Tag Archives: Paris

Paris Rental Turned Out Great!

Paris Rental Turned Out Great!

I was very nervous about renting this Paris apartment through HomeAway.com. There were no reviews, and the landlord required my deposit via bank transfer to a French bank, nearly half up front, and for the remainder to be paid IN CASH, in Euros, on the first day of rental. Plus, I had to provide a check for 500€ for the security deposit when I got the keys. I leave tomorrow morning and I am thrilled to report that the apartment was just as promised, and I have now received back my check for the security deposit! I am a very happy traveler. It was much less expensive and more fun than a hotel or AirBnB. I saved a fortune by preparing all my own meals with the gourmet foodstuffs available all around.

I didn’t have to drag my luggage up any stairs because the apartment was in a ground floor courtyard behind a heavy, locked door to the street and I felt super safe. The room was quiet, with no one above — skylights on the roof of the little unit which is essentially an enclosed porch of an 18th century building. While there are three floor-to ceiling French doors with arched transoms looking out to the cobblestone courtyard, as in the picture, all are protected by locked steel doors which can be opened in the daytime to let in light.

There is high-speed ethernet access and I could stream Netflix. There is switched wi-fi which I could to turn off at night. The cellular signal is strong for both voice and data.

The rusted, slanted, noisy microwave is designed to make sure you don’t microwave French food. There is no oven, no disposal, no freezer, no ice cubes. The glass cooktop works like a charm if you read the manual that is buried in the cloth napkins. Hint: “Lo” means Locked.

The two electric heaters keep the tile-floored room snug. There is plenty of hot water and the water pressure is good.

The studio is well-designed and well-maintained. I couldn’t be happier.

France: high fat diet, lowest heart disease

France: high fat diet, lowest heart disease

quicheAccording to Healthline, the French have the lowest heart disease rate in the world. This quote is from my friend RDS who just returned from two weeks driving around the provinces of France:

Much of the time it was just us and the cows. And the food really reflected that. Lots of meat, cheese, and cream. The only way to get a veggie in a restaurant was to order a meat or fish dish and get a veggie side dish. But as always, everything was beautifully prepared and presented, even in the smallest rural towns.

On the week-long boat ride from Paris to Normandy and back, we got very few salads or vegetables — meals were pretty much as RDS described them. Now that I am at the end of my ten days solo in Paris, I can say that it was a challenge to include salads in my diet, and forget cooked vegetables! But really confuses me is that 99% of the French are thin, many smoke, and based on what is in the stores, sugar must account for 40% of their daily calories.

Yet Americans get heart disease and the French don’t. What is different? For one thing, the French walk everywhere. I am planning to drag my suitcase for 20 minutes tomorrow morning along Rue de Opèra to the Roissybus stop because it is easier than dragging it DOWN into the subway and UP 3 stops later. I could take a cab, but it would still take 20 minutes from start to finish and I am afraid I would get pushback from the cabbie about such a short trip.

Shall I tell my no-oil Vegan friend, a heart attack survivor, that her strategy might be the opposite of what leads to a healthy heart.

No. My new resolution is to stop trying to improve others. Okay, I think I will just go eat some quiche now and wait for the nice French lady to pick up the key for my Paris rental.

I am so happy. It has been a great 10 days.

Martin Walker: Bruno, Chief of Police

Martin Walker: Bruno, Chief of Police

brunoIn Sept, 2012 I read book three in the Bruno Series, The Dark Vineyard. It has taken me this long to get to the first book in the series: Bruno, Chief of Police. It is a quick read and I love the way Martin Walker writes.

As a working journalist, 13 of his books have been non-fiction, with many about the Soviet Union. When he retired to the Périgord region of France, he embarked on his first fiction book, The Caves of Périgord which was very ambitious with three intertwined story lines. The first, in the prehistory of the area, described how the caves may have been created. The second story line dove deeply into the French Resistance in the Périgord region during WWII and the third story was set in present-day London and Périgord. It was very interesting but complex and sometimes hard to follow.

His next fiction book, Bruno, Chief of Police, is much lighter and more playful. The caves get only a few paragraphs and we meet Bruno who embodies the world-renown charm and discretion of Frenchmen. It also touches on the horror of war and the toll it takes on the bodies and souls of men, women and children. In this book, it is Bosnia as well as WWII. Martin Walker really has a reporter’s eye for detail and he moves us quickly through the mystery, but it is the charm of the people we meet through Bruno’s detective work that is the real pleasure in this book.

I am really looking forward to the next one. Thanks for loaning it to me, Russ!

Martin Walter: The Dark Vineyard

Martin Walter: The Dark Vineyard

The Dark Vineyard

by Martin Walker

Martin Walker is a senior editor and columnist for United Press International who has turned his clear, journalistic writing to creating absorbing mysteries set in the French countryside — Perigord to be exact. Classmate Russ McCracken from the SRJC class recommended his books and the library lent me book three in the series. I am looking forward to tracking books one and two: Bruno, Chief of Police and The Caves of Perigord

Traveling With Others Is Challenging

Traveling With Others Is Challenging

Paris Bus 69I was talking with some French classmates and Russ recently returned from a 3 week trip with his partner, Claire, and her brother and his wife from Des Moines. Claire is fluent in French and plans carefully, as do I. Russ said, “I just drive. She tells me where. It works out.” So my hypothesis is that planners typically pair with spontaneous people because, as Russ said, it works out.

I am lucky that my first trip to Paris was 50 years ago. It was a gift from my very devout Godmother who took me to every church in Paris. And London. And Rome. And then we went to Lourdes for the Feast of the Assumption on August 15. Along with every other devout Catholic on five continents. But I was 15 and I learned a lot.

My second trip was when I was 21 and I spent my time shopping. Spent every penny I had. It was great but just a few days because I didn’t have many pennies.

Nine years ago I went back to Paris with my sister Peggy who is an artist. We spent all our time in the museums. Four days. Louvre, d’Orsay, Pompidou, Rodin. plus another four days in London just seeing art (Peggy used to live in London). I was finally satisfied with Impressionism. It is fun going to museums with someone who loves and understands art and is enthusiastic about hiking to one more gallery.

It is a drag going to museums with someone who wants to be “on vacation.” Because the art in the Louvre is mostly naked ladies, I made sure my husband saw Venus deMilo and the ancient Roman and Greek (naked) statues and the magnificence of the palace. But he was brain dead after six hours. The crowds and jet-lag were hammering us.

Paris Musee de l' ArmeeI kept it down to one museum a day and made sure he got plenty of good food (easy). He got one “free” day while I went shopping so he went to the Army Museum. He just paid the day rate because it was cheaper than getting a Museum Pass that spanned our whole visit. The lines are not long at the Army Museum. Where the pass really comes in handy is skipping the lines at the Louvre, Pompidou, etc. He really liked the Army museum, especially learning that “Detail” is the name of the artist who painted battle scenes in what we now call “great detail.” [Or maybe that’s what the museum put under the images and he misinterpreted it as the artist’s name. You never know.]

I guess Russ and Claire were guiding her brother and his wife on their “big trip” and Russ was exasperated by their Des Moines attitude. He said, “They didn’t understand why everyone didn’t speak English!”

Frankly, I was afraid my husband would be the same way, but he plunged in with enthusiasm, buying “billets” at the metro as soon as we arrived. So I will plan a longer trip that includes Versailles and the Dordogne. Russ went to the Dordogne and saw the caves. I have not seen any of his pictures and I am eager to hear the details of his trip. He loved Bruges.

People who have been subjected to the Devout Catholic stuff may be less enthusiastic about the religious grandeur of some sites. Howard climbed the steps at Notre Dame. His photos of the gargoyles and the roofs of Paris are breathtaking. I skipped it because I thought the climb would be breathtaking. [huff-huff]

My idea of “spontaneous fun” in Paris is getting on a bus and seeing where it goes, especially at rush hour when you get to see what people wear to work. You have time to look in all the shop windows when traffic is slow. If you have a Pass Navigo, you can hop off and hop back on. Do lots of window shopping from the comfort of your bus seat.

Was French Class Worth It?

Was French Class Worth It?

A friend from New York asked about the French lessons I was taking to prepare for our trip to Paris. There is a myth in the US (I heard it again while we waited to board the plane) that all French people speak English, they just won’t because they are stubborn.

Sarkozy Election PosterThat’s as nuts as saying all Texans speak Spanish. According to Wikipedia, about 35% of French people speak English but the statistic is misleading. International business people (like Christine LaGarde, head of the IMF) speak English, so do upper class intellectuals in France (just as the upper class in the US speaks French). Nicholas Sarkozy could not speak English well when he was elected President of France. I don’t know if the newly elected president does either. He only spoke French when I saw him on TV exulting in his victory over Sarkozy. Oh, wait! I was watching TV in Paris… on their Election Day 6 Mai.

It is important to remember that the French HATE the English. Remember the Hundred Years War? It lasted 300 years — that’s how long they were fighting. Napoleon was planning to invade England until the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

I didn’t meet Christine LaGarde (though I would love to — I copy her hairdo) I mainly spoke to waiters, passers-by on the street and security guards. I needed to ask directions and understand the answers like how to find the correct bus stop, or where Howard would exit Notre Dame after he visited the towers. I could get a recommendation at the wine shop and buy delicacies. For example:

Rue Cler is lined with cafes, bakeries, chocolate confectioneries, ice cream parlors and what New Yorkers call “appetizing shops.” Each has a different specialty such as pâté or thousand-leaf pastries filled with delicate ham and cheese. They are bustling in the late afternoon and filled with the local people.

One we visited had an aisle down the middle with the cashier at the end. The prepared food was in a case on the left and ingredients were over a counter on the right. I asked for a slice of cheese, a couple of thick slices of country bacon and some olives from a big French guy rapidly serving people over the counter on the right. My hands full, I was propelled by the press of people to the cashier at the back, a well groomed woman in her fifties. She asked in French if this was everything I wanted.

I looked longingly at the little quiche in the case on the left. She said “La quiche?” I nodded. She was already out of her chair and heading for it when she said, “Combien?” “Une,” I squeaked.

She wrapped it up and returned to her chair as the line pressed behind me and I churned through my mental rolodex. “Je suis desolee de votre derangement,” I stammered, knowing it wasn’t quite right. “Je vous en prie!” she scoffed and rang up the purchase. I was so relieved that she thought it was natural to help people get what they wanted. I realized that is was probably her family store and the men slicing ham and cheese were her sons.

The food was sensational and it was really nice to have something to eat in the apartment when we came home wet and tired.

Knowing some French really makes a difference. In Paris, yes, and even more in the countryside. And the difference it makes is the quality of your experience. You will have SO much more fun if you can understand the waiter when he says, “Oh, don’t have that. Everyone has this.” Just know that he will say it in French.