Daniel and I are back in Paris after a fantastic weekend in Italy with his cousin Karine and her boyfriend Antonio. It was terribly hot the whole time we were there, and neither of us speaks any Italian, and we flew Ryanair, and the whole thing could have been disaster, but instead we had a great time. Karine and Antonio are excellent hosts! Let’s click through, shall we?
Thursday afternoon we took the Paris Beauvais Airport shuttle from Porte Maillot to the Beauvais airport. It calls itself “Paris Beauvais” but is actually an hour and fifteen minutes away. On that logic I am going to start calling our house Paris Lizella. However, the shuttle is pretty convenient and quite cheap: 32€ per person round-trip if you book online, which is less expensive than the Groome shuttle and it’s a much nicer bus! Ryanair was a better experience than I expected as well. They do charge for EVERYTHING (drinks, snacks, newspapers, checked bags, printing your boarding pass) but the flights ran right on time and the planes seemed decently maintained (albeit not pristinely tidy because their turnaround times are very short). I would definitely do Ryanair or another low-cost carrier again if I travel within Europe for a weekend. As long as you travel light it’s an excellent deal.
We landed in Bari, which is about 35 minutes from Corato, the city where Karine and Antonio live, and they picked us up at the airport. Let me just say right now that everything you have heard about Italian driving is true. Antonio is an excellent “Italian style” driver; I am both terrified by and jealous of his skills. He says he does not drive fast compared to his fellow citizens, which is probably true. “What if I had an Audi?” he speculated.
After a stop at their apartment to drop off bags and freshen up, we headed out to dinner and that’s when the real fun began. They are regulars at a local restaurant called Le Stagioni di Puglia that does typical cuisine from the Puglia region (which grows a lot of olives and other vegetables as as making some unbeatable cheeses). First we got a crash course in Italian dining, which goes like this:
1. Start late. 8:30 is about the earliest you can eat dinner.
2. Antipasti: small dishes of preserved meats, cheese, or cooked vegetables
3. Primi: pasta
4. Secondi: meat or fish dishes
6. Depart restaurant in a wheelbarrow, probably.
We gave Aldo, the owner, free rein to choose antipasti for us, and they just did not stop coming. Moreover, everything Francesco, the waiter, brought out was delicious: ham, salami, pecorino, parmesan, stuffed mushrooms, grilled zucchini, bruschetta, fresh olives, cooked zucchini leaves (who knew?), grilled string beans . . . It was all so good but we were expecting 2-3 more courses. Finally we had to ask them to stop bringing out antipasti!
This year, the EC Paris program and other European Council programs decided to add a “bonus” to each program in some form, both to take advantage of this year’s favorable exchange rates and to help attract students. The Paris program’s “bonus” was a weekend trip to the Loire Valley to see some of the famous châteaux. It was an excellent trip and I am writing this post in the autocar on the way back. It will be light on narrative but heavy on pictures, so get comfortable and click through…
We set out Friday morning from Paris in 2 autocars. Ours was piloted by our trusty driver Guy and we were led by our old friend Tour Guide Josh. We arrived at our first destination, Amboise, before lunch and had plenty of time to visit the castle and enjoy a good meal in town. I had not been to Amboise before. It is very impressive and definitely shows the military and strategic roots of chateau architecture.
For lunch, Daniel and I and Dr. Mann went to a charcuterie and got “ardoises” (slates) of mixed cheese, charcuterie, and cold salads. Everything was delicious! I can’t remember what the cheeses were called but one was a goat cheese that’s grey on the outside–we would see it again, twice, before the weekend was over. We had more than we could eat and yet we still managed to get ice cream afterward. How does that happen?
From Amboise we continued into Tours, which would be our base for Friday and Saturday night. Because we are a large group (almost 100 people counting students, professors, bus drivers, and tour guides), we were split between 2 hotels. One hotel, St. Eloi, was closer to the center of Tours. Our hotel, La Terrasse, was outside of town but right on the tram line so we could easily go downtown. We had a very quick city tour from Josh including some cathedral ruins that are right in the town center. Standing in front of the two towers, which once made up the northwest and southeast corners of the transept, respectively, you suddenly have a new perspective on the size of a cathedral that comes from examining how many normal-sized houses and shops can fit into the space where the cathedral once was. It’s amazing.
We had a very traditional French dinner that night at a restaurant called Le Bouchon Tourangeau that is right off the main square, Place Plumereau, in Tours. For my entree I had chevre chaud (there’s that goat cheese again) on a salad, followed by andouillette and frites, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. Let me explain about andouillette: it is delicious, but like a lot of delicious French food (especially cheese), it smells terrible. The most polite word I can find to describe the smell of andouillette is “Swiftian.” Or maybe “earthy.” And yet it is sooooo tasty. Again: how does that happen?
Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and got a leisurely 10 a.m. start for our winery tour and tasting in Vouvray. We toured the “cave” (in this case a literal cave though sometimes it just means a cellar!) where Vouvray wines are aged for at least a year before they are sold. It was a fascinating enviroment and interesting to learn about. Then we went on to taste 3 different Vouvray wines plus some local snacks (GOAT CHEESE). Tasting wine at 11:30 a.m. was a little unusual but fun! I bought a bottle of my favorite of the wines we tasted, a “petillant,” “demi-sec” Vouvray. In the wine world “petillant” means “half-fizzy” (all the way fizzy is “mousseux”) and “demi-sec” is semi-dry. I am excited to open it next time the professors get together to raise a glass.
From the winery we went on to Chenonceau, a short hop down the road. I had been to Chenonceau before but was more than happy to go again. It is so beautiful. I could probably have sat all day just looking at it!
After lunch in Chenonceau we returned to Tours and had time to catch a nap before heading back downtown in Tours for dinner and some fun. We ate pizza (don’t worry; it was French: there was a fried egg on it) and walked down toward the riverfront where there is a little strip of bars and restaurants called La Guinguette. On the way, we stopped to ride the Ferris wheel that is in another square right next to the river. The views were breathtaking at sunset.
Down at the river Daniel managed to befriend some guys with guitars (OF COURSE HE DID) and they jammed around playing classic French music for a while as everyone relaxed and enjoyed the riverfront scene. But today was an earlier start–9 a.m. departure–so we did not stay out too late. Today we had a slightly packed agenda with a stop at Chambord for photos, followed by lunch in Chartres and a look at the cathedral, and then “home” to Paris. These were also the longest sections of the drive with a generous 90 minutes separating each stop, so we have been a bit rushed to get everything in. But it was worth the stop to see Chambord again (less worth it to pay 50 cents to use a porta-potty, merci beaucoup, domaine de Chambord):
And I am always thrilled to see Chartres again especially now that the restoration is really coming along. A large part of the nave is covered in scaffolding right now, but there is plenty left to see. And the restoration is extraordinary. The somber gloom that we associate with cathedrals is wonderful enough, but seeing the stone scrubbed white and the faux marble painted is thrilling. I can only wish we’d spent a bit less time eating cheeseburgers with our students and a bit more time in the cathedral. On the other hand, we are here for the students and lunch was good fun.
So now we are rolling back to Paris in our autocars and getting ready for next week. It’s going to be a mad scramble for the washing machines but a good weekend trip is always worth the laundry you have to do afterward.
Update at time of posting: Going straight to the laundry room from the autocar is the secret to success. À bientôt!
The Francophile is branching out. I returned this afternoon from spending Labor Day weekend in Wentworth-Nord, Québec at my beloved Daniel’s son’s lake house. Québec, of course, was originally part of New France and remains a bastion of francophonie. Some people think that English is invading the province and French is losing ground, and there are a range of opinions about whether Québec would be Québec without the French language as its cultural backbone. I’m a fière québecoise (if only by marriage) and an optimist: I do think French is extremely important to the province’s identity and I don’t think it will die out. Everyone has something to say about the value of French and it’s exciting to be in a place where people think critically about their language. Not to say that they are snobs–rather the opposite–but no one ever seems to say “Whatever!” about French the way we sometimes do on fine points of English usage. Saturday night we had a 30-minute conversation about the word la relève and whether an English equivalent exists (at length we decided on “successors”). That is this nerd’s idea of fun! When I go to Québec I am very glad to be a French speaker not only to be able to communicate but also because, even more so than in France, it’s a way of connecting with people. And of course that’s especially important when the people in question are your in-laws!
So Daniel and I flew from Atlanta to Montréal on Friday morning, then picked up our rental car and drove to Dany and Nadine’s chalet (“Chalet” sounds fancy but it is just a regular-but-great lake house) by way of St. Sauveur, a gorgeous little tourist town next to a ski area. I was a tiny bit disappointed not to spend any time in Montréal this time around but St. Sauveur and Wentworth-Nord are so pretty that I got over it quickly. Dany and Nadine have two girls, Marguerite (6) and Céleste (2 1/2). They live in Montréal but come to the chalet most weekends. We spent the weekend doing ordinary chalet things: sitting around the fire pit and talking, watching DVDs, taking pictures, entertaining the kids, swimming, NOT getting up early or hurrying to get lots of stuff done. It was a lot of fun, very relaxing, and also a great challenge for me: having to speak French the entire time. There were occasional moments of confusion: Marguerite said “Quoi?” almost every time I spoke to her and I don’t think it’s because she wasn’t paying attention. And I still have not figured out the real word for the landing/storage area above the basement steps. It sounds like concombre (“cucumber”), so that’s how I have remembered it, but I’m pretty sure it’s not technically correct to say that the broom hangs on a hook in the cucumber. It’s very good practice to speak French in a domestic (rather than professional or academic) situation–even if you find yourself getting corrections from a 6-year-old.
Fun language fact: in French, whipped cream is called “Chantilly” (pronounced something like “shawn-tee-yee”) because it was supposedly invented, or at least popularized, at the dairy on the Chantilly estate. If you are not into castles, gardens, horses, art, books, or military history, you should go to Chantilly just to have whipped cream at the source. However, if you are like me and you enjoy at least 4 out of those 6 other things, you can skip the whipped cream and have plenty of other stuff to look at instead. Chantilly is the château-turned-museum that was passed down from Anne de Montmorency to Henri II de Montmorency to the Grand Condé (Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé), destroyed in the French Revolution, and ultimately rebuilt and donated to the Institut de France by Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale. The Duke insisted that the artwork remain as he had hung it and not be rearranged within the château, sold, or loaned to other museums. So, for instance, if you want to see Raphael’s “Three Graces,” you have to come to Chantilly.
The château also features a library of thousands of printed books, several hundred incunabula, and about 300 medieval manuscripts including Les très riches heures of the Duc du Berry (sadly, only a facsimile of the latter work is displayed in order to preserve the condition of the original). Chantilly also features the Great Stables (the Grand Condé thought he would be reincarnated as a horse, and built accordingly), a hamlet (faux-rustic village as at Versailles) and a Le Nôtre-designed garden. In short, Chantilly checks all my boxes. My only regret is that I didn’t get to spend more time there: 4 hours including a relaxed café lunch with one of our students. I took a good walk through the château and got lots of pictures inside and out, but did not make it to the hamlet and our tickets did not cover the Great Stables. However, as I’ve been telling our students, you have to believe that you will come back and hold some things in reserve for the next trip.
The idea that there isn’t much going on in Paris on Sundays is only partially true. A lot of stores are closed but a lot of museums are open, the metro runs, and some big businesses or popular locations open their doors (although I think they pay some kind of tax penalty for this privilege). For instance, I was surprised to discover that the Orange (mobile phone) store on the Champs-Elysées is open on Sunday afternoon. But they are clearly making money via people who need some kind of service at that time. I happened to be there right at the opening time (1:00 p.m.) and there were at least a dozen people waiting, with more coming in once the doors opened. I like the idea that not everything has to be open 24/7–it makes you plan your life better and act more patient. There may be some truth to the idea that the French embrace their downtime a little too enthusiastically, but I can attest firsthand to Americans’ culpability in not taking downtime seriously enough. We get less vacation time than most other developed nations and then when we get it, we don’t take it! At minimum it makes for an interesting clash of cultures when the 24/7 Americans meet the 35-hour-work-week French.
Since I was in the neighborhood (sort of) I took the recommendation of an esteemed friend and went to the Musée Jacquemart-André this afternoon. This museum seems much less well known than the others I’ve been to–on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the day before Bastille Day, there was no line and it was not bustling with tourists. It is a 19th-century mansion built by a wealthy banker’s son, Edouard André, to house and display his and his wife’s (Nélie Jacquemart–she was a painter herself) art collection. When he died, the house and its collections were left to the Institut de France and it opened as a museum in 1913. It is a beautiful space: elaborate but not overwhelming. And as an 18th-century specialist, I was in heaven. A lot of the art dates to the 18th century and the styling of the house itself–as it is presented now–recalls that era. The special exhibition on display was focused on the fêtes galantes paintings of Watteau, Fragonard, and other artists who participated in that style: a sort of dressed-up version of the pastoral in which elegant people in beautiful clothes have a lovely (and sometimes slightly risqué) time in a fantastical woodland setting. The more paintings I’m exposed to, the more I enjoy looking at paintings because I often encounter familiar themes or people I recognize Two of the paintings by Nicolas Lancret that I saw today incorporated La Camargo, a celebrity at the time Lancret was painting. Most of the fête galante paintings don’t depict actual people but the idea of an idyllic party in the country, possibly featuring some shenanigans, certainly reflects things I’m familiar with from eighteenth-century culture. And like many places I’ve been recently, it’s worth going just to see the building. The tour includes 3-4 rooms from the Andrés’ private apartments. I always love seeing how people lived “back then,” though I still can’t quite imagine living in such an elaborate space every day–and with corsets on, at that.
At the end of my tour through the museum I decided to have a coffee in the café and read my roman polar for a while (have learned the difference between a polar, which is more like a noir thriller, and a policier, which is just a regular detective novel). It was only a little more expensive than at a regular café and I got to enjoy being seated next to a gentleman of a certain age and his young Swedish girlfriend, speaking English to each other because that was the language they had in common, and him holding her hand the entire time. To his credit he seemed unable to believe his luck, as well he should have been. Across from me were 2 women, one of whom was wearing several thousand dollars’ worth of accessories (Gucci loafers, Birkin bag, and a watch I couldn’t identify because I’m not fancy enough) and who wouldn’t stop being rude to the server. She was like a caricature brought to life; I didn’t think those types existed. Between the coffee (which was very good), the book, and the other patrons I got my money’s worth out of that museum café.
Got a little lost coming out of the museum and walked too far through the 8th arrondissement in search of a metro. I don’t know what it is about the 8th–maybe just lack of exposure–but I usually get turned around when I go there. Finally I found Gare St. Lazare and made my way back in time for dinner and laundry. Tomorrow is Bastille Day; I’m thinking of going out for the parade but it will all depend on the weather. A little blue sky is peeking through right now, but what will tomorrow bring?
I can’t believe it’s our last night in Paris. It’s almost midnight and our cab to the airport comes at 7 tomorrow morning. I have some major catching up to do on this here blog; hopefully I can work on it during the flight. The last couple of days have been busy but so much fun. Time for bed; see you on the other side! À bientôt!
For our last day in Paris we split up to visit the things we most wanted to see (and, in my case, run some unglamorous and non-touristy errands). Daniel went to play poker at Le Cercle Clichy Montmartre–I was surprised to find out that this is not a random hole in the wall but a beautiful historic building. (Why was I surprised? Isn’t everything in Paris in a beautiful historic building?) I went with Vicki and Samantha to visit Notre-Dame (we had been on the premises but not been inside). It is spectacular. Vicki especially loved it.
They then headed on to the Orangerie while I went back to Cité Universitaire to see if they had my camera charger. I think I must have left it in my room when I moved out, but the Maison de Provinces de France did not have it. It never turned up in my luggage, so I will have to replace it. Sigh. That’s also why these pictures are from my iPhone. The visit to Versailles was the end of my camera battery.
Friday afternoon I decided to take up someone’s suggestion to visit Sainte-Chapelle and I am so glad I did. It costs a bit of money but it is worth it: an incredible little chapel from the 13th century whose walls are practically all stained glass. Beyond gorgeous.
I had just enough time to finish my last mission: writing some cards to friends to post from Paris before we left. I sat at a café behind the Centre Pompidou and then felt really proud because I successfully followed the café waitress’s directions to the post office. Back at the apartment it was nap time and then over to Brasserie Vaudeville for our last Parisian dinner. It was delicious (again)–Dr. Guglielmi gets all the credit for introducing me to it. This time I skipped the appetizer (okay, I mooched some of Daniel’s foie gras), had beef carpaccio and frites for my plat principal, and chose crème brûlée (always yummy) for dessert. We drank a carafe of Beaujolais, cracked jokes with the waiters, and generally had a great time.
Our intended after-dinner destination was Parc Tino Rossi for a bit of alfresco dancing, but I got the directions totally wrong (wrote them down but didn’t bring them; remembered them wrong). I took us to the Pont de l’Alma instead of Pont d’Austerlitz. We would have been very disappointed but we happened to come out of the métro at about 9:54, just in time to see the Eiffel Tower light up at the top of the hour! What a great ending to our visit.
This is not the first time Vicki and I have been overseas together; we were travel buddies on my first transatlantic trip, *coughmumble* years ago. On that trip we went to London and among our other entertainments we went to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. It’s possible to wait in line to get into the tournament if you are really patient and not too picky. As a reward you get in (hopefully) but you also get a sticker that says “I’ve Queued at Wimbledon.” If it is raining you get a sticker that says “I’ve Queued in the Rain at Wimbledon.”
As Bill Cosby would say, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. Today we went to the Palace of Versailles and queued for about an hour and a half to get in. Stickers were lacking but I think Versailles should consider it: “I Queued at Versailles.” Of course, it was worth the wait. The palace is always amazing but today we also rented bikes and rode to the Grand Trianon and the Hamlet (somehow skipped the Petit Trianon–next time!). I had never seen those parts of the estate. The Hamlet is really beautiful!
By the way–it is worth taking your kid to Paris because kids get into a lot of the museums and national monuments, including Versailles, for free.
When we got back, we were totally done in and opted for a very glamorous French dinner of frozen pizza. I did manage to go out to a karaoke bar with Daniel later that night. In a funny coincidence, the second or third song we heard was “Georgia On My Mind.” That guy could really sing, too! Daniel sang Charles Aznavour’s “For Me Formidable,” which is the perfect song for us because it’s bilingual. It was fun to go out late at night–something I didn’t do during the program since I usually had classes or excursions the next day. The karaoke bar, called Rive Droit, was right next to the Pompidou Center so we walked over so that Daniel could see it. It looks cool at night. I took a picture of the Niki de St. Phalle fountain nearby that everyone (of a certain age and background) knows from the old French In Action series.
It was time to turn in after a drink and a few songs. The next day–Friday–would be our last day in Paris.
The day after Daniel, Vicki, and Samantha arrived was the first Sunday of the month when a lot of museums, including the Louvre, don’t charge admission. So we went, but of course the line was enormous. We went to the D’Orsay instead. Today we decided to try again and . . . the line was enormous. So we went to the Rodin museum instead. Not going to the Louvre has turned out to be a good decision every time. The Rodin museum was great, as was the D’Orsay on Sunday. But we have decided that this trip shall henceforth be known as “that time we didn’t go to the Louvre, twice.”
After the Rodin we went to the Cafe du Commerce (Mrs. Redboots, please take note!) for a Fancy French Lunch. Vicki had gnocchi–not very French, but very tasty–I had “lieu noir” with “orge” which turned out to be fish and barley respectively (learning vocabulary by ordering things with names you don’t know), and Samantha had a fish filet with fries. Everything was good and the restaurant itself was, as Vicki put it, “a French restaurant straight from Central Casting.”
In the afternoon we headed to Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur which are always a good call. We took the funicular (after walking up through Abbesses metro station which is the deepest one in the system at 35 meters), walked through the church, then walked down and ate macarons. Plus a little light shopping in between! We bought cute/funny souvenirs in Pylones, which is a little store full of witty design objects. Now we are back at the apartment relaxing while the Pont-L’Eveque I bought comes up to room temperature. Cheese and olives for dinner ahoy!
Also! Yesterday morning Daniel and I went to the Invalides/Museum of the Army to see Napoleon’s tomb and the collections of arms and armor there. Then in the afternoon I dragged him to the Arc de Triomphe because I like it, and he gamely went along.