photos

So I fell off the face of the internet world for a while. So long that I’ve decided my blog could use a new look. I’d like to redo my website too, but I know I’m lazy and so I’m not sure if that will happen anytime soon.

I’m also not going to finish my France blog. I had an amazing time, but…well retyping my journal and resizing all those photos turned out to be more of a chore than I imagined.

For now, here are some more recent pictures I’ve taken…

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day 7 & 8: off to the val de loire!

2/6/13:

I slept in again and relaxed during the day while we waited for Margaret to finish teaching so we could head off to our next destination. For lunch, Justin made me a white bean mash burrito with veggies and samurai sauce. Tasted like a burrito and mashed potatoes had a baby – delicious.

We picked Margaret up from school as well as another carpooler that was headed for Troyes – a stop along the way to Sens. The car ride was long and cramped, and we got lost, but eventually we dropped off our carpooler and made it to the house in Sense that were couch surfing at. My first time couch surfing! Our hosts – Ali & Aisha – were surfers as well, and said they were honored to be my first hosts. They’re Moroccan (I believe) and are fairly new to the couch surfing scene, but have found that they really enjoy the culture. They both spoke enough English that I was actually able to talk to them – though, I stayed pretty quiet anyway. (Again, people cannot believe that I don’t speak French, even though I was only visiting for less than two weeks. Sorry, I’m not that devoted!)

We were given slippers to wear as soon as we walked in and had to leave our wine out in the garage – no alcohol in the house, ever. They had dinner ready for us, despite our 9:30 arrival and we started with a salad made mostly of endives, tomatoes and avocado. Can you guess which part I enjoyed most? Honestly, endives aren’t my thing – this was my first time trying them and they’re just too bitter for me. The main dish was a tajine – made with chicken, potatoes, green olives (first time trying, not my fave), and herbs. Simple, but filling. As usual, I felt as though I wasn’t eating enough. I can’t sit down and eat 3 large courses at every meal!

We took a break for conversation, mostly J&M and A&A sharing travel stories. Naturally, there was dessert to be had. Justin baked a pear pound cake, which was delicious. A&A had some pastries with a cutout in the middle shaped like an eye and filled with peach jam & cream. It was super sweet and flaky, so of course I loved it. We had some tea as well – sort of minty and naturally sweet – the kind where you pour the hot water onto the flower and it blooms inside the pot.

I slept on a type of bench/couch that is apparently popular in Morocco.  It was pretty comfortable and I had a nice fluffy blanket too.

2/7/13:

Our goal today was to get an early start so we could have a quick tour of Sens and then head off to Tours by 9:30. Instead we had a slow start and (after a delicious breakfast of coffee and more of those eye-pastries) headed to town at 9:30. It was a little ironic, because Ali mentioned how relaxed people are in Africa and how little time means to them. He felt it was too relaxed, but then it was difficult to get him going in the morning for our tour. Again – the French lead a different lifestyle, it seems they somehow have more time on their hands.

Ali kept remarking on how well he knows the town – and it’s history – and that he really should have been giving us a three-hour tour. Instead, he had to settled for the abbreviated 1-hour version. We saw the Cathedral and the town hall (and Ali gave some history about the battle between church and state that I don’t remember), as well as some examples of rich houses (made with stone) and poor houses (made with carved wood – looked pretty sweet to me!) The statues of the saints decorating the front of the church all had their heads removed, for some historical reason that I – again – don’t remember.

After fond goodbyes from Ali, we crammed back into the teeny-mobile and headed for Tours to meet our next guests, who we would be spending two nights with. Jeanne and Jann are the perfect image of cute, little French grandparents (though I’m not sure if their daughter has kids yet) and their house is beautiful and filled with a collection of eclectic and worldly knick-knacks. They even have a library! They have a black cat named Baghira, and she is actually from the jungle – their daughter adopted her somewhere in Africa and ended up giving her to her parents. She was totally immune to my cat-love though, and wanted nothing to do with me :[

We made excellent time heading to Tours though (and paid 30 Euros in tolls! X_X) and ended up arriving at 1 PM like we’d planned. J&J had lunch ready for us: local red wine, and a dish made with lentils, onions, ham & sausage. Very hearty, though I would have preferred it with some herbs. There was also salad with home-made dressing, and a cheese course. I tried Brie, a Chez (goat cheese, my fave), and local one that I don’t remember (something that starts with a C maybe). Jeanne had made a strawberry and apricot tart for dessert and it was the most delicious dessert I’ve ever had! I drank black coffee with dessert – for the first time – and really enjoyed it.

We relaxed and let our food digest while Jeanne suggested places for us to visit downtown. We ended up just moseying around the city. First we stopped at this market building that had several different butchers, bakers, cheese shops, and veggie stands, as well as seafood stalls, and of course, a wine shop. We bought cheese and steaks for the dinner Justin planned to make and sampled cheeses and breads. I got bored pretty quickly though, since I’m so intimidated by cooking, raw ingredients don’t really whip me into a frenzy.

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We stopped in at the Tourist Office and I picked up a bunch of random brochures because they had cool imagery. J&M got some info and maps about castles and bought some tickets to castles we planned to see, to save money. Margaret and I had to use the bathroom, but they apparently don’t allow that, so we were told to go to the train station across the street. We had to pay 50 cents each just to pee! Lame. Margaret and I both wondered how much the bathroom attendant gets paid for that job.

After drifting around various side streets, we made it to the main cathedral in town. This one felt like the tallest one I’d seen yet (not sure if it actually was or not) and it was very…pointy and intimidating. This one had entire statues missing, instead of just heads.

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Nearby there was a massive tree and a random taxidermied elephant, which I guess was a gift to the town from Barnum & Bailey after it rampaged and was put down. Strange gift, eh? There was a little garden behind some building (which I think was a kind of school or something), which I imagine would be cute during Spring.

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It was Justin’s turn to prepare dinner, so he cooked while Margaret and I chatted with our hosts and drank wine. He made steaks and then a baked mac and cheese, with like 9 cheeses, bacon, broccoli, mushrooms, and tomatoes, with a cheesy breadcrumb topping and a side of jalapeño cream sauce, and it was HEAVEN. Best mac and cheese I’ve ever had, and I doubt I’ll ever have anything that comes close again. I listened while everyone talked more of their travels and after dinner we had some delicious tea called rooibos – something I keep meaning to look into getting back at home. I really loved it.

day 5 & 6: nancy

2/4/13:

5.6Today was a relaxing day – no major plans during the day, except to prepare for the Superbowl party J&M were throwing. Naturally we started our day with coffee from McCafé. Trés fancy! This time I took pictures of all the cute little treats they sell, though I decided against ordering a macaron, because after having the ultra-delicious, fancy ones the day before, I figured I’d be pretty disappointed by the ones McD’s had to offer. This time though, we got our coffee to go (gasp!) and it still took forever for them to make. Again, French people just have way more time on their hands!

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I enjoy their ‘this is hot!’ symbol

 

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I took a few pictures of some random shops we passed by on our little jaunt.

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A bar window

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This picture is for Sarah

This picture is for Sarah

Justin had ordered chicken wings so that they’d be ready to pick up the day of the party. But when we got to the butcher’s, the guy on duty didn’t really speak English and told Justin that his wings weren’t ready – they would be ready the next day. Justin noticed his name on a piece of paper behind the counter and tried pointing out the date on his order was today but the guy just kept shaking his head and saying tomorrow. We ended up having to go back with Margaret, and that time a friendlier guy was working and we got the wings. We also went grocery shopping and the store had everything from food to beer to TVs to car parts. And the cashiers get to sit down!!

I basically sat around reading and playing on Facebook. J&M made dinner for the party – Justin made some really awesome sauces for the wings: buffalo, sweet & spicy, mirabelle bbq, and coconut curry. Margaret made the best coleslaw I’ve ever had (I ate so much of it), plus we had veggies to dip in bleu cheese. They had other assistant teachers over to watch the game and it was a pretty good gathering. I didn’t really talk to anyone (yeah, I’m still shy), but I enjoyed listening to everyone’s conversations (like a creeper).  Overall, it was nice to have a break from all the sight-seeing.

Cheers!

Cheers!

2/5/13:

Another relaxing day – fine by me! While Margaret was at work Justin & I watched some TV. He nipped out for cigarettes and I’m glad I stayed inside, because while he was gone (probably about 20 minutes) it started to rain, then sleet then snow. Definitely not weather I wanted to be out in! I did a lot of reading too. I’ll admit that while it was nice to take a break from the constant barrage of awesome sights to see, not having anything to focus on made me homesick (probably because all I do at home is curl up with a book). For lunch, Justin and I had a random assortment of leftovers – kimchi, cheese, olives, pickles, pickled radish and garlic, marinated mushrooms, crunchy bread and red pepper jelly. I was really digging the picked radish!

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Art Nouveau style woodwork at the local bank

Finally the weather cleared up, so we wandered around Nancy for a bit. We went to the main square of the town, which is all cobblestone and gilded fences and fancy looking buildings with all that old-world charm. There was a pretty cool looking fountain too, but of course it was under construction. There was also this glass shop called Daum, and I guess they’re pretty famous (and expensive!), so we poked around there too.

We walked around the Duke’s palace and saw a really old section of wall, which is part of what used to surround the whole town. There were some cute looking shops too, but I didn’t really feel like shopping.

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The wall

We stopped in at the apartment (so I could put more layers on) and then went out again because Margaret was giving an English lesson. We went back out to pick up our La galette des Rois (King Cake), and of course we had issues picking that up too. Due to the language barrier we didn’t end up picking up the cake the Margaret had ordered, but we ended up just picking one out from the ones they had ready. Then we stopped at a bar called Les Artistes, which was a three-story bar with with dilapidated couches and creaky wooden floors. Neat place though (except their bathroom was friggen disgusting).

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Art Nouveau house

Dinner was wings again, this time samurai (my favorite), buffalo, Asian (had fish sauce in it, but was also a sweet and sour sesame goodness), and salt and vinegar (which made my eyes water). There was also salad with home-made dressing and goat cheese (my obsession at the time). We ate the galette, and I got the little favor inside (a porcelain sphere with what I think are polar bears on it), which made me  King for a Day, and I also got the paper crown. The galette was very flaky and delicious, with a light filling inside – the flavor is hard to describe. We finished up with a shot of the Korean liquor the couch surfers left behind, but it was kind of like bland sake and I didn’t finish mine.

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day 4: art

2/3/13:

4.1We all slept in since we were out so late the night before, then Justin, Margaret, Claire and I all went to get coffee at Starbucks. From there we headed to the Louvre and saw the Obelisk, which France stole from Egypt and wouldn’t give back.  Before we went to the Louvre, we stopped at the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is a place Monet designed – he wanted someplace for people to view his work, and meditate and such. There were two main rooms with four paintings each, one per wall. It was awesome to see his work up close like that. It was hard not to reach out and touch it. If we had time, I probably could have sat on a bench for a few hours just staring at his paintings. Naturally we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. Nothing would compare to the original anyway. There was also a gallery downstairs with work from various artists, but honestly, after seeing Monet’s work, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else.

4.2After that we tried to stop at a mustard shop called Maille, but it was closed. So we popped in next door at Ladurée and got some famous (and of course, a little expensive) macarons. We tried pistachio, coffee, rose petal, raspberry and orange blossom. Orange blossom and raspberry were my favorite, and I have to say that I was disappointed in rose petal. The coffee was good and I don’t like pistachios, so obviously I didn’t like that one. They were super adorable though, and I totally wanted to buy all the colors just to have a rainbow of macarons. Charlie came to pick up Claire and we bid them adieu for a few days.

Before stopping at the Louvre we grabbed crepes (my first, of course). I picked an apricot jam filled one and Justin got one with ham and cheese. Honestly, I preferred the ham and cheese. The sugary-marshmallow-like consistency of the crepe dough was just too sweet paired with the jam.

The line for the Louvre was quite long (free admission on the first Sunday of the month), but it moved really quickly. Margaret kept our place in line while Justin and I walked through a stone courtyard towards the back of the building and mused on how long it took to build this huge museum (Margaret later informed us that it was built in stages and added on to over the years). By the time we came back to the line Margaret was at the front waiting for us. We joined the mob and headed off to the Venus de Milo. We also saw the Winged Beauty and of course the Mona Lisa. Honestly, Lisa wasn’t that impressive. So small! And of course EVERYONE was crowded in there to see, so there’s no way to really look at it and appreciate it, not to mention it’s behind a rope and glass so you can’t even get close. They also put it in the room with some of the biggest paintings I’ve ever seen, which made it seem even more diminutive.

Typically when I go to a museum, I like to meander and stare at certain works, sometimes sit and stare, or maybe sketch (back in college). That’s not really an option in the Louvre. There were just so many people, constantly moving and talking and shuffling about that it was impossible to have the “museum experience” that I enjoy. However, it was great to see so much artwork. Naturally we weren’t able to see everything, but I think we spent close to two hours cruising through, so I got to see quite a bit.

After a quick snack back at Charlie and Claire’s place (they weren’t home), we headed off to Nancy – pronounced Non-see. There was a girl that was supposed to carpool with us back to Nancy, but after about 20 minutes on the road she decided she wanted to stay one more night with her boyfriend, who lives in Paris. We ended up dropping her off at some random metro station. I was glad for the extra space in the backseat (our car was small) to nap in. It was a four hour ride back to Nancy, in the dark, so there wasn’t much to look at. I tried to sleep most of the time.

When we got to Justin and Margaret’s apartment (super cute little place) we had some leftover Korean food for dinner, that some Korean (yeah, duh) kids had made when they were couch surfing at J&M’s place. I tried kimchi for the first time (LOVE) and had some sort of noodles and squishy rice bits to go with it. And of course several cups of tea, because basically all I drank in France was black tea, café au lait and wine. The Super Bowl came on at about 1 AM and I watched up until the half-time show and then called it a night after Beyonce’s lame performance.

day 3: lesson learned

2/2/13

3.1Woke up a lot during the middle of the night so I wasn’t feeling very refreshed. Justin and I set off for Montmartre to see a famous church called Sacré-Cœur, which is on a big hill overlooking the city.  On the way, we stumbled upon a fromagerie and tried their samples. I had goat cheese covered in ash (sounds and looks gross but was so tasty) and some other really strong cheese that I didn’t hate but I didn’t love either. We also stopped at a cafe (of course) and it was super cute. 3.4

The outside of the church had all sorts of great gargoyles that double as rain spouts–would have been neat to see them in action, but that would have meant rain pouring down on me, so I’m not complaining about the little bit of sun we had at the time.

Inside the church my favorite part was the organ–they’re all pretty cool. There was a ceremony going on though, so it was a little awkward to be milling about while people were praying and priests were doing their thing and whatnot. After admiring the view from up high, I bought some Eiffel Tower key chains from one of the various merchants selling things on the different platforms of the steps headed down the hill. Why not, right? There were sketchy guys selling fake designer purses too.

As we got further down the steps we had to avoid the  guys who try to put bracelets on you and then force you to pay them for it. They’re pretty aggressive, so even though both of us kept saying “Don’t touch me,” a guy ended up grabbing my wrist anyway. Fortunately he listened the second time I told him not to touch me (probably I sounded a little panicked) and he didn’t put a bracelet on me. I’m not used to this sort of aggression and it made me pretty uncomfortable. I guess they’re used to people not putting up much of a fight, so even if you tell them to go away, they don’t because most people just let them stick bracelets on them anyway.

After the church the plan was to head to the Moulin Rouge. That didn’t happen however, because my cousin and I had a break from common sense and ended up being scammed by people playing a gambling game on the street. I won’t go into detail because it makes me grumpy. But long story short, we ended up gambling and lost A LOT of Euros. Lesson learned on that one. Travelers beware! I learned not to carry that much cash on me and I also learned not to take my wallet out around any sort of street game. The people that tricked us are complete low-life bastards, but that doesn’t mean my cousin and I weren’t also idiots at the time.

We headed for the metro after that and went to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to see the Arc de Triomphe. I was pretty depressed and grumpy on the ride over, but seeing the Arc up close was so impressive that I cheered up a bit.

It started to get really windy and cold though, and then eventually started to hail and then rain (weather in France is SO inconsistent!) and I completely lost whatever bit of a good mood that I had. We walked down the Champs-Élysées, and it’s primarily designer outlet stores and whatnot, so I wasn’t really interested.  We saw some golden-domed governmental-type buildings too, with more statues, but I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t want my camera to get wet. I was definitely read to just head back to Claire’s apartment.

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The view from the my bedroom in Claire’s apartment

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Later that night was our sushi dinner. Yes, sushi in France! We went to this cool Japanese restaurant that looked kind of like a cave. We ended up getting two sushi boats full of salmon–maki, nigiri & sashimi. I thought there would be different kinds of sushi, but I guess the Groupon we had only entitled us to salmon. Really, this was fine with me since it’s my favorite and it was crazy fresh. I also tried Kir Royale, which was pretty good. Tried to order a Mai Tai too, but apparently those don’t exist in France, and our attempt to get fruit juice and rum failed as well. It’s okay because we took some chopsticks and chopstick rests as souvenirs.

After dinner we went to a “club” which was really just a cramped bar in the basement of a restaurant with overpriced drinks.  They actually had a Mai Tai on the menu, so I tried again…but that was also a failure. I got some blue, lemony drink that was totally weak. Alas. The music they played was random and horrible and there was definitely a male stripper dancing on girls around the corner from where we were sitting. It was kinda skeevy, but fortunately we couldn’t see him from where were sitting.

On the ride home (crammed into to Charlie’s Audi TT–great car but after the claustrophobia-inducing ride I spent crammed into the “backseat” I don’t think I can sit in one again) we stopped by the Presidential Palace, which is where Charlie works. We only drove by but it’s still pretty neat. We got to go down a private road because Charlie is a cop.

day 2, part 1: bring out yer dead!

2/1/13:

2.1Today was a busy day! I started with a baguette with apricot jam and black tea for breakfast and I felt very French–looking out over the Seine, with the barges and little cars honking their horns…it was très picturesque! Justin, Claire and I then had coffee at McDonalds (McCafé), which is a very different experience compared to getting coffee at an American McD’s. First off, you get served in real porcelain cups. The interior is actually nice too, apparently akin to a Starbucks, where people just go to hang out and drink coffee and use their laptops. I also learned the French don’t typically walk around while drinking coffee either–it’s meant to be enjoyed while relaxing at a cafe, or wherever you’ve ordered it. I guess they have a lot of leisure time in France!

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After coffee we headed to the Catacombs–underground tunnels full of old bones! “The Catacombs were created at the end of the 18th century to serve as an ossuary. It was decided that bones from all of the city’s cemeteries would be stored in disused limestone quarries in the Tombe-Issoire district.”  We walked down below the streets, below the plumbing, below everything through some rather boring rock tunnels, and then into tunnels lined with the bones of the long deceased. The bones have been organized and stacked efficiently and at first it was almost like they weren’t real. I think we’re so disconnected with death (or at least dead bodies) that it was easy to forget that these are actual parts of people who used to be alive.

After the Catacombs we popped into Starbucks (of course) and talked more about French culture and lifestyle. Students don’t have school on Wednesdays!

Claire left us to register for classes and Justin and I headed over to Notre-Dame–quite impressive. Alas, there was no hunchback, but there was about a zillion tourists! They have a large balcony in front of the church so people can take photos in front of the church (naturally I decided to be one of those people), but it was hard to get a good shot of the church itself without also capturing the swarms of people. Inside was even more packed with people and their iphones and fancy cameras, shuffling about and taking pictures of stained glass and arches and organs and religious relics.  I’m really not interested in the religious aspect of the church (though I did wonder how some people felt about all these tourists gawking at their place of worship), but I did admire the massive stained glass windows and the huge chandeliers and such.

Below the church they had a little “Archaeological Crypt” area that you could tour (for a few Euros, of course), which contained ruins of some older buildings that were built in…older times. They were mostly piles of crumbled stone, and some archways, but apparently they used to be homes and courtyards and stuff. “Converted in 1980 under the square in front of Notre-Dame  de Paris cathedral to display archaeological remains discovered during excavations from 1965 to 1972, the crypt provides a unique overview of urban and architectural development of the île de la Cité, the historical heart of Paris.” (Says my pamphlet). None of my pictures are really worth showcasing, but Justin and I did have fun playing with the 3-D, Sim-like, models that they had, displaying what these ruins looked like in their hey-days. The displays had little people walking about the town, and even naked dudes chilling in the bath houses. Yes, we’re mature.

To be continued…

photo friday

I’ve got to get back into the swing of things and start blogging more, as well as start working on more personal design projects. I also need to get back my motivation for Mondays. Until then, here’s a random picture taken at the Animal Kingdom when I was 18.