"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)!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

October 19-26,2008

Sunday: An exciting morning, we’re taking a road trip up to Strasbourg, well actually a train trip then by car to Baden-Baden, Germany. Met J at the train station at quarter to 9, the train ride to Strasbourg was uneventful, except that it went really, really fast. I now know why they call it a bullet train. It can actually be quite dizzying if you look at the close landscape. It takes 5 and half hours to drive versus 2 hours and 20 minutes by train, who knew?

We got to Strasbourg and it was an unusually warm Indian summer. The sun was out and it was just beautiful. Since we had a few hours before we get our rental and drive to Baden-Baden, we decided to walk around the town a bit. I hadn’t been there in years, it’s still as pretty as I remembered and looks the same, except the train station looks really, really, modern. We went to the Cathedral, and because it’s my Dad’s death anniversary, I lit a candle in his memory. Afterwards we walked around the canal. What a beautiful day to do it. We decided since it was lunch time we would sit at an outdoor café next to the canal. I ordered a “Flammenkuche” a german pizza. It’s like a thin pizza with onions and bacon. It was good and simple.

After walking around the town some more, we decided to get our car and take a slow drive to Baden-Baden. It’s about a 45-minute drive. And, with the borderless countries in the EU or Schengen group, there are no passport controls, who knew? My very first impressions of crossing the border is that you immediately notice the difference. First of all in that area of Germany, it is very, very clean. You won’t see graffiti and garbage. The Germans are pretty well known for their orderliness and cleanliness, and Baden-Baden was a true example of that.

Our hotel was in the center of town, we had a fantastic view and we’re right next to the baths. Jack and J went to the baths about 4:30 pm and I decided to nap before dinner since I’m still fighting my cold.

Here is an excerpt of Jack’s experience at the world famous baths:

There are 2 main bath places; one requires a bathing suit and one requires complete nudity. We went to the complete nudity one. A fantastic chateau-like building with high ceilings and murals or statuary on the walls (or were they nude people just not moving?). In this bath, there are 17 ‘stations’ composed of several interim showers, several sauna/steam baths, several pools of varying temperatures, a ‘lotion’ station (to replace all the water/oil that has been removed from your skin), a ‘wrap/nap’ section where you are wrapped in a blanket in a darkened room so you can take a brief nap. An add-on option (around station 8) is to get the scrub/massage which for me was the best part. The masseuse asks if you want a hard or soft brush (I chose hard) and then pours some soapy water on you and then scrubs the hell out of your skin. Then he/she does a brief massage. I was peeling off skin for the next 3 station. I felt so clean! I skipped one of the last stations (the one with the cold pool). The Germans have a very healthy view of nudity, as this bath is co-ed (well on most days) and naked men and women of all sizes and shapes are everywhere. The staff and masseuses are co-ed and make no distinction if their clients are male or female. You can stay 3 hours (3.5 hours if you opt for the scrub/massage). I would definitely do it again. I looked at it as a cleansing but J and others look at it for the whole experience. I found the 3 steps of sauna/steam and the pools a bit tedious (just go to the hot sauna and skip the first 2 saunas) but I guess that is the impatient American in me.

Later that evening we went to a German restaurant around the corner and had traditional dinner of steak in a heavy cream sauce for me, and lots of sauerkraut and potatoes of course. German food is very, very heavy and rich, so we decided just to have the main course that night. Jack and J went for a walk after dinner and I went back to the hotel since I’m still fighting that damn cold I got in Madrid.

Monday: We decided to explore the outlaying areas of Baden-Baden and went to the “Black Forest.” The Black forest is called that because the area is so dense with trees that little sunlight reaches the ground, who knew? It’s a beautiful country side, and believe it or not parts of if looked pretty much like around Nevada City and up towards Donner Summit, go figure? So, it reminded me of home and how in a few days we’ll be back.

Had a great time, then we headed back into town to walk around the town center. Another thing I noticed about Baden-Baden, it’s a lot cheaper then Paris. Food, clothing, tchatkis are all cheaper. So, I bought some oils, and a shirt for literally one third the price it costs in Paris. I should come here more often to go shopping, unfortunately it’s a schlep, oh well!

We had a late lunch outdoors in the town center. I ordered something quite German, a Hamburger, go figure? It didn’t’ come with fries though, it came with a salad, oh well. It was good none-the-less.

Then we took a stroll towards the Casino and went “window” shopping at some of the high end stores around that area. J and Jack are going there tonight. FYI…, men need to be in a coat and tie in order to enter the casino.

At about 4 pm we headed back towards the hotel. J went back to the baths, and Jack decided not to, since his skin couldn’t take another day of torture, or is that pampering?

Later that evening we all went to a well known restaurant in the neighborhood. It’s a family owned restaurant and our waitress’ grandmother provided all the recipes, who knew? Her husband is the Chef and he happens to be French, go figure? Anyway, for tonight our dinner was pork belly for me, pork cheeks for J and sausages for Jack. If you haven’t figured out yet, Germans love every part of PIG! Swine! (lol). Lots of sauce and again potatoes. It was very tasty, albeit very, very rich. I don’t know how German’s can eat like this. I mean I’d be as big as a house if I continued like this. I figured since it’s our last night in Baden-Baden, I’d try their dessert. So, I had their apple dessert. It was like the Flammenkuche but with apples. It was quite good, and Jack had the ice creams.

Later that night, J and Jack went to the Casino, still fighting my cold I went back to the Hotel.

An excerpt of Jack’s experience in the Baden-Baden Casinos, no pictures allowed, it’s suppose to be quite ornate inside:

Not very interesting. They had several roulette wheels (half not in use), 2 blackjack tables, and 1 poker table. The rooms looked like something out of Versailles (or the not quite over the top Vegas equivalent). Few people.

Tuesday: Went back to France after breakfast. We are now taking a road trip through the “Route des Vins” in the Alsace region of France. It’s a pretty famous drive (e.g., 17 mile drive) but is 60 kilometers long. We didn’t go the whole 60 kilometers but went to several towns such as Molsheim, Obernai, Ribeauvillé, and Riquewhir, sounds pretty German eh? Well it used to be part of Germany before the war, who knew? Each town was prettier then the next. It was all just too cutsey! A little tip if you’re a big shopper, the town stores close between 12 – 2 pm for lunch, sometimes even to 3 pm. So, if you want to do some souvenir shopping go before or after that time. Pictures speak louder then words, so check out my Flickr site.

After traversing for hours we wound up in Colmar. We decided to find a hotel and then go to a typical Alsatian restaurant. We had a hard time finding an inexpensive hotel, but we found one by the freeway called “Fasthotel”. It’s like a motel 6 in the US. It’s basically just a place to crash, and that’s exactly what we were doing. After we checked in we went to the town center to find a restaurant called Maison Rouge recommended by our hotel clerk. Couldn’t find it, but J asked someone and they recommended a different restaurant called Maison de Tete. It was an old style restaurant, lots of character and charm. So, we decided to eat there. Jack and I had the Choucroute, which they’re famous for, and J had the salmon. We had a great time in that restaurant and nice ending to an outing in the Alsace.

Since it was raining pretty heavy, we decided to go back to the hotel and crash.

Wednesday: Got up early, and it is freezing cold and wet. Had breakfast decided to tour Colmar a little bit. It’s actually quite a pretty city. Went to the old section of town, and there are several churches and just cute little alley ways and store fronts. After touring we decided to head back to Strasbourg to catch our train back Paris. I’m still feeling sick from my cold and this weather isn’t helping. Got to Strasbourg and we took a little driving tour of Strasbourg and to some of the EU headquarters. Lucky us there was a demonstration, but unfortunately, I’m not sure what they were demonstrating about.

We returned our car and got there early so we asked if we could catch the earlier train to Paris, the answer is NO, since the cheapo tickets we had are not exchangeable. We even offered to pay to switch, oh well.

So we decided to go to a café across from the train station and have a long lunch. We caught our train and it was pretty packed. Got to Paris about a quarter to 7, said our goodbyes and I went home to crash. I think I’m getting a relapse, so hopefully a few days asleep in bed will do the trick.

Thursday: It’s a beautiful sunny day. I decided to stay in just to recuperate from the exhausting few days and try and get over this cold before we return to the states. Jack went to the groceries to get a few things.

Friday: I had left a message yesterday for MacAbane where I ordered Carole Raisbeck’s embroidered napkins. I left one again this morning. They still haven’t returned my call. Well that’s French customer service for you. So, I decided to go to the store personally. Jack stayed behind to clean and start packing.

Left early afternoon to head over to the Invalides area of Paris where MacAbane is located. Got to the store and the woman immediately recognized me, hmm I wonder why. She said she tried calling, but there was no answer. Methinks she was not being 100% honest, ‘cause we have voicemail. Oh well. The napkins were ready and I headed straight home since I’m still feeling under the weather. I can’t seem to shake this cold. I think I probably am now having a relapse since I’ve been running around lately.

Tonight we’re going over to J’s for dinner for sort of a going away dinner. Jack and I leave October 28 for Dublin and then to the US on, what else, Halloween!!! I will look a fright, since I’m still sick, at least I can save money on a costume. J leaves October 30, and Mehran leaves on Halloween as well. And, our friends Michele and Tara are already in the States. So, I guess Paris will have to have a bleek winter without us (lol).

Returned home and started packing food stuff and some clothing to put in J’s cellar since we’ll be renting his place when we return next year. We left for his place, and the metro was crowded. I keep forgetting that rush hour here is much later and usually starts at 7 pm. Well you should have seen us. Me with my shopping cart filled with food, and a bag of champagne glasses, how appropriate, and Jack with a box and a fan. We were quite the site on the metro.

Got to J’s and packed our stuff in the “cave” (cellar) and went in to meet some new people and the usual suspects for dinner. Was quite fun.

Saturday: Cloudy ugly day, oh well. So, we spent today cleaning and packing. Jack did more cleaning than I did. I think he may have gone overboard. Can you believe he waxed the floors, go figure?

We decided since we were busy packing, we’d go out to dinner, plus we don’t have any food in the house. There’s a Tunisian restaurant we see all the time when we’re in Clichy area and we always say we should go. So about 8:30 we went. The restaurant is called “Le Tunisiana”. It’s a nice enough restaurant. We ordered their formule. I assumed Tunisian food would be similar to Moroccan food, wrong. From what I tasted, it actually tasted quite bland. Jack had a soup that had the consistency of sweet and sour soup, without the spicy. Then for the main course he had macaroni, albeit spicy with a piece of chicken. I had their filo wrapped deep fried meat pie, it was good, but then again anything fried is good. For my main course I had the roti chicken (roast), boring, boring, and more boring. Oh well, we learn, and chuck it up to experience. Now we know that we probably won’t go back when we return next year.

Took the bus up to Place de Tertre, was surprised it was crowded with tourist considering it’s off season, who knew? Went home and crashed.

Sunday: Time changes. We fall back an hour. Great, means I get an extra hour of sleep (lol). After breakfast our neighbor Mathias came over and he’s kind of enough to pick up our mail and to take care of any bills for us. We’re expecting to get in December for our carte vitale (health care), just in case we decide to move here on a more permanent basis. Depends on the outcome of the elections (lol)!

Speaking of election fever, Europe is really in a total frenzy about OUR elections, go figure? They’re devoting a lot of time on talk shows, debates, and news and even following the candidates stumping. I noticed it in when we were in Istanbul, Spain and Germany. In a way, I’m not surprised. I guess I don’t have to tell who they’re rooting for! And, get this, Palin gets the most press coverage here, albeit not very nice; and, based on what I see on TV, it’s deserved, amazing!!!

It seems Jack and I are always doing something last minute. We want to buy a special gift for dear friends who’ve really gone beyond friendship to help us while we were gone. We went to one gallery, didn’t like the stuff, and went to one that we really liked and found some amazing stuff! Hopefully, they packed it well enough so that I don’t break it, we’ll see!

We’re having a farewell dinner with Jose and Pablo tonight. I packed up some stuff so they can take it to the French “Good Will.” They too will be leaving France next month and will be in their Florida home for winter. We might see them when we’re in Florida in the end of January!

We had dinner at our favorite Indian “Le Indien” restaurant. The food made up for last night, it was quite good. Had a great evening, we left and we said our good byes, A Bientôt!

We’re getting close to ending our Paris Chapter 1. We leave for Dublin 10/28 and then fly to San Francisco, on what else, Halloween. Palin wigs/costumes/mask are popular, maybe I can find one in Dublin to wear on the plane (lol)!

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