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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Bonne Fête des Rois!

Galette des Rois
What happens when you have three kings, a bean and a cake? Well, if you live in France, it means it’s obviously time to celebrate Fête des Rois AKA Three Kings Day or Epiphany Day. More importantly, for me it means that boulangeries across Paris (and France) are selling display upon displays of galette des rois, a buttery, sweet tart filled with frangipane.
DSC_0071

Galette des Rois
If you want to know more about galette des rois or the day itself, here are some good posts I’ve read that include some history on Fête des Rois, a backgrounder on what Frenchies do to celebrate , and even recipes:

Le Figaro – the top five galette des rois in Paris (en français)
David Lebovitz – a backgrounder and recipe
Chocolate & Zucchini – a backgrounder
La Fête des Rois Blogspot – history and traditions

I’ve been celebrating the day like a good Francophile by buying une galette des rois three days in a row now (yeah, about losing those holiday kilos…) and will be joining a Fête des Rois party in my building lobby next Sunday. I seriously have the friendliest French neighbors!

Happy Epiphany, everyone!
Fête des Rois

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Happy Holidays From Paris

Tyler
We celebrated our second Christmas in Paris this year. Although it’s nice to get to spend the holidays in this gorgeous city, I wish we could’ve been surrounded by family back home. You never appreciate how lucky you are to have holiday obligations until there aren’t any obligations to attend! Unfortunately, Rio’s busy period falls around Christmas, so the chances of us spending Christmas back home in 2014 will be slim too. Oh well – maybe we can convince family to visit us for Christmas next year! Hint hint…

Nevertheless, we made the most of the holiday. Although we were supposed to spend Christmas Eve in Chantilly with a French friend, a family emergency resulted in us putting together a last-minute, quiet meal chez nous. This year, we incorporated some traditional French Christmas elements into the meal – smoked salmon, oysters and gougères for apéros, seared scallops, a bûche de Noël, and, of course, a couple bottles of Champagne. For Christmas Day, we were lucky enough to be invited to our friend Stacy and Jason’s apartment for a cozy, casual lunch that included some height-defying rounds of Jenga, mulled orange juice, the most thick and delicious potato soup you’ve ever had, mac & cheese, bacon-covered turkey for the meat-eaters, mashed potatoes & gravy,  freshly-baked bread, and a chocolate and raspberry cake! Even though I had my stretchy pants on, I was so stuffed by the end of the night, I wish I had brought sweatpants to change into! I’m so thankful we got to spend the holiday with some friends, as Christmas is definitely a holiday that’s made even more meaningful when you get to be surrounded by special people in your lives.

So no matter where you live and who you’re with, I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season! From the streets of Paris to our home, here are some festive photos from the past few weeks. Joyeuses fêtes et une bonne année à tous!
Holidays 2013
Holidays via Instagram.
Lights

Montmartre

Lights

Grands Boulevards
Paris Ornament

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A Trip to Istanbul: Day 1

Istanbul
I have wanted to visit Turkey for several years now, so it was with much excitement that I was finally able to spend some time in this Euro-Asian country this past October. With five nights, we decided to not rush through the country and hunkered down in the country’s largest city: Istanbul. From the food and the hotel to all the sights and our day trip to Ephesus, I have so much to share about this trip. But for now, I’ll break it down by day, and then hopefully do a post that summarizes everything with a link to my itinerary. God – I feel like I also said that about so many other places we’ve traveled to, and never came through on. Umm, Sri Lanka, Corsica, Provence/Pyrenees, to name a few. Fingers crossed for Istanbul…

As I looked out of the taxi during the drive from the airport to our hotel, I couldn’t help but thinking how accurate it was that someone described Istanbul as a “city of domes and minarets”. Pretty much everywhere you look, you’ll see this – and there’s nothing like hearing the call for worship reverberating through the streets from these domed mosques. So after drinking in my first views of the city during the 30 minute taxi ride to the Beyoğlu neighborhood, we arrived at what is now one of my favorite hotels – Witt Istanbul Hotel – enjoyed a welcome drink, and headed out to explore.

By the time we finished our drink and took the requisite photos of our hotel room though, we didn’t head out until the early evening. Since it was the third day of  one of the most important holidays in the Muslim religion, the Feast of the Sacrifice, and it was raining, we didn’t expect to see or do much since a lot of sites would be closed. That was ok though – after many years, I’ve finally started to take it easy when it comes to travel and don’t jam-pack my schedule by the hour. So, off we went exploring! Our first stop was the Galata Bridge where we saw the fish market and all the men casting rods over the bridge in hopes of catching fish from the Bosphorus.
Istanbul

Istanbul - Galata Bridge

Istanbul
With the sun quickly setting, we crossed Galata Bridge, being careful not to get hit by anyone swinging a fish rod, and walked to Süleymaniye Mosque. Sitting atop the third hill in Istanbul (there are seven), Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest mosque in the city and after centuries of earthquakes, doesn’t have a single crack from them. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Süleymaniye was already closed to the public for the night so we just walked around the exterior and took in the gorgeous golden lights.Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque
After strolling around Süleymaniye, we decided to head back in the direction we came from and search for dinner back on our side of the Bosphorus. Right before crossing Galata Bridge, we passed by the 400 year old New Mosque (Yeni Cami) in the Eminönü neighborhood and people-watched in the courtyard for a bit.
New Mosque

New Mosque
After our New Mosque break, we were getting pretty hungry at this point…and therefore cranky, so we went off in search of some dinner. Surprisingly, two of the restaurants we tried to go to were fully booked (apparently, reservations are a must in Istanbul!), so the crankiness quotient quickly increased. After more wandering around, we finally decided to head uphill in the Beyoğlu neighborhood, passing by a lit-up Galata Tower on the way, and see if we could get a table at Refik – a popular meze spot the hotel had recommended. Luckily, they were able to squeeze us in and once we were both sipping on an Efes beer, all hunger pains quickly dissipated.
Galata Bridge Galata Tower

Efes Beer

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