Before I say anything, let me start by saying bonne année, bonne santé, et plein de bonnes choses….
There. Now that the annual Happy New Year-wishing obligation is taken care of, we can start the year. 4 New Year’s Eves in Paris and I’m still not totally used to how seriously they take their bonne années here, but I’m getting the hang of it.
A look back on 2018
2018 was a busy year! Work, travel, family, friends… it was a year chock-full of bonnes choses. Before moving on to what’s to come in the next year, I always enjoy looking back on the past 12 months to recap and remember all the things that happened. Time passes so insanely quickly, it’s easy to forget how much you can do in a year.
In 2018 I….
Started a new job
Had a massive leak in our (newly finished) ceiling [still not repaired]
Was visited by my parents, and went to Provins then Marseille, Cassis, the Luberon
Watched an open-air opera of Carmen in front of a chateau
Saw my friends get married in front of zebras at the San Francisco Zoo
Went to New Orleans for work
Ate, drank, and saw more wonderful things than I can count
Happy New Year 2019
What’s to come in 2019? That’s a very good question. I suspect that this year will bring a lot of unexpected things. Unlike past years, I don’t have a checklist of significant events that I know will come to pass; there’s no apartment to buy, I’m not moving to a new country (that I know of…), and my job is good and stable. There are no milestones or major life events anticipated for this year so I can’t wait to see what happens.
The only thing I know for sure is planned for 2019? Travel. Like any good française, I’m already deep in the planning for where we’ll travel this year. We’re way behind the competition who have certainly already booked their August vacations and bought train tickets for their endless weekends away. Short weekends, long escapes, we’ll see where we find ourselves in the months to come.
As you know, France practically shuts down in August. All the Parisians are gone, all off on 2, 3, or 4-week vacations. Even Berthillon, the ice cream shop on Ile St. Louis – i.e. the tourist center of the city – closes in August. The only people left in Paris in August are tourists… and me, getting pitying stares from those dashing to and from exotic locations.
September, however, is essentially a second New Year’s. La rentrée, or the return, marks the restart of school, work, and life as we know it. It also marks the start of “autumn” whether it feels like it outside or not. I’ve been giggling for a week watching people dressed in dark colors, fall boots, and actual coats while it’s still hitting 75* out. Parisians don’t dress for weather, they dress for ideas. La rentrée means fall, so we dress for fall.
It may be September and la rentrée may be in full swing, but I like to hold onto summer as long as I can.
Parc de Sceaux
All that to say, as part of our Do More Stuff mission, Frenchman and I recently have been making a point to find places in and around Paris to explore on the weekends. While we used to pick new parks and places to visit pretty regularly, we had gotten a bit lazy since moving to Saint Germain en Laye and hadn’t gone on many adventures in a while.
This summer, we decided to get back to it. One of our earliest Fun Things was, of course, Disneyland Paris for my 30th birthday. Next we wanted to go to Fontainebleau, the magnificent castle and massive forest, but we needed to take the time to prepare and plan our day, so as not to get lost in the woods and miss limited train service, etc.
So instead, Frenchman had the lovely idea to go to the Parc de Sceaux. Conveniently on the RER B, one sunny Sunday we took a ride through Paris and out to the town of Sceaux to visit the gorgeous chateau gardens.
A Walk in the Park (de Sceaux)
Just south of Paris, the Parc de Sceaux features a beautiful chateau and (the real destination) gorgeous gardens that are essentially like Versailles in miniature. In fact, the gardens were designed by the same landscape architect, André Le Nôtre.
We got off the RER in Sceaux and wandered through the town, making a stop at a boulangerie for sandwiches to carry to the park. We wandered through the side gardens surrounding the small chateau, because there are two, apparently, purchased for castle guests to stay in, until we found a nice bench with an excellent view for our lunch:
Once finished, we made our way through the grounds to explore as much of it as possible. We strolled up around the (main) chateau, down the center alley to the edge overlooking the full length of the grand canal. Then we adventured through the woods and down along the canal, following it as it takes a left turn and around to a big fountain overlooked by massive hunting statues. There is, apparently, also a massive waterfall, but it was not running when we visited.
We decided to look for a place to sit a while, but we were definitely not the only ones with this idea. The park was absolutely chock full of families and couples, having picnics or birthday parties or just lounging in the grass. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed a little break half-dozing in the summer heat. We eventually moved on, and finished our tour around the rest of the grounds, taking a detour through the woods, before making our way back through Sceaux to the train station.
It was a simple, peaceful day, and I loved it. We visited a lot of parks when I first moved to Paris, waking up on a Saturday and deciding to pick a garden or park in the city to check out and the wander home. This little lazy summer excursion was a nice reminder of exactly that type of activity. Parc de Sceaux: highly recommended.
This year, for Round 3 of Parents in Paris, we needed to find a new destination.
The first year, we stuck around Paris because there was plenty to see for my Dad’s first time in France and of course there was that little business of my wedding. The second year, we covered a few more of Paris’ Greatest Hits including a visit to Versailles, and then hit the road up to Normandy for a tour of the north’s amazing WWII history.
For this trip, we decided to head south, to Provence.
Unlike our trip to Normandy, there isn’t a bunch of war history to catch my dad’s attention, so the main attraction of the south of France was boats. My dad loves boats and being on or near the water, so putting him on the Mediterranean was the main goal. We booked a trip to the south, starting first in Marseille.
We arrived in the early afternoon, so we headed straight to our B&B to check in and put our stuff down before heading out for a walk. I had done plenty of research in advance, and had managed to map out the perfect walk from the B&B down to the old port, hitting a few major sites along the way.
First, as we made our way down the hill, we passed the Abbey of Saint Victor, but not before making a pit stop for a coffee and pastry as we passed a very tasty-looking bakery. This fortress-looking old building, rebuilt in the year 1200, is dark and impressive and holds some creepy/cool old relics. It also overlooks the port, which is where we found my dad once we realized he was not inside with us. The man wanted to see boats and boats alone.
So to the boats we went, down to the old port.
Conveniently, right along the old port and not far from a boat-facing bench is the Musée du Savon – the Marseille soap museum. This is something my mom and I definitely wanted to check out, and my dad could not care less about. So we left him happily sitting watching the water while we went to check out the (very small) museum full of soap-making history and old molds and vintage packaging. Entry was a mere 2€, or a whopping 5€ if you want to personalize your own soap. We decided to forego the soap stamping, and were pleasantly surprised to find out our entry included a coupon for a free soap at the shop next door. It took a while, but we each picked a few beautifully scented soaps and rejoined my dad with our happy purchases.
We continued our stroll around the old port, marveling at the old buildings juxtaposed alongside highly modern brands and services. This is something that still breaks my brain a little, every time I see medieval-era, impressively historic building and right next door there’s a McDonald’s or a tacky cell phone store.
We stopped in the Eglise Saint Ferréol les Augustins, a church with a beautiful white facade facing the port, to admire the interior and have a sit in the cool. We were soon hustled out as they were about to start the evening Mass, so we checked out the times for a boat tour of the Calanques we were planning for the next day, then rewarded ourselves with a refreshing beverage at a cafe overlooking the water, with a gorgeous view of the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde up on the hill in the distance. Once sufficiently refreshed – and hungry – we continued our stroll along the port down to Le Souk for a delicious dinner of Moroccan tagines.
Having visited nearly all of the major sites that Paris has to offer on their first and second trips to France, when my parents came to visit this spring, we were looking for something to do outside of the city. We had visited Versailles last year, so that was out. We discussed Fontainebleau or Chantilly or Vaux le Vicomte but my dad just wasn’t interested in more chateaux, no matter how impressive.
What he wanted was something not too museum-y. Something old. Something village-y.
The village of Provins
We settled on Provins, a medieval walled city located just an hour from Paris. Not to be confused with Provence, this village is a World Heritage Site known for the 13th century walls surrounding it and its 12th century tower. It’s also a very easy train ride from Gare de l’Est for a few euro (or included in your Navigo!)
We arrived at the station in Provins, which is located down in the modern part of town, and hopped on the little shuttle bus that takes you up to the old city. In theory, this bus makes several stops, and we had planned to get off in the lower city for lunch, but the bus never stopped and never gave any indication that getting off was an option. SO directly to the old city we went.
The shuttle drops you off at the tourist center, where you can buy tickets to the various activities, including falconry shows and jousts. We skipped that and walked up to the gates of the walled city.
We soon found a place to stop for lunch to fuel up before exploring for the afternoon. We set out to wander around, admiring the beautiful old buildings and hidden corners of the village. We lucked out with a gorgeous sunny day, so the greenery, roses, and blue sky made the village stand out.
We made our way around to the old tower of Provins, the Tour César, built somewhere in the early to mid-1100’s. This tower has, over the years, served as part of the city ramparts, as a military stronghold, as a prison, and as a warehouse. Set up on the highest part of the old city, the tower offers gorgeous views of the rest of the village, and the landscape beyond. Up we went!
Next, we meandered over to the Église Saint Quiriace, a church which also dates to the 1100s, or perhaps earlier. A text published in 1062 refers to the “Collegiale Saint Quiriace” founded between 1019 and 1032, which was later expanded though never finished. The dome was added in the 1600s by the wealthy families of the village.
Afterwards, we meandered around more of the village, making our way out to the walls surrounding the old city. Frenchman and I had planned to walk along the top of the wall, while my parents took the path at ground level. We climbed up the very steep stone steps to a platform, and we quickly realized there was no wall path. You climbed up, then climbed down, then up, and then down… We took a few photos for posterity then abandoned the wall for the less athletic path.
We wrapped up our walk and headed back to the tourist office to catch the shuttle, then the train back to Paris.
All in all, an excellent, easy day trip that allowed us to see something completely different. Provins is a beautiful little village, and I never expected to find something like it so close to Paris.
To explain how serious this situation was, let me explain. It had been a full 2 years since I’d had a real haircut (before I moved to France).
Now, I’m already pretty bad at scheduling haircuts at home, in English. I wait ages until we’re way past acceptable length to actually make the call because it can just be such a hassle. It took me years to find a salon in Boston that I liked and would regularly schedule appointments with because my requirements are, apparently, complex. They are as follows: 1) good with curly hair, 2) open late enough on weekdays to go after work, 3) online appointment booking.
Online appointment scheduling should be standard for every salon. There. I said it.
It just makes sense! Who has the time to call, and then when they inevitably offer you a day or time that fits none of the original availability you’ve given them, you have to go back and forth wasting everyone’s time. Why not just provide a calendar that we can all check at our leisure and click on the timeslot that matches up with our own schedules? But I digress…
Since this is Paris, I knew there was no way I would find online booking in a salon here. The bigger hurdle was getting up the courage to actually go for the cut with a language barrier of unknown proportions. (What’s the lingo for layers and low-maintenance, no I don’t own a blow dryer that works here, and no I don’t style it, well, ever, in French?) It’s hard enough to explain to a stylist exactly what you want in your own language. Doing it in French is a real risk.
I needed a salon that was well-reputed for speaking English, and had someone who was confident with curly hair. Not that mine is the curliest in the world, but it makes a big difference to have a stylist that understands how to work with hair that doesn’t go in the direction you expect it to. Bonus points for not insanely overpriced.
My research began about a year earlier. Not kidding. It took me a full year to actually bite the bullet and book an appointment.
I googled for English-speaking stylists, read blogs about other expat tales of woe and wonder with their salon experiences, and followed Facebook threads of people in the same boat as me trying to find new salon. I finally found one that, GASP offered online appointment requests and then…. it didn’t work. **months passed**
Finally, I got so fed up with my hair – which, by this point was both the longest and the most split-ended it’s ever been – and made a phone call. In French. I called and took the first open appointment they offered. Sold.
It went… fine. I made my way to the Marais and showed up at the salon address and waited for someone to appear to greet me. Eventually someone stopped blow drying long enough to ask what I wanted and when I said I had an appointment they said, “oh, try at the other salon.” The other salon? So I followed their instructions to go around the corner and walked until I found an empty-looking, unmarked storefront with salon chairs inside. That was the place.
Despite getting off to an odd start, the stylist was nice and understanding of my questionable French hair vocabulary. She spoke English, but no better than my French so we just fumbled through. In the end, it wasn’t the best cut I’ve ever received but it was good enough and I didn’t miscommunicate catastrophically. Ultimately, I walked away with a haircut, so I’ll consider it a success.
When we finished, I had a brief internal panic where I realized I had absolutely no idea what the tip protocol is in France for hair stylists, if any at all. My American instincts say tip, but my French experience says no… (turns out it’s yes, tip for a haircut, but not as much as in the US). Lesson learned.
Now, here we are a full year+ later. I have not had another haircut since.
Not for lack of trying, though! In the last 2 weeks I’ve attempted to schedule appointments to no avail. Because it’s August, and August in France means everything’s closed and everyone’s on vacation. Here’s hoping I’ll get a trim come September…
It was about this time last year that I unceremoniously and without warning just…. stopped posting. I got a little burned out and was feeling generally uncreative, so the blog took a backseat to enjoying my summer and digging into job hunting.
Now that I’ve resurrected the blog, I thought I’d give you a quick recap of what’s been going on in the last 12 months (backdating slightly to include July):
Bastille Day in Deauville. Lucky for Frenchman and I, friends of mine have an apartment in this beautiful seaside town in Normandy and invited us to celebrate July 14th weekend beach-side
I visited Franzi in Munich! I managed to post about this one in a failed attempt to restart the blog last November, despite having gone to Germany in July
In September last year, I took a spontaneous trip back to Boston to recharge and get some real-life face time in with my niece. There were many pancakes involved.
I visited Jenny in Dublin! The timing couldn’t have been better for an old friend to move to Ireland for grad school. I jumped at the chance to visit and help her explore her new digs.
We made our annual pilgrimage to the Salon du Chocolat. (If you don’t remember, it’s this)
We went on a belated honeymoon to Australia! Stay tuned for full post(s) about this because there are a LOT of things to tell you about. Teaser: I cuddled a baby koala.
Christmas! For the first time since 2014, I was home in Boston for Christmas. Much food was had. Very happy was Frenchman (me too)
I started a new job.
It snowed in Paris!
We went to Beirut, Lebanon! My pilot brother-in-law kindly invited us along on one of his weekend flights for a trip we likely never would have planned on our own.
Les parents came back for round 3! This year, we took them south to Marseille, Cassis, and a tour around the villages of Provence (wine included)
I turned 30
We went to Disneyland Paris! Because that’s what you do when you’re 30, right?
I discovered my new favorite place, Cabourg, a very sweet beach town in Normandy
Frenchman took me on a surprise birthday trip to London… to see Hamilton! It was amazing
And that just about catches us up to now! Not a bad year, I’d say. Though of course those are all the fun and interesting things. I didn’t include the various mundane bits that seem more representative of my life like, “there were problems on the RER” or “our neighbor’s construction flooded our apartment and ruined our walls.” You know, regular everyday life in Paris stuff.
Anyway, stay tuned for more posts coming soon about some of those fun things, mixed with all the upcoming stuff we’ve got going on. I’ll try not to flake on you again.
Back by popular demand….. me!
After a few comments from various friends and family, I’m picking back up where I left off last fall with various (mis)adventures, some partially written.
Another day another long weekend where I ditch my husband to go visit my friends.
While poor Frenchman has some projects that are keeping him chained to his desk, I on the other hand happen to have free time and some friends located in interesting places. A good friend recently [September 2017] moved to Dublin for grad school and, never having made it to Ireland before, I decided to be such a good friend and visit her to help her get settled into her new home.
On the Must Do list:
Guinness – drink some, visit the brewery
Scones – eat some, preferably with delicious Irish butter
Tea – to go with the scones, naturally
Fish & Chips – eat some, probably with Guinness
Oh and I guess visit some of the city…
Clearly I have my priorities straight.
Jenny picked me up from the airport and took my straight back to her very adorable Dublin row house, which I immediately fell in love with. Maybe I watch a bit too much Call the Midwife, but these little places are so cute. We went for a nice walk along the water before heading to the pub to check off two of my crucial to-do’s: beer and fish and chips.
We finished the night by meeting up with an old colleague of mine who had moved to Dublin a few months earlier for some very excellent cocktails.
Day 2! Trinity College and the Book of Kells
As TripAdvisor will tell you, one of the major things to visit in Dublin is the historic Trinity College, and its even-more-historic library. Conveniently for me, Jenny is doing her master’s at Trinity, so while everyone else is lining up for entry to see the famous Book of Kells, we get free entry and can just waltz right in.
Also on display in the library, alongside the most amazing bookshelves, is the Brian Boru’s harp, the oldest harp in existence dating to the 14th century, the national symbol of Ireland (and the inspiration for the Guinness logo).
Afterwards, we walked over to, and through, St. Stephen’s Green gardens, which was lovely, before finding some lunch. Lunch came in the form of a hearty Irish stew in a pub, which was very welcome on a chilly, damp day. Next, we just happened to be a convenient walk away from the Guinness factory, so of course we went. It was excellent. We did the tour, got a free pint at the panoramic bar, and explored the history of Guinness advertising.