Paris

In my experience, no other city has created such a broad spectrum of opinions as Paris has.

Hello Paris

The following are opinions of Paris that I have read, seen in movies or on television, or have heard from friends and acquaintances:

(Note: These bullet points are not my views).

– Paris is magical! Heaven on earth!

– It’s filthy. Trash everywhere on the streets, and it stinks. It’s so gross.

– From Midnight in Paris, “This is unbelievable! Look at this! There’s no city like this in the world. There never was…Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain?” (More on Paris in the rain later…)

– The Eiffel Tower isn’t that great. Don’t get your hopes up.

– The Louvre is boring and crowded, don’t waste your time.

– Paris would be nice if it weren’t for the French. (Ouch!)

– There’s never enough time to see all there is to see in Paris.

– Paris just screams class and elegance.

 

With all of those ideas bouncing around in my head, I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I wanted to see it for myself. When Sam’s parents visited, we thought it was a perfect opportunity.

We packed up the car, drove to Folkestone, and hopped on the Eurostar train to take us under the English Channel to Calais, France. The Channel Tunnel (usually referred to as the Chunnel) is ~31 miles long and includes two high-speed trains. You can read a bit more about it here. When crossing at this point, it takes about 2-2.5 hours to cross the channel by ferry, while the Chunnel only takes around 35 minutes.

After checking in and waiting to board, you just drive onto the train! You can’t even see the Channel from the port so it takes away some of the eerie feelings of, “Wait. I’m going under water?!”

About to board!

About to board!

You stay in your car – or you can walk around the train – for the quick journey. It was an easy trip, although the cat in the car behind us seemed to think differently.

Once we arrived in France, we drove about three hours to Paris. Right as we approached the city center, our GPS decided to stop working, so we took an accidental, yet scenic, drive through the center of Paris. Sam was a pro navigating the city; he even safely drove us around the Arc de Triomphe roundabout (infamous for causing numerous accidents) before taking us to our accommodations, Hotel Odessa.

Paris is divided into twenty zones known as arrondissements. We stayed in the 14th one, called Montparnasse. I had read somewhere that it was a residential area with many cafes and restaurants; we found that to be true. Creperies were everywhere, there were several places within walking distance to hop on the Metro (their subway system), and a market just down the road. Our hotel was very affordable for Paris. I loved the view from our window as well… Perfect for people watching!

A room with a view

A room with a view

This creperie was hopping all evening.

This creperie (far left) was hopping all evening.

These men were having a lively discussion over espresso and cigarettes at about 7am on day.

These men were having a lively discussion over espresso and cigarettes outside the creperie one morning.

In fact, one of our first stops in Paris was at a creperie. I was surprised to find savory buckwheat crepes alongside the traditional sweet ones. I ordered a “coffee” and received espresso, forgetting that was the norm there. It was delicious though! Along with the espresso I downed a savory buckwheat crepe with mushrooms, ham and cheese. By the way, if you ever go to Paris, you’ll want to know the French words, “jambon et fromage.” Ham and cheese. You’ll find them on almost every menu in numerous ham, cheese, carb combinations. But hey, no complaints here!

From where we stayed, it was a few mile walk to the Eiffel tower area. It was doable, but a little tiring. Our transportation in Paris was split between taking the Metro and walking. So, with crepe filled bellies, we walked to the Eiffel Tower. It really does tower over the city, visible from most places. The Eiffel Tower also generates some split opinions. For every person who finds it beautiful and grand, there is someone else who see it as just a big, tasteless hunk of metal. One famous hater is French novelist Guy de Maupassant, who is said to have eaten lunch at the Eiffel Tower restaurant daily because it was the only place he could enjoy a few hours without having to look at the tower. He sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t he? 🙂 In the early 1900s it was quite trendy to hate the Eiffel Tower… Now, the crowds gathered around the tower’s lawns indicate otherwise.

Selfie!

Selfie!

The view of the River Seine from the Pont d'Iéna bridge.

The view of the River Seine from the Pont d’Iéna bridge.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from the Esplanade du Trocadéro.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from the Esplanade du Trocadéro.

There are huge gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower, with large lawns, empty/dry fountains, and massive swaths of dirt. I wonder if the fountains are only filled during the summer… but the first view of a large dirt area with some empty fountain areas didn’t match the beauty surrounding it. However, walk towards the grassy areas and you’re met with a stunning view of the tower and lively, happy people. Crowds of tourists (of course) taking pictures and locals picnicking spot the lawn. It seems like most people have a certain picture in mind that they want to capture with the majestic tower in the background. Others seemed to panic and strike a fast, random pose as their photographing friend counted up to 3. We saw some strange poses including, but not limited to, The Saturday-Night-Fever-Disco-Point, The Playing-It-Cool-Shoulder-Shrug, The Make-It-Look-Like-I’m-Kissing-It, and The Cheerleader-Toe-Touch. But the most popular of them all was the selfie. 🙂 We will admit to that too, don’t worry. 🙂

Guilty also!

These guys were selfie pros by the end of the trip.

One phenomenon witnessed there that I found hilarious was the extendable selfie pole. Nothing screams tourist quite like that!

In any touristy area of Paris (and many other European cities) I can guarantee that there are 1) street peddlers and 2) pickpockets. The street peddlers in Paris all seem to be selling the same things: Eiffel Tower models, key chains, little wooden trains with letters attached to spell out names, or kids’ foam airplanes. They have their merchandise dangling from big metal hangars or sprawled out at their feet. Outside the Louvre, the sight of a policeman on bike sent them scattering, only to reappear a few seconds later. The pickpockets are difficult to identify so you just have to assume they’re always present. Ladies, keep your purse openings facing you and in sight. Men, watch your wallets. Don’t trust anyone in a crowd, even if they look like a “normal” local. We almost got pickpocketed in the Metro so our guards were up. It’s a sad but expected part of traveling in many places.

On Sunday morning, we woke up, gobbled down a few croissants for breakfast, and then headed to Monmartre, a hilltop portion of Paris famous for it’s artisan culture and it’s church, The Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart). Although we got rained on (for the second time) on our way there, we were still able to enjoy the beautiful views of the city from above.

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The Montparnasse area where we stayed is right next to the very tall building on the right. (Click on picture to enlarge). By the way, can I please take this opportunity to say it drives me crazy when people use their iPads to take pictures in public??

We happened to arrive at the Sacre Coeur just in time for the 11:15 service. The music (and acoustics!) were incredible. It was one of my favorite parts of visiting Paris. A sign outside the church said, “For over 125 years, here night and day, someone is praying to the Lord.”

The Sacred Heart Church

The Sacred Heart Church – Clearly, the sun came out!

As you can see, the sun was back out by this point. Our weather in continental Europe was quite fickle. It rained often but not for long, so we spent a few euro on umbrellas and rolled with the punches.

After we left the church we walked through the portion of the town that was also on the hilltop. It was quite touristy, so we rushed through it to the quieter area just downhill.

Everyone seemed to head this way from the church.

Everyone seemed to head this way from the church. Many people here had no concept of manners or personal space – an elderly lady lowered her head and shouldered right into me like a football player! – so we left the area quickly.

Tourist see, Tourist do. ;)

Tourist see, Tourist do. 😉

These did look tempting but we held off until we reached somewhere quieter.

These did look tempting but we held off until we reached somewhere quieter.

One of my favorite parts of the city was just down the hill… We walked through a beautiful and quiet residential area into a hopping section of Monmartre. On one small block of the street there was a produce grocer, a boulangerie (bakery), and a few delis and cafes. I could just picture Parisians popping into the boulangerie for a baguette, picking up an espresso and walking off to work. In fact, we saw quite a few people do just that. Before going to Paris, I thought that baguettes were just a stereotype… We’ve probably all seen a painting or illustration of a beret-adorned woman with a baguette sticking out of her handbag, or a bicycle leaned against a white Parisian building with a bottle of wine and baguette in its basket. Well, let me tell you, that stereotype is 100% true! Almost every person we saw who seemed to be a local was either snacking on a baguette or had one casually tucked under an arm or in a bag for later. We did our part to blend in in that area. 🙂

Quite a view!

Quite a view!

Picturesque, I think.

Picturesque, I think.

To add to the classic Parisian vibe, there was even a man trying to fix his broken down classic car on the street corner.

To add to the classic Parisian vibe, there was even a man trying to fix his broken down classic car on the street corner.

We popped into the boulangerie for lunch: baguette sandwiches and pastries. We ate out on the sidewalk, people watching and resting our tired feet.

Lunch!

Lunch!

Second lunch!

Second lunch!

From there, we headed to the Louvre. We exited the Metro near the rear of the Jardin des Tuileries (gardens) and – in the span of less than an hour – sat and soaked up the sun, then hid under trees and umbrellas to dodge the rain. The gardens are beautiful, containing hundreds of sculptures and fountains.

After dodging street peddlers and crowds, and after taking many pictures of the famous glass triangle… we headed in! The line wasn’t too long, surprisingly!

I have many pictures and could go on and on about the Louvre…so I think I’ll save that for a second post. 🙂

In the Jardin des Touleries

In the Jardin des Tuileries (click to enlarge)

Almost there!

Almost there! (click to enlarge)

After wondering around the Louvre for four hours (until they closed) we were exhausted! After a quick nap back at the hotel we walked down the road to a cafe in the Montparnasse area. The food was delicious and affordable (it’s not too difficult to eat affordably in Paris, as long as you’re realistic). We enjoyed sitting under the covered (and heated) patio while we ate.

There was even some cat watching while we ate.

There was even some cat watching while we ate.

We had yet to see the Eiffel Tower at night, so we had a mission!

The Eiffel Tower at night did not disappoint. It “sparkles” on the hour after dark, and that was pretty magical!

Handwriting by Mike, Picture by Sam. :)

Handwriting by Mike, Picture by Sam. 🙂

All four of us!

All four of us!

Overall, Paris really was beautiful. The stark white stone buildings gave the city a clean, classy air. I didn’t find it to be dirty or trash-filled at all. I loved the thousands of balconies with shutters open and flowers in bloom. Though the only French people we really met were those working at restaurants and our hotel, they were all kind enough. I think as Americans, we often expect others to be as warm and neighborly as we can be, but we must remember that’s not the norm in other parts of the world. I never felt belittled by them, though I did feel embarassed by my lack of French knowledge. Monday morning I bravely left the hotel by myself with the mission to find a croissant and coffee, not realising that Monday is typically a day off, even for cafes and groceries. After finding a locked door at the boulangerie we breakfasted at the day before, I headed down to a Starbucks. I greeted the woman politely and ordered in French. She nodded and asked me a question… in French… and I froze. (I didn’t learn that phrase! Were those even words?) With a small, polite smile and barely a pause, she asked, “Your name, please?” DUH! That is usually what comes next when ordering a drink at Starbucks… Oh well, can’t win them all. She continued the rest of the transaction in English, and I at least got my coffee and croissant, even if it was from Starbucks.

bicycle parisshutters and flowerbalconies

For those few minutes as I walked back from Starbucks, I could picture life in Paris, surrounded by beauty and enjoying the relaxed yet lively setting. I would love to go back and enjoy a picnic on one of Paris’ many jardins. Or pop into one of the many other museums for a quiet Sunday afternoon. I’d love to go to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, grab a book and sit with a cup of coffee in an outside cafe for hours. Rarely does a city that large and bustling maintain a relaxed atmosphere; I was impressed. It’s not my favorite place I’ve been, but it had so much to offer – there’s so much more to see. So, I guess you can add my opinion to the list above.

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Cambridge (…so when can I go back?)

Sam and I finally went to Cambridge yesterday. I have been wanting to go since we got here since it’s right around the corner, basically. And wow, it did not disappoint. Be ye warned, this post has a lot of pictures. I just could not narrow it down any more.

Cambridge is host to many academic institutions and an amount of history that is simply hard to grasp. (I mean, I HAVE to go back because I have yet to see any of the museums, tour any of the campuses, or see the pub that Watson and Crick celebrated the discovery of the double helix in. There’s way too much for me to nerd out over.) So, for our first trip, we didn’t really plan anything, we just walked around and found our way throughout the city. We would turn a corner and find some architectural and academic gem such as this:

A charming corner of Cambridge

A charming corner of Cambridge

One of the many things I loved about this city was that the colleges are dotted throughout the city center. We were stopping in quaint little shops along a main stretch and peeked up to see this. There are stunning views everywhere. It seemed as if several of the colleges were having orientation, so there were families moving in and around and tables set up in entryways. I definitely want to go back and tour some of the colleges though, as many of the views were only visible through a fence. Such as this:

"Do Not Walk on Grass." (Okay... what if I just nap on it?)

“Do Not Walk on Grass.” (Okay… what if I just nap on it?)

Unlike some of the towns and larger cities I have been too, I never felt too crowded in Cambridge. I’m not a huge fan of cities and big crowds, so Cambridge felt just right. Even on a busy Saturday with students bustling about, we could take our time and stroll the streets. Several were wide enough for cars but were for pedestrians (or cyclists) only. Sam and I learned this week that Cambridge is close behind Amsterdam in boasting the most bicyclists per capita. Also, this visit reaffirmed my desire for a bicycle basket.

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We ate lunch at Las Iguanas, a Latin restaurant that was recommended to us. It was delicious, and we dined outside with a view of the River Cam. Feeling inspired by the city air, we adventurously opted for a duck taquito dish. It was … strange. That was basically all that remained of our meal.

The awning on the building to the right is Las Iguanas.

The awning on the building to the right is Las Iguanas.

See those boats? Those aren’t just any old boats. (Don’t call it a boat.)  Those are punts. And they are traditional to England, but are inseparable from Cambridge. “Punting on the River Cam” is an age old tradition that locals and tourists alike fork out their pound sterling for, to either lounge and enjoy the ride or give a stab at it themselves. A punt differs from a gondola or canoe by the way it is propelled. They move by a long pole, which is stuck into the bottom of the river and pushed along. Walking over Cambridge’s many bridges, it was quite easy to pinpoint the experienced punter and the visitor giving it the ol’ college try. See if you can guess:

By the way, that is the somewhat famous "mathematical bridge."

By the way, that is the somewhat famous “mathematical bridge.”

Watch out, duckie!

Watch out, duckie! By the way, we’re sorry about lunch… Awkward.

Beautiful, huh?

Beautiful, huh?

We did not go punting yesterday, but I assure you, it is on my list. Although, I think I’ll leave the driving to the pros. Or Sam. 🙂

The view in that last picture above is the “Backs.” The Backs is a strip of lush lawn that edges the Cam behind the colleges. We took a lovely walk back that way and enjoyed seeing the colleges from afar. In this next picture you can see 1. Cows (there on scholarship?) 2. The heads and poles of punters on the Cam, and 3. What I believe is King’s College. But don’t hold me to that.

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At one point while walking, we turned the corner down this beautiful alley,

Inviting, right?

Inviting, right?

And we found a beautiful little artisan fair. We bought a beautiful photograph of a bridge over the Cam.

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But THIS was one of the coolest things we saw at the artisan fair:

The Coffee Bug.

The Coffee Bug.

It’s a big scooter coffee cart. Guys. This is genius. I’ve found my calling. And in the land of instant coffee, powder mocha mix, and weak lattes, THIS coffee was awesome. Sam and I would still love to have a coffee shop someday… maybe we’ll have a coffee Bug instead. Less overhead.

That's an Astoria machine, the brand I learned on.

That’s an Astoria machine, the brand I learned on.

One final contribution to my love of Cambridge: The trees. They were everywhere. How could the day not be refreshing and relaxing when covered by canopies and crunching along sidewalks.  It’s finally feeling like autumn as well.

I did not stick to the sidewalk. There were LEAVES TO BE CRUNCHED.

I did not stick to the sidewalk. There were LEAVES TO BE CRUNCHED.

I really did love Cambridge. In case you couldn’t tell. And what I love even more is the prospect that I could be there in less than an hour, exploring new streets with a proper cup of coffee or relaxing under a tree with a good book. What’s not to love?

“So, are you going crazy yet?”

(First of all, I apologize if you are an email subscriber… the WordPress app got a little over excited and emailed this out before I was ready to post. Please disregard the previous error-filled and photo-lacking post and read this one instead. Thanks!) 

 

Sam asked me that question a few days ago. “So, are you going crazy yet?” I’m not working at the moment and he knows I prefer to stay busy. This picture pretty accurately describes me, actually.

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…then I love routine.

I haven’t “worked” since school let out in May. Besides that, from the time I was of working age, I can only think of one other summer that I didn’t work. In my working past I’ve peddled ice cream, chicken, coffee, coffee and bagels, coffee and pastries, oh and math and science. 🙂 I enjoy working, especially when it’s something I love doing, like making a quality cup of coffee or teaching a great group of kids (usually while drinking a quality cup of coffee).

Yup.

Yup.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to miss teaching quite this much. I absolutely loved teaching. Even on the days when it was hard to get up (almost daily), even on the days where I dreaded the required lesson planning and grading, even when tempted with the thought of doing something “easier” for a living… as soon as I walked into my classroom I was glad I was there and I was excited for the day. I thanked God often for the special students, school and faculty he blessed me with. But, as any teacher an attest, it is an exhausting career…

Exactly.

Exactly.

A quick Google search just told me that the average teaching career lasts 11 years, but I remember a professor mentioning that it’s around 4 years. Either number will show that teachers can burn out quickly. So, I expected this move and the break to be a nice rest from an exhausting job, but as my middle schoolers often post, truth is… I miss teaching! I have several teacher friends and as I see them posting about their classrooms, talking about new students, organizing, etc. I realize how much I miss it.  I’m taking a break from teaching for this year at least to adjust to our new life and start on my masters, but I know I’ll go back to teaching someday. Hopefully soon.

But to answer Sam’s question, no, I’m not going crazy (yet) being unemployed. I’m staying busy organizing and decorating the house, exploring the area, doing crafty things, making new friends, reading, and applying for master’s programs. And today, I woke up during the equivalent of 2nd period and I’m typing this in my pajamas… so there are a few perks of being unemployed. 🙂

I told Sam that this is THE red flag though…

Yikes.

Yikes.

I made him promise that if he comes home to find that my latent cat lady tendencies have come to the forefront and I’ve made friendship bracelets for the cats and myself, he has to make me get a job!