Thursday, December 17, 2009

Je reve d'un Noel blanc!

Yes, indeed, it is legitimately SNOWING in Paris! Some flakes fell on Sunday but didn't stick, so I was disappointed but also relieved that I didn't have to brave the elements. However, this morning as I was getting ready to walk to school for my last day of French language class, I looked out the window and realized that it was really snowing - and this time it was sticking to the roofs and trees! When I walked out my front door, I realized that it was not going to be a nice, picturesque walk through a snow-covered park because the snow was still very actively falling. After half a block, I shrugged, turned around, and went back to bed. You can take the girl out of California, but you can't take the California out of the girl!


The scene that greeted me this morning!

When I ventured out for a coffee date with a friend around noon, it was still snowing and I had quite a time trying not to fall on my butt on the slippery and icy sidewalk! But I made it and I'll admit the city does look beautiful under an inch of white :) It's stopped for now, but I think it will probably continue until I leave. Who would've thought?



 

 
I think a lot of people have very soggy motorcycle seats today...

Here, as promised are some pictures of my neighborhood - before the snowfall! My block isn't super interesting, but there's more up the street a few storefronts down.


My cafe! My door is the brown one on the far left of the storefront. There are always cars parked on the street so it's impossible to get a clear shot of anything!



The neighborhood boucherie, or butcher shop. Apparently it's really good quality and has won awards, and there's always a long line out the door before dinner when people are on their way home!



Finally, my FAVORITE boulangerie (bread bakery) in the world! This is the one I rave about, and whose owner and only employee is probably the nicest person I've ever met. Seriously. We stop in about twice a week to buy bread or a pastry, and he is always SO friendly and welcoming with a huge smile and a big "bonjour!" I practice my French on him when I have the time :) And, since I walk by his big window every time I leave the apartment, I often get a wave and a big smile from him several times a day! Turns out he's featured in a book called The Patisseries of Paris by Jamie Cahill (a beautiful guide to the best patisseries, boulangeries, chocolateries, etc. in the city). His name is Bruno Solques and he opened the shop in 2001. Anyway, he's my favorite Parisian person of all time and I sincerely hope I can see him again! Here we are...



I would seriously marry this guy if we spoke the same language!
 I also think he does a lot of clay work because his shop is decorated with lots of cool ceramic art (like you can see in the background). More photos to come of his beautiful pastries and bread - we're going back tomorrow morning when he has the full selection on display!







Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Le fin :(


 Please enjoy the photos from the past week - probably the last interesting things I'll have to show you before I leave in 3 days! As you can see, Christmas is in full swing here in Paris and even the Pantheon is getting in the spirit :)



Thursday night was Tenny's birthday celebration at my favorite restaurant in Paris, Pomze! Everything there is made with some kind of apple ingredient, and it's absolutely amazingly delicious...


My entree:  Cromesqui de Fourme d’Ambert, compote de Reinettes et salade d’automne
Warm blue cheese with apple preserve and salad



Plat: Filets de bar sur peau, au miel de Tentation, sauce pain d’épices, panaché de tubercules d’automne
Sea bass with gingerbread sauce, seasonal tubers and apples



Dessert: Fondant chocolat, coeur de pomme, glace caramel au beurre salé
Warm apple & chocolate fondant, salted butter caramel ice cream

As you can see, I am thoroughly enamored with the food at Pomze. I just needed to share some of its fabulousness with you!



On Saturday, Tenny and I visited the Musee d'Orsay, my favorite art museum probably in the world. Which isn't saying much, but it's one I can actually mostly appreciate and not get super bored in :)



Oh, just me and Vincent



"Buche de Noel" - Christmas log - is a traditional French holiday dessert that I've been desperately waiting to see! They are generally very expensive to buy a full size, but most patisseries sell mini ones like these! Quite delicious - the minis are mousse with filling in the center, while the large ones are usually cake rolled with cream (like a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake)! If you get fancy with it, they can be decorated with marzipan mushrooms to look like a real log, or all gold flaked and fancy (and cost 50 euros)...



Eclairs at Fauchon, the most expensive grocery store in Paris! Cool to see, but I'm not sure it's worth the price tag that is often 3 times more expensive, like these eclairs for 6 euros each. And yes, that is the Mona Lisa looking at you...



Tenny and I had to revisit L'As du Falafel, the most incredible falafel joint in all the world, before we returned to the states. No, seriously. I probably rank this among the top things I will miss when I return home!



This is heaven in a pita. 


I'll leave you with this beautiful image of the Galeries Lafayette, one of Paris's "grands magasins" - ridiculously gigantic department stores with gourmet restaurants inside (think Nordstrom but NICER and BIGGER)!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thoughts...

As my time in Paris draws to a close, and I make the mistake of having coffee at 5 pm, I find myself lying in bed thinking of things that I will miss and things I won't have trouble leaving once I hop on the plane at Charles de Gaulle on Saturday. My musings...

THINGS I WILL MISS

1. The pride the French take in their food "craftsmanship." Tenny asked me the other day what the equivalent of our favorite Parisian chocolate shop would be at home, and we realized that there simply isn't one! I could only think of Godiva and See's, and those are two very large factory-supplied chain stores and not at all the boutique, specialty, artisanal stores we have here. Granted, a single piece of chocolate costs about 1 euro at these stores, but there's a lot to be said for the love and devotion these artists have to their chocolate, bread, pastries, etc. Even here they're a dying breed, but there will always be Parisians who know that the artisan baguette from around the corner is worth the extra euro and who will support these amazingly devoted people. I will be truly sad to go back to a land of chains and mass production :( Here are a couple of websites for artisan chocolatiers I have patronized...
www.patrickroger.com
www.alareineastrid.fr
www.jeff-de-bruges.com
www.chocolaterie-servant.com

2. The ability to walk everwhere I need to go. I have used the metro probably once a week for the past month and a half and it's been the greatest decision I've ever made! Not only do I get exercise, fresh air, and can now better orient myself in the city, but I haven't been making my normal GIANT carbon footprint for about 3 months! The grocery store is 5 minutes away, the boulangerie is down the block, the laundromat is across the street and great restaurants are often just a short hop away. This may just be a feature of urban life that I haven't experienced growing up in Los Altos, but I think it's a shame that there's no way I can keep it up when I get home. It would take me an hour to walk to the nearest Safeway...

3. History. Everywhere you go in Paris (or in France, or Europe for that matter), there's so much history EVERYWHERE, even if it's just in the fact that many buildings were built about the same time we were heading over on the Mayflower. It's no fault of America's, but it's just going to be sad to have an "old and historic" building be built in the 1800s! I randomly run into cathedrals and towers and palaces in my walks - where else but here could you say that?

4. The language. French is the most beautiful language in the world, and I'm horribly sad that I will lose all ability to speak it once I leave. I feel like I'm getting on a roll with my accent and my ability to interact rather fluidly with people, and that's all going out the window as soon as I hit the US. Tragic. Even though I can't catch most of what people are saying on the street, just hearing French being spoken all around me is very soothing and I absolutely love it!

5. The cafe experience. I'm sure I will get nasty looks if I try to sit in a coffee shop or a restaurant for an hour in the states, and having to find the waiter to ask for a check will no longer be a challenge - or necessary. The French take such a relaxed and indulgent approach to eating, and I think that Americans really need to chill out, have a glass of wine, and CHEW their food. I agree that a 2 hour lunch is a little excessive, but shoveling food down in 15 minutes and then having the waiter slam the check down on their way running to another table is not the way to do it... I will also sorely miss the French "cafe creme," an espresso shot with steamed milk served in a tiny cup. Starbucks tall size looks gigantic to me now - I don't want to drink a whole carton of milk with my caffeine fix, just a small bit of milk and a sugar to tame the coffee! I have to figure out how to make this at home...

THINGS I WILL NOT MISS

1. The prices. It's horrendous. I am totally broke after 3 months and have no idea how I could possibly sustain this for much longer. And honestly, I don't even spend that much. Really. The euro is slaughtering the dollar right now, plus the prices in euros are high! Go figure.

2. The weather. It's really cold and gray, and I don't appreciate not being able to wear cute clothes or feel my extremities. 3. The utter lack of bathrooms. It's impossible to find a public restroom here - even in a large shopping complex, Connie and I spent about 15 minutes trying to locate one. On the street, I once walked for 30 minutes without seeing a single place I could go inside. The Starbucks on St. Germain had a code lock on their bathroom door!

4. My apartment. It's tiny and has approximately... ONE room. Oh and the windows leak cold air, we can't control the radiator, it has no oven, no dishwasher, and no working light in the bathroom. I also have about one shelf to keep clothes on and a fridge smaller than the one in my freshman dorm room.

5. French men. Yes, you may be seductive with your beautiful French accents but it's really NOT cute when you to try to grab my butt as I walk by on the sidewalk or grope me on the crowded metro. Really? In what universe is that culturally acceptable? I don't know how French women put up with it - I looked and was acting like a total local in these situations so I guess anyone's fair game...

6. The complete and utter lack of fresh produce in grocery stores. There are places that you can find good stuff I think, but I haven't found them and the convenient supermarkets have terrible selections, with a vegetable aisle that is approximately 10 feet long and not very fresh. California, I miss you!

It's definitely going to be a big adjustment going home, probably bigger than when I first got to Paris. And, as sad as it's going to be to leave, there's so much to look forward to when I get home. As always, it's a bittersweet ending to an incredible time in my life. I can't wait to see you all and be home for my favorite time of the year!

My life, on video :)

I have a lot of free time lately, and Dad was telling me how he wanted to see what I see in my daily life, so I thought I'd start with the two things I see the most - my stairway, and the street outside my apartment! Enjoy the compelling footage :) video
video

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guten tag Berlin!



Oh goodness, another weekend and another trip to a famous locale in Europe :) After being separated from Julia and Alex for oh... 2 days... I boarded a flight for Berlin! Although it definitely does not rank high on my list of beautiful cities (the Germans, especially the East Germans, unfortunately don't win any awards for architecture...), it was a history and Christmas spirit-filled weekend that was a great way to get acquainted with the country. Germany, and especially Berlin, is famous for its Christmas markets - small, temporary villages of wooden booths that spring up in every square in the city and feature craft and food vendors. Berlin alone has 60!


DAY 1: I arrived in Berlin after lunch and took a bus to our hotel, an almost hostel-like operation where the average age of the staff and the guests was about 25. There was even a bar in the lobby and a vending machine with cold beers! What a deal. After Julia and Alex arrived by train, we decided to walk around the area. The Reichstag (actually now officially called the Bundestag), the German parliament building, was pretty close to the hotel and we decided to wait in line and walk through the huge glass dome on top of the building. It gave us spectacular views of the city on our first day there, but it was open at the top so we were still freezing inside!

Afterwards we headed to the nearby Brandenburg Gate, an important symbol of Berlin for hundreds of years. Of course spotting the Starbucks next door, we had to stop for a mocha and a muffin served with central heating :P When we emerged it was already dark (!) and we made our way to Unter den Linden, a main drag of the city that dead ends into the Brandenburg Gate. This led us to several Christmas markets, where we strolled among the booths muching candied almonds and drinking hot gluhwein (mulled red wine) before grabbing a delicious but kind of gross looking and definitely heart-stopping meal of schnitzel, gravy, and potatoes fried with bacon and onions. When in Rome, right?


Julia chowing down on schnitzel!




 


DAY 2: We had been told not to miss the free student-led tour of the city called newBerlin, so we bundled up and met our tour guide, Louis, a recent graduate from Manchester, England who had an undergraduate degree in modern German history. So he kind of knew what he was talking about! It was an amazing tour and he was the best guide we could have asked for - but it was 3 1/2 hours of walking outside in 1 degree weather. No joke. I stopped being able to feel my legs after about 5 minutes outside though, so after the numbness over my entire body set in I stopped feeling it as much :) Hitler's bunker (now a green patch in a parking lot of a condo complex), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, Checkpoint Charlie, and Museum Island (an island... with museums on it...) were some of the highlights of the tour. I learned a LOT about recent German history and I realize how much I was completely unaware of. Julia and Alex, both history majors, were having rather large nerd-gasms as well!


The Memorial to the Murdered Jews



Checkpoint Charlie - aka a HUGE tourist trap


After defrosting over a quick lunch, we headed to the DDR Museum, a small private museum that gives you a glimpse into what life was like in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). We got to pretend to drive in a real Trabi and admire the oh-so-stylish fashions of the time.
Of course, we had to head back to the markets for dinner! Even though we'd gone to two on Thursday night, there were another few within minutes so we grabbed delicious sausages for dinner and perused some more, nibbling on the seemingly endless forms of fried dough and sugar that abounded.


Froheweihnachten means Merry Christmas!






DAY 3: After a low-key morning, we hopped the U-bahn to the East Side Gallery. It's about a 1/4 mile long chunk of the wall that has been covered by huge murals by international artists, mostly depicting messages of peace, reconciliation and human rights. We spent an hour admiring the art and reflecting on the sentiments behind the images.





 

A delicious falafel sandwich for lunch led to settling in Balzac Coffee (with the delightful emblem of a naked cherub riding a vespa) for a couple of hours of chatting over hot drinks and more muffins. Finally dragging our butts out into the cold, we walked to the Pergamon Museum of the Near East on Museum Island. On the way, we passed by a flea market chock-full of antique Communist merchandise - I could have bought my very own hammer and sickle star pin! The museum was a great detour and we learned about early Islamic art as well as some very impressive feats of architecture from ancient Mesopotamia and Greece.


 Mosaics are rather exciting!


The Ishtar Gate

Our last stop was the museum underneath the Holocaust memorial we had visited earlier. It's built completely underground, so you'd never know it was there if you didn't see the stairs! It was an extremely sobering visit, and focused more on the humanity of the victims than other exhibits and museums I've visited. I felt like I learned a lot about the sequence of events and less publicized aspects of the Nazi atrocities, and it was definitely an experience that touched me profoundly.
The last dinner in Berlin was a fancy affair - we sat down in a chic Italian restaurant and enjoyed pizza and prosecco while nursing our tired feet. I still couldn't feel mine, so it was less of an issue for me :P

DAY 4: Really. Bad. Day. Got to the airport only to realize that my return flight (on a different airline than before) left from the OTHER airport in Berlin. I'm an idiot. There was no time to get there before my flight left, so I watched the departure time come and go. After having a minor breakdown in the middle of the terminal and calling home at an obscene hour (sorry Mom and Dad, I know you thought I'd died or something!), I had to buy a new plane ticket. The only consolation was that on airFrance 1. everyone spoke French and it was quite soothing to hear it again and 2. they served an actual lunch that was quite delicious. Needless to say I'll be quadruple checking every online booking I ever make in the future...

I only have TWO MORE WEEKS left in this beautiful city, and I'm determined to make the most of it! The only problem is the general gloominess and rain, but there are several large Christmas markets that I want to check out and there are favorite cafes yet to be revisited. I'll keep you posted on any new developments - but until then, I love and miss you all and can't wait to be back in the US of A on December 19th!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dobry den Praha! (Hello, Prague!)



Happy December loyal readers! I'm happy to say that I was able to spend a spectacular JULIA-filled week in Prague celebrating Thanksgiving and general holiday-ness with my love :)

DAY 1: My first adventure was flying out of Beauvais airport, the third and smallest airport in the Paris area. I discovered that calling it "Paris" would be like calling San Jose airport "San Francisco," but the flight was cheap and I honestly didn't know it would be that far! I had to take the metro to the end of one of the lines and then from there take a special Beauvais airport charter bus for AN HOUR AND A HALF to the airport. Once I arrived, I realized that it had a grand total of 3 gates. Wow. But after a short hour and a half flight out of cold and rainy Paris, I arrived in sunny and beautiful Prague, took a cab to my hotel, and had a couple of hours to kill before Julia got out of class.


I have fortunately developed a sense of direction that before now was completely absent from my brain, so I felt reasonably confident taking a map from the hotel and setting off to explore the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square that were very close to the hotel (perfectly located in the center of town!). I grabbed a mocha from Coffeeheaven and strolled among the throngs of tourists, looking in shops and perusing the souvenir market. It definitely felt like the holidays and there were lots of bustling tourists.


Julia and Alex met me at the hotel and we went to Chez Marcel next door. Yes, that's right, a French restaurant! Needless to say, my brain was now dealing with THREE languages on very little sleep so it was slow going on the mental processing when I was ordering :P After dinner, Julia and I returned to the hotel where we joyfully popped the bottle of sparkling wine her fantastic parents ordered for us on our arrival, opened a bar of dark chocolate Toblerone and a roll of Hob Nobs cookies (which I imported from London), and proceeded with a much-needed catch up session and girl talk late into the night!


DAY 2: We woke to a sunny Thanksgiving morning and took the opportunity to grab coffee and walk across the Vlatava River to Prague Castle - actually a complex of a cathedral and several buildings up on a hill. The walk up was beautiful and I got to see a fantastic panorama of the city on my first day. We visited St. Vitus Cathedral, which I think may be my second-favorite cathedral in Europe after Notre Dame! It's very gothic in its architecture but apparently was finished in the early 1900s, so the back half of the cathedral has art nouveau stained glass that was very unexpected but stunningly beautiful.




After lunch at an adorable restaurant with a name I cannot pronounce (Julia can confirm that I was literally obsessed with the interior decoration), we visited the John Lennon wall. It's just a random wall, but after Lennon's death someone graffiti-ed on the wall as a memorial. The government covered it up but people kept coming back and painting lyrics and pictures. Now it's left up as a colorful and beautiful tribute to his words!




We went to Thanksgiving dinner at the Marriott with Julia's study abroad program and were met with a mouth-watering spread of literally every food I could think of. Except mashed potatoes and green beans. Really? They literally could have asked any American on the street and they would've told them they were rather essential. Regardless, the food was DELICIOUS and hit the spot! We retired in our food coma to reruns of Law and Order online in our giant comfy hotel bed :)

DAY 3: On Friday morning Julia took me to the Jewish Quarter. Apparently Prague used to have the third largest Jewish population in Europe, but after the Holocaust there are very few left in the city so the synagogues and buildings from the former Jewish ghetto have been converted into museums. We started at the Pinkas synagogue, where the names of all of the Jews who were deported from Prague during the war are listed on the walls. There were also drawings on display that were made by the children kept in the detention camp nearby. It was a sobering and powerful reminder of the lasting influence of the genocide on the population.

We moved to the Old Jewish Cemetery, where generations of Prague Jews were buried in subsequent layers, making the ground level about 10 feet higher than street level! It was an amazing sight to see the old giant tombstones in varying states of uprightness, and it was definitely worth the price of admission!
The Spanish Synagogue was decorated in a very different style than I was used to, with a lot of dark interior wood and gold and jewel toned paintings in a Moorish style. I thought it was spectacular and was sad we couldn't take pictures :(

After lunch at Bohemia Bagel, Julia's favorite hangout spot, we went to the Alphonse Mucha Museum. He's the artist behind most of the famous art nouveau work that we think of today, and spent most of his professional career in Paris! His name and art is all over Prague, as he was a very proud Slav and lived outside of Prague later in life. I was so happy that I finally got to know the story behind the art that I love, and definitely bought a couple of posters to take home :)




Julia and I had a picnic dinner on our bed while watching more SVU, then joined Alex and her younger sister Emily (visiting from Tacoma) for drinks at their favorite bar, Orange Bar. They were delicious and we had a great girls' night - for about half the price as in Paris! I love Prague :)



DAY 4:  Saturday we ran some errands in the morning, made a pit stop at Coffeeheaven, and then took the tram to Petrin Tower. On the hill below the tower is the Disappearing Man, a memorial to the victims of the Communist regime. It represents a loss of humanity and I thought it was extremely powerful. We then took the funicular up to the top of the hill and then climbed the stairs of Petrin Tower to get an incredible panorama of the city! Petrin Tower was built after some Czechs saw the Eiffel Tower at the World's Fair in 1900 - it's much smaller, but still gives the same great view of its home city as the Eiffel Tower! It's too small for an elevator though, so we had to suck it up and climb the spiral staircase :)





The four of us met up at a neighborhood pub restaurant for traditional Czech dinner - a plate of goulash and dumplings accompanied by a mug of Pilsner Urquell! It was DELICIOUS, and I didn't even hate the beer like I was expecting :P Definitely a big fan of the dumplings, they were perfect for soaking up the thick, savory, slightly spicy sauce!


Saturday was the opening day of the city's Christmas markets, which were spread between several open squares around the center of town. Huge Christmas trees, street lights, singing choirs, roasting sausages - I was in heaven! It definitely was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season! For dessert we bought trdelnik (don't ask me to pronounce it), an ubiquitous street food at the market that we had to try. It's basically sourish dough wrapped around a metal dowel and toasted, then rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Like a churro flavor, but a bit less sweet. In other words, YUM.



 


DAY 5: Sunday began with brunch at the Globe, an English bookstore and restaurant that is one of Alex and Julia's favorite spots. It was beautiful inside with red walls, fun art, and a loft dining area. I had the eggs benedict I'd been craving, and lo and behold it came on a delicious toasted (and huge) bagel! Three bagels in one week - that's more than I can say in the states!

Under the pretext of sore feet, but really out of a shameless desire to see Robert Pattinson (I'm team Jacob, for the record), a bunch of us went to see New Moon, the new Twilight movie. Czech subtitles really made it an experience, and I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the movie - more than I can say for the last one, where I actually felt myself getting dumber as it went on...


After strolling the markets again and trying some candied almonds (again, YUM!), we headed to dinner at Julia's favorite Prague restaurant, Clear Head, a vegetarian place that's more of a local place and off the beaten path. It was the BEST food I've had in months, and I thoroughly relished every bite of my bulgur risotto with stir-fried veggies, tempeh and sundried tomato and peanut pesto. Ahhh now if I could only find that in France! I don't think "vegetarian" translates here...

DAY 6: Unfortunately, I had to leave early Monday morning in order to be home for class in the afternoon, so I spent Sunday night in Julia and Alex's dorm room. Problem was, Emily was sleeping there too and so four of us had to share two TWIN beds. Not a good arrangement by any means. Emily had to leave at 5am and I had to be up at 6:30, so needless to say I did not sleep too well. But after dragging myself out of bed I bid a quick and sleepy goodbye to Julia and boarded the bus to the airport in the cold Prague morning. When I finally stumbled into school that afternoon, still carrying my backpack, I discovered that class had been canceled! I joyfully walked home and fell into bed.


What an amazing week! Prague is an amazing city and I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling through Europe. It's much smaller and more manageable of a city than Paris, and I can see how Julia really feels at home there. Although I definitely feel almost like a native Parisian now, there's still an incredible amount of the city that I don't know! But I only have one more day until I leave again, this time for a weekend in Berlin with Julia and Alex. Funny how I'm seeing Julia more in Europe than I have when we've been at school in San Diego and Tacoma...

Stay tuned for more pictures and Christmas market adventures! Love to all - I'm thankful for YOU this year!







About Me

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Exploring the city, earning my doctorate in physical therapy, sometimes sleeping and always baking! Life is a little crazy but always good - one of the things that make it all worth it is playing in my kitchen and sharing the results with the people I love.

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