Warning: Largely consists of a detailed, giddy and sometimes self-indulgent description of my vacation. You have been warned.
I had a nice trip! It was a great balance of being alone with Dr. Thingo (which we haven’t done for an extended period of time for about five years), being social, and being by myself.
My shuttle got me to the airport three and a half hours early. I got through check-in and security in about seven minutes. So I was at the gate for a while. Good thing I had my knitting! The flight to Paris, and train ride to Annecy were uneventful, and I much preferred the latter. Trains are the only civilized way to travel. They’re quiet, bright, comfortable, easy to move around in, and quiet. Planes are noisy, cramped, uncomfortable, have bad air circulation and are noisy (really, I think the reason why flying is so exhausting is because of the constant noise). Add to that all the nonsense you have to go through for security these days, and flying pretty much sucks.
I am blessed with a constitution that doesn’t really get jet-lag. So, if I’m good, and don’t sleep too much during travel, and make myself stay awake until it’s bedtime at my destination, I’m pretty much good to go after one good night’s sleep, both coming and going. That was the case this time again. So I got to take advantage of Annecy right off the bat.
I ate like mad. First off, let me praise French petits déjeuners. They’re wonderful – typically, half a baguette, a croissant, butter and jam, coffee and orange juice. Yeah, that’s right, a whole day’s worth of carbs in one meal! Is it any wonder I love it there!
Oh, and the coffee. The coffee alone is a good reason to go to France. Everybody pretty much uses pod espresso systems, but it’s universally good. There is no bad coffee. Anywhere. Which makes me wonder why they bother with the ‘complimentary’ instant coffee in the hotel room. Really. You can go ANYWHERE and get fabulous coffee (and if you’re not into espresso, get a ‘café américain’, which is an americano – so espresso lenghtened with hot water). There is no such thing as bad diner coffee in France.
I ate chicken innards, raw beef, cheese, fish, quail eggs, duck, cheese, cured meats, delightful starches, cheese, sweet and savoury crèpes and occasional vegetables. Did I mention cheese? Many restaurants offered a cheese course with their prix fixe. We drank lots of wine and fizzy water. We sat outside to eat. Oh, and French pizza! I had two during my stay in France. Both with an egg in the middle. An egg! They crack an egg right in the middle before they put it in the oven. It’s fantastic! And neither had tomato sauce. One had onions and three kinds of cheese, bacon, and said egg, the other had grilled eggplant, ham, mushrooms, cheese, and the egg.
Really, I had no bad food in France. Not even anything I was indifferent to. It was all good. Including the fruit I bought at the market. Which, incidentally, happens three times a week in Annecy, with a selection of fresh produce, meat, fish and cheese that would make your head spin.
Dr. Thingo and I also did some sight-seeing – we visited the local castle (whose name escapes me), built in the thirteenth century. We walked part of the way around the lake (it’s pretty big!) and went to the Imperial Palace. We wandered. We hung out. It was nice.
While Dr. Thingo was doing conferency things, I wandered around by myself. I bought a couple things at the market one day. I visited the local Phildar store and bought a couple of pattern magazines and went back the next day to get yarn for a project for each of the kids.
I read Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen – highly recommended, and Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles, by Katherine Pancol, bought in France when the Gruen book got finished way ahead of schedule, and which was also excellent) I knit a little. I took a gazillion pictures.
Then, on the Friday, Dr. Thingo had to head out to Hungary for another conference, and I went to Paris. Another civilized train ride. I found the apartment I would be staying in. (This in itself is miraculous as I have perhaps the worst sense of direction of anybody in the universe, except maybe for my mom. Paris’s metro kicks ass!) The apartment, though teeny-tiny (those of you who ever spent any time in my roach infested apartment in Ottawa will know what I mean. It was probably a little smaller than that, though better organized). I made my itinerary on the Friday evening, and Saturday, I walked all over Paris.
When I first set off Saturday morning, I found another market – so immediately decided I’d make my own dinner that night. I bought fruit and veggies. The most remarkable about that transaction is when I wanted a melon (kind of like a cantaloupe, only about the size of a large grapefruit. Perfect as a large-ish snack for one). I asked the lady for a melon, and she asked me when I wanted to eat it. Today, I replied, a little hesitantly. So she gave me one that she thought was appropriate, and it was perfect. PERFECT! It was ripe, delicious, melony goodness. I want to know how she knew. Anyway, my dad has since told me that his habit, while in France, was to buy one for today, and one for three days hence, and they were always just right. The same philosophy of ‘when would you like to eat it’ apparently applies to cheese mongers. I’m so used to the north-american strategy of ‘go to the hypermarket and buy a week’s worth of underripe food at a time to stock your gigantic fridge’ that it kind of threw me. But I loved it.
I took my purchases home and set off again. I took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe:
then walked to the Eiffel Tower:
then along the Champs Elysées, to the Louvre, walked around there for a while (the Louvre, let me tell you, is a hell of a big house. And what kills me is that Napoleon obviously didn’t think it was big enough and had a whole new section added to it. Hilarious.), had lunch nearby, found La Droguerie and had a look inside:
I walked down to Notre Dame, found an appropriate metro station and took it to the base of Montmartre and walked up the hill to look at the view and the teeming hordes of people, and walked back down. Took the metro back home and made myself dinner. I didn’t go into anything, which is why I could do it all in one day. I would love to spend a couple weeks, with four days in the Louvre alone!
Paris is beautiful. It’s incredibly green! None of the buildings in the central part of town is more than seven stories, so it never feels crowded. The streets are narrow, and I didn’t see anything remotely resembling a parking lot. It’s a lot smaller than one might think – I could conceivably have done my itinerary only on foot, though it would have taken much longer. So, since the buildings are fairly short, the trees all tower over them, so it’s very green, and never feels all concrete and metal the way most big cities I’ve spent time in feel. Even Seattle, which is pretty green and lush doesn’t feel this nice.
And let me just say this here: yes, I was unapologetically a tourist, gawking and taking pictures of everything. I don’t care about looking aloof and cool and trying not to seem like a dumb tourist. It was beautiful. And I don’t care if you think the Eiffel Tower is a dumb, cliché landmark, it’s pretty. So there.
I went home the next day, during another uneventful flight back. Well, mostly uneventful. We landed in Toronto, and just as we were about to pull into the gate, a crazy thunderstorm struck, leaving us stranded as the outside workers understandably went inside, rather than risk getting struck by lightning. There were 100 km/h winds buffeting the plane. It was crazy. So we were all stuck in the plane for an extra 30 minutes or so until the storm blew over. Which would have been fine, except that I’d finished my shawl on the way, and had just finished my book as we were landing. So I just stared at the rain until they let us off. Then I got my bags (after a cursory conversation with the Canadian customs dude) and went home. Having been up for 21 hours by the time I got there, I crashed, but woke up the next morning feeling pretty damn good.
So, that’s it! The kids were returned to me Monday night, and we’re back to the normal routine. Dr. Thingo should be here in an hour or so, back from Hungary.
- European geeks don’t look like American geeks. They all have nice shoes.
- All Parisian women are gorgeous, and wear scarves.
- The very young looking guards in the train stations, airports, and major landmarks carry sub-machine guns. Yikes!
- George Bush was visiting Paris the same day I was. He got more press than I did.
- I wonder if the people in Annecy ever take the view of the mountains for granted.
- The metro in Paris smells better than the TTC in Toronto.
- The cost of living is higher in France. Food, however, in its elemental form, is about the same price, but the minute it’s processed, or served to you, the price goes way up. So if you cook for yourself, it’s pretty cheap. Rent, however, is crazy.
- Restaurants open for dinner around 7:30 pm. If you walk in at that time and ask for a table for dinner, they will look incredulous (“Really, you want to eat now? But it’s so early!”)
- There is dog poo everywhere.
- The pizza delivery guys drive scooters.
- Many, many people bike to work, even guys in suits and ladies in heels.
- Poppies grow wild in the fields.
- I saw two castles on the way to Annecy from Paris.
- French people think my québécois accent is cute, but apparently acceptable, as they did not try to speak to me in English (in case you don’t know me, French is, in fact, my mother tongue. I grew up in Ottawa)
- French kids are allowed to be part of the rest of society in a way that North American kids are not. Consequently, they behave very well in restaurants.
- People grow plants and veggies as much as they can – in gardens, backyards, and people have lush container gardens on their balconies in Paris, adding to the total impression of greenness.
- I didn’t gain weight during my trip. Must’ve been all the walking, cause I sure as hell didn’t stop myself from eating. Though I didn’t snack much, because the meals were very satisfying.
- Football is HUGE! You don’t even have to watch the game yourself to know what’s happening. Everybody else is watching, so it kind of becomes part of the collective subconscious (Euro 2008 is happening as we speak…).
- A glass of wine will cost you less than a half-litre of mineral water.
Ok, that’s enough of that for now. I’m sure I’ll think of more later, but I can only bore you with this stuff for so long. I’ll put more of the gazillion pictures I took in Flickr at some point and give you a link to it, in case you’re interested.
Here’s the swallowtail shawl I made on the trip:
It’s a tad small, but will make a nice scarf. It knit up incredibly fast, and only took up about 20g of wool. Oh, and here’s a completely unplanned but à propos observation about the border:
Tiny, little Eiffel towers.