A Hard Day followed by a Refreshing Day

A Hard Day

Saturday was a hard travel day, but it ended well. Listen to our audio account in two parts:

Part 1 and Part 2

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Above: Look Joel, a giant Babybel! Wine tasting at a little spot near the Palais Royal (small batches from local producers). Amy on one of the many “love lock” bridges that always crop up in cities.

Emblematic of how we felt near the end of the day
Emblematic of how we felt near the end of the day

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All we needed was a good one-two punch of hospitality and friendship 🙂

A Refreshing Day

After our tough travel day Saturday, Sunday turned out to be really positive and refreshing. In the morning, we went to the “American Church” – yes, that’s what they call it on the map. It is near the American University in Paris, which may be why it’s called that. It’s a pretty old church… there are 50,000 expats living in Paris and for many, the church is the heart of their community. It may be the “American” church, but the pastor said well over 50 nations were represented in the congregation.

We went to the traditional service, which felt like a traditional Methodist or Presbyterian service; hymns, pipe organ, choir, doxology, scripture readings, sermon, offering, etc. It felt great to be in church. In all of our travels, this is the first time we’ve gone to church while abroad. The service was very welcoming and international in its focus, reflecting the international audience. And it wasn’t watered down, with the ultimate focus directed at our need for Christ both within the church as we love our brothers and sisters, and outside the church as we love the world. Specific time was devoted to praying for peace amidst the recent violence in Egypt.

The reason why we chose the traditional service is that there was a coffee hour afterwards, where we were able to mingle with some people. We talked with a young couple – an American woman who had been living in Paris for a year and her French boyfriend. After church, one of the church members stood outside where people were leaving and made sure everyone knew where they were going and gave suggestions if they didn’t. He told us we were very close to the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to go there.

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So, it turns out the Eiffel Tower is tall. And impressive. There are many places in Paris where you just turn a corner or get to the top of a staircase and turn around, and there it is. It is quite magnificent. We bought a crepe and sat down near the base to eat it, then walked around taking photos. Today was just about basking in the glory of the tower; we’ll return and go up it before we leave Paris.

Sidebar: Paris Scam Alert!! It amazes me that these scams are still active, as they are well documented in every travel book about Paris. The one that seems to be popular around the Eiffel Tower is the “survey scam”. Young people, usually in pairs, will come up to you and ask very sweetly and mournfully, “Do you speak English?” or sometimes just “You speak English?” and then try and get you to sign some sort of petition for the rights of the blind, mute and deaf (or insert other cause here). If you speak English and don’t help them, they accost you with pleas for help. We’re not exactly sure what the scam is – maybe if you sign, your hands are occupied and someone else is going through your bags or pockets. Other times they’ll just flat out ask for money. Either way, the easiest thing to do is either ignore them or say “Non” and keep walking.

IMG_3378Near the Eiffel Tower is a little street that Rick Steves loves (we have his Paris guidebook) called Rue Cler. We decided to check it out, and even though it was Sunday and half the shops were closed, it was still quaint and charming. We ate lunch at a cafe – giant salads. The French cafe version of a salad is a huge bowl with a bunch of meat and cheese, and a few leaves of lettuce and other assorted vegetables. A hefty amount of food with sometimes incongruous pairings of ingredients (to an American, at least).

In the late afternoon, after our lengthy Parisian lunch, we headed to the Musee d’Orsay. The first Sunday of the month, many museums around Paris are free. So, the lines are long and sometimes they close the museums early if they are “overcrowded”. This was announced at the d’Orsay as we were standing in line, but the line was moving quickly and we made it inside. Faced with less than an hour, we decided to head straight for the 5th floor to the Impressionist exhibit. The d’Orsay itself is quite an impressive building, as it used to be a train station. There is a huge amount of art (many sculptures of Rodin-he donated his entire art collection to the state and so you can find amazing Rodin everywhere, more on him in later posts) and we just passed by most of it on our way to enjoy the brilliant collection of paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Pisarro, Seurat, and many more. Impressionism, neo-impressionism, cubism, pointillism… lots of the isms that we enjoy.

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After the d’Orsay closed we walked along the Seine and stopped for a happy hour drink near the statue of St Michael. Then we walked to Notre Dame to check out the exterior and get some beautiful photos as the sun moved lower in the sky. Finally, a late dinner back at the apartment closed out our Sunday nicely.

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Markets, Picnics, and Summertime along the Seine

Thursday

We hung out and chatted all morning with Sheila, sharing a breakfast of bread, butter and jam… which the French call “tartine” and is what you eat when you have time. Which I think is funny, because it’s so easy… what do you eat when you don’t have time? Coffee. It was great.

Nathan woke up with a bad sore throat, sneezing a lot. We’re not sure if being in the musty cave the night before set off his allergies, or if he’s allergic to some plants, or the large amount of exhaust and cigarette smoke in the city. Or, it could just be a virus.

IMG_3339Sheila took us on a walk to the Bastille, where a large market happens twice a week. We picked up three kinds of cheese and some fruit, and Amy bought a scarf. With the addition of a baguette from a boulangerie (like a bakery) and a bottle of wine from a corner store, we had the makings of a perfect Parisian picnic. By the way, the corner store, which is teeny, has about as much wine as a grocery store! And, it’s very inexpensive. We spread our blankets, took off our shoes, and ate and drank in a grassy area in the Marais neighborhood.

After lunch we walked a lot more through the Marais. It was tiring, as our bodies are not used to so much walking. But we were very glad we had Sheila for a guide, and we wanted to take in the city instead of riding the metro everywhere. So, we walked. It’s sale month in France (and all across Europe) so every store has big signs that say “Soldes” (Sale). This only happens 2 times a year that stores are allowed to heavily discount their merchandise (After New Year’s is the other Soldes). The later in July it is, the better the sales. Some window shopping was followed by a visit to an incredible tea shop, where you can smell scoops of tea from around the world, all stored in antique containers lining the walls. There’s even a history of tea exhibit upstairs. We also stopped in to a showcase of unedited fashion photos from the early 20th century, in a bank (I think because the bank gave the loans to the designers/companies?).

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Sheila and Amy at happy hour

After all the walking we were ready for happy hour, which we enjoyed at The Biarritz Cafe in our neighborhood. Lots of bars and restaurants have happy hour specials from about 6pm – 9pm, like in the States. We had beer and sweetened wine beverages, with peanuts to snack on, and chatted and enjoyed the ambiance while people watching… a favorite pasttime here.

Back at the apartment, Nathan and Sheila made a green curry chicken, which was delicious and quite spicy (we needed milk to help us get through it). We shared some more wine, and lots of bread. Amy contribute by playing the uke while Nathan and Sheila cooked.

Intermission

We don’t know how we decide(d) to go to a country for three weeks where we don’t know the language. But it is hard. It’s not really a vacation but a different way of doing life a harder way, but perhaps better in the end. We’re tourists, but not exactly because we’re here to live for the month. We’ve never traveled in this way before. It feels a little bit like the bike trip because we’ve bitten off more than we knew. But it’s different because we’re staying in one spot for a while. It was great having Austin and Sheila around to show us their place and Sheila walking around with us yesterday. But it was a bit of a crutch. Nervous, but excited to be on our own. A normalish schedule. Going to bed a bit earlier and waking up earlier too.

Friday

Nate and Sheila got us pastries after stopping by the pharmacy to get some medicine for Nate’s sore throat. In France, you have to talk to the pharmacist to get any medicine – he or she is the “first responder” to sickness, and will “prescribe” over the counter medicine or suggest you see a doctor if it’s serious enough.

To allow Austin and Sheila time and space to pack for their vacation, we left the apartment to check out the huge outdoor market directly outside, which also runs twice a week (on different days than the Bastille market!). On our first pass, we just pushed through the throngs and observed. The vendors sing or shout or call out “un euro!” or offer you a slice of fruit, trying to entice you to check out their stuff. We didn’t buy anything on the first pass; we were just overwhelmed by so many people. We regrouped and came up with a plan, and went through again, this time buying produce for next few days for potato & leek soup, and other stuff. The closer the market is to closing, the cheaper the goods get. What was 2 euros 5 minutes ago is now 1. Pretty cool, but crazy.

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After dropping off the food at home, we stopped by the nearby church again, this time going inside to see the beautiful stained glass and various icons. Then we went back to Parc de Belleville, where we played some music and tried to get wifi so we could blog in the park. There’s free but spotty wifi around Paris. There’s always lots of interesting people in the park. Nate was off trying to find wifi and Amy was playing uke, and a guy walked by. He was either mute or deaf – Amy’s guess is deaf. But he saw her playing and sat down, and they attempted to have a conversation. She doesn’t sign but she knows “thank you” and she tried to annunciate as much as possible. She was a little worried when he sat down, but instead of running off with Nathan’s things, he handed them to her so he could sit there. She kept on playing and he kept on trying to communicate. He put his hand on the ukulele to feel the vibrations and after she established that she was married (by pointing vigorously at her ring), his passion for the ukulele seemed to be dissuaded. They parted ways amicably in the traditional Parisian way of kissing on each cheek. It was all very strange, but also a bit normal. Nathan rounded the bend and sat down. Amy debated whether or not to tell him the story at all.

We headed back home to eat dinner and finish a blog post, before meeting up with Nathan’s friend Julien. We weren’t sure where or when that was going to happen. Julien spent 6 months in Orlando about 8 years ago, where he was working on computer graphics research at the same time Nathan was working for the Media Convergence Laboratory in Research Park. We all became friends back then and hadn’t seen Julien in that long, and were excited to reconnect. Julien invited us to meet up with him and his girlfriend Michelle down at the riverside of the Seine in an area where a lot of temporary cafes, restaurants and seating are set up in the summertime. In a few weeks there will be a temporary beach set up near there as well, with truckloads of sand brought in to create another space to hang out and enjoy the river, the sun and the warmth.

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Sunset on the Seine

There were tons of young people hanging out along the river as the sun slowly set. Many had brought their own food and beverages and were sitting anywhere they wanted. Many more were sitting in the foldout sling chairs around the restaurants and bars. It was tough to find 4 seats together but we managed to after a little while, and sat down, had a few beers and caught up. It’s so nice to be outside in the evening here during the summertime, as the sun doesn’t really set until past 10pm and it’s light for longer after that.

We chatted for hours about many subjects, especially politics and where we should travel around France. It really felt like the 4 of us had been friends for a long time. Traveling has its way of binding you to each other and the people you meet. Strangers all around, so when a familiar face sits next to you, the connection is that much greater.

Red Herring?

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We got up a bit earlier than the day before, and had breakfast out on the chilly balcony, after saying goodbye to Jasper. We cleaned up a bit, and packed up a bit, knowing we had to get back around 4:30pm to get ready for our train ride to Paris.

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We rode our bikes – about a 15 minute ride – to the Stedelijk Museum, which is a modern art museum near the Van Gogh, Rijks, and other museums. We loved the art! We especially loved the first floor, with pre-1960s art, but also some of the more modern and contemporary works as well. Pieces by Kandinsky, Mondriaan, Cezanne, Sol Lewitt, Esther Kroon, Hans Haacke, Nam June Paik, Jean Tinguely, Hellicar & Lewis, Werkman, and Naom Gabo stood out to us.

1930s design... IKEA source material
1930s design… IKEA source material
Poang chair, anyone?
Poang chair, anyone?

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We were running short on time because we had to return the bikes by the early afternoon, so we hastened our pace through the rest of the museum and gift shop and rode back to Frederic’s. We attempted to get a guy to take pictures of us on bikes, but the timing is more difficult than it seems 🙂

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IMG_0408We sat down by a canal and ate sandwiches. We brought the ukulele, convinced we were going to play it, but yet again, it sat in the case. Nearby Frederic’s is a neighborhood called the Jordaan, which is a highly recommended stroll in all the guidebooks. It’s very picturesque, with fewer canals than other neighborhoods, but more shared central space in which to play and sit. It’s a posh neighborhood – very expensive to live there.

Our guidebook’s tour was great. It told us of secrets you could never know just by walking by… for example, there’s a certain door you can open and walk in to the courtyard of a 17th century home for widows. The sunlight filters in to a majestic garden. At some point, maybe 45 minutes in, we were ready to sit. We looked for a cafe that the guidebook had recommended, great for outside seating on a terrace next to a canal. But there were no seats left. We tried to find another place with good seating, but to no avail. We went back to the cafe and begrudgingly went inside for sandwiches and coffee. It was nice to rest our feet, but Amy really wanted to sit on that terrace. C’est la vie!

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IMG_0434We were running low on time and still needed to stop by a herring stand. We found one near the central station, and got up the nerve to order raw herring (filleted, with the tail still on, and raw onions sprinkled on top). A traditional Dutch snack, at least for some of the older crowd 🙂 We got one to share and Nathan was the first to give it a go. He enjoyed it greatly. As you can see by Amy’s pained expressions, however, she was not a fan. To put it mildly.

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Bike garage!
Bike garage!

 

IMG_3280We headed back to Jasper’s, packed everything up and went to the train station to catch our train to Paris. We were running low on time and Amy was getting nervous, although we had built in some buffers. The train from Jasper’s to central station was running about 5 minutes late, but we made it to the Thalys train about 15 minutes before it left. The ride was fast, with just a few stops (just over 3 hours from Amsterdam to Paris, which are about 500 km distance by car).

Once we got to Gare du Nord, we were supposed to catch the Metro line 2 to Couronnes. Unfortunately, there was not a single sign in the train station with any hint of a metro line 2. After wandering around for awhile, we went to an information desk. We asked the guy behind the counter if he spoke English (in French), and he said no. We tried to communicate what we were looking for. He was not helpful, at all. In fact, he seemed tired and very annoyed, and was just not nice. This was our first interaction in Paris and it lived up to all the stereotypes.

After poking around a bit more and debating what to do, we went to another information desk, hoping that our second try would be more successful than the first. The second guy was nice, but also didn’t speak English. He tried to communicate with us and at least got us headed in the right direction, though it wasn’t really clear what we needed to do. We got up to the RER gate and, not knowing what to do next, paused. We were nearing the height of our frustration and Amy was about ready to cry.

Someone asked us for help (ha!). We saw the same guy asking a nice younger woman for help, so we asked her for help after he left. As she was trying to remember how to walk to line 2, an Indian man overheard us and asked if we needed help. He explained that he knew where to go and worked as a French/English translator so he liked to practice with people. He shuffled us through the RER gate with his pass (probably not allowed), and walked us towards the long series of hallways that would lead to the Metro line 2. We were extremely grateful for his help, and didn’t have much trouble after that. We made it to Sheila and Austin’s place. Sheila had left a family gathering to come meet us at the apartment, and got us acquainted with their very very small home – 27 square meters… Google it 😉

The City of Lights

We’re deep in research mode for our upcoming trip to Paris this summer. Watching Rick Steve’s TV show and reading his guidebook (he loves Paris and we’ve had good experiences with his suggestions), perusing Airbnb, VRBO and CouchSurfing for accommodations options, and hitting up friends and family for suggestions. Also keeping an eye on plane ticket prices. They’re expensive this year… probably $1,400 per person.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood in Paris you like to stay in?