"The evolving 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)!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

August 11 - 16, 2008

Monday: Mol, Belgium. Got up to weather that was a little bit “iffy.” It was cloudy and a little bit wet. Today’s schedule, we plan on visiting the city of Antwerp, which is about a 40-minute drive from Mol.

After breakfast we drove the kids to John’s parent’s home, ‘cause they were going to baby sit so the adults could have “fun in the city.” John’s parents live in a beautiful area and it was really reminiscent of a suburb in Seattle, Washington. Very green, me wonders why? Belgian’s take a lot of pride in their gardens; they’re extremely well manicured and taken care of by the owners.

After chichatting for awhile, we left for Antwerp. The weather started improving, lucky us. We parked along the canal, which is quite large and wide. Antwerp is the 3rd largest shipping port, who knew? We walked along the canal towards “centre ville” (city center). Antwerp is in Flanders, as well as most of Belgium north of Brussels. They speak Dutch, but the Dutch is less harsh then the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands. I thought French was hard, Dutch is 3 times harder, because the pronunciations are very, very difficult for English speakers, even though at times it sounds like there’s English in their vocabulary. Jack said that during the war, they could tell the German spies from the true Dutch because of a particular way of pronouncing a city. Interesting? My guess is that 98 percent of Dutch speaking people speak English, good for us since I don’t think I could ever learn Dutch.

Speaking of languages, did you know that each country has their own PC “keyboards,” (e.g., French, Dutch, German, etc.). Getting used to a French keyboard is difficult enough, try a Dutch one with all the funny symbols. Oy vey, it’s not only difficult to speak it, it’s difficult to type.

Antwerp has a lot of personality, the plazas, the streets are all so quaint. It was quite lovely. Leen wanted to take the opportunity to shop for clothes for the kids since they’ll start school in a couple of weeks. They have one main shopping street that’s Pedestrian on certain times of the week and days. Was nice not to feel like we’re not going to get run-over.

After touring the city a bit, we had dinner at John and Leen’s favorite Pizza place by the town center called Da Giovanni’s, how original. None of the waiters speak Dutch or French (Belgium is a bilingual country). They only speak Italian and some English. I’m thinking, I can’t deal with another language, my brain is too small. Interestingly enough, they knew one phrase in Dutch, “Check Please.”

Belgium is a beer drinking country, and believe it or not they have specific glasses you use only for specific beers, who knew? Too bad I can’t stand beer, but the 3 of them did pretty well, I was the designated walker.

It was about 8 p.m. and we had to head back to pick up the kids. It was a lovely, lovely day. John and Leen, if you’re reading this. DANK U ZEER!

Tuesday: Mol, Belgium. Another “iffy” day, cloudy and wet. Today we leave. John and Leen decided rather than taking the 2-trains, a plane, a bicycle and a walk to Brussels, just kidding, they’d drive us there. They’d also make a day of it for the kids.

Brussels is about hour and half by car. You can drive across the whole country in 2 and a half hours. As the singing goes, “it’s a small world after all…” Brussels as you all may know, is the center of the EU, so it’s quite an international city. And, similar to our capital in Washington DC, where there’s a lot of politicians, there’s a lot of crime. Brussels is no different.

As we got closer to the town, maybe I’m psychic, but it just didn’t have a “good” feeling to me. The weather improved, but the city seemed cold and very business like. John told me that 90% of the people who live in Brussels are French speaking Wallonians, who knew? So, now I’m back to trying to speak French.

We got there a little after 2 pm, so we basically had only 2 hours to roam around the city before we head to the train station to leave for Paris. We parked very close to the train station. We took the metro to the Brussels town center, or Plaza. Interestingly enough the metro stations are on the “honor system”. You simply get a ticket, and get it validated and walk right on in. No gates, no turn-styles, no nothing. They do random checks of people to see if they paid. Methinks this would never work in Paris. Oh well.

Got to the grande place and I had been there many years ago. It looked a lot smaller than I remembered it and there weren’t as many restaurants as they had before. We walked around a bit and then headed towards the little boy peeing, with a thousand other people taking pictures of it, so I had to do a tourist number and take a picture. We went across the street to one of John’s favorite cafes and of course had some beer, except for me and the kids. We sat and just watched all the crazy tourist, similar to what we do in Paris.

Before we knew it was 3:30 p.m. so we had to head back to the train station. Got to the station and we thought we were late ‘cause there was a train leaving for Paris at 4:15, we checked our tickets and gave a sigh of relief, our train didn’t leave until 4:43, whew! So we had time to spare for a few last minute visits, say our goodbyes and then got on our train and headed to Paris.

The train ride was uneventful, but as we got to Paris, we noticed a zillion people. Apparently, they had problems with the RER train. It was literally shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. As we were walking through the crowds, Jack accidentally ran over a guys foot with his “roller luggage” the guy cussed Jack out, and was ready to after him, but I was prepared to take my luggage and bang it across his head, but nothing happened.

It was so crowded that we decided to go to the surface street and catch another metro. It was mobbed, but we were able to get on the train and head home safely.

Wednesday: The weather sucked. It was windy and cold. We’re supposed to meet our friends Sue and Xavier in a suburb called Sèvre where they live, which is at the end of the 9-metro line and close to the Bois de Bologne (nice park). We planned on seeing their town as a potential place to live in the future and later have dinner at their apartment. We left shortly after 4 p.m. and headed towards the metro. But we promised to get a dessert for tonight’s dinner. As we were walking down Rue des Abbesses, we noticed that half of the stores on the streets were closed. We passed one Patisserie and then another, and another, and they were CLOSED. Most are closed til the end of the month and some weren’t even going to reopen until mid-September. Go figure? If I were in business and knew that the highest traffic was in August because of all the tourists, I’d probably go on vacation any month except August. But as French friends tell me, that’s not the way it’s done in France. August you go on vacation, no ifs, ands or buts. Oh well. So, we got one of the last 2-pastries at the Monoprix (grocery store).

It took 3-transfers and 40-minutes from Montmarte to get to Sèvre. Sue met us at the Metro station and then we all headed to her apartment to drop off the dessert. We headed towards the town. It’s a cute little town. Wide streets, much quieter than in Paris. In reality, if you were just plopped there, it could be any nice suburb in the U.S. except the signs are in French. I liked it, but thus far the only suburban town outside of Paris that I liked is Issy, ‘cause it looked Parisian and it looked like you were in France.

After walking around the town, we went to one of the 2-cafes. Sat outdoors and had a few drinks before we headed back to Xavier and Sue’s apartment. Got to the apartment and Xavier just got in from work and was already busy getting dinner ready. We visited and watched a video of their recent wedding.

Had a great dinner of different salads, cheeses and dessert. I was really good and only had 2-glasses of champagne. Because we were so far out and didn’t want to miss the metro, we walked back a bit early, 11:30 pm. Xavier and Sue walked us to the station.

Strange thing happened on our way home on the Metro, a Metro street cleaner got on and he threw his trash out the window of the tunnel. Doesn’t he have to pick it up later. Granted it’s in the tunnel and not the station, but I think they blow into the station. How strange? Got home at about 12:30 am. Had a great day.

Thursday: The weather was relatively nice and mild. Got a call from Stephen and Michael to confirm that we’re getting together with Jose and Pablo for dinner tonight. I recommended that since the weather was nice they should take advantage of it and go on the “lesser known” Paris canal ride, rather than the touristy Seine ride to take advantage of the mild weather.

Didn’t really do much today. Had to do chores. Jack went out and did a few errands as well. We left the house about 7 pm to head over to Les Halles to pick up Stephen and Michael. I later found out that they did take the Paris Canal trip, and they loved it.

We met Stephen’s nephew Amir who lives in Paris. Nice YOUNG, thin gentlemen, hate him, kidding. After chichatting for a while we went over to Pablo’s and Jose’s for drinks and snacks before dinner.

At about 9 pm we headed to the restaurant. It was a typical French bistro, but strangely enough, this time they had pork ribs. I decided to have “thumper” instead (rabbit or lapin in French).

Drank and ate til 11:30 and headed home. Strangely enough as we got on the metro in Les Halles, there were a number of homeless people sleeping in the different corners of station. Who knew there were so many homeless people in Paris?

Friday: The weather forecast was supposed to be cloudy and wet. Surprise, surprise, just like in the US the newscasters always get in wrong. Today was a beautiful sunny, dry day.

Stephen and Michael are to meet us about 1 pm. We’re going to show them around our neighborhood since Michael has never been here. We were planning to meet them at the Abbesses Metro, but they actually found our apartment on their own. We showed them our local tourist sites in the neighborhood, than we made the big mistake of going to a part of the Place de Tertre that had shoulder-to-shoulder packed people. It was not only suffocating, but dangerous if there was ever a fire. I had never seen so many tourists packed in such a small area.

Then we headed towards the Sacre Coeur, crowded as well, it took an act of God, excuse the expression, to reach the Church. We got there and Michael is a Church organist, so he went in to see the Church while we waited outside.

It was about 3 pm and we decided to get a bite to eat. FYI…, only the tourist areas serve food pretty much the whole day, whereas, local areas only serve up to 2 pm for lunch. We found a bistro and had basically sandwiches and salads.

Afterwards, we took a walk to Caulaincourt area, one of my favorite neighborhoods, and we would meet Stephen’s other nephew, Nader at the next metro station.

Met Nader, nice young gentlemen. We walked to the Montmarte cemetery to visit some of the more famous residents, but as we got there close to 6 pm they were starting to close. So, we decided to head towards our neighborhood and have a drink at a local café. Nice time chichatting.

The 3 guys headed back to their neighborhood, and Jack and I headed home to have a quiet evening.

Saturday: Got a call from Jose and Pablo, they’re not joining us for dinner tonight, since they decided last minute to help a friend drive to Spain, how nice. And, Jack wasn’t feeling well, his allergies were probably acting up. Stephen went ahead to Dijon, and Michael stayed behind for another day. So, believe it not, I was Michael’s tour guide, imagine that! If anybody knows me, they know I have the worst sense of directions ever. Picture this, the blind leading the blind, ugly scene.

I managed to get to Michael’s Hotel by Les Halles, go figure? Michael was waiting outside. I took him to the tourist jaunts e.g. Eiffel Tower. Got there and it was a mob scene. I have never seen so many people in one spot. Took a few photos and decided to head out to la Defense since I know it would be more spread out. Got there and took more pictures.

I had a great idea, why don’t we head out to the Grace Kelly exhibition at the Hotel de Ville in the Marais, since it’s close to closing we could probably just shoot in. It took us longer than we would have liked to get there, but we got there none-the-less. We saw the lines, and there was no way we could have gotten in, so I took him on a tour of the Rue de Rosier (Jewish quarters) nearby, and as we walked around, I noticed all the stores were closed, it later dawned on me that it was Saturday, the Sabbath, oh well. No luck in the Marais. I have wonderful timing!

We decided to take a break and go to a café and have some coffee, how novel. It was close to 6:30 and I had to get home and changed for dinner, so we split up and would meet later.

Jack felt better and the 3 of us went to Le Comptoir, a restaurant in the Les Halles that we went to during the Fete de Musique. Methinks we had a lot of drinks during the Fete de Musique and so the food tasted better. The food tonight was just good. I had the exact items we had last time, and it tasted so different. Oh well so much for consistency. I guess we’ll choose another restaurant next time.

Had a great time talking, then we decided to head home early, 11:30 pm since we would all be taking the train to Dijon tomorrow.

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