So I think we are finally in the throws of winter, and even though it hasn’t been nearly as cold as it could be, I do miss those California winter/summers. If you are from SoCal, you know what I am talking about. It’s strange that I haven’t had to dip into my summer wardrobe, or carry a pair of sunglasses with me. It just feels weird. Luckily the days are starting to get longer and I can see the other end of winter. Now that the holidays are over, we are settling back into our normal lives and I am actually enjoying it. I have been extremely busy lately, doing what, I can’t exactly tell you, but the days are going by so fast and I feel like I have no time to do anything, including my blog!
Before January ends, I would like to share a tradition here in Paris that is both cute and delicious. It’s the galette de rois, or the kings’ cake and it’s pretty much a huge almond croissant! Hidden inside each delicious cake is a little porcelain figure and who ever finds it, wears the crown. We had one at our friend’s place and even though I technically found the toy, I thought everyone should have a turn at wearing the crown, even Stanford 😉
As the winter progresses, I have noticed that the beauty of Paris comes out in different ways. Most of the trees are bare now, but there is something very beautiful about that and sometimes you can discover things you may not have noticed in the winter, like camouflage trees:
Luckily, my weekly cultural excursions with my belle mère are still taking place. We recently visited an exhibition of Erwin Blumenfeld a really progressive photographer well known for his forward-thinking fashion photography. I snuck a few photos, which are pretty awesome, especially since most of these were taken in the 30’s and 40’s.
As we were leaving the museum,we had a perfect view of the sunset right over Concord. It was magical. I have never seen a more expressive sky than the sky of Paris. It’s mesmerizing.
Also, in January in Paris, you can still find holiday lights around. As I was walking quickly through the Marais, I couldn’t help but enjoy these beauties:
The following are some pictures we took while walking through the park a couple of weeks ago. It was a chilly but sunny day so we took advantage of it.
Okay, well I am sorry for the lack of depth this week, but I did want to update everyone on what’s happening. The biggest thing is my new haircut, which I think is totes Parisian. (Really, I was getting so sick of my hair getting caught in my winter gear – in my scarves and becoming a tangled mess or my zippers and getting ripped out. Ouch!)
The second leg of our trip was Bruges, which I was really looking forward to. Like many others, we saw the film, “In Bruges” and were excited to see where the various scenes were filmed and to experience this adorable city for ourselves. We arrived at our hotel and I was so happy. The place was decked out for the holidays and adorable and it was updated in a very modern style with a bathtub. Score!!!
We took to the quaint cobblestone streets as soon as possible and immediately were struck by the delicious smells in the air. I think there is a chocolate store every 5 meters (look at me using the metric system) and, of course, more waffles and fries.
I really felt like we were in another country when I realized that the locals there speak Flemish. (Okay, so I felt a little ignorant because I was confused between the difference between Dutch and Flemish, and apparently Flemish is “Belgian Dutch.” If you are a nerd like me, you may “Wikipedia” Flemish and read all about the differences.) Every menu has a bevy of languages making it almost difficult to order and I realized pretty quickly that the Flemish are not fans of the French so we spoke English while there. (Of course, I don’t want to make any assumptions, but when we spoke English we seemed to have slightly more positive treatment from wait staff.)
The first night there we had some rain, but the next day the weather was amazing and we took full advantage of it by walking pretty much all over the city. The first item on our agenda was to climb the famous belfry. As we walked around the town, we encountered swans and little canals everywhere with perfect little bridges. The medieval structures in the city are preserved so well that I could easily imagine myself transported to that time. The holiday lights made it even more special and we came across many christmas markets where groups of people enjoyed the local beers. I noticed a definite cheerfulness of everyone there – on a day like that, in a place like that, I think it would be hard to not be in a great mood.
Needless to say, Adrien and I are already planning our next trip in the summer and we would love to make a stop in Amsterdam, as well.
Next post, I snap some photos while taking my friend on some long and arduous walking tours of Paris. WARNING: Be prepared to sweat a little if you come for a visit!!!
As you may have guessed from the title, Adrien and I recently spent some time in that charming country to the north of us, Belgium! It’s only a few hours from Paris and so different than Las Vegas (which is also just a few hours from California). We had such a great time and it was exactly what we needed – a little break from the holidays here in Paris and some time away from responsibilities, including Stanny. Even though Belgium is super doggy friendly, the hotels we found last minute did not allow for dogs so we had to leave him with my sister-in-law. I think he had a nice time, but definitely not as nice as us!
Our first stop was in Brussels. I didn’t really know exactly what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I loved the fact that the older part of the city was really quite large (even though completely walkable) and super charming. I loved that the buildings were old, but very colorful and full of gold and lots of pizzaz. Yes, pizzaz. Everything in Paris is gray. Not that I don’t think Paris is very beautiful and classy, but sometimes a little color can be fun!! Adrien found us a very well-located hotel right in the center of the cutest part of the city. Even though it was a little noisy with the teenagers late at night, it was totally worth it for the location and view.
Of course, a trip to Brussels would not be complete without some fries waffles and beer. I cannot describe the smell of it all together, but it is incredible. I don’t remember Paris ever smelling like that. While walking down the adorable cobblestone streets, it is hard not to constantly be craving all the yummy and delicious treats on all the streets. Let’s just say, if you are planning on starting some sort of diet, do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT go to Belgium!!!
Even though it seems like all we did was eat while in Belgium, we did do some other things. We went to the Magritte museum. Adrien smokes a pipe occasionally (I protest, but I am lucky it’s not cigarettes since he is French) and the first time I saw the Magritte painting, “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” I thought of Adrien. It was the night just before he was flying in to see me while I was still in LA. The museum is very comprehensive and impressive. Magritte was a busy guy and had many different styles. I really enjoy his more grand works and his surrealist paintings. We also tried to see Jazz based on a recommendation from my travel book, but no music played that night so we just enjoyed a night out in Brussels.
Because were lucky enough to be in Brussels for the holidays, we had a view of a light show from our hotel room in the square and we could also see the runners streaming by. All those people exercising didn’t stop us from enjoying a waffle topped with chocolate, bananas and strawberries that maybe tasted even better than it looked.
Next post we will explore Bruges, one of the most adorable places I have ever been to that ALSO smells like chocolate.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years feel like a countdown to me. I really love the decorations and the feeling of the holidays, and I have to admit, I get a little sad when it’s all over and all the sparkles are gone. I really love sparkles. Before the holiday lights come down in Paris, I am going to try to take as many pictures of the lights in the different neighborhoods as I can. Adrien may have to be my chauffeur, but I am sure he won’t mind 😉
Once a week I take an excursion with my mother-in-law and I really love it because I get to know her better and we get to practice my French. She usually speaks in a way that I can understand and she is very patient when I make horrible mistakes. That is always a great quality in a person. We have been trying to visit different museums and exhibitions in Paris and a few weeks ago we we went to the Jewish History Museum in the Marais. I took many photos, but I must have lost them somehow. It was a really impressive museum – huge, actually. We started to get pretty exhausted by the end when we finally reached the exhibit that we came for, Maryan. He has a very troubled history involving World War II and his art is extremely intense and almost difficult to take in, but we really enjoyed it. Although very somber, especially with the Maryan exhibit, I am so glad we had a chance to visit the museum, even though we could have probably spent a few more hours there and still not have seen everything.
The last museum we visited was Musée Bourdelle near Montrmartre. Although I had always heard of Rodin, I had never heard of Bourdelle another sculpture who is actually just as talented and was admired by Rodin and even worked with him. The museum that used to be his studio holds some very impressive sculptures in plaster, bronze, marble and ceramic. Some of the sculptures were so huge, it is incomprehensible how they are moved around, let alone switched out with other one and must be done because there are too many statutes to fit in the space! I am always in awe of the talents of some people. Although he had a team working with him, each sculpture takes so much work and time and they are all incredibly expressive and unique.
The other day, I met my friend for lunch and forgot to use the restroom and I was near the Champs-Elysées. Oh-oh! I was looking for a bathroom and noticed a sign that lead me into this fancy shopping center behind the main avenue. When I entered the restroom, it was really strange. There were toilet lids decorating the walls in bright colors and a wall of colored toilet paper. The price was 2 euros, which, if you have to go badly enough, doesn’t sound that outrageous. Plus, there was a toilet concierge that escorted me, AND STANFORD, to our toilet stall! After I was done, I am not sure it was worth the 2 euros, but it was definitely an experience.
When I can settle for a less fancy toilet experience, I don’t mind using the public bathrooms that can be found all over Paris. At first I was skeptical, I admit, but after being assured that they clean themselves between uses and are free, I was all about them. When my family was in town we were waiting in line for the catacombs and, of course, with my bladder which must be the size of a pee, I inevitably needed to use the restroom. My aunt and I found one of the public ones just around the corner – score!!! Or so I thought. I let my aunt go first, no problems. Everything seemed to be fine – the toilet’s door opens, you walk in, do your thing, wash your hands and dry them, press the button and then out you go. When you leave, the toilet starts a wash cycle. Well, at least it is supposed to do that. I waited until my aunt was done and the light was green. I step into the bathroom and immediately I noticed something funny – just as I had started to lower my pants, I saw the toilet seat lift itself back up into the wall. Hmm, I think to myself, that’s strange. All of a sudden water starts flooding the floor like a wave and I start to scream. I had already pulled my pants a third of the way down, and when the doors open, you are pretty much on stage for anyone walking by. Somehow I got my pants up and managed to press the unlock button to stop the process, but only after my shoes had gotten a thorough cleaning. I did not even get to use the restroom!!! Needless to say, I am not a quitter, and that was the last time I experienced a malfunction. Even better, I found an app for my phone that tells me where they are all over the city! My small bladder is extremely grateful.
That would be a negative.
Regardless, I really wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris this year. It is my favorite holiday and I just couldn’t stand the thought of not enjoying all the yummy foods and that feeling of spending a lazy afternoon with family and friends getting stuffed to the gills the way only Americans can. For that reason, I decided that I would host a little Thanksgiving linner (lunch/dinner) at my place on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, since here in France it’s just another Thursday. Plus, it’s much easier to get people to come over on a Sunday because you don’t have anything to compete with. Not many stores are open and most restaurants are closed. Now all I had left to do was figure out how the heck to make a big TG meal in the teeniest of Parisian kitchens with a toaster oven and hot plate.
The First and Worst Thanksgiving Meal in Paris
Jus to make sure I got my TG fill, I signed Adrien and myself up for a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in Montmartre hosted by an expat group on Thursday night. After dinner, we were supposed to take leisurely stroll up to the Sacre Coeur to work off the large meal. It all sounded really great in the description and I really wanted to try to make more friends. We arrived at the restaurant at about 8 pm (which is already dangerously late for a TG meal considering how heavy it is). Not many people were there yet, but at some point everyone showed and we sat down for what we expected to be a delicious TG meal. Luckily, the other guests were super nice and friendly and Adrien and I made some friends because the meal was not exactly what we were expecting.
After waiting for what felt like a millennium, the first course arrived. It was a few triangles of very white bread – almost like American sandwich bread – toasted with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. Some of us were so hungry (I think it was around 9:45 at that point) we just started eating the strange appetizer when the waiters started bringing out what looked like a trough of mushroom soup. We didn’t think it could get much stranger, but the serving of soup was enormous, especially considering the size of the meal to follow. My husband was able to guzzle down the soup like the champion he is. (Food is no match for him.) After the soup there was more socializing since we really didn’t have a choice. Finally, at almost 10:15 the waiter started delivering our Thanksgiving platters. Yes, platters since every item was arranged on what might have been a child’s personal chalkboard from the 1800’s. There was no edge and the food was piled so high it had no choice but to escape. The turkey was actually pretty good, but the sides were a medley of various TG foods with a slight odd flavor or ingredient. After we were completely stuffed (like turkeys should be) at about 10:40 the dessert showed up and we really wished it hadn’t. It was one of those situations where you really felt bad for the chef. This poor French guy is slaving away making what he thinks is a perfect TG meal, but in reality, the Americans can’t wait for the meal to end. And we were right. One taste of the “pumpkin pie” revealed that the chef had taken it quite literally. It was essentially some pumpkin mashed up and placed on a pie shell. It tastes just like what you are imagining right now. Suffice it to say, we didn’t stick around at 11 pm for the walk and just wanted to hit the pillow with the force of a wrecking ball. (Not the kind with Miley Cyrus attached to it.)
A Real American Thanksgivingkuh
After having recuperated from Thursday night, Adrien and I decided to go for a little pre-feast walk Sunday morning thinking we had plenty of time to prepare for the big meal. Adrien surprised me on our one year anniversary (seeing each other for the first time when I came to Paris last December) with a very lovely walk to this park that I pass by almost daily, but had no clue about. It extends from Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes (the woods) and has little exercise stations along the way. There is a sign that is meant to discourage runners from disturbing the lazy pedestrians (yeah, that was us). I thought that was very funny. The sign didn’t work that well, since there were plenty of runners darting between us, making us feel particularly lazy that Sunday morning.
I almost had a nervous breakdown before my friends arrived, which was further incited by an unfortunate incident with the toilet and the slow cooker that has been taking up space in our tiny kitchen for almost 6 months. After a heated discussion about the efficacy of a plunger v. chemicals, the plunger, thankfully brought to our place by Adrien’s mom, saved the day. Unfortunately, the slow cooker was not salvageable and ended up being a large hunk of junk that wasted about an hour of my prep time. Fortunately, I was also lucky to have an awesome American friend who likes to cook and bake as a guest. I also asked other guests to contribute to the meal, however, given that most of the guests were French and clueless about a TG menu (not their fault, of course), I was lucky to have some help with the menu.
On dish I made was turkey meatball in a cranberry sauce. The last time I made them with beef and they came out really tasty and there were none left for the next day, which made my husband very very sad. I tried to make a lot more this time, and with turkey they came out a little differently, but I made sure to spice them a lot so they would be tasty. I also made homemade mashed potatoes with the peels. I did attempt to make some cornbread, but it was a bit of a disaster. Luckily, there were plenty of other dishes there that made up for that loss. Since it was also the third night of Chanukah, I made some sweet potato latkes, a little nod to Thanksgivinkah. My mother-in-law helped me so much with the latkes. French women are masters at shredding things. Usually it’s carrots, but this time it was sweet potato. I don’t think my old food processor could have done it faster!
My friend Kristin brought a green been casserole, stuffing (my favorite), and not one, but two pies – pumpkin and pecan! Both were amahhhhhhhzing! Anne-Sophie brought over some delicious macaroni and cheese, complete with breadcrumbs. Super impressive, especially for a Frenchie 😉 I think it was also the French cheese made it even more yummy.
In the end, it turned out to be one of the nicest Thanksgiving meals I have had. I was really impressed with my friends here and my new mom, who totally came through for me. I am so grateful for how far I have come these past 6 months. I have made a home for myself with Adrien and it has never felt like more of one. So, even thought it started off a bit rocky (which I guess is pretty normal right?), ultimately everyone looked uncomfortably full, happy and tired. A success as far as TG is concerned!
Since last weekend we had 3 days off (Monday is the day celebrating the end of WWI) we decided to head to Normandy to stay at Adrien’s grandfather’s apartment. His place is one street away from the beach with beautiful views and about 2 hours from Paris. Adrien has been itching to go there for a while, since he spent a lot of time there as a child and has fond memories of his grandmother.
There isn’t a lot to do in Normandy and we had limited wifi access (oh no!), but smelling the ocean is always restorative for me. Our first evening there we walked along the beach with Stan and witnessed a beautiful sunset. It was incredible. Maybe the cold air and the fact it had just rained helped make it so lovely. Stan loves the sand (not the water) so he had a blast just running up and down the beach like a rabbit. I almost never see him with that much energy!
We had dinner that night at an Italian restaurant and then blasted the heat in the apartment and tried to go to sleep. The bed was a little on the small side, so we kept colliding into each other all night and at one point I thought I heard a baby crying. The apartment building was pretty deserted, so it was a pretty strange sound to hear, but Adrien said the thought the same thing last time he was there until he realized the shutters were making the noise. Hmm… a little creepy, but I guess it went with the ambiance of a sleepy cold beach town!
The next day, we headed back out to the beach and did some shopping at the indoor market. We met the cutest old people who loved watching Stan politely waiting for us right outside the doors. They were so sweet and so friendly. Sometimes I have to be reminded that not all French people are Parisian! (Lest you fear I am insulting Parisians, they are the ones who bash Parisians the most!!) We got some fresh veggies and some stinky cheese and decide to have lunch at home after a nice walk.
The rest of the weekend was very quiet – we watched Bridget Jones’ Diary in French for me (it was in really fancy French, but I knew what was going on because I have read the books and seen the movie so many times it’s a little embarrassing) and the third Lord of the Rings on TV, awesome but also never seems to end.
Before we left, we read about a great seafood restaurant on the beach in TripAdvisor and so we had lunch at Le Beau Site. It was a cozy place with wonderful views and great service! Leaving Paris, the waiters tend to be more patient and friendly and they even brought Stanford a bowl of water. The food was excellent and not too pricey if you order from the fixed menu. We will definitely recommend that Adrien’s grandfather go back there since he really likes seafood.
While lunching, we observed a man who was pretty much naked, jumping into the sea for a swim. I don’t know if he was from northern Russia, perhaps, but let me tell you, that beach is COLD. The waiter said he does it twice a day, rain or shine. (And we thought the wind-surfer who had no shoes on the day before was crazy!)
We are back in Paris now and I think Adrien feels better having had a weekend to decompress. I, on the other hand, feel a bit restless and ready to get out there and do something with my day. Today is the first day in a while that the sun has been out all day. It’s incredible. I had to take some pictures on my walk to the office where I work with Adrien to document this weather. Il fait beau, indeed. I also noticed some of the holiday lights were starting to come up. It looks like the leaves are going to fall soon from most of the trees (“Winter is coming”). It actually reminds me of about a year ago when I came to Paris and spent time with Adrien for the first time. A truly magical time!!! 🙂