Tag Archives: Grown Up Me

Two Redheads Take On…Paris

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My best friend and I are a dangerous combination when we are together. The last time she was in France we had so many stupid adventures together that I wasn’t sure that trip could ever be topped. I was wrong, in every way possible. This trip was, quite possibly, the most ridiculous vacation I have ever been on. After a week of normalcy in Tours, I was ready to begin my adventure with Grown-Up Me in Europe.

The first two days of our trip were spent in Paris. I was lucky enough to find an awesome apartment on AirBnB for us to rent. It was ideally placed and in a neighborhood I have been exploring for about 6 months. Part of the reason that we chose the exact dates of her visit were because of an annual music festival that began in France, but has since spread to other countries—Fête de la Musique. We are both avid lovers of live music, so any opportunity we have to discover new music we embrace (especially if it is free!). Having spent a significant amount of time on her last trip to France exploring Paris and being tourists, this trip was designed to be a more authentic Parisian experience.IMG_2857

While I have been to Paris countless times since moving to France and am always discovering new things I’d like to do there, it is also difficult for me to always make these hopes come true. One of the main problems is that a lot of the things I’d like to do require me going off the beaten path, into areas I do not know very well. As a solo female traveler, I am always hyper aware of my surroundings. If I’m not sure about something, I always ere on the side of caution and add that activity to my list of things to do when someone else is with me.

After retrieving Grown-Up Me from the airport (I was not late this time, but her plane was), we immediately headed to our AirBnB apartment to get the keys and drop off our belongings. The apartment was huge and the host was very friendly and helpful. After a quick pause to gather our thoughts, we immediately began our adventure. The first stop of this trip was the Pablo Picasso Museum, which had only recently re-opened. This was one of the museums I had not explored, as it had been closed for over one year. It was a very nice museum, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a smaller museum in Paris. (Don’t get me wrong, the Louvre is wonderful, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. While the artwork is magnificent, the crowds leave much to be desired.)

I also forgot to mention that in honor of our last escapade around France, where we wore matching headbands because it was winter, we decided to do something similar, but in the style of summer—floppy sun hats! All of our outfits this vacation centered around our sun hats, which caused some frustration when trying to take pictures—they always got in the way!

After the Pablo Picasso Museum we wandered around Paris for a few hours. At first, we wandered aimlessly, just finding cool streets and areas to explore, by chance. One area we explored was the Chinatown neighborhoods. This is something Jeannette really enjoys, as she has visited many different Chinatowns around the world. However, to this day, neither of us are really sure that we ever actually made it to Chinatown. For Jeannette. the lack of a gate was very misleading, and for me, it did not look like any of the other Chinatowns I had visited. I can’t remember for sure what we did that night, but I can guarantee that either wine or mojitos were involved. If I remember correctly, this was the night we bought a bottle of wine and drank it along the Canal St. Martin. You know that your friendship has reached an epic level when the only criteria you have for buying a bottle of wine is that it have a twist top (I had forgotten the corkscrew in my suitcase). Needless to say, with such limited criteria, the quality isn’t always the best. In fact, I would say it was one of the worst wines I have ever had in my life, but it was okay, because of the scenery and the company.

We tried to call it an early night, as we were heading to the Château de Versailles the next day. Prior to Jeannette’s arrival, I had bought an annual pass, as I was also planning to visit with my mom, so it ended up being cheaper to buy an annual pass than individual tickets. As an added bonus, with the annual pass you get to skip the line! After walking from the train station to the château, we bypassed a line of several hundred people and were the first visitors inside the château for the day. It was quite an amazing experience and feeling—we saved ourselves probably 3-4 hours by having this annual pass.

IMG_2867This was not my first trip to Versailles, but was my first trip without being part of a group. Honestly, it is a much more enjoyable experience when you are with only a few people. The château was much different than I remember it from 2007 (the last time I visited). It was also a much more enjoyable experience, as we were there when the château opened, so there were not many people there (yet). We also chose this particular day to visit, as it was one of the few days each week where the fountains were turned on for part of the day. We had also planned ahead a packed a picnic lunch for later in the day, which, of course, included a bottle of wine (with the same requirements: twist top).

We spent practically the entire day exploring the various parts of Versailles—château, gardens, Trianons, and Marie-Antoinette’s domain. It was a long and exhausting day, but also a very fun day. After the château we began exploring the gardens. This was also around the time that the fountains were scheduled to be turned on. We had a snack and a bit of wine while waiting for the fountains to turn on. After watching the fountains, we began our trek to the Trianons. I forgot how far apart everything was and was already feeling pretty exhausted when we arrived. We explored the Grand Trianon and then we began exploring the grounds. We spent quite a bit of time walking and trying to find a good place to have a picnic. In the end, we found an excellent place to have a picnic. It was secluded and quiet. In fact, in the almost 1.5 hours we spent picnicking, we only saw two people. TWO PEOPLE! We were still in the grounds of Versailles, but we only saw two people. How was that even possible?!?

It wasn’t until after our awesome picnic, when we tried to find our way out, that things go interesting. Everything in this garden looked the same! We could not seem to find the main path, and kept ending up right back where we started. Then, we saw where we needed to be, but couldn’t find a way to get there, as there was what appeared to be a dried up moat between us and the other side. Then, we found many gates that, in theory, should lead us to the other side. Only one problem, every single gate was locked! It was at this time that we began wishing we had more wine. There’s never enough wine!

Then, we headed to the Petit Trianon, followed by Marie-Antoinette’s domain. This was one of my favorite parts, as I have spent the least amount of time exploring these areas. It is truly mind-blowing to stand there and think about why these areas were built and how disconnected Marie-Antoinette was from everyone else. While I understand that she was a very, very young queen, it is sill quite baffling that she built her own little world, in an effort to better understand what it was like to be poor. It was also here that Jeannette found her future house—Marie-Antoinette’s farm.

After countless hours exploring the domain of Versailles, we got on the train back to Paris to continue our ridiculousness. This night, we went to one of the speak-easy style bars (the Red Door) that has been on my list, but was also connected with my favorite bar in Europe (Panda & Sons in Edinburgh). They had recently done a bartender exchange, and I was excited to see this bar for the first time. Again, we tried to call it an early night, but of course, that simply isn’t possible when reunited with your best friend in Europe.

After staying out way too late and drinking way too much wine, we eventually made it back to the apartment to get some DSC06996sleep before Fête de la Musique the next day. The “problem” with this festival is that it goes all day and into the next morning. In an effort to make sure that we would be able to partake in the festivities for as long as possible, we didn’t begin the festival too early. Rather, we spent our morning trying to be a little healthy We had a typical French breakfast in a café, followed by another great adventure: tying to find the Promenade Plantée. This had been on my list of things to find and do for many, many years. Again, it was something that after much research and consideration, I decided would be best to do with at least one other person. Jeannette was the perfect person for a number of reasons:

1. She loves hiking/walking as much as I do

2. She loves exploring gardens

3. She had been to the High Line in NYC (which is modelled after the Promenade Plantée)

4. She is just as directionally challenged as I am, so getting lost would not be a big deal

Before, during, and after breakfast I had been looking at maps and reading things on the Internet, in an effort to make sure that we didn’t spend 17 hours trying to find this path. When we started our adventure, we were both optimistic, but quickly, we realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy to find as we had hoped. As it is a raised line, we were able to spot it relatively quickly, but then we couldn’t find how to actually get to/on it. Then, after a bit more walking, we made it to the line itself, but had to do some investigating to actually figure out how to access the line. In the end, we were successful and able to walk the entire length of the line. It was a really, really interesting experience. There were many times during our walk when we both forgot that we were still in Paris. It was really quite calm an peaceful. If you enjoy walking and seeing a city from another perspective, I highly suggest that you take a few hours to walk the Promenade Plantée.

After our morning walk (I realize we sound like a couple of old women, but whatever) we began celebrating Fête de la Musique. Our first stop for the day was a taiko drum performance. It was interesting, but not exactly what we had envisioned. We both have a passion for listening to drums (taiko drums especially) so we had high expectations. Unfortunately, our expectations were not met. We decided to leave about half way through the performance in search of another type of music. We decided to begin heading back toward our apartment, as there were supposed to be many interesting performances in that area. We were not going to stay in this area for the rest of the day, but it seemed like a good place to have some lunch and drink some wine.

This was not my first time celebrating Fête de la Musique in France. In 2007 when I spend my summer studying in France, I discovered this festival in Tours, the city where I currently live. The problem for me, is that Tours is significantly smaller than Paris, so it was much easier to just stumble upon awesome musical performances. With the countless neighborhoods in Paris, it was much more difficult to just wander aimlessly, while still finding wonderful musical performances. I had spent considerable time exploring the Paris Fête de la Musique website, only to become even more overwhelmed as I spent time reading about different performances. This was the only part of our trip that was not very well planned, as I didn’t even know where to begin.

One of the reasons I wanted to head back to Canal St. Martin was because there was supposed to be a steel drum performance in the late morning or early afternoon. Sure enough, while we were sitting along the canal enjoying our lunch and wine, we could hear steel drums in the distance. We decided to cross the canal and try to find the performance. We were successful! I’ve always loved the sound of steel drums, so I loved hearing them being played, while standing in one of my favorite parts of Paris. After spending quite some time listening to this performance, we began walking along the canal again. We decided to stop and enjoy some more wine and just talk for a bit. While we were sitting there drinking wine and chatting we noticed many people stopping to look at us and take our picture. It was very strange and eventually someone came over to talk to us. It turns out that we both looked so French that tourists (usually Americans) wanted to take our picture to show their family and friends. We both laughed at this, and explained that we were also American, but that I now lived in France. It made for an interesting conversation. Also, it helped a great deal with making me feel that I had truly acclimated myself to the French style.

IMG_2932Eventually, we left Canal St. Martin and headed toward Montmartre. I enjoy Montmartre a great deal, but it is one of those areas I will not explore by myself. At this point, we realized that we were out of wine (surprise!) so our immediate mission became finding more. Luckily, we had saved our twist top bottle, as we did not want to deal with wine leaking in our bags. We replenished our supply of wine and began just walking around Montmartre. What I loved most about this part of our day was the different feel it had. It was a much more independent, eclectic experience than in the other parts of Paris. We discovered a band that reminded us of the Detroit Party Marching Band (one of our favorite local bands). We also discovered a number of very young, local bands, who had stages set up in the middle of the street. After spending a few hours listening to music and drinking, we decided that we should stop and have a snack. We continued exploring the area, and eventually stumbled upon a café called le Chat Noir. We decided to stop here, and again, there was live music taking place inside.

After countless hours in Montmartre, we decided it was time to head back toward central Paris. One of the main reasons was that it was getting later in the day, and we wanted to make sure that we staying in very safe areas. Our next stop was exploring the Marais and nearby neighborhoods. We popped in and out of many cafés and bars during this time, both to listen to live music and to enjoy a tasty beverage. As the day went on, our conversations became more and more ridiculous, to the point that I was laughing so hard I was crying, almost nonstop. After eating dinner and listening to wandering music performances, we decided to just begin walking and trying to find different music. It was already quite late (probably around midnight). This time, we were truly wandering aimlessly, and had taken to displaying our musical ‘talents.’ Drunkenly singing “Part of Your World” with your best friend, while walking the streets of Paris, is a memory that will never be forgotten. We were both having so much fun and just embracing being absolutely ridiculous. While performing our fantastic rendition of this song, we began hearing drums in the distance. As I mentioned, we both love listening to drums, so we decided it was worth exploring. It turns out, there was a drumline performing outside of this bar just up ahead. We could not believe our luck! We listened to them playing, while drinking the last of our wine. Every time we thought they were done performing, they would begin another song. And they were really, really good. We spent probably two hours listening and dancing to this performance.

As we had an early flight to Porto, Portugal the next morning, we decided that we should probably begin heading back to our apartment, as neither of us knew exactly where we were or how long it would take to get back to our apartment. We left the performance and were just talking about what an awesome day we had had, when we hear this man yelling behind us. It was someone who was also at the drumline performance and felt the need to follow us and ask us questions and try to get us to go somewhere with us. Of course, he was very drunk (as was most of Paris by this time), and really wasn’t listening to what we had to say. Eventually, I had had enough and began yelling at him in French. This sent a message to him, and eventually he walked away, mumbling under his breath about how unreasonable I had been. While I had been drinking all day, I knew my limit and made sure not to cross it that day, as Jeannette does not speak French, so I knew that I had to at least be able to communicate clearly the entire day. At the time, this was a very scary experience, but it was also a learning experience. I learned about the value of remaining alert. If I had not, who knows what could have happened. I learned that being nice only works to a certain point, and sometimes you have to be mean to get your point across. I learned, that in a potentially dangerous situation, I am able to send a clear message in French and have that message respected.

After a lot of walking and a metro ride, we made it safely back to our apartment. I made sure that we were both back and ready for our early departure in the morning. However, Jeannette was having a very difficult time getting everything prepared, and could not find her contact case (it ended up being in her suitcase the entire time). We eventually made it to bed for a quick nap, before we had to get up to catch the bus to the airport. Overall, this trip was off to an amazing start and we were both eager to begin our next adventures—Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.

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On the Road Again!

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I love driving, but prior to my departure for France my car was going to be the death of me. It seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong with the car was going wrong. That being said, I was truly looking forward to a year without car repairs. What I wasn’t expecting was how much I would actually miss having the option to drive.

Being from Detroit, where any form of public transportation is, to be honest, non-existent, I was really looking forward to moving to a country/city with reliable public transit. As much as I love walking and taking public transit, I’m not going to lie, there have been days when I really wished I had a car. So, Jeannette coming to France was the perfect excuse to rent a car. And, because Jeannette does not know how to drive a manual, it was up to me to successfully navigate us around. Not only did we rent a car, we rented a Fiat 500, which I’ve wanted to drive since I knew they existed. The nice thing about the Fiat 500 is that it is similar in size to my Mini Cooper, so it was very easy for me to drive.

Our goals for the time during which we had the car:

  • wine tasting
  • castles
  • zoo
  • adventuring
  • meals in new and unusual places

We were able to accomplish each of the goals, in addition to many other accomplishments. After getting our car (which was an adventure that involved riding the tram and commuter train to the next town), we were off! I always have a difficult time figuring out how to put rental cars in reverse (manuals, not automatics). The night before I shared some stories about the last time I had rented a car, and neither Matt nor I could figure out how to put the car in reverse. Matt sent me back to the rental office to ask how to put the car in reverse. I felt like a complete idiot! “Hi, you just rented me a car, and I can’t even figure out how to get out of the parking space.” It turns out, that on the shifter there’s a small mechanism that you have to pull up on to put the car in reverse. It was the same in the Fiat.

Once we were out of the parking lot I remembered how touchy first gear is and how much I hate it. I will say that over the course of two days of driving I did not stall one time, which made me feel very proud. However, each time I had to downshift or get out of first gear it sounded like the car was a rocket ship/race car. By the end of the first day, I was used to driving a manual again and things went must more smoothly. Our first stop of the day was Château d’Amboise. We took the scenic route, as we didn’t want to (really, couldn’t) take the pay roads. Thank goodness for Google Maps and a large data pack, or Jeannette and I would still be lost in France. I actually prefer taking the non-autoroutes, as you are able to drive through and discover many small villages along the way.

Amboise was Jeannette’s first European castle, and she was fascinated as we walked around. When we were trying to decide which castles to visit, this one stood out in the brochure, and Clos Lucé is down the road, so we could very easily visit two castles without having to spend time driving. Additionally, this was the very first castle that I visited in France, so it holds a special place in my heart. It was also my first time visiting the châteaux during Christmastime. It was wonderful to see the châteaux decorated and with real fires burning in the fireplaces.

IMG_2346After wandering around Château d’Amboise we wandered up the uphill road with half sidewalks to reach Clos Lucé. It was supposedly 400m from the castle, but I think the signs were lying. If I’ve learned anything since moving to France: the French are not great at labelling things, or really at using signs in general. We eventually reached Clos Lucé and began our visit. I had also visited Clos Lucé before, but it was much different than I remembered it being in 2007. While we were wandering through the château itself, we stumbled upon a painting of the Mona Lisa (not a surprise). It was funny because Jeannette’s boyfriend had told her that she must see the Mona Lisa while in Paris (which we did not). This was our compromise.

By the time we had finished wandering through the gardens/grounds it was almost time for lunch. We decided to eat lunch in Amboise, prior to heading off in search of wine tasting. For lunch we found a restaurant that had vegetarian soup (very difficult to do in France). After lunch, we set off toward Chambord, planning to do some wine tasting along the way. We found a cute winery along the way and did some wine tasting. It was an interesting wine tasting, in that we were only given one sample of each wine and had to share the glass. Luckily, we like each other enough that it didn’t really bother us.

After wine tasting we decided to finish our journey to Château de Chambord. However, Google Maps kept changing our route and trying to make us take the freeway. We were able to catch it every time, except for one, and we were able to easily to around as soon as we discovered where we were heading. Again, we made it to our destination without any problems. I even managed to keep the car on the road, in my lane, without running red lights, or hitting curbs/driving on the sidewalk.

Unlike many of the other château, you had to pay to park at this one. Anyone who has ever driven with me when paying for parking is involved knows the adventure that ensues. I can never keep track of the little parking ticket. One time, I spent almost an hour in a parking garage looking for the ticket in my car…This time, I found a little piece of fabric on the visor I could slip it under, so I did so, and felt proud of myself that I found a safe place to store it. However, this parking lot was one of the lots that you had to pay before you could go to the gate. With the closets pay station being a good 250m from where we had parked.

Walking up to the château, Jeannette kept saying ‘this is what a castle is supposed to look like.’ I had been to Château de Chambord once before, but this time was much better because I was with my best friend. It was much more impressive than I remembered it being. I had also forgotten that it was originally built as a hunting lodge! We spent a good amount of time exploring the château and reading about the history of it. What impressed Jeannette the most (I think) was the double-spiral-staircase designed by Leonard da Vinci (or as we know him, Leonardo da Vinci). She talked about how we had seen where he was buried and his house today, and now we were walking on a staircase designed by one of the most intelligent people ever to live.

IMG_2348On our way out, I saw what was quite possibly the absolute cutest thing I have ever seen in my life. An old, French man, wearing an adorable hat, riding a bike, with a whicker basked with a dog wearing a sweater inside. It was way too much cuteness in one area. Honestly, I wanted to take them both home with me because they were so adorable! Unfortunately, the bike wouldn’t have fit in the Fiat, so that plan was quickly abandoned. After we returned to our car, we drove as close as we could get to the pay station, and en route, I almost hit the cute old French man riding his bike with the dog in the basket! It would have been such a disaster; luckily, I did not. 🙂

We took our time heading back to Tours, and meandered through many different villages in the region. Eventually, we reached Blois. Blois is an adorable town, and one I have visited many times. When we arrived in Tours, we unloaded our purchases (just a few bottles of wine) and went to my favorite bar in Tours for apéro, le Bartók. We had sparking wine with poppy liquor (super yummy). Then, we decided that we would venture outside of Tours for dinner, seeing as we had a car and all. We decided to head to the neighboring villages, with our back up plan being to eat in Amboise. Let me tell you about the fiasco that involves trying to find a vegetarian meal in France. This night was no exception. We ended up eating Italian (again!) in an adorable restaurant in Amboise. The food was yummy, the wine was delicious, and the ambiance was very French. However, the food was not French, which was disappointing, as we had yet to have a French meal since Jeannette arrived in France.

When we had finished dinner, we drove back to Tours and just talked and hung out at my apartment. It was a wonderful day, and was going to be followed by even more adventures the next day.

A Tour of Tours

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IMG_2277Our train arrived in Tours a little after 1am, so by the time we made it back to my apartment it was almost 2am. We slept in a little the next morning, then got up to go exploring Tours. We walked through Vieux Tours, visited the cathedral, visited le Musée des Beaux-Arts, went to l’Institut de Touraine, walked through some gardens, then had lunch. It was a pretty relaxed day. That night we decided to open the Christmas gifts my mom had sent us. We Skyped with my mom while opening the gifts, while of course drinking some wine.

In addition to opening our gifts and Skyping with my mom, I was also cooking dinner, ratatouille. I was surprised by how yummy the recipe turned out! This was our first traditional French meal, as it is almost impossible to find vegetarian options when eating in a French restaurant. One of the things in our massive gift box was a game, “Elf Ring Toss.” It’s basically a giant birthday style hat that each person wears, while the other tries to toss rings of differing sizes on the other person. The game itself is rather simple, but after some wine it can be challenging and very entertaining.

IMG_2344After dinner we decided to visit the new wine bar on my street, La Reserve. It opened not too long ago, but I was waiting to visit it with Jeannette. It was a cute bar with a very Detroit-type feel. Jeannette and I talked for a bit and enjoyed some wine. Before we knew it, we were being kicked out of the bar because it was closing! I haven’t closed a bar in what seems like forever. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I closed a bar. Upon returning to my apartment, we decided now was a fantastic time to try and play “Elf Ring Toss.” We also decided that we should Skype my mom so she could see how stupid we looked.

As we were getting ready to play, I realized that I had no idea where my phone was, and after looking around my apartment with no luck, conclude that I must have left it at the bar. We leave to go the bar and see if they found a phone, which they did not. Once we got back and I began to panic, I found my phone in my bed (no clue how it got there). Elf

I’m not sure what time it was when we went to bed, but let’s say it was very late/early depending on your perspective. I forgot to mention that we were renting a car the next morning to do some exploring of the region, so yeah…When my alarm went off I was not the happiest of people. This was going to be my first time driving since August 16th and I was really excited. As a bonus, I’d be driving a Fiat 500!

PS: This was also the morning that Jeannette couldn’t find her sock…that was halfway on her foot! 🙂

Les Coquelicots

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Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone (or something) until you have it again. I knew that I was missing my friends and family, but I didn’t realize the extent until I was reunited with Grown-Up Me. It honestly felt like no time had passed–we just picked up right where we had left off. Obviously, this isn’t true and we had a ton of catching up to do, even though we talk on a regular basis. Even if I had done absolutely no planning, Jeannette and I would have had the best time ever galavanting around Paris and other parts of France. She is one of only a few people that I am comfortable being my silly, stupid self around.

That being said, I did some research about Paris before she arrived and decided. Her boyfriend told her that she had to visit Montmartre, so I was sure to plan many things in the area. While doing research I stumbled upon this bakery/café that had awesome reviews. The name of the café was “Coquelicot” or “Poppy.” ‘Coquelicot’ also happens to be my latest favorite word in French. I think it is such a cute word! As an added bonus, this was the only place in Paris I had found that serves an ‘American’ sized coffee. The coffee actually comes by the bowl, which was just what we both needed to get up going on our last day in Paris. Did I mention, that it took almost an hour to get to ‘Coquelicot’ from our hotel? Jeannette was willing to go on this adventure, if it meant coffee by the bowlful.

What I forgot to mention to Jeannette was the number of stairs that were going to be involved to reach our destination. In addition to stairs, they were of course spiral stairs! Jeannette’s favorite! After this adventure to Montmartre Jeannette decided to rename Paris ‘The City of Steps.” Breakfast was wonderful: bowls of coffee, scrambled eggs (not very French, but what we needed for the long day ahead of us), and bread with butter and different jams. This was the day we were going on our street art tour, so we knew that we wouldn’t be eating a real lunch, and wanted to make sure that we would survive many hours of walking.

After a failed attempt at finding the Berlin Wall at la Défense, I did some research and discovered there was another piece in Paris, at Porte de Versailles. After breakfast we decided to venture to see if we would be successful at finding the Berlin Wall. Luckily, we were successful this time! Jeannette was very excited to be able to see an actual piece of the wall. It was a cool experience. By the time we finished this adventure it was time for us to head toward our Street Art tour. Remember Jeannette and I get lost, a lot, so we made sure to give ourselves almost two hours to find the meeting place for the tour. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we decided to pre-game before our tour, as it was very cold. We decided to give Irish coffee a try, as it was cold outside.

 

That night we had a vegetarian dinner, at a vegetarian restaurant near Notre Dame. The food was okay, but not fantastic. I was happy to have finally found a vegetarian restaurant in France. After dinner we went back to our hotel to get our luggage so that we could begin our journey back to Tours. After getting our luggage, we hopped back on the metro (turned out to be the wrong line, but I realized just in time), hopped back on the right line, and made our way to Gare d’Austerlitz for our journey home.

Feels Like Home

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Some things you need to know about what happens when Jeannette and I are together. We tend to do stupid things. Things that we normally wouldn’t do, but for some reason seem like a great idea because we are doing them together. Prior to my moving to France, Jeannette and I had a Detroit Day where we just drove/walked around the city like crazy people. There’s a local publication, MetroTimes, which created a list of 100 things every Detroiter should to do before they die (check out the list here). I’ve always been a big fan of lists, whether I created them, or found them. This list was no exception. As I knew I would be moving to France, I made it my personal mission to accomplish as many things as possible on this list. While we are still debating the exact number that we accomplished (we actually pulled out the list and discussed it in France), great times were had on many adventures, but by far one of the best days of our friendship so far was Detroit Day.

Leading up to Detroit Day we had spent some time discovering local art and artists, especially in the form of street art. One of the places we visited during Detroit Day was the Packard Plant, which has some awesome street art. Unfortunately, much of the art is on the inside of this crumbling building. The Packard Plant is also located in one of the shadier parts of Detroit. However, that did not stop us from getting out of the car to take a few pictures. During the few minutes that we were outside of the car, a man on his bicycle tried to convince us to follow him into the Packard Plant and he’d show us exactly where the best art was located. Luckily, this was one of the rare times we were both on the same page, and knew better than to follow this man.

I like to think that it was this day that truly sparked our bond with street art. We explored various neighborhoods in Detroit and I really began to develop an appreciation of it. Before Jeannette came to France, she sent me a link to a street art tour in Paris. We decided that it would be worth checking out, so we bought tickets. What we didn’t realize when we signed up was that the tour was entirely in French (not a problem for me, but a major challenge for Jeannette). However, the night before our scheduled tour, we received an email inviting us to attend the Sunday tour rather than the Saturday tour, as they were launching the English tours on Sunday. Of course, we opted for the Sunday tour instead.

The tour was through a company called Underground Paris, and took place in the 13ème Arrondissement of Paris. Since moving to France, I’ve discovered that the 13ème is actually one of my favorite areas in Paris, so I was excited to learn about the street art here. The tour was interesting, but also a little bit disappointing, as it focused primarily on commissioned art, rather than traditional street art. One thing that I found to be particularly cool was how supportive the major in the 13ème Arrondissement is of street art. In fact, it’s actually the mayor who has commissioned most of the murals and art to be painted.

The tour lasted a little over three areas and covered most of the arrondissement. Afterwords, Jeannette and I realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch, and decided that a snack was in order. We wanted to stay in this general area, so we walked back to some cafés and brasseries we had passed earlier. We found a restaurant with ‘service continu’ (non-stop service) and decided to go there. Jeannette had made it a mission for us to have have wine with every meal, so of course we began with wine. We also decided that we would split a vegetarian pizza. Turns out, pizza was the only thing they weren’t serving. Disappointed, we look over the menu again, only to discover that the only vegetarian option left was fries. We split an order of fries and drank our wine while unthawing from the street art tour.

Best of Intentions

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Sometimes, the best planned events turn into the biggest adventure possible. This was exactly what happened with Jeannette and me on our second day in Paris. On my last trip to Paris I discovered a fromagerie near the Pantheon that I fell in love with and immediately decided that Jeannette and I had to visit it when she was in France. I also learned from my last experience to bring paper plates, plastic knives, and plastic wine glasses. I had done all of this preparing prior to my arrival in Paris. I had bought all the necessary supplies, and even remembered to bring my corkscrew.

DSC06233After spending a few hours sightseeing, Jeannette and I decided to stop and buy the fresh materials for our little French picnic, as we were in the area. We decided to get goat cheese covered in chives and brie stuffed with truffles from the fromagerie. We then bought a bottle of wine to go with it from the wine store next to the fromagerie. A few shops down was a boulangerie, where we bought the baguette for our picnic. Our final stop was the pâtisserie for some macarrons. Things were falling nicely into place. We had all the necessary materials for an awesome picnic. We decided to wander toward the Luxembourg Gardens for our picnic. We walked around the gardens for a bit and then found what we thought was a perfect picnic location. The first thing that went wrong: one of the plastic wine glasses I had packed cracked. As I was unloading my bag, I handed Jeannette the bottle of wine, so I could get the plates out. Jeannette set the bottle of wine down on the bench, and the next thing we know, the bottle of wine is shattered on the ground. We decided to try and make the best of this not so great picnic, when the baguette blew off the bench, along with the macaroons, and Jeannette’s purse. Needless to say, this was not quite the picnic we had planned.

With our failed picnic behind us, we decided to continue exploring Paris. We wandered around the Pantheon for a bit, then headed toward le Louvre and the Tuileries. Of course, because we found another Christmas Market, more vin chaud was in order (not to mention the fact that our original wine was soaking the ground). We then explored different neighborhoods, including la Défénse (with another awesome Marché Noël). This was probably my favorite Marché Noël that I have visited in France. Not too many people, felt less touristy than the others, andDSC06234 beautiful lights. The reason we had ventured over to this part of Paris was because there is a piece of the Berlin Wall in this area. However, after much walking around (without much direction) in the wind and the rain, we discovered that the Berlin Wall was missing. We are fairly certain that we found where it should have been, but there was a temporary wall surrounding a big hole.

I forgot to mention, we began our day by crossing off something that has been on my list for the past sixteen years. Jeannette and I were able to visit the catacombs. I’ve read a great deal about the catacombs of Paris and have wanted to visit them since I was in middle school. Also, since moving to France I’ve learned a great deal about how cemeteries work in general, and have become very interested in learning more. The catacombs were amazing. It was the only truly touristy thing we did while we were in Paris, but I think it was worth the wait.

Again, dinner proved to be an adventure. This dinner was more peaceful in that we were able to sit and have a conversation with each other. However, our server was not the greatest, and kept bumping into and hitting Jeannette with various things. We also had dessert after dinner, but Jeannette’s mousse au chocolat ended up being more like a chocolate ganache.

In addition to the adventures described above, Jeannette and I also had a great time laughing with each other. She is the only person I do not feel pressure from when traveling together, because we are both as likely to get us lost. We just go with wherever we end up and make the best of it. Whenever we were on the metro, I was only allowed to explain the number of stops we had left using factors of four. We also managed to get lost walking in a straight line trying to find the bakery we were going to for breakfast.

Our second day ended with us discovering that there was still no heat in our hotel room. Prior to leaving that morning I explained the problem with the heat to the receptionist. He assured me that he would check into it. When we returned soaking wet to the hotel, we were really looking forward to a warm hotel room. We quickly discovered that the heat was still not working in the bedroom, but was now working in the bathroom. I called down to the front desk to explain the problem once again, to which I was told, “It’s not my problem. There’s nothing I can do. Maybe if you leave the bathroom door open, the heat will make its way into the bedroom.” Needless to say, I am not happy with my experience at Hôtel Manet and would definitely not recommend this hotel to anyone, only because of the terrible customer service.

Blue Dot Lies!

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After being reunited with Grown Up Me (Jeannette) it felt as though we had never been separated A few things you need to know about me and Jeannette. When we are together we:

  • both lack any sense of direction
  • are clumsy
  • are silly-stupid
  • got lost without even trying
  • wine is very important
  • communicating without using real words

Since moving to France I’ve had many wonderful and unforgettable adventures. However, most of my adventures have been solo adventures, so I was super excited about having adventures with my partner in crime. Of course, the moment we were reunited our adventures began. Getting from the airport to the city went relatively smoothly, except for the French man who thought he was in charge of the RER and made rude comments about everything anyone did on the train.

We had to switch from the RER to the metro when we arrived in Paris, and then switch to another metro line. We were staying in the 13th Arrondissement, near Place d’Italie. This has become my favorite neighborhood when staying in Paris. Calm, yet energetic, great location. If you are planning a trip to Paris, I strongly recommend that you stay in this area.

DSC06220Our first mission was to drop off our luggage at the hotel. Sounds easy enough, which means Jeannette and I were in for an adventure. According to Google Maps, the hotel was 250m from the metro, and should only take about 4 minutes to find. I had Google Maps opened and was following the blue dot very carefully. After walking in circles (literally circles) for almost 10 minutes we were right back where we had started. Of course, our metro stop led us to an intersection with a roundabout in the middle. We decided to try and take a short-cut but walking across the island in the middle of the roundabout. What we didn’t realize until it was too late, was that there was only one way on and off this little island. So, dragging luggage behind us, we walked all the way around the roundabout, only to exit the exact same way that we entered. By some miracle, we eventually found our hotel. And it only took us a little over half an hour!

We stayed at Hôtel Manet, which had great reviews on every website I could find. We arrived well before check-in, but we just planning on storing our luggage at the hotel. Luckily, there was a room available when we arrived, so we were able to check into our room several hours early. The room was nice enough, by Paris standards. We sat down for a few minutes, turned the heat on, and came up with a plan for our afternoon/evening. My mom sent some Christmas presents with Jeannette, so we opened those before beginning our adventures. I had been complaining about my pyjamas not looking so great anymore, so my mom sent some new pyjamas, which were much appreciated. Jeannette and I also got matching MSU Cotton Bowl t-shirts (go green!). Probably the coolest gift I received was a calendar Jeannette and my mom made together, with our pets. Listening to the stories about the process of making this calendar made me smile.

Our first stop in Paris was Notre Dame, as it was on both Per and my list of things Jeannette had to do. Of all the things we saw and did in Paris, Notre Dame was one of the least memorable for Jeannette, until we walked along the side. The gargoyles were so cool to see again, and I think the only memorable part of this structure for Jeannette. We then wandered around Île de la Cité and the nearby areas. Pont de l’Archevêché (one of the bridges that has been covered in locks), the oldest park in Paris, Memorial des Martyrs de la Déportation (being renovated, of course), Centre Pompidou, Hôtel de Ville, l’Arc de Triomphe, and Saint-Michel fountain, and la Tour Eiffel.

DSC06223Because it was the end of December, the Christmas markets were still going strong in Paris. There are many different Marché de Noël in Paris, with the most well-known being on the Champs-Élysées. Oh my goodness was le Champs-Élysées crazy! We promptly bought some vin chaud and marrons grillées. We did some people watching and just talked for a bit. It was surreal to be sitting on a bench on the Champs-Élysées, drinking warm wine, and talking with my best friend like we had just seen each other a few days ago. After our short pause, we decided to venture toward Trocadéro for Jeannette’s first glimpse of la Tour Eiffel. Jeannette’s reaction to la Tour Eiffel was perfect! I had forgotten how astonishing it is to see the tower, and was so glad that she was not disappointed by what she saw.

By this point, Jeannette had been awake for well over 36 hours. We decided to try and find somewhere to eat dinner. Both of us are vegetarians, and Jeannette thought that I was exaggerating about how difficult it was to find a vegetarian option at many restaurants in France. After looking at the menus of countless restaurants, we decided to just venture back toward Place d’Italie and find something near our hotel. We ended up finding a brasserie near our hotel. It was a cute restaurant and the servers were friendly and accommodating. Dinner was going along splendidly, until we had an elderly woman seated directly next to us who felt the need to talk to us (because she spoke English…). We were the only three customers in the restaurant, so why this woman was seated directly next to us I don’t understand (except for the fact that we were in France).

All things considered, we had an awesome first day in Paris. We spent more time being lost than we did knowing where we were going, but I wouldn’t change anything about it.

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When Grown Up Me Came to France

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I’ve been in France for almost five months (what?!) and was doing okay with being away from my family and friends, until Christmas was getting close. While I am not religious, I do enjoy spending time with the people I love, and being about 4,000 miles away was making this a very difficult year for me. Matt and Ben returned to the States to celebrate Christmas, so I was going to be left alone in France. Luckily, my friends Bruno and Lionel stepped up and suggested that I spend le Réveillon and Noël with them. I’m going to write an entire post about this experience later, but I really want to reminiscence on the time I spent with my dearest and bestest friend, Jeannette.

We had been planning her arrival in France practically since I found out that I would be moving here. We had the dates picked out, but didn’t buy the tickets right away. Because she bought the tickets so far in advance, it didn’t seem real.  I never forgot that she was coming, but there were many times that it did not seem possible that she would be in France with me, if that makes any sense. Leading up to her arrival, we spent a great deal of time talking about the things we wanted to see and do. One of the reasons that we are such great friends is because we have the same interests and travel styles. Neither of us want to do only the touristy things, but rather would spend time exploring the less touristy parts of a city. Of course, with her coming to France, there were a few non-negotiables that was had to do: see la Tour Eiffel, see le Louvre (not necessarily go inside), see l’Arc de Triomphe (not necessarily go to the top), visit Notre Dame, visit Montmartre. In addition to my must-visit list, her boyfriend also gave her a list. Her boyfriend is originally from Sweden and has lived and worked in many different European countries.

On the day of Jeannette’s arrival, Friday, 26 December 2014, I was so excited I could not sleep. In addition to my excitement, there were a few other factors that were keeping me awake.

  1. The night before, all of the wires that powered the trains had been cut between Tours and Paris (the route I needed to take). This meant that all trains were being re-routed or cancelled.
  2. Once I arrived in Paris, I had to get on the metro and then get on the RER to get to the airport. I am no longer afraid of transferring different lines, but rather afraid of unexpected delays.

Of course, the morning of Jeannette’s arrival I was super excited. Luckily, the trains were running normally and I made it to Paris without any significant problems. The train was a few minutes late, which normally isn’t a big deal, but this time I just wanted to get to the airport! I had been tracking Jeannette’s flight the entire journey from Tours to Paris, and of course, she arrived early. Early as in I was just approaching Paris when she landed. Another fun fact about this adventure is that Jeannette did not have a working phone. Her phone would only work when connected to WiFi, which of course, was not working at the airport.

After navigating from Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord, I successfully made it to the RER B, or so I thought. Turns out, there was an ‘incident’ that had interrupted the RER B line, so the trains were delayed for an unspecified amount of time. The trains ended up being delayed by almost an hour, which is significant considering this train runs once every 8-10 minutes. I was stuck on the quai waiting for a train, with no way to contact Jeannette. I was eventually able to talk to Jeannette (thanks to the kind person at the information desk who let her call me from the airport phone). I explained about all of the problems with the RER and that I would be there ASAP. After what felt like forever I successfully made it to CDG and found Jeannette. As so began the adventures of Grown Up Me and Mini Me!

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