Monday, July 16, 2007

Vive La France!

We're back from our very relaxing vacation in the south of France, and we were greeted to more sunny skies (finally!) in Paris when we got back. Pictures here.

We rented a car in lieu of taking the train this time so that we could drive around the coast, including a few towns in Spain as well. The rest of the pictures are from Bastille Day which was as fun as we anticipated it would be. The French celebrate their national holiday pretty much the same way we do on the 4th of July, except that instead of barbecues and those delicious American flag cakes, the firefighters host parties at all the stations in Paris both the night before Bastille Day and the day itself. I thought this was very cool yet at the same time somewhat unsettling as well. If there's one time of year when firefighters should be on alert it's probably that time of year when tons of citizens buy a bunch of fireworks to set off in their tiny apartment balconies, only to be rescued in case of fire by a crew of drunk and/or hungover firefighters.

Speaking of fireworks, in Paris the city sets off fireworks at the Eiffel Tower (of course) as well as various other locations around different arrondissements--we went to the Eiffel Tower show (of course), and saw a pretty spectacular display which was choreographed to music. Apparently the theme this year was "cinema" and they blasted music from some of the most famous movies during the show--the most popular among the crowd were the Star Wars, James Bond and Amélie theme songs.

Anyway it was all very fun, although we definitely missed the 4th of July parties. There's just nothing quite like em.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Vacation from a Vacation

Sadly Paris has been seeing a lot of rain of late, with only more rain in sight for the next week. So, John and I decided to take a small vacation to the sunny Mediterranean coast for a little while. The Cote d'Azur (Nice and Monaco) is always a mess of tourists, so we have headed down to the western side of the coast at Argeles-sur-mer. We didn't bring the cord that connects to the computer, so we can't post pictures until we get back to Paris, but it's all sunny blue skies, aqua blue water, and Pyrenees Mountains for us for the next few days. We get back to Paris just in time for Bastille Day on the 14th, at which point it's supposed to be back to blue skies.

Tomorrow we're going to venture down into Spain to see some of their beaches. Argeles-sur-mer kind of reminds us of Santa Cruz in a way, except to John's chagrin there aren't any waves suitable for surfing. On the other hand, most of the women sunbathe topless so that may make up for the lack of waves. Otherwise it's a pretty beachy town, very laid back with lots of crepe and ice cream stands (in lieu of hot dog stands), and some outdoor beach cafes.

We'll post pics when we get back to Paris!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Assorted Paris Pictures

Just wanted to post some pictures of our Paris site-seeing over the past month. Some of the places are the Picasso Museum, Notre Dame, Versailles, and Place des Vosges.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

French "American Idol"

American Idol first started when I was in college, but I never watched a single minute of it until just before John and I left for France in February. After a few weeks, both John and I found it to be a very nice guilty pleasure, but sadly we had to leave the country before most of the contestants had been eliminated. Once we got to Paris, however, we found that we could pick up where we left off...except with all French contestants and judges, including a much more likable host than Ryan Seacrest. Even the female judge had the Paula Abdul vibe going on as she danced and clapped to almost everyone's songs (except without being drunk). The French version of American Idol, "Nouvelle Star," was clearly just as entertaining as the American version, and I quickly latched on to both my favorite contestant as well as my most hated, Julien.

I couldn't stand this guy from the start. I honestly thought, after watching him for the first time, that he would be kicked off immediately--surely no one could put up with this sort of thing on a weekly basis:

(WARNING: this is hideous)

I mean it wasn't just the fact that Johnny-Shouts-A-Lot made a point to scream his guts out for any and every song, or that he wears WannaBe rocker outfits that he's just way too skinny to pull off, and even the beret in his hair I can kind of understand, but when he sang "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in jazz style I just wanted to rip my ears off--and man, you should have seen the looks on the judges faces.

And yet, inexplicably, Julien won. I don't see how, it's like some joke that I am not in on. I mean jesus christ, look what he did to The Kinks! (You probably shouldn't look.) least it won't be my airwaves that I'll have to listen to him screech on when he starts making albums in a few months. By then I'll be safely back in the US where I can hear...some equally disastrous American Idols on the radio. So much for that theory.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Week with Don and Karen

Ilia's parents just spent a week with us in France. Arriving Saturday, we spent the next day site-seeing in Paris with the help of a river bus and saw the Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Ile de San Louis, and Jardin des plantes.
On Monday we went up the Effiel Tower and then drove north to Amiens. There we were supposed to see the night illumination of the church facade, but it turned out that we were a few days too early (it starts on June 15th). We still had a nice evening in the town's canal district.
On Tuesday we drove into Normandy, stopping first to refresh our history knowledge at a WW2 museum in Caen. Afterwards we arrived at our hotel located just behind Omaha Beach. We spent the afternoon walking up the beach and checking out remains of old German bunkers.
Wednesday morning began with the American cemetery, which is moving and immaculate. In the afternoon, we visited an impressive collection of war leftovers at a private museum near Omaha Beach. It had just about everything except the soldiers themselves. I was blown away by the landing craft on display outside - images of these crafts are what come to mind when I think of D-Day.
On Thursday we drove to Mont Saint Michel, stopping on the way to see the German cemetery (much more modest than the American), the Bayeux tapestry and the chuch where a paratrooper got hung up on the night before D-Day (he survived). The church now has some paratroopers in its stained glass honoring the troops that liberated the city. There is also a dummy still hanging on the roof.
Mont Saint Michel is an amazing city built on a steep little hill in a shallow bay; originally it was just the abbey on top. The tide comes in fast here, and the mud turns into bay in less than 45 minutes. We had to see it to believe it. Buses pull out of the lower parking lot with water practically on the tires!
On Friday we drove back to Paris and had a nice dinner at Chez Paul, a lively place near the bastille.
It was a great trip, we saw a lot and had fun doing it. We spoke a lot about the war during meals, and I think we are all itching to see/read more on the subject.

Here are the pictures!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Torture By Museums & Misunderstanding the French Language 2

John and I have been busy diligently dragging ourselves to various museums this week, among them the Rodin and Picasso museums. We've set a goal for ourselves to see one museum or tourist attraction per day, and seeing as how Paris seems to be the king of art cities, we certainly have had our days filled.

We've also been running in the Luxembourg Garden, which has proved to be a very pleasant way to churn through two miles. Since we are without jobs or a schedule of any kind, we don't usually have to contend with weaving through the crowds of people like we do on Saturdays when everyone comes out to run or meander through the park.

Otherwise, we've found a very small and neighborhoody bar just behind the Saint Sulpice church which features an all-French crowd and therefore the perfect place for us to practice our French. We made a few friends who then showed us an even smaller and more locals-only bar where no one spoke any English at all--I think it was the first time since we'd been in Paris where we actually couldn't speak any English to the bartender. We had a really good time except for this one rather embarrassing exchange I had with a French guy:

Me: Alors, as-tu habité à Paris depuis tu étais petit?
So have you lived in Paris since you were a kid?

French Guy: Ouais, je suis né ici.
Yeah I was born here.

Me: C'est vraiment génial, je suis envie de toi!
That's really cool, I'm jealous of you! (or so I thought I said)

French Guy: (giving me a really strange look)......quoi?

John: What did you just say?

Me: (hesitantly repeats)

John: (laughing) You just told that guy you want him! "Envie" means "desire" not "envy".

Me: Oh...uh oh...

I wish my French misunderstanding had been more along the lines of the gateau/cat incident. Luckily we cleared the matter up, but it just goes to show that you better be sure of the meaning before just carelessly tossing around words that you've heard on tv!

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Metro Bunny

I don't know why, but I just love this little hapless metro bunny:

"Do not put your hands or cute little bunny paws on the door: you risk getting pinched very hard."