Thursday, December 25, 2008

Noël en Provence

We returned from Paris the day before Xmas Eve. (I'm still working on blogging about our last day in Paris and uploading stay tuned). We got back just in time for Chris and I to run to the grocery to pick up some food for the holidays.

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

And here are the pictures for Christmas Day

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More Pictures from Paris

Louvre Museum

Pictures from Paris

Just getting more pictures uploaded so you can view them.

Arc de Triomphe pictures

Notre Dame


More info on Paris to come!

Bonne Fete!

Click to play Happy Holidays from France
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a Smilebox slideshow

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Paris Invasion Day 3: Taking over the Palace of Versailles

After having breakfast at Indiana Cafe (we couldn't pass up going there again for eggs, bacon, and sausage), we got on the train to the Palace of Versailles. The train we took was called the RER, and it was just a little more expensive than the metro.

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 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

More pictures are here

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Paris Invasion: Day 2

This morning, we got up around 9:30am and went down the spiral staircase (our rooms are on the 3rd floor) to the basement for breakfast. The hotel had a continental style breakfast for 10 euro per person. It consisted of over boiled eggs, croissants, chocolate bread, yogurt, jambon and fromage.

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

Beck Invasion of Paris

We got up very early this morning...5:30am. Oreo knew right away that something was wrong when we all started getting ready to leave...backpacks and suitcase (only 1 for the 4 of us) in hand.

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.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reinforcements Arrive

Carolyn and David (Chris' parents) arrived today from the states. Chris met them at the airport while I finished getting things ready for them. They had a decent flight, although they were unable to sleep on the plane. We thought they would crash as soon as they arrived, but they actually made it until later in the afternoon before laying down for a nap. Chris even took a nap (which is a rare thing), but I stayed awake and knitted. Eventually, I got everyone up in time to see the sun set behind Notre Dame de la guarde.

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 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.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rainy Sunday in Marseille

It has been raining for hours, non-stop, since last night. The mistral has settled down, at least, but the rain just won't give up. We even had little bits of hail!

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.

Trip to Euromed with Nell (Dec 11)

Today we took Nell to a part of the Euromed district that she had not yet seen. Chris & I had explored this area previously, so knew some of the area. Nell is working on a PhD in anthropology, and her research is on cultural changes in Marseille as a Mediterranean port.

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

Pictures from Savim

Here are some pics that we took when we went to Savim last month with Nell & Dylan.

Stopping off for a snack of raw oysters and scallops!

Raw oysters are so strange. You just suck them down without chewing.
I preferred the raw scallops.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, and also a baguette

Chris and I decided to wake up early this morning and go to the Prefecture. I never receieved my temporary carte de sejour in the mail; only a letter saying that they didn't know why I was here or how I was affording to even be here.

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 visit to the Coiffure

I have been wanting a hair cut for some time now, and was afraid to go by myself to a coiffure. Chris didn't want to take me because he was afraid that if things went wrong, I would blame him.

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!

Definitely has grown since I got it cut in Salem in September!
Jaclyn and I met up for lunch at Bistro Haxo (where we went last week for lunch before the Van Gogh exhibit). We both had the plat dujour, which was pork on rice with a curry sauce. When the waitress asked us what we wanted to drink, Jaclyn ordered tea, and I said "cafe d'eau"...which is water coffee. I had meant to say "carafe d'eau" which is water for the table. The waitress looked at me funny, but then figured out what I was trying to order.
We finished our lunch, and then walked just 1/2 a block down the street to the salon. They were empty and ready to cut my hair as soon as we walked in. They didn't speak English, but Jaclyn translated for me. I had pictures of what I wanted done, and the lady who cut my hair had her hair very similar to the pictures.
Most of the experience was similar to getting a haircut anywhere else. The one thing I noticed was that the chairs did not move up and down. She had me stand up at one point to work on the back of my hair, and kept having me stand up so she could move the chair to a different angle. She was very thorough. Jaclyn chatted with the 2 other ladies who worked there. I just sat and listened and watch the woman cut my hair, hoping it would turn out just as I wanted.
In the end, the cut was a bit more expensive than I had expected, 44 euros, but I'm very happy with it!
Sad thing is, that it was raining outside after I left the salon, so my hair doesn't look as good as it did when I was there...but I'm still loving it!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

Chris has been making some new things that I wanted to share with all of you.
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.
And, unfortunately, the tart didn't come out all that well. It looks nice, but provides a nice dose of slight cotton-mouth when eating it. We ended up just eating the apricots on top and the cream underneath.

This was a meal we made on another night last week. I was craving a traditional Thanksgiving meal after talking to Nate (who had cooked himself a wonderful meal on Thanksgiving). So we made a roasted chicken with stuffing and cranberries!

Last night after we returned from Aix, we raided our freezer and made some seafood dishes. We bought some bread at a local boulongerie (she gave us an extra one for free!), and had escargot, Coquille St Jacques (scallop) pastries, and stuffed scallop shells with fruits de mer (mixture of seafood).

The escargot was earthy...not my favorite item. But the rest was delicous!

Trip to Aix en Provence (December 9)

Yesterday, we took the navette (bus) up to Aix en Provence for the day. We arrived in time for lunch, so we stopped at Cafe Darius for their plat dujour. Chris had the chateaubriand (yes, it was actually called that!), and I had the salmon with zucchini. The chateaubriand was steak and potatoes. Both meals were excellent!

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.

Picture of the Christmas market booths

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!
After Monoprix, we hopped the bus back home and called it a day.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Music in the air

Usually, when we wake up in the morning, we hear the lady below us doing piano/voice lessons. This morning, it was surprisingly quiet. Until around 10am when we started hearing music. The music sounded Spanish in a way, and I couldn't determine if it was coming from downstairs or from another building.

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

la fête de Saint Nicolas

Tomorrow, December 6th, is la fête de Saint Nicolas here in Marseille. According to

"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."

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

Out and about in Marseille

This afternoon, we met Jaclyn for lunch at Bistro Haxo. It was a cute little place off of Rue St. Ferreol (major shopping street here in Marseille). Chris & I both had farfalle pasta with Roquefort cheese sauce. It was SO good! Very creamy and filling.

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.

Chris is Single??

The French government has apparently deemed Chris as a single guy. "Celibataire" as it is written on his temporary carte de sejour (basically a French green card).

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.