Archive for February, 2011

Here’s the Latest

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Exciting and fun times have been happening over here. Our French teacher from Perth, Louise, (a wonderful young lady from Versailles) is in France at the moment and has been our tour guide and food provider for the past few days. She was kind enough to invite us to her family home in Versailles for lunch last Thursday. It is so nice to go into family situations in other countries. It gives you a much different perspective on the way of living and how people function.

Louise’s family lives in an apartment on the fourth or fifth floor. The apartment layout is beyond confusing – all rooms seem to be connected with multiple entries and exits, random bedrooms attached to sitting rooms and the corridor to the kitchen is also the dining area. The walls are covered in trinkets and souvenirs from places they have been. It is cosy, warm and inviting and Louise’s family welcomed us with open arms. Wine flowed, we ate delicious saucisson, and Louise’s mum prepared an amazing French lunch of chicken with a mushroom sauce. And we had CHEESE. One of my favourite things about going to French people’s houses for meals is being offered cheese. We were given five different cheeses to try (we sampled them all), three of which they had purchased in the Alps the previous week. It was fantastic and our breath stank as a result.

Friday night we were invited back to Louise’s for a party with Louise’s friends. Everyone was so friendly and spoke English with ease and were excited about meeting Louise’s Australian friends. I’m not a party person and generally hate being social when I don’t know anyone, but I felt really at ease and had a great time. Sadly we had to catch trains back to Paris and left just in time to catch the final train from Versailles to Paris and then the last connection back to our place. I was somewhat relieved to be leaving the smoke-filled rooms of Louise’s house. Every one at the party smoked. We were engulfed in toxic smoke fumes which we are strangely starting to get used to. It amazes me how many people smoke in Paris. My “You know that thing will kill you” threats don’t even seem to work. I couldn’t wait to wash my hair after that party.

Train to Paris

Heading home on the train

Then it was Saturday. We met Louise, her husband Marcelo, and another girl from Perth, Anuska, at the Musee D’Orsay and we wandered around the gallery with hundreds of other people being cultured. The Musee D’Orsay is a brilliant gallery with some amazing works. One of my favourite sections was a collection of photographs revolving around the theme of sleep. The introductory text said that there was a movement of taking photographs of people pretending to be asleep as it was like seeing them at their most innocent. There was also a collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and some amazing paintings by Manet.

After our cultural boost, we headed our for dinner to a lovely little restaurant in Montmartre. I have walked past this place a few times when looking for somewhere to eat but never went there. It is always so hard to know where to go unless you have recommendations. Like most menus in France, the mains consisted of meat dishes. Hard to be vegetarian in France. I had a steak with roquefort sauce. So so good. Everyone’s food was delicious. To start we had an oeuf cocotte which is an egg cracked into a ramekin and cooked slightly. This version then had foie gras on top and you dip pieces of bread into the sloppy egg/foie gras mixture. SO SO SO GOOD. Yes, foie gras is bad. But it is also delicious. Very delicious.

Oeuf cocotte

Oeuf cocotte. Mmmmmmmiam!

Anyway, the past few days have been really great. Today Tom and I went for a walk to a local park called Parc de Buttes Chaumont which has rolling hills a big cliff/hill/thing in the middle with a look out that has views over Montmartre and towards Sacre Coeur. Everyone is out and about on Sundays, going for walks with the family. It’s nice to be part of the ‘normal’ lifestyle instead of just a tourist.

Buttes Chaumont

Parc Buttes Chaumont with the lake and look out

Oh and we have shelves! We had bought them 2 weeks ago from a shop in the city called Conforama but we had to wait for them to be delivered to the store. We collected them on Friday lunchtime and had to carry a 35kg box along streets, down flights of metro stairs and home. My body is so sore. I have bruises on my hip from where I rested the box. I may have given Tom a few evil glares as he didn’t want to pay to have the thing delivered to our door. That said, once we got it home it was fine. We then opened the box to discover it was divided into 20 different parts that had to be stuck together. So we left it in the box until the next day when it was raining and too yucky to go outside and we put it together. Our shelves are so great. We can put things on them. This excites me more than seeing the Eiffel Tower. Seriously.

Shelves

Look at how the shelves hold things! Brilliant.

On saying that, the train ride from Paris to Versailles goes through some outer suburbs of Paris that have an amazing view back towards the Eiffel Tower. The thing sticks out above the city like a sore thumb and at night time is lit up. It looks so cool.

Look for more photos on my flickr site soon (ie. once the internet builds up a bit of speed.)

A Night Out

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Last Sunday night, Tom took me out for a slap up meal at our local joint. I had walked past this bar-slash-restaurant many times on my way to the supermarket and had spotted it in two travel guides for Paris. I dropped enough hints and on Sunday night at the French-dining hour of 8pm, we headed to the other side of the canal to Hotel de Nord. This place featured in a film (also called Hotel de Nord) in the 1930s and is a cosy space with lots of wood, white table cloths but a relaxed atmosphere. We had been previously for a beer on a sunny afternoon and the slightly fancy looking dining area appealed greatly to me.

The menu is a typical bar selection (by that I mean a French bar – definitely no fish and chips and BLT on this menu) with steak, seafood and even a vegetarian risotto. It isn’t every day that you find a vegetarian option on a french menu. Tom and I both chose the steak special which was a big piece of meat, lots of chips and a tiny addition of lettuce.

Beef

Côte de boeuf avec sauce aux shitaki et frites

The steak was deliciously juicy but had a few chewy bits which was disappointing. Luckily it was followed by dessert.

WOW. I’ll start by telling you that Tom had a panna cotta with berries. Meanwhile, I chose the chocolate and basil tart. Have I already said Wow? Well, it was. Dark chocolate mousse with a hint of basil on a crunchy pastry bottom. PLUS they had some how managed to caramelise an entire fresh basil leaf that was crunchy and sweet and yet basil-ish and it was stuck in the middle of the mousse. It was BRILLIANT! I have never had that or contemplated that before. So so good. This delight was then served with sesame seed ice cream, which again was astonishingly brilliant. I finished it and wanted more. The fact that this restaurant is a mere two minute walk away is not a good thing for my waist line. I’ll be over there in a second for more dessert.

Chocolate tart

Oh how I love French pastry chefs.

It’s great to find a nice local restaurant to go for dinner. Not the cheapest option but so good. There are lots of restaurants in our neck of the woods that we want to try out so I think it might be my turn to take Tom out for dinner next. It’ll probably be soon because I can’t wait to eat.

I Laughed So Much I Have a Headache

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I have just returned home from one of the most ‘how on earth?!’ experiences of my life. I expected to come to Paris and have to fight my way through crowds at every event or show that I attended. I most certainly didn’t expect to spot a tiny poster advertising the American comedian Rich Hall on a window across the canal from where I am living. And then to reserve tickets at just 15 Euros each to sit in a tiny art gallery space with about 30 other people to watch Rich perform. The microphone kept disconnecting, there was a dog sitting in the front row and there was free wine and peanuts afterwards. Rich was hilarious and I managed to avoid becoming part of his show by following my dad’s advice and not sitting in the front row. That said, there were only about 4 rows so it was hard to avoid being at the front. What a great night.

A Long Walk

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

This morning I woke to blue skies and sunshine and declared that today was the day that we would do my favourite walk of Paris. You start at the Eiffel Tower and then make your way along the Seine, ducking in and out of streets as you feel like it, spotting monuments and art galleries along the way. Stop half way near the Tuilleries for lunch and then continue on to Notre Dame. From here you can either continue along the river or, as we did, turn north and head towards Sacre Coeur and home.

On previous visits as a tourist this walk has involved more deviations and exploration of side streets – today we walked in a fairly straight line so it took far less time and my feet aren’t as tired as they normally are. I wore my Garmin GPS running watch to record where we went and how far it was and how many calories we burned. Here was where we walked:

Paris

Not the clearest map but you get the idea

It was 11.2km and we burned 669 calories, which would be good if we hadn’t both consumed large baguettes and macaroons each. Tom also had a chocolate mousse and a can of coke for lunch so I feel better about my calorie consumption. You will be able to see more photos on my Flickr site once I upload them. This may take awhile as our internet doesn’t like letting us upload photos. That’s far too high-tech.

Anyway, the walk was as lovely as usual, although after lunch, while sitting in the Tuilleries eating our macaroons, it started to rain and became quite cold. The sun only lasted until we got out of the metro at the Eiffel Tower and from then on it was just grey cloud. Such a shame.

Woo.

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I have reserved tickets to see Rich Hall, the hilarious grumpy comedian, who just happens to be performing at a small gallery across the canal from me on Tuesday. So happy.

Rich Hall

The comedian version of Tom Waits.

Lettuce Ketchup

Monday, February 21st, 2011

It has been sometime since my last entry and I feel I have been disloyal to you all. But mostly I feel I have been too busy which is probably a good thing! Surely sitting in my apartment and writing on my website should be low on my priority list of “Things to do in Paris”. Items that need to be listed above it include:

  1. Climb the Eiffel Tower
  2. Eat a croissant
  3. Explore Paris and do Parisian things like spit in the street, smoke and walk slowly in the middle of footpaths.

What can I write about today? I have a few things I could mention although they’re mostly negatives. I think I shall have a slight rant about the French while mentioning that I ate delicious pastries today.

Please note, when I say “the French” I am speaking in a very general sense and it doesn’t include all of the nice, helpful and generally wonderful French people that I have met/know.

THE FRENCH ARE ANNOYING. They really don’t care about you in the slightest and unless they’re going to gain something for performing a task, they’re not going to help you. Even if you’re planning on paying them (eg. to serve you food) they still won’t help you. They might slam something down on the table in front of you, but they’ll sigh and whinge about doing it, roll their eyes and then go and ease their cares with a soothing cigarette. On a few occasions I have purposefully smiled big smiles in order to show friendliness and a carefree attitude and have been looked at with pure evil in return. My preferred tactic is to then continue being overly friendly until they realise they can’t be grumpy with me anymore and then eventually they calm down enough to wish you farewell as you leave. So thoughtful.

This unwillingness to help has resulted in our internet being completely useless. I feel like I have returned to 1997 when I used to wait patiently for images to load – tck…. tck…. tck…. During certain hours of the day (when most of the other residents have left) you can actually use the internet, but don’t bother trying around dinner time and at night. Everyone is sitting at their computers in their apartments trying to squeeze websites through tiny wires. I’m sure Steven Conroy could help. Anyway, basically all of the residents complain to the two women in charge of the apartments who then call the internet providers who send someone out to ‘have a look’. They ‘look’ and then go back to work and do absolutely nothing to fix the situation. Then we all complain again, the ladies ring, and then someone new comes out from the internet providers ‘to look’ and it just goes around and around and around. It doesn’t help that the French seem incapable of anything technical or mechanical or requiring any sort of manual labour.

My last complaint for now is that everyone smokes and it’s disgusting. Are they STUPID?? They might be annoying at times but the French are not a dumb race and yet they insist on continuing to smoke. There are cigarette butts everywhere and I keep forgetting about not sitting in the smoking areas (usually the nice outdoor spots). The worse part is walking down the street and being surrounded by people blowing smoke into your face. So gross. I don’t see any sort of end for it though. Young people aren’t discouraged in anyway and it’s so easy for them to get cigarettes. Such a shame.

La Television!

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Exciting times in the Chateau. Today Tom rode the metro all by himself (like a big boy) and went in search of a device to make tv work on our laptops. AND IT WORKS! We now have French tv in our apartment which means we’ll be able to watch sleazy game show hosts and short-skirted weather girls! Very excitement.

Lover, Lover, Lover…

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Saint Valentine’s Day in the city of love. I expected to see the streets filled with red roses, chocolate smeared across young girls’ faces, and endless kisses in public places. Surely the sound of violins would be wafting through every crevice of Paris, filling hearts with the sounds of romance. Surprisingly, I was wrong.

I put Valentine’s Day on my list of “Hallmark Days I Hate” along side Christmas, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. Valentine’s Day is definitely at the top of the list though because why should there be a specific day where you’re supposed to buy your loved one (if you’re lucky enough to have one) a tacky red or pink coloured gift and declare your love for them. Surely it should be a daily, off the cuff, sort of a thing rather than predetermined by the card description writing folk at Hallmark.

Yesterday I didn’t spend a huge amount of time wandering the streets looking for lovers (Tom and I were stuck wandering around a very large home furniture store trying to decide on whether or not to buy a sofa bed), but I can’t say I noticed an excess showcases of love. I had wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower, just so I could point and laugh, but didn’t have time so I tell myself that every Jack and Jill was there popping the question and screaming with delight. In fact, on previous days while wandering through Paris, particularly in the city’s parks and gardens, the number of public displays of love have been far greater than yesterday. It seems to be a-okay to sit on a park bench with your lover and go a bit crazy and clearly these people have been overcome by Paris’s love vibes.

Anyway, I was a tad disappointed by the lack of Valentine romance in Paris, purely because I thought it would make a good story. Instead I have to admit that I was a little bit chuffed when Tom went out in search of croissants for breakfast and returned home with one of the ugliest bunches of flowers I have ever seen. I’m not sure he took my laughter very well as he then went back out for the croissants that he had ‘forgotten’ and then came home with some beautiful tulips. Dang! He completely ruined my negative nancy viewpoint as I can’t say I had a problem with being bought flowers… I even went and bought a new vase for my tulips, and the daggy roses are feeling right at home in a used milk bottle.

Tulips

Pretty tulips

Tulips

My tulips in their temporary vase making the window look so pretty

Roses

Nawwww! Look! There's even a pink love heart hidden in there!

Valentine's roses

Such a pretty vase for such pretty flowers

I do, however, mind that he gave me his cold as well. Lucky I’m in France – aka land of pharmaceutical drugs where they have a tablet, spray and ointment for EVERY illness.

A Trip to the Market

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

I have made my first unnecessary and whimsical purchase of my stay in Paris. We have just returned home from the Marche aux Puces (flea markets) which is a collection of second hand antique markets in the north of Paris. There was so much great stuff – particularly interesting pieces of furniture that I really wanted to buy but that looked a bit hard to carry home on the metro. So instead I bought this:

Boules

Boules anyone?

A boules set from the 50s (I think.) The lady told me but numbers take me a while to translate in my head. Pretty cool, me thinks. They’re not super heavy like your average boule. I’ve probably been ripped off but I like them. They’re pretty AND will come in handy in summer.

Crazy Weather

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

The weather in Paris is just insane! The day we arrived it was -3. Then it warmed up to be fine and around 10 degrees for a week or so. On Thursday we had our first bit of rain which was mostly just pathetic drizzle that didn’t require umbrella protection and then yesterday! Yesterday… wow. It was sunny, warm and reached a top of 17 degrees! I was walking around the city wearing a skirt and a long sleeved top! It was too hot for a cardigan! Weird.

Today I think we’re returning to the fine and 10 degree weather. It’s a nice temperature really… not too cold and you don’t get hot and sweaty walking around. We’re off to the Marche aux Puces today to buy some fleas.