Thursday, December 25, 2008
Christmas Eve, Carolyn came down with a stomach virus, and wasn't feeling well all day. David, Chris, and I just spent time playing games, wrapping gifts, and having fun.
On Christmas day, Carolyn still wasn't well, so we just adjusted our day to fit her needs. We had breakfast kind of late, since we all wanted to sleep in. Instead of cooking the large meal we had planned, we postponed it to another day. We opened presents later in the day than usual. Since we didn't have much, and wrapping paper is so expensive, we decided to do our holiday "green" style by using newspapers, foil, and reusable items to wrap our presents. I really preferred this method, as it's much better for the environment. We didn't have a tree, but David and Carolyn brought small stockings to hang by the fireplace, one even for Oreo. David kept saying it was a "hard scrapple Christmas". We didn't mind.
It was very nice having Carolyn and David here with us for the holiday. I really missed my family, and it was so weird not seeing all of them this time of year. I really love living here in France, but it's very hard being SO FAR away from everyone. NYC was still far away, but at least we could get to Indiana for the holidays.
Oreo really enjoyed Christmas. He opened his stocking and played with the mice inside. He also found the bags and newspapers to be fun as well.
The rest of the day was spent playing games, and Carolyn ended up sleeping most of the day. All in all, it was a very Merry Christmas.
Here are the pictures for Christmas Eve http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.2q9n42bf&x=0&h=1&y=-abgi2h&localeid=en_US
And here are the pictures for Christmas Day http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.99rls1tn&x=0&h=1&y=-a1i0df&localeid=en_US
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Arc de Triomphe pictures http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.1rbmd1mz&x=0&h=1&y=-exd828&localeid=en_US
More info on Paris to come!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
While waiting for the train, a couple with a small boy came up to us and asked, in French, when the next train was coming. Chris answered in French, and as they were walking away, the little boy said "Thank you" to us in English. It was very cute.
The train was a double decker train (not as nice as the train to Paris, but it was fine), and was underground most of the way, but we did come up to ground level to see some of the outer parts of Paris. The ride went by fast, since it was only about 45 minutes away.
When we arrived at the station, we found out that we needed our tickets to actually get out of the station. Who would have thought that? Thank goodness we hadn't thrown our tickets away, we only had to search for our tickets in our pockets, and scan them through to leave.
The walk over to the palace was only about 5 to 10 minutes. We didn't know what direction to go from the station, but once we crossed the street, someone was there to tell us where to go to get to the entrance.
The line to the palace was long, but it was slowly moving. I think we only stood in line maybe 20 minutes or so.
We found out that there are machines inside where we could have bought our tickets, and possibly could have bypassed the long line. I really wish we had known about that sooner.
The entry fee was about 13 euros and included an audio tour. I'm not one for audio tours, but Carolyn and David wanted to get it to know about what we were seeing. It took some time to find out where to pick up the audio packs (one thing you learn about France is that sites can be quite unorganized without people there to direct you).
The first part of the palace was kind of boring. It was pictures that were not labeled, so you just end up looking at a bunch of old paintings not knowing who the people were. For example, there was one painting of a nun, and we had no idea why her portrait was in one room.
We eventually moved into the other chambers...the King's bedroom and the Queen's bedroom (can't even sleep in the same room when you are royalty). We kept getting interrupted by a Russian tour group that kept pushing their way into each room. It wasn't even an official tour group...just a lady holding an umbrella leading a large group around. The other thing that was greatly unfortunate was the Jeff Koons exhibit. I only have one picture of a piece from the exhibit because it was so AWEFUL I just didn't want documentation of it. I did my best to take pictures around the ugly exhibits. I can't imagine who had the idea of putting this kind of thing in the Palace of Versailles! (Type in "Jeff Koons" into Google and you will see the hideous things I'm referring to). There are Kings and Queens rolling in their graves knowing that this crap is in the palace. The worse exhibit was Michael Jackson and a monkey. I had to just run to the next room to get away from it. It was scarier than our water closet clown!
I kind of zoned out with the audio tour, and just had fun taking pictures and looking at the furniture and elaborate paintings on the ceiling. I think a lot of people just walk through missing all the amazing things on the ceiling! However, if everyone looked up, they would just end up running into each other even more. (Note to others...don't go on a Sunday...it was VERY crowded!).
Eventually, we made our way outside into the gardens. This time of year, they were not as impressive as I'm sure they are in Spring and Summer. We did find a little tourist train to go around the gardens. We didn't stop at Marie Antoinette's house, which we will probably do if we go again.
We were all getting hungry, so we hopped off the train and had dinner at a little cafe along the water in the gardens. The food and atmosphere was warm and inviting, and I finally got to have vin chaude (hot spiced wine) here. It's a lot like mulled wine in the US, but even better when you have been out in the cold riding a tiny, bumpy train around. I also had profiteroles for dessert, which was quite yummy!
When we left the cafe, it was dark outside (just after 5pm), and the train was no longer running. We had to hike back to the palace, and from there, to the train station. There were no lights in the gardens, so it was a dark and long walk back up to the palace.
Back at the train station, it took us a little while to figure out which train to get on (we missed the sign that said that all trains went back to Paris), but we made it and back to the hotel we went. We were all very tired from walking all day and ready to crash.
Pictures of our trip to Versailles can be found here http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.23nvo063&x=0&h=1&y=-jxjbpz&localeid=en_US
More pictures are here http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.bmh0dst7&x=0&h=1&y=-9b2667&localeid=en_US
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The first stop of the day was Notre Dame. Upon walking to it, the building didn't look all that big or impressive, however, once we got closer we realized we had judged too soon. There were figurines all over the outside as well as gargoyles hanging over head. There were people all over taking pictures, but the lines were not that long to get into the cathedral.
Inside, it was very dark and gothic looking. Not brightly decorated like the Notre Dames here in Marseille. We walked through, looking at the ornate windows and taking pictures of the alter. To get into the treasury, we had to pay a small entry fee. Inside, we found clothing belonging to previous cardinals and popes, bones from saints and other important Catholic people (ask Chris and he can list off everyone we saw), and other relics such as a piece of the cross and the crown of thorns.
We walked through the cathedral, taking time to look at each room dedicated to one saint or the next, and at the holiday scene and creche they had constructed, which was really amazing. It was lit up and the lights changed making each scene glow and disappear into the darkness. I was able to catch a video of it, so you can watch it here.
We found a cafe near Notre Dame for lunch. I had salmon with veggies and Grand Marinier crepes. We had a lovely view of Notre Dame from the cafe.
We walked from Notre Dame, along the River Seine, over to the Louvre. I have always heard it pronounced like "looov", but here they say "Looo-v-ra". Walking to the entrance, we saw men carrying machine guns, which really gave a new meaning to "police force".
Since we arrived late in the day (it was 4pm and the museum closed at 5:30pm), we had to really rush to see the things we wanted to see. We saw the Mona Lisa first. She's a lot smaller in person than you would think. Plus, she is behind glass and she is roped off so you can't get very close. There was a mob of people flashing her (with cameras of course).
Chris & I would cringe when walking through the museum as people used their flashes on their cameras. They have no idea what they are doing to these old documents and paintings...and only few were told not to do it by the guards.
We saw the Venus de Milo, as well as many other things that are kind of a blur to me at the moment. We were running through trying to see as much as we could in such a short amount of time. We ended up getting lost in the museum, unable to find the exit. We saw sortie (exit) signs all over the place, but each time we went towards one, we got further lost. We ended up in the basement in the medieval section, which was great. Apparently, there use to be a castle built there and you can still see some of the foundation and mote below the Louvre.
We eventually found our way out, and we were so tired, it was time to head back towards to the hotel for dinner.
Would you believe, that we found a restaurant just down the street from our hotel called "Indiana"? It's true! We were so surprised, that we just had to eat there. The cuisine was Tex-Mex, Indian, and American all rolled into one. The place was packed with locals, which was also surprising. I guess they do like burgers and fries after all. I had a chimichanga (something that I have not found anywhere else here in France) and a marguerita (not something you should order in France). We asked the waiter why it was called Indiana, and he just said that the owner had once visited Indiana and liked it so much, that he made a restaurant chain called Cafe Indiana. There are about 8 locations in Paris. Their hamburgers were made from Angus beef, which is a rare find here in France. We enjoyed it, even if it was American food in Paris.
Friday, December 19, 2008
We took the metro to Gare St Charles to catch the train. When we arrived at the station, we found out that there was a strike (not sure who was striking exactly), but it was causing our train to run 45 minutes late. So we found a table outside of McDonald's to sit at and wait. The station was very cold, since it's an open air train station. We were all very tired, and ready to get moving.
Our train track was finally announced on the boards, and we went to wait for the train. The sun was coming up at that point, and it was after 9am. The TGV train pulled into the station and we started looking for the right door to board. There really didn't seem to be any method to the madness...people were just lining up and hopping on. We almost got on one train car, but realized it was 2nd class, and we had 1st class tickets. We were also on the top deck, so when we found a car labeled 1, we jumped in and headed upstairs.
That is when we realized that our seats were not next to each other. We were suppose to have 4 all together, but somehow that had been rearranged. I thought I had found my seat, but it was next to a young boy, and it looked to be his father standing over the seat that was marked with my number. While I was standing there wondering what to do, Chris asked another passenger how to find our seats, and we realized we were still in the wrong train car. I'm guessing that the conductors were on strike, because there was no one to tell us what to do or to ask questions.
Our seats were in the front of the train, with Carolyn and David seated together and Chris & I sitting behind them (Chris was suppose to sit across the aisle from me, but since we had empty seats around us, he moved over next to me).
The train was very nice. Seats were cushy, near the WC (water closet), and quiet. The ride was very fast and smooth. It only took us 3 hours to get from Marseille to Paris. I loved the ride up here. We saw farms, vineyards, snow capped mountains, little villages, castles, fields, sheep and cows, rivers, so many sites! When we got closer to Paris, the view wasn't as impressive...more like IN really, so I knitted for a little while and took a brief nap before pulling into the station.
Finding our way down to the metro wasn't too difficult. Chris was very good at navigating. The only hard part was going up and down stairs with the suitcase. Note to self and others: When traveling in Europe for only a couple of days, be sure to have a very small suitcase that is light weight. We only had large suitcases, and a couple of backpacks, so we had thought originally that it would be good for all of us to use one suitcase...however, it was quite heavy with all of our things crammed into it, and quite unwieldy. When we head to Nice after Xmas, I am taking far less...maybe just two backpacks for Chris & myself.
The metro here is more complex than in Marseille, but on par with NYC. We had to transfer trains once to get to our destination. When we emerged from the metro station, we were right across the street from our hotel. We are staying at a cute little Best Western here in Paris. Carolyn & David's room is lovely with a huge bed (bigger than a King). Our room is smaller. Apparently, we have paper thin walls, as we got quite show from our neighbors tonight. :)
After we dropped off our bags earlier, we went down the block for lunch. There is a pedestrian street not far from the hotel with all kinds market stores and cafes. We stopped in to a bistro called Le Chope Daguerre. It was very crowded, but they managed to literally squeeze us into a table in the back. The food was delicious.
We came back to the hotel room and crashed for a bit. We were all very tired, and really didn't intend to take a nap.
After resting for a little while, we put on our coats and headed back out into Paris. Our next stop was the Champs Elysee. For some reason, I had it in my mind that it was a river here in Paris, but no, it's a big street leading to the Arc de Triomphe. Coming out of the metro, we found ourselves right at the ferris wheel, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The sun was setting, giving us a lovely backdrop for our pictures.
The Champs Elysee had a holiday market, not unlike the one's in Aix en Provence and Marseille (only there are not Santons). We walked 2 miles to the Arc de Triomphe, passing stores like Cartier, Mercedes, Louis Vuitton, and others as well as bistros, cafes, and restaurants. The sidewalk was HUGE compared to the one's in Marseille, and even in NYC. It was so large, it was practically a two lane street. Why can't all cities be built like that?
After taking a few pictures in front of the Arc de Triomphe, we decided to go in. You can pay 9 euros to climb over 200 steps to the top two floors. Carolyn and David weren't thrilled with the idea of climbing all those stairs, but they did it. Did I mention the stairs were also spiral? It was quite a climb, but we made it to the top. Going at night was a good idea since there were few people up there. We walked around, seeing Paris all lit up at night. We also got a full view of the Eiffel Tower. It was cold, but beautiful and worth every centime!
For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant on the Champs Elysee. The poisson (fish) soup was quite yummy. There was a family sitting behind us from America, and from the sound of their accents, from the Midwest. We have come across quite a few Americans here in Paris.
PICTURES FROM THE TRIP PART I http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.4tp16daj&x=0&h=1&y=y7cnld&localeid=en_US
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Chris cooked a roast chicken for dinner and molten lava cakes for dessert. We spent the rest of the evening chatting and then zonking early.
The next morning, we met Nell at the Santon market. Santon are a traditional holiday figurine made here in Provence. Made out of clay and ranging from just longer than your finger tip to doll size, these figurines are used to decorate family creches (nativity scenes). There are baby Jesus', Mary's and Joseph's, but also figurines of people harvesting, baking, dancing, breastfeeding, and even knitting! Here in Marseille, there are booth after booth filled with Santon and background pieces. I found a really nice doll sized one of an old woman knitting with a cat in her lap (picture to come soon). Carolyn found a couple she liked as well.
At first, when Chris & I heard about Santon, we thought they would be quite cheesy. However, they are actually very interesting and fun when you start looking at them. Some of the creators take a lot of pride in their work, others are more mass produced.
After shopping around the market, we headed down towards the port for lunch. Nell picked out a cute cafe called "Cafe Vin" that had a very good mid-day meal. When looking for lunch here, it's best to order from the formule or lunch specials. Each restaurant, cafe, or bistro has their lunch menus posted outside, so you can have a look before entering the eating establishment. We had a very good meal of froi gras quiche, seasoned tomatoes and mushrooms, jambon (ham), salad, baguette, and of course, rouge (red) wine.
After grabbing some macaroons from a local bakery, we walked down around the Port. It was a cold day, but clear, blue sky. We stopped into a few shops, one being La Mason de Pastis. Pastis is a locally made aperitif made from star anise. It really smelled of anise (like licorice) in there. We didn't purchase anything, but Chris asked the shop keeper to explain how it was made and the difference between it and Absinthe (which could also be purchased there, unlike in the US where it is illegal).
The 5 of us walked back to the holiday market, and Carolyn found a few things to purchase. We also went into the mall (only to use the pay restrooms...you would think that if you pay to use a toilet, that at least it would be clean) and then to Monoprix to pick up some items for dinner.
PICTURES CAN BE FOUND HERE http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.8iem272j&x=0&h=1&y=wckuve&localeid=en_US
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The rain started around midnight last night, right before I went to bed. With the rain and wind, it sounded like we were living inside a super car wash!
Throughout the night, the rain and wind beat down on our apartment building. We woke up at one point and closed the shutters in the bathroom (we always close the shutters in the living room at night), and we attempted to close the one's in the bedroom, but couldn't get the window open.
I had a very hard time sleeping with all the wind. It blows down the chimney and rattles the apartment. According to the weather channel, we were getting gusts at 23 miles per hour, but it seemed like stronger winds than that. The mistral winds here are just incredible. I guess we should get use to it as mistral happens throughout the winter here in Marseille.
Having the shutters closed, and it raining outside, our bedroom was pretty dark this morning, which was conducive to sleeping in. We got up around 11am, a lot later than we had wanted, but it was nice to sleep in after being awake through the night.
We haven't been able to open the shutters today due to the rain, so it's rather dark in here. It makes me feel like it's night instead of day. Flashbacks to living in the basement apartment in the Bronx fill my mind. NOOOO!!!
On a happier note, Chris cooked a wonderful brunch of savory crepes and hard cider. He tells me it's a tradition to have the two together here in France. The savory crepes consisted of bacon, mushrooms cooked in the bacon grease, and each one had a different cheese in it. One had chevre, one had Roquefort, and another had Roblechon. The crepes were delicious, and the hard cider was a nice complement. We had bought a bottle of organic hard cider. I'm SO STUFFED now!
We are very much looking forward to the week ahead. Chris' parents will be flying in on Wednesday morning. Thursday we are going to take them to the port and the Christmas markets. Friday we are off to Paris! I'm very excited about going to Paris! I am crossing my fingers that we have just a little snow while there. We'll be in Paris for 4 days, then we return to Marseille for Xmas Eve and Xmas.
Euromed is an area that is being newly developed. Old buildings are being turned into new apartments and office complexes. One part of the project is converting the old shipping docks into offices. Last time Chris & I walked around the area, we didn't get a chance to go inside the building, but we did this time.
Inside the docks, there are lots of offices...coiffures, G&E, wine store, dentists, and many other businesses. A lot of Euromed is actually funded by US money, so it's not uncommon to find American businesses here.
There were also strange little holiday scenes throughout the building.
You can view our pictures here http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=3saykfvv.8anexx2j&x=0&h=1&y=-b81704&localeid=en_US
Thursday, December 11, 2008
We woke up before the sun came up at 6:45am (which is a big deal for us, since we like to sleep in...and by the way, did you know that the sun does not rise here in Marseille until 8am? Craziness!). We were able to walk to the Prefecture, since it's not far from where we live. Getting there early was a good thing, as there was a line already formed almost to the entryway.
We hopped in line and waited patiently for our turn. While waiting, we had 3 people jump the line in front of us. What is with that? We had two kids doing the same thing to us yesterday at a grocery market! Can't people just stand in a line like everyone else?
Anyways, we waited patiently for our turn, and bided our time with watching the other people in the room. There was a waiting area full of people, the line was getting longer and longer as we waited, and there was only 2 people working behind glass booths. Chris & I were the only white people in there...and maybe the only Americans in there.
We finally made it to one of the booths to speak to a woman working there. Chris told the woman why we were there. She was very nice, took our papers, and told us to go upstairs and wait for our names to be called.
We went upstairs and took a seat. The waiting room upstairs was larger than the one downstairs, and we didn't have to sit smooshed next to others.
We only waited a litte while before they called our names over the loudspeaker. We found the door and went in to another booth where a man was waiting for us. Chris told him our situation, and the guy looked over our papers. He asked if I had medical insurance, and Chris told him no, not yet. We were waiting for our temporary carte de sejour to have socialized medicine cover me here in France. The man told us that I needed some form of insurance. He then went around the corner to speak to someone about our situation. Meanwhile, Chris and I were trying to figure out what we would do. I could apply for travel insurance, but that would be a pain and probably expensive.
While we were debating what to do, the man came back and handed Chris a piece of paper. He told Chris to take it in the other room and write a statement saying he was in charge of me. Chris was confused and asked what he should write, in exact words. So the man walked him through writing a letter that basically said that he is in total charge of me. Then the man wanted him to write a second letter saying that I wasn't going to be working here. After that, he told us to wait outside again. We were so amazed that it only took two handwritten notes to bypass the whole insurance situation! That would have never gone over in the US! We went out in the waiting room and just had to laugh.
Then we were called back in, and the man handed us the temporary carte de sejours. That was it! Super easy, in and out in less than 1 1/2 hours!
Now, we just have to wait to be called in to get the permanent carte de sejour. Although, from what I have learned from others, that rarely happens before you leave the country. So I'm guessing, we will not get ours before we leave to go home. Which is fine by me, because that would mean we would bypass the insane, violating medical exams that we would have to get in order to get our French green cards. I'm all for skipping a chest X-ray that is not medically warranted (I don't have TB, and there is no reason for them to X-ray my chest for that!). So, we wait, and see, and as far as I'm concerned, not worry at all.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
My friend, Jacklyn, graciously found me a salon to go to and even took me there today to get my hair cut! She's so nice!
Chris wanted to take a couple of "before" pictures to show how long my hair had grown. It was so thick and always in my eye. I have to be able to see so I don't step in dog crap when walking on the sidewalks here!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Persimmons are in season now, and we thought it would be good to make a persimmon apricot tart. Chris found a recipe, and we went shopping for the ingredients. We found everything we needed (only took 3 trips to 3 different groceries). The tart ended up being more labor intensive than it should have been, only because Chris got a bit confused on the measurements in the recipe.
The escargot was earthy...not my favorite item. But the rest was delicous!
We went through a few stores, and then I had to go to the bathroom. Now, yes, this is more detail than you probably would have wanted in a blog post, but I have a reason for posting this information.
In IN, when you are out shopping, bathrooms are very easy to find. Malls have them all throughout, almost all large shopping stores have them, and all restaurants will have a toilet or two. In NYC, one must be a bit more aware of when and where to go. Not all stores have bathrooms, and there are few public restrooms when out shopping in the city. However, if you can find a Starbuck's, you can slip in and use their restroom without having to ask for a key or buy a coffee.
Here in France, toilets are harder to come by. Cafes and restaurants have them, but stores do not. The mall only has one restroom for the whole building, and it is a pay toilet. It costs 30 centimes to use the toilet. At the train station, you pay 40 centimes. In Aix, finding a toilet was a difficult thing. We found a stand alone pay toilet by the side of the road...only one, and it cost 40 centimes. It was similar to the pay toilets in San Francisco that self clean after you use them. I was desperate, so we got change at a local newspaper stand, and I did what I needed to do. I just kept chanting in my head "please don't self clean before I get out of here" over and over. I made it out fine, and was ready to continue on our shopping excursion.
The Christmas market in Aix was similar to the one in Marseille. We did find a man selling lavender wands! I have been wanting a bouquet of lavender ever since we moved here. This guy takes lavendar bouquets and makes gorgeous wands that smell amazing. The man was very nice, and spoke English to us. He also knew Italian, Spanish, German, and Japanese. His wife (who wasn't working on this particular day) was from NYC. The man, his name was Phillipe, said they have a store in NYC and that they have sold their lavender wands even to Vera Wang.
We went into a Monoprix store, and to our delight, we found an extendable shower curtain rod and shower curtains! It was SO nice this morning taking an American style shower using a shower curtain!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
I got up, fed Oreo his breakfast, and opened the shutters. The music was louder with the windows open, but I still couldn't figure out where it was coming from. It almost sounded like parade music now, and we started wondering if there was some Xmas parade in the area.
I finally saw where the music was originating....there was a man, down the block, standing in the road, playing a trumpet. He had a stereo beside him playing the background music. I don't know why he was playing in the street, but people just walked by him like it was no big deal. One city guy was sweeping off the sidewalks, so I'm sure he enjoyed some live music while working this morning.
Friday, December 5, 2008
"French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight. There's also Père Fouettard who gives out spankings to bad children (sort of the equivalent of Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty). In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response." http://french.about.com/cs/culture/a/christmas.htm
I hope that they have a set of clean shoes specifically for this. Who wants feet smelling candy and fruit anyways?
And who actually responds to all the Santa letters? Someone, or a group of people out there, are reading through letters and sending out postcards. Think of the time and cost that goes into this. What do the reponses from Santa say?
And lastly, the spankings. If I had a choice between coal or spankings...hmm...what a hard decision to make.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
After lunch, Jaclyn invited us to the Van Gogh exhibit here in Marseille. It was over at the Panier district, so we walked around the port over to the area. It was sprinkling slightly, so Jaclyn and I had the umbrella, and poor Chris got wet.
Along the port they have set up Xmas trees (real one's) that have fake snow spray painted on them. You'll have a grouping of white Xmas trees next to palm trees. Pretty funny!
The Van Gogh exhibit was rather inexpensive...they asked us if were students, and we said Yes, so we got in for 4 euros each. It was a fine exhibit...but not our favorite. Some of Van Gogh's works were interesting, but there were some paintings by Monticelli that were not so great. I'm not a big art fan, so I can't comment too much...but it was fun hanging out with Jaclyn and getting out for the afternoon.
We took her over to the cathedral by the port since she had never been inside before. It was very quiet in there, and apparently, we missed the Noel holiday choir that performed yesterday.
We walked back, in the rain, to the holiday market around the port. It was time for some warm drinks, and I knew of a hot chocolate stand at the market. The hot chocolate was 2 euros for a tiny plastic cup, and it had to have been an instant mix. Not good. Next time, I will have to try the spiced wine instead.
After we finished our drinks, we hopped into Monoprix to get some food and litter for Oreo. It's not so easy getting him good food and litter here, but we have found a couple of brands we like. Just have to go to certain stores to find them. He's worth the trouble though!
It was fun getting out today as we have been stuck inside for a few days. Chris went to the archives yesterday, but other than that, we have been indoors because it has been so cold and rainy. I am really missing snow right now (I know those of you in the states who are getting snow are probably moaning right now...but I do love snow!).
I did some laundry tonight since I found that I had chocolate on my jeans. Not sure how chocolate got on the seat of my pants...wasn't on the couch, not around the house...don't remember it on the metro. But there it was, and I had to wash it out fast. I timed our washing machine and it takes 1 1/2 hours to wash a load. Then we have to hang up the laundry to dry (which I did inside tonight), and that will probably take a day or two to dry. Laundry here is a SLOW process.
So you are probably wondering what my temporary card says. Well, good question, as I have not yet received it.
Both of our applications were processed together, along with multiple copies of our marriage certificate. We are perplexed as to how they got our info separated and why they think Chris is single. What, they looked at our marriage certificate, my bad French passport photos, and thought, he can do better, let's label him as single?
We are hoping that my temporary card comes in this week so we can go to the Prefecture to get it all straightened out. If not, then we still have to trek to the Prefecture and figure it all out without my information.
After we get our temporary cards, then we wait for a letter in the mail telling us we can go to the Prefecture to do our interviews and medical exams (fun sounding right?). Ah, the life of temporary visitors to France.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of our Carte de Sejour drama.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The man asked me if I was "Anglais" (which is the first thing French people ask us...which means are we English). I said no, American, and the guy lit up at the sound of that. He asked me where, and I told him NYC. In slightly broken English, although still pretty good, he said "I live for 2 months in NYC! I live in Boston for 2 years. It was nice, but not as nice as NYC. I loved it!"
He then started to tell me, in both French and English simultaneously about how he marveled at the buildings the first time he saw Manhattan and that it was so interesting that the city was different in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. I said that I felt the same way, and had marveled in the same fashion myself at the tall skylines (and the tall price of food, although I didn't say this). Like every French person who has been to New York, he had a brother or cousin who owned a restaurant (I guess in Boston) and had been there to help with that. I told him we had lived near Yankee stadium, and his eyes looked joyful.
Then came the awkward moment where he, like all French people, asked how we liked Marseille. I said that we enjoyed being here and that we found the city to be very similar to NYC. At first, he looked disappointed, I guess he either wanted to defend his city to me or commiserate in his hatred of a "lesser" city than New York, but he then pensively agreed that the "melange" of people here was very similar to NYC and that the people in NYC were very "Mediterranean" in their passions, tastes, and tempers. He himself would have fit in well in NYC, he had the look of a Little Italy or Lower Eastside slum... er... landlord, wearing a white track suit for some sports team, a beaming toothy grin, and slicked back dark hair above eyes that clearly showed his emotions.
He then proceeded to tell me where his latest journeys had taken him. "Dubai!" He beamed proudly, "Dubai est comme NYC, mais with newer buildings, tres beautiful, very comfortable." I showed my admiration for how well traveled he was, trying to get my brain to focus on one of the two languages he was using. I showed that I knew where Dubai was and knew about the new building projects (although one shouldn't fool around on the beaches there, as two recent British tourists found out), something that he probably did not expect from an American. Then he produced a card from his pocket, "Mon ami, he travail, works, for the Sultan
Overall, I would say this is the typical attitude of the French people we meet towards Americans. The idea that Americans are "odious" in some way is relatively mythical, and more people here in Provence enjoy talking about whatever knowledge they have about America. This is especially true since we come from New York City, a place where nearly all of these people have been or want to go, but at least they know about it and typically want to display this. Another question immediately asked when the word "Americain" or 'Etas-Unis' (United States) crosses my lips is "So, how do you feel about Barrack Obama winning?" After I answer, they are MORE than happy to let me know how THEY feel about Barrack Obama winning, and it is probably no surprise that the French are typically "Very happy" with the outcome.
I once got in a very heated (at least on his end) discussion with a cab driver of Algerian descent about Obama, racism (in France and America), and the pitfalls Obama would face (he was not optimistic). This was the day of the election, and the man felt that an African-American president in the U.S. was as unlikely as an Algerian or Muslim president of France. He is probably pleasantly surprised now, at least as pleasantly as the perpetually pessimistic French can be surprised...
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Chris & I started a tradition last year of eating duck for Thanksgiving instead of turkey. We went to 3 different butchers here, and could not find a whole duck. We were so disappointed. Today we went to the grocery, thinking we would just have to buy a few duck breasts to cook, and to our surprise, they had whole duck! We bought a few other things and came home to clean up the apartment.
Generally, we wake up on Thanksgiving, start cooking and watch the parade. Since we didn't have the parade to watch here, and Jaclyn (our new friend from the expat meetup who is also from NY) didn't get off work until later in the day, we decided to not eat until after 5pm.
Chris cooked a duck with cherry sauce, he also made the pumpkin pie (with the can of Libby's pumpkin that I wrote about in an earlier blog post) with homemade whipped cream. I cooked a French food called "aligot". It's basically mashed potatoes with lots of butter, creme fraiche, garlic, and tons of cheese. I don't even want to think about the fat grams in it! Jaclyn brought a fresh baguette. The meal was delicious, and I'm still feeling so stuffed!
We had a great time. It was nice having Jaclyn here with us. Oreo came out of hiding and entertained us by chaising a string around.
Just wanted to say HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all of you reading this back in the states! We are very thankful to be on this French adventure!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Chris cooked me baked french toast this morning, which was amazing. He had added raisins, walnuts, creme de cassis, and sparkling wine to it to make it Kir french toast. So yummy!
We went to the Centre Bourse for lunch. There is a cafe there that is always packed and we thought it would be nice to eat there. We both had salads. Mine was lettuce topped with smoked salmon, pineapple, grapefruit, sheep's cheese, onion, tomatoes, strawberries, kiwi, apple, and green beans. It sounds strange, but it was a wonderful combination. Chris' was slightly different with baked chevre (goat's cheese) and less fruit.
After lunch, we shopped around the mall for a while, then went to the Xmas holiday market out on on the port. We enjoyed looking at the booths and we bought a few things...strawberry pate and jasmine tea.
I went into a few shops looking for clothes, but didn't find anything. Lots of things were quite expensive and I'm a the point where I will look at a sweater and think "Can I make this myself?" If the answer is yes, I don't buy it.
Chris treated me to a tres manufique dinner (if only I could put accent marks on here so the French looks correct). He bought frozen Canadian lobsters (yes, the lobster here is from Canada which is very strange), and cooked them along with steak (rare...just the way I love it!), and stuffed scallops. We had a lovely champagne that we purchased at the Savim last weekend.
What a wonderful day!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Things settled down Friday, but Friday night the winds kicked up again. Today they were gusting at 25 to 50 mph. People had their laundry up to dry and I don't know how they kept their clothes pinned to the lines in this wind!
Here are pictures of the sunset. These were taken from our balcony just off our kitchen.
I was very surprised by how many people spoke English to us. That made it easier for Dylan and I, but Nell and Chris spoke French to many of the exhibitors. The people were so nice. We met a guy from Arles who invited us to dinner sometime!
Nell stopped twice for raw oysters and scallops. We had a couple as well, and they were interesting. I liked the raw scallops best. For those who have never eaten raw oysters before, you are suppose to just swallow them whole. It's not for everybody, and personally, I would prefer to chew and taste my seafood...but it's an experience.
We came home with bags of goodies from the day...creme de marron (chestnut cream), wines, champagne, cheeses, bread, lavendar cookies, duck cassolet, and even lobster bisque that Chris says tastes like the soup they use to have at Calabash (for those of you who know what that means).
We had such a great time. There will be another event in April, and the four of us will be there!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
What an experience to taste a wine that was just only made a few weeks ago!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Our landlady and the France telecom guys were here this morning to open a line (which means assign a phone number to our apartment). Cornelia (our landlady) received the cable box and the internet/phone box just today, which was a pleasant suprise. She told us that once we had everything set up, it would probably be another 10 days to 3 weeks before everything would be up and running. However, when we plugged things in, we were online immediately!!! She was shocked, and we were estatic. We are still waiting for the cable TV to start working, but we now have internet and phone.
Cornelia bought us a phone, and we are charging it. We will be able to use it starting tomorrow. We will be able to call people in the states, so we are happy about that!
I have to admit, being offline for these past few weeks wasn't bad. I did miss out on some news, but it was actually nice not being tied down by technology. Sometimes it's very nice to be able to unplug and focus on other things. Now that we have internet, I haven't spoken to Chris in hours.
Just kidding. :)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
We were happy to get off at the stop, but then we were not sure how to get into the park. There was a large wall and no signs to enter. We saw a man with two young children walking one way, and figured it would be wise to follow them. They did lead us right to the small, unmarked entrance. We walked in and we found ourselves in a good sized playground. We crossed through and found a map of the place. We had the choice of going to the sea, to the hippodrome (where they have horse racing), to the botanical gardens, or just around the main area of the park. I wanted to go to the sea, of course, so we headed that way.
The park was filled with people, which was no surprise being that it was Saturday afternoon. There were people lining up around the hippodrome to get a glimpse of the upcoming horse race for free. People were biking, rollerblading, and even in these strange peddle carts everywhere. The peddle carts were of all shapes and sizes...some for only kids, some for families, and others for only adults. We decided that we will do that next time and it will be a great way for Chris and I to do something fairly close to biking (since he doesn't know how to ride a bike). As we got closer to the beach, we saw a kayaking class taking place in a little inlet. We also plan to do that when it gets warmer! The Mediterranean is the best place to learn water sports since the water is so calm.
I was very happy to get to the beach. It was fairly cold out, but people were still swimming and laying in the sun. We walked out to one point and looked around for a bit, before getting scared off by a guy urinating into the sea beside us. He was not the only guy we saw urinating in public in the park...later there was a guy in the bushes doing the same. These guys are not bums either...they looked like regular people to lazy to find a WC somewhere.
We continued walking around the beach, watching the sailboats and people enjoying the day. Lots of people were playing soccer, some were flying kites, and others were just sitting in the sun. I took as many people pictures as I could (still getting braver about doing that sort of thing).
Chris & I sat for a while watching some mini sailboats come in from their lesson. They were kid sized boats. We also saw a group of wind surfers taking a class near the beach. In the Spring, Chris and I are going to do that too!
We walked back over to the park and wandered around. We found a group of ducks and roosters making noise by the water. We also found the smallest go-cart course ever! It was so sad and pathetic, especially since there was only one boy on it chasing roosters.
The rose garden was at the end of the season, but there was a few blossoms left. The park at sunset was so nice, and it was so much fun just weaving around the paths heading back towards the beach. I wanted to stay and watch the sun go down, even though Chris was ready to head home and eat. We messed around a bit longer, checking out the grounds of the museum until the sun was going down over the Mediterranean. We walked over to a point where we could see a direct line to the sun on the sea and watch it set at 5:15pm. A woman walked over to us and said, in French, that it was a magnificent sunset, and that it was the first one she had seen here. It was beautiful and the colors were just gorgeous. Coucher de soleil means sleeping sun in French, which is the phrase they use to say “sunset”. Watching the sun go to sleep over the sea is one of my favorite things to do, and this was the first time actually seeing it clearly.
We left the park and went back to the bus stop. The bus was late, so we stood there trying to keep warm, and watching the cars go past. I made a little game of looking at the license plate numbers and seeing where people are from. If the plate has the number 13 at the end, they are from Marseille. If they are in the 90's, Paris. Other numbers, which were rare, were from other parts of France. We waited at least 20 minutes for the bus, and when it finally came, it was packed. We couldn't fit on! We gave up and decided to walk back to the metro station. It was about a 20 minute walk back. The stadium was filling up with people for a futbol (soccer) game. There were vending booths everywhere selling street meat, and ticket scalpers on the side of the sidewalk. We will have to go to at least one game while here in Marseille.
Our trip home was very fast, and we stopped by the grocery and Piccard to get a few things for dinner. We had a very American meal...hamburgers, french fries, and ice cream. We “Frenched” it up by putting the hamburgers on baguette with tomato and blue cheese. The ice cream was more like parfaits of chocolate and vanilla goodness.
Our piano playing neighbor downstairs apparently gives music lessons on Thurs and Fri mornings at 9am. So on those days, we are awakened by music (singing and piano). It's fine, but after not sleeping well at night thanks to Monsieur Oreo, it would be nice to sleep in.
I have set up chairs so he can look out the windows. He occasionally enjoys doing that, but for the most part, he likes sleeping in the chair (he was never fond of sleeping on furniture before, but now he loves it), and being where ever his parents are in the apartment. I don't let him out on the balcony, since I'm afraid he might jump on to one of the roofs on either side of us. There are just too many stray cats in this city, and Chris thinks that it's because people let their cats go out on balconies, and they roof hopped away. I doubt very much Oreo would leave, but I think he's fine inside.
He wasn't very happy last night with Nell and Dylan here, but he eventually came out and said Hello.
There were at least 50 people crammed into a cafe called L'heure du Marseille, off of Rue Ferrol. The owner of the cafe had graciously offered the space to the group. We were really amazed at the number of people who attended. We were AMAZED to meet another Hoosier in the group. She was from Kokomo, studying here with her Kenyan boyfriend. There were people from all over. We chatted with one girl from New York state (near Poughkeepsi), a girl from Wisconsin, a guy from DC, a woman from Vancouver, and another from Florida, and a woman from London.
We didn't get a chance to mingle too much, and we left after only two hours because we had not had dinner yet (we know next time to eat before we go so we can stay longer). The small place was quite loud, so it was difficult to keep up conversation. Most of the people we met are studying here, but some have moved here due to marriage or business. We had a wonderful time and look forward to the next one!
We came back to our favorite pizza place, Le Verdi, across the street to get a pizza for dinner. Chris told the lady that we live across the street, and she knew exactly which apartment we were in. She said we had taken the place of one of her best customers, and asked if we would be good customers as well. Chris told of her yes, since we do love their pizza. I have to say, it's better than what we had in Little Italy!
There was two little old ladies dining in the pizza place, and one caught my eye immediately. She had caked on white powder all over her face, and a mole drawn on her cheek. She looked like an old belle dame of Paris. It was hilarious! I really wish I had a picture of her.
Chris & I invited Nell and Dylan over for dinner tonight, since they had helped us out so much. Nell is here on a Fullbright. Chris helped me clean up the apartment, which didn't take too long. I'm really enjoying cleaning a lot more than I use to. Washing dishes (we don't have a dishwasher here), doing laundry, even vacuuming is fun here.
This was the first time Nell and Dylan had been to our place. We had apperitifs out for starts...chicken wings in both Greek and Indian style (we bought these at the store), two different kinds of organic sheep cheese...one herbs de Provence and the other spring onion, and of course baguette. We had a cheap demi sec brut with crème de cassis mixed in. Cassis are currents. Crème de cassis is a current liquor that can be mixed with sparking wine, white wine, or put on desserts. It is very thick, so one wouldn't drink it on it's own. By mixing it with the brut, we made our own Kir basically (Kir is the premade drink you can buy here). For the main course, Chris cooked pasta fagiole. For dessert, we cheated and bought a frozen fondant tarte. It was excellent! Like a brownie, only lighter and creamier. Nell brought over banana bread as well, so we had a little of it too.
We chatted through the evening and then they took a taxi home (apparently the metro doesn't run very late here). We are so use to being in New York, where you can easily get transportation no matter what time, day or night.
After lunch (leftover butternut squash soup and thawed macaroons), we went for a walk in the Cours Julien. We went to the Savonerie to buy soap. I bought a bar of lavender, and Chris bought a bar of pastis. We also purchased a ceramic cigale (cicada) for grandma. We went into a few other stores, a second-hand clothing store which was very expensive for the clothing they were selling, a natural store where I finally found some organic shampoo and body lotion, and a comic book store where Chris found a French Cthulhu comic book. The comic books here are hardbound, which is nice. The comic book store is combined with a cafe.
I went over to Fannie's apartment for tea and knitting. I met her boyfriend, Nico, and saw her son again, Gael. Gael just turned 2. He's ADORABLE!!! He knows the difference between English and French, but he prefers French. I couldn't get him to speak English to me. He kept bringing toys over to me and wanting me to look at things. Fannie had to translate so I knew what he was saying.
Nico, Fannie, and I had tea and chatted about American politics, work, and other things. Then Fannie helped me fix a few snags on the two sweaters I'm knitting. She's an amazing knitter! I'm really happy to have met her. She is only about a 5 minute walk from our place.
Chris & I went to the pizza place across the street and ordered a pizza to go for the first time. We had one with bacon (bacon here is not the same as we have in the US. It's more like little strips of ham.), gruyere cheese, chevre (goat cheese), and tomatoes. When you order pizza here, they always put a few olives on top. I'm not a big fan of the olives, but Chris loves them. The pizza was the best we have had so far! Very inexpensive too, and you can't beat the proximity.
Back home now and thinking about what to do the rest of the evening. We are staying home tomorrow so Chris can work. I'm going to work on my knitting, and hopefully our laundry will be dry so I can put it away. I have two racks filled with clothing that is drying here in the apartment. I hung some of it outside, but it didn't dry all the way. It's just so cold outside (50's) and only partially sunny through the day that the laundry doesn't dry quickly. I love having a washing machine, but I do miss American dryers.
Chris is playing with Oreo on the floor. We bought Oreo a fish on a string, and he loves it. He will bring us over to it so we move it around for him.
Oreo is getting more settled in the place. He keeps us up at night...meowing, running through the apartment, and trying to open cabinets.
It's SO COLD in here and we haven't turned on our heaters yet. I wanted to wait until it gets into the 50's, but I may break down before that. We really didn't bring enough warm clothes. He has started sleeping on a chair in the living room, which is not like him. He usually prefers the floor to furniture, but I think the floor is too cold for him since we don't have carpeting.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
We had a very productive, yet fun, day today. It started off a bit stressful, since we got up late and barely got to the bank before they closed for lunch. We were unable to get our address changed on our checking account, but we did get some information from them that was helpful.
The weather this morning was gloomy, again, and rainy. This weather has been SO nasty.
After we finished at the bank, we went over to the Prado market. We bought some fruits and veggies, along with some tea, dried apricots, and the best walnuts I have ever had. The rain had finally turned to drizzle. We walked home from there, which wasn't a very long walk at all. We live in a great location, close to everything.
For lunch, we heated up the leftovers of our chicken cattatorie that Chris had made last night. We did a few things around the house before heading out again, this time to Mr. Brikolage...think the French version of Home Depot. We found a few items on our list of things we needed for the apartment, but overall, I was pretty disappointed with the store. I really miss being able to order anything we need through the internet and having it arrive at our doorstep.
We walked home, which was a pretty long walk, dropped off our stuff, and headed down to Monoprix to get a few more items. On our way to Monoprix, we bought some warm chestnuts. There is a guy who is in a stand that looks like a little train engine. He only sells warmed chestnuts, and they are quite good.
We were happy to find a few things at Monoprix that were unexpected, like yarn and measuring spoons!
For dinner, we were suppose to go to Nell's, use their internet and phone, and then all of us were to go out for pizza. When we got to Nell's, she said that they didn't feel up to going out tonight. So Chris used their phone to call his parents, and I just glanced at my emails. We left wondering what to do about dinner.
I had the idea of going over to the Cours Julien for dinner, since there are a lot of ethnic restaurants to explore. We headed down a random street where we saw a lot of people standing around. We came upon a Spanish restaurant that was empty, checked out the menu, and decided to give it a try. I have never had Spanish food, so I was looking forward to a new experience. At first, we were worried that they were closed since no one was in there eating (this was 8:30pm, when restaurants are usually starting to fill). They were open, so we had a seat and the waiter brought us menus. He said to us, in French, “I may be wrong, but you're not French are you?” Chris said no. The waiter asked if we were from England, and Chris said “almost”, and then told him we are American. The waiter (later we found out his name is Ange) started speaking English to us. He said he knew a little bit, but actually, his English was quite good.
We ordered some margueritas (some of the best we have ever had!) and Chris read the menu to me (it was in French, not Spanish). Ange brought us some apperitif food which consisted of sunflower seeds, some other seed I couldn't identify, something that was similar to corn nuts, and olives.
We decided to order tapas, main courses, and desserts since that was the special. For the tapas, we had mussles with safron sauce. They were AMAZING! We wanted to lick the plate (of course, we refrained). For our main course, we had paellas. Think rice, peas, shrimp (that still have their heads, feet, and tails on), calamari, mussels, chicken, and something similar to a tiny crab leg, mixed together, with a wonderful sauce of herbs and spices. It was delicious! It wasn't spicy at all, and was just so good.
While we were eating, Ange would come over and speak to us about different things. Chris would say things in French to him, and he would respond in English to us, so I understood ½ the conversation. We found out that Ange is from Madagascar and he is living here in France for 2 to 3 years. He told us about how beautiful and nice Madagascar is, and that he wants to return there someday. He said that in Madagascar, they speak French, Malagash (the native language), and some English. He actually knows 4 languages total, including Spanish. Very impressive!
We got to be pretty good friends with Ange by the end of the night (we were at the restaurant for almost 3 hours!). He told us we must come back again, and that Saturday nights they have kareoke. He brought us the list of songs and it was a mix of Spanish, French, English, and Italian. Chris is all set to go sing his heart out some Saturday night.
Ange has a bungelow on the beach in Madagascar, and he gave us his phone number and told us that anytime we wanted to visit Madagascar, we could stay at his bungelow for free. I wanted to tell him if he was ever in NY, to call us and he could stay with us, but we don't have NY phone numbers anymore nor do we have a place to live when we get back yet.
Dessert time came, and Chris had profiteroles and I had souffle de gran marinie. Profiteroles are a French dessert that are like little cream puffs with ice cream inside. Both desserts were manufique.
We chatted some more with Ange, and his coworker joined in for a little while. Then Ange surprised us with manzana, a liquor made from apples, on the house. It was very smooth and tasted just like green apple suckers.
While we ate and chatted, one man came in, had dinner, and left, but other than that, we were the only one's in the restaurant. We couldn't believe it...this place was SO good, and it didn't make sense that it wasn't packed with people. We will have to bring others there and tell people here in France about it. They should have a line of people waiting to get in!
There was a group of people that came in as we were paying the bill. One girl asked us, in English, where we are from, and we said New York. We said that we really love Marseille. She responded by saying “I prefer New York.” We asked her if she has been there and she said “No, I just prefer it to here.” We laughed and told her that she has to visit a place before she can say whether or not she prefers it. It was very funny.left the restaurant so happy that we had stopped in. It was a great experience, and we look forward to going back. Ange said that when we do come back, to ask for him when we come in. We definitely will!