Expats and Other Travelers

When I am in the States, I am often asked, “Why?”  Why did I go to Paris? It’s often followed by “My, you are brave.”  What I like about expats is that they never ask this question.  We are all here because.  Just because.  Some for family, some for work, but underlying it all is a love for travel and adventure and the Paris/French culture.

Every year I met new friends.  Many at the meetups for expats.  There is one that attracts a steady following of Paris regulars and people vacationing in Europe for a long stay.  Helen from DC has been a friend.  When she’s here, we dine together.  Through her I ended up having dinner with two other interesting women who were briefly in Paris.  When I was in Brighton 4 years ago, a chance conversation with a guide at the Royal Pavilion led to a close friendship with a Brit who dubbed me her American Abroad friend.  The friendship started on Facebook.

Facebook, for all the frustrations and fake news and scams (read Snopes, people), has been an excellent way to keep in touch and let long distance friendships grow.  Another gal I met at a conference and had maybe a 30 minute chat has become a great Facebook friend.  I follow her travels all over the world.  I am quite envious of her latest tour to India.   I never wanted to go to India, but I would sign up for that tour in a heartbeat.  In fact, when I get back to the States and have a better idea of my calendar, I might just do that.

Back to my Brit friend let’s call A.  She came to stay with me for two nights a few weeks ago.  Because she is an historian and a palace buff (she does work in one), she wanted to see Versailles.  This was the first time I took a guided visit there.  Worth it.  It cost 20 euros over the admission price, but we got special group cut in line privileges and our guide was full of information.  The group: Get Your Guide.  I should do a Trip Advisor review for them.  With A here, we walked over 7 miles every day.  We were both woofed.

The Eurostar was a cluster.  Perhaps you heard, the French workers were demanding more resources in advance of Brexit, claiming it would cause more work for them.  Not sure about that, but it was worth a try.  So they decided to work to the rule.  Interesting way to basically strike.  Instead of 6 x-ray and security machines working, they only opened 1.  And there was nothing anyone could do about it.  Except wait.  Eurostar sent out texts and advised people to not travel from Paris to London.  Except if you are here and you live there, there’s not much choice.  When I met A on her arrival, the line for Eurostar check in was down the escalator (I never had a line down the escalator) and then down across the train station main floor.  News reports were saying the wait was 4 to 5 hours.

So we went at 11:30 for a 4:00 train.  The line was quite manageable.  No line to the escalator.  She actually was able to get on the 3:00 train and even made an earlier train in London to Brighton.

Why this tale in the midst of expat friendships?  While standing in line, we started to chat with three people from Seattle.  The gal C was heading back to London to get her return plane to Seattle.  The two guys, C and G, were staying in Paris for another two weeks.  Really.  Chance conversation.  A and C waited for their trains, chatting.  C and G and I also chatted, exchanged emails and phone and became FB friends.   C & G and I have gone to a movie at Lost in Frenchlation (they put English subtitles on new French films for special showings), had a fabulous dinner at my favorite souffle restaurant, and rearranged plans for lunch today because of the dang gilet jaune (see above rant).  And we have two more meals planned before they return to Seattle.

See.  Life in Paris is rich in unexpected friendship.  And tomorrow I am having dinner with K, an expat friend from NYC who moved here two years ago.  We met at a talk at the American Library in Paris.  She sat next to me in the audience and was both fascinated and repelled by the henna covering both my hands.  I had just returned from my groundbreaking Morocco by Myself trip.  A conversation ensued.  Dinner after that.  And now we are friends, including both a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.

Maybe we travelers are just more open?  In the states we have our friends already?  No need to expand?  The language barrier?  Well, perhaps not a barrier as I do now speak passable French, but the American openness to just start a chat when you hear English?

Dunno.  Just know I like it.

Back to Normal

The visitors have flown back across the Atlantic.  It was a wonderful time – at least from my perspective.  I hope they enjoyed too.  My friend has been to Paris before and reads French quite well so she was not my usual visitor.  And there was a 7 year old included.  So I found more playgrounds in Paris than I knew before. AND I finally got to the Jardin d’Acclimatation.  A big name for a kids amusement park that is just three block away in the Bois de Boulougne.

That last one was a big hit.  And I must say I was also impressed.  Besides the amusement rides, we kept coming upon climbing ropes or obstacle courses.  And Poney rides.  And Donkey rides.  We missed the Camel ride.  Tant pis.  Credit to the French – they also had a farm with usual farm animals – sheep, goats, pigs… and camels.  Right next to the farm was the garden.  Fruit trees, vegetables, and a green house for potting.  Let’s always remember where that food comes from.

I skipped the aviary.  No a great fan of birds…  Well, just recall my pigeon stories.

In a trip within a trip we had an excursion to Guernsey and Jersey islands in the English Channel.  We stayed in Saint Malo – yes from All the Light You Cannot See  (I believe the convention to underline books has gone away, but old habits die hard)– and took the ferry to Guernsey and stopped at Jersey on the way back.  Planning this trip was a challenge.  The ferries are fewer these days.  The French company departs from a small town on the west of the point where Cherbourg is.  Very difficult to reach that town without a car.  The ferry company that does leave from St Malo  to serve the islands is easily reached via train.  But if you go to their site and click on English so you can more easily read the details, it appears that they do not sail from St Malo.  Only TO St. Malo.  Finally I changed to French and voila.  Trips out of Saint Malo appeared. Bizarre.  We did it in a day trip.  Left about noon, gained an hour as France is an hour ahead of UK.  They walked to the aquarium and I to Victor Hugo’s house.  The author of Les Miserables lived in Guernsey in exile for 15 years during his dispute with Napoleon III.  I had visited his house in Place des Voges and wanted to see this one.  It did not disappoint.  But seeing it was difficult. I  called and they said there was only one time left and it was 30 minutes before the ferry’s departure.  I decided to take a chance.  When I got there, they were adamant that the tours were full and it was impossible.  Except there was a tour leaving just then – in French.  Eh bien!  I speak French!  Et voila – I was on the tour.  OK. So I didn’t catch everything she said, but I got to see the insides and to see the magnificent view he had.  Worth it.

The trip to Jersey was about an hour, but we left late.  And the town of St. Helier Jersey is a bit further from the port than Saint Peter Port was in Guernsey.  And by the time we finally docked, we only had time to walk double time into the city and turn around to return.  Of course, when we got back to the port, we had to wait an additional hour for the boat.  If we had been daring, we would have gotten dinner in Jersey – unfortunately, I was the one who urged caution, not wanting to miss the last boat back to France.

By the way, the two islands are separate from each other and not an official part of the United Kingdom.  They are known as Bailiwicks, are crown dependencies, and are holdovers from William the Conqueror who owned them as part of his duchy of Normandy before moving to England.  Britain handles their defense and foreign relations.  However, it also has a special relationship with the EU, being treated as part of it.  Who knows what happens with Brexit?  The two Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are called the Channel Islands.

The islands are remote.  Pretty.  From what I could see, sparsely forested.  Very definitely a flavor of the UK.  Guernsey seemed more inviting to me than Jersey.  Perhaps because the area around the St Helier port is full of new buildings.  Lacks the charm…  Although I didn’t see it as we missed downtown, I have read that Jersey is more the Palm Springs of the Channel Islands.  A big business with duty free stores and high end boutiques.

Glad I got there.

Hungary and more

Last week I jaunted over to Budapest for a few days.  Just to put a toe into the Eastern European arena.  It was good.  And different.  It’s been a long time since I was in a country where I had no clue as to what people were saying.  In 2012 I visited Greece and Turkey.  No clue.  Since then, I have been rather French centric.  I visited Barcelona in 2012 also but after living in California and having studied both French and Italian (lots of similarities between Romance languages) I didn’t feel out of place linguistically.  And my trip to Berlin last summer – everyone seemed to speak English.

Many people spoke English in Budapest, but not all.  I managed.  Sign language. Pointing.  Smiling.  And I have learned to limit my personal expectations – I don’t have to see EVERYTHING.  So I have a relaxing time while seeing a new place.  As usual, I started with the hop on hop off bus.  I find that the best way to get an overview of the city. 2016-11-16-16-07-59 I don’t hop off much – I just note those things I want to come back to see again. I skipped the big basilica.  But found time for the Notre Dame church near the Elizabeth Bridge.  It was built in the 13th century.  And they recently discovered frescos from that time.  Apparently someone had the smarts to cover them up just before the Turks invaded.  And when the Turks finally left, no one remembered.  The church was having work done and voila there they were.

Budapest has black buildings.  You never see that in Paris.  We clean the buildings regularly (I hear there’s a law for that…)  Many of the Budapest buildings have years of dirt and grime built up.

2016-11-16-16-41-53 The Budapest Christmas Market was open for business.  I am collecting these Marche du Noel.  Great fun.  Many similarities but some fun and tasty differences.  A specialty in Hungary is fried bread.  I got mine with cheese – passed up the sausage as I wasn’t that hungry (Imagine, not hungry in Hungary… hahahaha).  And had the best mulled wine I have tasted yet.  Products for sale included hats.  A LOT OF HATS.  Fur (faux and not) hats.  Cold weather I guess.  And anything embroidery.  Beautiful embroidery.  I ended up getting table runners – and hoping that they will both fit and look good.  As I was trying to decide between different ones, I realized that I haven’t seen my dining room table for 8 months!  I was having trouble remembering it.  Hope my decision was a good one.

2016-11-17-10-47-03Budapest is also a rebuilt city.  All the bridges were destroyed during the war.  And many things were destroyed in other earlier wars.  And they rebuilt them.  So you really have to hunt to find “authentic” old buildings. The Palace on the Castle side of Buda is one of the biggest buildings I have seen – I was told it was rebuilt many times – got destroyed a lot.  But they kept putting up new ones on the same spot.

Oh – did you know? Budapest is the combination of two cities – Buda and Pest.  On opposite sides of the river.  Buda is the hilly one.  Looking over the Danube and Pest.  (Surprise for me – the first evening I was reading through material about the city in my hotel room and I kept hearing thumping sounds.  2016-11-14-21-49-55I finally looked and saw fireworks lighting up the sky over the Parliament buildings.  I love fireworks!  It was so much fun.

Budapest is an interesting city with Turkish influences popping up here and there.  With wonderful mansions.  With wide Parisian streets.  With gorgeous lights on the Danube (always make time for a river cruise!)  Someone in Paris said check out the thermal baths.  So I threw in my bathing suit.

I went to Gellert Spa on Wednesday morning.  And was so disappointed that I hadn’t gone there on Tuesday.  If I had, then I would have been able to go a second time on Wednesday.  It was so relaxing and felt healthy.  My old bones just lapped up the 40 degree C mineral water.  It was not easy to figure out the place.  Took a while to find someone who did speak English and could explain where everything was – and he just said oh you need a map.  Why didn’t they just give me one when I walked in?  In the hot bath I chanced upon a couple from Pennsylvania.   Funny, after the election, there is now a hesitancy… where are you from?  And a mental checking – did that state vote for Trump?  Once I said California, they disclosed that they supported Hillary.  So we ended up having a political conversation.  But my initial hesitancy surprised me.  Have to get used to it.  (Although I don’t understand how any elector can possibly cast their vote for him given his actions after the election – the numerous conflicts of interest, the lack of distance from his business interests, the total lack of understanding of State department protocol?  And really? Talking to heads of government on his own cell phone, not a private line?  This does not bode well for America.)

 

As I reflected on the prevalence of the English language, I thought about Brexit.  My understanding is that English is the official language of the EU.  Will be funny to see that continue while Britain leaves.  But it makes sense because it is the most common language.  I read an article on the plane – Boris Johnson the foreign secretary wants a free market with EU but not the free movement of people.  Apparently he said something to an Italian – “you won’t be able to sell prosecco to Britain – you lose a big market.”  The guy responded – “maybe I lose Britain but I still have 27 other countries to sell to.  You won’t sell any fish and chips.”  HA!

Elections…

Image result for brexit voteBrexit surprised many.  What a mess.  I bought The Times, the Daily Mail and the International New York Times on Sunday to figure out what was going on.

Not there yet.  Mike Dooley posted a quote:  Question everything that doesn’t make sense until it does make sense.  I think I am going to be questioning this for a long time.  What worries me is that so many people voted to Leave without understanding the full ramifications.  Just read about a small county that voted overwhelmingly to leave.  And now they are suddenly aware that the big subsidy they received from the EU might be (?might? WILL) be going away.

And there is no exit strategy.  Not on Cameron’s side.  Not on the Leave campaign side.  The EU is saying hurry up and leave since you want out.  And Britain is saying we are not ready to formally declare our resignation.  Once they give notice, there is a two year time frame to untangle the arrangement.  And the EU doesn’t want to make this an easy process.  And of course they don’t.  If it’s simple and painless, there are several other countries that will want out.  And then the whole thing might collapse.

And of course there’s the complication that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and London want to remain.  And now Scotland wants out of the UK again.  Maybe.  And Spain wants Gibraltar.  And the far right in the Netherlands and in France are talking about getting out too.

David Cameron didn’t have to hold this referendum.  Just sayin’.

Here’s a link to Samantha Bee’s take on Brexit.  Funny.  Adult language warning.  http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-06-28/david-tennant-reads-angry-tweets-reacting-to-donald-trumps-scotland-gaffe

Amazing to hear the people who voted to Leave to send a message, thinking their vote wouldn’t really count.  And the lies that the Leave campaign made.  Hoping the US pays some attention to this!

Yup.  Then there’s the US election.  I keep getting reminders from the US Embassy here about registering to vote.  I thought I had registered in May as an overseas civilian but I hadn’t heard from the Sac Registrar of voters.  I called today.  Yes.  They have my e-application to change my status.  But it won’t be processed until after the June ballot is closed up.  So I should hear by September.  However, there should be no problems.  Everything on my app looked good.  I chose the vote electronically option.  Wish I could do that even when home… but if I am back in the States for the following election, I have to change it back.

Seems funny to be classified as a Civilian Overseas.  But I guess that’s what I am.

Oh and more Brexit news – the official working language of the EU is English.  Just read that maybe it will change to French.  Which it was before England got in and the Scandinavian countries joined.  English really is the most commonly shared language but wouldn’t it be awful to continue to speak English when the damned British divorced you?  Even if it makes sense.

Aside from election woes, I have had a fabulous day.  Today was my first formal coaching session with a client using the Enneagram.  I use Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator and Gallup’s Strengths Finder in my coaching practice.  In March I attended a week-long training on the Enneagram.  Adding that third assessment makes the coaching process much deeper and richer.  I love it when clients have meaningful insights… moments when they just stop and say, I never thought of that!  Or what a great question!  The sad thing is that, while I can find MBTI in French and Gallup has a French version of their assessment, the instrument I use for the Enneagram is not in French yet.  Patience.