Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Got back to Florida last night and I'm still pretty disoriented - not so much from the jet lag, but from being thrust back into "this" reality after a month living a completely different kind of life. It's hard to describe what it's like to be back. On one hand, it feels like it's been forever that I've been gone. On the other, I can easily see being able to slip right back into this life and have Paris seem like a distant memory pretty quickly - almost like a wonderful dream you're sad to wake up from. Such a strange feeling. Luckily I don't have to wake up just yet!

You know, after not driving for a month I thought it would feel weird, but it didn't (guess it's like riding a bike). Ironically though, it took me a few minutes to remember how to use my TV remotes and the TIVO ;-) My house seems so big - given that I've been basically living in one room the past month. But I miss my little place in Paris and I'm anxious to get back to begin "leg 2" of this journey.

After a brief visit to take care of some logistical issues and see family and friends... I'll be flying back to Paris this coming Tuesday, December 2nd.

Once I'm back in Paris next week, I'll resume my daily blogging and posting of photos for the remainder of my stay.

So beginning next Wednesday, start checking back again as I continue my Adventure in the City of Lights... an opportunity and experience that on this Thanksgiving, I am profoundly grateful for.

Until then...
Au Revoir

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Day in the Latin Quarter

With the amount of ground I covered today, you'd think it really WAS my last day here! The Latin Quarter is my favorite area of the city, over by Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sorbonne. But surprisingly, there were a few major sites in that area that I had never seen on previous trips - Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, Saint Severin, Sainte-Chapelle - just to name a few. Well today I saw them all :-)

I started out with a walk through Luxembourg Gardens. It was lunchtime so there were lots of locals enjoying the park on their lunch hour - despite the fact it was in the 30s today! But it really was a beautiful day. Throughout the park are statues, flowers and trees. The trees are all bare now because it's winter, but it was still very picturesque.

From the Luxembourg Gardens I made my way over to the Pantheon which is by the University of Paris. There was a protest going on (I took some video). I'm still not exactly sure what they were protesting about.. the signs said something about "masacaring" and "archeology"??? I didn't see or hear "Bush" or the US, so I figured it was safe ;-)

As I walked past the University on my way towards the Seine, I stumbled upon Saint Severin. You know, I think this is actually the church I was thinking of from the movie The DaVinci Code (I'm going to have to rent it and see - it's driving me crazy now!). Kind of eerie, but beautiful flying buttresses and stained glass windows.

For the first time since I've been here, I decided to go and have a nice sit down meal at a restaurant since I was right around the corner from my favorite little restaurant, Le Harpe. Sherri knows Le Harpe - we ate here when we came to Paris for New Years a few years ago! And I come and have a meal here every time I am in Paris. (French) Onion Soup, Steak Au Poivre & Potatoes Gratin. Followed by desert - which for me, is a nice selection of fromage (cheeses). Yummo!

After my lunch/dinner, I wandered through the narrow, winding pedestrian only streets of the Latin Quarter and crossed the Seine in front of Notre Dame on my way to what ended up being the unexpected highlight of the day - Sainte-Chapelle.

I guess I never really read very closely the descriptions of Sainte-Chapelle, because I was not prepared for what I saw when I entered. Unlike many of the churches in Paris, Sainte-Chapelle is not free - you have to pay an entrance fee. Once inside, I was thinking - for this? I mean, it was pretty, but... then I noticed a tiny door and winding staircase.

Up the staircase I went and when I finally reached the top, what I saw took my breath away. This was Sainte-Chapelle. Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1242-1248 and that in itself is astounding. But when you enter the Upper Chapel, you are surrounded by wall-to-wall amazing stained glass windows - some 1,113 panels that tell the stories of the Bible from Genesis through the time of Jesus. And if that weren't enough, there is also a beautiful rose window (like in Notre Dame).

As I was standing there with my jaw hanging open, I grabbed for my sightseeing book and flipped to the Sainte-Chapelle page. Here's what it said (that I apparently had never read)... "As you emerge, via a spiral staircase... the effect of light and color is breathtaking." The guide book was spot on with that description!

What is even more amazing is that all of the stained glass is original, dating back to the 13th Century - the oldest stained glass in Paris. I took video in addition to a ton of photos to attempt to capture the essence of this place. Hopefully it translates. One thing is for sure, if you come to Paris, put Sainte-Chapelle at the TOP of your sightseeing list!

Click here to view all of today's photos (11/25/08)

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Bargain Shopping Expedition

So one thing I haven't done very much of since I've been here is shop. Crazy, right - afterall, I'm in Paris?!? A store I've heard a lot about (and seen a ton of advertisements for) that I wanted to go to is called Tati. Tati has been around for something like 60 years as is a little hard to describe. Like the big department stores, there are several different Tati stores: women's clothes, kids clothes, shoes, jewelry, household decor, etc. But Tati is not a high end store - it's a bargain hunters delight and the stores take up a whole block.

I wanted to go to Tati to try and find some Paris looking clothes - inexpensive Paris looking clothes. The sizes in Europe are completely different than in the US and trying things on is very complicated, so I wanted to buy a few things - without trying them on - which is always tricky, at least for me.

So inside the store the clothes (and prices) reminded me of Ross - which is good. The real bargains are outside in huge bins you have to dig through - talk about a free for all! A little too crazy for me. I did manage to find a few things and miraculously they all fit - more or less ;-) I got a couple of staple items (long sleeve shirt, long sleeve sweater) and a really cute top and a sweater dress to wear over tights with boots (oh la la!) - he, he! Oh yeah, and a cool scarf. Total cost? 34 euros (about $44). That's about as cheap as it gets in Paris!

Eglise Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois

After I came back and dropped off the bags from my shopping expedition, I was going to spend the afternoon in the Louvre. But as I walked over to the museum from my apartment, I rounded a corner and saw a church I had somehow never seen before so I had to explore it!

The church was Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois and it was built in the 15th century. Inside were gorgeous stained glass window. A little internet research when I got back to the apartment shows that they are original and date back to the Renaissance period. Also inside was a huge pipe organ which apparently was originally ordered by Louis XVI for Sainte-Chapelle but somehow ended up here.

The wonderful thing about Paris is that you find a treasure like this around nearly every corner. And that's why if you love the city as much as I do, you need a long stay to really see it. Because on a short stay you hit the "big ticket items" which easily fill a week (or two or three). But having this extra time to just wander around and explore has been (and will continue to be when I return) priceless.

Anyhow, by the time I got done at the church, it was really too late to make going to the Louvre worthwhile. I'll hit the museum when I'm back in December and have more time. So for the remainder of the day I walked all the way up the Rue de Rivoli which runs parallel with the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries, to the Place de la Concorde, then turned around and walked back. All along this street are tourist shops, so I managed to pick up a few trinkets - a key holder, a christmas tree ornament.

It started to rain, so I dashed across the street and into the Carousel du Louvre - an underground shopping/dining plaza connected to the Louvre and walked around in there for a bit. After a quick stop in Sephora, I jumped on the Metro and headed home.

Click here to view all of today's photos (11/24/08)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Breaking News....

Going to London yesterday pretty much wiped me out - I slept until noon today. And unless it starts snowing - which it may, the weather forecast said it might - I don't plan on going out today. I'm just going to stay in and rest. I've actually had my heater on all day for the first time since I've been here. So I've just been blogging and starting to organize things for the return trip on Wednesday - you know, figuring out what to bring back, what to leave here, etc.

Oh, didn't I mention that after Thanksgiving I'm coming back to Paris for another 3 weeks? Oops! Must have slipped my mind ;-)

So about a week or so ago I was in French class and things were really starting to click. Meanwhile I was running around like crazy trying to see and do everything I want to see and do before my trip was over. And then a thought entered my mind... I began to wonder about the possibility of coming back for a few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I asked Parisian Home (the apartment rental agency) if this apartment was available so that I could just extend my stay for another month and not have to move or anything, and they said yes. So.... after a lot of thought (and a few emergency calls to some of you for advice), I decided to do it.

After all, I'm already here. I'm already settled into the apartment. I really want to continue the French language instruction. I have the frequent flyer miles so the airfare is free, and I really want to be here now that the city is starting to deck itself out for Christmas.

In the end, it came down to the fact that I am lucky enough right now to be able to do this and may not ever have this chance again.

So I am coming back to Florida this Wednesday as planned and will be home for a week to check on my house, visit with people, stuff myself with yummy Thanksgiving fixins that you CAN'T get in Paris, put up my Christmas tree(s), indulge in some mindless television (remember, all I get here in English is CNBC, SkyNews and Aljazeera), set up my Mom's new computer (and get her on Skype), celebrate my birthday with my Mom and nieces and buy some much needed warmer clothes at the day-after-thanksgiving sales! Then, the following Tuesday, Dec 2nd, I will be returning to Paris.

I will be able to complete 2 more full weeks of intensive French classes at the Alliance Francaise. That will give me a total of 4 weeks (or 80 hours of intensive instruction), which will be really good since you really need to know French and English to work at UNESCO - you know, the place I hope to work someday ;-) And I also plan on doing a little more traveling around Europe during December while I am here since it is so easy - definitely Brussels, possibly Prague or another city that has a traditional Christmas Market.

And then I will be returning to Florida on Sunday, December 21st in time for Christmas.

What can I say.... I love Paris :-)

p.s. If anyone wants to come to Paris for a few days in December, I'm an excellent tour guide. And I have a cot! LOL

Le Radio

My favorite radio station here in Paris that I listen to everyday is 100.3 Energy. What's funny is that I finally realized after almost a month that it really isn't "Energy" it's NRJ - the stations's call letters (you pronounce J like G in French). Half the music is ours (Beyonce, Pink, Brittney Spears, Coldplay, etc.) and the other half is French pop music (which is quite good). So you might hear one song in English, then two in French, then two in English, etc. Pretty cool. They broadcast on the Web so if you have a broadband connection and want to check it out, click here to listen live to NRJ and hear what I'm hearing!

About Living in a Tiny Studio Apartment....

It has been interesting going from living in a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house to a tiny studio apartment that doesn't have a clothes dryer or a dishwasher.

I actually kind of like the smaller space. Though to be honest, on a more permanent basis I would need something just a little bigger - like a one bedroom apartment where my living room didn't serve double duty as my bedroom!

The Kitchen
When it comes to the kitchen, I really like cooking but I really HATE doing dishes - even at home with a dishwasher - so having to wash and dry everything by hand is not something I'd long to do on a permanent basis. Plus, the kitchen in this apartment is the size of a closet and has NO counter space, so cooking a meal is very tricky because there is no place to set things out. Also, I only have a toaster oven (not a full size oven) which most of the time is fine. But it's hard to broil a proper steak in a toaster oven :-) And I like to make pot roasts on occasion - something you can't do in a toaster oven. But I did manage to make one (that turned out quite good actually) in a pot on the stove top, kind of like a crock pot version. What they say is true... necessity is the mother of invention.

The Bathroom
Well, I think you all know how I feel about the "Shower of Death"... Actually, the shower has been fine after 'le accident' - since then, I found a proper shower mat (the suction cup fish just weren't cutting it). But I do miss having a tub for occasional baths. Especially since it's so cold out. It was a real pleasure having a tub at the hotel in Geneva. But that really is minor thing. My only real issue with the bathroom is that there is hardly any counter space to put anything out on (makeup, hair products, contact stuff, etc.). There is a little space underneath the sink to put things, but not much. And while there is a shelf - it's way up close to the ceiling above the toliet and I'd need a ladder to reach it, so it really isn't usable - at least not by 5'2 me!

Doing Laundry
It was kind of funny when I finally broke down and did a load. I kept putting it off because everything about the tiny little machine was foreign and not intuitive - not even how/where to put the clothes in! The whole time the load was running, I fully expected water or foam to start pouring out. It was quite a stressful experience - ha! And the machine was so loud I felt bad that I was doing it at night, because it had to have been disturbing the people in the apartment below me. But somehow I did it right and even did a subsequent load. Success!

Now about not having a clothes dryer.... a pain in the butt. There is an extremely large contraption in the closet that is a "drying rack" but the problem is my studio is so small that when the couch is pulled out into a bed AND the drying rack is out it takes up pretty much the whole apartment and it's hard to move around! But the clothes did dry and I now have clean underwear, socks and towels :-) However everything is really stiff from air drying.

Closet Space
Need more. Enough said :-)

The Neighbors
I haven't actually 'seen' anyone, but I know there are people here! I thought I was a night owl... well, whoever is in the unit above me puts me to shame. Not only is he/she up until all hours, but it sounds like they are pacing the floor in loud wooden shoes AND moving furniture around - every night - ha! I've kind of gotten used to it though. In fact, one night it was quiet (they must have been away) and I had a hard time going to sleep in the silence.

So, could I really live in a small apartment like this? Definitely. It's much easier to take care of an apartment than a huge house! But it would have to have a separate bedroom, a clothes dryer, more counter space in the bathroom, a bathtub, more counter space in the kitchen, a dishwasher and a full size oven. Oh, and be on the top floor so there aren't any noisy neighbors above me :-)

Ha! Sounds like a lot of complaining, huh? Not really. This place is actually pretty perfect for me and totally fine for a couple of months. In fact, anyone coming to visit Paris as a tourist for more than 1 week should really consider renting an apartment rather than staying at a hotel. First of all, it's A LOT cheaper. And it's really nice having a kitchen (small as it is). You save so much money going to the market and cooking rather than eating every meal out.