A “working vacation”

I realized this week that we are acting as if we are on vacation, but we’re also working full time. Well, mostly full time. What does that mean? We’re tired! But we’re not going to stop. If you remember, we were going to spend six weeks in Nice, but ended up coming to Istanbul for about three of those. Given the short amount of time we have here, we are trying to pack everything in. What’s the point of being in Istanbul if you’re hanging in the apartment?

We thought that maybe we should slow down. I’ll let you decide whether we succeeded.

Friday: We took the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Anatolian (Asian) part of Istanbul (Kudos to Sue for getting on the ferry. She gets terribly seasick and even with a patch it can be an adventure for her). Although it’s technically the East, to sure seemed a lot more Western. The clothes, the roads, even the way the people dressed. We took a long walk along the water and except for the view, we could have been in a dozen different cities. Lots of English in stores, tons of coffee shops that would have been at home in any hipster U.S. neighborhood.

Then we had lunch at Ciya in the Kadıköy Market, which features tons of restaurants and shops (pretty much like the rest of Istanbul!). The food is traditional Anatolian. We had ezme which we can’t wait to figure out how to make at home. This isn’t a food blog, so I will quit there (but there is also a pizza-like dish called lahmacun that your eat with lemon and parsley rolled into it).

We wandered some more so Steven could go to Meshur Dondurmaci Ali Usta to get ice cream that is different from regular ice cream (I will let him try to describe it) (The best I can say is that it seemed less creamy, but more sticky than American ice cream – sorry I don’t have any other way of describing it.) and headed home. The ferries are so easy to deal with and since we have our IstanbulKart, we are set. They run so frequently there’s no need to even check a schedule. We’ll write a blog on the transportation, but I thought that was worth noting.

Saturday night on Istiklal Cadessi on the walk back from the movie. Imagine this: trolleys run up and down this street and cars try to cross it. It’s an obstacle course.

We had tickets to the jazz club again and wanted a little break in between. Friday night’s jazz was OK. The band didn’t quite seem to gel and the singer sang some Stevie Wonder (?) (and some modified Aerosmith) in with the jazz standards. Steven likened it to a cruise show (or an easy listening lounge act). Not complaining at all, we just like the Tuesday band better. (We also sat upstairs and so many people were talking – mildly annoying).

Saturday: Dana (thanks again again) recommended a food market in Besiktas. We have been wondering where people get their fruits and veggies. The stores are tiny and don’t offer a very good selection. Even the produce markets are a bit thin, although we are in a touristy area and figured that was it. It was about a 20-minutes walk in the rain to get there from the train. We were a little soggy and first went to the upstairs area that has tons of clothes, random housewares and other non-food items. We were starting to get crabby when we realized we had missed a ramp that took us down to all the delicious food. Suddenly, all was perfect again. The rain stopped, we packed the backpack full and headed back home. (In an Istanbul first, it was downhill on the way to the market – but just so the city could torture us by making the walk uphill back to the train when we had a full backpack).

Soy una mierda de sumiso: CINCO PUTOS AMOS POR LOS QUE ME ...
Gratuitous Steven Daniel Craig pic

As per our taking it easy, we did spend some time in the apartment, but then hatched the plan to see “No Time to Die.” Finding the first theater was an adventure, but the man didn’t want to sell us tickets unless we were a group of four (I think). He told us to come back, so we wandered some more and found a theater (CinemaPink) inside a mall. We had to show our HES QR codes (the Turkish equivalent of the Passe Sanitaire) to get in, then again to the ticket agent. Cash only, assigned seats. Fine with us. The seats were old-time man chairs that had seen better days, but were comfortable. We sat back and started watching (English with Turkish subtitles). All of a sudden, in the middle of an action scene, the screen went blank. Then, what looked like a commercial started. People started to walk out and the lights came up. Huh. Finally, the screen said film arasi, or film break. Intermission! At exactly an hour in. In the middle of an action scene. I guess this is how it always works in Turkey.

Sunday: We took the tram to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, which is housed in Ibrahim Pasha Palace. The palace was built on top of a corner of the Hippodrome, and you can see part of it from inside the museum. The art consists of rugs (of course), ancient Qurans, Islamic treasures such as hairs from Mohammed’s beard and pottery plus clothing from more recent history. We enjoyed it. Then, it was lunchtime. Off we went to Hidden Garden, which does have a garden at the back of it. I had what was basically Turkish eggplant parm and Steven had a gigantic lamb kebab. We topped it off with pomegranate and orange teas. Sugary and delightful.

But, we’re not done. What do you know? We were across the street from the Theodosius Cistern. Can’t miss that. We had no idea what to expect. We got a laser light show! We aren’t really sure what the point was, unless it was a very abstract interpretation of the cistern’s history, but it was a enjoyable nonetheless. Because it was only 4 p.m., we decided to take the 40-minute walk home, which went right through the markets surrounding the Grand Bazaar and back over the bridge.

Relaxing weekend? What do you think?

We’re bullish on Istanbul

We’ve been in Istanbul about 29 hours now (but who’s counting) and we already decided we love it! It’s quite a change from quiet Clamecy. It’s 22:30 here and the street is still hopping, on Sunday night. Not as much as Saturday night, but there are still people milling around and browsing in shops. We are right on a main drag, on the third floor (which is four stories up since the first floor here is 0), so we can watch the world go by from on high. We are staying in a loft with glass walls so we can see the Bosphorus out one window and the Galata Tower out the other.

“I was under the mistaken impression that the streets were straight.”

Steven, when we decided to go “around the block”

Yesterday we just wandered around getting the lay of the land, but today we marched (and in case you’re unaware, this city is HILLY!)(Ok, so there are no flat areas. We are either going up or going down.). First, we tried the Grand Bazaar not realizing that it is mostly closed on Sunday. The surrounding streets are very shlocky, so we may go back when it’s really open. The best part of the walk was the view from the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn. It was lined with fishers. (We suspect they supply the restaurants that sit one after the other along the water below the bridge. They are part of the bridge, built at the waterline and extend about 1/3 of the length of the bridge on either side). Then, we headed to the Ayasofya (or Hagia Sofia), which was a church, then a mosque and is simply stunning. We stopped in at the Blue Mosque, but it is under construction and very disappointing. Corrugated metal walls cover the most of the interior walls and a drop ceiling hides the rest. Oh well. I looked at these pictures.

We kept wandering and found what we thought was a garden but turned out to be a cemetery for sultans, sooo accidental dead person bingo round 5. There was a cafe and we stopped had a cup of tea (because of course everyone puts a cafe in the middle of a cemetery – just sort of surprised that the French didn’t think to do that) and then visited Sultan Mahmod II and some of his relatives and fellow sultans.

The only hitch in our Istanbul adventure so far has been trying to buy an Istanbulkart, or a transportation card. The machines to buy them don’t give change and you have to have an ID number to get one (for Covid reasons). The app wouldn’t let us put in letters (which the ID number had, so we were temporarily thwarted). I think we have that figured out, so fingers crossed we will get those tomorrow. Instead, we went strolling on Istiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue), which is a bustling shopping street full of a lot of the same stores you find on every main shopping street around the world, but with a Turkish flavor. Street musicians, different foods, side alleys full of restaurants and bars.

Finally, we headed back toward home and had dinner at the Smyrna Art Gallery-Cafe, basically around the corner from us. The food was delicious and we met a waiter who was very nice and is moving on to greener pastures (good luck to her!) and a man who frequents the place. Then, when we thought we were completely full, they brought us an extra dish and we had to at least eat some of it. Steven likened it to mint latkahs and I agree. We’ll be going back.

This blog is dedicated to Dana, who lived in Istanbul and gave us many great ideas. Thanks, Dana! (Feel free to send us more!)

Dijon and Strasbourg and home (oh my)

Steven has taken the past couple of Fridays off for travel. This week, we weren’t leaving town until Saturday so we decided to take a day trip to Dijon, about 2 hours away. We didn’t know anything about Dijon except that we could probably get mustard. It turns out that Dijon is a fairly big city and quite pretty, although it is the only place we have been that does not have a river. We did what we always do and wandered around.

This arch in Dijon reminds me of a low-rent Millennium fountain.

As luck would have it (or our lack of research made it seem like luck), there is a Delerium Cafe (French FB page, English website) in the middle of the city. Steven had wanted to tour their brewery, but they were booked and we didn’t make it to the one in Brussels, so we had a beer and some delicious salads and desserts in Dijon instead.

Every town here has a market and Dijon is no exception. We decided to do our weekly shopping there and ran into some very friendly vendors. Steven, another English-speaker and one of the vendors had a great Franglish conversation about rugby, too (The other English speaker was from New Zealand and there was an upcoming New Zealand (All Blacks) vs South Africa (Springboeks) match). The fruit and veggies were beautiful, as usual. I could get used to shopping for food that way.

Dijon also contained a very minor parking incident. We were proud of ourselves because we capably followed signs to a garage that was big enough to fit the car. We pulled in, grabbed a ticket and drove down an aisle. The next thing we knew, a gate was lifting and we were driving out the exit. Oops. The entrance was down the block and it wasn’t apparent how to get to it, so we followed different parking signs to a different lot and were able to park in a spot about 4 cms wider than the car. Yay!

I think we also found a place to add to our wish list. We bought some souvenirs and a gift to take to Steven’s cousin at a little gift shop whose cashier was from Senegal. He recommends it highly. We are seriously considering it. As a Clamecy transplant said when I asked “pourqua ici?” (Why here?) he moved there, “Pourqua pas?”

Our sense of French geography may leave a little to be desired when it comes to our gas budget.

IF we had thought about it, we might have spent the night in Dijon, since we almost drove right back through it on our way to Strasbourg. Ah well, what’s a few extra hours of driving? (OK, so the map is a bit confusing. The total time from Clamecy to Dijon was 2 hours each way; the total time from Clamecy to Strasbourg was about 5 hours each way).

We actually had a reason for going to Strasbourg (yes, I know we are not known for reasoning or at least reasoning anyone else understands), but Steven has cousins who are on sabbatical there, so off we went. Granted, when we all lived in the same state, I never met them, but when you’re in France and you magically know people, you visit. Strasbourg is another pretty city and it has A LOT of water. It’s more international (the European Parliament meets there) and very close to Germany, so everything was in two languages we don’t really speak.

Steven’s cousin Jessica and her husband, Mark, were great hosts and lovely people in general. They have a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old, so more power to them for going on a grand adventure with those two great kids in tow. Jessica’s parents just happened to be visiting as well, so I got to hear some good family stories and learn more about how Steven got to be who he is. I’m not putting any adjectives in here just in case the family reads this. Really, you’re all fabulous!

The old town of Strasbourg is an island in the midst of the River Ill. It is a major port on the Rhine and the capital of Alsace.

We stayed at a sort of cross between rooming house and hotel. There were maybe 8 rooms (I am guessing) and they had tiny kitchenettes complete with two-burner stoves. It was clean, comfortable and within walking distance of Jessica. Plus, there was ample, free street parking and it was across the road from the Parc de l’Orangerie (hence the name: Le Relais de l’Orangerie). It definitely suited our purposes, but we also left finding a place until close to the last minute, so maybe it wouldn’t have been our first choice.

L’Orangerie itself was beautiful, even in the drizzle we encountered on Sunday morning. A lake with swans, a restaurant, plenty of cute bridges and trails, plus storks and their nests, a zoo, farm and statues. Lovely.

Now for a bit of a downer (but nothing too terrible)

We had the brilliant plan of stopping in Beaune (mentioned in this entry) again, but this time to get an early dinner since we had noticed the last time we went through that restaurants were serving on Sunday. Well, they are, but not early. We settled in to an outdoor brasserie to sip our wine slowly and wait for the kitchen to open. We did what we normally do when we’re planning more travel and began looking up important information (how far is it from Casablanca to Tunis? for instance) on our phones. Unfortunately, one of the local thieves noticed this. He watched us for a bit and then came over, sat next to us and started sputtering some nonsense. The distraction worked, because he had set a map on top of Steven’s phone and when he left, the phone had magically disappeared. What a drag!

The owner of the place called the police (le flic!), brought over a guy he suspected was the thief (he wasn’t) and said his wife would take us to the police station. We declined. What were they going to do.? The phone was long gone. Lesson learned. As Steven said, “Sometimes we do dumb things and we know we’re doing something dumb. Other times we do dumb things without knowing.” This was the latter. We just use our phones so constantly that we don’t think of hiding them or putting them away. Steven rolled with it, we got him a new phone today. (The joy of living in the country? The nearest phone store is an hour away and the nearest Apple store is 2 hours away – in Dijon!) and we’re out the money and feeling a little stupid. It could have been worse. But, people, watch your phones! And maybe sit in the middle of the crowd instead of on the edge.

Once again, props to my husband for keeping life in perspective. We are on a grand adventure and it is still might grand!

Belgium, part 2

Steven graciously ceded part of the weekend travel to me (because he was too tired to write about the whole thing — yes, I was too tired to write the rest, but I will certainly take the compliment), so I finally get to tell you about something more interesting than a trip to the grocery store. So, where did he leave off? Oh yes, Brussels.

I like this statue better than mannaken pis and she’s just on a Brussels street we happened to walk down.

We did not have a great desire to go to Brussels, it was just closer to our next destination: Chimay Brewery at Scourmont Abbey, a Trappist monastery. I have to say that it started out as a comedy of errors. Once again, we were driving on streets that seemed perhaps as if they were not intended for cars. I thought I had asked about parking, but didn’t get a reply so we passed by the B and B and followed parking signs. Alas, all they meant was that there was potential parking on the street (and when we found a parking lot on Google, it turned out not to be a public lot). To compound the problem, there was a parade. Streets were closed. Traffic was stopped. Then traffic was terrible. No street parking. I called the B and B and he directed us to parking around the corner, but we had already passed the corner and couldn’t easily get back. One-way streets! With all I just mentioned, it took about 40 minutes to find the lot and then, and THEN. Well, he did ask how big the car was before he told us about the garage.

The spiral was tight, the ceiling was low (the scrape marks on the ceiling and sides were a wee bit worrisome) and we had a man who worked at the hotel that owned the lot running behind us yelling, “Slow. Slow! SLOW!!” and pointing. Then he would run ahead and gesture us forward into what maybe was a spot? Well. Luckily, Steven is a great and patient driver. (Two compliments! I wonder what she wants.) We finally parked and got to the Art de Séjour bed and breakfast. We temporarily breathed a sigh of relief. And then, and THEN, the host told us that Sunday was “no driving at all in the cities of Europe including Brussels” day. All the streets would be closed from 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. and wouldn’t that be great! Well … it would have been great except we had reservations at Chimay at 12:30, so we scheduled an early breakfast and headed out the door to see some of Brussels.

Happiness is beer amid the skeletons.

I think I am spoiled because Brussels was just … fine. We walked up to the best view of the city and it was … nice. I did get to have a waffle for a snack, so there’s that.

The best part of Brussels was the two bars that Yves (remember him from the last blog?) recommended. The first, Le Cercueil (The Coffin) looks like a great Halloween house. The tables are coffins complete with skeletons. There’s blacklight and creepy-sounding drinks. Steven was in heaven (no pun intended) when he realized they had Orval, which continues to ferment in the bottle. The bartender came over with the bottle to show Steven that it had truly been sitting around since 2013. (It had a fabulous, deep rich flavor.)

From there we wandered some more looking for food that wasn’t Flemish (read: heavy and meaty). In keeping with the theme of Asian food in Belgium, we ended up eating some baos. (Here’s a tip: always ask how big things are. I assumed they were small like the ones in the States so we each ordered two and they were not small.) Oh, and frites (NO MAYO! Mayo on frites is just plan wrong, curry sauce in an English or Irish pub is fine, Ketchup anywhere is fine. Mayo – no. Just. No … What about sriracha?). Because you have to. I don’t think you are allowed out of Belgium without having eaten frites. After a fruitless search for a bar recommended by the B and B owner (it was closed), we headed to another of Yves recommendations: Poechenellekelder, which has a huge beer menu and is across the street from the puzzlingly popular manneken pis.

Back at Art de Séjour, we watched Ocean’s 8, because sometimes you just need an American movie. In the morning, we had a delicious breakfast at the B and B. I don’t know what it is, but the fruit in Belgium is DELICIOUS! So flavorful and juicy. (I know I mentioned this before, but it was really good!) Plus, homemade croissants and excellent coffee!

And then, and THEN, we had to get out of the parking garage. I’ll just put up the video and you can see for yourself. Watch it full screen to get the true effect (although sorry for the poor video quality). The white at the top is the very low concrete ceiling.I think Steven had the steering wheel pulled all the way right around the curves.

Phew. And then we were off to Chimay. You may have remembered that we had 12:30 reservations, but we had to leave town by 8:45 for a drive that was less than 2 hours. Well, here’s where a mistake I made came in handy. I accidentally bought 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. tickets. Voila! We made the 10:30 appointment time. They kindly realized my mistake and gave us two extra beer tokens, because we both needed to drink two beers before noon. (I could have had a third to lighten your load.) Chimay is run by monks, and there are no tours of the actual brewery. They brew in peace! They do have a nice little museum-like exhibit that explains the history and process, so we did that. They also make cheese, (well, they don’t really make it at the abbey any more, but it’s still Chimay cheese) so we learned about that process too. Right outside sit some forest paths that lead to the church, garden and cemetery (yes, another cemetery, but no one famous), so we did a little walking before our beer tasting.

After a couple of hours, a couple of beers (and a couple of souvenirs and some beer to take home), we hit the road for the 4-hour drive back to Clamecy. As you know, there are no border controls between EU nations. Heading into Belgium on the A6, we passed a sign that reminded me of crossing state borders in the U.S. On the way back, on a smaller road (the N964 in case you care), we passed a border control booth. We couldn’t resist the photo op, so I quickly (Steven would say too quickly) pulled a U-y so we could get these:

Note the fake guards. We’ve seen them in a few spots, including at a winery. Give them props; they look as bored as real guards.

Finally, it was home sweet home and a moratorium on beer drinking for awhile — at least for me. (I guess the ones we took home will last a bit longer than expected.)

Forgive the reflective digression

On this erev Yom Kippur (for those who do not know, it is the Jewish Day of Atonement), I want to take a moment out of reveling in our travels to remind myself how lucky I am. Has the road always been easy? Of course not. Am I all the things I imagined I’d become. Again, no. But I also wouldn’t have dared believe I would be in a position to be sitting in an AirB&B in the middle of nowhere France visiting with my best high school friend. And having a husband who wanted to be along for the ride. To travel. To explore. To (try to) learn a new language. To have great family and friends I know will always be there for me. And to have found a wonderful man to share it all with (I am assuming she is talking about me…Dear readers please feel free to send in your opinions).

Below are a couple of photos from our morning walk. Life is tough.

Is life perfect? No. Are there dreams I haven’t fulfilled? Yes. Do I miss the people who are gone? Absolutely. They have all left me with something and I aspire to live my best life in their honor. I don’t always succeed, but these days I find myself marveling at the wonder of all that is around me. Yes, I worked to get here, no doubt. As I write this (Sept. 14), my son is celebrating his birthday seven time zones away. Do I have a twang of sadness about that? Of course. But as it should be, I am much more melancholy about it than he is. Did I spend my 26th birthday with my mother? I am sure I did not.

So, I will reflect. I will try to be the best I can be and I won’t succeed, but I will keep trying. I will look out the window and understand that not everyone gets to see a medieval church whose magnificent domed ceiling makes one feel small and that getting in the car and taking a weekend trip to Belgium just to say “fuckin’ Bruges” because you thought the movie was funny, is an extraordinary way to live for a blue-collar woman from Queens.

I will reach, fall short, waste time playing on my phone and beat myself up about it. I will fall short in so many ways (at least in my eyes), but I will remember what a new friend said to me recently and I will try to radiate positive energy and be a magnet for attracting good people into my life.

I’m old enough to have sloughed off a lot of the anger and learned to appreciate what’s in front of me. My motto these days is: Experience over objects, not that I was ever the most materialistic person in the world, but I was in Paris for a month and all I bought besides food (and wine!) were two fridge magnets.

Enough of the sanctimonious navel-gazing (although I do mean it all).

Here’s a reality check:

It’s tough when:

  • you’re living and working remotely in a one-bedroom apartment with crappy WiFi,
  • something goes wrong and you don’t speak the language well enough to get help
  • nothing is open on Sunday or Monday or between noon and 2 pm
  • (your wife seems to think a 15,000 mile hike up and down the side of a HUGE mountain is fun)

But every time we start whining about one of these things, one of us looks at the other and says, “We’re in France and then we’re going to Istanbul and Nice and Barcelona and Fes!” and the whining stops.

Here’s hoping for continued growth, learning and self-awareness in the coming year.

All up in Armes

We are staying in Clamecy, but we are here because of my dear high school friend, Suzanne. She does not live in Clamecy, but next door in Armes. We drove there a few times, but today we first walked (it is about 3 miles but it is up hill in the driving snow both ways!) and then I rode a bike over. There’s a beautifully peaceful trail along the Nivernais Canal.

My friend and I took a dunk in the Yonne River. (Well, she took a dunk, I stood up to my waist. I don’t like cold water or anything else cold.) My friend told me she asked the mayor of Armes if it was OK to swim and she said that she swims there all the time, so now my friend does too. There’s a house right at the edge of the river, with a spring bubbling up from almost right in front. They are using the place as a vacation home. Maybe things are like that somewhere in the U.S., but nowhere I have ever lived. (You grew up in Queens! There was no nature anywhere near you). The new owners recently bought the house and told my friend that they were welcome to hang out and even borrow their kayaks. Again, such a different experience. Letting people you don’t know use your stuff when you’re not around? Has that happened to you?

The village of Armes (like everywhere around here) is old. Don’t ask me how old, but pretty ancien. But more than it being old, nothing really changes. In fact, Suzanne showed me the lavoir, or washhouse for you English speakers, which is just spring-fed spot with an indoor and outdoor spot to scrub your clothes. According to Suzanne, there was a serious hierarchy where older women (of course the women get to do the laundry) got the cleaner water and the younger women were relegated to what was essentially dirty clothes backwash. Also interesting that the building has a simply amazing security system: a piece of string tied around a nail. Anyone can get in. The building and the mucky, algae-laden water are just waiting for a teenage prankster or graffiti artist. (Where is Banksy when you need him?).

Clockwise from top left: The view of Collégiale Saint-Martin de Clamecy from the bike path, inside the lavoir, an Armes home, the Yonne is great for a dip, outside the lavoir.

The boat (and motorcycle) made it through the locks.

The lock system on the canal is another throwback we noted. Houseboats and other recreational water vehicles cruise on the canal, which has a system of locks – hand-cranked locks. On our morning walk, we saw a couple docked in a little kind of passing lane waiting for the lock master (lock smith?) to crank the lock open and let the water level even out. They shrugged at us on our way out and gave us the universal thumbs up sign on the way back when they had finally passed through. July and August are peak cruising times, but there were still a few other boaters enjoying the 30-degree weather. The canal is shallow and we could see the bottom churning up as the boats went by. If we had been walking a little faster, we might have overtaken them.

I know this was not Steven’s first choice of a place to hang out for a month, so I want to give him props for (mostly) being a trooper. The older I get, the more I realize that your people are more important than anything. Having a whole month with my best friend in high school and her wife is priceless. I am a lucky woman!

Last hurrahs in Paris

Today we waved au revoir to Paris, but we do have some other” Paris adventures to catch you up on. We managed to squeeze out two more museums, a dead person bingo part 4 and dinner out. Plus, I finally had what I would consider a French meal, with my new friend Linn, who is Norwegian and Filipino.

Sunday, we had petit dejeuner (I just like saying that). Steven had un croissant avec café au lait and I had un café allongé avec des pain au chocolat because I had to. Next, on the recommendation of the lovely French couple we met last week, we went to the Hôtel de la Marine, which is not a hotel but did house the French Navy. The building has been restored to its former glory – if you think it’s glorious that Marie Antoinette’s death warrant was signed there. It is beautiful. There are also four different audio tours you can choose. We tried to choose two different ones, but both ended up with “Traveling through Time.” No complaints from either of us. We both enjoyed it (except for the fact that the maid was named Susan). Pictures below.

Next, we finally had crêpes. Yes! And they were delicious. We were in on the outskirts of Latin Quarter restaurant row. I suspect all the crêpe places would have been equally delicious, but ours wasn’t on a street mobbed with tourists. I had a veggie (surprise) and Steven had chicken, mushrooms, crème fraiche and cheese.

Finally, on to our last dead person bingo: the Pantheon. These very famous French people are lined up neatly in crypts along a hallway with alcoves housing several each. We didn’t even need a map to find anyone since their names are conveniently posted on the wall outside each alcove. So, we saw the real Alexandre Dumas, along with Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Victor Hugo (my new hero since we kept bumping into his memory wherever we went).

We thought that was it for being tourists, but then we realized we hadn’t been to the Musée de la Contrafaçon (Museum of Counterfeits) just down the road from us, so on Monday we walked over there and learned all about how to spot a fake. Steven and I always have interesting conversations. This time we agreed that if you really think a “Game Child” is the same as a “Game Boy,” that’s on you.

Our real last Parisian day was Tuesday and I made the most of it. After working in the morning, I headed out to a lovely two-hour lunch with a woman I met in my class. It was the first time I ate in a French brasserie and ate French cuisine. I had melon gazpacho and a yummy salad with a glass of Chablis. Even better than the food was the conversation. Thanks, Linn! À bientôt. Then, Steven and I went out for our last night’s dinner and had Italian food. Can’t go wrong with pasta and limoncello sorbet!

A hearty thanks to Paul and Oona for letting us live the Parisian life for a month in their apartment.

And now … Clamecy.

Paris From On High

First I’d like to mention a personal achievement. You probably know that I have been “learning” French. Well. today I had a “mon petit test.” I was very nervous, which is unusual for me. The test didn’t really affect me in any way. I just hate failing! Soooo, it’s over now and I can say that I think I did fairly well! No, I still cannot speak very much French, but I have a start. Yay!

OK, so on to the events of the week so far. Sunday, we took in another view of the city, this time from the Terrace at Galeries Lafayette. It’s really a high-end department store that has an excellent marketing tool: A beautiful rooftop terrace. C’est gratuit (that means it is free), but you do have to walk through the trop cher merchandise to get there (oh by the way, I am afraid of heights, so I stayed as far from the edge as I could and spent the entire time looking down at my phone so didn’t losing my mind. Also, the barriers at the edge – are glass – EEEEEEEEEEEEK!).

We walked from there to 59, rue de Rivoli, which used to be a serious art’s squat when the area was downtrodden. Since then, the city bought it and rents spaces out to artists on the cheap. C’est gratuit aussi and if we weren’t “unhoused,” which I guess is the new PC term for homeless (we are not homeless…we are nomadic), we probably would have bought a few paintings (or at least one).

On the way between the two, we stumbled upon one of Paris’s covered passages, Galerie Vivienne. It reminded me a bit of some of Chicago’s underground walkways, but it was fun to walk around in because it was pretty much empty. Get ready for another photo montage (but there’s more text, so read on!). Yes, it was that kind of day. Everything was très, très, très photogenic.

So far we have managed not to eat any French food (besides pain au chocolat, des baguettes et fromage) and Sunday was no different. So what kind of food did we have, you ask? Belgian, of course! We went for the good beer at un resto nommé Au Trappiste. Good beer, good food and we met a very smart Danish guy (retired economics professor and now works for the OECD) for excellent conversation. Of course, he spoke excellent English.

I don’t know, maybe I am just a starry-eyed tourist. Maybe Paris was pleasantly empty (it’s starting to refill now that August is coming to a close). Maybe I just love it here, but everything has been wonderful and every time we go for a promenade, we come across a beautiful building or park, something unusual or another place we file away for our next visit. There are more photos, but I don’t want to overload your visual cortex right now. (Plus I may have a down week and need some random shots.)

Oh, BTW: we got fooled by the old bait-and-switch. The Alexandre Dumas we saw at Montmartre was not THE Alexandre Dumas. It was his son. So guess what? We’re off to the Panthéon for one more round of dead person bingo. FYI: Josephine Baker will be transferred from Monaco. As in the U.S., racial tensions are high and this is one attempt to lower the temperature. She will be the first black woman interred there.

Oo la la! l’espagnol est facile, le français est difficile or

… how I sort of had a conversation with my French teacher + the day’s adventure

Another week down. Oo la la! I think the subtitle of the Paris portion of the trip has to be “a baguette and a bottle of wine a day make for happy temporary Parisians.” We are in this weird hybrid world. We don’t really live here, but we’re not really tourists (although, as you will see, we did another touristy thing today). Definitely not complaining at all, just musing on the temporary life. So far, it’s pretty great being homeless (or nomadic if you prefer). Anyway, I think, like New York, Paris is a city one could live in for a lifetime and still find surprises to revel in. Of course, Paris would be better if I could … speak French!

Gratuitous pic of Paris, because.

With only 7 classes left in le cours de français, I have moments where I think, “Hey I don’t totally suck at this” and others where I think, “Now I know how my special ed kids feel!” That brings me to the title of this post. My teacher, Laurance, and I had a “conversion” in which I sort of in French said that I always imagined learning Spanish, not French, to which she offered the encouraging words: “L’espagnol est facile, le français est difficile.” Yeah, no kidding! I did stumble through a short conversation with her and that gave me hope that if I keep going, I may not sound like a total idiot some day.

The good news is I am definitely beginning to hear actual words within the lovely French sounds. Yesterday I watched episode two of “Dix Pour Cent” which translates to 10 percent, but is called “Call My Agent” in the States. While I pretty much had NO IDEA what was going on, at least I could tell they were saying words. Progress!

By this time next week, I will have taken a “petit test” that will be “très facil” according to Laurence, our excellent teacher. Of course, it also lasts one and a half hours. OK.

Today the whole class went out to lunch at le Jardin du Luxembourg (while her darling husband was at home slaving over a hot computer and watching just a couple episodes of “Better Call Saul” on Netflix), which is pretty much around the corner from the Alliance. I am so lucky (in so many ways), one of them is that the class really gelled and we all get along really well. I hope we will keep in touch and meet in other fabulous spots somewhere in the world.

After lunch, Steven and I headed over to the Catacombs. If you get lucky and get up early, you can get same-day tickets for half price. Regular price is 30€, which didn’t seem worth it to us.

We were right. It’s definitely worth going to once in your life, but it’s much better at 14€. The amount of bones piled up can really get you thinking if you’re in a melancholic mood (Interestingly, the bones were all moved from other cemeteries during the 18th and 19th centuries. The bones are from the 14th-18th centuries) . In general, it’s overwhelming but interesting and takes about an hour to walk through. The website says to dress warmly because it’s cold down those 131 steps into the former quarry so I wore a sweatshirt and brought a jacket. I ended up rolling up my sleeves. If I’m not cold, you won’t be! Maybe you’re thinking, well, it’s August. True. But it was 20 degrees (68 degrees F) today. So you probably don’t need to bundle up.

The antichrist?

Steven thinks the apology at right, which was written on the bathroom wall at the catacombs, was penned by a French person about Emmanuel Macron. I mean, our dental hygienist (in Maryland) did explain to me that he was the antichrist. Something about Emmanuel meaning G-d is with us but Macron meaning he who values power over love. To be honest, I mostly stopped listening after the word antichrist, but I think that was the gist. I say it’s an American apology that’s been there since the president who shall remain nameless. What do you think?

Was it supposed to rain?

If you know anything about me you know I spent a fair amount of time complaining about the weather forecast. When you get minute-by-minute updates, but they change every minute, it’s frustrating. Just tell me you’re not sure and I’ll prepare.

The trusty umbrella: Never leave home without it.

Well, it’s worse here! Saturday, we checked the forecast: No rain. We went out: It started pouring. We sat in a cafe drinking a cafe and then bought umbrellas. It stopped raining. Sunday: No rain. We went out. It rained, but it really was a five-minute drizzle. Everyone around us pulled out umbrellas or plastic-baggy-type rain gear. We got wet. Not a big deal. It’s not just me: One of my classmates noticed the lack of accuracy in the weather forecasts, too. He says a 30% chance of rain is a guarantee of getting wet, but a 90% chance = sunshine. From now I, have raincoat, will travel.

The picture on the right was taken as we waited for falafel from the L’as du Fallafel, the place that has the best falafel in Paris, according to Jacob Getto. Steven didn’t even have falafel. Instead, he went for the shawarma, which he declared delicious, if no better than Libanais back in Chicago. I had the falafel. It’s worth the 20-minute wait, but I would say it’s more because of the fixings in the pita that just the falafel itself. Roasted eggplant, yum! Add to the greatness of the experience by getting it to go and sitting on a park bench eating and pigeon-watching. BTW, they take your order and your money before you get to the food window. You get a ticket with your order on it, but the British woman in front of us (who had been there several times before) was suspicious that she wouldn’t get her food. Evidence that the Brits and the French are still locked in an eternal pissing match. One more piece of evidence on that front: My French teacher, Laurence, was trying to get us to understand une carafe d’eau was tap water without speaking English. When the light came on and we all got it, she carefully explained that the tap water in France is fine to drink, but definitely don’t drink it in Great Britain.

You’ll notice that one person in the photo at right is wearing a mask and the other is not. There’s no outdoor mask mandate, but everyone must wear one inside and if you want to go to a museum, restaurant or any other indoor public gathering spot, you must show your proof of vaccination. France has a QR-coded carte sanitaire, but has not yet decided how to extend that to non-EU citizens. Steven called the US Embassy and they gave the verbal response of a shrug (the most helpful people were a couple of pharmacists in the 11th, but were unable to get us into the system which issues cards). They, too, are waiting for guidance. Pas de problème. Our hand-printed CDC cards do just fine. (We have successfully used them at museums and restaurants.)

La pizza de Ober Mamma

Yesterday, we went to lunch with a classmate of mine and her petit ami (apparently that means boyfriend). Wow, we have friends! They are fellow homeless folks, or as she puts it, nomads, which she says sounds better. Either way, they are Americans living and working in Paris for a few months while they figure out how to get a handle on the crazy housing market, which is their business, too. We had a normal Parisian lunch of 2.5 hours and 2 bottles of wine (and then we all went home to work). Guess what type of food we ate? I’ll give you a hint. Check out the picture on the left. It ain’t New York pizza, but you won’t catch me complaining (except about the weather forecast).

In case you’re wondering how my French is coming along, très bien! At least I can now pick out the individual words (most of the time) from sentences that used to sound like a string of sounds. I can also ask scintillating questions such as “Quelle est tu nationalite?” and “Où habites-tu?” In case you are wondering the answers: Je suis americaine et habite à Paris pour août. Below you will find gratiutous picture of Paris, because … well, just because. The first two are the view from my classroom. The second row has a shot of our morning walk to school, a street view and the pigeons who watched us eat lunch. Finally, a sky view taken in the Marais.