Tag Archives: Paris France

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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A Quick Update

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It’s been a bit since my last post. Things have been busy and a lot has happened. Last month was the Charlie Hebdo attack, and it was interesting to be an American abroad during that time. I happened to be in Paris the day of the attack, and how the French handled it was completely different than what would have happened in the States. I was able to make it back to Tours without any troubles, but daily life in France was just different for many weeks following the attack. In all honesty, I was never scared or nervous, but my family and friends did not handle it so well.

Teaching has been the same. Some days are really amazing, and others are really awful. I’ve not once regretted my decision to come here for this opportunity and am excited for all the possibilities in my future. However, there are some days when I feel incredibly lonely and isolated, but I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. It’s hard to believe that my contract is almost over. I’m really looking forward to being able to travel extensively and for my mom to visit. I’m actually getting really, really excited for my mom to come and share this part of my life with me.

I’m currently on mid-winter break from school. Earlier this week I went to Budapest, which was amazing. As much as I love France and western Europe, I am truly falling in love with Eastern Europe. Visiting new places is really helping me to discover and appreciate my heritage. I’m trying to plan my next weekend getaway, and I have a few specific places in mind. Here’s to hoping I can make them all happen. I’m also working on a trip to a suburb of Paris to see Captain Ivory, a Michigan band that is currently touring Europe. My best friend and I discovered this band last year at Metrotimes Blowout, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them in France.

Also, while I was in Budapest the cutest coffee shop I’ve found in France opened on my street. It’s run by a bunch of French-hipsters and they have ice, which is the best news ever. I’m going to work on writing a post about my adventures around Budapest this evening or tomorrow. That’s pretty much all that has been happening in my life. Oh, and my parents adopted another dog. Her name is Brooke and she is pretty stinkin’ cute.

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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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My Next Adventure

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This Friday, straight from my school, I will take the tram to the train station and head to Paris for my next solo-adventure. This time, I am headed to Copenhagen, Denmark. After much research, I decided that this would be my next destination for several reasons.

  • The weather should be colder and more wintery (based on current weather forecasts, I don’t necessarily believe this to be true)
  • I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful
  • They have what is considered on of the best Christmas Markets in the world
  • The display of Christmas lights was designed by the head designer at Tiffany & Co.

My tickets have been bought, and tomorrow I will print them. I’ve also been researching things to do in Copenhagen. I’ve started my own list, but if anyone has suggestions of must see/do while visiting Copenhagen, please let me know. I love doing the non-touristy things when traveling, so I’m open for any suggestions.

Matthew’s Surprise!

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Matt’s birthday is this week. He is not a big fan of birthdays or having a lot of attention given to him. We’ve been talking about his birthday for quite some time, especially what he might want as a birthday gift. Let’s just say that his ideas and suggestions were less than helpful. Luckily, I had a few ideas up my sleeve, so I did not have a problem coming up with what I thought was an awesome gift.

As awesome as I thought my gift was, I would never be able to top the gift he received a few days before his actual birthday. There has been a surprise in the works for many months. When I say surprise, I am talking about a surprise of epic proportions. I was fortunate enough to be in on the surprise and to help Ben plan some of the details. Keeping things a surprise is very challenging, especially when Matt has a way of finding everything out.

On Tuesday, October 21st Matt’s dad, Roger, and stepmom, Toshi, arrived in Paris. This was both of their first trips to France and the occasion for their visit was Matt’s birthday. Ben went to the airport to pick them up and I stayed in Tours to make sure that everything went according to plan. Matt worked the night before at the hotel, which meant that he was going to sleep until early afternoon. My job was simple: make sure he was awake and did not leave the house prior to Roger and Toshi’s arrival.

Luckily, I had some online classes to teach that morning, and as I am still waiting for the Internet to be installed at my apartment it was the perfect excuse for me to hang out all morning at Matt and Ben’s. Of course, the one morning that Matt had to be awake at a somewhat normal time he decided to stay in bed and hit snooze four times! By the third time I was up and about moving around trying to wake Matt, without making him mad.

Eventually, Matt got out of bed and came downstairs to the kitchen. We talked for a bit, while I was texting with Ben to get constant updates on their ETA. After what seemed like hours, the door bell rang. A little back story, Matt loathes the doorbell. Every time it sounds he becomes enraged and has a one man show about how much he hates the doorbell. This time was no different. Except that on the other side of the door was his dad and stepmom. Ben filmed the event from the street and I filmed from the house. It was an awesome moment to witness!

Of course Matt had not showered and was still in his pyjamas, however he was so overwhelmed by the moment that he didn’t really seem to care. Until he realized we had filmed the whole experience. The next several hours were a blur, but so much fun! This was the first time I had met Roger and Toshi and I was very happy to be included in this very personal moment with Matt.

For Matt’s actual birthday there was a bit of a ‘surprise party’ at his house. I spent the day preparing from my upcoming vacation and cleaning my apartment. Because I don’t have the internet I’ve been spending a lot of time at a bar/café on the same street as my apartment. I’ve become a regular, and the best part is the resident border collie, Goomba. I now can get puppy cuddles on a daily basis! 🙂 That afternoon I was hanging out at le Bartók being productive when I saw Matt and Ben wander by and then come in. Turns out, they had just stopped by my apartment to invite me to grab a drink in honor of Matt’s birthday. Since I was already at the bar, I put my computer away and spent time chatting with them. (The whole time Ben and I were having a secret combination about the upcoming events for the night).

Once we finished our drinks we parted ways. Matt wanted me to return home with them, as ‘we were having a traditional French dinner’ for his birthday. I told him that I had to stop by my apartment and drop off my computer and to get his birthday present, but that I would come over shortly. I arrived at his house and it seemed like any other night. We were hanging out in his kitchen and talking. We were all drinking either a coffee or a water and were about to being our apéro. During this time Matt opened his gifts and was completely oblivious to the impending events.

As we were opening presents and talking the doorbell rang. (This completely reminded me of the book “The Doorbell Rang.” The first guest was our friend Céline. Matt was completely surprised, as he had only moments before finished saying how he had to introduce his dad and stepmom to Céline. Over the next 90 minutes the doorbell rang many, many more times. Each time, Matt had the same reaction. It was such a low-key relaxed night, but also a perfect way to celebrate Matt.

We ate, drank, and talked for many, many hours. This was a turning moment for me, as it was the first event in France that I felt neither intimidated nor out of place. I was comfortable starting conversations with each of the guests. Also, I was able to act as a translator for Roger and Toshi, which was a huge boost in my confidence.

Around 1am many people started to leave, but I hung around talking with my new ‘family.’ After several more hours and several heartfelt conversations, I decided it was time for me to head home. At this point it was about 5am. What an experience walking home at 5am. I was not scared, but it was a new experience for me.

All things considered, I would say that Matt’s birthday was a huge success. I also think that this birthday is going to be near impossible to top!

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Hop a Plane

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Note: I started this post while waiting at CDG for my flight to Prague. Because of an unstable internet connection I had to stop writing until I returned from my vacation. Below is what I originally started.

So, I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to depart. Today marks the beginning of my second week of vacation for la Toussaint. Last week I stayed local because it was Matt’s birthday and his dad and stepmom surprised him with a visit.

Saturday morning I began my real vacation. I took a train from Tours to Paris. I had been to Paris many times before, but was looking forward to this trip because I would be showing a friend around. This was a good challenge for me because when I am with my French speaking friends I tend to rely on them to do most of the talking and question asking. Traveling with a friend who didn’t speak French really helped to push me outside of my comfort zone and to prove to myself that I truly can survive in France.

Paris was wonderful. I arrived a few hours before my friend and hung out at Les Deux Magots. If you ever find yourself in Paris on a cool fall or winter day be sure to visit this café and order the hot chocolate. Oh my yummy! This place is a pit pricey, but an interesting experience for a quick drink and is rich in literature related history. After enjoying my hot chocolate I wandered across the street to explore the church and to view some art nearby.

Once I met up with my friend our whirlwind trip began. We had about 30 hours to see and do as much as possible. We had talked about the most important things to do/see prior to our trip, so we had a plan of action. Our first stop was Notre Dame, as we hoped to go on the gargoyle tour. The line was the longest I had ever seen it, so we decided to try that activity a little later. While we were there we visited the cathedral. Over the course of all of my trips I have probably visited Notre Dame a dozen times. This trip was especially fun because Patrick didn’t know much about the cathedral, so I was able to share all of my knowledge.

From Notre Dame we wandered over to the nearby Saint Chapelle. I had heard about this church, but this was my first time visiting. What makes Saint Chapelle special is its stained glass windows. There are two levels to this church. If you visit be sure to see both, as the second level is much more impressive. While at Saint Chapelle we also bought a Paris Museum Pass, which not only included admission to many of Paris’s most popular attractions, but also allowed you to sometimes skip the line and gain immediate access. The pass was 42€ for 2-days and in my opinion, worth every centime.

While in this area we were also sure to visit Saint-Michael’s fountain. I was recently told that this is one of the most famous fountains in Europe. While I have not. Drifted this statement, after visiting the fountain again I can understand why. We also visited Pont des Arts, one of the bridges covered in locks. I had seen pictures of this bridge, but had never actually been able to find it. I was excited because this has been on my list for many years. We also visited the oldest public park in Paris, which is located just on the other side of Notre Dame.

After wandering around Île de la Cité for some time we made our way over to le Louvre. Again, I have visited this destination many times, but always look forward to visiting because of the massive collection of art it houses. Of course Patrick wanted to see la Joconde, or as she is known in English, the Mona Lisa. Somehow we managed to make our way to the front of the crowd in a matter of moments. We then wandered around the museum for a little of an hour before we both got tired of the crowds. We also decided that now would be a good time for a beverage break and to find our hotel, so we could drop off our backpacks.

We successfully made it to our hotel, which ended up being nicer than I expected. We stayed near Place d’Italie, which I had never explored. The area seemed safe and slightly less expensive than staying in the city centre. After a brief pause, we worked our way over to Montmartre to see the Moulin Rouge and Sacré Coeur. There seemed to be significantly fewer stairs leading up to Sacré Coeur than I remembered. However, it was also significantly cooler than the summer of 2007.

We ended our first day in Paris by visiting l’Arc de Triomphe to get an aerial view of Paris. I told Patrick that I preferred the view from l’Arc de Triomphe because you were able to see la Tour Eiffel and it was less crowded than many other tourist sites.

We concluded our night with dinner at a cute restaurant, the name of which I forget. We called the night relatively early, as we planned to get up early the following morning to get in line to go to the top of la Tour Eiffel. And I’m not sure that our feet could have walked one step more.

So concludes day number one of my vacation.