Maroc – the decision

In early November I had to leave the Schengen zone for my visa.  It ended November 3.  As long as I leave the Schengen, when I next come back into the Schengen I have 3 months as a tourist, no formal visa required.  This year I chose Morocco.

I surprised myself. I have a friend from high school who travels the world and Africa seems to be her favorite destination.  Not me.  Europe draws me.  New Zealand calls to me.  But I did love Istanbul – and was able to collect Asia while in Istanbul the city on two continents.  I did get to Ephesus too so I really was in Asia.  The only place in Africa that intrigued me was Morocco.  Yet it also scared me.  Because of  comments I heard from friends (tall blondes who felt uncomfortable) who toured there and Arab Spring news etc..    So I said I’ll go to Morocco when I go with a friend, not alone.  I have no hesitations going alone anywhere in Europe.  Not Africa.  And yet…

My initial idea was to visit Gibraltar for my visa exit.  It is British after all.  But when I used Rome2Rio to see how to get there, it suggested flying to Tangier and then taking a ferry to Gibraltar.  Hmmm. So I looked into Tangier.  An up and coming town, it said.  Much improved.  Safe.  I found a Hilton – ok, taxi to the hotel, find a guide, taxi to ferry… yes I can do that.

Interesting, isn’t it?  How your mind suddenly expands when you give it a chance.  When Tangier became a possibility, I found the rest of Morocco started pushing its way into my consciousness.  I focused on Marrakesh at the suggestion of a French friend who loved Maroc.  And you know it was a French territory or protectorate or something for years so most speak French.  So many pluses…  And my traveling high school buddy had just been there in February 2017 so she had a recommendation for a place to stay.

But what to do there?  She suggested a cooking class.  Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that a cooking class is the last thing that would interest me! Yet, what about other classes, I thought.  So I found an atelier website.  I could choose from a host of craft programs.  I finally picked jewelry work and leather work.  I planned for three nights.  I have found I take in sights quickly and usually end up places with extra time – like Bordeaux this fall – I changed my train tickets and left a day early.

So arrival Friday night (delayed), guide on Saturday morning.  Saturday afternoon free, Sunday morning jewelry, afternoon free, and Monday morning leather and afternoon free before a early evening return flight.

Sounded perfect and it was.

 

PIGEON ALERT

OMG.  I thought we were done with the pigeons.  I did think I heard them a day or two ago but when I looked out, saw nothing.  Today I am standing in the kitchen, doing a bit of cleaning and sorting before the Big Return.  And one flies right up to my kitchen window ledge (it’s big).  I slammed my hand against the window and it almost lost its balance as it turned to retreat.  I am lucky I didn’t break the window!  So quickly I found and loaded the water pistol and carefully opened the window and shot.  But I think it had already left its hiding place.  The pistol will remain loaded on the counter.

A Rest Day After Cathedrals…

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It’s been a whirlwind… Reims last week, Lille on Saturday and yesterday, Monday, Amiens. And tomorrow Metz.   Why those towns? I have been to Reims and Amiens many times.   Reims is where French kings were crowned. And it has the Smiling Angel. And MY Smiling Angel. I say that because the cathedral is famous for this statue near one of the portals. The first time I went there, the entire left side was covered with scaffolding for cleaning. So I looked at the rest of the statues and found one I thought adorable. Spiritual. Happy. Full of joy.  Smiling! The next time I went, the scaffolding was still there but now they had put the art on it. In France, when they clean buildings (routine every 10 to 20 years) they do a wonderful job of having a design or photo on the netting of the scaffolding. It’s something. You might not see the real building but you still get an idea of what it looks like.

Except. In this case at Reims, they had one sculpture around the scaffolding door with a big sign: Smiling Angel of Reims. Um. No..Well. OK. That’s THEIR Smiling Angel. I am sticking with mine, a door away. Hmph.   BTW it is pronounced RANZ.  Except if you are English and spell it Rheims and say Reams….

The scaffolding is gone now, years later. And it is a beautiful place. I am always shocked when I see the postcards of the destruction wrought by bombing in WW1. So much was rebuilt through the donations of John D Rockefeller. His name graces the street leading to the cathedral.

Amiens is the highest cathedral in the world. It amazes the eye. And the light let in by the huge windows is glorious. Doesn’t hurt to have a labyrinth in the nave. Walkable. Unlike Chartres which is now closed for the season (the labyrinth not the church). Of course I walked it.   Beauvais claims the highest choir in the world. But since the rest of that cathedral collapsed – twice – it can’t be compared to Amiens.

Amiens is also the hometown of the French president. I bought a macaron at the chocolatier shop: Jean Trogneaux. Famous and popular. And also the family business of the president’s wife, Brigitte. And of course there was a Marche de Noel. I am becoming oh heck I am a connoisseur of these markets. And I see many of the same vendors at each so there is a big business to hire temporary help to have booths all over France. And the French Canadians are at them all! Two products: Maple syrup and red plaid lumberjack shirts/jackets.

Vin chaud. One of my favs of the Marches…. Hot red mulled/spiced wine. I find a cup as soon as I can and wander up and down sipping. Tastes great when it’s chilly outside.

Lille is in the northeast. It hosts a famous beaux arts museum – largest collection outside the Louvre in France I have been told. And a hospice de la comtesse. The Hospice was disappointing after having visited the Hospice in Beaune two years ago.

And the La Piscine museum in nearby Roubaix. I know Roubaix from the days with my ex who was the ultimate cyclist. There is a famous bike race Paris Roubaix. Over cobblestones. I took the metro out to Roubaix to the see the museum. Check it out here:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Piscine_Museum It was a real public swimming pool in great art deco style that was ultimately closed and then turned into a museum. Cleverly done – the mosaic edges of the pool are still visible. There is a narrow pool down the center. Mahogany wood everywhere. Hmmm. Is it mahogany? Not sure but that is what I spontaneously thought. Visit there and tell me if I am wrong. No, tell me if I am right – let’s be positive about this.

Lille kept me walking – over 9 miles that day. 6 in Reims. And 7 in Amiens. No wonder I want a rest day.

Notes

Been waiting but no one has corrected my Episcopals to Episcopalians…

I want to get back to Sacramento to read! Sounds odd but I don’t seem to read here like I do in CA. There are too many things to do or places to see. Or I am simply too tired and want mind numbing computer solitaire. Sometimes I find my brain too full of experiences.

A French friend just gave me a Christmas and life present today. Cute plates of Paris. Very nice of him but they are damn heavy!!! And I have my luggage weight accounted for in ounces. And he says he can’t bring them. Grrr. I don’t want to be unappreciative but right now this is simply a headache. And 50 bucks to mail back…

Why can’t people follow instructions? A friend wants to sell his apartment. It’s been 3 months. I told him ages ago about planting St Joseph upside down. A sure way to get your place sold but he doesn’t do it. And hasn’t done it for 2 months. Another friend is applying for a visa to the US. I told him he needed to bring his resume and all dates and addresses for schooling. Did he? No. So we sit here as he struggles to remember it all.

Speaking of a US visa application… they ask if you are a member of a terrorist organization. And have you dabbled in human trafficking. Or sold drugs… ok I get it. Maybe. But who’s going to say yes? I know. If they get caught lying, it’s an easy automatic deportation. France doesn’t ask that of me when I apply. I’d answer truthfully.

They’d let me back. Macron loves Americans. Too bad I’m not a climate scientist.

Episcopals Rule

Well, maybe not them.  But the Paris Choral Society this afternoon held the 24th annual sing-along of the Messiah at the American Cathedral in Paris.  Not to be confused with the American Church in Paris where I went to the Christmas Carol concert and sing-along yesterday.  The ACP… oops.. church dates back to 1814 and so is the oldest US church outside the US and certainly in Paris with a beautiful building from 1931.  The ACP… oops.. Cathedral was started in 1859 and built their cathedral in 1889.  Both are beautiful but I think the ACP wins.

The Choral Society edited the Messiah so that it ended on the Hallelujah Chorus.  That was fine with me.  Members of the Society – singers – were scattered throughout the audience and with the others (other than non-singing me ) created a beautiful sound.  Made up for the fiasco at St Germain des Pres.

I returned to an apartment messy with stuff strewn around in preparation of returning.  I am shipping things back as I have done each year.  The duty limit for returning is $800.  That works well if you are here for a couple weeks’ vacation, but not nine months.  So I can ship home a box with 200 or less value- as many times as I want but the boxes cannot arrive on the same day.  So I spread them out a week or so.  Amazingly enough, the boxes take less than 10 days to arrive.  I send them to my PO Box and just found out today that they will keep them for as long as my box is paid up.  So I don’t have to continue to bug a friend to ask them to pick them up for me.  Good to know and makes the po box more valuable.  I found a cheap rate for sending books back – but the post official said they had to be French books.  Rolls eyes.  OK Fine.  When I tried to send a second box, apparently I didn’t use the official book box although they looked the same.  I had one box left over from last year.  And they wanted to charge me 53 euros.  Um. Nope.  Oh and the box with the French books… he told me to bring it with the carton open so they could check.  At my post office the lady didn’t care and told me to seal it up.  It was 14 Euros, nowhere near 53.

I am in the in between place – loving Paris and France still and having things to do and places to see and yet eager to be back in California.  I have little items I purchased for the kitchen and I want to be there to see them in their new places.  I want to have central heating and not feel like I have to cuddle next to the wall heater.  And while I think of that, I want a toilet seat that is heated.  Seriously.  At the hotel Meurice – the seat of luxury – they had Japanese toilets.  The seat was warm.  And it was a combination toilet and bidet with remote control… I don’t need to go that far…

And yesterday I sighed for my hair dryer.  And immediately thought that was weird and stupid.  I mean really? Wanting my hair dryer? It’s nothing fancy.  But it’s mine and maybe I am at that point where I miss my own stuff after living with someone else’s stuff for 9 months.  And I miss my special optician who takes great care of me.  A lens was falling out of my glasses and I took it to the French shop on the corner.  I don’t know what she did but now the lens falls out every two weeks.  I found my tiny screwdriver and even when I tighten it, it loosens.  I worry the French gal stripped the threads…

I caught a cold again.  I hate colds in France.  They seem to take forever.  This time I have tried to be more careful and stay in bed and do less.  Not an easy thing.  There are things to do!!!   But the miracle has been Muscinex.  Somehow I ended up with a bottle of it.  I don’t know if it was last year or this year that someone brought it over for me.  But it was unopened in the cupboard.  It has proven to be the most effective med I have ever used. 4 days and I am feeling better and just a tiny bit nasally.  Can I find it in France?  No.  And I don’t even bother taking things to the pharmacy any more for comparison as they look at me very oddly.

It’s been COLD.  About a week ago it snowed.  No snow here since then but cold every day.  Several times I have come down the stairs at the entrance to the Metro to see dirt!  My first impression is where are the cleaning people?  Then I realize it isn’t dirt, it is salt to cut down on the icing.  Just dirty after many people walking on it.

I owe a friend a blog on Maroc.  And I will get to it soon.

Noel. Noel. Back ache

The Messiah was not what I expected.  First, the producers sold tickets for an 8:30 performance.  We all arrived dutifully before 830.  Unfortunately, no one seemed to have told the orchestra and the choir.  They were planning on a 900 start.  In reality it was closer to 915.  So that meant sitting on this rickety cane seats and backed church chairs.  In a cold medieval church.  My back started hurting about 1000 and I bailed at 1015.  Not with any regrets either.  Last year I attended a Messiah production at another church here in Paris.  The acoustics were far superior.  Or the choir was.  But I recognized at least one of the soloists so I am not sure.  I know the Messiah very well.  And I had even downloaded the order of the songs.  And I could not tell where they were in the presentation.  I couldn’t understand the words and they are in English!

So I Ubered home to get here quickly and start my therapy of heat and vicodin.  Yup.  The hard stuff.  I don’t like to take it because it makes my brain feel fuzzy.  Not the thinking part but that may happen too.  No, it physically feels like there is cotton candy stuffing my skull.  But enough vicodin and my back relaxes and I get well.

Not soon enough, however.  The next morning I was off to Chateau Maintenon.  A loyal reader will recall a visit there two years ago.  Beautiful place.  Fairy tail-ish.  They put on a Spectacle du Noel.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  We were asked to don blue capes (other groups got red and green –really gray) and then led through the chateau to see 14 difference scenes in the life of Madame Maintenon and Louis XIV.  Pretty good acting!  Very interesting and what a tour.  These were all rooms that are not in the normal tour.  Wow.  I guess there are over 30 bedrooms!  And more of everything else.  Totally worth the trip to see all this.  My back was better but I was looking for a wall to lean against as we toured around.  There was some snow on the ground too.  Mostly melted but making me feel Christmas-y.    We left before dark but I don’t think there would have been much to see as the gardens were closed during the Spectacle.

Sunday we headed south to Vaux-le-Vicomte.  Again, loyal readers will recall my visit there in 2015.  A most gorgeous chateau, it sparked the imagination in Louis XIV to create Versailles.  This time it was decorated for Noel.  The last purchaser of the Chateau – I think in the late 1870s – was a sugar magnate.  His descendants still own the place and are doing a great job marketing it and keeping it going.  So back to sugar.  The theme of the decorations was supposed to be candy.  And in most cases, it was.  So realistic that one small child sat crying on her mother’s lap because she wanted some of that candy on the table!

Christmas trees abounded.  Decorated.  Pink.  White.  Natural.  Fires in the main rooms on the main level.  Those rooms were toasty warm.  The rooms without fires were not.  It was a very cold dismal day.  As we worked our way up the steps to the entrance in the line, they offered us small cups of hot chocolate.  Very nice.

Last time we were on a bus schedule so I missed the garden.  This time I walked down to the reflecting pool.   Amazing science and geometry.  The pool is a 10 minute walk from the chateau.  But it reflects the chateau beautifully.  How does it do that from such a distance?  I saw pictures.  In reality on that cold windy day, I saw just a quick glimpse when the wind died down for a brief second.  Otherwise the reflecting pool was full of waves.

We took the last shuttle to the train station so we had a chance to see the place with the lights.  Gorgeous.  So glad I went.  And between the walking and the vicodin I took earlier and the hot spiced red wine I had in the restaurant, my back is good.

I stayed in today so far – will be going out at 5 for Christmas lights and windows.  Doing serious organizing for packing and mailing items.  At one point I thought I would run out to two museums on my list but it’s Monday and they are closed.  Drat.

Tomorrow: Beauvais.

Return… and Noel…

As I am sure I have said, I have a reservation on Delta to go back to Sac on January 10.

I am experiencing the usual weird twist of emotion.  Sad to leave but suddenly certain desires, longings actually are springing forth…  My dishwasher.  My tumbling clothes dryer.  My bed! My big condo versus the tiny 400 sq feet here.

Funny.  I am not on this third return thinking of In N Out burger.  I am not thinking of any American food actually, except to turn my nose up a bit.  Ruth Chris would have been top on my list except I discovered Portuguese beef (I failed to mention in my comments about Portugal how wonderful every meal was!  The steak was excellent!)  and I found a great steak house in Paris that I mentioned two months ago.   Heavens! I am not becoming a foodie am I?  No, I doubt it.  But my palette has changed.

I was born in January.  Janus has two heads, one looking back, one looking forward.  I am definitely turned towards 2018.  Yet, there are still days in 2017.  And I must fill them!  Every last exposition must be attended!  Every day trip possible must be taken!

And packing must be considered.  Now after I have sent back books before, I have discovered a cheap rate for books to the US.  Not a fast delivery and no tracking (oh please God) but cheap for 10 pounds of books – only $15.   So books have gone.  Now how to fill these other boxes to keep my declarable items under $800 when I fly back – I can send back $200 per day with no duty charged.

And fit in my French friends for conversation and fun.

And spare me time to just relax so I don’t drop over with exhaustion.

And blog.  Of course.

Sorry to inundate you with blogs today.  But I came back early from the Poste after the books and had the choice of blogging or two museums before a conversation.  It was cold out there.  I decided to stay in.  And of course, with multiple blogs, I left out of the Noel blog what’s happening this weekend.

Two of my favorite chateaus, Maintenon and Vaux-le-Vicomte, are getting all decorated for Christmas.  Visiting Maintenon on Saturday and Vaux on Sunday with an American friend who is leaving next week.  Our last fling.  These are beautiful places during the year, I expect them to be spectacular for Christmas.

Now a quick bite for lunch and off to speak French!

All Things Noel

December officially marks the beginning of the Christmas season for me. I know it starts in the US on Halloween…  And actually it really starts here in French in mid November when some of the Christmas Markets (marches du Noel) open.  That doesn’t bother me here.  Without Thanksgiving, there is no arbitrary date to consider – shame on that store or town or whatever for putting up decorations before Thanksgiving!  Here, the decorations start of go up mid November and start ot be lit up in the last week.  My neighborhood street lights were on two days ago.

No Marche on the Champs Elysees this year.  Big controversy with city hall.  The producer is sometimes or allegedly referred to as a crook… or crooked… or involved with questionable activities.  The City of Paris was looking for a way out I heard.  They did not renew his contract for this year.  He of course had his workers strike and block roads in to Paris.  And finally went to court but the court ruled that he was past the time he could have contested the contract.  So.  No market.  One of the Paris concerns was the quality of goods.  We don’t want things sold that are made in China, sniffed a Parisian bureaucrat.  Hey.  A  lot of folk like walking up and down on a frosty evening lit up by Christmas lights looking at some crappy stuff and some very nice things, with our cup of hot red spiced wine in our mitted hands while listening to American Christmas Carols.  Even me.

So this year I must content myself with the various other marches in town.  Noel is losing some glamor as I have been to these markets now for the  third year.  But I have plans for day trips to Amiens, Reims, and Metz to enjoy those cathedrals and marches.  And I know that I must get to the Gare de l’Est in mid December to buy some anise cookies at the Marche de l’Alsace.  Those are Christmas cookies my grandmother used to make.  German, actually, but Alsace has a history of being French, then German, then French…

Tonight I am attending a concert at the church St Germain des Pres – the Messiah.  While at UCSC my freshman class took a week of world civ class to sing the entire Messiah.  The prof brought in the music professor.  It was an incredible experience.   And the Parisian Choral Society is singing it later in December.  Going too.  And I have a Gregorian Chant program on the calendar at the end of the month in Notre Dame.  And a very American Sing-along for Christmas Carols next week Saturday at the American Church in Paris.

 

Around Town- Work, Lingerie, Navigo, and Snow

Why so much work?  It’s Christmas!  It’s Tourist Season!  Yet there are walls around the Arc de Triomph, the Eiffel tower, many fountains along the Champs Elysees.  And even the two escalators at my metro stop.  Really?  The last one irritates me.  The two up escalators (for each direction of the metro) are being renovated.  Out of commission until the 6 of February.  Really?  They couldn’t have worked on one at a time?  And I am being loose with the term “worked on.”  They started the “work” last Monday.  Have I seen anyone do anything?  Even a body present in the general vicinity with a hammer or in work clothes?  Nope.  Nary a soul.  Except that the walls are up and you can’t access it.    So French.

They turned the water off in my building on Tuesday from 9 am to 3 pm.  Fortunately my French has improved enough for me to understand the sign.  Fear strikes my heart when I come home to see a paper taped to the front door.  What special notice is waiting for me?  But no worries.  Just made sure I was out and about during the day.

Italian lingerie?  I always thought it was French that was the big deal.  But in the past two weeks I keep seeing stores advertising Italian Lingerie.  Looks much like the French lingerie I have seen in store windows for years.

BRRRRRRR.  And SNOW!

Yes, last night at 8:14 pm I checked the Weather App to see how cold it was and saw an alert – snow at 8:15.  I ran to the window and right on cue, the snow began to fall.  And it snowed for a good half hour or more.  The cars on the street had roofs covered in white.  The flakes were big and well, flakey.   I took many pictures and vids.  And got chilled by the many times I opened the window to drink it in.  I love snow.  Must be the growing up in Minnesota.

I was here in 2010 January and it snowed as my taxi took me to CDG for my departure.  In 2008 it was more a sleet storm while in Pere Lachaise cemetery.  No snow today, but high of 39.  Brrrrr.

And last observation, where do I put my Navigo bus pass after using it on the bus?  Most of the time, it ends up in my right front pants pocket.  But sometimes it’s in my coat pocket.  Once in my bag.  I get on the bus, use it, say Bon Jour to the bus driver so that he or she knows I acknowledge his or her existence as a good French person would, and then slip the Navigo…. Somewhere.  So when I sit down on a chair I have a frantic pat pat all over until I find it.  The putting away of the Navigo is so totally unconscious.  Weird.

 

Recovering from Travel

Back to Paris from a week in Portugal.  And entirely woofed.  We went by plane – train takes too long. So I got to travel on Transavia, a low cost airline run by KLM and Air France.  I took that same carrier to Maroc in early November.  It reminds me of PSA… (Pacific Southwest Airlines which morphed in Southwest.  In the early years when I took it from San Jose (Santa Cruz UCSC) to Burbank (home)).  Not the nicest waiting areas but it was fine.  More so because on all trips I bought the extra leg room for 8 euros more.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Portugal.  But I definitely preferred Porto to Lisbon.  It’s a smaller town, the river is not as wide, the tiles on the houses are beautiful.  Lisbon is larger, more spread out, less atmosphere.  The language was a challenge.  I don’t speak Portuguese or Spanish.  But the sound of Portuguese made me think of Hungarian or Polish or something Slavic.  However, I am no expert!  Wikipedia says: Portuguese is essentially the result of an organic evolution of Vulgar Latin with some influences from other languages, namely the native Gallaecian language spoken prior to the Roman domination.

OK fine.  I couldn’t understand it and it was more difficult for me to guess at the meaning of the written word than Spanish or Italian.  Fortunately, many spoke English.  I missed Maroc where I could speak French with the people.

We took a side trip from Lisbon to Sintra.  No, that is NOT Sinatra as one friend thought, reading it quickly.  It’s a small town in the mountains that has two major palaces.  One started in the 1300s, the other in the 1800s (built around a monastery).  And a Moorish castle that we only saw from afar.  Why Moorish?  Just sounds weird to me….  Like I will be there four-ish.   Well, I think of American… an…  and French from France.  But I guess we use English from England.  OK.  Moorish doesn’t sound so weird after all.

We took the famous Tram 28 in Lisbon – like a cable car in SF but without cables, instead electric wires.  My friend wanted to.  Since I had planned much of the trip, I deferred to her.  She could manage Saturday.  For some reason, she thought there was no need to go early since it was a Saturday.  Even though the guidebook said go early to avoid the tourist lines.  Why she didn’t think of Saturday as a tourist day I will never know.  Me? I am thinking weekend visitors…  So 90 minutes later we are still in line for the Tram that holds only 20 people per stop.  We were at the beginning of the line.  Cars were intermittent….  Like none for 20 minutes, then 4, then none for 15 mins then one then none for 30 minutes, etc.  When I got there, I counted – we were 165th in line.  Do the math.  There were many cars ahead of us.  But we waited.  And after 80 minutes I refused to give up.  After investing that time, dammit I was going to ride in the Tram.

Finally.  And we ended up going on the same streets as the small Hop On Hop Off bus had taken us two days earlier.  Shrug.

HOHO, you say?  Yup.  I always take those on the first day in a new city (except Marrakech as buses didn’t run through the old town).  It’s a very good way to get a sense of the city and what you want to go back to see.  I rarely do the hopping off.

The full trip was 3 nights in Porto and 3 in Lisbon.  We left on Sunday midday and returned home about 11 on Saturday night.  My brain was full of experience.

One exciting thing – I have decided to work Moroccan/Portuguese tiling into my bathroom and backyard remodeling!

And now I can cross off Portugal as a country visited.  This means I have visited all the countries in Europe excluding eastern Europe.  And excluding the principality of Andorra.  It has a weird status so I am not counting it as a country. I have been to Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Monaco.