"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)!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow)

Edinburgh Airport

OK, you're probably wondering why I'm writing about a different country since my blog is about not being a Francophile and living in Paris. To me it made sense to write about other countries that I visit, because it gives my readers a different perspective of how I view things in comparison to France where I live, and the US where I'm from. In some cases it will make me appreciate my life in Paris, in other cases in leaves me wondering, "what was I thinking?" 

Off to Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) on the RER train, it was a non-event, except there seemed to be quite a large number of military present. Paris has been under high terrorist alert the past few days in part because of the banning of the burqua, and even the Eiffel tower was closed a few days ago due to this alert. 

CDG deserves every bit of its reputation for being one of the world's worst airports. They work hard at being on the top-ten list.  If you can avoid flying through CDG, then do so. Physically, it is horribly laid out airport, and seating prior to entering the "secured" area is practically non-existent. And, to make matters worse, it's dirty and air-conditioning is rarely ever on, since the French fear "drafts" they believe it will make them sick, it's germs, I tell ya, not air. On top of that, all the security attendants et.al. went to the University of "mean!"  Their diploma is well deserved.

As some of you know I'm obsessed with finding toilets, and I truly believe the French are trained not to have to go to the toilet as often as we do. Case-in-point, the toilets at CDG are spread so far apart, you need to hitch a ride from one toilet to the next. So, if you see a toilet, use it, you never know how much farther the next one will be. I think there should be a sign like in the US, next toilet in 1-mile.

We went through security into a large waiting area, OK, I understand the need for strong security checks and I even advocate it, but do you think they could be a little nicer? After we practically stripped down to our underwear and we're looking for a spot to put back our clothes and shoes, do you think they'd have an area for doing that, if you guessed no, you would be right. Much to my surprise and dismay, there were no toilets inside this fairly large waiting room. The flight was supposed to be packed, and I saw all these kids and senior citizens thinking, I hope they have their diapers or depends on because I just heard an announcement that our flight was delayed.

I know many people had to go to the toilet, but in order to that you had to go back outside the security zone and re-enter with the not so helpful security guards, oh well, I went anyway, and it was a hassle, one guard ignored me when I asked him if there was possibly a toilet inside the secured area that I may have missed, another pointed with his hand so fast, I thought he was shooing a fly away. I truly believe they work hard at being the "worst"! But finally, I figured out on my own I had to go through this automatic glass door. On my return, I went through the same mean motions, oh well, you gotta love France?

As we're checking in, I said  to the ticket agent "bonjour, ça va?" she seemed friendly enough, and then she saw I had a "murse" she told me I had to stick into my carry on, I said I would, she turned her French customer skills on me and said, N O W !!! like a drill sergeant, so I complied for fear she'd hit me. I'm told this is done, so if you cannot fit it into your carry-on, you have to check it in and the airplane can charge accordingly!

The flight to Edinburgh was 100% full, fortunately the flight from Paris is only about an hour and 20-minutes. As soon as the no-seat belt sign went off, a few folks hit the toilets running, including my seat mate and myself. Got into Edinburgh airport, although its small, first and foremost you notice it is clean and neatly laid out and everyone was very friendly and helpful. Wow, and I didn't have to look far for a toilet, oh my gawd, I thought I must be in foreign country and then realized, yep I'm in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

As you exit, there are taxi services and bus stops lined along the street making it quite easy to determine which bus you need. The city center express bus you can purchase tickets ahead of time, the other buses you have to have exact change 1.20 pounds. Since we were on a local bus, it stopped a lot and took quite a long time to get to our hotel, but the ride was pleasant enough.  And, surprisingly, the buses all have luggage racks, imagine that?

Edinburgh is 1-hour behind Paris, so, technically we got an extra hour of sleep, yipee. After we checked in and unpacked we headed out to dinner since it was already after 8 pm. Our hotel is in walking distance of the "castle" and restaurants below it, called Grassmarket. We found a cute pub, albeit very touristy called "Last drop in the bucket". Jack wanted to try the haggis , and I didn't, but I ordered basically a meat pie. Our meals came, and one thing I noticed, portions in Scotland are HUGE, just like in the US. And, the restaurant was air-conditioned, it was actually quite cool inside. Imagine coming from a country where they don't believe in air conditioning to a country where air conditioning is the law of the land.  Also, all drinks (e.g., sodas, water) come with ice without even asking for it. For a while there, I thought we were back in the US, then I saw the haggis.

I tasted the haggis, it wasn't bad at all, it was even a little spicy, but the look of it isn't very appealing. It's typically served with mash (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed turnips). And, interestingly enough, it's stuffed into all sorts of dishes like chicken, or beef.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and called it a night since we'd have a big "exploration" day tomorrow.

Got up the next day, it was overcast, but not raining, surprisingly. I had brought my winter jacket anticipating it would be very cold. It was just too heavy and warm to wear, so I went into a souvenir shop and got a light fleece jacket.

The souvenir shop was gigantic, and sits in front of the entrance to the Edinburgh Castle. Since Scotland is known for their shetland wool, they had a huge wool factory that made sweaters, scarfs, and their famous tartans.
I've always wanted to know what they wear under those kilts, so I took a peek, guess what?

The city of Edinburgh is actually very easy to walk around. They don't have a subway system, but they have an excellent bus systems. You must have exact change when taking the bus (1.20 pounds). You can get day passes, but again it's quite easy to walk around. 
Surprisingly the city has a lot of hills. At one point I felt like I was in Montmartre. There were stairs all around the castle that you could take. I wish they had an escalator, because it was quite a hike.

The Queens residence in Edinburgh

Where it's similar to Paris is that it is an ancient city with lots of history. Again, it's also a walking city. It has a different feel than Paris. Paris seems a lot more hectic and frenetic, whereas Edinburgh is more laid-back, it probably has to due with the population. Paris has a population of almost 12 million people, whereas Edinburgh has a population of less than half  million. It is also a very clean city, and very little graffiti. But logically, since it is a small city with a smaller population, maintaining the cleanliness would be easier, n'est-ce pas?
I'm generalizing, but Scottish people seem larger to me, just like Americans. They're not as influenced by "designer" or "dressing stylishly" as they are in Paris. You will see a number of people wearing "sweat" clothing, hmm, sound familiar. I know in most small American cities and towns, sweat clothing seems to be the uniform.

The people tend to be very, very friendly and smile a lot. I was taken aback when I went into a pharmacy and someone came up to me and asked, "do I need help looking for something?" this question never gets asked of me in Paris. I'm so used to just wandering around without being bothered in a store in Paris, that the question truly caught me off guard.  But they also don't overdo it as they do in the US, where you're asked several times and they act as if you're their best friend. So, their balance of customer service was perfect for me.

Since I was tired of eating Scottish food, which is very similar to American food (meat and potatoes), and tends to be on the heavy side with big portions, we decided to start exploring the ethnic restaurants.  So, that evening we went into an Indian restaurant called "Ghandi's".  It was a cute little restaurant, and the waiter told us that they stopped serving alcohol 6-months ago, because the new owners are Muslim. No problem, since I really don't drink that much anyway, but I kept thinking this isn't going to last in Scotland, the Scots love their beers and their whiskey. We'll check a year from now to see if it's still open. By the way, the food was delicious. Also restaurant prices are pretty much the same as they are in Paris, about 30€.

The next day we decided to take the train to Glasgow, it's only about a 50-minute train ride from Edinburgh, and we figured we'd also be able to see the countryside. The countryside is extremely green, it must be from all the rain. As we got to Glasgow, I was expecting something similar to Edinburgh. I was wrong. It's a flatter city, and not quaint at all. It seems almost industrial in the way it feels. We wondered around the city and decided since there wasn't much of interest to either of us we would return to Edinburgh.

Our last day in Edinburgh we decided to spend the day at the Edinburgh castle. Interestingly if you are 60-years of age or older, you're eligible for a senior discount, which is about 2€ off from the regular price. And, no I'm no where near 60-years old. The castle was very interesting. We got to see the "crown jewels"; however, I will have to say I was expecting to see more "bling", but it's actually quite simply.

Afterwards we went to lunch at a Kurdish restaurant. Since this restaurant was also owned by Muslims, there was no alcohol being served either. Wow, imagine a restaurant that doesn't serve at minimum wine in Paris, it would probably be shut-down in 24-hours.  We arrived at 1:30 pm and it was quite empty, but at 2 pm it started filling up. I believe they eat lunch much later in Edinburgh, because this also happened the other times we went to lunch.  Notwithstanding the lack of alcohol, we thought the food was excellent. 

Getting back to Paris was a non event; however, the RER was not running to nor from CDG on the week-ends through mid-November for repairs. As we got off the plane, we made our way to the RER station. No signs were posted and no-one seemed very helpful at all. We finally approached a group of men wearing red jackets who I assume worked there and were in charge of making sure that they assisted people trying to get to Paris. First of all the area was mobbed, and the group was busy talking to each other and couldn't be bothered, when they should have been helping customers, you gotta love CDG. Finally, when we asked or should I say interrupted their discussion of world events and finally gave us a flyer with instructions on how to take the CDGVAL shuttle (no signs where the shuttle is located) to another terminal, then the bus to another RER station, then the train back into Paris. I felt like saying, stop chatting and start helping, or distributing the damn flyers. Oh well. 

It was a nightmare, very disorganized, the shuttles and buses were packed. And, since they don't believe in moving air, the buses felt like a sauna. On top of that it was raining. Finally we reached "Mitry" RER station, and got on the train and made it home OK, but the process was just simply horrendous! So, if you come into CDG on a week-end; hopefully, you will have made arrangements to be picked up. If you decide a taxi, you'll have to be patient as well. This is just one of many examples of the challenges of living in Paris.

In summary, it was great to get away for a few days. The worse experience was getting in and out of CDG. Although English is spoken in Scotland, it takes some getting use to understanding them. Ay, is used to affirm, like a "yeah" and hi is said with "awright". Edinburgh is a beautiful city, albeit the weather isn't that great, but the warmth and hospitality of the people make up for it. Would I want to live there? probably not, would I go back to visit? absolutely.  Am I glad to be back in Paris? in many ways yes. Paris has more excitement, and the food, wines and cheeses are much better, plus I'm basically a city boy! And, in a frightening way, we're getting used to figuring things out on our own, where customer service il n'existe pas!

So, if you want to explore your roots as I did searching for the "Clairol" clan, it's worth a visit.


  1. Love this post! Sounds like you guys had a nice time, but I'm also glad you're back in Paris. I felt the same way coming back from London a few weeks ago...good to be home. ;) bisous

  2. Hi Randy...

    I just saw your comment on Loulou's blog about the taqueria in Paris and decided to check out your blog...
    I had to laugh at this post (the part about CDG, of course). I fully agree with you.. Had to do that weekend trip on the B from Antony (where I live) to take my friend to CDG not long ago....
    She and I did that same trip a few weeks early than you.. and went to Edinburgh for a week- took a weekend tour in the Scottish higlands - and a 4 day trip after that to No. Ireland, Dublin and Souther Scotland.. GREAT trips.. Then from Edin. we went to Glasgow for a few days... I really loved this trip! I totally agree with you about the Scots being so friendly-- So are the Irish! It's a real pleasure to visit these two countries! I hope to go back again one day! Take care... Leesa

  3. I love the train systems here though, they're very EFFICIENT! nest-ce pas?

  4. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

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