Recent Realizations

  • Although a huge chunk of my identity since I was 23 has been “I’d rather live in Europe,” I think I waited too long. I’m not sure that I would actually be comfortable living abroad, even with sufficient money and friends. There were a couple of times in France when I really missed certain things about home. This was a very rattling realization. (Of course I’m not saying it would be impossible and I’m not saying I don’t think many things about Europe are worthy of emulation — social safety net, decent time off — or worthy of envy — history, culture. It just would be difficult at this point, I think.)
  • I loved traveling alone. It was my first trip sans Issues and my first trip to Europe without major drama. Whether it was my drama, their drama, our drama, their fault, my fault, our fault… nevertheless, there was unpleasantness all my trips before, at least with everyone since my parents, and this one was so relaxing and smooth. However, this makes me worry that I’m truly an incorrigible loner and might really be designed to be alone. It’s kind of bothering me that being alone doesn’t bother me. Will I wake up at 60 and think, “Damn, when I was 44 I should have looked for a new partner?”
  • Because of the train schedule, I have not been late once to my job in the 18 months I’ve worked there. That is a record for this militantly non-morning-person. I also don’t foresee any time I will be late — I’m committed to getting the train I can sit on rather than having to stand all the way into the city. It’s funny because I’m always at my desk twenty to forty minutes before work starts and this actually makes me appear to be a morning person. Ha!

I didn’t say they were all deep realizations.


And then I came home on October 14

My outbound taxi was less than half the price of inbound. That was awesome. The driver asked where I was going and which airline, and then asked if I lived in Switzerland. I guess my French directions were passable. I laughed ruefully and said, “Ah non, des Etats-Unis,” and he complimented my French. He asked where in the US I was from and then what the weather was like here now. “Il fait beau?” “Oui — il fait chaud maintenant!” I knew I was going to be coming home into 70 degree heat.

I was very, very early but I like airports and I prefer the leisurely route. I bought some French sea salt at the duty-free and a couple of magazines, and one last café et pain du chocolat. The plane got into the gate just before we were supposed to be leaving, so we were slightly late out of Paris. Not a full flight, so I had the whole row to myself, which was nice.

When we got to Zürich I had to haul ass because I had only one hour between touchdown and takeoff, and we’d cut into that. Plus, at Zürich you’re out on the tarmac and they bus you back to the terminal, at which point you go through passport control and then need to get on the little loop metro-like train and get to the other terminal. Then you have about seventy miles to go before you get to security. And then, if you’re me, you gratefully and overheatedly collapse onto your plane.

Sat next to an Italian guy maybe a little younger than me, very handsome, well-dressed and immaculately groomed, who seemed annoyed by me. Possibly by my size, the fact that I took my sweater off and my tank top revealed one of my tattoos, or my Americanness (although he spoke English with a near-perfect American accent). Whatever.

I was not air sick this time — my system was thoroughly soaked with Dramamine — and so I could enjoy the four tons of food Swiss gives you. Cold drinks, then dinner, then hot drinks, then another go at the drinks, later a sandwich, later still ice cream, even later pizza, then some coffee and cookies. I know it’s a twelve-hour flight but wow — internationally I’ve flown Pan Am (back in the day), British Airways and Air France and while they were all lovely I’ve never had so much to eat!

Also, everything was free, including hard liquor if you chose. I had a small bottle of wine with dinner but otherwise had water, tea, and coffee.

I didn’t sleep at all although I did finish one book on my Kindle and make some headway on a couple others.

When we finally got back and I got to head to the “US Citizens and Residents” line, being “in” for the first time in awhile,  it was kind of nice. And when the cute immigration guy grinned and said, “Welcome back!” I kinda got teary-eyed. I blame fatigue because that’s not normally the sort of thing that would get to me.

And then I sailed through passport control and they didn’t check my luggage and I was done.

Traffic was hideous on the way home so although I landed before five I only got home a little after seven. The cats were here, and I stayed awake with them until all of nine o’clock! I was pretty proud.

And now life is back to normal, except I am hanging onto the lessons of my International Urban Outward Bound. Or trying to. I’m stronger than I look and I can roll with the punches and be calm and philosophical about things to a greater degree than I thought.

Planning my return, too. I love Europe.

Dispatch October 13, 2011

Winding down here….
Went to l’Orangerie this morning to see Monet’s Water Lilies and (most of) the rest of the collection.


I’m not so into cubist Picasso-type stuff, so skipped that. The Monets are in a circular room he designed, about which I had read before. Outside the sign thanks you for visiting “avec calme,” or as the English translation puts it, “peacefully.” In other words, shut up and look at the paintings, k?

There was an exhibition of Spanish painting around the turn of the last century which I very much liked, and I bought the exhibition book. I am torn between wanting to go to Spain and thinking: “Spain HOT. Spain FULL OF PICKPOCKETS. But mostly Spain HOT.” We’ll see. It’s not going anywhere.

Then I walked along the terrace alongside the museum and down into the Tuileries. I was hungry. (That’s been rare. Sometimes I feel I know I need food, but true hunger hasn’t been common.) I saw a cafe under the trees and went got a Diet Coke (Coca Light) and asparagus risotto.

I was thirsty so I asked for the big drink. The big drink came in one of those huge beer steins with a hefty handle, and it cost more than my lunch (I hadn’t really paid attention). It was FOURTEEN EUROS.

I felt bad for the waiter who was literally running around clearing and cleaning tables, taking orders without writing anything down, getting bills to people and delivering food, and who was at least my age, so in a most un-French way I left him two extra euros.


Walked over to the Louvre and found my Italian and French paintings. I wanted to revisit all the 15th-16th century religious artwork, all those deep blues and lots of gilt; the Grand Gallery and the two big dark-red rooms full of eighteenth and nineteenth century French works.












I was sitting looking at either David’s coronation of Napoleon and Josephine or one of his other works and marveling again at their sheer size. How they were ever transported anywhere — how someone even created them — is amazing.

The rooms and the placement of paintings have not changed since I was there in 2001, and I had an “Aha! There you are!” moment. Funnily, on Monday when I was there feeling horrible, I’d wanted to see them and couldn’t seem to find them. I’d only have had to go up one half-flight of stairs. But I’m glad I didn’t because of the aforementioned feeling like crap. I felt fine today, if tired, and it was much better.










I have books on the Louvre but I got a book about understanding the museum’s paintings collection, which I think will be interesting to curl up with at home. I love flipping through art/museum books.

There was a dog in a painting that looked like a version of Merlin so I tried to get a picture. It was rather high up in a big painting, though, so not sure it worked. One of these days I’m going to learn proper photography and get an SLR camera. (Put that on my long-term to-do list. Not happening tomorrow. Especially not with the prices of those cameras!)


Walking down the Grand Gallery was a little surreal because I remember distinctly doing it before. That and the red French rooms. It was one of those “that was so long ago and yet I remember it perfectly” things.

I left the museum around four, popped into the Post Office just inside security and mailed K her required post card (the only one I did), and then walked out into the Carrousel du Louvre mall. Wandered a bit through some fun stores, then went to Mariage Frères tea shop/tea room and bought some spicy black tea. It’s packed up now but I think it’s Fête du Noel or something. Not unlike Peet’s Winter Solstice tea I get every year, but slightly more expensive and in a bigger canister. (And apparently not actually seasonal.)

I have decided I love taking line 1 all the way to Nation, where I switch to my “home” line 2. It’s the terminus of line 2 so I get a seat, and I can rest my feet, watch people, and on line 1 you get to go through Bastille and that fun sharp curve. (It’s very cute how at stations that are “en courbe,” or have curved platforms, they always warn you to watch your step getting off. And you do need to because there’s a huge gap.) Otherwise it’s switching from the 1 to the 4 at Châtelet and onto the 2 at Barbès-Rochechouart.

Except that I LOVE saying Barbès -Rochechouart. I can say it perfectly now because line 2 has the automated station calls and the nice French lady has been saying it for me for two weeks now.

Got another French Junk Food dinner (Brie and baguette) and got myself mostly packed up here. Not looking forward to Traveling Saturday but it will be nice to land “only three hours” after I leave Switzerland. I always enjoy getting that time back when I get home.

Dispatch October 12, 2011

I am so tired! I can’t even describe the amount of walking I’ve done. There was a point today where it was just…my legs didn’t want to work anymore. My knees didn’t hurt, my feet didn’t hurt, my legs didn’t hurt — they were just exhausted!

I have decided that I think that one of the main reasons French/European people (in general) are smaller than we are (in general) is not so much because of the way they eat, though there is something in that. It’s THE WALKING. The stairs, the walking, more stairs, more walking.


Also, every day I see people walking carrying tons of stuff, like all their shopping. We would just never do that.

I had a change of plans when I got up, and went to Sacre Coeur because I’d never been. I walked all the way up Montmartre. Yes, yes I did. I stopped along the way, but I walked it.



At my first stop on a bench, a guy sat down next to me and asked me in French if I didn’t have a jacket, wasn’t I cold? But my mind blanked and I stammered and he switched to English. Later I realized I knew what he’d said, I’d just panicked. I need to work on French-on-my-feet. Anyway, we talked about how it’s hot down south but chilly in Paris and how that compares to SF weather (he thought it was pretty steady all the time). We talked about how it’s good to just wander around Paris and it’s fun to go to places tourists normally don’t. I told him I’d decided I should go to SC since I hadn’t been and it’s a major landmark, but that I have just been walking around a lot as well.

Mass had just started when I went into the basilica so I went. It’s the same whether it’s in French or English. Except their kneelers are unpadded! They have fully habited Benedictine nuns (white habit, black veil) assisting. I thought they were Dominicans until I read a sign. After Mass they had the noonday office; a sister went around and offered booklets but I left the nave and walked around the ambulatory.


It’s not as immediately impressive as Notre-Dame but I’d like to go back and have a closer look next time I’m here. Earlier in my trip, when I’ve got more energy! (Also, their small new Novus Ordo altar? Beautiful. Puts Notre Dame’s to shame.)

Slipped into the bookshop and got a little booklet about the basilica; I knew it was fairly recent and that it had been built as an act of reparation. Interesting stuff. I bought a pretty 12-euro rosary (I love rosaries and collect them whenever I can). It’s a dark rosewood; unfortunately of course the findings aren’t real silver (I didn’t want to spend thirty euros) so I will have to cover them in clear polish when I get home or ruin them.

Then I went and got a sandwich at a little shop. I ordered in French but obviously I’m accented even when I know what I’m saying. The guy asked where I was from and for simplicity’s sake I said San Francisco. (Well, I work for the city!) He started singing a song I didn’t know about San Francisco. He was probably nineteen or twenty so most likely I don’t know ANY songs he knows!

Then I took the funicular down the hill. Yes, I took it the easy way instead of the hard way.

I made across town for St. Etienne, looking for Ste Geneviève’s shrine. I did not find it. I walked for about two hours around the fifth, spending a good deal of time on Rue Mouffetard, which is at least very picturesque and closed to cars in some places. I sat for a moment and this older guy came out of his apartment building with his dog — like a miniature Doberman. The dog was all sorts of excited to be out. As they crossed the tiny street the dog got away from him and he laughed and called him over. The dog obeyed, and then as they both got to a chain barrier across the cross street, jumped over it joyfully. Very cute.


There’s a tiny Franprix there so I went in and and got a bottle of Tropicana clementine (!) juice, because by this time I was dying of thirst again. They also have a Subway, which I took a picture of in the “this is just wrong” category.




Got back onto the metro and thought about going back to my general neighborhood to the Camondo, so I did all the needed connections. I was sitting on the train on line 2 as it got close to Villiers, and I just wanted to nod off right then and there. The museum was also going to close in two hours. I figured I’d go to the end at Porte Dauphine and turn around and come back, but I ended up getting off at Victor Hugo, one station earlier, and doing that.


Soooo I’m sitting on my new Nation-bound line 2 train when this young (30ish?) bespectacled African guy with a briefcase sits down next to me and says, “Bonsoir Madame.” Now there’s not a whole lot of talking amongst strangers on the metro, but I said “Bonsoir” back. He said something else and I must have said something and then he said, “You speak English? You speak English better than French?” I allowed as I did. He told me how he had gone to study or work in the UK in Bristol and Manchester and how his team is Arsenal (just like my ex-husband; oh joy).

He asked why I was here and somehow I mentioned I was from San Francisco. He looked at me, confused. “California,” I said. “OH! You are American!”

HE THOUGHT I WAS BRITISH. God love this man. Then we discussed the relative merits and confusing-ness of English and French.

Anyway, he wanted my number and to give me his and I said I was leaving Saturday, but he wants to get together before I go and see me again when I return to France. I finally took his email and number to be polite but did not give him mine. We were quiet. Then he said he was looking forward to my email. I just smiled. Got off at La Chapelle, said au revoir (he said, “see you”) and got the hell out of there.

That was awkward.


Also, it’s bizarre. I never get hit on, never even seriously flirted with, at home. Here I’m surrounded by thousands of women who, on average, are far more attractive than the people I’m surrounded by at home — anyway better dressed, accessorized, coiffed and perfumed! What gives, dudes of Paris? [I neglected to add in these dispatches the story of the guy who asked me to dinner while we were walking in the direction of my hotel.] Or maybe I just exude “different” and that’s interesting. Because to me I’m just a big, tired, sweaty middle-aged American woman whose face is starting to resemble a basset hound’s.

But hey. Maybe that’s all the rage in some Parisian circles. 🙂

Went to the store, got a baguette and some Mini Babybels (yep, just like home), an apple and some sparkling water and came back here. Contemplating my final two days; kinda glad to be wrapping it up. Do I want to be going back to work? No. Do I want to give up sidewalk cafés and good food for reasonable prices? No. Do I want to give up the awesome metro? No. But it’s not like I live here and have all my stuff, my cats, and people I know. I really need to do laundry and I can’t wait to cook something!

Dispatch October 11, 2011

Oops, overslept a bit this morning, but it was a good day.

Ran round to the Franprix and got some Colgate sensitive tooth toothpaste (now with French and Dutch!*), a German toothbrush, and some cheap store-brand-but-still-fabrique-en-France hair conditioner. Then bought what will probably be my last carnet of metro tickets and went to the Marais to the Musée Carnavalet.

The Musée is very easy to find from the Saint-Paul metro station, and the free-ness of it is awesome. The fact that apparently Mme de Sevignés rooms were closed today was less fab, so I didn’t get to see her writing desk or see in person the portrait of her, but I was in her house! It’s big for a smallish museum, as it were, spread over two townhouses, and I didn’t see all of it (more escaliers!) but I did wander round for awhile. It’s a museum of the history of Paris, and I took several pictures of old shop signs,



one of the original doors from the burned-down Hotel de Ville,

and Proust’s bedroom!

They even have the corkboard he lined his walls with for quiet. They have also reconstructed Anna de Noailles’ bedroom and an entire jewlery shop (sans jewelry but with the whole front door setup).

I took a lot of building photos too. And bought the guidebook because there were some rooms that I would not have been able to photograph properly. Unfortunately it doesn’t contain the paintings in the Link Gallery between the two townhouses, or all the vintage photographs of Les Halles that are also there. Ah well. I also bought Mme de Sevigné’s letters in French — have read in English, obviously, and this will also be a huge undertaking one day, though less so than Suite Française.  (I didn’t even think about buying Proust in the original. That will never happen.) They had a couple of biographies of her and I might have bought one if I hadn’t already bought so many books. I finally found one secondhand years ago in English but they’re hard to come by.


I’m starting to be hungry again so I slipped into the first cafe I saw and got a galette with chicken, cream, mushrooms, and Calvados (yum), a large bottle of sparkling water (“de l’eau gazeuse, si vous plaît” and I was intelligble) and then a strong coffee.


Again I pondered how I really am no longer bothered by sitting and eating alone. Yay!


Then I walked and walked for a bit until I found myself at Place de la Bastille. Sat, took a picture of the July Column (has nothing to do with the Bastille; it’s just in its place, basically). Then I turned and walked along the river thinking I’d go back over to my original neighborhood from last time, but after about a half hour I got to where I thought I’d be crossing over onto Blvd de l’Hôpital and there was a big intersection of craziness instead, so I got onto the metro at Quai de la Rapée, thinking to go on in my original direction.

Except I entered the station the wrong way, it’s a tiny station, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious way to get to the other platform. So I took the 5 back to Bastille and figured I’d go find the Place des Vosges (incidentally the birthplace of Mme de Sevigné, and lined with arcades of shops around a park).


Got out at Bastille and couldn’t find PdV, so I just walked for a bit until I realized that the street was being cleared by some of the MANY cops around for a parade/demonstration. I saw signs for the French Communist Party so I felt comfortable — I wasn’t going to get caught in some Jean-Marie le Pen thing. I got handed flyers as I walked down the street (both ways, so now I have two sets). I sat on a bench and watched a bunch of different unions parade with flags, balloons, and lots of loud music and dancing. They are against raising the retirement age (me too, man, and if I could retire easily at 60 like they can I’d be fighting any change too), some health care issues, and some issues regarding the whole euro/Greece/Italy/Spain/Portugal/Ireland business. I didn’t sit down to study the flyers intently but I got the drift. I took some pictures — it was cool.


Then I tried to find Place des Vosges again. As I crossed a small street, the female half of a couple said to me, “Excusez-moi, madame — Place des  Vosges?” I said “je ne sais pas” and shrugged confusedly, trying to figure out how to say I was looking too. it came to me a few minutes later and thankfully they were walking behind me. I paused and said, “Je cherche aussi!” She chuckled. Then we both saw the sign and ambled off; later we passed each other going in opposite directions of the arcade and smiled.


I sat down in the park and caught my breath and watched the pigeons. A lady of about seventy, with a cane, blonde hair, long pink nails and complete makeup came and sat by me. After a few minutes she spoke to me, but too rapidly and probably too complexly. I apologized that I didn’t speak French well. She thought about it and said, “Grève!” I think she meant not a strike per se but the whole demonstation that had just happened. “Ah oui,” I said. When she was done smoking she said, “Au revoir; bonne journée!” and waved, and I said the same.


Oh, those mean, mean French people! 🙂


What I’m finding is that people keep talking to me in such a way that it seems they think I speak fluent French, and my skills are not up to it. I really need to work on it. I will never be perfect but I can certainly get to a calm conversational level. My level now is fine for basic business transactions but people keep trying to have real conversations with me and I wish I could talk back!


There was a woman on the metro the other day who did not talk to me, but if I’d spoken fluent(ish) French I might have tried. She was a little taller than I, with a boyish figure, maybe 30ish. She had short wavy reddish-blond hair, no makeup, a short black cotton dress, black tights, black soft leather slipper-like shoes, a jacket that was a combo of quilted black nylon and orange knitting, and (of course) a grey scarf wrapped many times around her neck. She was reading a book about art by someone named Hoffman and making notes. She was one of those people you look at and say, “I wish she were my friend.”


After that I walked back toward the metro and went into the G20 there. Got some yogurt in little lavender ceramic pots, some Brie and bread, unfiltered apple juice and some cookies and sesame sticks to nosh on in the mornings. G20 was our grocery store last time; not as nice as Carrefour, but I didn’t see the ceramic yogurt pots at Carrefour!

Got back here and chatted with my lovely, lovely concierge who indicated what he thought the price early Sat AM for a taxi to CDG should be (so that’s what I’m doing; they will book it for me). Then I came up here and had the yogurt, since I have no fridge. OH MY GOD IT WAS SPECATCULAR. I’d have eaten both pots even if it I could have refrigerated it. Damn, I may need to hit another G20. I can do something with little purple pots.


Dinner proper was bread, Brie, and apple juice. Yeah, yeah, I know. I had some quinoa-based cookies last night, does that help equal it out?


Tomorrow I’m going to the church that houses part of Sainte Geneviève’s tomb — during the Revolution, they disposed of her bones so that’s all that’s left of her shrine, poor patron saint of Paris and of me.


And then to the Musée Nissim Camondo. And then we’ll see. Only two more days after that. Last week I had a few moments when I thought I’d never get to go home and now I’m like, “Hey, I was never intimidated by the metro but now I’m totally casual about it and I’m no longer nauseated, it’s no longer hot, I’m not having any anxiety and I’m all laid-back!” On the other hand, my bathroom at home is about…three and a half times bigger than this one, I’m dying for a long hot bath, I miss my cats and being able to cook.


Still, I want to come back when I can. I just want to look into the apartment options (of which there are many) because being able to cook would be awesome. The only downside would be not having someone to arrange taxis and such, although actually most big Parisian apartment buildings apparently still have concierges anyway and s/he probably could.


I think I will make a fake cup of tea (ie, I’m using the tap water, which gets pretty damned hot) and sit and knit for awhile.

*”protect” is apparently at least a trilingual word

Dispatch October 10, 2011

I went to bed around 9:30 last night but couldn’t fall asleep right away because I’d slept so much the night before. I ended up getting up around 9:30 this morning and heading off, slowly, for the Louvre. I figured the underground Carrousel du Louvre entrance would be easiest so I went that way.

The Tie Rack where I bought my scarves last time is in the exact same place. Ditto the Virgin Megastore and the food court, but everything else looks different. Including the not-one-but-two Starbucks, one on either side of security.
You buy your tickets at machines now! Yay! I love automation. I wonder why Europeans are so much more automated than we are. Or rather, I wonder why we aren’t as automated as the Europeans. I think their metro platform doors are brilliant — there are glass doors all along the edge of the platform and they only open when a train is there and the train doors, aligned with the platform doors, are open.

I just wandered a bit but frankly still felt weak and crappy and had to sit down every time there was an opportunity. And the Louvre has many escaliers — I would trudge slowly up them. I also learned that because the Japanese, like the British, drive on the left side, they will keep to the left on staircases too and run right into you. And that sometimes a Japanese couple will dress identically, including shirt with a big wide bright pink stripe. Okay then.

i took more pictures of the Louvre itself than of any art, really — for one thing, you can buy books with much better pictures of artwork than I can take! I had one moment of sadness sitting near the bottom of the staircase on which Winged Victory sits, remembering that someone took [ex-husband’s] and my picture together up there. How things have changed since I was last on that staircase! I guess it’s just all these days of being on my own getting to me a little, and/or being sick. Bleagh.

Went and got an iced tea (Lipton’s peach iced tea is everywhere) and a chicken sandwich and sat for about forty minutes. I couldn’t finish the whole sandwich, but mostly. I wandered around a little more and then decided that was crazy — I have several more days, entrance is only ten euros, and I wanted to go lie down. I left, got two waters at one of the Starbucks, peeked into a couple of shops and came back here.

I decided I would just relax and rest for the remainder of today. Tomorrow I want to go round the block to the store and get some toothpaste (I’m out) and a new toothbrush (I dropped mine on the floor and what with the recent gastrointestinal awfulness I decided not to risk putting it in my mouth). I could use some conditioner as well. Then I’m going to head over to the Carnavelet, which is Mme de Sevigné’s old home and is freeeeee. Free is good.

Haven’t heard anything from anyone at home so I sent H an email asking if everything were OK and I send S a text asking if the US still existed. He says yes.

I feel a little sad missing out because I’m not going out at night and because of my downtime being unwell, but… that’s the way the cookie crumbles. It’s still fun to lean out my window and watch French crows wheel and caw and alight onto the school across the street to drink water off the roof, watch the trains pull into and out of Gare du Nord, and listen to all the French wafting up from the street.

Still trying to decide about the best way to get to the airport. For ease and lack of headache/stress/worry — taxi. For economy — RER B. I dunno yet.

Forgot to mention that in the panoply of storefronts in this neighborhood, besides the three schools, there is a Muslim funeral home that will repatriate your body ASAP to your country of origin, and an art gallery.

Oh, and there was an art gallery down in the 1st that had a handwritten sign outside: “Acces libre! Et les artistes sont vivres!” (Free admission! And the artists are alive!”)

Dispatch October 9, 2011

Getting out of Lille was no problem, although I have to say the Thalys is much nicer than the TGV. However, it got me to Paris in an hour.
I came back here to the hotel, went and found a bank, and went back to FNAC. Got a book by a plus-sized French woman, the original edition of Suite Francaise which I’ve read in English (this will be a long-term project), another Le Petit Prince for H and an appt book.
Came back here and was sick as a dog all night, throwing up etc. Oh God, it was awful. I didn’t go to Chartres today because I slept til 11 and only slowly came back to sort-of life. I got out of here so they could change the room.
I took off around 1 and just got on the metro.  I’d been reading at home about the history of the metro and the worst incident they ever had (a fire, in 1903) was at Couronnes and Ménilmontant stations, and they’re just down the line. So I decided that since I was just trying to stay out of my room for a few hours, I’d ride down there. I did — got off at Couronnes and tried to imagine it over a hundred years ago (they STILL only have exits at one end!), then went to Ménilmontant and turned around.
I went down to Charles de Gaulle/Etoile and got on Line 1 and rode it all the way to the end at Chateau de Vincennes. It’s funny you can ride the subway right out of town to a castle. I was feeling a little better; went into a café and got a San Pellgerino and a green tea. Afterwards I walked over to the Chateau. You can cross the moat and go into the courtyard for free but the line for tickets was very long, the tickets were eight euro (I sound so cheap — LOL) and really, mostly, I just didn’t have the energy. So I took some pictures where it was free and went back to the metro. They’re also having a big animal expo out there next to the chateau but I miss my kitties too much — and again, with the low energy.
Since Chateau de Vincennes is the end of the line I got a nice seat, and then I switched back to my line 2 at Nation — which is also a terminus so I also got a nice seat. Got off here at La Chapelle, wished I had an appetite for the roasted corn the people sell at the corner of the park next to the station, and came back. Room is cleaned. I threw open my windows and the little window in the shower for a bit of a cross-breeze, and I feel okay.
Spent the evening reading, emailing, resting. Tomorrow I will go to the Louvre because although I’ve been before I really can’t be in Paris and not go. First I’ll pop over to the Paribas ATMs at Gare du Nord and then connect back to the 1. I could do that at Châtelet although it’s kinda crazy there. Anyway I’ll figure it out tomorrow; I know there’s an ATM outside Châtelet on the rue de Rivoli.
That will be all for tomorrow; I need to just work in some relaxation here. Tuesday will be the Carnavalet and Wednesday the Camondo. Then I’ve got two more days and then home.
Have to decide if I want to try to negotiate the long corridor (and the fare gates, with luggage) between La Chapelle and GDN at 6 AM Saturday, get the RER B and make sure I can get to the Swiss check-in, or if I want to hand over an arm and a leg to a taxi driver and just go. We’ll see how the money and my energy are Friday night, when I will have to alert the concierge here of my morning plans.
I do know I will be starting my Dramamine at noon on Friday!

Bed now.

Dispatch October 7, 2011

Sitting in a cafe at Gent Sint Pieters in Belgium — I left lovely Brussels very early, just wanting to get the train portion of my day going. I got onto a train without a lot of time to spare in Brussels so had to jump on and ended up in a 2nd class car, but it was still fine. I had a quad of seats to myself; they were clean and comfy and I had a table, and the ride was like 20 minutes through Belgian-cow studded countryside.
So I got here ages early. The latest departing train on the board is for 1:15 and my train for Lille leaves at 1:57. I’ve wandered, used the forty-cent bathroom, bought a mediocre cup of coffee and a pastry (first food of the day except for the tiny cookie I saved from the profiterole incident yesterday — this coffee also came with the same cookie), bought a Fanta, and eventually realized I’d better get something sturdier to eat because I don’t get to Lille til three. So I came into what they call a buffet but which isn’t what we would call one, because they have waiters. I had a *good* cup of coffee, that again came with the same cookie. I also had a “pizza baguette,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

(Pretty train station!)



And again I must say: CHEESE FABULOUS CHEESE. I think in general it would be worth it to seek out European cheeses, since we *can* get them and they are so fantastic. I do loves me some Vermont or Wisconsin cheddar (which is originally an English cheese anyway, not Continental) and I have a soft spot for jack. But otherwise… oh good Lord the cheese.
1:24 train to Brussels is up. Wish I were going back. I guess this was a good “tasting” trip so I know I’d love to go back. It would be unfortunate to end up somewhere for ten days that one disliked. Brussels is small, at least the parts a traveler would generally visit, but there are still so many little nooks and crannies that I could easily spend five or six days there. I went back into the St. Nicholas Church more than once because a) it’s beautiful; b) it’s quiet; c) it’s centrally located; d) places to sit are few and far between. And I sat on the Grand’ Place a few times, in different light and different weather. And there are only about a thousand restaurants. 🙂 Also I never found the lace museum, Notre Dame de Sablon or the Beaux-Arts Museum, which is supposed to have an awesome collection. A person can overdose on art, and I’m going back to Paris, so…
Managed to get a lot of pictures of the cute murals they have, and a bar my sister will find cute. I did not get to the Manneken Pis because it’s this teenty tiny statue on a corner I could not find (because, admittedly, I didn’t look that hard) and because, honestly, I wasn’t that jazzed. It’s cute, I get it. I thought the Manneken Frites shop was funny though.
I did not get any chocolate since we can get that fairly easily at home, and because I didn’t know what condition it would be in when I got home. I have so much further to go than a Brit or an Italian. Maybe I should have asked if they’d ship. Ah well, next time. I did buy things that are more portable and will safely arrive home in their original condition.
I also have not had a Belgian waffle (waffel), and I guess the stand that is just outside this taverne might be my last chance. I am not feeling like a sweet but I almost feel I MUST. On the other hand — I have a Belgian wafflemaker at home.
Yay! 1:38 train to Bruges is up. Or Brugge, since I’m in Dutch-speaking land at the moment. It’s funny because although some things look familiar (‘hier” for “here,” for example), I cannot follow a single word of spoken Dutch. I wish Alida were here. 🙂
Noticing all the scarves, as usual. These European women do not run hot. And they don’t mind mixing patterns… I saw a girl with a pretty pastel flowered scarf and a checked shirt. Go her! When I go back to Les Halles Thurs or Fri (and hopefully to La Droguerie if I can follow the map successfully!) after I hit FNAC I will look for some more scarves. I do like them and at home they’re often all I wear in terms of outerwear. And you can find escharpes every damn where because I’d say 90% of women have them on in public. Even on the hot days in Paris I saw some! They were cotton and probably absorbing sweat (clever), but still.
Speaking of scarves, Brussels also had a plethora of veiled Muslin women. I have only seen the kind of hijab I’ve seen at home, none of the controversial niqab or any kind of burqua. In many ways I envy them — their scarves are breathtakingly beautiful, they don’t have to worry about how their hair looks, and yesterday in the pouring rain they didn’t care.
I’m getting very used to sitting alone in cafes and restaurants, which was really my biggest concern and nothing I do at home, for the most part. Granted, I’m in a linguistic bubble so if anyone is making any comments I don’t understand them, especially here in Flanders. But I don’t think they are. There are a lot of people, men and women, who sit alone and read or write or just look. I’ve done all of the above. It’s not bothering me. Hurrah!
See, urban Outward Bound.
I did notice that while people here read A LOT (which I heartily applaud), mine is the only Kindle I’ve seen. That made me a little self-conscious, like I had a “Spoiled American” sign on, but only for about ten seconds and then I said fuck it. I’ve said that internally a few times in the last week, to get myself to get a move on. So what if they think I’m dumb? Or a tourist? Fuck it!
Well, I’d better get a move on as I’m done and although the place isn’t full it’s fuller, and the waiter kind of looked at me. I know that doesn’t happen in France but this ain’t France.

And this is France. 🙂 Got to Lille. It’s beautiful but I think I’m going to take my early ticket and head back to Paris because of the possible leftover rail strikes and becase it would be better to get back to town in the morning than mid-evening. I’d like to have stayed here a few days.

Again — next time!
I went to the mall and had a kir and a tomato/mozzarella salad (AT THE MALL. YES. THE MALL) and then I went to Carrefour and did alittle grocery shopping. The cashier asked if I had their loyalty card. LOL. I got a reusable shopping bag too. Then I went to Paul and had a chocolat viennois, which was lovely. I came back here, dumped my stuff off, and made a big loop through the city center. It’s so lovely and very Northern. (And I forgot my camera in the room.)
This place is a little apartment with a small kitchen and a full tub. I had a long hot bath and for dinner a sandwich from Carrefour I put into the fridge. And apricot nectar. (Funnily, they call it that too, not apricot juice. Well, nectar de abricot.)
Next time I come to Europe I think I will stay in a European chain like this one (Citidines) or Ibis. That way I will have some vaguely familiar cushiness but it won’t be the freakin’ Best Western either. Or at least I’m going to try for three stars minimum (this one is a three; Aristote and Bellevue are two). I liked feeling like I could leave stuff in the room. And although this was a little more expensive (of course it’s Lille so cheaper than the comparable would be in Paris), with the kitchen it could be cheaper. it’s even got a dishwasher, pots and pans and a set of dishes.

Going to bed soon. Up early tomorrow and hopefully back to Paris without event. We shall see.

Dispatch October 6, 2011

I slept in til about 10 today. I was just so tired from all the walking, and I figured: IT’S VACATION. When I got up it was pouring with rain. I walked halfway down rue Midi and went into a sandwich place, had something to eat (including one can of Coke and one of sparkling water — I’ve been so thirsty) and waited for the rain to stop. Then I walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked.
I didn’t get to Notre Dame de Sablon or to the Beaux-Arts Museum, although I walked in their general direction. The streets are labrythine (and cobblestoned), and that area is uphill. I got up the hill, ducked into a church, and sat for awhile. But then I just walked back down, stopping at ING, which is a real bank here and has ATMs (of which there are so very few these days) and at a cafe across the street from it.
I ordered a coffee and profiteroles. The profiteroles were eight euros… because THERE WERE THREE BIG ONES. After he brought them to me the waiter told me people usually order half. Uh thanks, you coulda told me before. On the other hand, they were good, I ate them, and I don’t think I need to venture out for dinner. Of course it’s only seven, so if I get hungry in an hour or so maybe I will go across the street.
Walked further down the street and bought a handbag for twenty-five euros from an Irishman. I am hating the security handbag I have. It’s too small, the strap hurts, and it’s annoying. This isn’t leather, which is fine; sort of a dove grey, big and soft and not annoying. I also went and got a cheap little wallet because of the plenitude of euro coins I have. Now I can actually see them instead of having them stuffed into my tiny change compartment. It’s purple. Of course it is. I also bought C. a cheap pair of earrings I thought she’d like for fun.
I am going to miss being able to throw myself down in a chair on a sidewalk and have someone bring me coffee. 🙂
Oh, the first thing I did after breakfast/lunch was go to Tequila and buy myself a necklace and [redacted for current family consumption].  I just need to see if I can find something for S. and D. in Paris. I get paid on Tuesday (it should be pending/partially available in my WFB account around 9 AM Tuesday since it hits around midnight home time) and then I can do some shopping. It’s too bad because tomorrow in Lille my hotel is actually IN a shopping center, Eurolille. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing.
I hope the guy or gal at the desk here (they seem like college students) will call for a taxi tomorrow morning for me. I don’t want to walk or to take the metro, although I think I could get it at Anneessen. It’s still a bit of a walk and my shoulders and feet hurt.
When I get back I’m supposed to turn right around in the morning and go to Chartres for the day. I need to get to Gare Montparnasse from my metro. I’m sure it’s do-able, I just have to do it. My train is at ten; I should be at La Chapelle at eight just to make myself feel comfortable. I’d rather hang at the train station like I did yesterday at Gare du Nord than be rushing in an unfamiliar city.
Something I am finding both a little reassuring and a little depressing is the frequency of things in English, and chains from home, like the Gap, Esprit, Subway. (I expect McDonald’s and Starbucks everywhere.) I know that we have portmanteau words (like portmanteau) in English and I don’t even notice them. Hors d’oeuvres; matinée, prix fixe, etc. etc. But when I see “week-end” or whatever in French ads it jars me and makes me a little sad, even though it really shouldn’t. The Gap and stuff, a little bit. Also, MinuteMaid is everywhere and they can get MM apricot!
Last night there was a person, looks like a boy or young man, apparently studying in the window across the street for hours and hours. He’s there again. I wonder what it’s like to go to school in the age of computers and the internet. It must be both harder and easier. I think about work — things were not automated, but things didn’t have to be done so fast either.
The Tele Bruxelles station has this mascot, a guy in a big pink round suit (a la a berry from Fruit of the Loom) and a doodlebopper hat with “b” on the stomach, who gets filmed around town acting just as normal as if he were wearing jeans. He’s adorable.
I texted my sister that this is like an urban, international Outward Bound. I have had a set of things I’ve had to do — deal with SFO alone (which I’ve done before but not in a long time), get here, get to the hotel (oy, the expense), figure out the metro station, get around town, meet A, get to Gare du Nord, get to Brussels, get to the hotel, navigate Brussels. And then get back to Gare du Midi here, change trains somewhere in southern Belgium, get to Lille (Flandres), find the entrance to the Citidines City Centre, navigate Lille, get to Lille Europe, get back to Paris, get from GDN to my hotel at eight PM (I am going to have to exude all my big-American-city Don’t Fuck With Me vibes — walking fast, being aware, looking stern). Then getting to Chartres. Etc.
Now I’m kinda hungry but I don’t want to go out. Oh well.

I did squeeze into the tub yesterday but it wasn’t that great — even if I were 120 lbs, I’d also have had to have been about 5 feet tall for it to be really useful. Still, some bits got soaked which was nice.
OH HOLY CRAP. There’s some kind of rail strike going on in France and I could get stuck in Lille. I actually have two tickets out of Lille, one for 10 AM, one for evening, and I think I’m going to just call it a day and go on Saturday at 8 and try to get out of town. The last strike they did at Lille did not affect the TGV, but still. I had to Google on my phone and it’s not the easiest thing. i also texted home and asked them to do the same thing but haven’t heard back yet.
I suppose otherwise I’ll just be sitting in a train station for a very. long. time. At least the food will be good.

Whoops — Dispatch October 4, 2011, out of order!

A.. was sweet. She wouldn’t let me buy my own breakfast (MacDonald’s… but I had a hazelnut torte there. Yeah.) or lunch (which was four-cheese penne, peach iced tea, and a little dessert plate I took a picture of — tiny demitasse of espresso, a French macaron with whipped cream, a cream-and-berry concoction, a fruit cup and a scoop of ice cream. All very small, all delish. In a sidewalk cafe next to a church. 🙂

We went to a yarn/fabric/button shop and I got a little kit for a scarf and fingerless mitts, but I wanted pretty much all their kits. She said she’d send one to me later if I wanted.

Went to FNAC, which has books/CDs/DVDs/eletronics, and I got a book for me (which I will slowly go through with a dictionary) and a copy of Le Petit Prince that H wanted me to get. We got my charger (A. did the talking) and then we went to the mall in the burbs. Which has an Esprit, and a Gap, etc. (Les Halles has a Claire’s.) That’s always weird, how malls everywhere are the same but different. I was concerned about the store taking my non-chip-and-PIN card and they didn’t have an obvious ATM, so A. said that if I wanted anything she’d buy it and I’d reimburse her through paypal when I got home. (!!)

I bought a teal and blue blouse in a EUR 52 (biggest size was 54), a pair of flat shoes (I wanted something that might be a little quieter than heels), a turquoise baguette-style handbag and an umbrella. I bought the umbrella myself. 🙂 It’s actually a British company, apparently. Their stuff is like the nice plus-size stuff we have. No shapeless things or stuff with pockets over the boobs.

The shirt I really loved, though, didn’t fit because of my boobs. It fit everywhere else. I am so bloody sick of my chest. Even the few fat/chubby women I’ve seen here are small-busted.

After that we were tired so called it a day. I came back, made sure the charger worked, and chilling out for awhile before I pack up for Brussels tomorrow. I told the (very sweet) concierge that I’d be gone until Sat PM and they’re fine with that. I found the way to the Gare du Nord from my metro stop this afternoon, so I think all will be well.