giverny

In mid-April I went to Giverny to visit Monet’s house and gardens. I had been wanting to go since I heard about it last spring.

My godparents were in town visiting, and they mentioned that they wanted to go out to Giverny. So I said that I would love to come along, and we decided to make the trip out there Monday morning to beat some of the crowds. The weather was perfect, it was a high of 55 degrees Fahrenheit (about 12 degrees Celsius) with sun and no clouds but also a slight breeze. It was warm in the sun and delightfully cool in the shade. Basically, perfect.

My godparents have French cousins that joined us for our visit to Giverny, the two of them are lovely. It was nice to see them for a second time and to spend some time all together just walking around taking in the beauty of nature.

I took about a billion pictures of flowers, so many things were blooming on our mid-April trip, and it was absolutely magnificent. The riotous color combinations were glorious. And it was so nice to be outside of Paris, in nature, and enjoying the fresh air. The gardens are gorgeous; I could have stayed there all day. Too bad there is no re-entry once you leave, because I would have liked to read all afternoon in the shade surrounded by so many flowers.

There were quite a few people and I am not a fan of crowds (if you feel similarly I would advise avoiding it during high tourist season in the summer) but there were not so many people at this time of year that I was put off, it ended up being fine. It is definitely worth a visit, the water lily pond alone is stunning. I understand, given all the people, why they don’t allow reentry, I think people would stay all day if they could.

I liked it even more than I thought I would. The town has managed to stay somewhat frozen in time. It’s very picturesque. Pure touristy, but in a charming way. And wandering through the gardens you just forget about everything else.

After our visit our group had lunch together. We ate lunch outside on a terrace at a crêperie at the end of the main road, part of a lovely little hotel with a view of hills. It was in the opposite direction of the entrance to the town via bus so there were far less people and crowds, it was very calm and just a really wonderful long lunch spent with some great company.

At the bottom of this post, after the pictures, I have included some tips I picked up during our day trip to Giverny in case they might help you as well.

I did not include pictures of my traveling companions because I don’t believe in blogging the faces of those in my life; that sort of thing I reserve for facebook where we can enjoy the photos together. Weirdly enough, I will take photos of random people, but only in admiration.

If you would like to view the pictures alone, in album format on Flickr, you can find them here. And of course all pictures are copyright to me and are not to be used without my permission.

entrance

small pink flowers on a tree

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giverny

baguettes

In November, before I got a horrible cold, I was walking home from my local boulangerie, with baguette in hand. And walking right behind me was a young boy and his mother. With a lot of coughing, and hacking, and weirdly enough, some hiccups thrown in for good measure. And my thought, while walking down the length of my street, was, “omg don’t cough on my baguette”. I am convinced that coughing-boy gave me that awful cold.

A baguette is a weird thing to carry down the street, or at least I am not habitué (/accustomed to it) yet. It’s such a long object, that I am never sure if I should hold it upright, or down and at an angle. I usually put it in my shopping bag and hopefully it doesn’t stick out too much and thwack passers-by, or objects in the street. Sometimes the end of it catches on my clothes, or leaves little bits of flour on the fabric where it has brushed past. And sometimes, especially when it’s nice and hot from the oven, I end up lightly crushing the center with my hand while carrying it home (or getting flour on my nose from delighting in that fresh baked scent). Luckily it still tastes just as good. And fresh baguette smells amazing.
I also have to make sure I don’t end up hitting the end of the baguette against the apartment buildings by accident while walking. No Paris soot on my baguette please. Which means that it’s a good thing I don’t eat the quignon (/end of the baguette). Although, you’re supposed to rip off the quignon and eat it while walking home from the bakery.

There are two kinds of baguettes you can order, une baguette, or une tradition.
Une baguette is the classic baguette you usually see in pictures, and the kind imitated by American supermarkets.
Une tradition has more tapered, almost pointy edges, a crunchier crust, and more air bubbles in the crumb.

baguette comparison
A comparison of the two kinds, une tradition on the left, and une baguette on the right. Picture source, with a description in French: http://www.compagnons-boulangers-patissiers.com/crebesc/baguette-tradition/

You can get a baguette more well done, or less well done. It took me a couple tries to figure out the correct wording. When I asked for “une baguette pas trop cuite” (/not too cooked) the woman at the bakery sounded almost insulted and said something like “bien sûr, c’est pas trop cuite” (/of course it’s not too cooked). So I’ve since discovered, by evesdropping on other orders, that the correct phrase is: “une baguette moins cuite” (/less cooked).
Thankfully my faux pas did not insult the women who sell me delicious baguettes at the bakery on the end of my street.

But make sure not to get to the bakery too late, or there will be no baguettes left!
After 8.30pm you may be out of luck. Tragedy!
Although, that is how I tried the tradition because one day, around 8pm, there were no more baguettes ordinaires left.
That’s also how I have tried other kinds of bread.
The pain aux cereales is just not my thing I have discovered. And I have yet to try fresh white bread called pain de mie. I do like breads with nuts in them, and my local boulangerie bio (/organic bakery) has a great pain aux noix, with walnuts, that makes super great toast when it’s stale.
Because baguettes make such incredible toast that I just can never pass up the chance to buy one, even if it’s only for stale baguette toast the next morning. Stale bread makes the best crunchy toast, especially when lightly charred. And I love the smell of burnt baguette that floats up through the courtyard and through my window on weekend mornings.

My favorite baguette in my neighborhood comes from Maison Kayser, who always has a huge line come dinner time. It’s called the Baguette Monge, and if you just ask for une baguette, this is the version that gets handed to you.
It looks like a tradition, with pointy edges that could put your eye out, but seems to have less air bubbles inside so there is more crumb (or squishy bread insides as I call it), which is exactly how I like it. Glorious.
But I tend to go to one of the two closer bakeries, who also have very good baguettes, there is one at either end of my street. I am spoiled for choice really.
I am not lacking in good baguettes, that’s for sure.

Baguettes are definitely one of the best things about living in France.

 

 

Check back soon, a post on croissants and other viennoiseries is forthcoming.

baguettes

seen in paris (january 2015)

I thought it would be fun to make a list of things I come across while walking around Paris, and traveling on the metro/public transport. My plan is to make this a monthly installment. So here goes for January.

On the street:

  1. A guy in full winter gear, carrying a tennis racket, and no gym bag. Walking next to me, in the direction of a tennis shop nearby, that I pass on my way to school, but ultimately diverging from that path and heading the other direction down boulevard Raspail.
  2. A woman biking around Paris in killer pointed stiletto lace up booties (they looked super tough to walk in on the Paris sidewalks, and I’m inclined to think she is superwoman because of her ability to not only walk in them, but also ride a bike with them on!).
  3. An older lady dressed more hip than me, in leather leggings, moto boots, and a cropped fur jacket. Also sporting a large fur hat that reminded me of something out of a Russian tale.

On the metro:

  1. A grown up looking, French version of Harry Potter, with similar glasses, and haircut, and expected demeanor.
  2. An actual French guy wearing an actual beret, but not wearing clothing that I would associate with the image of a classically dressed older guy wearing a beret (he was wearing jeans and a leather bomber jacket).
  3. From the bus I see lots of selfie-taking tourists, which is only really entertaining if the bus ends up at a stop light near a bridge in the center of Paris, and I can see the person making their selfie face and re-taking the picture 10 times.
seen in paris (january 2015)

my tiny apartment

People have asked me if my tiny apartment bothers me, and I have to say that my answer is no. There are certain features that annoy me at times, but on the whole, since I am much happier here in Paris, that extends to my experience of this tiny space.

My apartment is about 20 meters squared, or 215 square feet.
It’s a studio, so everything is in the same room, bed, desk, and kitchen; it’s all one space.
I have one tiny closet, that luckily seems to fit all my clothes, because I only brought two suitcases with me to Paris.
I quite like the mini-fridge, I never filled up a regular American sized fridge as a single person anyways.
I live on an upper floor, but I have an elevator!
The building has a gardienne that is very nice.
I live in the 15th arrondissement, walking distance from the Eiffel Tower; though I cannot see it from my apartment, it does appear between buildings when I am walking around the neighborhood.
So yeah, overall my tiny apartment is great.

IMG_2100
my view

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my tiny apartment

a little about me

My name is Clare. I have just reached my 30th year of life on this planet.
I moved to Paris about a year ago, in February 2015. So I am one year into my adventure here.
I was previously living and working in the DC metro area of the United States. I quit my job to live in Paris and perfect my French language skills.
I spent a year abroad in Paris 10 years earlier in 2005/2006, and was a French major at Wellesley College at the time. Ever since, I have wanted to return to Paris.
So I decided to become a student again, and take classes at the ILCF (Institut de Langue et de Culture Françaises), a program for foreigners learning French, which is part of the Institut Catholique de Paris (ICP). My teachers are fantastic. It has been a really great experience to take French classes again, and to be a perfectionist about my progress in French. Plus, I’ve learned a lot taking civilization classes (classes geared towards learning French, but focused on a specific subject related to French civilization).
And even though my French wasn’t as rusty as I had originally thought, it was a really good idea to take classes while picking the language up again, it helped to correct lots of little mistakes I was making.
Adjusting to life in France this time has been harder than I remember.
I spent the first 10 years of my life living outside the US because my family followed my father through his foreign service postings in Canada, Brazil, and Italy. Europe, because I spent such formative years there, has always felt like home to me. And before college, it felt more like my home than the US most of the time. It was only through my college experience, and then my experience in the workplace in the DC area, that I began to feel more American, and more integrated into American culture. Even though both my parents are Americans themselves, they both spent many of their younger years outside the US as well (my mother in Italy, my father in Spain). So I was raised American, but with a huge influence of European values, and an appreciation of the European way of life. One of the worst experiences in my young life was adjusting to the US when we finally moved there in the 90s. I have felt fundamentally apart from it for most of my life. Critical of things I didn’t agree with, and suspicious of the nationalism I saw. Especially after 9/11, when my high school classmates seemed to devolve into echoes of their parents’ cries for vengeance after the attacks.
So I have spent most of my life wishing to return to a European way of life. But I didn’t harbor dreams of Paris as a picture perfect oasis, as depicted in posters and kitchy knickknacks found in every store across the US. I had only visited Paris once, but I knew that for my junior year abroad that I wanted to work on my French, and I wanted to be in a city, so that meant one thing: Paris. And my year abroad was wonderful, I made amazing friends, I had the most lovely host family, and I enjoyed my classes. Plus the Sweet Briar Junior Year Abroad program was really great, with an awesome staff.
I hadn’t realized until now how much was taken care of for me when I was in college and studying abroad. Perhaps it is just that now, in having to do everything myself, I feel the psychological weight of being alone in a foreign country, but it just feels like too much sometimes. Or at least, it felt like too much when I arrived. Looking for an apartment felt like a daily nightmare. Visa stuff is so stressful and frustrating. Trying to communicate with people and making mistakes, or not having enough confidence in what I am saying that the other person thinks I’m making a mistake and doesn’t understand me. Trying to speak French over the phone (so hard!). Dealing with a whole different health system (plus side: full price is still WAY cheaper than the US, even with health insurance). I haven’t had to make this many new friends since I was in middle school. Everything was so intense, and all at once. And I had known it was going to be hard, but yikes!
Although, to really do this, to move to Paris, I had to just not think too much about the challenges. If I had made a list of all the many obstacles for apartment hunting in Paris I would have scared myself off of the whole thing. I needed to dream about finding the perfect Paris apartment, and imagine a different life in order to really get here. So like I said in the beginning, clear-eyed, but with some dreams. A dash of cynicism, and a dash of optimism. They’ve gotten me through, in equal measure.
And one year in, I am happy to say, it was definitely worth it. All of it. Both the struggles and the successes. Because they brought me back to myself. I feel more like myself than I have in years. And I proved to myself that I can do it, alone. And I have to say, that is absolutely invaluable.
So here’s to Paris and my time here, that above all, will leave me changed, and the better for it.

a little about me