Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chapter Nine: Adventures in Barcelona and Paris

Anita and Michelle came to visit me, and I'm still amazed at how much we were able to jam pack into those 8 days!

Sunday: I emailed Michelle and Anita step-by-step instructions on how to get from CDG to my metro stop and I even emailed them a PDF of the Paris metro system, but I was still anxious about whether they would be able to find their way around without any problems. Fortunately, everything worked out, and we had a joyful reunion in front of the McDonald's at the Parmentier metro stop. I was so glad that they had made it in one piece, I even gave them each a hug.

The streets lit up for Christmas.

Good ol' Arc de Triomphe.

Bedazzled Eiffel Tower.

The view from Trocadero.

These are the goodies that Anita picked up for me/Amy sent to me from home. Some are things that are impossible to find here, or are very expensive, such as dental floss and contact lens solution. Others are things that I was whining to Amy about having left at home because of luggage weight issues, such as zit cream and face wipes. And some things are things that Amy sent to me because she is a mother - gummy Disney vitamins and Emergen-C.

Monday: I've noticed that the weather is amazing, or at least decent, in the morning and afternoon here, and then starts to rain in the evening.

Notre Dame and its ginormous Christmas tree in all of its glory.

The stained glass windows inside.

And then it was onto BHV, where I managed to spend over $200 on dishtowels, cloth napkins, napkin rings, a huge clothbound journal, tea, soaps and I'm not even sure what else. Now, you may be asking yourself, how does Julie plan to take all of this back home without having to pay $500 in overweight baggage fees? Answer: Anita, Michelle and my parents, aka my mules. I sent Anita and Michelle home with all of my paper goods and household items, including 5 different travel books and Moleskine city books. When my parents travel, they have a tendency to share one bag between them. When I called my mom the other day to finalize logistics, I specifically told her that she and my dad have to bring two separate bags, because I need them to take back all of the lightweight clothes I brought for Italy, as well as the three new coats/jackets I have purchased here.

Our plan was to go to Printemps after BHV, but we didn't wake up until 12:30 and didn't get out the door until around 1:30, so we had to shift our plans a bit.


Eglise de la Madeleine (Madeleine church), where we went for a classical music concert. Pachelbel's Canon in D has never sounded more amazing to me! The concert was great and the inside of the church was beautiful, but I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I wasn't so tired from a) only having slept for 3 hours in the past 2 days and b) the marathon day we had had, that took us from the Musee d'Orsay at 10am, over to St-Germain for shopping, and then up to Printemps for more shopping.

Wednesday: Onto Barcelona!

Our flight was at 10:30am, but at a small airport about 90 minutes outside of Paris called Beauvais. Our options were either to take the metro across town to catch a shuttle bus to the airport, or call a shuttle. We went with option #2. Our pick-up time was 6:15am, which was bad enough, but the combination of stick shift van lurching through the streets, exhaustion plus not having been inside a motor vehicle for over a month made me so carsick that I had to sit in the front with the driver, and even though it was 30 degrees outside, I had to crack the window for some fresh air. Later on, I found out that Anita and Michelle were literally freezing in the back. They thought that it was a drafty van, but I had to tell them that it was because I had opened the window. (Sorry guys!)

After some minor hiccups in the airport, related to not realizing that there were multiple terminals, we were on our way to Barcelona.

There are no photos for Wednesday, because when we got to the flat, I was so exhausted even after having slept on the shuttle and the entire plane ride, that I had to send Anita and Michelle off on their own while I slept more. And let the yelling commence...


Pinotxo (Pinocchio) for tapas and coffee for lunch.

Sardines and mushrooms. We didn't get the sardines, but we did get the mushrooms, as well as fried cod, steak and chickpeas. Delicious!

La Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi. From the outside, it looks like a castle from Mordor. But the inside..

These pictures do not do justice to the sheer amazing-ness of the church. I have been to quite a few beautiful churches and buildings in Europe, but the inside of this one blew them all away.

We walked about 30 minutes to another Gaudi building, Casa Mila.

Then we spent some time at the Mercat de la Boqueria, where we found the most amazing candied almonds. They were so good, we finished the bag in one night, and then went back the next day and bought two more bags.

Las Ramblas at night

We hadn't researched dinner options, so we figured we would just wander around until we found a place that looked good. But as we were browsing in a bookstore, Michelle had the genius idea to look up dinner options in a travel book! Thanks to Lonely Planet, we found this place that is known for their seafood. This is their version of risotto, aka "juicy rice." Right after I took this picture, I gave all of my shrimp to Anita to de-head for me.

Friday: Last day in Barcelona. We meant to wake up early, but failed miserably in the attempt, so instead of the 4 hours we meant to spent at Park Guell, a huge park in the city with more Gaudi buildings, we only were able to spend about 2 hours there.

Mosaics on the benches.

View of Barcelona from the park.

Another Gaudi creation.

Michelle tucked herself into a hole on the side of the cave.

The front door to our flat. I think wringing a wet towel would have more water pressure than the shower in this place, there was no soap to be found anywhere so we used face soap or dish soap to wash our hands, the wind howled through the walls so hard that it threw a window open in the middle of the night, the walls were so thin that we could hear our neighbor blowing his nose every night, and the kitchen smelled like eggs. EGGS! However, the location was great, it was a big space and we each only paid $70 for two nights.


Sacre Coeur on a beautiful day. I half expected to see Amelie running down the steps.

View of the city from the steps of Sacre Coeur.

Huge salad from Le Relais Gascon. Underneath the mound of potatoes were smoked salmon, lettuce, tomatoes and creme fraiche. Delicious.

Flea market time!

Afternoon pick-me-up from Laduree.

In case you're wondering what a 1.50 euro public bathroom stall looks like. I tried to hold it in so that I wouldn't have to pay to use the toilet, but I had had too much water and coffee that day.

Paris during Christmas is lovely.

Even though it was FREEZING that night, we decided to brave the elements so that we could do a mini night tour of Paris.

Pont des Arts, my favorite bridge in Paris, which links the Institut de France with the Louvre over the Seine.

The DaVinci code.

Sunday: While Anita and Michelle went to Versailles, I ran some errands and stopped by the Bastille market to buy food for dinner.

This is the Chicken Lady. I found out about the Chicken Lady through David Lebovitz's blog, when I googled "best roast chicken Paris." He raved about her chicken, and if's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. But he didn't say how to find the Chicken Lady at the Bastille Market, since there are about 6 different roast chicken stalls at the market. So then, I googled "David Lebovitz chicken lady" and some dear soul wrote step-by-step instructions on how to find the Chicken Lady from the metro stop. Last week when I went to the market, I thought I had found the Chicken Lady and bought a roast chicken (or poulet roti), but then realized that I had gotten too excited and didn't follow the instructions like I should have. So this week, I went straight to the Chicken Lady and bought a whole chicken, stuffed with stuffing and olives. The Chicken Lady's helper guy asked me if I wanted chicken juice poured over the chicken. How is that even a question? Of course I wanted chicken juice poured over the chicken. This was probably the best chicken I've had in my life, and I've had a lot of chicken.

Our feast - the Chicken Lady's chicken (I like typing "Chicken Lady"), tomatoes on the vine drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, blanched green beans, brie and fresh bread, all from the Bastille Market. This was essentially the exact same dinner that I served Anita and Michelle on their first day, so it was nice symmetry that their last meal was the same thing.

Most shops are either closed or close early on Sundays in Paris. But for the month of December, many of the shops are doing "ouverture exceptionelle" (exceptional opening) for Sundays. Since it was the girls' last day in Paris, we decided to wander down to the Marais for some last minute shopping.

On the way to the Marais, we stopped by Merci, one of my favorite stores in Paris. Why wouldn't it make sense to sell books, paper goods, clothes and accessories, beauty products, household goods and knickknacks all in one store? It's like a grown-up Parisian version of Urban Outfitters.

On the way home, we stopped by Berthillon for ice cream. Berthillon is huge in Paris, and is known for homemade ice cream with zero preservatives or artificial sweeteners. According to the night bike tour guy from a few weeks ago and verified by Wikipedia, Berthillon ice cream is ade fresh every day. We had our own two scoops in a cone (peach and vanilla for me) and then brought home a 1/2 liter of hazelnut. It's like Nutella-y goodness without the chocolate in frozen form.

The ladies in the middle of their packing frenzy. See the "Bobo" bag on the left side? That's a chocolate shop in Barcelona. Anita and Michelle went crazy in that store and brought back, I'm not even exaggerating, at least 30 tins between the two of them to take back home as gifts. Most of the pile under the Bobo bag is my stuff - travel book, about 5 different Moleskine city guides, mounds of dish towels and cloth napkins, boxes of tea and I'm not even sure what else that the girls were gracious enough to take back for me. The pink plastic bag is a jacket that I bought online and had shipped to Joy in Philly, who brought it with her to Paris. It was not what I thought it would be, so I had to send it back with Michelle to have her send it back to the vendor. Thanks mules/couriers, I mean friends!

I am currently ending day 2 with my parents in Paris. It's been an equal mix of suffocating + fun. A post about that experience will be forthcoming soon.

Location:Rue Saint-Maur,Paris,France

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chapter Eight: Halfway point (or close enough)

I have been in Paris for a little over a month now, and my trip is just about at its halfway point, so I thought I'd take some time to reflect on what I miss about home, what I love about Paris (and Europe), and what things about Paris I could live without:

Things I miss about home/Seattle/USA (family and friends are a given):

-Cable TV/Netflix streaming/HBO GO: The only English language channels I've been able to find on the TV in my flat are CNN International and I think some random sports channel. I have been watching "Amadeus", "The Queen" and "Saving Private Ryan" on DVD all day long every day for the past three weeks and I'm pretty sure I've memorized all of the music and dialogue for all three movies now. I also can't believe I'm missing all of the Kardashian drama! (But thanks to Catherine for faithfully forwarding me all US Weekly/People/MSN Entertainment links related to the debacle!)

-Communicating without having to point and/or constantly repeat myself. I also miss understanding 100% what's written on menus and signs.

-The comforts of home, such as a clothes dryer. And elevators in buildings. And faucets that spew out water at normal temperatures instead of water that gives me second degree burns every time I wash the dishes.

-Amazon Fresh

-Whole Foods

-Meals that have some kind of vegetable component

-Knowing exactly where to go to find what I need. In the past month, I have discovered that Tylenol is prescription-only in France, that dental floss is absolutely nowhere to be found, that it's pharmacies and not supermarkets that carry bandaids or blister protectants, that some pharmacies carry shampoo but some don't, and contact solution is only sold in eyeglass stores.

But what I love about Paris and Europe > the superficial things I miss about home:

-The shopping. OMG. French brands plus global brands that aren't in Seattle, such as Uniqlo and Muji.

-Orangina (and the lemon soda I discovered in Italy)

-About 10 different countries are about a 2 hour and $150 plane ride away. (Yay for Barcelona next week with Michelle and Anita!)

-French etiquette which dictates that one should always say bonjour/au revoir whenever you enter/exit a store or restaurant, and always say bonjour/bonsoir to people you run into in your apartment building. I think it's charming.

-Paris' very efficient and dense subway system

-Having the time to walk everywhere, aimlessly wandering around neighborhoods and discovering new places in the city

Stuff I could live without in Paris:

-The smokers. I'm pretty sure that at least 75% of the population must be smokers. It's not unusual to see people shoving an unlit cigarette in their mouth in the metro station, so that they can light up the second they step outside. Gross.

-The kissing on the cheek method of greeting. I can't remember the last time I kissed a member of my family, but since I've been in Europe, I've been kissed by more strangers than I can even count. Stresses me out.

-People not picking up after their dogs. It's a land mine of poo on the sidewalks. To quote Robert, "It's so disrespectful!", both to people and to the beautiful city.

-The smell of urine in places where it should never smell like urine. Like on the street. And in metro stations. C'mon people!

But again, what I love > what I don't care for.

People have been asking me what I've been doing when I'm by myself here. It's surprising how I've been able to fully occupy my time.

-I've been reading a lot. I re-read the entire Game of Thrones series plus started and finished the last book, (those Lannisters, Freys and Tullys are CRAZY), re-read David Lebovitz's "The Sweet Life in Paris" and Ken Follett's "Fall of Giants", and finished "A Moveable Feast", and "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." I started "The Happiness Project" since it's a book club book, but I couldn't get into it and gave up after about 1/3 of the way. Now I'm on the hunt for "Bossypants" and "The Great Gatsby."

-I've also been exploring neighborhoods that I hadn't spent much time in before, such as Saint Germain and Canal St. Martin. (I wanted to skip stones like Amelie over the bridge on Canal St. Martin, but I've never been able to skip stones, so that dream is gone.)

-On Sunday, I took an hour long train ride to go to the outlet mall. It's set up like a village, and it's a nice mix of high-end (Valentino, Burberry) and French brands (ba&sh, Maje). I was tempted to buy a carry-on suitcase from Samsonite, because I'm skeptical about my ability to cram 10 days' worth of stuff into my duffle bag for Ireland in January, but I didn't, which may have been a major mistake. Since I've already purchased 3 pieces of wool outerwear, a pair of flats, wool shorts, a dress and a shirt, and my trip is only halfway over, I'm also skeptical about my ability to fit all of my stuff into my enormous suitcase + duffle bag for my trip home.

-Gertrude Stein's collection of Picassos and Cezannes is currently at the Grand Palais, which I will be checking out this week.

-I am determined to rent a bike while I'm here. It is really cheap and everyone does it. Even though I can't get rid of the mental images of people riding bikes on the street getting crushed by large vehicles, a la Meg Ryan in "City of Angels" (but what do you expect, when you decide to close your eyes and not hold onto the handlebars while biking on a highway?!) and Anne Hathaway in "One Day", I'm going to do it anyway. If I can survive running multiple red lights on a bike at night, like we did on the bike tour a few weeks ago, I'm sure I'll be fine during the day, biking 5 MPH.

The next few days will be a flurry of laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning (well, I'm paying someone 16 euros to clean the flat), to prepare for the arrival of group 3 out of 5 - Michelle and Anita! I'm excited to see them, and I'm also excited for the items they are couriering over for me: my iphone 4s #2, dental floss (seriously cannot find it ANYWHERE. I've searched two different supermarkets, plus multiple pharmacies), contact lens solution (couldn't find my brand for a while, and when I finally did find it, I discovered that it's $20/bottle!) and Burt's Bees lip balm!

Location:Rue Saint-Maur,Paris,France

Chapter Seven: Munich, London, Paris and The Love of Art

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of travel and activity, which included a 3-night trip to Munich to meet up with Soyon and Tim, and 8 days of taking London and Paris by storm with Joy, Robert and Joe.

Munich in a nutshell: 25 degrees every day. Very clean. Very quiet. Beer is served by the gallon at every meal. Every meal also seemed to include some type of sausage meat. Home of the 1976 Olympics and the BMW headquarters and museum. We went to the Olympic Park, but passed on the museum. I slept a total of 10 hours in 3 days, because Soyon and I stayed up each night talking in bed. The last night, we didn't even bother going to sleep because we had to get to the airport so early. Unfortunately, we forgot that we aren't 24 years old anymore, and the lack of sleep completely wrecked us both. We also kept torturing each other with talk of Korean food and ramen every night.

London in a nutshell: Crowded. Jam-packed schedule. Not enough time spent at Liberty. Finally found a black blazer, at Uniqlo! A flat in an amazing location with an equally amazing mold situation on the bathroom ceiling above the shower. The wifi in the flat wouldn't allow the four of us to be online at the same time, so we all had to take turns. Really awful food, even at St. John's. (The bone marrow phenomenon perplexes me.) King's Cross moved Platform 9 3/4 to outside of the station, which was just really sad. Apparently, when I say "Panton Street", it sounds like "Penton Street" to British cab drivers, so one time, the cab driver almost took me to the wrong street, and the second time, the cab driver really did take us to the wrong street. Kept hoping to see a glimpse of Kate, as in Kate Middleton, but sadly did not.

Paris with the Lees: shopping in St. Germain, the Marais, and Galeries Lafayette. Convinced Joy to buy her first Louis bag. Went to seven different Comptoir des Cotonniers, looking for a coat for Joy. The Musee d'Orsay's remodel is finally done, so we were able to see the museum in all of its glory. Strolls along the Seine, through the Tulieries garden and along the Champs Elysses to look at the Christmas stalls set up. The Musee d'Orangerie was just as lovely as I had remembered it to be. Notre Dame, where Joe almost shed a tear. Eiffel Tower - 30 minutes to get our tickets and take the elevator to the top, almost 60 minutes waiting in line for the elevator to go down. Robert, Joe, Joy and I all had our own private panic attacks, relating to heights and claustrophobia. Great eating, thanks to Joy's friend's recommendations. Bike tour at night through the streets of Paris, which was so fun. The bike tour included a cruise down the length of the Seine, which was beautiful, but so incredibly cold. Watched a girl run into a pedestrian on her bike, which caused a domino effect of other people falling off of their bikes. Berthillon ice cream twice in five days, which beats Molly Moon hands down. Friendly cab driver who likes Miami and gave us all chocolates, which Joy and I didn't eat because we were afraid they were poisoned, but the boys scarfed down happily. Many hours spent in the flat eating France-only flavored chips, like roasted chicken with thyme, drinking good 5 euro bottles of wine, playing Battle Nations on our iPads.

I bought tickets for a Mozart/Pachebel/Schubert/Bach concert at Sainte-Chapelle tonight, and I was tempted to skip it because I was so exhausted from the past two weeks' worth of revelries, but I forced myself to go, and I'm so glad I did. I'm one of the ten Koreans in the entire world who did not grow up playing the piano or violin, so my classical music repertoire is quite limited, but Mozart, Pachebel, Schubert and Bach are all composers that I'm moderately familiar with. Especially Mozart, because I have been watching Amadeus every other day since I've been in Paris, because it's one of five English DVDs in the flat. When the soprano started singing "Ave Maria," I literally got goosebumps.

I had to take my iPad with me to the concert because I had an e-ticket and I don't have my phone yet. While everyone else was taking a picture of the chapel with their smartphones or cameras, I had to bring out my iPad. So embarrassing.

Part of the reason for my recent tiredness is that I have been staying up late for the past two nights reading our book club book that I was two months behind on: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." I borrowed the Kindle version from the library and the rental period expires today, so I finished it in two nights. It's a novel set right after WWII, about how the residents of Guernsey lived through the Nazi occupation of their island. I cried about once per chapter. Art, especially the literary arts, is a major part of the story, and in the acknowledgment section at the end, the author says, "...the love of art - be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, music - enables people to transcend any barrier man has self devised." This quote and this book perfectly captured how I felt at the concert today and during the bike tour last night. I am the least artistically inclined person I know, but in the past six weeks, I have been able to slow my life down enough to appreciate the artistic accomplishments of others - Monet's mural-sized water lilies, the Colosseum, the Duomo, how incredible the bridges over the Seine look at twilight, the Louvre Pyramid lit up at night, sitting at Sainte Chapelle, listening to an opera singer sing "Ave Maria" with a four-piece string orchestra accompanying her.

I was surrounded by 2-3 people every day all day for the past two weeks, and it's eerily quiet in the flat now (besides Amadeus playing in the background). I have no idea what I'm doing these next two weeks before Michelle and Anita arrive, besides continuing the ongoing flat black boot hunt and buying some long underwear, and it's kind of a nice feeling. An overnight trip to Nice to see the Chagall museum may be on the schedule.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to everyone!

Location:Rue Saint-Maur,Paris,France

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chapter Six: Mind-reading garbagemen and Korean markets

After almost four weeks in Europe, I have been craving Asian food. Preferably Korean, but Japanese, Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese will do. After another fruitless day of searching for black boots, I decided to search for a Korean restaurant in the Opera area. I was on R. Quatre-Septembre, looking over my map, searching for R. Sainte Anne, when I hear someone shouting. I look up, and a man in a garbage truck is yelling at me. The following is our brief conversation:

Mind-reading garbageman (MRG): RUE SAINTE ANNE??

It actually turned out to be the third right, but I won't quibble over details. More importantly, how did he know I was looking for R. Sainte Anne?! As I was trying to puzzle this out, I realized that I had stumbled across a mini International District, complete with dimly-lit alleys and shady Asian massage parlors.

I found the Korean restaurant I was looking for, but it was closed for the holiday. They obviously didn't get the memo that Koreans never close their businesses for any holiday, not even Christmas. But what did I spy with my little eye across the street? A KOREAN GROCERY STORE! I ran inside and this odd feeling of comfort and familiarity washed over me, as I hunted for snacks, banchan and ramen while listening to K-pop blaring over the speakers.

I bought two ramen bowls and two Neoguris (I couldn't find black Shin Ramen Amy!), honey twist snacks and sauteed dried spicy squid. I really wanted to buy kimchi, but it didn't seem right to stink up a Parisian's fridge with the smell. I found instant rice as well (the legitimate kind, not the awful Minute Rice stuff I bought over the summer), but I don't have a microwave in the flat. I'm going to try to save the ramen for when Joy, Robert and Joe visit in a few weeks, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to hold out that long.

For dinner, even though I was denied Korean food, I was determined to have some kind of Asian food, so I went to the "restaurant Japonese" on my street. I had the best chicken karrage I've ever had and pretty good tempura udon. They even gave me seaweed salad to start, and a fruit cup for dessert, which helped to stem the feeling of fruit and vegetable starvation I've been feeling for the past few weeks.

Location:Rue Saint-Maur,Paris,France