Thursday, October 6, 2011

2 Days in Paris

So I have been procrastinating, but my good friend Lindsay is about to spend 2 days in Paris!  That short of a stay seems criminal, but you don't actually need 3 months to see the city either.  So here it is, Lindsay's guide to Paris!

1. Pick just one museum.  I know most people feel like they MUST see the Louvre, or maybe the Musee d'Orsay.  Which you choose depends on you.  Some key things to keep in mind in choosing:

What day of the week is it?  The Musee d'Orsay is closed on Mondays, and the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so that should make life easier.

What kind of art/stuff do you like?  If you love the classics or Egypt, if you love seeing really really old stuff and the prospect of seeing Hamurabi's Code makes you drool a little, go to the Louvre.  If you are cuckoo for the Impressionists, the d'Orsay is a dream for you.

Some other museums I loved that I would recommend:

Musee Cluny - awesome Medieval museum.  I think I spent 4 or 5 hours there.

The Orangerie - this is actually in the Tuileries Gardens, and it's a quickie but WELL worth it, especially if you love impressionism but can't fit in the Musee d'Orsay.  The piece de resistance is 2 oval rooms with 4 huge Money water lily paintings surrounding you.

Monet's landscapes at the Orangerie
Centre Georges Pompidou - If you like modern art, PLEASE go to Pompidou!  It's awesome.  And it's also sort of a secret museum - not that many tourists find it.  The square in front of it is a fun spot to sit and enjoy a gelato, and inside are several stories of modern and contemporary art.  Picasso! Bracque!  Warhol maybe even!  Strange exhibits and cool stuff.  Go.

Inside the Opera
Opera!  He's there, the Phantom of the Opera....he's probably not, but the opera is pretty anyhow.  Lindsay's a big music person like me, and so I'm recommending the Opera Garnier, at the Opera metro stop, as a fun tour.  Only takes about an hour - you pay a few euro (discount for those under 25) and you are left to your own devices to explore the exhibit of the moment and the Grand Staircase, plus a view of the auditorium!

2. Save museum time for rainy days.  The weather can change in an instant in Paris, turning your sunny picnic plans upside down.  Save the museum for later in the day or whenever the rain starts!

3. Get a panoramic view of the city at sunset.  You have several options for this:

The Eiffel Tower - everyone knows the Eiffel Tower, and most people think it's a must to climb it.  I think it's crazy expensive.  I've been up the tower, although it was too windy and I didn't have any desire to go all the way to the top that windy March.  If it's your thing, though, have fun!  Be prepared for super long lines, and maybe even buy your tickets at home before you go.

Sunset from the Tour Montparnasse
The Tour Montparnasse - this was my choice for a panorama this summer, and it was worth it.  I think we paid 12 euros each to go up 40ish stories in this behemoth skyscraper almost in the center of the city.  There are a few really great reasons to do this:  1, you're protected from the wind by 360 plexiglass - something that the Eiffel Tower does NOT offer.  2, the 360-degree view is gorgeous.  3, it's busy but not claustrophobically crowded.  4. You can see the Eiffel Tower with the sun setting behind it, and what's better than that?  I'll tell you what.  Perk #5: You CAN'T see the ugly Tour Montparnasse when you're on top of it!  An unblemished view of the city.

The Arc de Triomphe - you should definitely see the Arc, and if you like you can climb its steps for a view.  I have done it, but I don't remember, so that's my only personal tip on it.  Granted it's been over 10 years, but I don't remember it at all.  Sorry to my parents.

Sacre Coeur - it's a gorgeous, gorgeous church, and from the front of the church you get an absolutely FREE panoramic view of the city.  It's not a 360 but you're way up in the north and it's still great.  The only price is metro fare and the sweat of climbing many stairs!  Oh and watch out for the African men who will try to put bracelets on your wrists.  Break out your firmest, steeliest "non, merci!" and they will let you alone.

4. Have a picnic.  There really is nothing more Parisien than a picnic.  Just do it.  This time of year you might get a bit chilled, but just do it.  Go to Rue Mouffetard, or Rue Cler, and gather up cheese, meat, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine.  Bring glasses from your hotel, pack your corkscrew (or get a screwtop bottle of wine), and bring a blanket or a hotel towel.  Go to park and eat and drink and enjoy.  My favorite spot for this is in the Buttes-Chaumont park, but it's a little out of the way, and you might have more fun on the Champ de Mars, right in front of the Eiffel Tower.

5. Churches.  Thanks to Clotilde, France's first queen, you're in a Catholic country, and you would really be missing out if you skipped the churches altogether.  You can take as much time in each as you like, but getting there will be the biggest time constraint so go see at least one in your short trip. 

Sacre Coeur is out of the way a bit but beautiful and really unique, and worth the steps in my view.

Notre Dame, of course, is one of the world's most famous churches, and home of the first gargoyles, and it's also really easy to get to (and in the center of Paris, Ile de la Cite, which was at first the ONLY part of Paris):  Step 1: Get off the metro at Hotel de Ville.  Step 2: See the front of the Hotel and then cross the river - voila, Notre Dame!

Sainte-Chapelle: Costs 5 euro to get into, but beautiful beautiful stained glass windows, probably the oldest you'll ever see, tell stories from the Old Testament.  It's close to Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite, so you could kill two birds with one stone.

6. Food!  Here are your best bets:

Breakfast.  Pastries!  Find a boulangerie/patisserie because you HAVE to have a croissant, or pain au chocolat, for breakfast at least one morning.  You just have to.  Google "Paris boulangeries" for information on where they're located, or do a Google Maps search for the first metro stop you plan on getting off at (this is geared to Lindsay, who's staying out at the airport, but if you're smart and staying in the city you will most likely cross a bakery in your neighborhood.

Lunch.  The French tend to eat a heavy lunch and a light dinner, but that's hard to do, especially if you're walking and sightseeing all day.  The easiest, cheapest lunch bet is actually to go to another bakery!  Most boulangeries put out fresh half-baguette sandwiches at lunchtime, and it's a nice cheap way to go. (Unless you're doing the picnic thing, and then get a whole baguette and then go find your cheese and meat!)

Other lunch option/snacktime: Street crepes!  Yum.  But something to watch out for: stay away from pre-made stacks of crepes, where they reheat it and add your toppings.  That's just lazy and not that fun.

Dinner.  Food can be expensive in Paris, but it can also be cheap! Use the websites and for restaurant recommendations.  One of my favorites in Paris, a little place called Au Petit Bistro on Rue Mouffetard (Metro Censier-Daubenton), had a prix fixe menu, which means you pick all 3 courses from a menu and it's a set price, for 14.50 euro.  Appetizer, main course, and dessert for the equivalent of about 20 USD!

And now for some cultural notes:

How to behave as a customer.  In Paris, you must say certain things at the start and end of a business exchange.  This will be true any time you walk through a shop's doors.

Bonjour! When you walk in the store, saying Bonjour (or in the evening, Bonsoir) is just plain good manners.  It's not like the US, where the shop clerk is trained to greet you - sometimes you will say hello first.

Merci, au revoir. (Bonne journee/Bonne soiree) On the other side, you should always say "thank you, goodbye!" when you leave a store or restaurant or museum.  Your waiter might not be right there when you get up to leave - make an attempt to catch their eye as you exit, and if you don't, say Merci, au revoir  to the host or whomever you might pass from the staff.  During the day you mgiht here them add "Bonne journee" which means have a nice day!  - you can say it back or say "Vous aussi!"

Eye contact.  Unlike New York, Paris does NOT frown on eye contact.  In fact they embrace it and take it a little too far.  You will see Parisiens look you in the eye on the metro or the street, and if you look away, they will keep on looking.  They will look your outfit up and down, visibly judging you, and never feel ashamed.  So if you're feeling ballsy, confidently return that gaze and do NOT smile.  DO NOT SMILE!

Clothing.  Parisiens will probably know you're not one of them, and that's ok, but the previously mentioned judging looks can get old.  So look sharp!  By this I mean: Keep it dark and chic - Parisiens don't usually wear bright colors, and neither should you if you want to look the part.  Wear a scarf!  This was true in the summer, and so you KNOW you need one in the fall: scarves, scarves, scarves.  Parisiens wear scarves, and if it's hot on the metro, do they peel off layers? NO!  Because they already look pulled together!  Last but probably most crucial: DO NOT WEAR SNEAKERS.  Unless they're something in style like Chucks.  I know, I know, sneakers are comfy!  But don't be lazy, you're in Paris!  In the fall wear some nice flat boots, and a dark, slim line jacket, and your scarf (which can be colorful, because I not-so-secretly like color) and you will be all set!

Language.  Speak French!  It's not an easy language, but if you know a little, use what you know!  You'll get more respect, even though you might not feel it at first.  This is what will happen 95% of the time in Paris:  You speak French, and they answer you in English.  It's not you, it's them.  And they will appreciate your gesture  most of the time, so just give it a try!  Courage!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

La Rentree (Back in the States)

So I'm back stateside, and I basically don't know where or when I am.  But it's good t be back too!  My trip back to DC has been delayed a bit - my last flight, from Boston to Baltimore, got cancelled and rescheduled from yesterday to today.  So right now I'm in a very good friend's apartment - Isela for those who know her, who JUST moved here for law school, and has very convenient timing for me!  So she made a great welcoming committee.

The trip back has been good so far, and armed with my newly French-honed people watching skills, I barely needed any reading material.

I was ready to come home, but also couldn't believe I'd run out of time in France.  There were still a couple of things left on my bucket list!  I guess I'll just have to visit the new DC branch of the French bakery chain, Paul, for a baguette so I can ride around on a Capitol Bikeshare bike with a baguette in the basket.

I'm really glad Sasha was there for the second half of my last month there - not only because he did all the dishes and helped me clean up the Paris flat, but because travel is so much better when you have someone to experience things with.  And without him, I never would have gone to Estonia, and I wouldn't have had anyone to share my first taste of haggis with...

Or someone to clamber up Arthur's Seat with me and document the climb! (Photo requested by Heidi)

He was a great travel buddy, and we went some awesome places, even if Stockholm is the most expensive place I have ever been.

So I'm not finished writing yet - I will fill you all in on some details of our trip, some of my bucket list checkoffs, and finally, an insider's guide to my favorite spots in Paris (this is for you, Lindsay, for your October trip!).  So stay tuned!  Then I might start a DC blog again, who knows.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Edinburgh, my love

Hello everyone!  Sorry I haven't written in awhile.  Sasha arrived a couple of weeks ago, so I've been busy showing him Paris, and then we left last week for some of our favorite places.  First we went to Edinburgh, Scotland, my favorite city in the world, so I could show him why I love it and we could take in some of the famous Fringe Festival.  And now we're in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, someplace I never would have thought to visit on my own but is great!

Sasha visited Tallinn a lot when he was studying abroad in Russia, so his enthusiasm for the city was like looking in a mirror after 5 days in Edinburgh.  This city is relatively small, and we're staying in the tiny walled in Old Town (when I say walled in, think Medieval) and the best word to describe it all is twee.

For those of you who don't know, "twee" is an adjective with the synonym "Belle & Sebastian" but if you're my parents or anyone else who doesn't get what I mean by that, it's sort of a cutesy hipster.  Twee things are precious, like handknit cardigans from the 60s (such as the fantastic one I have of my mother's), or all of the street vendors pedaling their wares quite literally with big barrels attached to bikes.

So Tallinn's old town is very small, and very cute, and it's been fun exploring it with Sasha.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn - couldn't take photos inside but it's colorful and really beautiful.
Sasha in Old Town Tallinn

Quite content at Populaar, Sasha's old cafe, with some local beer.
The original gate into the town, with a flower market.
Being back in Edinburgh was wonderful.  Anyone else who's been or lived there knows how great a city it is - it's open and inviting, a city with countryside peppered throughout... the air smells like cheerios (Deuchars brewery is to thank for that) so that as soon as we got out of Waverly Station and up to street level, I said, "smells like Edinburgh!"


Walking up and down High Street, which most of the year is quiet and just a spot for tourists to eat expensive meals, during the Fringe means getting flyered again and again and again for shows.  A suspiciously high number of shows had 4 or 5 stars from one magazine or another...
Oh hi Edinburgh Castle!

View of the Crags as we climbed Arthur's Seat

I have a ton of great memories of the city,so it was fun just walking with Sasha through the High Street, and then down to the Cowgate and Grassmarket as we headed to the place we were staying.  I walked by bars and pubs I used to go to, and wished I'd never gone to, and wanted to go to again.  But the city had a completely different feel to it because of the festivals - the International Festival (the original), the Fringe Festival, created in response to the overpriced main one, which now basically is the main one, and there's an Arts Festival, a Film Festival, a Comedy Festival that likes to pretend it's something special and distinct from the oodles of comics of the Fringe Festival, and my personal favorite, the Free Fringe.

Sasha and I saw at least one show each day, and I think we saw almost ten altogether.  Some were mediocre, some were good, and two were awesome.  Let's take a moment to plug the awesome ones!

On our first day we were approached in Haymarket by a thin British guy with a show starting in an hour.  We were headed to the flat but we took one anyway, and came back to see him the next day.  Tom Webb was basically adorable and hilarious and I hope he makes it over for a tour in the states, because I would go see him again!

Our final show of the Fringe, and the only one we bought substantial tickets for (waited in a long line winding down a close off High Street) was Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen.  I'd never seen Kurt before but I knew Kristen - Kristen Schaal, who played Mel on Flight of the Conchords.  I saw her open for FOTC in DC once, and I basically wanted to fold her up and keep her in my pocket.  This time we were right up at the front, and even got a special joke for being almost the only Americans in the audience.

And now, for your enjoyment, I will close with a 3 second clip of Sasha, some other guy, and comedian Tom Webb, which was supposed to be about a 5 minute video but I'm apparently not very handy with the record button.  Enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Scenes from Bretagne

So before Jen left (yesterday, sniff sniff), she and I wanted to take a little spontaneous trip outside of Paris.  Where?  Well, ideally someplace warm and sunny with a beach.  We aimed for a resort town but wound up finding passage to and lodging in the Brittany town of Vannes, which is pretty cute.  And the beach was gross, but otherwise it was great.

Brittany, or Bretagne in French, to give you some reference, is on the west Atlantic coast of France, so if you were creeping along the northern coast of France westward, you'd hit the Normandy region (where I went with my folks in June) and then eventually Brittany.  It has a Gaelic history, and just like in Scotland all the road signs have two names printed on them: French (in Scotland it would be English, obviously) and then the Breton language, which is similar I think to Gaelic.

Pro tip:  If you ever want to get somewhere in France (it probably exists elsewhere too) without paying for train tickets, which are expensive, but you don't really want a bigger carbon footprint (or maybe you don't care, but you still like saving money), Covoiturage is the way to go.  Carsharing, in other words, is how Jen and I found a way to get to Vannes.  There's a website - - where you can search by your city of departure and desired destination.  And when we couldn't find anyone with 2 seats free going to the town we wanted to go to, we stumbled upon  Vannes, a cute-sounding Medieval city with beaches nearby.  Perfect, right?

Now where are we going to stay?  Now, this is an even bigger tip.  I've heard of it before but never used it - couchsurfing!

When I first moved to DC 2 years ago, I didnt' have much money, but I did have lots of friends in town.  So thanks to the graciousness of many of those friends, I couchsurfed for 3 months straight,moving to a new place every week or two.  It was exhausting in the end, but a great way to catch up with friends and save money.  Thanks a million if any of my hosts are reading, especially those who let me come back for a second stay :)

Anyway, so is the same thing, only with complete strangers, and not for a week or two straight.  It's folks all over the world who volunteer to share their home for a night or two with travellers.

Sure, you could splurge on a hotel, or save by booking a hostel.  But with couchsurfing, it's free, and you basically get personal tour guides!  We cooked dinner for our first night's hosts to say thanks.

So once our covoiturage driver dropped us off in the center of Vannes, we met up with Cachou, the girlfriend of our host, who was a really sweet girl.  She quickly accepted our request to go to a beach for a bit in the late afternoon, since it was a sunny day.  But the really good beach was far away, so we decided to go to a closer, smaller one.

This is where things were a little bit gross.  The closer "beach" was actually leading out to a bay, not to the ocean... and it was unbelievably low tide.  I don't think I really ever thought of bays as having low and high tide, but anyway, we laid down towels, set down our purses (which Cachou assured us we could leave on the towel.  Talk about small town!)  and made our way toward the water.

So first, it was painful.  Lots of rocks and shells to stab you on the bottoms of your feet.

Then, it was a little gross.  So the sand as you got closer to the water got wetter, and even seemed muddy.  Jen pointed out worms everywhere, which were loads of fun to step around.

After that, it was definitely gross.  Mud.  Not sand, just mud.  Stepping barefoot through seaweedy, worm filled mud flats, essentially.   Once we were in the water we were steeped in seaweed....standing in mud.....but hey, we were in the water!  Jen and I tried not to show our disgust but we didn't spend long before retreating over mud, worms, seaweed and rocks to our towels.
Relaxing on the actual-sand part of the beach - Jen (left) and Cachou

It was a bit windy...
Our other beach experience was the next day with Cachou, our host Max, and Cachou's little brother.  They brought us to a chateau, and then to a real Atlantic beach.  This beach might have disappointed some people but for me, it felt like childhood.  It was a cold day, and instead of sand to lay out on the beach was made up of giant rocks, half covered in bright green moss, littered with tidal pools.

Jen, Max, Cachou and Cachou's brother Sebastien

 When I was growing up, everyone went to Myrtle Beach with the rest of the town on Spring many people from my town went there, that I heard there was a night at a bar specifically for my home town.  But....I think it's better to get AWAY from home when you go on vacation, which is why I never minded when my parents took me to the slightly less sunbathey beaches of Maine and Nova Scotia for our vacations.  Climbing over rocks is way better than just sitting on a towel.

Moules frites anyone?
Anyway, so we had fun looking at the tidal pools on the beach that day.  Jen had never seen tidal pools before, so she looked like a kid who just got to Disneyland.

Otherwise, most of our little 2.5 day trip was spent hanging out with our hosts.  We had a cultural exchange with Max and Cachou on day 2 - by which I mean we shared silly YouTube videos with each other.  Imagine my joy when our hosts knew the terrible French (possibly French Canadian) 80s videos that Jen and I know by heart.
What's that?  You want to learn them too?  Ok here are the two biggest gems:

(The important thing to know about this video is that he's singing about a Crack Cowboy.  That's really all you need.  Crack, in French, is roughly translated as someone who thinks they're all that but they're not.)

And the piece de resistance, Bamba Triste.  Nobody knows what a Bamba is, and the lyrics are ridiculous even if you can translate them.  But oh, this man's fashion sense and oh, his clapping.  Enjoy.

We had some very last minute luck with our second Couchsurfing host, a lovely woman a few years older than us who had a really sweet cat (don't tell my cat) who welcomed us at the last minute, made us an impromptu late night dinner, and then indulged us with some girl talk until 1 in the morning.

We used covoiturage to get back to Paris too, and had a very interesting ride with a young Gendarme who smoked the whole time and who loves hunting and fishing and drives an SUV.  I don't think I knew those existed in France, but it was fun (aside from the smoking) to meet a totally unexpected sort of French person.  Except for the smoking he didn't fit a single stereotype.

And now, out of order because moving pictures around while editing is a pain, some photos of Vannes our first night, when Max took us on a walking tour of the city - the port and then the ramparts of the old chateau.

Anyway, so don't let the gross mud fool you - everyone leaves Paris for Bretagne this time of year (literally, almost everyone goes there) so there are clearly amazing beautiful beaches that we just didn't get to.  But even without the beaches, Vannes is a great town.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bonjour Burgundy! (Part One, featuring Janette!)

So, bonjour à tous!   J'ai passé un très bon week-end avec Janette à Paris, Bourgogne, et Champagne.
Bonjour everyone!  I had a GREAT weekend with Janette here - we spent time in Paris, Burgundy and Champagne.  Burgundy was definitely my favorite.  The region (in French Bourgogne) is famous for being the heart of French wine and food, and it did not disappoint!  We spent Friday and Saturday there, and Sunday in the Champagne region, so it was quite the wine filled trip!  Janette had a goal of learning something about French wine, and we soaked up a lot of information!  Pun intended, but not intended to make us look like drunkards.

Burgundy, or at least what we saw of it, is simply beautiful.  Except for the poor town of Dijon, whose tram project may never end and means that almost every street is torn up and boxed off with bright purple partitions.  The Maison du Tram, where in theory one day you can buy your tram tickets, has a project finish date of 2012 on its wall..where as an affiche in the metro says 2013.   More like 20never....

Friday was a van tour of some of the Grand Cru spots near Dijon, guided by a lovely man named LouLou.  Only the French would use women's full names but give men silly nicknames like LouLou.

So what did we learn?  We learned first that the grape vines in Burgundy look like bonsai trees!  They're all short!  Secondly that there are no big wineries with private land that goes for acres of grapes.  This is thanks to the Napoleonic Code.  After the French Revolution, all the big rich families' winery lands were shared among the public, and one of the rules of the Napoleonic Code states that when you die, you leave your land in equal parts to all of your children.  So it works like this: you have two children, they each get half.  Then say your son, with his half, meets a woman in a nearby wine village ("Cru"), who also got half _her_ parents' land.  And then those two marry, combining their plots, which are not adjacent.  It continues through generations, and it goes a long way.  Both LouLou and a very nice woman whose wine cave Janette and I visited the next day said they were from the 14th generation in the area.  The woman told us that she believes people stay more attached to the land here because the land, or more specifically the terroire, is so particular to its placement, its soil, the age of its vines, its sunlight, the angle of its slope, and so on...... and so leaving the family land is a bigger deal here than, say, leaving the family farm in Iowa, because you can basically grow corn anywhere.  I think maybe there IS some attachment to any family farm, just as even for the independent adult it's difficult to see your parents move out of the house you grew up in.  But if you leave the family plot of grapes.....well first of all, you don't live right overlooking your grapes.  You're in with a bunch of other little plots, so you could live 15 miles away and it's still your terroire.  

Anyway!  So I could tell you all the things that LouLou taught us, but then you wouldn't need to go to Burgundy yourself, and I hate to spoil it for you.

Fun fact: the French word for grape is raisin.

Bonsai vines!

Yes please, I would like a chateau in the middle of the wine hills of Burgundy!

LouLou told us we were at the creme de la creme of the Grand Crus here, so we decided to block your view.

My smile quickly turned to a frown when I found out these barrels were empty.

Wine tasting!

Our Aussie companion while touring with LouLou joined us for lunch after the tour.  There's always an Aussie wherever you travel!

Janette is in awe of Dijon.  Or perhaps wondering "Where's the mustard?"

Janette partakes in the number 1 pastime in Dijon: Polar Bear Riding!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bastille Day

Good morning everyone!  I've been an inattentive blogger lately,  but it's only because I've been busy!  Let's talk Bastille Day.  I was lucky enough to be in France for its national holiday on the 14th, and it's an all day celebration!

It starts out in the morning with a military parade down the Champs-Elysees, starting at the Arc de Triomphe and ending at Place de la Concorde (where the obelisk is).  Being short, I didn't see all that.  In fact, I saw bits of the parade through a tiny window between two broad shoulders on the sidewalk.

The view up the Champs-Elysees a couple of days before Bastille Day
Had I woken up early enough, I could've gone over and staked out my position, but I didn't.  I'm on vacation, after all!  I decided it would be more authentic to just wade among the crowds.

Here's the tricky part, though: I got down (Actually down isn't accurate...I got...west?) to the Seine not long before the parade's 10:30 start, and I knew I had to be there in time because at 10:30 exactly, 3 jets take off from La Defense in the far east of Paris, flying over the parade and leaving behind a tricolor jet stream.  So when I got off the metro at Invalides, and I found that the bridge there was already closed off by police, I asked a policeman how I could get across (I live in Rive Gauche, south of the Seine, and the Champs-Elysees is just on the other side), and he said to hurry because as time went by the bridges would close one by one.  The next bridge was also closed, but the one after it was open, and it was halfway across that bridge that I looked up and saw what I'd rushed down there for:

My timing was perfect!  And those jets were followed by so many more little groups of planes, gradually getting bigger until I saw what looked like WWII planes.  

More planes and the crowd walking with me toward the parade

Fancy French troops in the parade.

So you can see from my photos how far away I was.  And actually the camera, which I held up high, had a much better view than I did.  But I had fun conversing with a French family - a really nice older couple whose grandson, sitting on top of his mom's shoulders, could see much better than any of us grownups.  He was our announcer, giving us the play by play of what was coming next.

 The cool part about where I ended up approaching the parade from was that I found, by chance, the street where all the horses were lined up ready to enter the parade.  So I got to see them up close!  And don't you sort of wish that our military dressed up like that?  Those were some of the most well-behaved, calm horses I have ever seen surrounded by crowds.
You can't necessarily tell from this picture, but this soldier was giving his horse a nice rub-down.  These horses are clearly well cared for - he was pretty affectionate towards him.

Some sort of troops.
The whole parade felt very strange to me, because the overall effect was that they were saying "Look at us and our well equipped military!  We're so vast we can afford to put ALL THIS in a parade!" Because the succession of planes, and then troops, and then uncountable military vehicles, from little trucks to humvees to actual tanks, just kept going.  There was music but I never actually saw the bands....I just saw a military show.  The pompiers (firefighters) were inthere too, to large cheers from the crowd.  The first group of pompiers had silver Trojanesque helmets on, and the second group, which finished out the parade, drove along in their firetrucks, but bless them, they did NOT sound off their sirens like they do in the states. 

So that was the parade!  And then, to be honest, I went home.  (I had a cold)  I skipped the festivities on the Champ de Mars (under the Eiffel Tower), and saved my energy for the nighttime celebrations: late night fireworks behind the Eiffel Tower!  I could've done it DC-style and sat on the Champs de Mars like we sit on the Mall, but instead Jen and I went to my friend Julien's to watch.  He has a balcony and a great view of the Eiffel Tower, so why not enjoy the show in luxury?

I didnt' bring my camera but Jen did!  Credit goes to her for these photos.

Bonne Fete de la Bastille!

Jen et moi!

And then when the fireworks were over and the conversation at Julien's died down, Jen, Andrew (an American friend) and I went to a bar in hopes of food and drink, but found no food....and ended up at McDo's.  Where I accidentally insulted the security guy, who came around when we sat down with our food and mysteriously told us we had to leave because the resto was closing....but didn't force out anyone else.  Whoops!  At least I checked off another bucket list item.  Eating a Big Mac on a Paris sidewalk at 3 am seems like the perfect end to Bastille Day, non?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Adventures with Jen!

Hello everyone!  So I have been MIA for more than a week, and I apologize for that.  Jen got to town a week ago, which means life has gotten busier.  And I found a tourist buddy, a US Marine who's here using up some of his leave for a couple of weeks.  So life's been fun!  I've done a lot in the past week - yesterday was Bastille Day, and I've seen a lot of stuff around the city while playing tourist, including some things on my bucket list.  I'll definitely write about those in another post soon.

It hit me yesterday, on Bastille Day, as I stood out on a balcony watching the fireworks behind the Eiffel Tower, that my trip is half over.  Sort of hard to wrap my head around!  I'm sad that it's half over already, and it seems short but at the same time I feel like I am settled - I have a solid network of friends, I sort of know my way around, and I'm no longer nervous when I ask for help in a store.

The great thing about it being halfway through June is that my visitors are that much closer!  Jen's here, of course, and a good friend from college will be here in a week, and I have less than a month's wait for Sasha to get here.  Hooray!