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.

Into the Alps

We headed out Friday morning for a town called Chambéry. It is about 4 hours southeast of us and in the heart of the French Alps. For those of you who are fans of the Olympics, it is an hour north of Grenoble (1968) and an hour and a half west of Albertville (1992). Once we arrived, we did as we always do and wandered the town. For some reason there is a giant fountain of elephants in the main square. I will leave it to you to investigate why.

On Saturday morning, we went for a stroll in the market and then headed out for our day’s main activity, a “leisurely” 11.5km (7.2 mile) hike that we found on AllTrails called Circuit of the Bridges. It was in a small village called Saint-Jean-d’Arvey about 10km away. I neglected to notice that it was also 335m (1,000ft) higher than Chambéry.  For those of you who do not know me, I am very skittish when it comes to heights. Driving up and down mountain roads is at best difficult and at worst has me wanting to curl up in the back seat and whimper – even when driving. So the ride up to the trailhead was a little unnerving, but we made it.

The trail started at 600m (2,000ft) and was easy to find, but AllTrails states that the elevation gain is 450m (1,500 feet) which is well within our limits; afterall, we climbed Toubkal in Morocco, which was 16km and 2,500m (8,000ft) in elevation gain – just to the base camp. However, that was 4 years ago, and we had not been sedentary for 18 months due to the pandemic. I found the hike quite difficult. It started by dropping 250m to a single span wooden bridge over a deep ravine. (Oh yeah! Walking across a wooden bridge with a terrible fear of heights! ) I took a deep breath and pressed on. (He’s very brave.) I even stopped for Sue (who has no fear of anything and is a hiking machine) to take a photo of me – I am attempting to smile.

From that point it was an all-uphill hike to about 700 meters (2,300 ft). We had a picnic lunch along the trail and then climbed up and down the ravines.  We made a detour of about 1.5km when we followed an incorrect sign on the path. (Oops! It said Thoiry, but we didn’t notice it also said “the long way.”) The village of Thoiry is about halfway through the hike. We had hiked almost 8km (5 miles) and I was done. Sue graciously agreed to cut short the hike and we took a couple of short cuts and ended back at our car in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey after about 12km (7.5 miles), a bit longer than the original hike length. I still don’t understand how we cut the hike in half and took a shortcut, but still hiked longer than the original long route. Faulty GPS, faulty AllTrails, faulty us? Over the entire walk we saw perhaps 10 people, so it was just us, our cameras and our thoughts. Enough words…Here are photos

Sunday we decided to go to Grenoble to look around. We started by visiting the Resistance Museum. It was very well done (and free, but they did not have a “Viva la Resistance t-shirt — disappointing) and we spent about an hour in it. Afterwards we wandered into the old part of town and were terribly disappointed. Nothing was open (ach, dimanche!) and we just didn’t see anything of any interest. We walked back to the car and headed home.

Google says it is a 4-hour drive on the highway; we drove to Lyon on the highway, stopped for some lunch on the highway and made the grand decision that we were in no hurry to get home. Steven neglects to mention that we took the highway hoping that the rest stops were open since there was no other way to get food on Sunday. We told Google to find us a way home without the highways and off we went on a scenic tour of France. Boy do the French love roundabouts (des rond points). We hit one every kilometer or so. After a few hours we decided to head to a medieval city called Beaune that one of our friends said was pretty (also it is the wine capital of Burgundy). By the time we got there, it was about 7pm and we once again had a wander. (Restaurants were open. Viva la tourisme!) The place was packed with tourists and after about 45 minutes we had enough.

Once back in the car, we decided to go back on the highway and covered the last 130km in about 90 minutes. It was nearly 9pm by the time we got home. A long but very fun day.

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!

Dead Person Bingo, Pt. 3

Another weekend, another time to go all Sixth Sense and play one more game of Dead Person Bingo, this time at Montmatre Cemetary. I must admit, that I am a little worried that people who don’t know us think we have a whole death thing going. But I can assure you we don’t, the Paris cemeteries are peaceful, beautiful and right in the middle of the city and so they are oases of calm in the middle of the city madness. Sue finds tons of interesting things to photograph and at some level it reminds us that we are only here so long, so we need to enjoy ourselves.

Friday night, we decided to try a Vietnamese restaurant called Dong Phat. It was about a 25-minute walk, but it was a beautiful evening so we strolled over there. We sat outside and had a really nice meal. Outdoor dining in Paris is so nice. Towards the end of dinner, we started talking to a couple at the next table. They spoke a reasaonable amount of English and were very patient with us as we tried speak in French. They were so kind and we talked for an hour or so. So kind, in fact, that they emailed us this morning to say they were happy to help with anything. BTW, Steven says he is not great at social stuff, but he is the one who started the conversation. It reminded me that I keep meaning to mention a book that I read called “Rudy’s Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe” by Mary K. Jensen. It is a great little book about traveling and life. I highly recommend it.

On Saturday morning, we decided to walk from our apartment to Sacré-Cœur, about 5.5km,  and stop a few places along the way. We walked up Rue Victor Hugo, passed the Arc De Triomphe and along Avenue Hoche, which led us right into Parc Monceau. One of our friends from Chicago recommend the parc by telling us that it has the “most beautiful public bathrooms in the world.” What she meant was that the bathrooms were housed in a really great building, but we will get to that. The park itself is fabulous; it isn’t very large, but holds lots of interesting features, including a somewhat odd installation related to the smurfs. The bathrooms are housed in a Pantheon-style domed building, which is very nice to look at, but the bathrooms themselves were awful. Just an FYI.

Once we exited the park ,we just wandering in the general direction of Montmatre. One of the things I love about walking the streets of Paris is that so many of the boulevards have a walking path/mini-park in the middle of them. It makes strolling them so pleasant and at some point we got to walk through a farmer’s market, which was fairly large even though it is August.

As mentioned at the start of the post, we went to Montmatre Cemetery. One of the interesting things about it, is that Rue Caulaincourt runs right over the cemetery, so some of the crypts are right under the road and reach right up into the girders.  We once again played dead person bingo, finding Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, Léon Foucault, François Truffaut, Jeanne Moreau, Vaslav Nijinsky and despite some resistance,  André-Marie Ampère – sorry couldn’t pass up that joke.

We continued our walk up to Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris at the not-very-high 122m. It is mostly a very gentle uphill, but near the end it gets a bit steep. We found this installation, which, according to Atlas Obscura, is a reference to the book “Le Passe-Muraille”. The area around the basilica is tourist central and we fought through the August crowds and headed for the overlooks so that Sue could get some photos. Once she had her fill, we headed down the steps and away from the crowds.

We were getting hungry, so after about 15 minutes we looked at Google maps and found an interesting looking Japanese bento box place. We picked up a couple of meals and sat outside and enjoyed the delicious food. Once we were refreshed, we headed home. We figured we walked about 12-13km (7-8 miles).

We had a quiet dinner of salad, cheese and a fresh baguette and once the sun went down at about 9:30 we went for an evening stroll. We had no particular plan for the walk but at some point turned left and had this view. (Boy, it really stinks being in Paris!):

I am not sure what the white dot on the left is…could it be Aliens? 😉

Dead Person Bingo – Part 2

It is 8 p.m. and we just walked in after a long, fun day of wandering.  It is still very light outside and if we had the stamina, we could be out wandering for a few more hours before it gets dark. But we are old, so we ran out of gas.

We were going to keep a promise to our uncle and pick up a little book for my aunt. The book is entitled “Vendredi ou la vie sauvage” which roughly translates to “Friday or the wild life” and is available at a bookstore called “Librairie philosophie VRIN” which is near the Luxembourg Gardens. The second part of our day was going to be visiting a neighborhood called Canal St. Martin. It is supposed to be a cool neighborhood set around the Canal St. Martin (hence the name) with nice cafes and shops. It seemed like an ideal place to wander.

We had coffee and breakfast of pain au chocolat from our neighborhood boulangerie. It is called A-la-Petite-Marquise and we go there almost every day for our baguette and every once in a while, a fabulous desert or two. Today was our first time trying the pain au chocolat and we were not disappointed.

With our bellies happy (perhaps – our tongues happy and our bellies full) we hit the Metro and headed for the Luxembourg Gardens. We had a nice wander in the park for an hour or so and then went to the bookstore. Despite their website saying they were open, we were disappointed to find that they were not. Sorry Aunt Marcella, but we promise we will head back next week – when the sign on the door says that they will be open – and pick it up. We headed back through the park for a late addition to our schedule, the Montparnasse Cemetery to honor my no doubt now disappointed aunt by visiting the grave of Jean-Paul Satre. We left the gardens and walked right into another park called the Garden of the Great Explorers, which was dedicated to Marco Polo. It is a cute little park that had a great fountain in it. We navigated to the cemetery, where they have quite kindly buried Satre and Simone De Beauvoir right near the entrance to help idiots like us find them easily. We play a bit more dead people bingo by finding Susan Sontag and Charles Beaudelaire and then were done with finding dead people (at least for today).

We headed out of the cemetery and worked our way back up to the Luxembourg Gardens to find our spot for lunch. If you remember in our previous post we discussed the falafel from L’as du Fallafel. Well, one of our trusty readers (@ banjaloupe) sent us a comment about an odd French fast food called tacos. No, they are not Mexican-style handhelds; these are an altogether French-type of hot sandwich. He referenced an article in the New Yorker which we read and instantly recognized a takeout place called O’Tacos that we had seen in our wanderings. We found another one right near the Luxembourg Gardens and were determined to get lunch there. It was well worth the walk! Any place that puts French fries inside the sandwich gets an A+ from us. With a little help from a very patient cashier we managed to place our order and sat outside and enjoyed ourselves to no end. Thank you @Banjaloupe. Your suggestion was absolutely delicious and no doubt was really bad for us.

We wandered back into the gardens to have the required sit on the green chairs and allow our mildly distended stomachs to digest. It was at this point Sue said to me, in the way she does…”You know, I feel like we should visit Victor Hugo’s house, since we are staying on Place Victor Hugo.” Now a normal person might have said, “Why? He didn’t know that they named the place after him, he was dead” or “Why? It is just his house, it isn’t like we are going to visit his grave and say thanks for having such a nice little place named after him.” But nope, the only thing that came to my mind when she said that was: “OK, that seems fun.” So off we went. Back onto the Metro to Place des Vosages and into the line for his house.

A quick side trip to once again mention that we have not been able to get a carte sanitaire (the European Covid vaccination card), but once again, Sue’s smile(another sign of Steven’s delusions. These people can’t see my smile – I’m wearing a mask!) and my mildly confused look convinced the card-checker that the American card was real and they let us in. We have used it over and over and have yet to have a problem.

Anyway, once they looked at our cards, we began to wander through the house. It is sightly confusing because, while he lived there, all the rooms are reconstructions that are grouped into the three portions of his life (pre-exile, exile and post-exile). It was interesting, but I did not feel it was worth doing. All in, it was disappointing (and pretty hot. It’s the second day in Paris that it felt like summer. It was about 26 degrees C. We’re trying to think like natives.).

Street Art & Graffiti in Canal St. Martin

While we were in the Luxembourg Gardens, Sue made another suggestion that once we were done with the Victor Hugo’s house we should head straight to Canal St. Martin as it was nearby, and while it is really an evening place, it was unlikely we would head back out if we went home first. (She was so right about that!) We jumped back onto the Metro and headed straight there. We walked along the canal and were a bit alarmed that there didn’t seem to be much there. Happily, we spied a side street that had some cafés and then the whole neighborhood opened up before us. It is a cute little place, and we enjoyed the wander. It seemed like a really nice place to visit with friends for drinks and dinner. But it was too early for dinner and the place hadn’t really started to come to life. We wandered for a bit more and then decided to head home.

Once again onto the Metro and 30 minutes later we were at our stop (Victor Hugo – of course). Rather than going home we went to our “local”, for a couple of drinks sitting outside on the sidewalk watching the comings and goings on the Place Victor Hugo. It is a place called Maison Sauvage – which brings us nicely back to the start of our wanderings – looking for Aunt Marcella’s book.

All in just another glorious day in a glorious city.

Fountain in the Garden of the Great Explorers

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.

Dead Person Bingo (plus Dali and Gaudi)

Today was our first day of wandering around the city. We were here last weekend, but we were still getting adjusted and settling in. Today, we were in full venture out and see things mode.

On Friday night, the weather looked like rain all day and so we decided to postpone planning until Saturday morning and see what the weather actually was. When we woke up, the forecast was for partly sunny and cool, but little chance of rain until late in the day. Perfect wandering weather.

We walked over the farmers market and picked up our fruit and vegetables for the week and then headed home to plan our outing.

We decided that our destination would be the 11th Arrondissement which is a hipper area than where we are staying. The metro stop is right next to Père LaChaise, which is a cemetery that has many famous people buried in it. It was about a 40-minute ride from our nearest Metro stop (which is 2 minutes from the zpartment).  Before we left we found that there was an immersive Dali & Gaudi exhibition at the culture space called Atelier des Lumieres. We booked 2 tickets for 14:30 and headed out.

Our walk

When we arrived, Sue wanted to wander in the cemetery, take some photos and see if we could find Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde’s graves. There are maps at each of the entrances and with the help of our trusted google Maps app, we headed off to look for their graves. It didn’t take 10 minutes before we started to feel a little bit of rain, and then within another couple of minutes it was raining pretty hard. Sue had a coat, but I was in short sleeves. We looked at each other and thought, nope this isn’t going to work, so we headed for the nearest exit and found a café for a cup of coffee and a re-think.

The rain quickly ended and we decided to look for a store to buy a couple of umbrellas just in case. In a couple of blocks we found the perfect store; a little hole in the wall that sold everything from umbrellas and flip flops to kitchenware. We picked up our umbrellas and headed off to see what we could find. We walked up Boulevard de Ménilmontant, turned left onto Rue Oberkampf and left again on Avenue de la République, which this being Paris, took us right back to where we had started on Boulevard de Ménilmontant.  A perfect triangle; it seems all streets in Paris operate on a triangle system. It rained on and off during the walk, but we had our trusty little umbrellas and so we were not bothered.

While we were on Rue Obrekampf, we found a nice little Chinese restaurant and went in for lunch. They were kind enough to give us dual-language menus, unfortunately the languages were French and Chinese (I realize that there are multiple Chinese languages and I have idea which one it was, so let’s leave it at Chinese. I’m betting it was Mandarin). We managed to find two dishes that looked interesting, and we ordered them. Sue (who knows how to say, “Je suis végétarien”) had what we would call tofu in chili sauce and I had beef with cumin, Both were delicious and while to portions did not look big, we were totally stuffed by the end of the meal.

One thing that I have not mentioned up until now is that the French government is now requiring all people entering restaurants, concerts, museums and large social events to produce a government-issued vaccine card. The rule went into effect on August 1st, but up until now we had not really given much thought to it. No restaurant has asked us for one, and have mostly been sitting outside at cafés. However, the Atelier des Lumieres website specifically stated we would need one to get into the Dali/Gaudi show. Along the way we had asked a number of pharmacies (who can issue them) whether they would accept a U.S. vaccine card as proof and then issue us a French one. They all have said they did not know and it seems as if the rules for that are not in place. We decided to go to the show a bit early and present our vaccine cards and see what happened. The women checking the cards took one look at them and said they were fine. So we were all good. We will continue to try and acquire a French one, but for now we are not having any issue.

The Dali/Gaudi show was great. It was a series of three video/light/music shows (Gaudi, one developed by local artists and then Dali). We sat on the floor for Gaudi but made our way up to a balcony for the other two. That was a much better choice as we had clear sight lines and better perspective. We enjoyed ourselves immensely (and immersively). It is the modern version of the planetarium laser light show, complete with Pink Floyd music. For reals.

Oscar Wilde’s final resting place. It is surrounded by glass

At the end of the show, we emerged to find the sun shining and so we walked back to the Père Lachaise Cemeter and started to play find the famous dead person. It was sunny and mild out so we wandered around and despite a few challenges found all three (Morrison, Piaf and Wilde – Bingo!). Once we had completed the Bingo card we headed for the exit grabbed the metro home.

A long but very enjoyable day.

Settling In

We have started to settle into our new place. We spent most of Thursday unpacking and getting set up. We met Sue’s friend Suzanne (the one from Burgundy) for lunch as she had come up to Paris for the day. We walked about 8km (5ish miles) from the apartment to the restaurant, ate lunch wandered a bit more and then took the Metro back. One of the Metro lines near us (the #6) is undergoing some repairs and is closed, so we had to exit at a station that was about a 10 minute walk. We could have taken a bus, but at the time that seemed a bit daunting to me. We will try the buses another day.

Everything is a huge adventure especially having to interact with people. We are desperately trying to speak French and the Parisians have been patient and helpful. It seems like most people speak at least some English and they will switch back and forth for us. It must be pretty funny to hear us butcher French, have the reply come back in reasonably good English, and then we reply once again in butchered French (although a couple of times Sue has mistakenly answered in Spanish which make the whole interaction even funnier). We are wrapping our heads around prices, especially for things priced in kilos. We keep looking at prices and think 15 Euros for a kilo that is a fortune … only to realize that we would pay $7.99 a pound at home. It seems like things are more expensive here, but we expected and budgeted for that.

Saturday morning we walked to a farmer’s market about 15 minutes away and loaded up on fresh produce and some Middle Eastern food (there were a few Lebanese vendors and it seemed like a nice treat). After lunch we strapped our walking shoes back on and headed for a Monoprix, which is sort of a small department store. We needed some toiletries and other minor bits and bobs. It was about a 20 minute walk and the weather is beautiful, mid-70s and sunny.

The evil espresso maker
Our coffee savior

We have had one challenge – as there always is. The apartment has an espresso machine that clearly hates Sue. No matter how carefully she follows the directions (even watching a couple YouTube videos), it proceeds to leak coffee out the sides and put a bunch of grounds in the bottom of our cups. We surrendered and picked up a French press to satisfy our need for coffee. While we were out, we asked one of the shop attendants for the name of a store that might sell them. She kindly gave us the name Darty and we wandered off to find one. We now have the ability to make coffee.

Our final outing was to the grocery store to pick up a few more things; pasta for dinner, rice, more coffee and wine. All in all a successful, but exhausting day.

Steven forgot to mention that we got trapped in the grocery store because we didn’t know we had to scan our receipt after doing the self checkout. So many little things to learn.

The home stretch

We are into the home stretch and somewhat surprisingly, we are thinking that the packing is nearly done. We are down to just a few kitchen things that we still need, our linens and a few clothes that are all going into the suitcases. We have decided to finish packing by Tuesday the 20th, and are then spending the 20th-24th at our granddaughter’s house (oh yeah, with her parents too). The movers are coming on the 22nd, so we will just swing back to the house on that morning and supervise. We figure we will return on the 23rd and do a final clean and that will be it for our time in Edgewater, MD. It was a good place to land for COVID, but it’s not going to be a home base for us.

Some boxes and stuff (we have a lot of stuff but not as much as before).

We are packing for four different locations all at once. Paris, our first stop in August, should be nice and warm so we will need summery clothes. We go to Burgundy in September and Nice in Oct./Nov., so it should be cooler (highs in the 60s and lows in the 50s, which means we will need sightly warmer clothes. When we return, we fly directly to Chicago which will be cold (highs in the 40s lows in the 30s) as it is the end of November when we are there. From there it’s back to Baltimore, which will be warmer than Chicago (highs in the 50s lows in the 40s). All this on one suitcase each, which is proving a little bit of a challenge. Just pointing out that my suitcase is lighter than his by at least 5 pounds.

We made a small concession to the space issue and packed a box of winterish clothes which we are sending to our friend in Chicago. She will store it until we arrive. Hopefully, the ride from the airport to her place won’t be too terrible as we really won’t have much in the way of warm clothes.

More boxes and stuff, plus a suitcase that isn’t packed for France, Fes or Chicago.

We also decided that we would put together a suitcase of things that we thought we might want but couldn’t fit. We are going to leave that in one of cars and when we return from France, we will swap out anything we are tired of/didn’t use/don’t need any more for our trip to Morocco (highs in 60s lows in the 40s) and wherever we decide for the couple of months after Morocco (right now Italy and Amsterdam are the leading candidates).

All the other clothes are going into boxes and are destined for the storage unit.

We have been watching with interest the changes to the COVID rules in France, and it now appears we will need a card from a doctor or pharmacist that shows we have been vaccinated. The reading we have done seems to show that our CDC vaccine card should provide us with the documentation that we will need to get the French card, but as with all of these fast changing regulations, we are going to just figure it out as we go if we need to. We think the worst case scenario is that we have to get a PCR test before they issue us the card. My uncle (who speaks French) has kindly provided us with the phrase we will need to ask the pharmacist for the card (or at least I think that is what he sent…he does have an excellent sense of humor, so for all I know his phrase says something like “I am an ugly American and your country sucks, I don’t need no stinking medical card”, perhaps I should run his phrase through Google translate 😉)

As you can imagine, we are getting very excited and are counting down the days.

Packing (Extra) Light

As our faithful readers know (thank you, Judie), we are heading out on a grand adventure. So many details to consider and what feels like so little time. I let Steven do most of the thought-spinning since he is so good at it, especially in the middle of the night (I practice two hours a night every night, whether I need it or not). But I am not completely immune. Mostly I am really excited and am trying not to look past the summer, which is going to be a lot of fun amid the packing the house up again.

And speaking of packing (like that segue? Smooth, huh? My wife has the smoothest of moves!), I have been puzzling over what to pack. The weather will be what I consider warmish fall (high 50s to maybe 70), so no winter coat. BUT, then we fly directly back to Chicago in November, so winter coat for me for sure. Hey Chicago friends, want to lend me a winter coat (and a hat, gloves, mittens, long underwear and hand and foot warmers)?

The chart below shows what we’re trying to avoid. We will probably end up paying $100 for a third bag between the two of us … but maybe not. Look at all the money the corporate jackals are making off your inability to wear the same shoes two days in a row!

Infographic: The U.S. Airlines Cashing In The Most On Baggage Fees | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

I have read many travel blogs and websites on tips for packing light. They pretty much all come down to this: Wear the same clothes over and over, wear your hiking boots instead of packing them (and its corollary: No more than three pairs of shoes) and hope your hotel/AirBnB/host has toiletries. If you must bring cold weather gear, buy backpacking-friendly, lightweight clothes. Remember the limit is, 22 kilos, which is less than 50 pounds. Jeans are heavy, sweaters are bulky, packing cubes give you space to pack more weight, so they’re not good.

Luckily, I’m not a fashion snob, so I’m OK with a few pairs of hiking pants, one pair of jeans and a semi-decent dress (I prefer her indecent dresses) just in case. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. We will be putting the clothes in the front of the storage unit so we can refresh before heading to Morocco after our Thanksgiving in the States. That gives us a bit of wiggle room if we find we have packed all wrong (or because I will be bored with my five shirts).

My current clothing packing list looks like this:

  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 5 bras (including jog bra)
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of running shoes that doubles as an everyday shoe
  • 1 decent pair of shoes just in case
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 3 pairs of convertible hiking pants
  • 1 pair of Under Armour in case the hiking pants are too light and to double as pjs if it’s chilly
  • 5 cotton, long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 sleep shirt

I will need some contact lenses and a few other toiletry items, but they have pharmacies in France.

So, that’s kind of what I’m telling Steven but … I really have a secret plan. (I guess the concept of a secret from Steven eludes her since she is writing it in the blog.) I know he will read this blog, but I am counting on his failing memory. I am going to bring an empty suitcase and buy everything I need in France and Morocco. Let’s face it, it’s not the best to stand out as an American. It’s going to be tough enough with my two months of Duolingo French (Je habite à Clamecy; Je parle français un peu), I don’t need my wardrobe to make it worse. Besides, I plan on working maybe 20 hours a week, unless I get ambitious, so I have to find something to fill my time. Vintage shopping sounds like a great way to kill some time and practice my French.

Any suggestions? All are welcome.