Archive for April, 2011

How Embarrassment

Friday, April 29th, 2011

My folks have been in town since Monday and it has been wonderful having them around. Free food, lots of hugs, and some presents. What more could a daughter want? Seriously, I have always had a good relationship with my family and it is a joy being able to show them where I live and all of my favourite places of Paris. That said, I clearly need to keep a better record of where my ‘favourite places’ are because when I try to return to them they can be hard to find! My parents have already been to Paris a few times and have ticked off most of the main tourist attractions so we have been walking the back streets and visiting areas not usually highlighted on the map. We often end up walking past a major must-see and ducking our way through the crowd and finding the closest side street to escape to. I am so glad to be living in a less popular area of Paris – I don’t know if I could handle the tourist crush and the never ending camera flashes all-day-every-day.

Anyway, I want to go to bed but I thought I would write a quick entry about our evening last night. My third or fourth cousin (She’s my mum’s cousin’s daughter so I don’t really know what the relation is. I call everyone my third cousin – I have many of these distant relatives that don’t have an easy title) lives in Paris and I met her for the first time last night when she invited my parents, Tom and me over for dinner. It was a lovely evening with great food and lots of easy conversation. It always amazes me how family members, no matter how distant, can still find a strong bond or connection. I’ve felt this with various distant relatives of mine and I love it. Family ties are very long.

The reason for the title of this entry is based on the fact that my cousin lives with her boyfriend who is an American who has lived in France for most of his life and has gained a lot of knowledge of French food and wine. He cooked an amazing meal of pintard (guinea fowl) with asparagus and was quite the host. He also provided us with some delicious wines which he produced from his wine fridge, chilled to the optimum temperature and explained what we were drinking and why we should be eating a certain food with it. Of course, being guests and wanting to provide something to the meal, I bought a bottle of wine to go with our dinner. I soon realised the mistake I had made choosing a bottle of wine from my local supermarket when we were drinking some quality wines that don’t cost 3 Euros like mine had. It was the equivalent of bringing cask wine to a dinner party in Australia. Our hosts were very polite and even served the bottle as a second drink with dinner. But how the Australians laughed when we realised what we had done. Further thought and perhaps a few more Euros will need to be spent for the next dinner gathering.

Time to Recap

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Once again I have to write a catch up report on what we have been up to. It has been a very busy week and a half involving visits to two cities, lots of train trips, visitors, funerals, family, food, fun and frantic searches for short sleeved tops. Paris is experiencing some sort of heat wave. By that, I mean it has been above 23 degrees most days and for some reason that feels more like 30 degrees. I have made a few exasperated visits into clothing stores in search of short sleeves and summer skirts but it has been quite disappointing. Plus, lots of the shops aren’t airconditioned and so I enter and leave in a “I’m hot and grumpy” mood. Those of you who know me well will know that I’m not the most approachable person when I am hot and bothered. Anyway, I have managed to find a few tops in Monoprix (a supermarket that also sells cheap basic clothes) so I felt somewhat cooler yesterday. Today my parents are arriving and bringing me shorts! IMAGINE THAT! Shorts… so cooling.

So! Travel adventures. After returning home from Lyon, we unpacked and repacked our bag and the next morning headed off to Koblenz on two separate trains. This was due to pricing and getting the best possible bargains. The train ride to Koblenz is particularly beautiful – first you catch a train to Saarbrucken which is just over the French/German border and then you change trains and follow the Moselle river all the way to Koblenz. The views are spectacular and what you could describe as “typical German countryside”. Green rolling hills, cute little villages with wooden houses and the picturesque tranquility of the winding river. No matter how hard I tried to read my book, I couldn’t helping looking out the window every second line.

Rhein

The Rhein in Koblenz

It was great seeing Tom’s Dad (he had flown over from Perth early in order to attend his father’s funeral) and Oma. Pity it was for such a sad occasion but it was nice to have family around. Tom’s Opa’s funeral was a nice simple service at a beautiful local church on an island floating in the middle of the Rhein. Tom’s Opa is now surrounded by asparagus mounds and other vegetable gardens that produce some of the best known vegetables in Koblenz. The service was entirely in German, for obvious reasons, which made it somewhat difficult to understand. However, as a lover of languages I found it particularly interesting to listen to hymns being sung in German and I could pick up the odd phrase such as, “In the name of the father, the son…” Now I have been to a German funeral and a Dutch church service. I appear to be converting in foreign countries.

Church

A lovely church

My friend Marina is in town with her parents and it has been great catching up with her. It is nice to have a friend around who I have known for a long time. Conversations are easy and we already know so much about each other. Mazz is in a wheelchair and so we have been discovering the pros and cons of Parisian disabled access (or lack of.) The footpaths aren’t bad but most restaurants put their toilets at the bottom of steep staircases and there are generally steps everywhere. She has been able to get into museums for free AND skip queues, which, in my opinion, is some sort of wonderful. I told her she can’t leave because she needs to be my “Get into Museums for Free” pass. I’m such a nice friend.

In other news, I apparently had my hair cut this weekend. By that I mean I went to a hairdresser, sat in the chair and there were scissors around. However, usually post-hair-chop my head feels as light as a feather and I worry that it is too short. This time I left feeling like my hair hadn’t changed at all. Basically the girl decided that I shouldn’t cut my hair too much and therefore just made a few adjustments. I managed to talk her into thinning it a little bit at the top as my hair gets very thick as it grows, but really I’m not sure what I spent 40 Euros on. At least she chopped my fringe, although she just cut it in a straight line and decided I should have a front fringe, rather than one to the side. Maybe this is a sign that I should grow my hair. I’ve never had long hair – maybe Paris is the place to give it a go.

Hair cut

Waiting for nothing.

As previously mentioned, my parentals are arriving today. They are on a ten week trip through Europe and will be in Paris for the next week. I am very excited. I am a very family-oriented person so I can’t wait to have them around and show them my new life. However, the restaurant I had booked for this evening has just cancelled on me so I have to find somewhere else for us to eat. So I shall be off.

Mid-Travel Catch Up

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I have about ten spare minutes to write this as I eat my breakfast and drink my morning cup of tea. In 1 hour and 17 minutes my train for Saarbrucken leaves, which will then connect me to another train to Koblenz. Last night we arrived home from our weekend away in Lyon at 10.30pm and finally got to sleep after unpacking and repacking and sorting out train tickets at around 1am. Tom is already on his train as we had to book different trains in order to get the cheapest tickets. Ahh… the joys of travel.

Lyon was great – we had ate some awesome food, saw some awesome things and climbed some awesome stairs. You could say Lyon was awesome. Our hotel was less awesome – it was clean and well located and relatively cheap (all good things) but the place seemed to be a long stay apartment complex for some slightly odd elderly people who stood in the foyer arguing with the staff. On Sunday when we went to check out there was no one at the front desk and then after we’d handed in our keys and were about to leave, we happened to read a small notice by the lift that indicated you needed to clean the dishes and remove the rubbish (ie. empty the bin) from your room before you left otherwise you would be charged 30 Euros for each offence. When we’d checked in, the girl had briefly requested that if we cooked in the room and had smelly rubbish in the bin if we could please put it in the garbage bin outside, but nothing suggesting we’d be charge 30 Euros for not doing so. Anyway, that last day, the place just became stranger and stranger and we were quite glad to leave.

But none of us really wanted to leave Lyon – it has a young and exciting atmosphere as it is a university town and so there is a lot happening. There are amazing old buildings scattered throughout and the old town is on a vertical incline that required excellent thigh muscles to ascend. We saw Roman ruins dating back to 40 BC where Coup hopes to go back to in order to see a band perform on his birthday. Yes, bands perform on Roman ruins in Lyon. Amazing.

Anyway, time is ticking and trains are approaching. Time to finish packing and head off. Back Thursday.

Shine Ye Shoes, Govna?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Paris has a habit of covering your shoes in white dust and for some reason my shoes looked significantly worse than most other people’s shoes. Why, I don’t know. Possibly because I have never polished my shoes in my entire life, despite frowns from my Grandma. I will admit to being a spoilt brat who complains about having scuffed shoes and has a father who polishes them for her. I know, I know. Shock, horror, terrible. BUT GOOD NEWS! Yesterday I went into a Camper store (my favourite shoe brand) and bought myself a pair of shoes. The lady who sold me the shoes was brutally honest and told me I needed to clean up my act and polish my beautiful brown camper boots that I was wearing at the time. They were shocking – scuffed, dusty and the leather was drying out. So sad. I had been looking at them wishing some miracle would occur and they would be fixed. Perhaps this sales woman was my miracle – she sold me Camper boot polish which comes in a very cool tin and I have just completed my very first polish of boots. MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, my boots look brand new! So shiny. So polished. Less scuffs (some are fairly permanent) and they look like a million dollars. My Dad and my Grandma will be proud. And here is a picture of my new shoes:

Camper
Dainty yet cool.

I purchased them on a bit of a whim. I was looking for a simple summer shoe but couldn’t find anything so I bought these instead. Typical female reaction. I’m going to Madrid in three weeks so I shall go to the home of Camper and see what they have on offer.

Last Minute Lyon

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

We had been looking at organising a weekend away with Rom and Coup and with everyone’s up-coming travel plans we only had two weekends available. Last night on SNCF (French train company) website, they released some last minute cheap tickets where if you travelled in groups then the cost of the ticket reduced. We are a group! So tomorrow lunchtime we’re getting on a train to Lyon and spending the weekend exploring the city. I have been to Lyon once but I was alone, depressed and wanted to go home the entire time so I am looking forward to seeing it in a much more positive light.

We return to Paris on Sunday evening and then first thing Monday morning Tom and I are catching separate trains to Koblenz in Germany to attend Tom’s grandfather’s funeral. He sadly passed away recently and as we’re not far away we are going to join the family for the ceremony. So it is travel travel travel for us. This is more like it – I haven’t felt this nervous about catching so many trains since I was last living in France so clearly we’re finally doing the right thing and are being frivolous and crazy young people living in Europe. HOORAY!

Drugs.

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I just received a parcel full of drugs. Well, not so much drugs as three bags full of homemade muesli from my Dad. Normally he and I make our own muesli as it is 1. delicious and 2. healthy. I haven’t been doing this in France and have been eating disgustingly sweetened sugared-oats. I now have about a kilo of muesli sitting in bags on my couch. I AM SO HAPPY! Tom will be banned from going near it. It is too precious. I don’t think I will ever finish it as it will be too sad.

For Your Amusement

Monday, April 11th, 2011

I saw this sign outside a small deli on a walk to a random park. It made me laugh.

Stranger wines

I don't trust it.

Learning Can Be Fun

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Following my last entry, I have returned home from French class feeling as if I have actually gained something from the experience. Remarkable! Today we covered the subjunctif (a verb tense that I have never learnt) and another pronoun, dont. I love learning new things! It is far more enjoyable to go to a class and to come away feeling like you have learnt something rather than not. Also, I am on double-kissing terms with a Venezuelan girl in my class who is lovely and intelligent and a few of the annoying class members appear to have left (or at least haven’t been there for the last two classes). So I may be sticking with the class for a bit longer. Tomorrow we’re covering another verb tense that I have never officially learnt – the plus-que-parfait.

I love verbs.

Sunny Weekend in Paris

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Ahh sunshine… I think I have prattled on about the wonders of the sun a fair bit, but it is amazing how much sunshine affects the general feeling of Paris. Everyone comes out of their grey coats and lies half naked in parks soaking up the rays. People drink beer, play guitars, and sit around chatting with friends, making the most of the weather. In Australia I think we take our weather for granted and know that tomorrow we’ll probably have a fine day once again. Whereas here you make the most of what you have because it may not happen again for awhile.

The days are getting much longer and the change into summer time really spurred the long evenings along. The sun sets around 8.45pm so we have been finding ourselves eating dinner very late and staying up until past midnight most nights. Considering I used to be a 6pm-dinner and 10pm-sleep person, this is just strange. I have had a few stomach aches in the last few nights thanks to going to bed with a very full tummy, but it is an enjoyable lifestyle. On Saturday night, Tom and I had a picnic with our friends Rom and Coup down by the canal Saint Martin. The canal edges were full of Parisians doing exactly the same thing and it was one of the most enjoyable things we have done while in Paris. But imagine doing this in Perth – at 8pm we went to the supermarket and bought two types of cheese, vegies, chips, dips, beer and wine; went to the bakery and bought two fresh baguettes and by 8.30pm we were sitting by the canal setting out our picnic. It wouldn’t have been possible to do that at that hour in Perth and if we’d bought all of that food during opening hours it would have cost us around $100. Here we bought all of that for less than 30 Euros. Oh, I love Paris.

Friday night we went and saw the Australian band Architecture in Helsinki at a new venue just down the road from me. It was such a great night – the venue was amazing. It is a new, contemporary art gallery/performance space that has been inserted into a beautiful ye-olde building. The performance space was a big box in the middle of what could have once been a ballroom. The bar was in another room which had frescoes with gold trim on the ceiling and red velvet puff seats scattered throughout the room. The band was great and once again I was amazed at how few people we had to watch them with. Despite being in such a densely populated city, most of the music gigs that we have been to haven’t been sold out and have been in relatively small venues with a moderately sized crowd. Perhaps I’m going to un-cool music but still. It’s great!!

Anyway I have to go to my French class. It has improved slightly as I have learnt some new verb tenses that I wasn’t sure about before (when I say “I have learnt”, I mean I have been given the idea to go home and look up what they are myself) and the teacher is cracking down on slack students. Hopefully it’ll continue to improve and I will actually get something out of this experience.

A la Bretagne

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Grave apologies for the lack of posts. Actually, no… My Dad said to me via email that it is good when he doesn’t hear from me as it means I am too busy doing enjoyable things. Therefore if I don’t write on my blog it is because I am far too busy discovering new places, travelling, shopping, eating etc to spend time telling you about it. But today my planned shopping trip with my friend Pip has been postponed and so I am finally having a day at home. And so I shall write.

I think I will do as I did when I returned home from Nancy and write a list of things to write about in case I forget. Ok, here’s what you have to look forward to:

  1. More sickness
  2. Bretagne in all its glory
    • Crepes
    • Coastline and countryside
    • Friends
    • Salted butter caramel
  3. Mont Saint Michel and impressive tidal movements
  4. The weirdest salmon dish I have ever eaten.

Ok, that will do. I have other things to write about but they fit under other categories and will have to appear separately. Ready? GO!

So Tuesday afternoon I wandered around Montmartre shopping with my Australian friends, Rom and Sam. I bought an amazing dress from a wonderful clothing store called Aeschne and was served, dressed and sold the dress by the woman who made it. I also had a chat with a model who was in all of the photographs scattered around the store. I didn’t just talk to the photos – she was actually there and was very friendly. Anyway, the dress is a beautiful blue silk and is just stunning. I am now searching for a reason to wear it and will continue to hint to Tom that he needs to take me out for a nice meal. You can see the dress if you go to the Aeschne website and look at the Automne/Hiver 2010 collection and look for the picture of a short-haired woman standing against a white wall. My dress is a nicer colour though. And it looks WAY better on me.

So my point is that I had a good day but at about 5.30pm my stomach started turning on me again and I felt like the dread E-coli was returning. It didn’t completely but I did have a dinner of plain rice and boiled broccoli (which I actually enjoyed). On top of this, Tom had been complaining about feeling off all day but as I decided I was feeling worse I ignored him.

The next day we got up early (too early – we ended up waiting about 40 minutes at the train station because we were too organised) and caught the metro to Montparnasse before catching a train to Morlaix in Bretagne. Tom spent most of the train ride groaning and saying he was sickly, which I continued to ignore. We arrived in Morlaix and were met by Sarah (a friend who had been staying at Tom’s house the week before we left for Paris. Sarah is French and her husband, Brandon, is American and they live in Paris but are spending the year travelling through Australia. They had to return to Paris for a few weeks to sort out Brandon’s visa) who took us to her house for lunch before showing us around Morlaix. That evening, Tom lay in bed with a fever as he had apparently caught the flu and actually was sick. Damn.

 

Sick Tom

French blood tests are just as gross as Australian blood tests – I had to watch in case he fainted and I had to translate his unconscious groans.

So Tom ended up spending about two and a half days in bed while Sarah and Brandon took me exploring in Bretagne. Tom went to the doctor and had a blood test which I kept trying to talk-up as an ‘exciting experience in France’! I don’t think Tom felt the same way.

Bretagne is beautiful – rugged coastline, beaches and green, green, green countryside. We had one day of amazing sunshine and Sarah took me (Tom stayed home) on a long drive along the northern coast of France, visiting little coastal towns along the way. A highlight – galettes and crepes for lunch (a galette is a savoury crepe). Also being able to walk along the beach in the sunshine and inhale fresh sea air was quite wonderful. It has been awhile and I am getting a bit sick of Paris’s pollution and general secondary-smoke.

 

Bretagne

From a cold and windy day...

Bretagne

To sunshine by the beach – Bretagne has it all.

It was nice to be in a family environment again and to speak a bit of French. It is quite strange talking to Sarah and Brandon in French as I spent a week talking to them in English in Perth but now that we are in France it seems only appropriate to change languages. Speaking French with Brandon is very weird – he is American so it is instinctual to speak to him in English but we spent a lot of our time speaking in French. I guess when you are surrounded by the language it is easier to just stick to it rather than constantly reverting back. I do enjoy jumping between English and French with people who can speak both languages. It adds a new level to conversations and you can explain yourself to a much greater extent. Somethings sound better in French than English and vice versa.

I think it is about time that I wrote about the food. As I have previously mentioned, galettes and crepes are products of Bretagne and it is customary to drink cider with them. As they say, do as the locals. While I find eating galettes fun and a bit naughty, I’m not sure I would choose to eat them often. Crepes, on the other hand, I would eat at the end of every meal if I wasn’t guaranteed to get fat. Particularly if they are filled with nutella…

 

Galette

Spot the difference between a galette...

Crepe

... and a crepe

I also sampled a cake which was made from pastry, sugar and butter and butter and butter and butter. You had to drink a litre of water after every mouthful as it was so buttery. So so good. And then there was the salted butter caramel. I’m generally not that interested in caramel but this stuff was amazing. On our way to Mont Saint Michel, Sarah took us to Saint Malo where we had afternoon tea at an amazing cafe with amazing cakes. I had a piece of chocolate and caramel tart which was one of the greatest things I have ever eaten in my life. Crispy tart base with a huge slab of gooey, buttery caramel and then a thick layer of dark chocolate on top. My eyes almost popped out of my head as I ate it. It was a huge piece and I doubted my ability to finish it, but I did. I worked through it and I made it to the end. I am proud of my achievements.

 

Chocolate and Caramel Tart

Look at it! That's a burst artery.

So the few days we spent with Sarah and Brandon were full of fun and exploration (and Tom’s constant coughing fits and general groans) and it was sad to part ways. At least we did it at the top of Mont Saint Michel as we were being surrounded by approaching tides. Very cool.

So, for those of you who don’t know, Mont Saint Michel is an island off the coast of Normandy on top of which there is an abbey dating back to the 700s. It has become a bit of a tourist haunt as most days of the year (as the moon prescribes) during the day the tide goes out and you can walk across the sand (being careful to avoid quick sand) to the island, while at night the tides return and the island is surrounded by water. There is a dyke with a road allowing for easy access these days but you still need to remove your car from certain car parks before the water returns to avoid having it washed away.

 

Mont Saint Michel

Wow.

We arrived on the island at about 5.30pm and stood in the rain and slightly cool temperatures until 7.45pm and watched the water come in from the ocean.

 

Mont Saint Michel

The water approaches

It was one of the most amazing natural phenomena that I have ever seen. I put it on a similar scale to seeing the salt lakes near Menzies in Western Australia – truly spectacular. It started slowly – you could see the water approaching from the ocean far off in the distance and slowly covering the sand. Then, at about 7.15pm, it all started happening – the water broke over the lip of sand and you could see waves of water sweeping across and filling every hole it could find in the sand. The current was strong and before we knew it we were surrounded by water. Of course, my camera ran out of batteries as the water really started doing its thing, but you can see some photos and movies on my flickr site if you are interested.

 

Mont Saint Michel

Waves!

Staying on Mont Saint Michel was nice as there were hardly any other tourists around, but it was also very touristy and every shop and restaurant was set up to remove money from us. We knew we would have no option but to eat rubbish touristy food and so tried to find the best option. I don’t think we made a wise decision. We each had a set menu which is the normal deal for tourist restaurants. The food was edible but not special and my main meal was one of the most thought-provoking dishes I have ever eaten. I ordered “saumon avec riz de bretagne” – simply translated, it means salmon with rice of Bretagne. It sounded ok – I like salmon and rice so I couldn’t go too wrong. The salmon was a fairly average fillet but at least it was salmon. The rice consisted of two inverted cups of rice – one flavoured with saffron, the other was some sort of ‘wild rice’. Tasteless but I love plain rice so that was ok. It was the sauce that really got me – I think they were trying to make a béarnaise sauce but I’m not sure what they were thinking. I’m fairly certain they had whipped it, creating a soft, fluffy sauce that was just WEIRD. The fish was completely surrounded (swimming, if you will) in the stuff. Further consideration of the dish makes me wonder if perhaps the chefs were trying to represent Mont Saint Michel and the tidal movements in the form of a seafood meal. Whatever they were thinking, they should think again.

 

Salmon

Just weird.

The other problem with Mont Saint Michel is accessing it without a car. We had to catch a train from Rennes, a town 1.5 hours away at 6.30pm and so we figured we had plenty of time to wander the island before catching a connecting bus to the train station. Luckily I decided to check the bus timetable in the morning and discovered we would have to catch a bus at 2.30pm in order to be in Rennes at the right time. There were only four buses a day and the last bus would arrive 15 minutes after our train left. So we visited the abbey, wandered through the town, ate a quick lunch before catching the bus to Rennes and wandering aimlessly through the town for 2.5 hours. Luckily the weather was beautiful and Rennes is a lovely town so it wasn’t so bad. But considering the bus connection between Mont Saint Michel and Rennes is promoted as being the way to get there, it was quite disappointing.

 

Rennes

Look at how French Rennes is!

So a great week away was had and we returned to Paris being not all that excited to see rubbish and filth and dog-poo everywhere again. That said, this week Paris has had amazingly warm weather and I have been quite happy to wander aimlessly through the streets. The parks are in full bloom and every evening the canal is chock-a-block full with people sitting by the water drinking wine and eating Pringles. Tom and I joined them on Wednesday night with beer and cashews before trying out another local restaurant. Very, very pleasant. I think we will be doing that a lot in summer.

 

Beer and the canal

Good times.

Canal

All of the French people were silly and faced away from the nice view

Canal

But not the Australians!