Monday, 27 August 2012

Champagne - the place and the drink

The whole area of Champagne is very beautiful - a quilt of rolling hills covered with vineyards, interspersed with pretty towns decorated with flowers, and offering a lovely church or two, and at least one very prestigious-looking champagne house that visitors can tour.

At the centre is Reims, city that boasts an 800 year-old cathedral, that was witness to the crowning of 25 kings of France. You can't go far in this city without coming across several very sophisticated champagne houses that often look more like castles, protected by tall cast-iron fences, and serving as the entrances to the many kilometers of underground passageways and caves that house thousands of bottles of champagne in storage.

One could easily make a movie in these dark, cold mazes. Definitely horror movies, but maybe adventure, mystery, or historical fiction films, also. The damp, freezing walls, the endless rows of dusty bottles, and, most of all, the tendrils of clinging clumps of dust that hang from gates and all types of ironwork hanging from the ceiling, would mean that nothing would have to be done as set decoration - it's already all there!

At the end of each quite expensive tour, you get to enjoy your flute of champagne, and if you thought ahead, and you and your partner each ordered a different type, you can share and compare them. 

We learned that champagne is made from three different grapes - pinor noir, chardonnay, and some pinot meunier. Unlike wine, once it is in its finished state in the bottle, it will not change at all in flavour or quality, so whether you drink it after one day or a few years, it will taste the same.    

Finding Apartments

We know that at some point, we'll get a bigger apartment, and we've been looking here and there on the internet, etc. It is a very frustrating process!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see two apartments that Jerome had seen advertised. For both, I had an appointment time, but when I got there, there was a line-up of people wanting to see them. When you finally get your turn, you are interviewed by the person who is renting it, and they tell you which day they will have made their decision about who gets to rent it. (For example, noon the next day.) Then, you are expected to move in by the date they give you, usually sometime in the following two weeks!

I don't know how people are expected to suddenly move when there isn't even enough time to give notice at their current apartment. I think it's extra hard right now because students are trying to find places to live before school starts. I don't know students can afford the prices, though.

So far, it looks like we'll be staying where we are for a while. It's a good thing we like it!

Driving in Paris - underlines not added by me - don't click on them - take you to ads

First of all, I want to apologize for it being so long since I wrote the last post! Jerome has had more time off since it's been August, and we've been traveling a lot on week-ends, so I have also kind of been on vacation from the blog!

In these last few weeks, I have been gradually getting used to driving in Paris - something I thought I would never even attempt, let alone be able to do it!

I started out being absolutely terrified, but Jerome kept encouraging me to do it and kept offering me his car saying he trusts me!  A couple of times he just pulled over, saying I should drive! The other day, he left me his car for the day, and I tried driving around the streets near us, and the rest of the time parallel parking (super difficult in these narrow streets, trying to fit into tiny spaces - with a stick shift).

Last Saturday, I drove on the Peripherique (the ring road that goes through Paris) and got us home from La Villette, where we went to escape the heat (wasn't really possible) on the canals and at the movies. I still made lots of mistakes, mostly from not understanding what the GPS was trying to tell me to do. 

A week ago, Jerome left me the car again, and I actually drove by myself out to my school, through tunnels, and even around the big circle that's just like the one down the road at the Arc de Triomphe. Then I drove to pick him up from work! At that point, I had finally lost my absolute terror, and was just mildly scared! Huge improvement!

 Last summer, I drove for two weeks in the south of France and got used to it (pretty much, anyway!), but even all
 the windy, narrow roads and superfast autoroutes don't compare to driving in Paris! It's like there's no rules whatsoever, and several choices of roads for every turn (and I always make the wrong choice!), and it's never clear which tiny narrow roads are one-way, or which way, and on bigger roads, lanes are non-existent (just go wherever you want), and the idea of using indicator lights doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone!

Then, on Wednesday, I had the car to myself for two hours in Colombe (to the west of us) and I just kept driving around. I even found how to get to a parking lot at La Defense, but I knew the stores were closed. Yesterday, I drove us for the last 45 minutes on the highway and all the way to our building in Paris, and I wasn't scared (well, just a little), and I didn't make any mistakes! 

I really think I can drive in Paris, now, but I don't think I'll ever actually enjoy doing it!

Monday, 6 August 2012


I will add more to this later, but I'm going to put the poem I came up with this morning about Marseille. It's kind of like a grade five did it, so sorry, but I just felt inspired this morning when I was trying to describe Marseille where we spent this week-end!

Heat, sun,
blue sea,
proud, irrepressible, ancient city, 
dusty, peach-coloured buildings sprawling to the mountains
in a crowded maze of winding, narrow streets
and wide, arrow-straight boulevards
leading to beaches that are alive into the middle of the night,
proud churches, flamboyant fountains, grandiose sculptures
and a cathedral standing guard on an impossible perch
witness to it all

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Six swans a-swimming....

Literally. On the lake in the Bois de Boulogne. Six huge, beautiful swans. When I first came across them, they were all resting in a row along the side of the lake, preening and enjoying the sun. I walked along the path beside them, only two feet away at the most, and they didn't care at all. Then a dog ran up to them, barking, but they slowly turned to look at him, and he backed away! 

Later, as I retraced my steps, they were swimming together, and then I turned my head from them slightly, and I found myself staring at the top two-thirds of the Eiffel Tower, perfectly framed by the trees on the other side of the lake. I couldn't believe how perfect it was, and all just a walk away for me.

My Neighbourhood

This week, I have realized that I quite like this area. I feel quite at home, here. Whenever I go to some other part of Paris, I always feel relieved to get back here.

The other day, I decided to go for a walk between l'Opera and the Louvre. That was nice, and after stopping in one of my favourite Starbucks, halfway, I decided to continue further in that tourist zone just north of the Seine (right bank). I found the number of people crowding the sidewalks annoying, and I couldn't wait to find the closest metro and get back to Porte Maillot. 

When you get off the metro at Porte Maillot, you can go outside, but you can also walk through the shopping centre that links the metro and the RER trains to the Palais des Congres hotel. The shopping centre is really high end, and therefore, usually really quiet. The floors of the hallways are even carpeted! Then, I walk through the lobby of the very sophisticated hotel, and from it's entrance, it's only a short walk to the apartment. Or, I can walk along the cross-street, Avenue des Ternes, which has lovely big sidewalks, and step into the nice stores along it without crowds of people around. At almost every intersection, I can see the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the street (all the streets lead to it!) If I decide to walk up to it, I can then easily walk along any numbers of connecting streets and soon be near the Seine, looking at the Eiffel Tower.

If I feel like finding some space, I can walk from my apartment to the nearby Bois de Boulogne, where there is a forest, and also a lake. It feels like you are far outside of Paris!

Another great place to wander, especially if one wants space, is La Defense. It is just three metro stops from Porte Maillot(sometimes, it only takes about six minutes to get there) and there, you can walk around a beautiful, very modern space with very artistic skyscrapers, and at the end, the Grande Arche - the contemporary version of the Arc de Triomphe, which you can see in its mirror location in the distance. There is so much space here, but at any time, you can enter either of the huge, modern shopping centres and find pretty much anything you want!

Yesterday, I found a health-food store that reminded me a lot of Amaranth in Calgary, and it is about a minute's walk from my building. I can buy so many gluten-free things, there!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Juno Beach/D-Day beaches

As we got closer to the Juno Beach Centre we started to see signs with Canadian Flags more frequently, and I started to feel like I was getting closer to a tiny piece of Canada. Once we got inside, it was so nice to see Canadian flags and maple leaves everywhere in the gift shop! The people working there are university students who get to spend several months working at the centre, then they go back home. The person I spoke with the most (in French!) was from Winnipeg, and he apparently had gone to French immersion when he was in school, but he had lost a lot of it since then, and he wanted to get it back! We joked about how we could consider us neighbours (in Canada) since we were both so far away!

The beach itself is huge, and with the grey clouds around us at the time, it seemed like like it was one huge memorial to the Canadians who landed there on June 6, 1944. Over a thousand either died or were injured there, and together, they made it the furthest into occupied France of all of the armies that landed on the beaches that day. It really it an emotional experience being there.

Afterwards, we drove about another hour along the coast and found Omaha Beach, one of the beaches where the American army landed. There are only a few buildings near it - a couple of restaurants, mostly, but it has been left pretty much as it was. There is a very interesting and beautiful sculpture on the beach to commemorate the soldiers there. The museum dedicated to the Americans is further along on Utah beach.

It is amazing to me how something this complicated, involving so many people, so much equipment, and so many types of landing craft could be organized and be successful in their goal of liberating Europe, when it all happened at a time without our modern technology for communication or computers. Only when you are there do you realize how big this was, in every way. Just the distance alone - many miles along the Normandy coast - makes is seem unbelievable that it could have even been attempted. At the same time, the French Resistance committed over a thousand acts of sabotage to roads and communication systems so that the nazi forces were impeded in any attempt to stop the allied forces. Even before the actual landing, all kinds of purposefully faulty information had been "leaked" to the nazis so that they thought the attack would take place furher north, and their forces would be concentrated as a result.

I was so proud to wear my t-shirt saying CANADA as I visited these places where so many people gave their lives in terrifying conditions to give the world the freedoms we now enjoy.

If you ever have the chance, visit Juno Beach Centre and the other "plages du debarquement du Jour-J".