November 27, 2007

Glasgow in the rain

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , at 1:08 pm by Lauren

There is nothing like a personal tour guide when the rain pours down on a city, and Iain graciously taxied us around on Thursday, November 1. In the morning, we met Mary and Iain’s daughter Fiona for a tour around the Kelvin Grove Museum in Glasgow. Should you visit it, these are the highlights:

1. The temporary exhibit on Kylie Minogue’s wardrobe! Okay, I’m not sure this qualifies as one of the highlights, but it was very flashy, and Allen and I saw that Kylie Minogue is far more famous than Americans (or perhaps just we) know. 

2. The Highland Funeral. This painting depicts a dreary, somber day in the Highlands. It hangs in the gallery with the paintings of The Colourists, a group of Scottish painters who studied in France and brought color and light to Scottish painting, in stark contrast to the dark, realistic Highland Funeral.

3. The Dali painting. The museum was once mocked for its purchase of this strange crucifixion painting by a painter known as Salvador Dali – oh wait, look! It’s worth millions. At one point vandals slashed the painting in several spots, and though it was carefully restored, you can still see the patches if you catch it in the right light.

4. Charles Rennie Mackintosh has an entire room devoted to him, filled with furnishings, table decoration, and wall hangings from the teahouses and other rooms he designed. A few of his motifs include ladies and roses, and his rose designs are so distinctive that their form is now referred to as Glasgow Style.

5. Another temporary exhibition rounds out what I took away from the museum visit – that of Quentin Blake’s original sketches and illustrations. For those of you unsure of who Quentin Blake is, go to your local library and check out all of Roald Dahl’s books and enjoy the pictures along with the whimsical tales. One I remember as being particularly amusing in its illustrations is George’s Marvelous Medicine.

After lunch at the Kelvin Grove Museum, we drove up the hill to Glasgow University. Allen’s mom did an exchange there when she was in college, which is how she met Mary and Iain more than 30 years ago. We stomped around campus under umbrellas, peeking in to the chapel, the cloister, the Great Hall, and the Huntarian Museum, which showcases the personal collection of one of Glasgow University’s most famous graduates. Upstairs in the Huntarian Museum were several interesting hands-on exhibits. 

The rain intensified as we cruised across town to St. Mungo’s Cathedral, an impressive soot-blackened edifice with a backdrop of dark tombs against the sky at Glasgow’s Necropolis. The Necropolis, modeled after the Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris, lines a nearby horizon with eery spires and mausoleums. St. Mungo’s Cathedral surprised me (as most cathedrals do) by the sheer expanse of space inside. No matter how big a cathedral looks to me from the outside, when I step inside I am always amazed by the amount of space it encloses.

Across the street from the cathedral, we visited Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow. The house is filled with historical furnishings, and coupled with the low, low doorways, visitors can really feel as if they’re in a home from centuries ago. (Wouldn’t it before effective if I could just remember how old it was? Or if I bothered to look it up?) Out back is a small, well-groomed herb garden that grows plants people would have used for medicinal purposes when the house was first erected.

After a very successful day touristing, we all sat down to another one of Mary’s delicious dinners. First we enjoyed a tomato lentil soup with oatcakes. The main course was lamb with a choice of toppings. I put one of each on my plate to try them all: mint, mustard, and red currant jelly. The taste of each was unique, and for the remainder of the lamb, I dipped my bites alternately in one of the three toppings. Who needs to choose? For dessert (or pudding!), we ate peaches and ice cream. Everything was delicious, and we enjoyed a cup of tea and leftover Halloween treats before heading up for a good sleep. 

November 23, 2007

Americans stole Halloween from the Scots

Posted in Exploring tagged , , at 10:45 pm by Lauren

Mary and Iain share a wealth of knowledge between them, rivaled only by their wealth of hospitality.  Wednesday night’s major theme was that the Americans stole Halloween from the Scots. (And then, we did what Americans do: we commercialized it!) The major difference between the Scottish and American Halloweens are as follows:1. Scots carve turnips; Americans carve pumpkins.2. Americans demand treats and threaten tricks; Scottish children offer up a song or joke to earn their treats.We had thirteen children visit, in between courses of our delicious dinner of scotch broth (a broth with anything in the house “entilt”), a moist chicken that fell off the bones, and a “pudding” (dessert) of honeycomb ice cream with strawberries. Of the thirteen visitors, three were inspired by American culture. And what did our culture contribute to this neighborhood’s Halloween celebration? An “American cheerleader” (complete with High School Musical shirt), Freddy Kruger, and Jason. The latter two were very surprised that we recognized their names, to which we could only reply, “We’re American.” 

Robert Burns, Brigadoon, the Electric Brae, and Culzean Castle

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , at 10:36 pm by Lauren

Three weeks later, I must get our Scotland trip down in the blog. Not only am I forgetting more by the day, but other bloggable experiences are being deblogified and blogblocked! (Hey, nobody said this was supposed to be good writing. And what’s good writing anyway without a few made-up words?) 

So, our story starts long, long ago, on a hazy Halloween, in Scotland…Wednesday, October 31 is the last day any countryside attractions are open in Scotland! Because of that, Mary and Iain took us to Culzean (“cull-een”) Castle. Not only was the castle beautiful, but the road there held a few notable surprises as well (and my car sickness was not one of them!). 

Our first stop on the way to Culzean was Robert Burns’ house. Robert Burns was Scotland’s most famous poet. (In fact, we all know his work: Auld Lang Syne.) One poem in particular that Mary and Iain recounted for us was the story of Tam O’Shanter, a poor man who stayed out too late at the pub and stumbled upon the devil and his cohort in the local church on the way home. The demons and witches were dancing, and one witch in a short skirt did an especially fine job of cavorting. Tam called out, “Well done, Cully Sark!” (“Cully sark” refers to that skirt of hers.) The devil, demons, and witches turned on him and chased him. Poor Tam and his old horse ran for their lives, knowing that if they could only cross water they would be safe. At the last possible moment, they crossed the Brig o’ Doon – the bridge over the Doon River – and the witch with the cully sark caught and pulled off the horse’s tail. The real fascination about this tale to Allen and me was walking down the road Tam would have taken (because Rabbie Burns knew it well), seeing the old church where Burns’ father was buried and where Tam caught the eye of the evil things, and crossing the Brig o’ Doon ourselves. Mary pointed out that we Americans might know the Brig o’ Doon otherwise, “The Americans made a movie out of it.” Did they ever! I am not going to claim that Brigadoon is cinematic genius, but if you asked me to name the biggest movie star crush I’ve ever had, no other leading man would hold a candle to Gene Kelly. Even those who have not had the pleasure of seeing Brigadoon or Gene Kelly in a kilt (or is that sight just a dream?) may recognize one of its songs, “It’s Almost Like Being in Love.” I’ll end my adolescent swooning about Gene Kelly (Gene Kelly!) by saying that when I watched Brigadoon as a young girl, I never imagined I’d actually stand on the Brig o’ Doon in Scotland. Oh the places you will go.  

Our second stop on the way to Culzean was the Electric Brae. When I say stop, I mean that Iain, from his right-side driver’s seat, literally stopped the car in the middle of the road, put it in neutral, and let it roll. We were looking down the hill, but we started to roll back up it! Despite considering ourselves to be reasonably clever people at least one day in a week, Allen and I were unable to conclude the most logical reason for this phenomenon: we were actually rolling downhill. It turns out that the Electric Brae (or “electric hill”) was misnamed by those who misunderstood the properties of electricity and were similarly fooled by the optical illusion that makes it seem as if the car is pointing downhill and rolling upwards.

Finally, we arrived at Culzean Castle, and I’d had the lack of sense to be motion sick and pale as a ghost by that point. (Had my father been there he may have pointed out that this was a rather mild case of motion sickness compared to the look I had on my face once that was so uncomfortable it made him throw up. True story.) Mary noticed and whisked me into the cafe for a cup of tea. I was honestly a little fearful of eating anything as I’d never treated my motion sickness with food before, or drink for that matter! I had the tea though, and the rest of the group enjoyed scones. Restored, we headed up to the castle. 

The castle tour was very impressive, starting with a massive collection of pistols and blades collected by the Scots for use in the case that Napoleon should have ever invaded them. Among many other interesting things, it boasted a beautiful central staircase, a painting whose eyes and feet always point towards the beholder, and a chandelier under which a person’s voice booms but only to their own ears.  The final rooms of the castle that the tour passes through were devoted to Dwight Eisenhower, who was gifted an apartment in Culzean Castle after World War II. Outside the castle, we walked through the Walled Garden, which was beautiful despite being the end of the growing season. We followed a path past the Aviary to the Pagoda (which housed monkeys and tigers – the excess!) and past the lake which housed swans and other waterfowl. We then trekked through the woods to cliffs that lined the shore and followed their jagged path back to the castle. I hardly need to say how much Allen and I enjoyed our day, and we all returned home just in time for darkness to fall, and Halloween to begin.

November 11, 2007

Scotland, finally!

Posted in Exploring tagged , at 5:39 pm by Lauren

I say, “Scotland, finally!” for a number of reasons. First, we’ve been back from Scotland for over a week, and I’m just now writing this. Luckily, Mary, our hostess, inspired me to take notes while I was there. Secondly, I’d been wanting to go to Scotland for a long while. Allen and I thought about honeymooning there, and then there’s the draw of the Outlander series. (Those of you who have read them will laugh when I say more than one person told me to say hi to Jamie and Claire.) Finally, this was our first vacation since I got here, and what’s the point of living in Europe if you’re not going to explore every nook and cranny?

We took Ryanair to get to Scotland. I remember taking Ryanair from France to London when I was staying in Montpellier. If I’m not mistaken, I took the train to Nimes on the way out, flew to London Stanisted, then flew back through Carcassonne. I have vague recollections of it being very inexpensive, like $50 for the round trip flights, and less than that for the trains. Either I was deluded or Ryanair has changed. We booked our tickets through them because it seemed so inexpensive, but then the additional fees began piling on. It cost 6 euros to check in at the ticket counter. I couldn’t check in online because I don’t have an EU passport (though we did save the money with Allen). It’s another 12 euros to check a bag, so we decided to take all carry-on. That is, we thought we were only taking a carry-on until I realized I’d left my cross stitch scissors (the sharp ones that cannot go on planes) in my purse. We checked our bag. (Lovely Mary and Iain mailed them back to us from Scotland to save us that expense on the way back.) But the biggest additional expense was the bus to Paris Beauvais airport! Round trip it cost us 26 euros each, or almost a total of $76! When all was said and done, our transportation cost almost $200 each – no longer a bargain exactly for a four-day weekend. I had to remind myself that that would be a reasonable ticket cost for anywhere in the States. Not cheap, but reasonable.

But enough with the complaining! We were going to Scotland! Hurray!

The first thing I should say is that we were very, very fortunate in our hosts. Mary and Iain are friends of Allen’s family, from the time when Allen’s mom did an exchange with Glasgow University. In fact, Allen’s mom is their older daughter’s godmother. I had met Mary and Iain when they came to Stephanie’s wedding, and at the time (and since) they extended an open invitation for us to visit them in Scotland. We knew we wanted to be sure to see them during our year in Europe, so we chose Scotland for our first trip! After staying with them, I can confirm my initial impressions: Mary and Iain are the most welcoming, generous, and considerate people I have ever met.

The first night, they picked us up at the airport around 11:30 pm. We were already appreciative that they didn’t mind us coming in so late because the tickets were cheaper, and we figured we could get going right away on Wednesday that way. When we got to their house, Mary brewed some tea and gave us Scottish shortbread and blueberry muffins they’d picked up especially for us Americans. What a lovely gesture. They must have been tired, but they stayed up talking to us for a little while before ushering us off to bed and insisting we leave the dishes with them. And that was just the beginning of our trip, made infinitely more wonderful by their hospitality.

Every one of you is fired!

Posted in Babysitting at 2:31 pm by Lauren

Sometimes I like to sing these lyrics of a Ben Folds song, when I feel the people around me need firing for some reason or another. I picked up the firing bug from my friend Regina, who fired me repeatedly from my former job, whenever I did something that didn’t strike her fancy. She would deliver the line with appropriate ennui: You’re fired. Donald Trump could learn a thing or two from her perfect delivery of the line. I enjoyed it and went on to fire my boss at school fairly often, which I’m sure annoyed him. But normally, I only sing the Ben Folds song (in my head!) for people who are way beyond my actually telling them they’re fired. That is, when people do something really exasperating. 

On Tuesday morning (remember, I’m retro-actively blogging, so this is October 30), I readied myself to walk to my babysitting job. On a whim, I checked my email first, and there I found an email from the mother asking me to call her before I came at 10. It was around 9:10 am at this point, and I had been planning on walking the 2.5 miles to her house. I didn’t yet have a cell phone, so I sighed and called her then. When she answered she sounded hurried and said she’d call me back in 5 minutes. I sat by the phone. The time when I could have walked to her house to get there on time passed. The time when I could have taken the train to get to her house on time passed. I griped to Elizabeth, “I hope she doesn’t still expect me to get there at 10.” Finally at 9:45 I called her back myself. She promised she just needed another five minutes, and she called back. At this point, I was ticked. She had now had three opportunities to tell me what this was all about, by email and twice when I’d called. At least have the courtesy to let me know what I’m waiting for. I told Elizabeth, “Who knows, maybe she’s going to fire me. I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.”

When she finally called back, she started out the conversation with, “I felt really uncomfortable yesterday.” This indirectness was just what had gotten us in an awkward situation the day before. I couldn’t tell if she meant to resolve the discomfort or to fire me. I decided to take it in the direction of firing and told her I’d felt uncomfortable too. She delivered me several classic break-up lines, “It’s not you; I think it’s me.” “We really liked you when we met you.” “Maybe it’s just not the right time for us.” “If it doesn’t feel right, we shouldn’t push it.” Awkward, awkward, awkward. We broke up.

I have never been fired before, at least not that I remember. I have done occasional babysitting for a few families who didn’t call me often and eventually petered away, but I think those were more of a scheduling thing (and a function of me being their back-up babysitter). One dog-sitting client silently fired Allen and me after our worst pet-sitting debacle ever when we took their rottweiler out at midnight; accidentally pulled the locks-by-itself door shut behind us (that was me; I didn’t know it would lock) without keys, cell phones, or shoes; and broke back in to their house with MacGyver-like action using a dog leash and a hanger through the mail box. (We saw no fewer than nine police cars during our time on the porch, and no one questioned us. We also saw a hit-and-run-and-chase accident. We were glad we had the rottweiler.) I would fire me too after that happened (and I have never closed a door – even my own – since without having the keys literally in my line of sight), but the amazing thing to me is that we simply never heard from them again. I’d at least have expected them to call and say, “Glad you got back in.” But I digress. Being fired was annoying, after having planned my other jobs around this one, turned down other opportunities, and waited three weeks for this job to start. With just five more weeks before I went back to the States to pick up my visa, I was very aggravated at the thought of having to find new work. And she had underpaid me the day before! But when the aggravation wore off, there was relief.

Not only was there a larger relief of not having to return to that awkward situation, there was a more immediate relief: now I could spend the day with Elizabeth! We had a low-key day (well, for me it was) getting a little lost but finally finding the National Library for Elizabeth, having lunch, and wandering the Jardin des Tuileries. After that, I had to lesson plan before my English lessons. Elizabeth set off with me to lessons to tour the 5th arrondissement a little more. Sadly, that was the end of our time together because after lessons we all met back at the apartment, grabbed our things and headed to the metro. Elizabeth was returning to Grenoble, and Allen and I were catching a flight to Scotland for the weekend.

Picard les Surgeles, or The TV Dinner Revisited

Posted in Food tagged , , , at 1:24 pm by Lauren

The day before Elizabeth came, I had the pleasure of a jaunt around town (okay, just to the department store) with Mimi, who is my evening babysitting boss. She graciously let me borrow her aerobed, and we both had things to look for at the department store (I was looking for a more permanent air mattress solution), so she invited me to go along with her. We took her daughter Katharine (who is 11 days younger than my niece Katherine), and I enjoyed human interaction during the daytime – what a treat! But I digress. The point of all of this is that Mimi told me about Picard, a frozen foods store that stocks very high quality foods – just frozen! Apparently they make everything from very fresh food and then flash freeze it right away. She sang its praises enough that on the next to last night of Elizabeth’s visit, we went there to see if we could find anything for dinner.  

I could make this blog entry short and just say that Picard is my new dinner mecca. But I’m obviously not going to do that. Why make it short now, when I’ve already spent 200 words to this point! That being said, I don’t ever think I’ll cook a meal in France again.

Our first visit to Picard, we chose a couscous dish with chicken, red pepper, zucchini, and carrots. We had it that night. Delicious! What’s more, it fed the three of us for just 3 euros total. We also got a frozen version of aligot, and while it wasn’t as good as the real thing (nor would I expect it to have been), it was pretty darn yummy. A side dish of lentils with Moroccan seasonings became my lunch for two days later in the week. I also bought some sausages that were a bit too grisly for me (I have meat issues sometimes), but that Allen enjoyed.

The next week, after we’d returned from Scotland, I visited Picard again, determined to pack our tiny freezer with meals for the week. I chose another package of the couscous dish; Brighton soup, which has potatoes, cheddar cheese, and carrots (I could eat that all day); five veggie soup with grains; shrimp with garlic and parsley (which we ate on rice); rice a la provencal, which just meant with tomatos and olives; and caramel ice cream. Everything has been great so far, with the exception of the shrimp and ice cream, which were just okay (as if putting them so close together in the same sentence wasn’t unappetizing enough). We haven’t had a lot of luck with ice cream from the store over here. Fortunately, we live a block from the best ice cream in the city, possibly in Europe, so I forgive the French for their store-bought ice cream deficiencies. (What must they think of us?)

I’ll be going back to Picard this week to fill our tiny freezer again, and I can’t wait. With just a double burner to cook all our meals on, and with my work keeping me out of the house between two- or three-thirty and around seven, heating up a high-quality frozen meal is so convenient and logical! America needs to get on the Picard bandwagon. Two weeks ago, I would have scoffed at the thought that frozen food could be this satisfying.

Roman ruins two steps from my door

Posted in Exploring at 1:06 pm by Lauren

When I got home on Monday, October 29, after my first day of work, I was relieved that Elizabeth was still visiting. Though I was exhausted, I welcomed the company, and we set off to do some more exploring. Since it was raining, we decided on a path that kept us fairly close to home, and we had a couple of hours before we needed to meet Allen at home.

We set off with umbrellas and cameras at the ready. We crossed Pont de Sully, with a beautiful view of Notre Dame from behind. At the corner, Elizabeth got splashed by a car hitting a puddle just like in the movies. A guy on a motorbike made a comment we couldn’t hear. We walked down the road to the corner of the Jardin des Plantes. Because of the rain we had decided not to walk through it, but I thought a stroll along the side of it would be scenic. Not so. The walls were solid and too high to see over. Still, it wasn’t raining too hard at this point, and we continued on. At the end of about a 15 minute walk, we found our first destination: second century AD Roman ruins from when Paris was Lutecia. Frankly, they didn’t much look like they were from the second century. Unfortunately, what was left of the arena was hardly recognizable as a site that could have held 10,000 spectators. But it had been revitalized into a pleasant park with benches and green spaces, and it looked like a nice place to bring a book on a sunny day.

Leaving the arena, we chased our second destination, the Paris mosque. Mere blocks away we found it, and it was stunning. The tiling was exquisite (I would expect no less after my time living in Turkey), and the mosque seemed regal in its seat across from a quiet park. There are tours of the mosque (for just 3 euros, if I remember right), but we didn’t take one that day. We did, however, step up to the entrance to look inside at the courtyard filled with tiled fountains. That peek inside was well worth it.

With our time running down, we headed back towards home. Dusk was falling quickly, as we’d just had daylight savings time, and I was glad we’d had daylight to take pictures of the arena and the mosque. We stopped on the way home to pick up dinner (at Picard, which I’ll talk about in my next post), and got there just at 6, when we were supposed to meet Allen. Unfortunately for Allen, he arrived just a few minutes later, and the door buzzer wasn’t working. He waited outside for 45 minutes before he started banging on the door, and we heard him. Fortunately, the rain had finally stopped.

The job I’d been waiting for

Posted in Babysitting, Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:34 pm by Lauren

After weeks of waiting, I was slated to begin my new job on Monday, October 29. The family had hired me for the five weeks between the end of October and the end of November, and I’d taken the job and put off finding anything else for the past three weeks. Now it was time to work! I plotted my route the night before to figure out how early I’d need to leave if I walked, and I slipped my cross stitch into my bag in hopes that the baby would have a nap during my watch. I’d be working mornings four days a week. I was excited about the schedule because it would allow me to wake early (having a purpose to my day), work early, and then enjoy the afternoon. (Of course two days a week, I’d go to my English lessons afterwards, but I’d have Wednesday completely off!) The little girl (a year and a half old) had seemed bubbly and personable when I met the family. The parents too had seemed very nice, and the mother had seemed very low-key, which is a quality I enjoy in mothers I babysit for.

I was allowed a later start than usual this particular Monday because the family had just returned from a trip and were all jet-lagged. It was the weekend after daylight savings time in France, and I was concerned that the mother wouldn’t realize it (and would think I was an hour late). But how much of a worrywort can you be? I arrived right on time, ready to start. (At some point during the day, we did find out that she didn’t realize the time had changed, and I had to specify that I had indeed been on time.)

It was immediately obvious that the little girl was going to cling to her mom, and her mom explained that between the jet lag and the recent trip where the baby’d been left with nannies all day, the baby was really feeling separation anxiety. The mom said she’d be hanging around to show me the ropes.

It’s not worth divulging all the details of the day, but suffice it to say that I spent a long, awkward day with the baby and her mom. The baby was fussy, jet-lagged, and hyper-aware of where her mother was at all times. And that was the easy part. I have come to some sort of zen with babies – they are going to cry, they are not going to like being in your company all of the time (especially when you’re new with them), and if you pay attention, you can figure out how to make them happy most of the time. And that’s fine. The mother on the other hand seemed stressed that the baby was fussy, stressed that I was there (I sensed she didn’t really want to leave me alone with her child), and stressed that I wasn’t taking more charge. Meanwhile, with the mom there all day, the baby didn’t know who was in charge, and I don’t blame her because it was difficult for me to figure out too!

The most awkward part came at the end of the day. I was supposed to be working until 2, so I thought the child needed to be at the daycare by then. It was her first day of daycare (just a little detail to add to the upheaval). The mom went to take a nap at 12:45 once the baby was down for a nap. She said to me, “I shouldn’t sleep more than an hour.” But when an hour had gone by, she was still sleeping, the baby was still sleeping, and I wasn’t really sure what to do. I waited, a little, to see if somebody would wake. Then at 2 pm, I woke the mom, apologizing for waking her, but explaining that it was 2 o’clock, and the baby was still sleeping. The mom springs into frantic action, saying we’ll be late for the daycare, and how is the little girl going to have time to eat, and what time did I go to sleep. It becomes clear from her indirect statements that her earlier (also indirect) statement about how long she should sleep meant she had wanted me to wake her after an hour. We throw the little girl into the stroller, bring some food with us, and race to the daycare in a frenzy. (Actually, for the record, neither the child nor I were frenzied.) The mom didn’t know what bus stop we were supposed to take, so we carried the stroller down the subway stairs. Once there, she got lost at the other end, and we finally arrived at the daycare at 2:40. It turns out we were supposed to be there at 2:30 (which I thought was curious, since she’d told me I’d be working until 2), and she was glad we weren’t that late. Inside, we found out that the woman who was supposed to orient us to the daycare would be there at 3. We sat inside with the little girl for a few minutes, and around 2:45-2:50, the mom offered to pay me and let me go home. She calculated, “10 am to 2:30 pm, that’s 4 and a half hours, so 45 euros.” I wondered if she was leaving off the last 20 minutes I had been there (because she knew full well it wasn’t 2:30 because we’d been late to the daycare!) to punish me for not waking her. I have been fortunate in the past to work for people who round in my favor, not theirs, but I kept my mouth shut. She said she needed to make a large cash purchase that day and could she only give me 40 euros for now. I said that was fine; what else would I say? (I was again slightly annoyed though; we had gone to the ATM for her to get out cash earlier that day!)

I left at the end of the day thinking that it was very likely that it would go better once the mother started leaving me alone with the child. That, and it’s only five weeks. I like to tell myself that I can do anything if it’s for a set time period. I can make it through the school year because I know when it ends. I can force myself to work through stressful situations (graduate school papers, for example) because I know what my deadlines are. So, it would only be five weeks, and the first week would only be Monday and Tuesday, and I’d already made it through Monday!

November 6, 2007

Cemetaries are great places for second dates!

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , at 6:05 pm by Lauren

Sunday’s grand excitement was our second meeting with Antoine and Typhaine at the Cimetiere Pere Lachaise. We’d had to reschedule dinner two weeks in a row due to unexpected family commitments on both sides, so when they asked what we were doing the weekend of October 27-28, we reminded them of our collective wish to visit the cemetary. Since we’d had to postpone so much already, we invited Elizabeth along, rather than postponing again.

But that wasn’t to be until almost 3:30! So we took one of our City Walk cards and went out to explore Le Marais before our graveyard rendez-vous. Leaving Ile St. Louis, we wandered past the Hotel de Ville and up to the Centre Georges Pompidou, which Elizabeth hadn’t had an opportunity to see yet. We gawked a bit at its inside-out facade and its strange fountain (“the fountain with the lips!” both Allen and Elizabeth recalled). Elizabeth took a lot of “candid” shots of Allen and me when she thought we weren’t looking (not caring if we were on to her scheme or not!). From there, we grabbed paninis for lunch and followed Rue des Francs Bourgeois to the Musee Carnavalet, which as the City Walks card had promised had really magnificently groomed gardens. Entry to the museum and gardens are free, and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, it’s certainly worth savoring a moment there. Nearby, the Place du Marche Ste. Catherine was filled with appealing cafes with outdoor seating. You’d never find it if you weren’t looking for it! That would explain why the small soap shop off the plaza that we popped into was going out of business. Coming out of the secluded square, we found the Hotel de Sully and cut through it to reach Place des Vosges. The Hotel de Sully was beautiful inside, with a gorgeous 17th-century painted ceiling inside the bookstore. (Thank you to City Walks for pointing this out. I’d have never known.) Passing through the back garden, we entered the Place des Vosges, a large square with a park in the middle and shops, galleries, and restaurants nestled under the arcades. Victor Hugo’s house (now a museum) hides there as well. According to good ol’ City Walks, the square used to be used for royal pageants and duels when it housed noble French families. It seemed to be another of those beautiful Parisian sights that you never see until you leave the main tourist attractions behind, which is a shame because there are so many hidden gems in Paris but probably also a blessing because it wasn’t too crowded to enjoy. (And don’t get me wrong. The Eiffel Tower is a wonder!)

This was one of the nicer walks we’ve done so far. I really appreciate the bite-sized nature of the City Walks cards, and I’ll be looking for a DC pack when we get back, both to enjoy the road-less-traveled walks and to share with visiting houseguests!

After the walk through Le Marais, we passed Place de la Bastille (and a Tex Mex restaurant named Indiana!), and continued back through the less scenic neighborhoods of the 11th arrondissement. We stopped at a bakery to pick up meringues (me and Elizabeth), eclairs (E), and a mille feuille (or Napoleon, for Allen). We gave ourselves horrible sugar highs/headaches and chastised ourselves all the way to the cemetary.

Around the cemetary, we found a logical yet still surprising number of florists with potted blooms spilling out over the sidewalk. Antoine and Typhaine showed up before too long, and we struck off into the cemetary. Navigating the cemetary turned out to be way more difficult than any of us had anticipated. Still, it was eerily beautiful in there. We literally wandered around for hours. Antoine went back to the entrance for a map at one point but came back empty-handed. Later, Typhaine asked to borrow a map from two women, studied it seriously for a few minutes, came back, and laughed, “I didn’t understand that map at all! Sorry!” We saw just a few names we recognized, including Chopin. It was a lucky thing we were with Antoine and Typhaine because they knew many more histories of the people buried there than we did. (Actually, they recognized maybe 10 people to our 2.) After threading among the tombs for hours, we finally returned to the map to locate Jim Morrison’s grave before we left. 

After the cemetary, we went to a cafe and had hot chocolates and espressos. Antoine and Typhaine told us a hilarious story about a misguided bike ride they’d taken with friends. It rained all morning so they set off by bike later in the afternoon than they wanted, it turned out to be all hills in wet mist, and the guys had packed so much alcohol the bikes were dragging. Then they reached the road with the turn off to the hostel, asked someone for directions, and found out it was still several miles away (and it was fully dark by that time). They convinced someone to shuttle them by car to the hostel, and after three or four trips, they were all at their destination. Everyone was cold, wet, and to tired to do anything, including drink the alcohol, which they ended up carting back with them the next day. I really enjoyed the story, and Elizabeth said she was waiting the whole time for me to pipe up with, “We walked 80 km through the mountains.”

At the end of a busy day, filled with the sites of Paris, we had clocked 6.2 miles of walking, not including several tours around the expansive cemetary. Success!

Sore Feet Saturday

Posted in Visitors tagged , , , , , , at 2:39 pm by Lauren

Technically, most any Saturday with us is going to be eligible for that moniker. But, if there’s one thing Elizabeth and I learned to do while in Montpellier, it’s walk.

We set out first for the Musee Rodin, famous for its feature in a snapshot of Jenna balancing on a stone wall with one leg out behind her. Or maybe famous instead for its collected works of Auguste Rodin, including several iterations of The Thinker. What I particularly love about the Musee Rodin is not the sculptures inside the main building’s walls, but the garden that surrounds the house. I will come right out and tell you that I am not a museum girl. After I’d been five weeks in the city that boasts the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay among many others, the Musee Rodin was the first museum to feel my footfall. While I enjoy art, I enjoy it in more of a “let it soak over you and let your eyes wander as the lines in the room take them” kind of way. So did I closely study Rodin’s sculpted lines? No. But I did enjoy wandering through the ancient building, admiring occasionally the lifelike look of a hand or a lock of hair on one of Rodin’s sculptures and staring overlong at the architectural features of the rooms. But the garden! The Musee Rodin has a tall wall around it, with few windows upon the inner world, but it hides a peaceful garden that travelers can access for just 1 euro. (The museum and garden together cost 6 euros.) In the garden you’ll find couples and families and artists sketching the scattered sculptures. The nominal fee to see the garden gives access to The Thinker, among several other Rodin statues whose names I don’t remember, and the impressive gates of Hell. The grounds are small enough to seem intimate but expansive enough to seem spacious and uncrowded even with others around.

Unfortunately, the museum inside was a bit crowded, and Elizabeth and I moved on after less than two hours. Next stop: Lush. (I’m hiding a guilty grin behind my laptop here.) We cut down to Boulevard Saint Germain, and followed it back into the 6th arrondissement to the Lush shop just off the main road. We were delighted to find that the Christmas items had arrived! I replenished my stock of Coalface (my facial soap) and treated myself to a Holiday bubble bar, which smells like American Cream (delicious sweet vanilla!) and which I’ve been crumbling bit by bit to use as soap. I talked myself out of buying a Sleepyhead massage bar (the smell helps me sleep, but the massage oil melts into my sheets) and any other soaps or shower gels. Sadly for everyone who has to sit in a room with me at night (ahem, Allen), I forgot to look at powder deodorants for my shoes. Elizabeth stocked up on quite a few things as well and was pleased to find the total came out to much less than she would have expected it to. (We suspect Lush actually costs less in Europe.) Finally, we flitted out of the shop (you have to flit), and went in search of food.

 Nourishment came in the form of warm sandwiches. I enjoyed a panini with chicken, swiss cheese, mushrooms, and some tomato-based sauce, while Elizabeth ate a warm baguette sandwich with sausage and cheese. The guy at the cash register asked us where our beautiful accents were from. (Elizabeth would smack me if I said it is because he was flirting with her, but…) I said, “American.” I should actually listen to people speak so that I can give appropriate responses, rather than things-that-make-sense-but-sound-more-foreign.

After our late lunch, Elizabeth was in the mood to sit and drink a coffee. We decided to go back to Ile St. Louis and rescue Allen from his work and force him to come drink a coffee with us. I led the group to Berthillon, knowing they had a salon where we could get an espresso and – oh, you caught me – some pear sorbet. But Berthillon’s salon looked really full, and thus began the Great Search for Coffee that went on for about a mile and a half and ended in our return to Berthillon to find that it wasn’t all that full. I felt bad for carting Elizabeth all over town when all she’d wanted was a sip of coffee after lunch (two hours later, literally). Fortunately it turned out to be our only chance to enjoy a Berthillon ice cream during her trip, as they closed for vacation a couple days later.

Before I wrap this up, I know you are wondering what type of ice cream we had. Allen actually had a cheesecake covered with raspberry coulis. I enjoyed two scoops of ice cream, pear sorbet and peach sorbet. Elizabeth had a rich, creamy scoop of caramel au beurre sale (caramel with salted butter). And of course, she got her coffee, after our 7.2 mile walk.

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