Le Retour En France!

Hello everyone. It has once again been a minute since I’ve posted because life gets in the way of me constantly updating my blog! I realized I’ve been using this blog more as a travel log for myself which suits me just fine. I still have been reading at my usual rapid pace but as the school year gears up, it gets harder and harder to keep that pace. I do have a few books from break that I finished that I’m hoping to review soon! However, let me fill you in on my latest adventure, a 45 hour whirlwind tour of the French city of Lyon, renowned for its gastronomy and its beauty!

View of Fourvière from the River Saône

I’ll start off by sharing my travel wishes which since I’ve got here has been to take a few weekend trips by train from Paris. That has NOT happened as often as I thought it would before I came here due to a terrible confluence of events making my class schedule not ideal for such travel. I really enjoyed my longer trip for my fall break (which I believe my last post is from right before), I might do a retrospective and share the photos and adventures from that trip if I ever run out of material but that was about the only large travel I got in during the fall semester. This semester is turning out to be a wee bit more friendly to travel and I’m ready to take full advantage! That being said, I had a last minute class cancelation and thought it would be the perfect time for a getaway! I got lucky with the train ticket pricing and was on my way!

Exterior of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

I got into Lyon around 11 in the morning, early enough to get a whole day of sight seeing in. On the advice of L, I headed to the hostel that I had picked (SLO Living Hostel) and dropped my stuff off. This was my first time staying at a hostel and L really helped with loads of good advice before I left for Lyon. I was able to store my bigger backpack in their storage room and set off! Armed with my Rick Steves recommendations, I was ready to tackle the city! The first order of business was lunch and this was not so successful. The tricky thing about going to a French city over a Sunday-Monday timeframe is that a lot of things close on either Sunday or Monday so you really have to plan your work and work your plan! On the recommendation of Rick Steves, I headed towards Lugdunum, the Gallo-Roman museum that also houses some really cool architectural ruins of a Roman amphitheater (closed on Mondays). This museum happens to be in the hills overlooking Lyon and is accessible by walking or by the funicular. Being hungry and in the mood for adventure, I chose the funicular and enjoyed the smooth ride up. Unfortunately the stop closest to the museum is closed so I went to the other station and  I chose a restaurant for lunch nearby but for reasons unknown (probably because it was prime lunch hour on a Sunday) they turned me away, saying they couldn’t serve me. I was pretty upset as my stomach had been growling since I stepped off the train but didn’t let it stop me. I have two very wise friends who remind me regularly to always bring a snack and was prepared with two tangerines! While this doesn’t sound like much, it got me through until I was able to scrounge a sandwich from a boulangerie later in the afternoon. The museum was amazing, and I learned a thing or two! They showcase some incredible mosaics in the museum that were worth the trek up the hill by themselves! I wandered for a bit then headed to the other major attraction on the hill, La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. Try saying that four times fast! Entry is free and there are guided tours of the roof but only during the summers, so I was unable to avail myself of this! Walking around the cathedral was an incredible experience. The stained glass is gorgeous, and the walls are decorated in the most ornate mosaics. It was a very awe-inspiring and I was really glad I stopped by. Finally, I headed down the hill to try and grab a bit to eat before I fell over. 

Interior shot of the ceiling of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

After a brief stop at a boulangerie for a sandwich, I checked the time and saw that I had more time than I thought and with some luck, could make my third stop of the day. I was hoping to stop at the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation Musée de Lyon which is also closed on Mondays. This museum does have audioguides in English but I chose to try out my French skills and do without. This worked out well as large parts of exhibits featured video testimonies from those who experienced the war. I had no idea that Lyon was the center of the Resistance during the war as well as a major hub where both resistance fighters and Jews were targeted for deportation. I enjoyed walking through the museum and was happy to learn something new about history! I did a bit of internet sleuthing about Klaus Barbie, a name featured heavily as he is known as the Butcher of Lyon and was the head of the Gestapo in Lyon during the occupation. I found out that the United States helped him to evade French custody until he fled to Bolivia, which was just a little reminder that the United States actions both during and after the war didn’t always follow the high-minded ideals of our representative democracy. After the history lesson, a brief stop for goûter! I followed Rick Steve’s lead and headed back to Vieux Lyon to try the patisserie of A La Marquise, a well-known patisserie and tea salon. Pictures of the food below! I enjoyed a lovely light herbal tea alongside a porte froc, made of chocolate mousse with a base of praline. Praline is a local delicacy in Lyon, with bright pink flavored praline showing up everywhere! From what I’ve experienced so far in France, praline seems to be congealed globs of sugar that sound not so great but really taste good! They often make dessert loaves with praline studded throughout and they’re delicious! I didn’t have any on this trip but it’s nice to know that it is out there! After a restful repast, I went back to my hotel for a bit of a rest because traveling can take the mickey out of you. (Pun entirely intended) I was also absorbed in the book I had brought alone which I’m hoping you will all get to read about sometime soon! 

Goûter from A La Marquise

Taking a bit of a break in between adventuring and dinner meant that I had some time to recover from the fierce Lyonaise winds that were blowing through as well as some time to research my dinner options! After perusing the reviews for a few recommended spots from Rick Steves, I realized that reservations were the move for a nice Sunday dinner and since I do not yet have the confidence in my French skill to make a dinner reservation over the phone, I had not made any! Some places (such as my lunch spot the following day) do take online reservations which is very helpful! I decided to change around my dinner and lunch choice so I went to the more casual, Bistrot a Tartines for dinner and made a reservation for lunch the next day at La Bistrot de Lyon. I laughed a little as a I walked up to Bistrot a Tartines because the two restaurants are right next to one another. I had a chill dinner at Bistrot a Tartines, opting for a simple croque monsieur and a honey mustard salad with a small glass of local wine. I was glad to have gone more lowkey and afterwards, called it an early night. 

Breakfast from Boulangerie Saint Paul

Unfortunately for me, all my roommates at the hostel also decided to call it a night. I chose an all female dorm room which made me very safe but does not guarantee a good night of sleep! The girl underneath me snored so loud and at such a pitch that I was able to hear it through wax earplugs. If I hadn’t gotten so little sleep, I would be impressed! Due to her and another of my roommates getting up at 7am for their days activities, I was able to snooze a little longer and checked out about an hour before the 11am checkout time. At hostels, you’re also able to leave your bag in staff monitored storage after you check out which I did! Unfortunatley for me, it was pouring rain! This slightly changed my plans for the day which had been to head to the largest park in Lyon but I settled for exploring Vieux Lyon and its churches and covered passageways until my lunch reservation! I started by grabbing a pain au chocolat and a black coffee from the Boulanger de Saint Paul which was so good I came back to grab a sandwich for my dinner. I then walked around Vieux Lyon, darting into any open covered passageway that I could find to marvel at the inside look into many buildings.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste

I also went to the main church of Vieux Lyon, Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which was gorgeous but a bit drafty! After there, I high tailed it to my lunch reservation at La Bistrot de Lyon where I enjoyed a nice traditional lunch with an appetizer of a hard-poached egg with a mushroom stew and quenelles for my main course. Quenelles are the traditional fish based dish of Lyon and I could not tell you more than this. I enjoyed them for lunch but don’t think I’ll be looking for them for my every lunch. I REALLY enjoyed the gravy that came with the quenelles and could eat that everyday!

Une Quenelle

After such a heavy lunch, I paddled on over to the Musée de Beaux Arts de Lyon and was pleasantly surprised by the vastness of the collection. I spent over two hours looking at everything from ancient artifacts to Art Nouveau furniture. I was glad that the Rick Steves guidebook warned about certain floors being closed during the traditional French lunch hour (12/12:30-2pm) because this turned out to be true! I entered just as everything was re-opening for the afternoon and happily wandered through the galleries for hours. I almost wished I had picked up the English audio guide which was only an extra euro but I usually don’t like them so I abstained. I worked on my French skills from reading all the plaques! After that, I walked around the river for a bit and enjoyed the last strands of daylight. After picking up a sandwich, I headed to the train station. It was rush hour and I was not as careful with my belongings as I should have been. I was pickpocketed but the thief was unlucky and grabbed my chap stick which he sheepishly offered back to me. While I was not worried about my stuff, I should have been more careful! I did have my phone in the other pocket and should have put it somewhere more secure before waiting with a huge crowd of people at the train stop. I can get complacent and it was a good reminder to be aware of my surroundings! I did have a bit of a chuckle over the return of the chap stick but I appreciated having it back! At least the thief can agree with me that dry lips are the real menace to our society! 

And that was my whirlwind trip around Lyon! I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures and are along for the rest of my journey! Be safe and keep traveling!

Fall in Paris

Greetings from Paris everyone! I was going to write about how crazy cold it has been here but today, it was once again above 70F so summer has returned. I think my lesson about Fall in Paris is that it is unpredictable! Just a week ago, I was begging to turn the heater on and today I went out walking in a sundress! Oh how the weather has changed. The fall leaves are looking beautiful and giant piles of leaves have been accumulating all over the city. I’ve been happy and busy. Again, I do go to school and midterms season is here! I’ve avoided the worst of the exams but I still have my fair share of work. I last posted two weeks ago and while I’ve been out and about, it’s mostly been about getting more comfortable walking around Paris and feeling at home in the city. However, adventures continue to abound!

A Beautiful Bloom for the Jardin des Plantes

On Thursday after my last post, I finally made it to L’Orangerie! This museum was originally a greenhouse for orange trees, which were grown to feed the French public and monarchial obsession with oranges. It was later converted into a multi-use building and was proposed as an annex to the Musée du Luxembourg. It now houses the large panels of Claude Monet’s “The Waterlilies” and has space downstairs for temporary exhibitions. The chief draw for me was Monet’s work and it was incredible to view. When I went, there weren’t many people around and I was able to bask in the sheer immensity of the work. You really feel sucked into the pond where Monet painted. After seeing the real deal in Giverny, I have to applaud Monet’s skill in capturing their beauty for posterity. I also enjoyed wandering around downstairs where there were two temporary exhibitions. The visit did not take long, maybe an hour and a half total. I would recommend this to museum weary travelers to Paris or just students in need of a break! I know I needed one.

Inside La Felicita

Later that evening, I made my way to the hottest spot for drinks in town at La Felicita. I was able to enjoy a relatively cheap beer and got dinner as well. La Felicita appears to be a converted warehouse or some large space. It’s very cozy and the ambiance was amazing! It was wonderful to get to go and hang out with my friend. It felt almost like pre-Covid with the exception of the checking of the sanitary pass at the door. Hopefully, I’ll find some more great spots for drinks on the cheap in the future! I can’t spend all my money in France on happy hours!

Beautiful fall blooms at the marché on Saturday

The following weekend, I was able to enjoy some time for myself. M was traveling so I invited a friend over for brunch and we made American style pancakes! It was delicious and very fun to do on a weekend. That same day, I went to an Ethiopian restaurant with other friends and had a delicious traditional meal. I was the newbie to Ethiopian food in the group and had to learn to use my hands and the bread to scoop up dinner. It took some time but I eventually found success! I’ve found that in Paris, most of the cheaper or more accessible restaurants for my budget tend to be non-French food. I’ve had excellent Chinese, Korean, and Ethiopian food so far and I’m looking forward to trying many other new restaurants. On Monday, I was able to bake some cookies again! I found enough stuff to make my famous chocolate chip cookies and went for it! I was over the moon that the cookies turned out well and have added pictures below. It was the confidence boost that I needed and it helped me get through the rest of a crazy week! Our heating system was down for three days and I had to make due with no heating or hot water just as the Paris weather turned freezing cold! M and I made it through together and I’m very happy to be enjoying my heating when needed. With the weather turning nice again, M and I had a bit of a laugh over the trials and tribulations of the previous week.

Chocolate Chip Cookies! My sustenance through our heating troubles!

On Saturday the 16th, I finally made it to the Jardin des Plantes for a nice walk! I had been planning on going earlier in the week but the heater troubles kept me at home. I had a lovely walk in the sun and got to see all sorts of different plants. It was mind-boggling that this lovely garden was in the middle of Paris. When I walked in, it felt like a different world. The sun was out and I took advantage by slowly making my way through the different gardens. I loved the Alpine garden but the garden for the school of biology was pretty neat as well. It just seemed amazing that the garden was still in bloom in October. Of course, the roses had been cut back and were ready for winter but there was plenty of beauty all around.

A California Brown Bear sculpture at the Jardin des Plantes

After my time in the Jardin des Plantes, I walked over to the nearby Paris Mosque. I had stopped by on my Paris bike tour but was so entranced by the sweets that I had to come back. The mint tea is incredible and so are the Arabic desserts that they have available for dining in or takeaway. The price for tea is 2 euros and each of the little cakes are 2 euros. I thought it was a great deal and a real treat on a Saturday. Of course, the mosque’s restaurant and tea house are the hottest spots in Paris on a Saturday so it was tough to get a seat but once I did, I was able to enjoy a lovely repast that fueled my walk home! And that’s been the biggest things I’ve done these past two weeks. I’m trying to balance my obsessive desire to see every inch of Paris and also focus on my studies. I’m excited for fall break in just a few weeks and can’t wait to share my new adventures with you guys after the break. Until then, happy travels!

Where Have I been for Three Weeks?

I wish I had a more exciting answer but I actually have had a terrible cold! After my last post, I had a couple days of wonderful adventures but soon fell horribly ill! I’ve heard that other people have had a terrible cold recently so at least it’s not just me but it really knocked me out. I forgot that I haven’t had a cold or anything since the pandemic because of not being around that many people. I ended up with a bit of a lingering cough which is still bugging me but getting better. I’m almost glad I got ill while in France. It sounds crazy but I have always wanted to use the services of the magical pharmacies here and I got a solid chance to do so! By the end of my cold, I had been to three separate pharmacies on three separate visits so I got to meet all the pharmacists in my neighborhood! I’m lucky that I had a lovely host mom who made sure that I was taking care of myself and made so much soup to make my throat better. That helped as did the buckets of ice cream I ate…perhaps not the best food for a cold but it really hit the spot when I was down in the dumps. So in lieu of my weekly blog posts, I decided to aggregate the adventures of the past three weeks into one post. I had two great adventures before my illness and just got back from another weekend jaunt to Dijon. Without further ado, my adventures!

Early Morning Louvre

The Thursday following my last blog post, I was at the Louvre! Despite the lack of visitors to France in general, plenty of people are coming to the Louvre and the only ticket available was a 9am entry ticket. I got there bright and early and captured this lovely photo of the main triangle. I decided to tackle the Louvre with the help of Rick Steves’ audio tour which is available for free through his app. The tour was all about hitting the greatest hits of the Louvre and I felt very satisfied with my visit. The audio guide makes a disclaimer at the beginning that some exhibits may be moved or in storage and I’m glad that it was mentioned because this happened to me twice during the tour. Thankfully, I was able to figure my way around obstacles (hall renovations and missing statues) but if you aren’t able to, there are museum docents in almost every room in the more popular galleries. The audio tour focused on the Danton wing and covered masterpieces like the Venus de Milo to the Mona Lisa to Eugene Delacroix’s painting of Liberty Leading the People. It was AMAZING to see all of those pieces in the same place. I’ve been seeing them and studying them since I was a little girl and it was truly awesome to see them in person. With the audio guide, it took me about an hour and a half to see the greatest hits so I had some time to wander around. I really don’t think it’s possible to see the Louvre all in one day and I realized that since I’ll be in Paris for a bit, I can always go back if I realize that I missed something. I ended up touring the decorative arts section and the apartment recreations which were neat. The Louvre seemed pretty empty to me and I relished the chance to feel like I had the Louvre all to myself. It did start towards the end of my visit but none of the crowds that I saw seemed like pre-covid size. I left shortly before noon as I was all museum-ed out for the day. Again, one of the advantages of living in Paris means that I don’t feel as stressed about seeing everything all at once. I’m still not sure what my final verdict on the Louvre is! I definitely didn’t like it as much as the Musee D’Orsay because some galleries just seemed filled with the same stuff but again, it had so many amazing things! One of the advantages and disadvantages of using a giant palace for a museum is the space. I think both museums have their merits and if you are visiting, you should try to see both. However, I did like the Musee D’Orsay because it felt much less formal to visit. I had to prepare a lot before going to the Louvre and I would say that it was comparable to my experience at Versailles in terms of planning. I hope to finish seeing the Musee D’Orsay soon and I’ll definitely be back at the Louvre sometime soon but I have a few museums on my list before I get back there.

The Senat

Next up on the adventures was seeing the Palais du Luxembourg! The weekend of the 17th and 18th were the Patrimony days in France which meant that many museums had free admission or places that weren’t normally open for tours allowed visitors. A friend, L, mentioned that the Senat, housed within the Palace, would be open for walk through tours and I jumped on the opportunity. It took us about three hours total from standing in line to leaving the petite palais but it was worth it! I got to see all the parts of the Senat and gawk at the incredible architecture and interior decorations. The ceilings were incredible! I also felt very welcome. They had English language materials which helped to introduce me to the French Senat and their work. It also had very helpful background on the building and the paintings within. It was a great experience and I’m very glad I went!

The Arc, Wrapped!

On Monday, L and I went to go see the Arc de Triomphe which was wrapped for the Christo and Jean Claude art installation. When I first got to Paris, a month and a half ago now, I saw the scaffolding on the Arc and thought they were just repairing parts of the Arc. However, now I know better! They were putting scaffolding on the exterior so they could better secure the fabric to the art. The wrapping of the Arc was the culmination of the work of Christo and Jean Claude who were known for wrapping other famous monuments such as the Reichstag in Germany and the Pont Neuf in Paris. There were very helpful guides everywhere, sponsored by the Christo and Jean Claude Foundation, who were handing out fabric swatches of the same material that the Arc is wrapped in. It was a neat thing to see and really a once in a lifetime experience. The Arc is now unwrapped and I think they’re still removing parts of the art installation. Hopefully I’ll get to see the original Arc soon but it was neat to see it wrapped.

Burgundy Wine Trail

After my Arc adventures, I ended up in bed for a whole week trying to recover from my cold which lingered into the next week. However, by the beginning of October, I was feeling suitably recovered and took a train visit to go see Mo in Dijon. I left on a late train on Friday and came back late on Sunday night. On Saturday, I took a bike tour with Actif Tours which has two offices in the Burgundy Region. The bike tour entailed two wine tastings and a lunch along with the bike rental, helmets, and baskets along with a pre-set gps route for us to follow. I ended up on the bike tour with a lovely couple fresh off their wedding and it was fun to chat with them. Leaving Dijon was a bit stressful but we managed! We left town and got onto the bike path that goes through the vineyards. It was around 10am when we left and we got to see some of the harvesting of the grapes which was neat. It was crazy how you could go straight from town into the vineyards on the bike trail. The bike paths were supposed to be paved which I think was a bit of a stretch for the imagination. The paths aren’t very well-maintained which made me glad for the heavy duty rentals and the bike helmets. One wrong turn could have landed any of us in some serious trouble so I would caution any potential tour takers of this risk! We rolled up a bit late to our first tasting but were still able to get in. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the tasting room, the staff, or the wines at the first stop so that was a bit of a let down. The next stop for us was lunch which was INCREDIBLE. We were booked for lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant La Millésime which was a welcome surprise. It was amazing and I cannot believe the quality of the food or the service. We started with shrimp tartare, then on to risotto with snails, and finished with a vanilla panna cotta with a divine raspberry jam on top. It was the best meal I’ve had in France so far. I was really blown away! We also had some great wine and coffee to go with our meal so kudos to the restaurant! After that, we slowly pedaled to our next tasting, at a much more leisurely pace with our very full bellies! We got to the last tasting stop at Côte de Nuits which was much better than the first. It was more set up for groups and we had a personal sommelier who walked us through the tasting. I ended up getting a few bottles which were pricier than I’d like but they’ll be a nice treat later in the year! We took a train back with our bikes and ended up safely back in Dijon! A wild weekend and a fun experience in Dijon. And that’s a wrap on my adventures for now, I do have to do school work at some point! Happy travels and stay safe out there!

What is a Normal Week?

Hello everyone. It’s been another week in my new life and it isn’t quite getting to that “normal” equilibrium that I thought it would. I think there’s a couple factors preventing my life from settling into the daily routine. I’m in a totally new country, with a ton of new experiences at my finger tips, and a healthy fear of not getting to do anything of this again after my two years. That being said, I took a LOT of time this past week to chill. It may seem like I’m constantly on the go but I do rest. Taking time for myself means that I can recharge my batteries and it is incredibly important while I’m still in the honeymoon phase with Paris. So rest assured, there have been a few nights cuddled up with Netflix or going to bed early so I can wake up feeling recharged. With that in mind, let me tell you all about what’s been going on for me during this past week.

Monday was more of a school oriented day. I have one class and had also signed up for some French tutoring. Due to some logistics issues with my schedule and being restricted to a certain number of courses, I had to drop my French class which was disappointing. However, there are a lot of virtual language sites where you can engage with a language learning software or an actual tutor. I chose the tutoring option as I’m trying to improve my verbal skills before really diving into grammar specifics. I realized that this is what I wanted to work on when I was at the farmer’s market and realized that bantering with vendors was a key part of each transaction. Unfortunately, my French skills are not quite there yet so French tutoring it is! I am using Verbling, which was a suggestion from back home. I’ll be doing this lessons on a weekly basis for most of this semester so I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress!

The entrance to the Musee D’Orsay

Tuesday was my first research methods class which seemed overwhelming. It’s crazy to think that I’m going to try and write a thesis during the next two years but somehow I will do it! After class, I treated myself to another visit of the Musee d’Orsay. I’ve heard from a few friends that they prefer this museum to the Louvre and I’ll let you guys know the final verdict in next week’s blog post. This time, I worked through the left side of the ground floor as well as most of the second floor. I loved walking through the Art Noveau exhibits on the second floor because they have so many furniture pieces that they are able to recreate full rooms. It was lovely to bask in the art and because I’m not really pressed for time, I can come back as often as I’d like. I have mentioned that students usually get in for free if you live in the EU economic area as I now do with a long stay visa for France. I’m definitely taking advantage of this while I’m in France and can’t wait to explore other museums. The Centre Pompidou has a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit on during the fall so I’ll have to stop by sometime soon! I’ll be returning to the Musee D’Orsay soon to finish the other floors but I’m also enjoying taking in the art at a glacial pace so I can really appreciate it all.

Dijon City Center

Wednesday was an exciting day and full of more firsts for me! I was planning on visiting my friend Mo in Dijon over the weekend, but due to some logistics issues, the best time for me to go ended up being on Wednesday. To get there, it’s about an hour and a half by SNCF, the national high speed rail company in France. I also used their trains to get to Giverny and they have student discounts which are super helpful! The student discount costs about 49 Euros and it lasts for a whole year. It’s for students 12-25 and provides discounts on all types of train tickets. This has allowed for a travel subsidy for my adventures which I really appreciate! Being a student in Europe is really nice because of the discounts. I have many more opportunities to see amazing museums and travel around at a more affordable price. I’m enjoying being able to take advantage of it! Anyway, I took a late afternoon train into Dijon to visit Mo and stayed for two nights. The first night, we went out for some yummy cocktails and a bite to eat. We went to the Petite Reign and had a delicious meal. We had planned on getting just cocktails and dinner (a delicious truffle ravioli!) but saw the desserts for some other patrons go by and had to have some. We both got caramel chocolate cake with whipped cream on the side and it was divine. There are no pictures because it was consumed SO quickly. It was brownie like but so much better. I know I’ll be spending a lot of time in the kitchen trying to find just the right recipe to recreate the taste.

Dijon is a cute town and is easily digestible in a day or two. It is the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Burgundy, and was the center of a very powerful province during the Middle Ages. There are a few museums scattered around the town as well as three cathedrals. I couldn’t believe the amount of cathedrals and was able to visit each which was neat and I got to compare the architectural style of all three. The Ducal palace has been converted to an art museum called Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. I loved visiting the art museum as I just love art (see previous posts). Just getting to see a bunch of different art pieces is a great time to me and a picture above shows my strong appreciation for the finer points of historical portraiture. After the art and cathedrals and many, many steps, we walked over to Mo’s favorite tea shop or a salon de the as they are called here. We got some lovely tea, mine was Opera Blu and I will try to find some in Paris going forward. We also had MASSIVE ice cream sundaes that ended up being a large portion of our dinner. Overall, an incredibly satisfactory visit! I’ll be going back soon for a bike tour of some nearby vineyards. Dijon is in the Burgundy region which is well-known for its wines. Unfortunately, Rick Steves had little advice for my visit to Dijon so I found the bike tour the day before I left and it was too late to book! I’m excited to go back and see Mo and enjoy some of the regions’ fine wines.

A Dame Blanche and an Opera Blu Sunday

Friday was a bit hectic because of arriving back in Paris and promptly running to get to class on time. I was able to catch up with some fellow students and go for a happy hour around Châtelet, a well known spot in Paris for drinks with friends and a very famous jazz scene. M had recommended that I visit with some friends and I was glad to make that happen through serendipity. I tried a red beer or a biere rouge for the first time and loved it! It’s the first kind of beer that I’ve found that I really enjoy drinking. On Saturday, I went for a bike tour through Paris with the Bike About Tours Company that operates in Paris. They were a lovely group to bike around with, even if Paris is a bit of a hazard zone for cyclists and pedestrians! It was neat to be guided around the city and feel like a tourist for a little bit! I would recommend their tours for English speaking tourists and I’m hoping to go on a longer day trip with them when they resume doing them. Covid is still impacting their operations so I was glad that I could go on a ride with them through the city. The cafe where they work out of is also a neat gathering spot for expats of all countries so I’m excited to go back sometime soon for a big latte. I also went thrift shopping afterwards which was a learning experience! I’m trying to be both eco-friendly, but am very mindful of the extended summer that Paris is experiencing. Just to be on the safe side, I wanted to pick up a few additional items so that I wouldn’t sweat through my three summer outfits. I started at an outdoor flea market, but the one I was at was in no way cheaper than a real thrift store so I headed over to the Croix Rouge to pick up a few things. The selection was fantastic and I felt much better about getting clothes that I knew wouldn’t be needed for that much longer but would make me much more comfortable in the near term.

Sunday was another day that was meant to be chill but ended up being busier than I anticipated. I really do go to graduate school in between these adventures and was hoping for a solid day to plow through my readings and that sort of happened. I got a good three hours and got everything finished for my first class of the week but I had a planned activity at 2 that cut through my afternoon. I went on a little expedition of the Paris Catacombs! I went with a group of grad students from Sciences Po because we all figured that we owe it to ourselves to go see one of the most famous sites in Paris. It was neat and less creepy than I thought but I don’t think it was worth the 29E entry fee that you have to pay if you reserve in advance. It was more of an exploration of the story of the city of Paris and its relationship with the land, specifically the stone quarries and the cemeteries. The bones themselves were cool to see. I’m glad I went with a group because it made me a little braver going down there and we all went out for coffee afterwards to decompress. The catacombs were a little cold because they’re so far below ground. but I felt fine wearing a light autumn outfit. There is a lot of walking involved and the catacombs walls “sweat” moisture which made the expedition down there a little bit messier than I thought it would be. I think I would go with an actual guide next time if I did go again but I feel like it’s more of a one time experience. I will send out a warning to taller travelers if they plan on going…the ceilings are VERY low so if you do visit, be prepared for crouching. Anyway, that’s the end of my adventures for this past week so I’ll be seeing you all next week. Happy travels!

Book Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This book was a wild ride!!! It was another one of my Christmas books and I was very happy to see it! I saw this in the same bookstore as “Hidden Valley Road”, which was Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. This being said, I implore you all to try and patronize your local or independent bookstores as much as you can during this never-ending pandemic. Often books from local or independent sellers can be pricier than Amazon or other larger sellers, but when I have the extra money to do so, I try to think of the higher price as part of an investment in my community. Local bookstores provide so much more for their communities than Amazon can ever do so try to support them if you can! Back to the book! As I mentioned, reading this book is a journey and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed with some minor misgivings about the author’s style. As a novel about opera singers, it is written as a love story to the art of opera and I would highly recommend listening to the operas or just specific songs as they are mentioned in the book. I didn’t do this and I think my reading would have been richer for doing so because I am not super familiar with opera.

The book follows Lilliet Berne, a fictional soprano from the Fin de Siecle in France. The book follows her recollections of her curious ascent to the heights of operatic fame and the cost of such a journey to herself and others. I loved the story which was inspired by Jenny Lind who ended her career touring America with PT Barnum and his circus. Lilliet’s life is full of twists and turns that were delightful to explore! My only issues with the book were stylistic. Mr. Chee chooses to not differentiate his lines of dialogue from the rest of his prose which can be confusing. I did get used to it eventually but not without irritation on my part. Furthermore, Mr. Chee writes the novel in a mix of past and present which can be jarring but I didn’t take as much umbrage at this as I did with the dialogue. I really loved the story, it absolutely drew me in but I was so frustrated with Mr. Chee’s style at certain points that I almost stopped reading. I’m glad I didn’t because the novel was delicious to devour but future reader, be warned! Happy reading and please support your local bookstore if you can! (My copy of The Queen of the Night was from Vroman’s in Pasadena, a fabulous bookstore that ships nationwide!)

Book Review: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

So in the past few days, I finished this book and it was really a delightful escape to the Paris of many years past. A Moveable Feast was published posthumously and is a chronicle of Hemingway’s time in Paris after the First World War with his wife Hadley and the people they encountered during their adventures. The last section is devoted to F. Scott Fitzgerald and their friendship. Despite the title, there is not much feasting going on but the book contains beautiful and melancholic descriptions of Paris. I choose this book because it came highly recommended from several expatriate sites when I was looking for books about France. As it was written about life in the twenties, I’m not sure how relevant it will be for my journey to France but I really did enjoy the book. This is yet another one of my secondhand reads which I love but please, please, please go buy something full price from your local bookstore! I love saving money on books but if you can spend it, your local bookstore could really use the support with the lack of walk-in traffic these days. I know that my favorite southern California bookstore was really struggling and they ended up asking people for business which really helped! But don’t let your local bookstore get to that point please! Bookstores are a super important part of the community so please support them! Now back to Hemingway!

I have never read any of Hemingway’s work but I was aware of his very “macho” reputation and propensity for being called Big Papa. Coming into this book with those assumptions, I was absolutely floored by the tenderness and melancholy that I found in this book. Not only was Hemingway emotive in the extreme, he also recognized his own foibles and didn’t shield them from the view of the reader. I really enjoyed just reading the little vignettes about his various experiences in Paris. In other parts of the novel, he was coarse and rude and terrible but overall, he wasn’t what I expected. Perhaps because he was in Paris during a period of relative peace and was yet building up his reputation as an author, he was more free to write about his entire experience and emotions. Hemingway’s last view chapters are dedicated to his relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and it’s clear that Hemingway cared both a great deal for F. Scott while vehemently hating Zelda Fitzgerald. Overall, I enjoyed the book because it was very refreshing and I felt that I got to experience Paris as Hemingway did. However, as any author, Hemingway takes liberties with the personalities involved, twisting them to suit the story. I would just caution the reader to not judge all the persons presented based on Hemingway’s account of them. I would recommend this book, especially to people who read a little before bed. The chapters are more like self-contained stories and are read quickly. If you’re looking for a little literature at night, this is an excellent place to start!