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!

A very Burgundy weekend

This was our first weekend in Clamecy. Like so many of our weekends we crammed it full of things to do and see.

We started the weekend with a quiet Friday night. A light dinner and then we attempted to improve our French by watching Independence Day in French. News flash…It is a terrible movie even if you can’t understand the dialog (which we couldn’t) and even if they dubbed everyone’s voices with people who didn’t really sound very much like them. (I didn’t know Will Smith could speak French!) Anyway, we also used the time to plan next weekend’s activities, which we will talk about next week!

Saturday morning we went to market (which is about 20 feet from our front door), to look around and pick up a few things. I bought olives and Sue bought some very interesting looking mushrooms – which I do not believe are poisonous as we ate them for lunch and as of this moment (18:00), I have not started to vomit or hallucinate. (They were chanterelles or girolles here.)

After our quick shop, we headed out to a very nice little hilltop village called Vézelay. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and has an abbey that I believe was started sometime in the 13th Century. The town was very nice, but a bit touristy (even in the off-season). We parked in the municipal parking and there were about 10 Porsche 911s and while we were waiting to pay, their owners arrived and they all drove off in a pack (I know that a group of crows is a murder and a group of wolves is a pack…Is a group of Porsche’s called a Pretender of Porsches, or perhaps a Poseur of Porsches? Anyway – there were a bunch of them there and then they drove off).

We wandered the town, Sue took many photos of the town and the countryside. We bought a couple of quiches at one of the boulangeries and had a picnic lunch. Once we were done we headed off to do some wine tasting…It is Burgundy (well, actually, it is Bourgogne) you know! We stopped at four or five different places, but only one was open. We had a few tastes, bought a few bottles and were on our way.

Along the way, we stumbled upon a village called Saint Père. There was a winery there, but it was unfortunately closed when we arrived. However, there was a gorgeous old church in this tiny village. The construction started in 1240 and completed around 1455.  While the abbey of Vézelay is much larger and more physically impressive, the beauty and accessibility of the church in Saint Père made it more interesting to me.

Heading back to the car we saw a historic marker signed that said Les Fontaines Salées. We were in no hurry, so we figured we would drive over to it, not bothering to translate what Les Fontaines Salées meant. It was only a couple of kilometers, so what did we have to lose? Boy are we glad we did. It is an archeological museum dedicated to the prehistoric and Roman period salt water springs and baths. It was fabulous. They had a museum explaining the history; sure it was in French, but we had the time to read and translate the important stuff. Then we could wander among the ruins and soak up the history. (Also, there were frogs in the water.)

When we finished, we took a long route back to the AirBnB and had dinner. Our friend Suzanne told us about a restaurant called La Guinguette in a nearby village that was having a DJ playing Afro-Carribean music with a drummer. We picked her up and headed over. The night was warm, the beer was cold (at least mine was – the ladies had wine) and the music was great. The video is Sue dancing with the owner (who our friend knows).

All in all a great day.

Sunday we lounged about most of the morning, went for a small wander in Clamecy and then headed for the D’arcy Grottos with Suzanne (who took us through the backroads where we got to see some beautiful scenery and more cute French villages). There are a series of caves that have stalagmites, stalactites and prehistoric cave paintings. (I believe that they are the second oldest cave paintings in France.) We drove through the countryside, taking a long, windy way to get there, but the trip was well worth it. Only one of the caves is open to the public, but it is very impressive, and the paintings are somewhat unreal.

After the visiting the cave, we wandered along the River Cure for an hour or so and then headed back to the AirBnB.

Another great weekend, this one without dead person bingo (although we did see at least two cemeteries). 😉

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.

Our last weekend in Paris

Thursday night we decided to go out to dinner. We were celebrating Sue’s brilliant (89%) score on her petit test – I have always known she is brilliant. (I hardly call a B+ brilliant, but considering that my French consisted of “je ne sais pas” and “pardon, no parle pas français,” I am proud. Also, I would highly recommend the Alliance Francaise if you have the need for French lessons.) We went to a Lebanese place around the corner called Al-Dar. It is always interesting to us the similarities and the differences when eating the same type of food in different countries. One thing we have both noticed in all the food we have been eating is that it is much more mild than the American versions (also, everything here has viande, mostly jambon). At Al-Dar, we saw many things that we knew from the U.S., but lots of things that we did not know. We both ordered some of each. The food was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Friday night we went out for a drink at the Sir Winston Churchill pub, mostly we thought it was funny to go to a “real” English pub in Paris. It is about a ten minute walk and a block from the Arc de Triomphe. We had a great time, they had many varieties of gin & tonics, and all that we tried, we like. However, it isn’t a real English pub. To start with, they had no British beer! But we sat outside and watched Paris go by. There is something wonderful about just sitting, having a drink, talking and watching the evening unfold.

Notre-Dame

Today, Saturday, we decided to take it easy…At least that was our intention when we woke up. However, we don’t do lounging very well, so by 10 a.m., I was restless and we put on our walking shoes and headed out. Sue wanted to visit a mall near her school to see what the stores looked like away from the tourist crowd and we promised a friend of ours that we would go to Nespresso to buy metal stirrers that she had found here before, but could not find in the States. We hopped on the Metro, looked in the mall (it was pitiful and depressing – many closed stores and not much interesting stuff) and then looked for a Nespresso store. We found a store, but they didn’t have what we wanted and the very nice salesperon (who spoke English to us, despite Sue trying to explain coffee stirrer in French) suggested that we go to their flagship store near the Opera. We consulted Google and found that it was “only” about a 40-minute walk, and since we had nothing else to do, off we went.

When we arrived, after some fumbling attempts to explain what we wanted, we were directed to the lower level, only to find that they did not have them. Apparently they no longer sell them. Oh well. (I can’t decide whether the masks make communication difficult or it is simply that my French is TERRIBLE!)

Sue’s crepe

We exited the store and realized that it was only noon, so we still had lots of time. We decided to head to the Latin Quarter, just to look around. We took the Metro to Châtelet walked across Île de la Cité, gazed at Notre-Dame (the damage was not really visible from our point of view) and then into the Latin Quarter. By now it was lunchtime so we headed for a creperie called La Petite Bouclerie. We had a nice leisurely lunch, the food was great (and also our first French food) and relaxed. Once we were ready we headed out to wander the Latin Quarter.

The door to Restaurant Shu

Wander is exactly what we did. At each street corner we more or less randomly decided which way to go and just kept walking. Looking at the shops, finding little parks, and people watching. We found a Japanese restaurant called Restaurant Shu with a tiny door (for comparison, I am a towering 1.75m or 5’8″) on some random street. It was a grand time.

Along about 3 p.m. we decided that it was time to head on home. We had a quick look at the map, realized that it was “only” a 50-minute walk, so off we went.  4.5km later, we were home.

A long day of doing nothing but walking 10km. (I call it exploring and drinking in the sites and sounds of Paris.)

Tomorrow we are going to Hôtel de la Marine and the Pantheon.

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.

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

À quoi je pensais?

Coucou! No, that doesn’t mean I’m cuckoo (although you will realize that I am soon enough). It’s a casual way of saying hi in French, for all you mono-linguists. OK, so I learned that yesterday. I have been in French class for three days. After the first day I realized the teacher was amazing and I was, yes, cuckoo. My brain hurt and I told la professeur (yes Unckie, they say la professeur for female professors in France). She said, “Yes, this is normal.” OK. I still showed up for Day 2. See, cuckoo. BTW: That was the last English I have heard her speak.

Day 2. Here is what I learned:

I love the view from my classroom!

Really? I am with the cabbie on this. It seems just a little weird. Charming? Maybe. Frustrating? A little. I think I am getting the hang of it, but I was so intent on practicing my counting on the stairs that I walked past our floor in the apartment building and then had no idea where I was. Of course, the Parisians see no reason to use apartment numbers. Deuxième étage à gauche, oui. No problem. Psst, the second floor is really the third floor in the U.S. since the ground floor is floor 0. And the Alliance Française building has a “supérieur premier étage,” which is a second first floor between the deuxième étage and the premier étage. As one of my classmates says, “You just have to let it wash over you and understand that you are a dummy.” Le vérité.

Really, it’s very exciting, fun and challenging. I am one of the oldsters in the class, which I expected, but everyone is friendly, adventurous and mostly they all speak English. The view from the building is incredible and Steven and I have been walking the 5 km there, so at least we are getting some exercise. It’s tough walking by the Tour Eiffel and Invalides every morning but someone’s got to do it.

In case you think it’s all wine and baguettes, we are still working. So after a morning of trying to understand and speak a language in which I had two sentences (Pardon, no parle pas français et Je ne sais pas) before this week, I head home on the Metro with my travel companion Antonia, a nun who speaks four languages already and lives right nearby, I sit down at the computer and do work that I get paid for. Then, I do homework and try to memorize vocabulary, pronunciation and where the accents go. No wonder I can’t answer the store clerk when she asks if I will be paying for my wine with a credit card!

I am looking forward to a weekend of exploring and a break from homework. No wonder the kids complained every day about it! Every time the teacher draws a little maison on the SmartBoard, I cringe.All in all, it’s all I hoped for and more. I am a firm believer in doing. And oolala, I am doing!

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.