Paris, Take Two

Weekend escape to take our minds off of the mess of this past week? Bien sûr. If you were wondering whether there are still good people in the world, the answer is yes: a Spanish teacher I’ve never spoken to before recognized me in the train station and asked if I was okay. After I confessed to her that I’d cried, we had a sober conversation about Brexit, you-know-who, and Marine Le Pen. She kindly kept me company on the train to Paris, where I met up with C, who then got to witness me struggle to speak Mandarin to a restaurant owner because my brain kept trying to fill the gaps of my vocabulary with French. At the hostel, we had the pleasant surprise of rooming with two poor American souls from Indiana who’re studying in England.

Day 1:

I stuffed a fresh-out-of-the-oven pain au chocolat into my mouth before we hiked up to Sacré-Cœur, where I had a moment over the incredible view of Paris. On the way down, hawkers (all men, of course—do you see why I don’t trust men and can count on one hand the number of men I trust in my life?) started calling C and me nice/beautiful girls and then Lady Gaga, which made us burst into laughter. That’s a new one.

image

Next stop: Versailles, where my French major heart got super emotional over finally getting to see the palace for the first time. (Did I shed a few tears? Um, no, definitely not.) Thanks to our long stay visas, C and I got in for free, and I basically spent two and a half hours fangirling over the ornate castle and expansive gardens.

We finally left because, despite the sunlight, we were trying not to turn into human Popsicles, and then we witnessed an unwelcome anti-immigrant gathering that actually appeared on HuffPost: http://m.huffingtonpost.fr/2016/11/11/les-conseils-des-anti-migrants-a-ceux-qui-veulent-fuir-la-dictat/?ncid=fcbklnkfrhpmg00000001

Moving on to happier things: we lost ourselves in Shakespeare and Company for nearly an hour, perfectly content to be surrounded by books and peaceful piano music.

We wandered Paris at night and dined on freshly-cooked crêpes that were so delicious, I already want another one. The day ended with me jabbing a man with my elbow and uncharacteristically loudly saying, “NO” because he’d grabbed my waist while trying to sell me cigarettes. (I am not an object and especially after Tuesday, I am tired of being expected to be silent. I will unleash my anger.) I regret nothing except for the fact that I didn’t stomp on his foot—I may not weigh 100 pounds, but my heeled boot still would have inflicted a good amount of pain.

Day 2:

I found my way to a Leader Price because I was craving an apple, and had intense Nice flashbacks because 99% of my grocery shopping happened in Leader Price. Next, I did some thrift store shopping for warmer clothes at Guerrisol—or at least, I tried to, AKA everything was too big because apparently I’m too smol for this world.

Because I don’t trust myself with the Metro, I decided to walk to the Musée d’Orsay, and then predictably got lost (thanks, Google Maps.) But I happened to stumble across the Marché de Noël, where the air was infused with the scent of warm spiced wine, so I’m not complaining.

After that distraction, and a very long wait for Musée d’Orsay, C casually skipped the entire line to where I was standing, and we went inside to the Impressionist section of the museum so that I could fangirl over the Monet art for Madeline.

Because it was so cold, we huddled inside the Shakespeare and Co café, where I had the most incredible chai latté of my life.

image

Now, our final night in Paris is coming to a draw with me Skyping my two wives Iszi and Madeline.

Advertisements

Brussels

Day 1

It took a brief 35-min train ride to cross the border into Belgium, where my brain has never been more confused about whether to speak or read French or English. After a wonderful greeting from a precious cat, C and I dropped our stuff off at our homely little Airbnb and then set off for La Grand’Place, making good use of the directions kindly furnished by our hosts and successfully not getting lost on the tram and metro.

Our first stop was Le Comptoir de Mathilde, which was full of beautiful chocolates and caramels. Being in Belgium, we also had to get waffles, which were equally delicious.

As I tried not to smear Nutella all over myself, we left La Grand’Place and wandered through the streets until I stopped in front of Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and stared because my little feminist heart was getting emotional over an intersectional rally. Like the nerds we are, C and I then bought books from Tropismes and sat in a café to indulge our inner bookworms.

I won’t explain the mansplaining incident again, but long story short, we got a better, cheaper dinner and then just sat, read, and wrote in our Airbnb.

Day 2

Our hosts provided us with a cute little Belgian breakfast, and then C and I went to let our nerd hearts geek out at the Belgian Expo’s Harry Potter Exhibition. (On the metro, this guy kindly pointed out that we were taking a very circuitous route to the Expo, even after he’d asked where we were from and I’d stood there and brilliantly said, “Uhhh…” for several seconds because I didn’t know whether to say the US or France.)

I won’t even lie, we got weepy over the whole Harry Potter experience–taking a trip down memory lane with the books, getting to see real props and costumes fron the movies, and being surrounded by the general nerd atmosphere. (Oui, I’m the kind of nerd who started reading the books in 2nd grade and finished the entire 759-page final book the day it came out.)

We spent an entire 90 minutes in the building and souvenir store; sadly discovered the comic book museum we wanted to see was on the opposite side of Brussels; considered going inside the Atomium but took one look at the long line outside and went NOPE (it was so cold that we actually went back to the Harry Potter Expo so that I could buy a scarf); and explored the Basilique before defrosting in our Airbnb from the foggy 39-degree, spoopy Halloween weather.

Lille

Day 1

La and I got up bright and early (dark and early? It was before sunrise) to walk to the train station and head to Lille. During the 3-hour, 18-minute journey, when La and I weren’t excitedly talking in French, I returned to my nerd roots and spent the train rides brainstorming ideas for my letter of motivation for grad school.

Upon arriving at Lille, La and I got distracted by blue skies and sunshine, a phenomenon we hadn’t seen for days in Laon. We waited for C to arrive from Amiens, and then the three of us were awestruck by how big and lively and diverse Lille is compared to Amiens and Laon.

image

After grabbing sandwiches for lunch, we sat by the fountain in la Grande’Place, taking in the city’s gorgeous architecture  before leaving our stuff at our hostel and wandering into FNAC, where I was in pure nerd heaven as I gazed at stacks of French literature. I’m not a nerd if I spend all my money on French books, am I?

image

Our next destination was Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille, which was an odd mixture of modern and ancient.

image

Eventually, we went to a Tex Mex restaurant for dinner, where I managed to drop my knife onto the floor–and the worst part is that this was before I started coughing like mad after trying my first shot ever because the owner gave it to us for free. I guess I’m a natural klutz.

image

Day 2

C, La, and I started the day off by having breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Pauls scattered throughout the city and then walking to the Citadelle, where we embarked on a scenic walk, absorbing nature, sunshine, and the adorably tiny dog that kept trying to pick up a stick that was too big for its mouth. (I empathized on a deep level. I once tried to stuff an entire Reese’s in my mouth but it barely fit.)

Next, at the Parc Zoologique, I think I was honestly more intrigued by the hordes of French children who’re more stylish than I am, with their perfectly coordinated glasses and scarves and pants, than the animals.

image

Inspired by the greenery around the Citadelle, we headed over to the equally verdant Jardin Vauban. Although it did briefly rain, we lucked out because it happened while we were chilling in the lobby of the Palais des Beaux-Arts and making the most of the free Wi-Fi.

image

Next destination: Notting Hill Coffee, where we met up with K, a fellow Yellow Jacket studying abroad in Lille, and one of her friends. Except the conversation that was supposed to be about TAPIF digressed into K and me gushing about a favorite mutual professor for an hour-and-a-half.

image
Then we parted ways; C, La, and I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant; and then we met up with K again and brought her to our hostel, where she, C, and I had a lovely minority salt/rage party until 2am.

image

Anyways, it’s time for me to shut up now–today at noon, C and I are popping over to Belgium for two nights, and I can finally cross the country off of my bucket list of places I want to travel.

Les hortillonages

Try saying that word in French—it’s a struggle. Basically, les hortillonages are floating gardens, unique to Amiens and Picardie. And they’re gorgeous. F, S, and I paid 6 euros for an idyllic 45-minute boat ride through what was a network of canals and tiny islands, complete with houses, veggies, fruit, ducks, chickens, dogs, and fish. The experience cemented the feeling that, even though I’ve been in France for 19 days, I still feel like I’m dreaming, like I’m waiting to wake up at any moment. Since I don’t have the words to describe how magical les hortillonages were, a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, so I’ll just let these photos do the talking:

Amiens

Oh my god, Amiens is gorgeous. (Let’s be honest, I’ll probably say that about every city in France and mean every word of it.) My train for Laon was at 4:27, so I carried my backpack everywhere like the ultimate tourist. S and I started off the morning by wandering into an organic store, where I had to stop looking at everything before I bought things like almond butter and coconut oil.

We then met F at the cathedral, which is so massive that it doesn’t even fit in the camera frame. Its intricate architecture, both the exterior and interior, is incredible—I will never understand how people managed to build such imposing buildings centuries ago, without modern technology.

IMG_2160-.JPG

IMG_2170-.JPG

After craning out necks to look at all the sculptures and stained glass, the three of us walked to Saint Leu (I envy how walkable Amiens is, how it’s not situated on a hill), where I finally got to see the famed canals—and they did not disappoint. At the outdoor food market, I caved and bought a 500g of fresh honey for 6€ and felt really bad about paying for it with a 50€ bill.

IMG_2183-.JPG

IMG_2186-.JPG

On the way to Park Saint Pierre, which was so lush and aquatic, we thoroughly confused a postman—“Oui, je me pose des questions”—by stopping in the middle of a picturesque street to take pictures. Before the most incredible part of the day, we stopped by a poutine place for lunch and finally set off for les hortillonages. (I’m dedicating a separate blog post to Amiens’s famed “floating gardens.”) I’ll just say that S, F, and I had our minds completely blown by the beauty of the verdant waterways.

IMG_2198-.JPG

We then sat down at a café, where S and F got to witness my most memorable French fail ever: I ordered a hot chocolate but got a Chardonnay, and then proceeded to drink my glass of shame because the wine was cheaper than the hot chocolate and I didn’t want to tell the waiter that he’d misheard “un chocolat.” And then, like real adults, F and I sat there and played Pokémon GO as F remarked, “This is what they’re paying us to do.”

IMG_2277.PNG

I think that, by this time, Amiens was telling me to get out of the city, because when I stopped to take a picture of the back of the cathedral, a chestnut fell from a tree, bounced off my phone case, and then hit me smack on the chest—my surprised shriek of “Ow!” was probably the loudest sound I’ve ever made. My terrible luck prompted S to say, “All right, we’re walking you all the way to the train tracks.” She and F did exactly that, and when I hugged them goodbye, a part of me honestly didn’t want to leave because I had such a great time in Amiens.

IMG_2269-.JPG(The photo a chestnut tried to kill me for)

Days 5 and 6

Day 5

I didn’t really do much on Saturday—I just walked through the city for 3 hours and 15 minutes straight. How was that? Exhausting. However, it was fun exploring L’Avénue Jean Médecin. The street is incredibly crowded, and has hundreds of shops and restaurants lining either side. I found a shopping mall, Nicetoile, which had free wifi. There was also a Hollister inside, and I contemplated buying a pair of shorts for a rip-off of 25 euros because I’d only brought three skirts with me, but decided against it. Until I actually have money in my bank account, I’d rather spend what remaining euros I have on food.

Fatigued and starving, I returned to my room and immediately collapsed in my chair, hoping to relax, only to discover that the previously nonexistent person in the room to the right of me was loudly playing some bass instrument and singing. They stopped after a while, though, so it wasn’t too bad. Too tired to even think about walking to the communal kitchen to cook pasta for dinner, I put together a random meal of milk, chocolate bread, a carrot, and a sandwich of chicken and Gouda. (Don’t judge. I’m sure college students have had weirder.)

 Day 6

Sunday was just a lazy day. Yes, I could have gone into the city again, but that meant I’d come back tired. Theoretically, I could have taken the bus, but I’d probably would’ve ended up getting lost and taking the bus to Italy or something. So I just browsed the Internet, reorganized my room, sat down and took the time to peruse the various guidebooks and maps from my contact, and got ready for school tomorrow.

Day 2: A Failed Exploration

After ten hours of sleep, and another half-hour of lying on the bed because I was too lazy to move, I finally decided to get up and explore the city. Of course, like the expert that I am, I promptly got lost and somehow managed to find a dead-end. After doubling back, I took the direction I’d originally planned on going in, but had decided not to because it meant that I’d have to walk down and then back up a giant slope.

When I reached the bottom of the hill, I found the little supermarket, Leader Price, my contact had pointed out to me yesterday when I’d been too sleep-deprived and jetlagged to remember much. Even going shopping was an adventure here:

The store has an upstairs—where all the produce items are—and a downstairs, where packaged foods and household items are. To go up or down a level, you use these weird escalator ramps—think of an escalator, but without stairs. Eggs and milk aren’t refrigerated. The eggs are still in cartons, but they just sit on a rack. Milk is either bottled or boxed, and the bottles come in packages of six or eight, but you can take however many bottles you want. Nutella is a different color—instead of a dark chocolate-y brown, it’s like a light tannish brown (almost peanut-butter-colored), and it comes in massive jars. (Edit: Apparently I’m blind when I’m tired. Nutella’s still in a 1kg jar, but it’s just a slightly lighter shade than US Nutella.) I thought I’d found a pastry covered in powdered sugar—turns out it was a pork sausage. There was some man angrily shouting at a cashier, and everyone was pretty much staring at him. While rooting through my euro coins for twenty-two cents, I nearly handed over a penny.

After I successfully paid—without American money—I started walking back up the massive slope. Along the way, I passed a guy who looked like he was struggling to lug three grocery bags and a box of beer up the hill. I wanted to stop and ask if he needed help, but my brain decided it couldn’t remember how to ask that in French, so I trudged on.

By the time I reached the top of the slope, I grumbled to myself when I realized that I’d have to walk up another hill. When I reached the top of that hill, I almost stopped and groaned. My mouth and throat were dry, my legs burning, and the sun relentlessly hot. But I had to go up another hill. It was ridiculously exhausting.

Finally, I stumbled into my room and resolved to never leave it again. A promise that I immediately rescinded, because if I trap myself in my room, there goes my Internet and means of obtaining food. (I have to scrounge around the city for meals, since the university restaurant isn’t open yet.) Sadly, by the time I realized that I’d need enough food to feed myself until the restaurant opens, I was too tired to leave the room.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from staying in my room for the rest of the day. At least I unpacked everything—that counts as being productive, right? Plus, I figured I deserved some recuperation time.