About

"The reluctant Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

October 13 -18, 2008

Monday: Beautiful, warm, sunny day. Joe came over for breakfast at 11:00 am, afterwards we decided to just walk around the city. There is a restaurant I had heard about called La Bola restaurant. It’s a traditional Madrileno style restaurant that specializes in stews slow cooked in clay pots over coal. So, we decided let’s go check it out physically and maybe we’d go tonight and try it.

So we walked around south of the Plaza Mayor, cute little area. Less congestion and more residential, and as far as I could tell there weren’t any prostitutes. But one never knows, looks can be deceiving, methinks maybe that shopkeeper wearing stilettos could be moonlighting (lol).

We found the restaurant, it is really cute. It’s a traditional Spanish restaurant with signed photographs of a zillion famous people, and I’ll be next, who knew? So we decided to make it a point to go one night. We walked around some more in the neighborhood, they had a sorta flea market at one of the parks and we decided to check that out. It was such a beautiful day, we basically sat in the park and enjoyed the sun for a bit.

Afterwards, we decided why not check out another district of Madrid. So we decided to go the main northern train station and walk around that neighborhood. It’s a cute area. There are universities and what looks like several high rise commercial buildings. We stopped and had a late lunch at Café and Te which is a chain. They’re really good and quite cheap. Imagine paying €9 for a salad, main course, and a dessert. There’s no way you could find a deal like that in Paris.

We walked back to the Metro station and decided to go our separate ways and meet tonight for dinner.

We met up at 9 pm and Pablo joined us for dinner. Since there were 4 of us we decided let’s go back to the Museo de Jamon since it’s like Chinese, the more people you have the more dishes you can share, what a concept. Pablo had never been, since it is a tourist destination. We decided in addition to the different tapas dishes, we’d also have paella. The paella was just so-so, since it is a speciality of the south and not the north. None-the-less we had a fabulous evening,, and Pablo seemed to like it.


Tuesday: Had breakfast with Joe, and Jack and I decided we wanted to go to Toledo for the day. Believe it or not, Toledo is only half an hour train ride on the bullet train. You could literally live there and commute to Madrid for work, but that would be expensive since it’s €15 round-trip. Joe wasn’t feeling well so he went home to rest and we’d catch up with him later for dinner.

Madrid and the surrounding areas are pretty much like a desert, so it’s not really green. The train ride wasn’t very scenic, but none-the-less I just broke out in song… “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain…” I don’t think anyone found it amusing, oh well.

Got to Toledo, and it was extremely warm. It must’ve been easily about 80 degrees. What a nice change from the cold, wet weather we’ve been having in Paris. We decided to walk up to the Alcazar area of Toledo. Last time I was here I was in my late teens, only about 10-years ago (lol). It still looks the same. Got up to the top of the fortress area and it is so cute and quaintsey. Lots of little shops and cafes and narrow alley ways where if you extend your arms outward you could literally touch each side of the building, who knew?

I think by now you all know we have really bad timing, well once again, we got to the Alcazar and it’s under construction, go figure? There were several churches we could have ventured into, but I’ve seen enough churches in my lifetime that I just didn’t feel like going through them, plus they charge admission at on average at €7 per entry, you have to be really, really into churches.

We decided to have a light snack at the plaza. It was a really touristy area as is most of the area in the fortress. I had calamari and Jack had a sandwich. It was the worst fried calamari I have ever had, oh well.

There’s a cute castle up on the other hill so Jack and I decided to go climb, yes climb up there. After nearly having a heart attack, we found out that the castle was actually an operating military base camp not open to the public, who knew? Well at least we had only one direction to go, down hill. Thank God for that.

We hiked down the hill to where the locals live, and explored around a bit. It wasn’t very interesting. So we headed back to the train station to return to Madrid.

We arrived home in Madrid about 8:15 pm, gave us 15-minutes to get ready for dinner since we’re meeting Joe at 8:30 pm. Joe arrived and we walked towards the La Bola Restaurant. Got to the restaurant and the Maitre’d asked if we had reservations, we told him no. We figured since we were there at 9 pm, which is VERY early for Madrid we’d have no problems. FYI…, dinner for most Spaniards is served between 10-11 pm, sometimes they’ll ask you to come back if you arrive at like 9 pm. He found us a table, what a surprise!

We each ordered their most popular dishes of stews. Jack and Joe had the traditional meat stews, and of course, I have to be different so I ordered “callao” which is the tripe stew that also had pigs ears and sausages. The dishes were all very good, except mine was way too, too greasy, albeit delicious. After the meal, we were feeling quite full, so we decided to take a slow walk back home since we’re leaving tomorrow for Paris.

We said our goodbyes and Jack and I headed towards our apartment. Got to our apartment and one of the 2-doors leading into our apartment wouldn’t open. The lock was jammed. Keep in mind it was at mid-night when we arrived and we were beat from a long day. We tried several times and kept ringing the doorbell hoping that one of our neighbors might hear us and open the security door. No answer. So, we went back out to Gran via to call the landlady. She arrived about a half an hour later, and she too could not open the door. I’m thinking great, I’m going to have to sleep in the streets with the drug addicts and prostitutes. Well at least if I hired one of the prostitutes for a platonic night, I might have a place to sleep tonight, so my mind just kept wandering. Our landlady went out to the street, what for I’m not sure. Fortunately, at about 1 am 2 young women came to the door, peeked through the peep hole and saw us begging to let us in, and they did. After the door open, they ran back into their apartment; excuse me, but do we look like serial killers? Oh well, we got in. Turns out someone left the door partially locked that’s why our key didn’t work.

Went in and crashed.




Wednesday: Got up, packed, and went to Pablo’s apartment to meet Joe and Pablo for lunch before our return to Paris. Pablo lives in a residential area of Madrid, Moncloa area. He gave us a little history of his condo. Apparently, about 10-years ago it was a condo that had several little brothel houses in there. The police cracked down and it is now a residential condo with a guard and everything. Who knew?

We had lunch around the corner. We had huge portions, we could hardly eat, especially me, since I was having stomach problems from the night before. I’m thinking great, we’re going to be on a plane and I’m having stomach issues. Lesson learned, don’t eat anything you’re not familiar with the day before you fly, so obvious!

After we said our good-byes we headed to the airport on the metro. I just love the Madrid metro, it’s just so clean and efficient. Another thing I noticed, it’s wheelchair accessible, who knew?

Plane trip home was uneventful. What a surprise, when we arrived in Paris it was wet, cold and cloudy. Oh well. The metro seemed to be packed tonight, so we waited for a less crowded train. Got home at 9 pm. Joe and Jack went up to Place de Tertre to get some sandwiches since I didn’t have any food at home. We all crashed after a “late” dinner.

So, inquiring minds want to know my impressions of Madrid. Madrid is a nice cosmopolitan city. In some ways, it is similar to Paris, but also very different, if that makes sense. Paris has an “it” factor. It has landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Seine etc. Whereas in Madrid, in my humble view, just doesn’t have that “it” factor. Little tips:
• You get charged for bread, so if you get served bread and you cut off a little piece of it, you’re charged.
• Don’t assume there’s toilet paper in the bathrooms at some restaurants or cafes. Always have some with you.
• Prostitutes along the tourist routes are harmless and are part of the scenery
• Dinner usually begins at 10 pm at the earliest.
• Tapas are little plates of tasty bits, if you get the raciones plates, they tend to be 4-times larger.
• If you don’t like organ meats, make sure you ask if there are organ meats or different parts of pig that you wouldn’t normally eat. For me it’s not a problem since I eat everything.
• Madrid is a relatively safe city, there are pick-pockets along the Plaza del Sol.
• Museums are sometimes free on Sundays, so check out which are free.
• Public rest rooms on the streets, similar to what we have in Paris and SF are very, very rare, but it appears that the most rest-rooms at restaurants are close to the entrances/exits and they don’t seem to have a problem if the public uses them, in the tourist areas anyway. Little clue, if there’s a “goon” standing next to the entrance, it pretty much means “bathrooms only for patrons.”
• Try the hams, it’s Spain’s speciality.



Thursday: Had breakfast, chatted for a bit and later in the afternoon we decided to all head to the Marais to look for white truffle oil for our friend Nancy Latimer. Got to the Marais, and we were feeling hungry at 3 pm. So, we headed to our favorite falafel place L’As and had what else, schwarma, go figure? The food is really good there, it was some type of Jewish holiday, but Jack wasn’t sure which one, oh well.

After our late, late lunch, we went looking for Nancy’s oil. Fortunately, Jack remembered a speciality food store around the St. Paul. Walked in, and it was amazing, albeit extremely expensive. But then again, French people do not skimp on food. We searched, and searched. It appears French people don’t make truffle oil. I guess their philosophy is not to dilute it. I did; however, find Italian truffle oil, white and black. What luck! I picked one and we decided to take a walk along the Seine. It was a nice brisk day, we headed towards Ile St. Louis, and then went to the waters edge along the Seine. I’m thinking I’m going to miss Paris when we leave in 2-weeks. Ah, life is good.

We headed back home since Joe had plans for this evening. Jack and I decided to stay in since I’m still recovering from my cold.


Friday: Beautiful sunny day, go figure? We recommended to Joe that he should take the canal ride through the locks and through the underground in Paris. Jack had a doctor’s appointment, and I’m still fighting my cold, so I decided to stay in.

Our upstairs neighbor Matthias came down to visit and we chatted for a while. Very interesting man. He works in an art gallery and has a PhD in Art. He invited me to see his apartment directly above us. It is a totally different layout. For one thing, he has 2-bedrooms and a dining room, who knew? What really impressed me is that his kitchen window had a direct shot of the Eiffel tower, an unobstructed view, I’m so jealous. We chatted for a while, and he offered to pick up our mail when we’re gone, what a nice guy.

Jack got home shortly and he was delayed at the doctor’s, what a surprise. The autopsy of his cyst was good, no problems. Joe got home about 6 pm and he said the canal ride wasn’t running, so he went exploring Paris on his own.

We decided since it was his last night, and he likes Moules (mussels) and frit, we would go to my favorite chain restaurant, Leons de Buxelles. Since he had an early flight next day, we’d have dinner early as well. We called J to see if he wanted to join us, but he had plans. So, we walked down to Clichy, which is the next area over from us. We walked along the Montmarte cemetery and we got to the restaurant at about 7:30 pm. Very few people, there, not too surprisingly, and all tourist, oh well. We ordered our food, had a great meal, and then headed home.

We showed Joe our local little park where we sometimes sit during the summer to cool down. Since I’m still under the weather from my cold I went home while Jack and Joe went up to the Place de Tertre to see the Eiffel tower light show which happens on the hour.

Went to bed early, 11 pm so I could get up early for Joe.


Saturday: I didn’t’ get up early. I heard some noise, and Joe was just leaving. I must’ve been out like a light, since I didn’t hear anything. I felt bad that I didn’t get up early enough to at least make some coffee. Oh well, Joe if you’re reading this sorry. So, Joe left at about quarter to 7 and I went back to sleep until about 11 am. I’m still feeling congested from my cold, so I’ll stay in today.

We met Pablo and Jose along with their 2-Parisan friends Emmanuel and Nicola tonight for dinner. We went to a French restaurant called “Le Petit Ulachon” in their neighborhood. For my entrée I had the crab bisque by accident, I thought the menu said encroute. I said to the waitress that can’t be what I ordered, and she assured me it was, oh well. It was way too rich, I only ate half of it. It was like all cream. And, wouldn’t you know, it I’m lactose intolerant, go figure! I had their pork as the plat and it was way too salty for me, so Jose finished it for me. Later that evening Emmanuel said that the restaurant food was pre-made, I told him probably from Metro since the food looked familiar. Regardless, we had a wonderful evening.

Went home to pack since we’re leaving for Germany bright and early tomorrow!

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