Today…

the French are sucking the lifeblood out of me yet again. For some reason, they are simply incapable of the concept of customer service.

Today…when pointing out a minute error that I would like easily corrected, the girl simply said “désolée”. I wanted to say “Merci, but I don’t need a ‘désolée’, I would just love it if you could correct this, and that would be perfect.” Unfortunately, I’m not oftentimes very good at coming up with this on the fly in French.

Today…when trying to go to the bank the teller actually had me answer a slew of questions and show my bank card through a video monitor as proof that this was my bank before letting me in through the second set of security doors. Today…apparently, I look like a criminal. Once through, she informed me that since this wasn’t my main bank branch, she didn’t recognize me and that’s why she treated me like a second-class citizen. I wanted to reply, “Oh, but I remember you, as this actually isn’t my first time at this branch. You weren’t very nice to me last time when I wanted to do a bank withdrawal and told me my French ID, my NYC ID and my bank card weren’t enough proof that it was actually me taking money out of my own bank account.” Again, I’m not good with quick comebacks in French.

Oh, but I can’t forget about yesterday…when I went to the RSI office to tell them I don’t need a carte vitale/French social security as I already have international health insurance. Well, “c’est obligatoire,” they responded. But I don’t need two health insurances. “Mais, vous l’avez.” (“But, you have it.”). My comeback in French, “umm, merci?”.

To sum up these past two days, I’m going to use a phrase my friend Whitney coined…”I got Frenched”.

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Provence, Pyrenees & Pays Basque Road Trip

Last August, Rio and I embarked on a road trip to explore the South of France. While we’re here, we want to see as much of France as we can and decided that a road trip commencing from Avignon to Saint-Jean-de-Luz via the Pyrenees mountains sounded like just the way to do it. What we didn’t anticipate is that we would have to do this in a Smart car. Our favorite memories of the trip include experiencing a jai alai match, hiking, visiting our friend Steeve and his family in his hometown, walking through the red ochre town of Roussillon, driving through the hills of Luberon, and, of course, wine tasting!

So despite driving through some death-defying cols, we wouldn’t change a thing about this two-week adventure…actually, we really would have liked having a normal-sized car.

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Climbing Up Notre Dame Tower

Notre Dame
This weekend, I crossed one off my Paris bucket list – climbing up the Towers of Notre Dame. Since we’ve lived here, we’ve only gone up the Arc de Triomphe and the rooftop of department store Printemps for views of Paris below, so it was nice to experience a different vantage point. Here are some pictures of the commanding views from the top of this Parisian landmark.
Notre Dame

Notre Dame

DSC_0081

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame
Visting Notre Dame Tower
Queue up on the left side of the building, and expect to wait about an hour. For more information, here’s the link to the official visitor page.

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The Painter Stole My Candy

After a weekend trip to Berlin last November, I returned to find the apartment above mine had a water leak and was causing the floor in mes toilettes to flood. After phone-stalking the management company and recruiting the building’s guardienne and Rio’s assistant to do the same so I could have a plumber come and fix the problem tout de suite, someone finally came three days later. Three days later! By this point, the leak had become so bad that the water damage had spread to the adjoining walls in my kitchen and bathroom (like a typical French apartment, my “toilet room” is separate from my bathroom with a shower), causing major bubbling and fissures. Not to mention, I had to constantly mop the toilet room floor every 30 minutes so the water wouldn’t spread into my hallway. It was gross to say the least. Oh, and did I mention I had a guest staying with me during this time?

Fast forward nearly five months, and the management company’s insurance company finally sent someone to repair the walls from the water damage. Total damage was roughly over 2,000 euros…but would’ve probably been less had the management company sent someone in a timely manner. Well, having had a pretty positive experience with the contractor that installed my kitchen cabinets when I first moved to Paris, I thought the painter they sent would be equally professional. Much to my horror and dismay, I was wrong.

Upon arrival, the painter’s “patron” says that the repair will take three days. Never mind I am 99% positive it would take an American 1 1/2 days, but c’est bon. After a slow start, the painter essentially worked 2 1/2 hours before taking a 2 hour lunch break and then worked another 1 1/2 hours peppered in with a couple of cigarette breaks on my balcony. After a little mid-afternoon break in my toilet, off he packed up and tells me he’ll be back the next day at 8am. Umm, so apparently 4 hours is a full day’s worth of work for French people. Irritated, yet, woefully accustomed to the French work ethic, I sucked it up and hoped the next day would be a bit better. How I have remained so hopeful in this country is beyond me; sometimes, I swear they suck the lifeblood out of you…and I’m someone who loves it here!

The next day, the painter arrives at 8am and tells me he has to come back on Monday as they cannot work on my apartment today after all. They must finish the work in my neighbor’s apartment. What the what?! My apartment is a disaster where showering is essentially impossible, all my kitchen pantry items are scattered about in my foyer and I can’t even cook anything since plastic is draping the sides of my kitchen walls (not that I really cook, but still!). After not so calmly stating that the work must be completed today and that I am living in un appartement dégueulasse right now, the painter packs up his stuff and says his patron will discuss the situation with me.

Once the patron finally comes up to my apartment, I am so frustrated (and a bit hungover), that I start crying with frustration. Lo and behold, he immediately tells me the work can recommence today and will actually be finished today as well! I’m so relieved, yet disturbed that I had to come to this breaking point to get what I want, that I can’t help but still rant and rave like a crazy American lady. (Side Note: The only other time I have broken down in Paris after a similar Kafka-esque situation, the French ended up finally agreeing to what needed to be done. Just sayin’.)

Well, I’m relieved to say that the paint job really was finished that day, and more efficiently than the day before with two painters in lieu of just one. But I can’t help but share some French golden nuggets of what transpired that day. Well, after taking a reasonable 1 1/2 hour lunch break, they returned to take a poop in my toilet. How do I know? Well, once they left that evening, I discovered it and had to scrub the sh*t out of it, literally. It’s fine though, these are natural bodily functions after all. So after they relieve themselves and poke around the rooms that are being painted for a couple of minutes, they ask me to make them two coffees. I was so caught off-guard, that I simply said, “umm, d’accord” and made them two fresh Nespresso cups before getting back to work. I, foolishly, thought they’d do the same. In fact, they sipped their cafés allongés and had a good chat before starting to paint. Obviously, I was seething at this point and emailed my friends the play-by-play while giving the kitchen door dirty looks.

A few hours later though, they were finally gone! Hallelujah! As I happily and frantically cleaned the apartment and put away all the kitchen, toilet and bathroom items, I noticed that I was missing something though. A huge chocolate candy bar! Yes, these Frenchies actually stole a candy bar (and probably ate it in secret with the coffee I made them). Who does that…and who knows what else might’ve been stolen that I haven’t noticed yet?! I was so miffed by the whole situation, I couldn’t resist calling the patron to inform him about the lack of professionalism from his team. He tells me he can’t understand my French, is driving in traffic and to text him. Yup, never heard from him again.

On a French etiquette note…apparently, I should’ve offered un café to the painter immediately upon his arrival. According to my French friends, they do this if someone is going to be working in their apartment for more than a few hours in hopes that they won’t steal anything and will do a good job. Now I know, and now you know…but may you hopefully never have to deal with a French painter in your life!

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A Weekend in Cologne

Cologne
Ever since reading this New York Times article on Cologne, I’ve wanted to go…despite friends who have been to the city and said there wasn’t anything to see beyond the cathedral. Well, having spent two nights in Cologne last weekend, I have to, unfortunately, agree. There really isn’t that much to see and the town probably only warrants one night, tops. Oh well. I’m glad to have gone and crossed it off my travel bucket list, and see a German city besides Berlin. Here’s a quick recap on where we visited and ate and drank at…which probably was the best part of the trip – experiencing all the breweries!

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Love Locks on Hohenzollern Bridge

What to See & Do
The main reason to come to Cologne is the impressive Gothic Cologne Cathedral (Kolner Dom). Stepping off the train station, you immediately come across this. For a better understanding of the cathedral, take a 7 euro guided tour, which is what we did. Tours take place 10:30am and 2:30pm on Saturdays and at 3pm on Sundays, and you meet at the interior front entrance of the church. They’re about one hour long and end with a 20 minute video with shots of the Cathedral.

After your Cathedral tour, take the pedestrian walkway on Hohenzollern Bridge and pause to take a look at the multitude of “love locks” adorning the gates. Along the way, you’ll probably turn around to snap some photos of the Cathedral, but save your camera battery for KoelnTriangle. About five minutes from the bridge, take the elevator up to the top of the observation deck for commanding views of the Cathedral and Cologne. I think it costs about three euros.

If you’re looking to do some shopping and strolling, take a walk from the Old Quarter to Ehrenstrasse Street. From Crumpler to Kiehl’s, Ehrenstrasse Street has a ton of stores for you to spend some euros.
Rhine River at Koblenz

Church in Koblenz

Koblenz

Koblenz

Koblenz

Koblenz Mascot is the Rascal
After you’ve done all of this and realized you still have a whole Sunday to fill with something to do (like we did), perhaps take a side trip to Koblenz, a small German town (pictured above) along the Rhine River that’s about one hour away. Along the way, you’ll be able to see the small towns, castles and vineyards sitting alongside the river and upon arrival, take a stroll through the Old Town, ride up to the fort on the Cable Car, walk along the river and have an alfresco meal while watching the German families enjoy a sunny weekend. Oh, and be sure to take a look at the statue of Koblenz’s mascot – the rascal – and pose like him comme moi. You can stop by the modern-looking Tourism Office to purchase a 50 centime map of the town.
Lommerzheim Brewery

Fruh Brewery

Nougatpretzel Berliner Donut
Where to Eat & Drink
As I mentioned, the best part of the trip was experiencing the different breweries. We went to three breweries that had completely different atmospheres and although I didn’t care for the German food (have I mentioned, I don’t eat meat?), it was fun to people-watch, try the different brews and see the local custom of how to order a beer. Apparently, the bartender/waiter just comes over with the a small glass of beer (it’s the shape of a long shot bottle), continues to swap it out for a fresh new one when you’re done and makes a mark on a coaster to keep track of how much you’ve drank. If you don’t want to drink until oblivion, put your coaster on top of your glass, and the bartender will know you’re done.

The first brewery we went to was Fruh. Located right by the Cathedral, a friend had recommended it and it was a great introduction to the breweries in Cologne. This is a large brewhouse with several rooms providing different atmospheres depending on what you’re looking for. So just decide whether you’d want to sit in a rowdier room, a more intimate room or a restaurant-style dining room. The next day, after our tour at Cologne Cathedral and our visit up KolnTriangle, we took a walk to Lommerzheim. Unlike Fruh, which definitely had a tourist clientele, the smaller Lommerzheim was packed with locals. They also have an outdoor area, which would be a great spot to enjoy a local brew on a sunny day. On our last night, we decided to try the giant schnitzels I had read about at Bei Oma Kleinmann since they apparently had a vegetarian “cheese schnitzel” I could eat. Well, those schnitzels are deifnitely huge…whereas my cheese schnitzel was basically a huge mozzarella stick in square shape. It was a lively atmosphere though with really friendly bartenders, so I would definitely recommend this bar/restaurant.

For a sweet mid-day snack, I had read about the nougatpretzel (pictured above) at Merzenich, so made sure to stop by this bakery chain to try one of these caramel, chocolate and nut-covered pretzels. Umm, I did not like it and neither did Rio. Why on Earth do people recommend that thing? Blech. While at Merzenich though, we did buy a Berliner, which was a pretty good sugar-covered jelly donut.

Where (Not) to Stay
We stayed at Hotel Lyskerchin, which is about a 20 minute walk from the train station. Since this four-star hotel was close to the Old Quarter and a good price (158 euros for two nights), I thought this would be a good option. Although it was fine for a place to rest your head (although your back would probably hurt the next day since the beds sink in), this is certainly not a four-star hotel as advertised. It is probably a 3 star hotel for European standards – I think the only reason it’s listed as four stars is because they have a sauna and swimming pool. Besides the sunken-in beds, the hotel charges an exorbitant amount for WiFi (17 euros for one day) and charges you to use the Internet on the hotel lobby’s computer too. As for amenities, they provide a shampoo/body wash combo, body lotion, nail file, blow dryer and a bar of soap. No shower cap and no q-tips included. I imagine if we asked, they might have been able to provide this though? On a positive note, we had forgotten our adaptor, and the hotel was able to lend us one during our stay.

Location-wise, it’s about a 20 minute walk to the train station and the cathedral, which is why I chose this hotel. However, after having spent a weekend in Cologne, I would’ve preferred a hotel that was closer to the lively shopping area (Ehrenstrasse Street) with the bars/restaurants. If you want to just stick with being close to the Old Town though and not venture out to areas of Cologne, this is probably fine. Either way, a taxi ride to breweries in a livelier area are only about 8 euros. A taxi ride to the train station is also about 8 euros.

Finally, as for the staff, they were professional but not the friendliest bunch. I would say their responses to questions and the check-in experience were pretty much no fuss, no muss. When asking for ideas on where to go, they didn’t really have much advice. Your best bet for that is to ask the tourism office.

Overall, it was a decent hotel, but I probably wouldn’t stay here again if I visited Cologne.

Ok, c’est tout and “danke” for reading my recap of Cologne!

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Eating & Drinking My Way Through Paris in Two Years


Two years ago on March 15, I moved to Paris. In that span of time, I have eaten at so many bars and restaurants (apparently, more than 120!) that I thought I would share with you all where I’ve been and what I’ve liked and didn’t like. I’m no foodie reviewer so many of my comments are succinct and definitely not editorial material, but I hope it helps you discover a new favorite spot…and perhaps steers you away from overhyped locales.

Bon app!

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Paris Pollution Alert

When I woke up this morning with a sore throat, I thought perhaps I was coming down with a cold. Turns out, it’s probably because of the high level of pollution in the air in Paris. Yes, although the early spring weather in Paris has been amazing and allowed us to start drinking rosé en terrasse already, all the sunshine-filled days, cold nights and lack of wind have culminated in a dangerous dose of too many polluted particles. In hindsight, as I was running at Parc Monceau this morning, I now realize that what I thought was a hazy, cloudy sky was all the smog trapped in the air. It’s probably also the reason why there weren’t that many people working out in the park today…because they were (smartly) trying to avoid lung cancer while I was breathing it all in. Ugh, mes poumons pauvres.

So how have Paris officials responded to this? Free public transportation! Oui, beginning today through Sunday evening, the métro is free, as well as the shared car (Autolib) and bike (Vélib) systems. The speed limit’s also been lowered and residential car parking is free. I think this is a pretty cool way of dealing with the situation and can’t see NYC taking the same measure of providing free public transportation. NYC would probably temporarily increase the bridge and tunnel fees or something, but I digress.

Now it’s time for me to wrap a pashmina around my face in hopes I’ll keep out those teeny dirty toxic particles.

PS - All this pollution talk did get me thinking about what the world’s most polluted city was, and in case you’re wondering, it’s New Delhi.

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Istanbul Vacation: In Video


I really wanted to post more photos and a day-by-day itinerary of our October trip to Istanbul, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So in the meantime, here’s a video Rio made of our trip to the city of domes and minarets.

Missed the one post I’ve done so far on Istanbul? Here’s the post.

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Tyler’s Pic of the…Past Two Months?

I’ve been a total delinquent about posting lately. So here’s a totally gratuitous, random photo of Tyler in his wedding tuxedo (ours, not his) from New Year’s Eve so I don’t feel guilty about not having posted in the past two weeks.
Tuxedo Tyler
And here’s a pic of mon coeur in the same tux from our wedding day. It still fits!
Tuxedo Tyler
And here’s a family wedding pic because…well, pourquoi pas?
Family Wedding Photo

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