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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chapter Five: Everyday life in Paris

After spending the past three weeks in Italy and Paris pounding the pavement all day long every day, I've settled into a less scheduled and less active way of living in Paris. For the past few days, I haven't done much except wander around the city agenda-less, started up Final Fantasy III again on my iPad, and am reading "A Moveable Feast" and re-reading the entire "Game of Thrones" series. Some other things on my radar are a three-week photography seminar, a photo exhibit in the St-Germain neighborhood and maybe a classical concert at Notre-Dame.

(Due to the unfortunate theft of my phone, and the fact that iPads don't come with USB ports to plug my real camera into, and the fact that I'm not going to walk around taking pictures with my iPad, the next month of posts will be mostly photo-less, until Michelle arrives with my replacement phone strapped to her body.)

A few observations so far about Paris:

1. Everyone seems to be able to use their phones underground on the metro without any problems at all, which is a far cry from back home, where AT&T drops every other call of mine.

2. I love BHV. I've been there three times in the past 9 days. For those who have never been - it's Target + Nordstrom + Home Depot + Crate and Barrel + Best Buy + Macy's Home Store all rolled up into one gigantic store that's 7 stories and takes up an entire city block.

3. I went to BHV to run some errands: return the curling iron I bought last week, buy some hangers, replacement light bulb for a lamp in the flat and insoles. It took me about 90 minutes to get those four things done - partly because I had to wander around the store looking for hangers and light bulbs because I didn't know what they're called in French (I still don't know what hangers are, but light bulbs are "luminere." But what took the longest amount of time was returning the curling iron. First, I thought I'd try customer service. Fail. They direct me to go to the cashier in the department where I purchased the curling iron. Make my way to the cashier, only to be told that I need to go to the special returns cashier across the floor. Fail again. Find the special returns cashier, only to be told that I need to go back to the department I bought the curling iron at and get paperwork from them. Fail a third time. Go back to the original cashier, who asks a colleague about my situation. I'm then told that I need to find a clerk who works in the department and have them fill out the paperwork for me. Fail a fourth time. I find a clerk and ask him if he speaks English. He says no. I immediately begin to think about how I'm going to pantomime my situation to him. Fortunately, a very nice guy who had been looking at electric razors overhears my very broken French and asks if he can help. While I clutch my purse against my body, I explain what I need, and he translates for me. Success! The clerk takes my curling iron and walks away, so I follow him since I don't know what else I'm supposed to do, while saying thank you to the electric razor guy. I then proceed to take the paperwork to the returns cashier, who processes my return without any problem. This kind of stuff drives me insane at home. Like, blood rushing to my head rage kind of insane. But for some reason, it doesn't really faze me here. Maybe it's because I have absolutely nowhere to be and nothing to do, so I'm not in any kind of rush. Or maybe it's because I read David Lebovitz's "The Sweet Life in Paris", who talks a lot about having to adjust to this kind of stuff as an American.

4. Even the most mundane type of errand is fraught with anxiety when you aren't familiar with the language. I stopped by the supermarket today to buy some Coke (don't worry Lynda, only before 12:30pm!) and thought I'd buy some more laundry detergent. I stood there, staring at the rows and rows of cleaning products, but I don't know what's detergent and what's liquid fabric softener and what's for hand washing, etc. I zeroed in on a bottle that I thought looked detergent-esque, but then I noticed the cat on the label, plus it said "chat", which is cat in French. I was scared that maybe it was pet shampoo, so I put it back and decided that I'll come back for detergent some other day.

5. Line drying clothes is like a giant game of Twister. You have to hang the clothes just right, so that it's not touching itself or other clothes, which is simple enough for things like socks and pillowcases, but becomes more creative when dealing with hoodies. And I don't know if the air is more damp in the flat or just in Paris in general, but it takes a full two days for even cotton clothes to dry completely.

6. Tomorrow is France's equivalent of Veteran's Day, so most things are closed. Except for BHV. And Printemps, which is a huge department store that gives foreigners a 10% discount on everything. So, my plans for tomorrow will include stopping by Printemps to find a pair of over-the-knee black boots with a 1-2" heel that are semi-slouchy, which I have been searching for ever since Italy. Lynda thinks I'm being too specific, but I really don't think it should be this hard to find!

7. The weather in Paris in the winter is similar to the weather in Seattle in the winter: gray and drizzly and pretty gross. But the forecast for the next few days is glorious: sunny and cold. So, I'll be spending a lot of time in Paris' many gardens and parks reading and journaling, or wandering around the city, taking pictures with my dusty Canon G11.

Even with the pickpocketing incident, I'm happy to be in Paris. It's lovely to have no real itinerary besides stopping into every single shoe store I see to search for my black boots, or trying to guess which cafe would have the best coffee.

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." -Ernest Hemingway

Location:Rue Saint-Maur,Paris,France

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapter Four: Arrivederci Italy, Bonjour Paris!

Lynda and I were planning to spend a day in Cinque Terre, which are a (used to be) group of five villages along the western coast of Italy. Unfortunately, torrential rains struck a few days before we were scheduled to arrive in Cinque Terre, creating mudslides and all around calamity in the area.

One village has actually been wiped off the map, so Cinque Terre is now technically Quattro Terre. Super sad. Without Polly's red alert email, Lynda and I would have shown up in La Spezia, confused about why the trains weren't running to Cinque Terre, and would have been stranded overnight.

A few highlights from Florence, my favorite town in Italy:

Santa Maria Novella church and piazza.

Bruschetta from Trattoria ZaZa

Seafood risotto from Trattoria ZaZa. This was one of my top meals in Italy.

My happy shoes from the outlet. They're one size too big, but I don't care.

Rigatoni with meat sauce and black truffles at Ristorante Boccadama in the Piazza Santa Croce. It was great. Lynda also requested that I mention her lasagna, which "melted in her mouth, it was flippin' amazing!" (It was pretty dang good.)

Sidenote: almost all of the restaurants we tried in Florence were on the DesignSponge blog, and every one we went to was great.

Santa Croce church.

Galileo's tomb

Our Statue of Liberty was based off of this sculpture

Michelangelo's tomb

This is the first painting of David (of David and Goliath fame) ever. I know this because I was eavesdropping on the guided tour that was happening next to me.

The fake David outside of the Uffizi, home of "The Birth of Venus", and the closest that Lynda and I got to the Uffizi. Once we saw the 15 euro entrance fee, we said thanks, but no thanks. (Sorry Michelle!)

Tourist mayhem in the Uffizi's piazza

The Arno River, as seen near the Ponte Vecchio

And again.

The Ponte Vecchio

Florence at night

Oh Duomo, I heart you so.

Sandwich and pasta from the Mercato Centrale market. Similar to Granville Market in Vancouver.

Flower stand at the Mercato

San Lorenzo street market, where Lynda and I both scored amazing leather bags, and I got a new lavender scarf to replace my ratty and faded 10-year old one. Lynda and I make a great shopping team. I spy the items, and she haggles the price down, while I stand there feeling really awkward and uncomfortable. And then when the haggling is done, I silently pull out my money and hand it over to the vendor.

We stumbled across some kind of Mini Cooper gathering, complete with uniformed guards with trumpets and horns.

We saw doner kabab restaurants everywhere, so we finally had one for lunch. Yum!

The doors of the Baptistry.

Perche No gelateria, near the Piazza della Republicca. It was so nice, we went twice.

Florentine steak for our last dinner in Florence. So fatty, but so good.

The aftermath.

Some of the lowlights of Florence:

These trusty flats have gone with me to Europe, Boston, LA and all around Seattle, but the past two weeks in Italy did the poor things in. Not only is there negative shock absorption in the shoes, but they have stretched out so much, I keep stepping out of them, and now I have bruises on my ankles from where I hit the cobblestones.

These are the new flats I bought, to replace the silver ones. They are lovely and are perfectly my size. However, the backs have created blisters on my heels, which have yet to heal. I was very excited to throw out the silver flats and start wearing the black ones, but I had to dig the silver flats out of the trash, and I've been wearing them for the past week. Sad face.

On our last night, we ran out of toilet paper in the flat, and didn't want to buy more, so I borrowed some from the restaurant's bathroom and brought it back home. (Thanks ZaZa!)

Clearly, my body is not a fan of Florence's mosquitos.

We had a 8 hour layover in Milan before we caught the night train to Paris (more on that adventure in a bit), so we followed Rick's advice and walked around the city center. It may have been because we didn't have a plan for Milan, but we weren't super impressed with Milan, especially after coming from Florence.

Milan's Duomo. (But where's the dome?)

The inside of a shopping gallery next to the Duomo.

Charming pedestrian only shopping street. We found multiple Pradas, Ferragamos, D&Gs and Valentinos in a two block radius.

Waiting at the train station with my fuzzy traveling socks with grips on the sole. These are the greatest socks ever, and I am forever indebted to Michelle for buying me a pair. My feet were so sore, I had to take my shoes off and put these socks on while waiting for the train.

And speaking of the train..

Lynda in her bunk on the train. We had planned to take a two-person private compartment for the 9 hour train ride to Paris, but it was sold out, so we were in a six-person carriage that was the size of Claustrophobic does not begin to describe the feeling that washed over me as I climbed into the bunk. However, it was very clean, plus the journey was cheap, and I slept really well, considering the fact that a) the carriage was maybe 6x6 and I felt like the walls were pressing in on me and b) I was concerned about the oxygen to carbon dioxide ratio, due to the number of people crammed into the small space. But we made it to Paris, albeit sore and feeling dirty from having slept in our clothes and contacts.

Yay for Paris! It's nice being in a city that feels somewhat familiar, and when I talk with people, I can understand about 50% of what they're saying, whereas in Italy, it was more like 20%.

The bedroom/living room area of the flat.

The dining room/kitchen. (I was too lazy to get up from the couch and take a better picture.) If you look closely, you can see the huge drying rack with a week's worth of dirty laundry for two people.

The flat is really cute and very clean, and I think I'll enjoy living here for the next few months, and there's plenty of space for the guests I'm expecting (Hi Robert, Joy, Joe, Anita, Michelle, Polly, Jessica!). It's a fourth floor walk-up, which is a bit of a killer, and it's a few metro stops from the center of the city, but Paris is the one city where I like walking around, and there are plenty of cafes, supermarkets and pharmacies on my street, which is fun.

Bonne nuit mes amis!

Location:Rue Saint-Maur,Paris,France