Healing Powers of Chartres

I do believe in the miracles of Chartres.  So when Guest went from feeling miserable on Friday morning to feeling fairly well after a Labyrinth walk… no surprise to me. IMG_4627 And glad all around.  How sad to come all the way to Paris and get sick.  She stayed in bed all Wednesday and Thursday which took great discipline but paid off.  And I took it easy on Thursday also – only venturing out for a baguette and train tickets.IMG_5911

But something is happening at Chartres and I am not sure I like it.  For those that don’t know, I have been traveling to IMG_5982Chartres since 2007 quite regularly to walk the labyrinth.  I will do a separate post about Labyrinths to move this one along.  Last time I did notice that they have been cleaning up the interior significantly.  I just thought it was much brighter and wasn’t sure if I liked this cleaned up version even if that’s what it looked like when they first built it.  Did you know that most medieval churches were painted inside?  And the statutes too – even to having blue or brown eyes?  This visit I read more about he restoration.  It’s apparently a controversial issue.  IMG_5978They are not just “cleaning it up” like I thought – no, they are actually painting it.  And making some columns look like faux marble.  I kept thinking something was off as I looked down the choir and saw these marble columns.  Then I came across this section – I guess they are starting to paint here. IMG_5965 Some experts say this is the right thing to do, that it was painted in the 1190s and whitewashed again in 1290… others feel it a desecration.  IMG_4631And apparently they are also doing something that is supposed to be protective of the stained glass.  This is some of the most beautiful stained glass in the world.  So some say that the protective layer – which I don’t think is actually applied to the glass but layered on it (I don’t know the details) – IMG_5936that the layer now diffuses the light so that the beautiful crisp reflections on the walls and floor of the cathedral are now gone.  I did not notice that.  But overall, I don’t like it.  The whiteness of the walls does detract from the stained glass and it has lost that je ne sais quoi feeling of antiquity.

And don’t start me on the Black Madonna which they have made white.  This Madonna is from the 1500s. It was beautiful.  Now it is “restored” and looks… well, I like the comment an art critic made – “like a kewpie doll.” 2015-04-17 13.36.58

While Guest took an afternoon rest, I walked the Labyrinth a second time and then headed off for St Pierre.  This is an old church – was a monastery I believe – that has been locked every time I have visited Chartres.  Finally I had success.  Open and with the added benefit of a lady playing the organ.  A concert in a lovely church.  The stained glass is from the 13th century but certainly not as beautiful as that at Notre Dame de Chartres.

Notre Dame – yes, Chartres is an Our Lady cathedral.  And like so many of them she is built on the site of a sacred well.  One of those things the Catholics did well – take a pagan rite and adopt it as a catholic one – Solstice – Christmas…..  Sacred well .. church site.  I think they are doing it again with the Labyrinth but more on that in the labyrinth post.

After a lovely dinner, we took the Chartres tram/Train for a ride around the city to see the lights.  I have heard of the “light” shows for years.  Even went to a simple one at Warwick castle in the 70s.  But, my have they advanced!  See the next blog for photos.

Then a nice sleep in the Hotel Jehan de Beauce by the train station so we could catch the train mid morning easily.  Of course, I didn’t “catch” my glasses.  While packing, I tossed my glasses on the bed – but they bounced off to the other side.  And of course, I forgot them and so today, while Guest spends the day in the D’Orsay, I went down to Chartres and back for the “lunettes.

I did catch a 2015-04-19 11.24.11-3glimpse of Versailles though. 2015-04-19 13.34.04

This morning, as Guest and I walked to the D’Orsay, we came upon the Color Run sponsored by Sephora. 2015-04-19 14.15.53 Runners who run… and get sprayed with color.  We saw the yellow spray and the blue spray locations.  And for my running friends, here’s what some runners looked liked on the Metro home.2015-04-19 14.16.12

And now to pack.  Avignon tomorrow for two nights, three days.  

On Speaking French

As I am getting closer and closer to having my apartment just like I want it (the goal is probably unreachable, but I strive), I find myself wondering what I will do with my time when I no longer need to be interior designer, plumber, and furniture arranger.  I will finally be able to answer the question posed to me by many: what are you going to DO in France?

And as I asked myself, I wondered – write? draw? Start a Meetup?  No answers were forthcoming.  But I realized I have visitors until the second week of May and the question doesn’t need to be answered immediately.  Isn’t procrastination wonderful?

But I don’t think I have to wait for May for the answer.  The Universe seems to be moving things right along.

The wonderful Meetup of Expats has been a great resource.  The Brit told me about Conversation Exchange which I have written about previously.  Up to today, I have three people I have met with for conversation, one quite regularly, one semi-regularly and the last scheduling difficulties have postponed us from meeting again  until May.  Nice.

And in the last week, language, language, language.  The CE tax attorney told me his wife – quite spontaneously – offered to meet with me for an hour each week to just speak French to help me along.

Four other quite interesting people have contacted me on CE itself.  We are set to meet in May.  One is a life coach like me, another used to be a director of some type of adult learning, another a history teacher and the last… just a business woman, I guess.

And yesterday at the expat Meetup, Christianne (she is French – the Meetup is both expats and French) suggested we meet for 2 hours each week.  1 hr each English/French.  She wants to improve her English – she is quite fluent but idioms, don’t you know?  And she used to teach English to foreigners so she said she can teach me and explain why things are said certain ways.  Woo Hoo me!

If I schedule this right, I will be having 2 conversations or so a day starting in May.  That should kick-start my fluency.  Oh, and I forgot Sabine (a retired law professor also from the Meetup) and I are going to meet in May also.  She has helped me with my French phone issues.

Oh. French phone story. I get texts from the phone company about the plan.  One says this is how much you have left of data.  Then it said “votre credit de communication est epuise.”  Which means  your communication credit is used up.    But the phone works.  (of course, I can’t recharge it online because I do not have a French credit card.  I have to go to a Tabac – tobacco store to pay for a code which I then can enter on line).  Still – that message is disconcerting.  Wanting resolution, I stop in an SFR store and ask.  The gentleman does speak English.

What’s funny is the text breaks the work communication because it’s too big for one line.  So one line says “communicatio” and the next says “n est epuise.”

Now in French, the negative is expressed by placing ne before the verb and pas after.  So the clerk tells me it says “n’est epuise.”  It’s not used up.  They forgot a word.  Well, ok, sometimes they might use the ne or the pas alone but not ususally, I don’t think,  in a formal notice.  Then I realize the “n” goes with the “communicatio.”  When I point that out to him, his response – they forgot the “ne pas.”

Like what?  Attendez! Quoi?  At that point I gave up – the phone works. He clearly has no interest in researching this – if the phone works, why bother? Who knows what they mean.  And it’s a prepaid monthly plan so it should work til mid-May and recharge time.

Back to the French…

I am more and more comfortable speaking French, but I do need to take some time to look at a text book again from time to time.  Sometimes I am just chatting away and suddenly I realize that I am thinking in French and my brain stops in amazement and all the words then tumble over themselves and pile up sort of like a traffic jam of rear-ending cars.  I need AAA to tow my brain away and give it a jump start!

And speaking of idioms… I was earlier in this post… it is of the most interesting parts of this language business.   I catch myself thinking something in English – like using a metro ticket when I didn’t need to and thinking that I had “burned that ticket.”  And I stop and realize my French friends might not understand that.  It happens with other thoughts.  So my French is making me pay more attention to my English speech.

Then there’s the issue of accent.  I have no clue  where my accent falls on a scale of terrible to great.  I get compliments, some people clearly understand me.  And others: others look at me as if I crawled out from under a rock which no language skills.  I repeat and repeat and finally they deign to say exactly the same word in a tone with a facial expression that says “Oh so you meant to say this???”  And I swear to you, their pronunciation is almost identical to mine.  As I ponder this, it seems that most of those people happen to be waiters.  Hmmmm

Visitor… and a disaster averted

I was last seen on Word Press in a blog on how long I could take to clean my apartment. I excel at this.

Cleaning was in preparation of the Guest arriving from California on Tuesday. Monday saw the second delivery from Monoprix- I stocked up on staples in advance of her visit. But I find I almost (almost) miss my daily trips to Monoprix.2015-04-13 09.16.22

Then another trip to BHV (the wonderful department store with a hardware store in its basement) for what I once again think will be my last trip for making the apartment mine. Somehow I seem to continue to discover new amenities I want. <shrug> So this trip was for second towel, caulking, mold cleaner, and, of course, two new scarves. Well, I am in Paris after all!

The bathroom suffers from some mold as I said. The hydrogen peroxide worked well, but the caulking was breaking up, so I bought some silicone and applied that on Monday afternoon. My, what a difference it makes. Happy.

2015-04-14 21.36.58

And then plans for a good sleep as I was going to get up on Tuesday to go out to Charles De Gaulle to meet my Guest. (G). I didn’t need to meet her, but I wanted to experience the RER (suburban trains) and the airport when I was not traveling myself. Then I am too focused on my own trip!

Up at 6 (yes, six in the morning!). Dressed. Bite to eat. 2015-04-16 15.55.46Grabbed three small bags of trash. Locked the door, bags and keys in left hand and right hand on the railing – do NOT want to trip and fall in Paris. Dump trash and head for the trains.

The RER is interesting… these trains run from suburbs into and across Paris. So you can take an RER from Porte Maillot (my station) to Chatelet. There’s also a metro – typical subway cars. The RER is a real train. It just feels strange to get on a real train that runs underground. It’s France. Anyway, I took the metro to the RER station where I had to go out and buy an RER ticket to CDG (ten euros) and then find the train.

After waiting on the wrong track for 5 minutes, – the sign did say these trains went to CDG! – I realized the train I wanted was on the track on the right. And of course I had just missed it. No worries. I was early enough.

Seated on the train. About a 40 minute trip. Just watching the scenery (it does not go through the nicest neighborhood in Paris). I have set up an instinctive and automatic self check… happens about every hour – wallet, right pocket, yup. Change, right pocket, yup. Navigo card for metro, right pocket, yup. Ok, now left pocket: keys. Wait what? Try that again: Keys? Really? No keys?

Immediate scan – where are the keys, where could the keys be, when did I last have the keys?

Pretty immediate response. You put the keys on your index finger on your left hand with the trash with the intention to remember they were there before you dumped the trash.

Fail.

Yes. My keys fell into the trash with the three trash bags. There are two trash containers for my apartment. One was full. The one I used only had one bag in it. And then my three. And, of course, my keys.

2015-04-16 15.57.21

Vital question. When is the trash picked up? Because I will not be back for 3-4 hours. And what if they do dump the trash? I will have to find my landlady – who works. Across town.  (That photo is of the “backyard” with the little trash shack.)

Trash schedule… I have been trying to figure this out in general as my goal has been to take my trash down 2 days before so there is room for it. But sometimes les homes de poubelles (trashmen) seem to pick up some Tuesdays, other Wednesday and even Thursday. So I don’t know.

I give it up to the Universe. I can do nothing until I return. Except mentally kick myself.

The Air Canada meeting place is easy to find. There are some chairs so I sit and wait. A TV monitor is on the wall next to the doors announcing the arrivals and giving details about when the bags will be delivered. That gives you an idea when to expect your arrival.

Coming into CDG, you leave the plane and walk a long way to the Passport Control where you are sorted by Schengen passports (EU countries who signed a treaty to allow for open borders) and everyone else who must present their passport to the French police in the booth. Then you go on to baggage claim if you have checked a bag. And then to Customs. Douane. Which always confused me. You just walk past three or more uniformed Douane guards who are chatting and you continue out the door. No forms. No questions. I guess sometimes they decide to stop you but I have never seen it. (This is a photo off the web – as I said, I have never seen them talk to a traveler.)

Then you are truly “arrive” en France.

I sit. Watching the TV screen keeping me up to date. And. Only in France. Two workers come by with a ladder and carefully take the TV screen down and away. Without replacing it. Suddenly all of us waiting for a variety of planes have no information. Only in France.

But it doesn’t really matter. The length of time to wait is the same with or without a TV screen.

My Guest arrives! With her bag and my famous purple bag – my second wave of things I need in France.   If you are going to move to a different country, I strongly recommend this. I was able to send some lighter weight summer clothes in the purple bag.   And my fabulous renter was kind enough to pick up some extra vitamins and TJ tea and salad dressing mix and more miscellany. And my G was kind enough to check it on her flight. So it was like opening a surprise box!

But before I could open the surprise package, I needed to get into the apartment. Fortunately, the apartment building access is two security codes – no keys. After walking over from the Air France Le Cars bus stop by Port Maillot, we got into the building, G waited in the lobby with the bags and I went out to the trash.

I was scared to look.2015-04-16 15.57.31

If the keys weren’t there, we would have to wait several hours for the landlady and I would have to pay for a new key and there would always be that nagging thought – did someone take them and could get into my apartment anytime?

I opened the lid. No grey trash bag that had been there. None of my three small white trash bags. Empty.

Except there was some indeterminate trash (like empty plastic sacks) sitting in a tiny bit of water and next to them: MY KEYS.

I will take the success. But I still don’t know where the other trash went and why no one saw the keys and took them. Just don’t think about it – just thank the Universe, open the door, and wash the keys with soap and very very hot water.

After that excitement, moving G in and opening the surprise purple bag was a bit anticlimactic.

But, horrors! G was getting sick. She had stayed with friends for three days on the east coast before hopping the pond and those people had deadly colds. In spite of zinc, she caught it too. Yet she was a trooper. She wanted to stay awake to make the time change transition and wasn’t feeling too badly.

2015-04-14 17.16.39A lovely late lunch at an outside café. And later while I had a conversation exchange (CE), she walked along the Seine to Notre Dame and back to my CE restaurant. Her energy had peaks and valleys as is normal for a first day jet lag experience. We came back on Metro 6 and bus 82 – my favorite routes for a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Wednesday, G was totally into bad cold mode and stayed in all day. As she is wisely doing today. We hope by tomorrow she will be well as we have plans for Chartres.

On Wednesday I had another CE and the over 50 Meetup Group – that has such interesting people –And I bought a cute hat – it has been sunny and HOT (79 degrees) here so the hat was a necessity. Tomorrow there is a significant decrease in temp to a high of only 65.2015-04-16 15.32.06

Moi? I am taking Xicam religiously and planning to avoid any illness. Being sick is NOT on my Paris agenda.

Back Home Again

Friday was a late night; the taxi dropped me off at midnight. The added price for the “reservation” turned out to be 17 euros…  but he was there.  Not sure I need a reservation next time – at least at this time of night.  I recall standing in a taxi line for 30 minutes once when I came over on the Eurostar.

An observation: during this adventure, I am having new experiences daily.  That is exciting, exhilarating, daunting and tiring.  I am realizing that by my age, life is normally … what’s the word?  Certainly, not boring, but perhaps routine. And living in a foreign country, with a new language, is more “different” than I expected.

It has been cleaning weekend.  I started the washing when I got home (yes, midnight), and have done 4 loads since.  It’s now Sunday night.  Saturday morning after a surprisingly good sleep I set out for the last (I hope) round of upgrades for the apartment.  A towel that is softer than those here.  A drying rack so I can hang clothes somewhere other than over the bathtub, a thermometer so I know the temp (but I didn’t notice til I got home that it is only Celsius…. I added the Fahrenheit.)   And a new shower head.  And stopped by the pharmacy on the way home for some hydrogen peroxide.  She was hesitant to sell it to me… wondered what I was doing with it.  So common in the US, here in the back room.  Why did I want it?  I saw a FB post about it’s use on mold.  Now, don’t think my bathroom is full of mold!  But there are a few spots.  It’s because other people didn’t open the window when taking a shower.  And I was determined to rid the place of it.  Successful.

IMG_5885The drying rack is also a godsend.  Except these are 7 foot doors and that’s the only place I can hang it.  Climb on the bed to hang the clothes…

In the second to the last month (I have a deposit), I plan to give her an accounting of what I have spent to customize this place and see if she wants to credit me anything.  And even if she doesn’t, I am happy.  No reason not to be comfortable for such a long time.

And I am happy.

Yesterday  Edith of La Vie Parisienne had another outing- this time to Montmartre.  I like her walks because she gives detailed information – all about the commune of Montmartre in the 1800s.  French are strange.  Big on barricades.

2015-04-11 15.51.23 2015-04-11 16.14.08 2015-04-11 15.39.09We walked from the famous Moulin Rouge (which she doesn’t recommend) up to the base of Sacre Coeur through an area that was new to me.  Past the café from the movie Amelie.  I thought it was on a square… nope.  just a crossroads.   Past several cafes that catered to Picasso, van Gogh, and other artists and writers.  2015-04-11 16.26.13And finally by the last vineyard in Paris.

2015-04-11 16.21.46Edith always dresses the part: leather skirt, black jacket, black and white kerchief scarf over her hair, red red red lipstick and spike heels – spike heels up and down hill on cobblestone!

It was a drizzly day.  And after this hill climbing adventure, I rushed off to pick up the extra key for the apartment.  Visitor arriving Tuesday.  Decided to go by my preferred transport, the bus.  Bad idea in the rain.  I waited with a crowd for many minutes.  Only to discover after I got on the crowded bus that I had waited on the wrong side of the street so I was going the wrong way.  Got off at the next stop and just walked to the metro.  My landlady was waiting in front of Monoprix.  So I thought I would pick up some things.  Not.  Everyone and their brother was there.  I went up the escalator and fought through the crowd to get to the down escalator.  Metro back.  With this clever idea – if I got off at Etoile I could take the 73 bus which has the closet stop to home. A great idea in concept.  However, I believe the walk through the Metro station was twice the distance I was supposedly saving.  And the bus wait was 20 minutes. Bustimate loss. But while waiting, I did notice that the leaves are coming out.  2015-04-11 18.16.14Soon Paris will be green and flowering again.

Sunday was another stay inside day – aided by the fact that I didn’t get up til 11.  I am amazed at how long I can drag out the cleaning of a 400 sq foot apartment.  I excel at delays.

But now it is cleaned and rearranged and ready for guests.

When I walk around in the bustling areas of the Left bank or Montmartre, I wonder if I picked the right location.  Those areas feel so French.  But when I come home to rue du midi, I appreciate its peace and quiet.

I Am sterdam…

2015-04-10 14.26.14              I am sterdam….

What a great ending for a lovely stay in The Netherlands. Gea and family are so gracious, open and receptive to a visitor. And Gea bravely acted as tour guide to the American Tourist. (Although I was complimented by a Netherlander that I spoke so much more softly than my compatriots.)

The Keukenhoff Gardens were a beautiful sight. And the weather progressively improved. I asked Gea to change the plans – we were going to walk a labyrinth that Thursday. Keukenhoff turned out to be the right choice as it’s only open from March to May. Flowers, you know.IMG_5403 2015-04-09 11.52.31 IMG_5427

Friday was my last day here in the Netherlands. And what a spectacular send off I had. Gea has friends visiting from the states and they were arriving late Saturday morning so I arranged to leave late on Friday from Amsterdam. We took the train to Amsertdam and Gea grabbed the train to Utrecht after seeing me off. So it worked well for us both.

Kids off to school, we walked to the local train station – 5 minutes away! I bought my ticket; we waited just a few minutes for the “local.” It took us from Rijen to Breda. You may recall that Gea came to Breda to pick me up last Tuesday. On my next visit, I get to be a big girl and take the commuter from Breda to Rijen. The train from Breda was an express to Rotterdam, the airport, and Amsterdam.

In no time at all, we were locking our bags up in the Bagage Locker and setting off for the bike rental.

Yup, she made me into a real Netherlander. There was a bike choice, but I opted for the “coaster brakes” bike. Hey. No worry. I grew up on coaster brakes.

Never again.

Next time, it’s a three speed with hand brakes. You don’t really need the gears, but I sure handle braking better with the hand brake. Too complicated (and boring) to describe, but trust me. I found it challenging.2015-04-10 14.38.332015-04-10 11.39.40

Yet I biked in Amsterdam. And not just in Amsterdam, but in rush hour traffic in Amsterdam! With scooters and motorcycles whizzing by, other bikes passing me, and big trucks and fast cars passing within inches. Yikes. But I did it. And it was fabulous. I am looking forward to doing it again (with the different bike!).

2015-04-10 12.04.12The architecture of Amsterdam is beautiful. I could see the burghers out strutting and bartering and supervising the unloading of cargo. We rode through the main square (where the kings and queens are crowned – or resign) and on to a delightful lunch by a canal. Not too difficult to be by a canal. Gea was the official bike locker-upper. Finding a place to lock the bike could be a challenge. There are SO MANY bikes and, in comparison, so little railing space. She was very resourceful.

Lunch was croquettes again. The Dutch national snack/meal. Meat mixed with a thick potatoey sauce, then fried. Shorter but thicker than a hot dog. 2015-04-10 12.08.51I remain successful in being an American incognito. Someone spoke to me in Dutch – expecting a response.

After lunch, we walked over to the RijksMuseum. It was closer than we both thought. They have recently remodeled this museum – to accolades, I have read. Gea was able to explain to me what it looked like before. The main courtyards are now covered, bright, light, and quiet for the number of people. With online ticket and museum pass (me, Gea) we got straight in. Our destination – The Vermeers and Rembrandt. 2015-04-10 13.21.24 HDRI believe I have seen the Vermeers before – traveling shows at the Met, the DeYoung or even Paris a few years ago. But no matter, Vermeer is always divine. I saw my first Vermeer when I was in college and visiting the Met one summer. I believe we determined that the girl with the Pearl Earring is in The Hague – Gea says: Next visit.

Then down the Hall of Honor to the Night Watch. I prefer the drawings and etchings to the paintings of Rembrandt. But this one is awesome – and I mean that as inspiring awe, not in the vernacular of a teenager. It’s huge. And what is more interesting is that it’s actually been reduced in size. When they moved it to another hall before it was in a museum – years ago – it was too wide. So they just cut a foot off on the right and maybe 2-3 feet on the left. To a Rembrandt. (LOL – not a person’s foot. A third of yard…)

We passed by three Van Gogh. There is a separate Van Gogh museum. Next trip.

Quick photo op at the “I am sterdam” art. And back to the bikes. Our next destination: Canal Cruise.

Having Gea as tour guide was fantastic. I didn’t have to worry about a thing, didn’t have to check a map. Just hopped on the bike and followed her. She dodged traffic for me too.

Canal cruise was to be expected. Relaxing. Beautiful scenery. Interesting stories.2015-04-10 15.27.53 2015-04-10 15.42.52

And back on the bikes to look for a place to have coffee/water and relax.

2015-04-10 15.40.45 HDRMost places were full – apparently others had this same idea.   As we wandered further a field (bikes were locked again), we found ourselves on the edge of the red light district. It wasn’t our intent but there were the windows with the curtains. Some open, some drawn closed. Gea said they negotiate a price through the window; when agreed, the girl opens the door, lets him in, and shuts the curtain. A tour guide for a bike tour was telling some tourists not to take their pictures. He said it might result in a fight – or they could get pushed into the canal. Sounded like the girls themselves, or maybe they had a … what? Pimp? Guard? I didn’t want to take pictures. I prefer not to consider the issues of legalized prostitution. Call me an ostrich.

After the girls, we came upon a delightful café in the courtyard of an old church. Gea was pleased with her latte and brownie, I with my sparkling water and carrot cake. It was in the shade – a pleasant change from the sun beaming down on us on the boat and bike. We took our time and then made it back to the locked bikes and set off for the bike rental store. 2015-04-10 17.33.33 This was the worst of the traffic – but by this time I was brave – no, no, the word is foolhardy. And like the horse on the way home to the barn, I just put my head down and pedaled.

Clearly, I made it without incident or you wouldn’t be reading this.

The train left at 1939 and it was 1745 so we had time to walk to the ferry and have a quick bite at a patio restaurant on the other side of the A. I just had a cheese plate, knowing I would have some dinner on the train. Gea had leek soap. 2015-04-10 13.41.05(BTW, did I mention the asparagus soup from Keukenhof? A Netherland treat – wax asparagus. And they have just come into season. Yes. Tasty.) Yes, that is a still life of asparagus!

And back on the ferry (free) to collect our bags and find the platform. Gea, sweetie that she is, stayed with me til my train came and waved me goodbye.

And I am going home now. Saying this with a wry smile – because it came out of my mouth naturally – Home to Paris!

I am riding the Thalys high speed train. In first class. That was a bit of a mix up. That’s what I am supposed to pick with my Senior Carte. But after I made the entire reservation, it turns out that the senior carte does not work on Thalys. At that point, I shrugged and said fine. In fact, there are some benefits of first class. A reserved seat, of course. Comfy-er seats, of course. Meal service. (Although this dinner was cold and not too tasty. Food on the way to the Netherlands was much better)). And now I find I can reserve a taxi for the arrival at Paris Nord. I took the metro when I left. But I am arriving just before midnight and have had a full day of activity and I don’t want to carry my bag up and down stairs. A taxi is just a fine idea.

Tiptoe through the Tulips…

Netherlands!  Visiting a coaching colleague and family for a couple days.  Yesterday we visited Breda, a charming town nearby, picked up kids from school, lunch and shopping. 

Shopping was an experience.  One store would not take credit cards – only debit cards.  The grocery store allows you to pick up a hand held scanner, scan your items as you put them in your cart and bags and pay for them at a computer on your way out. Sweet.  They do audit you from time to time.  

  

 

Breda was quaint with a lovely cathedral.  

Tulips!  Windmills!  What we think of when we think of the Netherlands.  On the way to Keukenhof to see the gardens we did indeed see windmills. And canals. And dykes. And some places where the canals were higher than the surrounding farm land.  

Keukenhof gardens  are simply spectacular.  I was last there when I was 11. I must admit I appreciated it more today.  Enjoy my photos. 

     

  

      

 

 And this post was made directly on the iPhone! 

 

of French, bises and sun

I left you on the bus to Montparnasse and my French/English conversation.  

Tres bien.  Edna teaches French to FSL students.  Yes, that’s like ESL but in France.  So that means that she is used to speaking slowly and deciphering what we non-French say in our multitude of accents. After drinks, we stayed on for dinner.

Le Coupole is a restaurant from the 20s and 30s and was the haunt of many writers and painters.  I think we sat at the table that Sartre sat at. But who can be sure?  And once again I ordered steak.  Some of you have commented that you don’t care for French beef.  I certainly am not an expert – seeing I haven’t eaten red meat for more than 10 years –  but this was delicious. And I am even eating it medium!  (Well, I usually do in the States – but medium in France is really “rare” in the States….)

Saturday was the morning of the PRINTER.  But I already posted about that.  I have used it several times already so it was indeed worth it.

Saturday afternoon I set out for one of the meetups – La Vie Parisian.  Edith is the creator.  I belief she is a lawyer in real life.  That last one I attended was a lecture about the American writers in Paris – that prompted me to read A Moveable Feast.  So this foray was to the Museum of Romantic Life.  It’s tucked away in the Pigalle area.  An old mansion.  One of the gems of Paris.  The contents weren’t too exciting – but I love to see the architecture.  They have a lovely courtyard with a tea garden.  I will be going back there for tea on a sunny and warm afternoon.

Edith focused on George Sand in her lecture.  And Chopin.  And Liszt.  I do like Liszt – will be figuring out how to download some to ITunes or Amazon music.  

Edith’s a resourceful one.  She took us to a building where Dumas, Sand, Chopin and other artists and writers lived.  The big green doors on the street were closed tightly on the weekend – but she said it was open during the week as there were also some businesses and shops there.  So Denis, one of our group who is French and a police officer, called on the intercom and talked someone into opening the door.  So we wandered about – this is the type of thing that amazes me in Paris.  Behind the doors can be tiny villas, simple courtyards or a labyrinthine of connections.  That’s what this was.  There were 5 courtyards in all.  With plaques on three of the buildings about the former occupants.

On the way home, I had the privilege of introducing one of our group to the bus.  She’s English and a computer IT consultant who has been living in Paris for a year.  And she had not taken the bus yet!  You have all heard of my cult-ish obsession with the bus.  I made a convert.  We may get together in the future – she lives nearby.  She says the world is now her oyster because of the bus! How British!

Sunday was a brand new day:  A day of BLUE sky and SUN.  I have had sun on this trip – there was that day I rented the bike.  But I realized on that Sunday morning that it has been a while since I felt the sun on my face.   I soaked up the Rays.  I really had not been sad or depressed but I certainly could feel the energy level rise with the sun.

Paris will be in the sixties finally this week. And 72 on Friday but I will be in Amsterdam. That’s ok. It will be 68 there and being with an old friend will make it feel at least two degrees warmer

My friend Laura from Sausalito was going back to the States on Monday, I was honored that she spent her last day, Sunday, with me.  We just wandered according to her whims.
In Paris, if you want to meet a friend, the best meeting place is the quay of a metro.  Who knew?  When a metro station serves several lines, and your friend is coming on another line but you both want to continue on the line you are on, you just jump off your train and wait.   Even if you are going to go outside from that station, the quai is still the answer.  So much better than figuring out what exit you will meet at.  (For example, today I spent 5 extra minutes at Palais Royale metro trying to find the right exit – out of seven possible exits!)

So we met on Ligne 1 at Etoile Charles De Gaulle and rode to the Place de la Concorde.  There we exited to stroll through the Tuileries gardens.  The wonderful things you can stumble on.  This dancer was having a photo shoot.  We watched for a while then struck up a conversation.  Well, Laura did the striking.  She is much more fluent than me.

And we continued our stroll.  Basking in the sunlight like every other Parisian out with us.

I didn’t realize the lack of sun until I had the sun again. My Dutch friend laughed at me when I told her this – and she said that was one of the reasons why she loved California!  I guess we are spoiled.

Laura and I dropped in at the Louvre – love that annual pass! – Then stopped for water.  I am trying to up my intake of water to prevent dehydration.  And maybe “oil” my joints and muscles some.  Even this morning, I had Perrier instead of tea.

More wandering.   Across the Seine to the 6th Arrondisement.  Wonderful lunch.  And then on to the Luxembourg garden.  We found a sweet outdoor café next to a bandstand.  The music was too classical and slow for my taste.  Where was John Phillip Sousa when you needed him?  Or the Gaie Pariseienne (can-can)?  I must admit I fell off the water wagon and had a kir.  Almost the end of the day.  We went back to Laura’s for my goodie bag.  She has been giving away things to all her friends before her flight back.  I see this in my future!  She had a much larger and more modern place than I have.  And a view that I would have died for.  Photos too impossible to post on the train (more on that later).  The Eiffel Tower – right there!  

I have been here almost 4 weeks and can do the “bise” now without hesitation.  Bise is the term for the cheek kisses.  So when Laura and I hugged when we parted, it actually was a bit strange at first.  Now that sure means I am getting acclimated.

It was a bittersweet day for Laura.  And me too.  Watching her say good bye to Paris and knowing I will eventually have to do the same.  But Laura should be home by now with her sweetie.

Now to Hollywood!  Monday was my first experience at the French cinema.  There’s a cinema just 2 blocks from me.  Edna helped me figure out how to find times on the internet.  I went to the sequel to the Marigold Hotel.  It was in English (VO- means version originale) but with French subtitles!  Actually, it was a great experience because I could see how they translated English phrases.

Came home to do business work on line – invoices, banking, and correspondence.  And then set off for the Toastmasters group.  I wish I   could join them but the economics of it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And the timing.  Their year runs from Sept – June.  Not much time now and I will be traveling in Sept and October.  Maybe even November.  But they have welcomed me as a continuing guest.   Last night I was called upon for table topic.  They give you a topic and you get to speak for up to 2 mins.  No preparation.  Mine was – what would I do if I had the superpower of ventriloquism.  I said I would use it for Bill O’Reilly – and have him say he loved Obama and Obama care.  Which would cause him to have a heart attack and he would get to use the health system.

I didn’t win – but the tally-people told me I had a lot of votes!  I heard three speakers and three evaluators.  And I learned from each one.   There’s another English Toastmasters but it is on Thursdays and I seem to have client meetings on Thursdays.

I am in Belgium!  My phone told me.  But the architecture is different too.  So I might have guessed.   Really, my French phone just beeped with a text that said welcome to Belgium.  And pretty much the rest of the message was that it will cost you to call or text here.

So how can this be, you ask?

I am on the Thalys high speed train on the way to my Dutch friend’s house.  Thalys to Rotterdam, local train to Breda, car to Rijen for three days.  Friday we will be in Amsterdam and I take a late train home.  (oooooh.  Home= Paris!)

This morning Alain and I met for conversation – did I say before how ironic I find it that the French word entrepreneur is used for a purely American characteristic?  Today was more listening for me than speaking French.  I am getting better, I think.  He spoke very quickly today.

Then home to pack.  And of course, once again I lose things – this time the cord for the Fitbit.  Finally, after appealing to the house elves AND my mother, I found it under a bag on the bed.  All packed, downstairs, and I decide I am taking too much so back upstairs to leave a few things.   Probably not enough to make a difference!!  Except that it made me later and so I was quite relieved to arrive in Gare du Nord before the Voie (platform) was announced.

In France, you stand around staring at the big board or TV screens waiting for the number to be announced.  Never before 20 minutes before the train and often not more than 15.  Once the number appears, the hoard starts dragging their bags to the train.  First class.  They feed us.  Our seats lean back. And the attendant says we are going about 300 kph or 185 mph.  The scenery literally speeds by.

Except that this train is late now and I will miss my connection in Rotterdam. However, I think there are frequent trains.  Fingers crossed.  

Printer

Printer fiasco is now over and done with.  I won.

I must admit to having fallen into a black printer hole on Thursday.  Getting caught up in the translation issues and the French delivery system which was completely new to me.  I spiraled down…  and a friend in the States reminded me that living in a different culture can be frustrating and exhausting.  I don’t find it very bad or difficult normally, but the printer was my downfall.

So today I put on my big girl panties (I hate that expression actually – it implies that one was wearing diapers, training pants or going commando: demeaning or TMI but it does capture the idea of just dealing with things!) and took my chariot (shopping cart) down to FNAC on Champs – just a couple stops from me.  IMG_4594There I bought a new printer that was just 20 euro more than any I would order on line.  And I stuck it on the chariot, made it on and off the bus and up my 3 flights of stairs.

It is now working and I am a happy and relieved camper and swear I shall not be the victim of the French system!  LOL   I was, however, struggling where to put it.  My tiny table was getting tinier and tinier.  When I remembered – DUH – it is wireless.  Meaning it could be anywhere.  One gets into a mental construct of the printer being by the computer and the new reality of wifi is slow to break in on it.  Even in Sac, my wifi printer sits on the desk next to the computer.  So now this new one sits on the mantle and keeps my table free.

Now I must go write something that deserves to be typed!

 

Time plays games

IMG_5316Thinking I hadn’t posted for a while… And realized tonight I posted on Tuesday and this is only Thursday and that is only 2 days, really. Yet it feels like a week.  <Although I didn’t finish this post until today Friday but the time weirdness continues.>

Am I still on jet lag?

IMG_5217

IMG_5218After the delivery excitement, I had another nice chat with the Over a Certain Age Meetup group at a new bar – almost in my neighborhood. It was just up from the Arc de Triomphe. Le Bidou. Tiny! From the thirties – and still feels like it. They had photos of Edith Piaf. So very nice. After I went to dinner with Laura from Sausalito   I am no longer surprised by 40 euro lunches or dinners. Wonderfully tasty.

April’s Fool Day is supposed to be a big thing here in France – particularly with paper fish pasted to your back. But I think that’s in the schools. I didn’t see much activity and I didn’t catch the news either. But I did have another chat with Alain.   Fascinating to discuss the differences in our political systems and in our businesses. And the US entrepreneurial spirit. Ha. We use a French word to describe a pretty American characteristic. We meet in a very fashionable café by the Palais Royale. With the cat on the red chair with the green walls near the toilettes.IMG_4564 (1) Very plush. Comfortable. And we sit by the window in a corner. And each time, the waiter sets down two newspapers at the table next to us. Moments later an older woman comes in and seats herself on the bench with her back to the wall, surveying the restaurant. Fascinating. What a ritual. I don’t know if it just Wednesdays and if she is meeting someone… but it intrigues me.

IMG_5244 While in the neighborhood, I stopped by the Palais Royale, one of my fav jardins.  and watched the kids play.  It wasn’t sunny enough for a photo of the plants – next time.

IMG_5235Then I made it to a café by the Rodin Museum to meet two people from the Infinite Possibilities trainer group – I met them in Orlando in January. They are here for a week. It was a spontaneous event and great to catch up. (This was NOT a 40 euro lunch – it was a basic Croque Monsieur).

Off to another Over a Certain Age gathering for a couple hours… Finishing with a client on Wednesday night. Coming home on the number 6 metro which gives beautiful views of the ETIMG_5264.

That takes us to Thursday. Look what a short period this was and yet it feels ages to me. And I have been having soda or water at the gatherings so don’t blame this on wine. Or maybe I need more wine?

Today was a work on line day. Many things to catch up on – emails, bills, bank accounts. And research for a printer. While I mastered the Monoprix delivery, the Amazon and everyone else delivery seems incredibly complex.

I am going to be here awhile and wanted a printer/copier/scanner. My landlady was going to sell me her old HP and it would have been a good solution.  But it stopped printing black ink.

So I am looking for one not too expensive and after a lot of research, found one on Amazon and FNAC for about 60 euros.  But after hassling with Amazon on line and not being able to get it delivered to one of their drop off places, I finally figured out that the printer is too big to be delivered to one of their stations.

And my building doesn’t have a “doorman” kinda person that I am aware of so I don’t want it delivered here and have it stolen.  And FNAC has it but only online and they don’t do “deliver to store and pick up” like in the states so I am stuck on delivery for that too.

I guess I am going to have to spend twice as much money to buy one that is in stock at FNAC or Darty.  Or just forego a printer… but that’s hard because I use printer in my work.

How do people get things in France?  Oh to have a Best Buy…

But a friend here offered to have it delivered to his place and I can get it from him.   However, today (4/3) when my brain has gotten off the roller coaster carousel of printer decisions, I have decided to just buy the more expensive one and bring it home on the bus with my cart. It’s only two stops away. Done. But tomorrow.

This whole experience was emotionally draining – as a friend reminded me living in a different culture can be draining.  But, done.  Decision made.

Last night I was sitting waiting for a bus about 8 pm. Still light out after daylight savings change. And realized I had no real clue of the time when I look at my 24 hr. watch. Someday I will start associating the 24 times with things like meals… but right now. No.

IMG_5305Evening stroll on ile de la Citie.

On April First I was set free of tickets! Somewhere earlier I think I criticized the French for their monthly metro cards flat fee. On April 1st my pass was “live” and I realized I could jump off and on a bus or metro without incurring any additional costs. Oh. This is a good thing. I can make as many extra stops to the picturesque places that I like.

And Thursday was a milestone. I have been here four weeks. Met an American on the bus – he got up and gave me his seat which of course gave away that he must be an American. He was from Minnesota. Told him I was here for 9 months… and realized, one is done. Now I am only here for 8 months. Sad.

Friday night, tonight, I am meeting Edna for French/English conversation. So I decided on a quick morning trip to the D’Orsay. Several “bustimate” opportunities on this trip.

I peeked in on the Van Gogh’s and the Nabis and saw they have a special exhibit of Bonnard. Ho-hum. WRONG.IMG_5313 Oh I love Bonnard. IMG_5325The rooms were quite crowded but I can come back anytime! And will do so in the morning before it gets busier.IMG_5312  And apparently I was confused on my last visit here – you CAN still take photos- but NO flash  And not of any pieces on loan.  This Bonnard exhibit was incredible – so many museums participated.  Truly a global program.

Discovered a new bus (82) that takes me to Montparnasse by the Eiffel Tower. And has a very close -The closest – Bus stop by me.

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