 mile).  After that, we checked out the hotel, and drove the 17 mile scenic drive.  Driving to Page was about 2h.  We had dinner at Lake Powell.

Day 4.  A special day – we went to White Pocket (2h57m)!  Since it’s kind of unplanned, we did not fill the gas.  So we worried about running out of gas all the day!   We even kept the AC off to save gas.  White pocket is a place that no help can be found.  We then went to Kanab (2h51m).

Day 5.  I did the lottery for the Wave, but did not have luck.   So we drove back to Page to visit the Antelope Canyon.  Our tour was around noon, which should give the best light effect in the canyon.   After the tour, we went to see Horseshoe Bend.   The short trail actually took much longer time due to the hot weather and the sand surface.  We went back to Kanab.

Day 6.  Lottery for the Wave, again!  This time my husband did it, but he did not have luck either.   Therefore, we went to Zion NP (1h).  We did a special hike – The Narrows.  Dinner was Thai food – amazingly tasty!  We never thought tourist place has so good restaurant.

Day 7.  Last day of lottery!  Planned to let my mom do it, but it’s done when my mom just entered the room.  A group of six got the last six permits!  What a luck!  At least we tried.  Then, we went to Zion again.  This time we did Angel’s landing.   We drove to Bryce Canyon NP afterwards.  Caught the sunset, but the weather was not great.  However, the starrynight was unbelievable.  I could, for the first time, photograph the Milky Way and star trails.

Day 8.  Sunrise at Bryce Canyon NP.  After a short hike, we started to drive the long way to Grand Junction (5h39m).  We stopped briefly at Capital Reef NP on the way.

Day 9.  Flew out in the morning.

Details and photos will come soon.




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Finnish residence permit – apply from Paris, France

Last Wednesday, we went to the Finnish Embassy in Paris for the residence permit interview.  Basically, we brought with us all the original documents, copies of which have been uploaded to the online application system.  Finger prints were taken there as well.   And, that’s all.

For my husband, who will work in Finland as a post-doc researcher, the required documents are quite simple: the invitation letter from Finland, and the sejour in France (since we are applying in France).  For me, a housewife, additional documents are needed: the marriage certificate or the family book (translated and legalized), and a form (something like a survey of our current situation and our past) signed by my husband.

Yesterday (Monday), we received emails saying that the decisions were ready.   SO FAST!  We thought it would take one month or two.   Based on their website, the longest wait is nine months!   After logging into the online application system, I saw our residence permits were granted.   Now we just need to wait for two to three weeks for the actual cards.  We are going to Finland for sure!!!

Welcome to Finland
Welcome to Finland, from Embassy of Finland in Paris, France


4 days after the decision:  the cards are on their way!

6 days after the decision:  the cards are in our hands!

From application to receiving the cards: only 11 days!