Back in Paris and feeling good!

Hello all!

I know you probably thought that I had given up on my blog, having not written in so long, but I assure you that is not the case. I am currently without internet in my charming little apartment, which means my newest past time is reading and drinking all the wine I originally purchased to bring home, but then didn’t bring home for fear of it breaking in my suitcase.  I am by no means complaining, because let’s face it, reading and drinking wine is not a hard past time – many dream of this being their only past time.

So I am back in Paris, gay Paris, the city of lights and love. I am feeling rejuvenated and have found a new love for my temporary home. After being back in Toronto for Christmas and having a break from all the hustle and bustle, and Christmas insanity of Paris, I am planning fun things for the rest of my stay in Paris. I think I have settled on the simple fact that Paris is the perfect city to visit and perhaps a less perfect city to live in.  Regardless, the clock is ticking on my amazing year in Paris, so I now have to make the best of it.

The past two weeks have been filled with fun activities. I have been out having drinks with friends, and spent a day celebrating la fete des rois at Thibaut’s house (which involved a large gathering with gifts and family and eating a galette des Rois – a pie filled with marzipan with a small figurine hidden in it. The person who gets the figurine is crowned King and picks a queen or vice versa if it’s a girl). click on the link above to see more about it – I’m thinking Canada should adopt a holiday like this, it felt like an extension of Christmas!

I have been out to see movies in the evenings, and have been attending events with my Cosmoplus girls, a group of plus sized girls who are working to change the face of the plus size industry in France, who also plan outings like comedy club nights, Salsa dance nights and craft days. We went and saw an open mic comedy night in French, which I must admit I wasn’t sure how much I would understand of it, but came out pleasantly surprised, having understood all of it! On top  of all that, it was very funny! It’s nice to hear people poke fun at the hypocrisy and silliness of daily life in Paris, the unnecessary impatience and rage of many Parisians on their way to work, be it in a car or in the metro no longer annoys me, because I can now laugh at it thanks to all the comedians I saw the other night.  What a relief!

Work is back to normal, although very busy, but I am still enjoying it. I will be sorry to say goodbye to it in less than four months time. I love the people I work with and I think will find it hard to find another group of people like that in future jobs, but such is life. This past Friday, we celebrated two birthdays in the office, with champagne, my homemade brownies, and of course a galette des rois. I always feel like I among family with everyone at work, because we have such a great time together.

For the new year, I am going to be going to London in February and am trying to organize a few other trips to keep my weekends busy. I will of course keep you updated on all those things as they happen. For now I am trying to keep my excitement contained for my trip to London, because I love London so much.

I am really going to try and take more photos as well this year, as I feel my blog is lacking in that department a bit – so please forgive me for that.

Before I leave you, I have to tell you about a book that I received for Christmas from my mum, called “A Year in the Merde” by Stephen Clarke. It tells the story of an Englishman who is sent to Paris for work for a year. I have not laughed out loud at a book this much in a long time, and for anyone who is interested in knowing the big truths about living in Paris, I would highly recommend it. I zipped through many a chapter laughing and agreeing with all the experiences that I too had had in Paris that at the time frustrated me but now can laugh about. He has put into words what every foreigner living in Paris has been unable to in the past.  You can see more about it here

I will be back soon with more photos and updates, I promise! Wishing you all a happy new year and all the best! Hopefully you are still keeping up your resolutions!

Take care!

 

Spec.

 

 

Winter in Paris…

As I sit in my office, the one at work and not at home (evidently), I am watching snowflakes fall and catch on the wirey branches of the trees down on Avenue Montaigne. Dior, Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston look  a touch more magical with a little snow on the ground outside. I know what Paris looks like in the winter from postcards, actually, I know what the Eiffel Tower looks like with snow on it – now I know what it looks like for real.  Of course it is blustry and wet like any city, just because it`s the city of love doesn’t mean it gets any less slush and cold than the shoulder of the I195 passing through Buffalo – winter is winter plain and simple. Regardless, from a window atop the 5th floor, the city does have a certain je ne sais quoi…

So far, it has mostly been chilly out, with the odd miniature snow squal, if we can call it that.  The things that make Paris magical in the winter are the markets and the traditions you can see unfolding all over the city. I visited the winter market on the Champs-Elysées, where I drank “vin chaud” (hot red wine – mulled like a cider) and saw the official lighting of les champs for the season. I was honestly hoping it would be more moving than it was, but nevertheless it was beautiful.

At Concorde, there is a giant ferris wheel, almost like a mini London Eye, that you can ride and see the entire city from the top – it is on my list of things to do before I come back to Toronto mid-December. It looks amazing from where I walk most days – so I took a picture for all of you to see.

I think most of us would agree that with Christmas comes famimly and this year I am far from mine for the moment. Just when I needed a little break from the city and the commotion,  I went to visit my friend Thibaut’s family, who always take me in like their own and make me feel at home.

On the weekend, when I visited, I spent a good part of the day doing little things with Thibaut’s mum. She made us all a delicious lunch, and then took me to see this famous Russian cemetary in Sainte-Geneviève-des Bois. It was beautiful, with all of the Orthodox crosses, flowers and religious momentos , like coloured eggs and miniature crosses in little windows built into the graves. There are princes and princesses buried in this cemetary as well as many Russian writers. More notably, Noreeve, the famous dancer is buried there, and the grave is magnificient. A tapestry created from mosaic tiles covers the grave, fresh flowers and even a pair of worn out ballet shoes from a  fan lay all around the grave. This cemetary, unlike others that I have visited,  had a very peaceful ambiance, almost welcoming.

To continue with the religion themed visits, we made a quick stop the La Grotte de Sainte-Genevieve. I had no idea what a grotte was, but was very happy to have found out.  For those of you like me prior to my visit, a grotte is like an underground space where people go to pray, light candles and thank  god or a sainte for example.  We walked in through a dark tunnel, and at the end, was a corner filled with candles lit in rows and circles, religious icons, thank you letters and flowers. A park bench sat in front of an enormous tree, a tree that has grown so tall and old that it has busted through the roof, forcing them to remove it.  I can understand why someone would come here to think or pray, it is, despite being just off a busy street, a very peaceful and beautiful space.

Once back at the house, I sat by the fireplace to warm up, and to my surprise, Thibaut’s mum and dad brought out a bowl of chestnuts they had picked a couple of weeks prior. We prepared the iron pan and for the first time ever, I roasted chestnuts. It was a day of firsts. I then tasted roasted chestnuts for the first time, and am in love with them. They are so delicious and smooth to eat. It is a bit of a process to get to the step of eating but definately worth it. We never see this in Toronto, or Halifax for that matter, but in Paris, roasted chestnuts can be found all over the city, sold by guys on the street with shopping carts padded with embers and pans atop the embers with chestnuts roasting slowly. It certainly makes Paris smell delicious, which I can assure you is a welcome change.

One day away…Brussels

This past weekend, I went to Brussels, Belgium for one day. The main purpose for the trip was for myself and and a friend to see Canada play Belgium in rugby, but of course we were also going to squeeze in a few touristy things along the way. So on Saturday morning we met at the infamous Gare du Nord in Paris to embark on our day trip. We hopped on our train and prepped for the little over an hour trip. Now I must tell you that, for the first time in my life, I was booked in a first class seat. Granted, it was for some reason, at the time of booking, cheaper than a regular seat. Anyways, a man in a fancy vest snipped my ticket and showed me to my big comfy red velour seat. The car was almost empty except for the 4 or 5 business men pretending to look important, scattered among the seats ahead of me.  As we pulled out of the station and out into the rainy grey day in Paris, the perks of first class began to unravel before my eyes. First, I was offered a newspaper or magazine, followed by another man in a fancy vest with a cart giving out miniature cans of orange juice, cups of coffee and miniature croissants and pots of yogurt. Apparently first class also implies that everything has to be miniature. This I found intriguing to say the least.

 

After sitting and watching the rain stop as we zipped past country side, we began to pull into Brussels, where it was equally as grey but not as rainy. We popped off the train and went straight to figure out the metro so we could get to the centre of the city. I still, after a day of studying and trying to understand do not get how the Brussels metro/tram/buses work. It is a complete mystery to me as the lines all have number and letter names and seem to go in very similar directions. Regardless, we managed throughout the day to get around.

As we only had a couple of hours we went to the old part of the city where everything is cobblestone and really lovely. The buildings are incredibly tall and sit right at the edge of the street, as if about to lean and fall over on you as you walk past.

It seems like every boutique sells speculoos cookies in the shapes of religious figures, beer mugs, beer, waffles or fries. There were also more chocolate shops than I have ever seen in such a small place. Around every corner was a window display with a chocolate fountain, it was really quite lovely.

We tested out some of the delights to be had and walked around enjoying the architecture and culture. We took a little trip out to see what the rest of the city looked like as well, although I am sad to report that it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would. It felt a bit generic. That is not to say that it was bad, it is a really nice place, but I think it is safe to say that I probably wouldn’t move there.

I would still like to see other cities in Belgium though, because just as Paris doesn’t make France, Brussels probably doesn’t make Belgium either.

As the day wore on, we made our way to the stadium to go see Canada kick Belgium’s arse in rugby. It was a good game despite how cold it was getting, and I was surprised to see the amount of Canadian supporters that there were. We kicked back plenty of mediocre beer, and cheered for our boys like any good Canadians would.

After the game, we attempted to find other Canadians to go and celebrate with, but sadly the only ones we could track down were a bunch of old geizers, and well, it just wasn’t what we had in mind.  So we embarked once again on the metro tram thing back to the old part of the city.

We then found out how the many little pubs get all their business, as a man almost begged us to come in, hoping his lavish descriptions of dishes would entice us and make us eat there. Spineless, we went in. The pub was cute, with a fireplace, which was a welcome addition to the cold weather, and the food was alright. It was nice to be inside and to have a bite to eat.

The day felt like it went by in a flash and I really liked seeing a little Canadian pride, it’s good to see that kind of thing when you have been away for a while… reaffirms your existence on this great vast planet.

As the day came to a close, we came back to Paris and headed home, where I was happy to see my warm couch bed still unfolded, as though arms wide open, welcoming me home from my little day journey.

An Interactive Feature! Hooray!

So as promised, I am back with a little treat. You can set aside your reading spectacles and put on your listening caps! I wanted to give you a little taste of what the Paris metro is like on a really good day. Don’t worry, you wont be mugged, so you can keep your phones out in the open and relax, I promise it will be a good experience. 🙂

Imagine yourself in an old metro car, where you yourself have to unhook the latch for the doors to open, people all around you speaking French. It smells of cigarette, a mix of perfumes, and let’s be honest a slight whiff of urine. You are seated facing someone you don’t know and a gentleman with a speaker and a clarinet steps onto the train. Here is what happens next (please make sure your speakers are on before pressing play) :

 

For those of you who are interested, I took a little recording using my trusty iphone as I usually do and all the surroundings described are 100% accurate. Would I lie to you!?

xo

Spec.

 

Fall-ing back into the groove…

Hi everyone!

I have to thank you for being so patient and checking back to see if I have updated. I can see you visited and I have been neglecting my blogs a little lately due to being so busy and trying to figure out my next move, in life. To make up for the break however, I have prepared several little videos and pictures to share with you, as well as multiple posts this week. I hope you can forgive me for my time away 🙂

I think if I were in Canada right now, this post would be considerably more poetic because I could tell you about how beautiful everything looks as the leaves change colour and the smell of fall takes over, but alas I am in the concrete jungle of Paris, where it seemingly is just getting colder and the few trees that there are, are not changing colour.( I suspect that the trees are not in fact real, but that I can’t be certain about, as the leaves begin about a giraffes length up and I cannot reach to check). Regardless, one thing I can say is that, as it is dark in the morning when I wake up, by the time I ride over the “Pont D’Alma” on my way to work, the sky is a canvas of orange and purple and showcases the Eiffel Tower beautifully.

I am still loving work and couldn’t be happier with my job. I have been looking for things to do to keep my life interesting and exciting while I’m still in the city. Last week, I went to see one of my favourite French musicians, Christophe Mae, at Paris Bercy, which I would say is Paris’ equivalent to the ACC. The show was incredible and we were so close to the stage. Just a little closer and I think I could have shook his hand and then of course never washed my hand ever again.  It was really nice to go and see a concert and I was blown away by how good the show was. There were African dancers and singers, a full band, dancing, audience participation, and an uneventful pre-show act, which to me sums up all the necessities of a great show. Here are a couple of pictures and a video so you can pretend you were there with me: (Please excuse the quality of video and pictures, my camera does not do well in dark spaces)

If you like what you heard in my shoddy video, check out this link where you can hear more of his stuff. It’s French, upbeat and a little islandy!

I have also been trying to take in a little more culture when I can, so I have been going to the Bastille market on Sunday afternoons. The market is known for being cheap and good for fruits and veggies, which I can tell you is not something grocery stores in Paris do well. Most of the time, the fruits and veggies from supermarkets are on the verge of going bad and  I never eat everything in time. Fortunately, the market is full of good quality produce and it costs next to nothing. I sometimes make it a challenge and bring a small amount of money, like 10 euros and see how well I can do. Last time I came home with over 8 kilos of stuff –  it was a trip well worth the carry home. I will also add that I get proposed to at least once each time I go, by the merchants. I still cannot figure out if this is a sales tactic that works well for them. Surely I would consider buying my potatoes off the man who has the courage to ask my hand in marriage as opposed the man who does not!!!

Regardless, last time, on my way home, I stopped to see this street band that was really gaining a crowd. The music was so fun and groovy and although you can’t see in the video, people were dancing together off to the side. I think in retrospect, I would have loved to live in the Bastille area, because it is young, hip and teeming with creativity like this:

Now I’m sure you are all wondering about the strikes in Paris, and France in general, as I have had plenty of people ask me what is has been like here. I have to say that, perhaps I am missing something big, but nothing has really changed in Paris other than the transit is slow and disorganized, or at least more so than usual, and sometimes they decided to not run my bus home for no apparent reason and without telling me. I know there have been riots in other cities and there have been strikes all over Paris, but nothing so big has happened that has made me think twice about leaving my apartment or not going out. I can assure you that all this business about Lady Gaga canceling her show in Paris because of the strikes is a clear example of how the international media is blowing the situation out of proportion. I’m pretty sure that Miss Gaga herself could still have come to Paris without fearing for her life… but the media will do what the media will do. (To be honest I wasn’t crushed in the least about her not coming, I just found it to be the most humorous of examples when it came to the real situation in Paris.) To assure you further that things are fine here in Paris, the regular strikes for things like animal rights are back on as per usual, which to me proves that things are slowly going back to how they were. I even took a photo for you all to see:

I will be back this week with a couple of posts as I have been working on a couple new projects that I want to share with all of you, so be sure to visit soon!

I want to thank you all for reading and commenting as often as you do, it really makes me happy to know that people back home are still with me 🙂

Sending love to you all!

 

Spec.

When Mum came to visit…

Despite talking to my mum very regularly on the phone, it’s just not the same as having her with me. A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have her come and visit me in Paris. Now I think when she arrived, she may have thought my apartment was small based on webcam shots, but didn’t REALLY know how small it was. I like to call it quaint. We only had a week together, and thankfully, having been to Paris before, my mumsy wasn’t too upset about not seeing all the touristy sites. I just wanted to spend time with her, and it didn’t really matter what we did.

On the first evening, we made a dinner of fresh cheeses, warm baguette and sat and talked. We had spent the afternoon walking down in the St Michel neighbourhood and the Marais, but alas with jet lag, and me having worked part of the day, we settled in to bed early. Now, if you know my mum and I, you know that it is difficult for us to sleep in the same room as one another as we giggle and chat too much into the wee hours of the morning. This is precisely what happened.

Let me share with you the topic of the evening. How the Chunnel built? Brought on, no doubt by the fact that we were set to go through it in a couple of days, to London. Popular questions included: Does it really go through the water? How did they get the tubes in the water? me – Can you see the fish as you go through? etc etc. This took a serious Wikipedia session to solve before we could rest in peace.

The following day, I had to go to work, so mum went on a bike tour of Paris, which I hadn’t heard of anyone doing until she told me about it. Mum’s internet travel research for the win! From the  sounds of it, you really get to see all the good parts of Paris, with little tidbits of the obvious tourist stuff.

That evening we had a lovely little dinner at a French bistro called Chez Janou, in the Bastille area. I love Bastille because it is so vibrant and fun and the food was delicious. We also had wine which felt very French… throw in the cigarette smoke and warm baguette from the tables next to us and it’s about as French as it gets! hon hi hon hi hon! (French laugh)

It was so nice to come home after work and have my dearest Mumsy waiting for me. We did quite a bit of walking around downtown but had to prepare for our trip to London for the weekend!

The following day, Mum came to visit the embassy to see where I work just before we were leaving for the Eurostar to London. I felt very important as I am currently using an enormous office of a lady who just recently retired. ( They are fixing up my actual office where I will share a space with another person) For now however, I am livin’ it large in an office 3-4 times bigger than my apartment.

We headed back to the apartment to gather out things to go to London. Now the last time I went to London I was mugged on my way home in the train so this time I was being super vigilante and to my surprise actually saw pickpockets lurking around the metro at the train station this time. It pays to be alert here, that’s all I can say. Anyways, I am happy to inform you all that neither Mum nor I got mugged or had a bad experience, unless you count the metro workers strike which caused a rather gross, hot and packed metro ride to the train station… but that’s just Paris.

The train was great as per usual and I think Mum finally got had a good nap,while I studied for my UK citizenship test. We whizzed through the Chunnel and all of our newfound knowledge of it disappeared as neither of us was paying attention while we went through. We emerged into London and hopped on the tube, shockingly, it was raining. We arrived at Paddington station and walked to our hotel. Our hotel looked like a row of houses on a quiet street and was quiet nice. The staff didn’t know what tissues were and brought us napkins, as well as when told that the room was extremely cold, put the heating on to 35 degrees, and provided beds that compete with rocks in a comfort competition, but we weren’t there for hotel, we were there for the city!  On our first day, I made mum have a real English breakfast because I like that sort of thing. We then made our way down to Oxford street so I could see a new clothing line that I had been dying to see.

We spent the day roaming around the shops and enjoying our little vacation. Thanks to mum’s savvy research we found a couple amazing restaurants where we sat, chatted and enjoyed some good English food. We also went to Portobello market, one of my most favourite places in London, saw my beloved bed-knobs and broomsticks characters, and I introduced Mum to whoopie pies, which I hear are catching on back home in Canada. Clearly I have contributed to this newfound discovery in some way!

 

On Sunday, we went to the Orangery, which is a tea house inside the Kensington Gardens and next to the Palace. It was so charming as they brought little tea sandwiches on white napkins and deliciously orange smelling tea. It was exactly how I would imagine an English tea house, that perhaps the Queen would have her tea in. Here is a photo of me by the strange silo shaped bushes.

 

This man was feeding the squirrels, and they would come right up to him, sit on his hand and eat the nuts they were given, it was really neat.

After our little tea break, we went to see this really fun exhibit at the Kensington Palace. They had turned the palace into a sort of fairy tale where each room represents a different fairy tale or story, and the princesses from each story are real princesses from the English monarchy. It was very regally decorated and the lights were low with all sorts of mysterious montages and exhibits. There was even a game that required us to find all the names of the princesses as we went through the exhibit.  I really loved the exhibit and thought the Kensington Palace was quite lovely. I was expecting it to be a lot less beautiful inside, and was pleasantly surprised.

The weekend was really fun and went by way too fast. I still am completely in love with London, and wish I could go every weekend. Because of tube work, a lot of lines on the tube were not running from many stations while we were there, so we took the regular double-decker city buses everywhere and it was nice to just put around the city and see it from above ground, it really gives you an idea of how the city is connected.

Sadly, on Sunday evening, we headed back through the Chunnel to Paris. We were greeted by the usual sketchy crowd at Gare du Nord, and hopped as fast as we could into a taxi home. Home sweet apartment!

On Monday, I had taken the day off and was determined to show mum a couple of places that I love in Paris. The first, was Sacre Coeur. I love the view and the amazing old architecture. It really is amazing to see. It also gives you a real feel for what Paris is like, and how old and beautiful it is.

We spent our last day together again walking the streets, we went back to the Marais, visited Le Bon Marche, saw the Moulin Rouge and then had a little farewell drink with my friend Thibaut at The Great Canadian Bar, which I will point out, had an Australian server.

I was so sad to see my dear mumsy go on Tuesday morning. The shuttle picked her up so early and I wanted her to stay forever! But alas, all good things must come to and end. Now we are back to our regular Skype chats where we discuss the inner working of train tunnels, whether Paul McCartney and Angela Lansbury are the same person or any other ridiculous random subject that may come up.

One night a Paris…

After spending a wild weekend in London, meeting new people and seeing the city, I was back to where I now call home, Paris. Despite having a little less than pleasant run in on the metro with some thieves who stole my phone on my way back from the train station, I made it back in one piece. I spent the following week feeling a tad mopey about my phone being gone, and my roommate moving out, but started to feel better as I started my new job and had a super Friday night planned. My first week at the new job proved to be interesting and came with the bonus of no stress! I was excited to finally have a normal schedule where I too could participate in the ritual of Saturday Sunday weekends.

For my first real weekend, I didn’t have much planned for the days but I did know that my new friend Colin, who I met in London at the hostel, was coming into Paris on a layover for 1 night and that I had promised him a tour of Paris. On Friday night, Colin arrived just before 11 30pm and we rushed to get the evening started. We began by taking the metro, a must have experience, to the Eiffel tower, so as not to miss the flickering lights that go on at midnight for only 3 short minutes. We arrived just in time and watch the twinkling lights from below the tower on the Champs de Mars. After seeing the Eiffel Tower, we started to walk towards the Champs Elysees.

I think the Champs Elysees at night is one of the coolest places in Paris, because no matter the hour, there are always people out and about, little places open and lights on. It was so neat to be walking Paris at night with someone who I didn’t know well, because as we discovered the city we chatted and got to know each other. I can confirm to you all that Colin is a pretty cool guy as I had previously predicted. ☺ Once on the Champs Elysees we stopped to have a bite to eat. We had cheese crepes with wine followed by a decadent little chocolate mouielleux for dessert. We stayed on the patio and talked until the waiters in blue and white striped marine shirts gently asked us to leave, as the restaurant was closing. Rejuvenated, we moved along up to the Arc de Triumph, which we learned rather abruptly that you cannot approach in the middle of the night. It was about 2 am by this time, and the Arc de Triumph still has lights on it and the flame going in the middle underneath, so Colin and I crossed the deadly roundabout to get over to it and see. Once close up and taking photos and admiring how interesting it is, a police car pulls up and rolls down the window. They tell us that we are not allowed to be over in the middle of the roundabout, and that the Arc de Triumph is closed. We have to leave immediately because being over here is an “offense” that we could be fined for, if I understood correctly.

So we began to try and cross back over to the other side of the roundabout, where it was legal to stand and look at the Arc. I thought to myself, my goodness, Colin is here for less than one day and I have already found a way to get us in trouble. We walked plenty more, before stopping for a break and prepping for our last big visit to Sacre Coeur. So far, I was surprised to see how much had been accessible to us in the middle of the night and how many people, not a lot, but some, were still out with us. Once the metro restarted again, we made our way to Sacre Coeur, one of the, or maybe the oldest (I’m a little rusty on my history) cathedrals in Paris. As much as I knew that the cathedral itself was lovely, what I wanted to see was the view. Poised at the top of Montmartre, one of the highest points in Paris, you can see almost the entire city from just outside the cathedral.

So at 5 30 am, there we were, standing at the top of Montmartre, watching the fog clear, the clouds appear and the sun come up. Off in the distance, the tin and copper roves appeared and Paris was waking up. By 7 30, it was time for Colin to head back to the airport to catch his flight back home. So I left him at the RER train station and headed home myself. As my head bobbed back in forth, in and out of sleep on the metro home, all I could think was that my love for Paris had been restored, that I had re-found the twinkle that I had somehow lost since arriving in May and that things were looking up.