"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 27-31, 2008

Monday: Our last day in Paris. It was overcast and cloudy, how else to end a sad day. I’m still feeling fighting my cold, so I told Jack to go ahead with lunch plans with Sue and I’d stay in to try and recuperate. I was busy in the apartment doing last minute cleaning and packing. Since we will be renting J’s place early next year, tonight we’re bringing our last set of clothes and “stuff” to store in his cellar. Josephine, our landlady came by about 3 pm to do a walk-through and gave us our final bill for the electricity.

At about 6 pm we left the house. One very large luggage and one very huge bag full of stuff. It was, of course, early part of rush hour so the Metro was packed. As we got out of the metro, the skies opened up and it poured, oh well!!! Got to J’s and all our stuff was wet. Jack had to take a hair dryer and dry our stuff before we store it so it doesn’t get moldy. J showed us the ropes of the house and then we picked up a friend of his and had dinner at my favorite “duck” restaurant. Had to leave early since we have to get up super early for our flight to Dublin tomorrow.

Tuesday: I got up super early, 5 a.m., imagine that! We left the house about 7 a.m. and took the metro to the train station. I kept on thinking on our way to the airport, why didn’t we hire super shuttle?!?! Oh well, next time. We got to the airport and since our flight is considered a local flight, we had to convince the airport clerk that we’re allowed to bring extra heavy luggage since we were continuing on to SF on Friday. After he checked with his superiors, we were able to get our extra weight, including my extra weight; definitely going on a diet when we get home.

Got to Dublin, and the passport control was extremely slow. Dublin has one of the highest immigration both legal and illegal, because of all the new prosperity brought about by the IT industry, it’s like Silicon Valley of Europe, who knew?

I decided since I fought with my luggage on the Paris metro, we’re taking a cab to the hotel. We got on the cab and €42 later, we got to our hotel, it was worth it. The hotel is called the “Ariel House” on Lansdowne road. It’s quite a lovely hotel. It’s an old Victorian with cute relatively large rooms. Our room has huge bay windows, and a huge bathroom. I guess after Paris everything is going to look huge.

We rested a little bit and then walked over to Grafton and then onto the Temple Bar area which is the sort of center of town. I’m thinking I’m really glad to finally be in an English speaking country again, WRONG!!! There must be a zillion foreigners here. A lot of Eastern Europeans, and I heard all the major languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Irish, and yes even French. And, some of the heavy Irish Brogue is so hard to understand, I have to ask them to repeat what they said, go figure. Net-net, it feels like I’m in a foreign country, oops I guess I am.

I had been to Dublin in my youth and I have to say it’s changed dramatically over the past years. It went from an impoverished city to quite a cosmopolitan city, who knew? I thought it was going to be less expensive then Paris, WRONG AGAIN! It’s quite expensive here. So much for buying last minute souvenirs, but it is sort of nice to visit my “roots”, and possibly visit the O’Diaz and/or the O’Schwartz clan (lol).

It’s also quite cold here. I wish I had brought my long underwear. Sweats and gortex type of outfits seem to be really popular here. The French would cringe at the fashion though. They don’t even run in jogging outfits. I hear it’s suppose to snow tomorrow, I guess it’s to prep me for my return home. I decided since I was a good boy and have lots of room in my luggage I would go look for a sweat shirt that says “Ireland” on it. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay those exorbitant prices, oh well. As we were walking around, I noticed something very interesting, street signs are very difficult to find, they’re in strange locations if they exist at all (e.g., in the middle of the block on a wall) and maps of the transit system either they run out of them fast or they don’t exist, we asked at several locations. I guess you have to be psychic to figure out the train system.

We decided to go back to the hotel and rest before dinner. Being that Jack is fascinated by public transit systems, we decided to take the train called DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) to our hotel. Keep in mind it’s only a 20-minute walk to downtown. We couldn’t figure out how to use the machines to get the tickets for the train, finally some foreigner was kind enough to show us. You can have the machines translate in French, Irish (e.g. Gaelic), a few other foreign languages. We got on the train, and it kept going, going, and going. Turned out it was an express train and took us way out to the suburbs. We had to turn around, about an hour and half later we got to our hotel. Imagine we could have walked it in 20-minutes. Well at least we got to see the burbs!

The train station is a block from our hotel. But we were getting hungry so we didn’t stay there too long. We took the train to “Tara” street close to the Temple Bar area. We walked around and one restaurant was really crowded, good sign so we decided to go in. The restaurant is called Gallaghers. How Irish is that?

I ordered the “blood pudding” for a starter, as the Irish would say. Jack had the tomato basil (pronounced bahseel) soup. The soup was delicious, the blood pudding (white and black) eh, I could live without it. Since we’re in an Irish restaurant I decided to order, what else, Irish stew. Jack ordered the cabbage and ham hock. If I had been blind folded and had to take a taste test, I would swear my Irish stew was “Dinty Moore’s” needless to say, I did not finish it. Jack’s was good, albeit the cabbage they use is that really heavy leafy cabbage that’s quite fibrous. And, get this, wine is double the price of what you pay in Paris. On average it’s about the same price as a coke in Paris €6, who knew? Restaurant food is VERY expensive here. FYI…, on average you pay €25-36 for a main course, and it does not include service/tip, which means you have to add on average 15%, who knew? We decided why not splurge, so we got a dessert. It was a toffee pudding, yum-yum-yum and more yum. It was the best thing on the menu. I think I now understand “Irish” food, it’s basically boiled meat and vegetables. Another big difference at restaurants, they always give you water with ice without asking, how American. And, they come by occasionally to ask how your meal is, how un-French. Methinks I’m starting to miss Paris!

I did notice something very interesting, the Irish love their pints, whiskey, wine actually anything with alcohol in it, imagine that! hmm is that a stereotype? Since we had such a heavy meal, we decided to walk back to our hotel. As we’re walking I’m noticing signs that say “TOILET” being one never to past a toilet, I wanted to go, but as we got closer it said “TO LET” my eyes were playing tricks on me, oh well. It was so cold, Jack commented that he’s never seen me walk so fast in my lie. All-in-all, it was an interesting day.

Wednesday: I think I found a city that has worse weather than Paris, I bet you can’t guess which city it is? It was freezing, damp, cold and icy wet. We got up and had breakfast in the hotel. They have a “sun” room where you can have breakfast, unfortunately no sun, so what’s the next best thing, we sat next to the food. Irish breakfast is very similar to American breakfasts, it’s quite heavy.

After breakfast we decided we are going to explore the 2 extreme cities outside of Dublin. First up is Bray, or in Irish Bré. FYI…, all signs and messages are in both English and Irish. We got an all day train pass and headed out there. FYI…, a monthly metro pass is almost €100 versus €55 in Paris, who knew? I was bundled up tighter than a mummy on steroids. I could barely move my ass or arms for that matter. I had a long t-shirt, sweater on top of that, a fleece jacket on top of that, and then another winter jacket on top of that, not to mention my scarf and hat. The hat was a “Save Donner Summit” cap, and I have to say it did the trick, it kept me warm once I had my hood over it.

Trains in Ireland don’t come very often, and they don’t tell you if they’re express or not. You have to check the signs to make sure your stop is listed. And, the trains are slow moving as well. We got to Bray in about an hour. It was so cold and wet that it was a really fast tour. Then we went to the next town where the ferries are, it was colder there, so we went into the mall and got hot soup! We decided we’ve seen enough of the south, so we got back on the train to the North city of Malihide.

After an hour and half on the train, we finally arrived. The rain let up a little. The town is actually quite cute. We hear there’s a castle somewhere, so we’re searching like made. We found a sign, but it didn’t say how far. It was like trekking through the woods for hours, and we finally found the castle. It was nothing to speak of, so we took a picture and hiked 3 more hours to get back to the train station, who says I don’t hikel!

Got home and crashed. Took a nap and went out to dinner at about 7:30. We walked around the Stephens Green and checked out the restaurants. I have one word to say, EXPENSIVE, even by Parisian standards. After eating bland, after bland food, we wanted something spicy so we went to an Indian restaurant called “Taste of India,” close to Stephen’s Green. A formule menu started at €35. It was actually quite good. Jack’s was particularly hot and spicy, so spicy I couldn’t even eat it, imagine that! Restaurants close down pretty much around 10 pm.

After dinner we took the train home. As I mentioned the Irish love their alcohol. We saw teenage boys drinking beer out in the open, not even in brown paper bags like in the U.S. We saw teenage girls getting ready for a party on the train drinking wine from a screw top bottle, how elegant is that!.

Got home around 11 pm and crashed.

Thursday: Another wet soggy, cold day, what a surprise! Had breakfast and decided to sit in the sun-room; unfortunately, there was no sun, oh well. We took the train and then the tram to “Old Dublin.” Got there and the only description I have is, it’s really old, go figure? Not very exciting, but we walked around in the rain none-the-less.

Afterwards, we went to the Christ Church. Jack told me it was Anglican, so I decided not go in, but took pictures of the outside structure. Pretty impressive. Later we went to the Guinness factory to pay homage. I don’t drink beer, so it wasn’t that exciting for me, but Jack thought he died and went to beer heaven.

We decided from the Guinness factory we’d head out to go the Dublin Museum of Art. It’s quite a large museum. And, it’s free, so of course being that Dublin is so expensive we decided to take advantage of free. It was interesting. Lots of crystal, silver, clothing and modern 3-dimensional art.

Afterwards, we decided to get a bite in their café. Jack had a Guinness meat pie and I had their chicken pie. I have only one description, BLAND! Or maybe 2-descriptions: bland, and more bland! Oh well, you learn.

Then we decided to head over back to Temple Bar. It seems to be where the “happening” is. Our friend Sue in Paris recommended a pub called George’s, where else but on George street in the Temple Bar area. We found it, and it just so happens that it’s also a Gay pub, who knew? and we missed a drag show the night before, oh well. We sat for a while and I had wine whilst (like the British English) Jack had Guinness.

We walked towards the town center and then walked around Trinity College. What a great looking college, and so old? Who knew?

Then we took the bus home. We decided to have an early dinner and I wanted to go to this Chinese restaurant since that’s comfort food for me, and it’s just around the corner. Got there and everything is ala carte. Imagine this, the cheapest dish is €19, remember these prices don’t include gratuity. On average the dishes were going for about €25-28. I couldn’t bring myself to have Chinese at these prices, so we headed towards a pub and had what else, pub food. I had their fish and chips and Jack had their smoked salmon salad. I have one description for the food, BLAND! And if you want another description, BLANDER! I have come to the conclusion that Irish food is pretty tasteless. Sorry to my Irish American friends, but I have to be honest. And, they seem to like to boil their vegetables beyond recognition. I had as a side dish called “smashed” peas, it looked like baby food. it was God awful! I think next time we come back to Ireland I’ll stick with ethnic restaurants. I now know where the expression, “meat and potatoes” comes from.

We took a walk home and passed a realtor shop. I decided to look at some of the home prices. I thought Paris was expensive, wow Dublin has one over Paris. Average cost was about €1.3MM. You’ll notice new buildings and renovations happening every where. It’s amazing. It’s slowing down a little bit because of the global recession. I asked our typical Irish wait person at the hotel who happens to be Polish, why there seems to be so many Eastern Europeans here. One explanation, MONEY. On average people can earn be between €25-60,000 a year whereas in Poland the average salary is like $300 a month, who knew. And, in France for a senior Engineer average salary it’s about €2,500-3,500 a month, whereas Ireland pays about €5-6,000 a month, no wonder the migration?
I’m sorry, but Dublin is a nice place to visit, but there’s no way you can convince me to live here. I’m getting why there were so many Irish immigrants!

Friday: Got our wake up call at quarter to 6, yikes. Our cab was already waiting for us by 6:30. Our cab ride was €35?!? Hmm, why €7 cheaper when we arrived? Oh well. Got to the airport and it was typical security hassles. Got on the Aer Lingus flight and it was practically empty. The plane hadn’t even taken off, and you saw people scrambling for the center isle seats like dogs in heat to mark their territory. The flight was long, in fact 11-hours long. Thank God I have a lot of padding on the old rump!

Got to SFO, and went through hassles there. We had to go through X-ray machines getting out of customs. Go figure? Do I look like a terrorist? We got out and what do our welcome eyes see, Ed and Kathy Bubnis with a tour sign that says “Jacques & Rundee.” It was hysterical!!!

Ed drove Jack’s car to SFO, Jack got a second wind, so he decided he wanted to brave the drive back to the mountains. Welcome back to San Francisco, it was about 2:30 pm when we got on the freeway, and for those from SF area you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a Friday afternoon, the traffic was one word, HORRENDOUS!!! And, as you know, we’re also going to hit Cordelia Junction and the Sacramento traffic to boot, oh well. It’s typical California traffic, but if you haven’t been on it for 7-months it’s quite difficult. Oddly enough, it felt like we never left.

I was craving, what else, Mexican food. Since we haven’t had it in 7-months we had an early dinner in Auburn at Tio Pepe’s. It’s Halloween, so people are friendly and smiling, how un-French! When the chips came with the salsa, I knew I was home. Funny thing though, I can eat hot, but I found the salsa very hot and spicy, go figure? Jack said I need to reacclimate myself back to spices having just been in Ireland. Smart answer! I’m still not use to people asking me how my meal is? I’ve just gotten so use to the French attitude that the Chef knows best, hence if you don’t like it, then you don’t have any food sense.

We went to Raleys to buy a few things. I was shocked. Prices have gone up 20-30% in the 7-months we were gone, go figure?

Got home, and it’s dusty, but not as dusty as I had expected. Unfortunately, the thermocoupler on our water heater needs to be replaced, so I guess no hot water tonight.

Did a few chores and then crashed. Got up 3 am this morning, I guess I’m still on European time, oh well. At least I got to finish my missives.

The past 7-months have been an exciting, fulfilling experience. I have learned to accept and love certain parts of Parisian life style. I guess you can say I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with Paris. A co-dependent relationship. Either that or I’m a masochist. It’s the friendships that we’ve developed that has made me truly love the city. It feels good to be home though! Well at least for part of the year.

This is the end of Chapter 1.

Signing off, Gros bisous…. Jacques et Rundee

Chapter 2 to commence early 2009

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