Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paris Revisited

This being my second time in Paris but in a completely new part of town, feels nearly the same as the first. Arriving, my friend Christine and I actually missed the train we were supposed to get on and got super stressed out about that but luckily we found a friend whose host-mom really did us a huge favor and took us to the train station and got us situated. However, once we got to Paris, we encountered our second problem - finding the hotel. Unlucky for me, I was overwhelmed with luggage and otherwise I would have taken a metro to our stop but I was exhausted and stressed out so I suggested we just take a taxi and well the taxi seemed to figure out where the hotel was located. I think he sort of took advantage of us too because he charged us for our luggage which had never occurred before but oh well. I was just glad we got to our hotel safely and could relax at last.

The second day of Paris was a little more relaxing but the weather was cold and windy with 50% chance of rain (thankfully we didn't feel any rain while wandering around). This time we walked to Le Sacred Couer church nearby and visited Edgar Degas' grave as well as Emile Zolas' at the Montmarte Cemetary and on the way back we grabbed some sandwiches to drink. Then chilled at my friend's room for a bit before deciding to head out to watch Water for Elephants at a nearby theater (in English). Then we came back and chilled out in our rooms.

Tomorrow I am hitting up the Louvre for most of the day. Then going to look for a cheap duffel bag to better pack my stuff so I won't be struggling anymore carrying my stuff to and from. On the way there, I am going to hit some recommended restaurants and pastry shops thanks to Clotilde's Paris guide from her blog Chocolate and Zucchini (http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2008/09/twelve_hours_in_paris.php ).

It is interesting to be reading up on Paris while I am in Paris and I am excited about the possiblity to check these places out but also scared about my French speaking skills. On the bright side, I have already found a park where I can sit down and read in peace and the sun does not set here until like 9.5 pm and with all the tourists abound, I feel more safe than if I were in New York City.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Travel Tips for France (and possibly other European countries)

A couple things to note when traveling in France:
  1. Besides Paris and at least through most of Provence, cities and towns (obviously) are small and therefore it is greatly encouraged to walk rather than drive because
  2. Besides the main streets, the rest of the streets are small, narrow, sometimes winding and often confusing and filled with pedestrians
  3. Public transportation is great and the most affordable way to get around France and usually very reliable (on time) and can be taken to most tourist places, but
  4. If taking buses, you are forewarned that it can be a bit much as roads are small, narrow, sometimes winding and often confusing as well as filled with lots of round-abouts rather than stops and very sharp turns -making it easy to get nauseous and
  5. Secondly if you do decide to drive, people in France drive incredibly fast including buses and tailgating happens a lot (There was even a few times I felt the bus was close to getting into an accident but didn't thankfully.)
  6. If taking the metro, like most metros, it can be quite an experience and quite a bit hard to figure out how to get around with it but it can be done. Just be wary of people around you - we encountered an angry person on the phone shouting on one train as well as barely managing to get into one train without leaving others behind. I almost forgot also that you have to open the doors manually (heh - I thought they were automatic but not the case for some).
  7. The offices of tourism are also handy places to find maps of towns as well as to find out what is happening in town and directions.
  8. Lastly, maps are useful for figuring out the layout of towns and cities but not great for actually finding places as not all streets will be listed and things are not to scale
  9. The best way to find your way in town is to just go exploring and figure things out as you get lost by landmarks
  10. Signs may not always lead you in the right direction either, we have found out these last couple of days. There have been a few times when we got lost because we were following arrows on signs.
  11. Google maps is handy but unless you have internet access 24/7. You cannot rely on it very well.

So hopefully these things will help you out in your next trip to France. Another good advice that isn't very well advice but is very useful and from my favorite author is: Don't Panic! If you get lost, just take a breath figure out where exactly you are on a map or in relation to your starting point and if in doubt ask a local or back track your steps. Panicking solves nothing and gets you even more lost and thus losing more time.

Now if only America could get public transportation right. I mean if Europe can do it with its winding tight roads, then shouldn't the logic follow that we can do it with wide roads. Well, the downfall is the nausea caused by it. I usually don't get motion/car sickness but with all the traveling and winding and twisting and bumping plus the shift in eating habits, the bus rides have been making me sick. Oddly it is only on the trip back I feel it; on the way there, I am usually fine. I am debating whether I want to risk getting nauseous again to go to the beach in Cassis but that path is such a winding road and not just because it goes through some hills to get to the coast but because the bus has to make some figure eights to change directions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Be careful what you wish for...

So you know how I was saying I was tired of sandwiches, well now I am tired of Pizza. These last couple of days I have managed to eat pizza consecutively and not enough of breakfast. Fortunately, last night we had potato gnocchi with carbonara sauce and it was yummy plus vanilla yogurt for desert. The rest was pizza -lunch since monday, tuesday and today as well as for dinner. It has been good pizza and a bit different from the pizza we are used to back home but I guess I am used to it from reading food blogs online where I have been introduced to cuisine I would have otherwise such as lemoncello ice cream and different types of pizza (mainly from smitten kitchen =] ).

These past couple of days have gone by so quickly. I can hardly believe we are in the middle of the second week and will be leaving in four days. If it weren't for my host family and their grace to let me come live with them, I am sure I would have been winded from all the traveling we have done. I mean we have been traveling every other day (a free day in between each planned travel) and well it happens that on my last free day (yesterday) I traveled back to Marseille which was a pretty big city but very pretty as well. We spent that day down on the beach and the day before we were visiting the monuments. I was glad to be able to see and smell the sea again; I had missed visiting it.

Today we went to Avignon, a bit longer of a trip (1.5 hrs by bus from Aix-en-Provence) which made the trip a bit more exhausting. We got to see the Pope's Palace, the Avignon Bridge, and some art in a museum there and then some shopping in which I found the prettiest shirts n a nice skirt! So now I have two new outfits. I will try and wear them out soon and take pics and post on here so you all can see. It will be my fashion Friday post!

Once again sorry that I have no pictures up lately. I have just been so exhausted these last days as besides the bus to and from Aix, the majority of the time we have been walking and out in the sun so much so that I get back to my room here and barely have energy to shower and journal. No time for reading, just what is necessary -showering, eating, and journaling (for my class credit). Last night my host mother's son (Manu) invited us to watch a movie with him but after 10 min of sitting on the couch, I was overcome with extreme fatigue and I had to opt out. It is sometimes hard to tell how late we are out here because the sun is up for longer than I am used to in New Mexico - it sets at around 10pm here instead of 8 pm. I think if it weren't for the others on the trip with me and their energy, I would be exhausted otherwise.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


It has been four days since we have arrived in Aix-en-Provence and I am feeling a bit winded from the non-stop activities. It feels nice though being able to come home to a host family and to my own room. It is a very simple room but the simplicity is nice so that I don't feel overwhelmed and can relax better. I really like my room and my host mother is very nice but I feel like I really haven't had French food except for pastries and sandwiches and cheese.

When we were in Paris, we ate at certain restaurants but only once do I remember eating at French restaurant and that was for lunch. I had a salmon n spinach tart (kind of like a quiche) and a rhubarb tart for lunch. It was delicious. On our free days, I remember eating crepes because they were street food. The last day I believe we ate kabobs (gyros in the States) and baguette sandwiches once in a while. We also had some Moroccan food.

Now in Aix where you would think the food would be cheaper, we are having picnics with bread, cheese (which is very good), fruit (also very good and I even got to eat the much prized strawberries here) and sausage (a new experience for sure) but all these things don't make for much filling. I guess its good that I usually have a our host mom make us dinner. However, she has made Vietnamese food. On our first night here, we ate a frozen "lasagna" dinner, and last night we had "sandwiches." So not what we would imagine to be French food but in a sense it is French food because it was eaten in France. In addition, paninis and pizza seem to be very common food here in Provence; being so close to France there is quite a bit of an Italian influence in food. The pizza we ate tonight since it was the day off for our host mom was at a good price and they had quite a following when we arrived at the pizza stand.

This begs the question, what makes food French? I mean the French have become as much as a melting pot as Americans. There South Africans, Middle East and even Asian descended people here. Even my host mother is part Vietnamese, something our host-brother Emmanuel likes to claim as well. I had thought that being in southern France, we would have more sea food but that is not entirely all there is to Provençal food; however part of the lovely ambience of Aix is that there are fish, food, and flea markets every Saturday. Something I find very close to home and not just the farmer's markets but also the flea market as that was something very common in the small town my mother grew up in.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Food, fashion, and fun!

These last couple of days here in Paris have been a blast and my feet have been quite a bit sore from all the walking. It is sad that it will be the last day in Paris though I may come back for a half a day since I have to fly out from here. From the time spent here, I have learned :
  1. Parisians love to eat out and will eat different types of cuisine each day
  2. Bread is regulated here so that it is good quality and affordable for people to eat
  3. Scarves and plaid are the fashion here, though not many people were seen wearing plaid
  4. Not all Parisians are mean; we have encountered some very nice people here but street gypsies are very persistent and annoying and will call you Lady Gaga, pretty girl and hit on you to get your attention which you should by no means even pay them attention.\
Sadly I have no pictures of the fashion or food, but I may steal some photos from my roommates who were more diligent at taking pictures and I have already shown the bread pictures but I will post some interesting Paris photos.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carbs revisted!

A French Bakery (Boulangerie)
Macaroons, tarts, croissants, and a tea salon next door to boot! I had to keep my head calm and clear as I walked in to keep up my camouflage as a Parisian and not a tourist, though that cover was blown as soon as I joined my group. I was even stopped a couple of times by others and asked in French about how to get to places or about the time and day despite wearing some vivid colors, I apparently looked very Parisian indeed!

It is no surprise that the French love bread! So randomly stumbling upon the Notre Dame and I do mean stumbling because I was just wandering out Paris with a poor sense of direction and only just searching for an internet cafe (which I have yet to find), I suddenly saw a park that was across the street from it and low and behold, they had a FĂȘte du Pain or (Bread Festival) which showcased some very creative Pastry Chefs.

From years of traveling around, I am quite used to wandering a bit but this time arriving at the Paris airport, I found myself quite lost. However, once I found my hotel, I was able to wander about aimlessly and situate myself in the city despite my lack of direction. Ah for the love of bread, and their ingenious use of baguettes for sandwiches as well as crepes, the French have one me over.

Monday, May 09, 2011


I love carbohydrates! in all its forms. I mean bread is just the most amazing thing, and well I have been baking since I discovered that the store-bought cake mixes make pretty tasty cakes. Not to mention bread also tastes so good when you are a starving college student; no wonder in literature poor people (I am thinking Les Miserables here) would steal bread! I also have been in love with pasta of all kinds since little. I would eat at least two bowls of spaghetti every time my mom made it!

Cakes and fruit tarts!

Now that I am planning on running a marathon which means extensive running, I have even more incentives to eat carbs because they are a runner's best friend! So I am going to hunt for some delicious pasta recipes. I already found the most amazing simple tomato sauce recipe! I also discovered an interesting French linguine recipe that calls for butter, dried fruits and pistachios that I want to try out sometime soon.

Also going back home this last weekend, I was so nostalgic for pan dulce or sweet bread that I grew up eating all the time. It brings back memories of my youth as does dancing. My mom took me to the local bakery to pick out my own bread and boy did that make me happy! I was smiling from ear to ear and I ended up buying a lot of bread.
The local bakery where I got my pan dulce!
All the different kinds of pan dulce! I had a hard time choosing which pastries I wanted!