à bientôt, paris! (pt. 2)

So day one – Eiffel tower, bridge over the Seine, Arc de Triomphe… great. LPQ lunch… meh. I’ve done better.

We decided to start our day by shopping in the little food mart by our apartment, packing a picnic brunch, and eating in the Jardin des Tuileries, right by the Louvre. And it won’t be Paris without cheese that smells god awful, right? I mean seriously. I couldn’t have eaten this in any other context, haha. The baguette was delicious though, and the people watching was top notch.

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The garden itself is gorgeous. There are lots of places to relax in the shade, there was a giant ferris wheel and carnival just north of the garden, and the flowers were postcard perfect.

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 Because you can spend a whole week in the Louvre and not see everything, we decided not to tempt ourselves and stepped away from the pretty glass pyramid. True story, some lady from deep-south US of A tried to read me the riot act for taking a picture before her kids. Really I was waiting patiently in line (yes, there’s a line to do this) and had let someone go ahead of me, and she thought it was a new line, yada yada yada. Her friend told her to sit down and hush up. American stereotypes scare me because sometimes they’re so truuuuuuue. Myself included, but still.

it felt as ridiculous as it looks

it felt as ridiculous as it looks

Next – LA BASTILLE. This has literally no people visiting it, which I don’t understand at all. Storm the Bastille? Declaration of the Rights of… oh never mind. More Paris-for-two!

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And then Place des Vosges for an ice cream break. Look at all the people here too!

PdV isn’t traditionally on the tourism radar, as far as I know, but there were lots of sweet little cafés there and a garden where people brought their kids to run around and eat. I’d go back there for lunch. We had an ice cream and shopping break, of course. Afterwards we made the decision to split up to visit museums that fit with our artistic tastes. To Museé d’Orsay! (What can I say, I’m a traditionalist.)

On the way I walked over the bridge where everyone and their lover locks a padlock as a symbol of their undying lurve. You toss the key in the Seine so there are no take backs.

Teeeechnically speaking there is no photo taking in Orsay, however I had a lovely gentleman that worked there give me the scoop. I was there within an hour of closing (oops), so I get a discounted ticket (awesome). Start at the top, all the impressionist pieces are up there (awesome). They’re going to start closing down from the top down (oops), so you can see everything on your way back down, when most people are already gone (awesome). The awesome wins. And no people meant two sneaky photos! The one from behind the clock on the top floor is one of my favorites from the whole trip.

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The second one was on my phone so the quality is questionable but it was like a fairy tale. After the museum I tried to vain to find La Durée, maison de macarons. I was told not to leave before eating their macaroons, but guess what, they need to make it easier to find because I left without eating their macaroons. I asked for directions a few times but alas. No luck.

I met up with my lovely aunt and cousin and their friends who just-so-happened to be on a Paris trip of their own! They took me out for delicious dinner and due to a sad phone mishap I wasn’t able to reconnect with FP and get back to my apartment. Or apparently take any pictures. I felt terrible but luckily we both made it to our respective homes safely and I topped up my dumb phone. I met her with a chocolate croissant the next day to make up for it.

We decided to never go splitsies again, and spent our last day wandering Montmartre and visiting the Basilica de Sacré Coeur. Montmartre was beautiful, I loved the atmosphere and the houses. We found a boat load of tourists here though, no more personalized Paris.

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Also, warning, it’s a HILL. Like, not the best thing to do on your last day when you have to, oh, carry all your baggage that you brought with you. I loved loved loved the basilica. It was also packed with visitors, and it was the kind of situation where people were getting elbowy to get in. It’s like, people. Church. What are you doing.

But look at how cool the effect is of the old gray stone church against the summer in Montmartre surroundings! It reminds of the Wizard of Oz, when things clearly go from black and white to colorful.

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We saw the Lapin Agile, a famous cabaret where Picasso used to hang. Can someone please explain to me why on EARTH Eeyore was waiting in the garden? I thought he was going to pounce or scare someone or something. He didn’t even notice me taking pictures he was so focused on his hiding.

We ended our trip with souvenir shopping (I collect postcards!) and having a charcuterie plate near the metro.

Yesterday I mentioned how awesome iDBus was for helping me get into and out of Paris? Well that’s partly because our food was so late we had to take it with us, and we had to wait for the metro to get to the far corner of the (remember, huge-normous) city, and when we finally made it to Bercy we had to RUN to the bus. It was legit packed up and nearly pulling away, but they stopped and loaded us on. Merci!! We would have had to sit in the bus station for four hours and get home to Brussels after their metro was working. So I love ’em a little.

Here’s a random assortment of other favorites from our last few hours in the city of lights. Paris, you’re trop cool for me, but je t’aime just the same.

:)

This whole trip could never have been organized on my own, and thank you to every little thing and person that made it possible! There are lots of things I still need to see (Moulin Rouge! Louvre! Notre Dame! those dang macaroons!)… til next time.

bonjour, paris (pt. 1)

A couple months ago now, I posted on my blog about all the things I was/am grateful for. One of them was a surprise pair of tickets to Paris courtesy of CheeseWeb, a blog for English speaking expats living in Belgium, and iDbus. Besides the fact that they were making a nine-year dream come true, they were extremely courteous and gracious in every way… so thank you for all your help getting me to France! (And getting me back out…)

Thursday, August 15th

In addition to the miracle of free bus tickets, the friend I invited to come with me (Hi, FP!) had a friend-of-a-friend with an apartment in Paris with extra space for those days. (Thank you too, Anca!) We climbed on the bus at Garde du Midi and landed a few hours later by Bercy. It took us a hot minute to figure out the metro – I was completely unprepared for just how massive that city is. I mean really huge-normous.

After stopping off at the apartment to drop off our backpacks, we decided to waste no time and headed right for the Eiffel Tower. It felt like she became the third travel companion, she kept popping up whenever we least expected it since you can see her from pretty much everywhere on the west half of the city. Of course, a photo shoot ensued.

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We wandered around for awhile, looking for a cafe for lunch. What we didn’t realize was that we showed up on a bank holiday, which means that evvvverything local is pretty much closed. We were a bit annoyed we had to go with Le Pain Quotidien (I could eat this in the US, boo), but we were very happily surprised that each country approaches LPQ differently. So our food was far better than expected, and the waitresses were very excited to hear they had edged out NYC for food quality and presentation, haha.

After lunch we hopped back on the metro and tried to see as many touristy things as possible before it got dark.

The metro signs themselves were heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. You can tell how old they are by how simple the signpost is. The one on the left, above, came before WWII, because it still has a hint of the 1920s artistic influence and it has a lamp post attached. The newer ones just have an M, or Metro with a blue circle. The oldest posts were all kinds of fancy (on the right), but a lot of them have been replaced over the years.

Next up was the Arc de Triomphe. It was actually a pretty good idea to visit all the big, don’t-have-to-worry-about-it-being-closed sites on the bank holiday, it wasn’t even a little crowded. Unless you’re talking about Champs Élysees, which had so many people I couldn’t stay longer than ten minutes, and I couldn’t afford to even walk in half of the stores. Not worth my time.

Our fourth travel companion became the Seine. We took a lot of pictures of her, too. 🙂 (Égalité means equality.)

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But the best part of the day was the end, when we met up with a friend of FP’s who lives in the city (Hi Max!). We went all the way to the other side of Paris, near the library, where lots of people our age hang out on a bridge that goes over the Seine. There are lots of restaurants and bars lining the river, and people just bring their food and wine up to the bridge to share with new friends they make on the way. It was seriously adorable. I loved the wine I had so much I brought some home for my boyfriend for a Paris souvenir. That day someone had set up a projector and they were all watching a tv show (I think Breaking Bad, haha).

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Side note, I found this hilarious. Apparently the architects responsible for the National Library of France didn’t really design the four buildings (meant to look like four open books facing each other) for actual… books. The glass outside was all wrong for its contents because books kept catching on fire when the sun was strong. What! So now the windows have something behind them to block out the sun, and the library has lost its beautiful view of the city. Wompwomp.

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A couple other random parting shots for you, then I’ll save the second day for a new post… that won’t take two months I hope. 🙂

mussels and steamers, noank, connecticut.

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One more “I refuse to let summer go” picture. This was from a trip to Abbott’s in Noank, Connecticut on Memorial Day weekend.

When I’m not using and abusing my camera, at school/work I’m researching marine policy, economics, and conservation issues. Seafood has always been tangentially related to what I study, and I’ve learned that what you’re eating and how it arrived on your plate are important questions to ask. Shellfish can be some of the most environmentally sustainable seafood, since they are filter feeders (and therefore use fewer resources to produce a serving of food) and they grow relatively quickly. I have the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app on my phone for when I’m at a restaurant or grocery store, because it lists seafood according to whether it’s good/okay alternative/bad. Mussels are definitely good. 🙂

 

sailboats on the sound, groton, connecticut.

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Hello there, long lost WP friends! Talk about falling off the wagon there. I have a whole virtual stack of photos from traveling in Europe to still share with you, including trips to the Azores and France. I’m doing some local traveling related to the job search this month, but hopefully I can work on those posts in my downtime.

This photo was taken on a trip to Groton on Memorial Day weekend and has been waiting in the hopper ever since, poor thing. I miss summer but I’m excited about cider donuts and sweater weather, too. 🙂

Days 49 & 50: MIM & PRICE.

MIM
On Saturday I set off an adventure with my camera in the morning. I wanted to knock something off my bucket list, so the Museum of Musical Instruments it was. I wandered from West of the city center all the way to Parc Royale and the museum (Note, this long walk is important later.)

jenclinton/08052013aFrom MIM’s website: “Besides the well-known Scottish version, many more countries appear to have their own type of bagpipes, Tibetan monks make musical instruments out of the bones of their deceased colleagues, and African slit drums are the local form of Twitter.”

I don’t know what genius decided the concept for MIM but I’m kind of in love. You get a little transponder thing in your language of choice when you walk in, and there are markings on the floor that you stand on in front of most of the instrument displays. Once you’re in the right place, you hold the transponder to your ear, so you actually hear what the instrument sounds like! I mean really. That’s the point of an instrument right? It was so simple it was obvious, but it sort of blew my mind when I realized what the deal was, haha. So clever.

Many of the pieces were from Eastern Europe (lots of Romania), and most were instruments I’d never heard of. I apologize in advance for picture quality but lighting was definitely not conducive to picture taking, not with my little camera dude anyway. Let’s give out some superlatives, shall we?

Creepiest :

Yikes! That would be a skull drum and a femur horn. I thought a femur flute would be a great alliteration but would be decidedly less intimidating in battle I suppose.

Yikes! That would be a skull drum and a femur horn from Tibet.

Most ornate:

I'd be too afraid to even hold this thing, never mind play it.

I’d be too afraid to even hold this thing, never mind play it. She’s so dainty.

Most BA to play (listen to it here):

the SERPENT from RUSSIA.

the SERPENT from RUSSIA, distant cousin of the tuba.

Most difficult to play:

no WAY is that a one person instrument! holy lung capacity. maybe it comes with a reverb pedal or something, haha.

no WAY is that a one person instrument! holy lung capacity. maybe it comes with a reverb pedal or something, haha.

Best Smile:

:D!

:D!

Best Dressed:

from romania, circa 2007. (that threw me.)

from romania, circa 2007. (that threw me.)

Most “what the?” moment:

"it's a little weird that we're blowing into animal intestines, ya? let's cover it in fur so it's less conspicious. much better."

“it’s a little weird that we’re blowing into animal intestines, ya? let’s cover it in fur so it’s less conspicious. much better.”

Personal favorite:

phish guitar?

phish guitar?

I will say this though, I did enjoy the museum but it would  be much better for you if you have a pretty deep-seated appreciation for classical music. I only appreciate it in small doses, usually when working, which is not something pleasant to think about on a free Saturday afternoon. That’s probably why the nature museum was the one for me. 🙂

On the walk back I took a few more pictures of the city. Isn’t she pretty?

PRICE
So Sunday was designated write-your-damn-thesis day. It went, eh. Okay. I took a break go to the insanity that is Garde du Midi on a Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately as I was walking through the crowd my right knee just gave out for no reason at all. I’m like, hello old lady. I was able to put weight on it fine so I kept on keeping on. I actually got some delicious food today, look look! And aside from the provolone I didn’t spent more than… seven euro?

pêche, pastèque, fraises

pêche, pastèque, fraises

carottes, fromage feta, fromage provolone, persil

carottes, fromage feta, fromage provolone, persil

When I got back to my work space I tried to stretch my legs out to the chair on the other side of the table. OWWWW OWOW OW. So I can walk on it but I can’t straighten it. Gah. My several-knee-surgeries boyfriend suggested a strained tendon and PRICE – pressure, rest, ice, compression elevation. It’s not swollen or anything, and I’m sure it’s from walking so much in not-made-for-distance-walking shoes. Just PLEASE no crutches, they don’t have normal ones here. Everyone uses the hand ones and not the underarm ones and excuse the vanity but it would make me look all the more pitiful.

Sad face. I should probably wear my sneakers to work for a while. I’ll be the only one in BRUSSELS wearing running shoes, I think even the women who run wear cute flats at the very least, haha. Ah well. Body says slow down, you better darn well listen.

Italia Part 3: Castillo & Bagno di Romagna

This is the third in a series of posts about my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

When it comes to the city versus the country, I definitely consider myself a country mouse. I like having so much to do and try and see in the city, but I much prefer the quieter sanctuary of living with more trees than people. Preferably palm trees.

Sunday in Italy was a whole new level of country mouse though.

My friend’s family owns a farmhouse in their hometown, perched on a hill far from the downtown area. In the early morning, her dad picked out squash, zucchini, and herbs from the garden, and her mom put together a stunningly elegant lunch to bring up to the country house (shocking, I know). There’s no kitchen quite yet, so everything was cooked at the main house and carted up there. This time, lunch was prosecco (cin cin!), olives, homemade spaghetti with truffles (…once again my favorite meal in life), squash sliced into strips and cooked with herbs and zucchini, only to be followed by the actual meal of duck breast (I don’t even know how it was cooked but it was unreal). I was so. full.

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Nonno told me this was the “key to paradise,” isn’t he so adorable?

After lunch, my friend asked me if I wanted to take a walk around and see the area around the house. This was one ‘YEP’ I should have kept to myself… I was in a dress, work ballet flats, and a bathing suit, and sort of anticipated a ten minute walk at the most. Mmmm nope. I should have brought water, sunblock, and my inhaler at minimum, haha. I forgot that I had been silently praying on our drive to the house that the car could even make it uphill… thank the lord for manual transmissions. It was seriously a 50 degree gradient in some places. But it was all worth it, check our the scenery.

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Those long things growing on stalks are onions, and sunflowers grow for miles around here… in addition to the Tuscan vineyards of course.

At the top of the hill, embedded in the stone wall around the house, is a statue of Mary. We both crossed ourselves and said thank you once we got back up, haha.

NBA! haha

If you look closely you can see the handpainted NBA sign, haha.

The rest of the afternoon we spent being lazy at the neighbor’s pool. It’s a big saltwater infinity pool overlooking the rolling hills and sunflower of Castillo. I felt weird taking pictures because they don’t know me, but this is basically what I was looking at from the float. 🙂

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I couldn’t communicate well with most people there sadly, but I was able to tell them I was American. And I definitely understood when he told me that it’s okay, we can’t all be perfect. Haha

We took pictures on these stone benches on the top of a hill, and the neighbor came over to explain to me that they were actually placed there by Romans 2000 years ago, carried over from Africa. I can’t even take a sit without finding a piece of history, haha. While I was sitting there, my friend offered me a green bulb looking thing and told me to mangia. I’d never seen anything like it before, and it was a little oddly squishy. Her mom insisted I eat it too, and showed me how to tear into. I was like well. When in Rome? Literally? After one bite I said Ohhhhhhh my god. It was a fresh fig. The Italians thought it was hilarious…”haha! Americana! My got!”

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Apparently one pool was not enough for us on Sunday though! Something else on my life bucket list was visiting hot springs, and wouldn’t you know it, those Romans loved a good hot spring bath. Again, not super conducive to taking pictures but this is from their website. We closed the place down (11pm), then went into town for dinner (pizza! quattro stagione is my favorite) and walked around the town. Look at these sweet little mandala-like things lining the streets – they were all made of dried flowers and leaves.

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This should have been a two week long vacation, darn it.

Day Twenty to Twenty Two: Summer is Here/Brussels Bucket List

Friday afternoon, after getting out of work, I realized that I’ve already been here three weeks. Three weeks! I feel like I just stepped off that plane yesterday. I wasn’t going to make a bucket list, since I already have one for life (we’ll save that for another post), but then I realized I only have 5-8 more weeks here.

This weekend I knocked off a bunch of them. It was so beautiful out! Saturday morning I set off to find the Marolles flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle. I love wandering around these little markets even if I don’t often take things home. I fell in love with an oil painting of an old fisherman, but I left him alone because he was a little big to cart home in my suitcase. I’m also trying to save up for a trip in August! I feel like I’m vacationing from vacation.

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someone PLEASE explain this image to me hahaha

someone PLEASE explain this image to me hahaha

The whole area around Place du Jeu de Balle looks a hundred years older than where I work – you even have to take a glass elevator down from the Palais de Justice into the old city. I also discovered this store with hundreds, if not thousands, of carved African and Indonesian sculptures and beads, it was this quirky little oasis surrounded by general stores and sandwich shops.

In the afternoon, I walked to Parc Cinquentenaire for a picnic, then wandered around looking through the crazy sales Brussels has in July.  After my housemate got out of work, she and I and five of our friends walked to the African quarter, Matongé. We had dinner at this delicious little hole in the wall called Soleil Afrique, and let me tell you. I cleaned. my. plate. The whole street is full of Congolese and Cameroonian restaurants, I will most definitely be returning. Afterwards, we skipped over to another patio for espressos (the Italian), martinis (I felt adventurous), and beers (everyone else).

Sunday morning after sleeping in, I met up with Jess at Garde du Midi again. It must have been the weather, but this was more packed than usual. And I mean, elbows up, make sure your feet don’t leave the ground busy. We took the metro downtown for lunch at the Irish Bia Mara, just to eat these fish and chips. Another one for the clean plate club!  When I came back I took a nap with my new book in the garden. Heavenly.

Suggestions for things I can’t miss in Brussels are welcomed and/or encouraged. Five weeks? I got thisss.

Brussels Bucket List: Summer 2013 edition

Bia Mara Fish and Chips

Try at least five Belgian beers (so far Leffe and Blanche)

Snag a table for outdoor dining in Place du Luxembourg, minus the smoking

Zinneke pis

Guinness at Michael Collins, Ave Louise

Coudenberg museum (15th century Brussels ruins)

Eat Congolese food in Matongé, the African quarter

Palais de Justice (can I get in? not sure. currently covered in scaffolding.)

Vintage market at Place du jeu de Balle

Rits Cafe (Monday movie screenings)

Picnic in Parc du Cinquentenaire

Chaochow City, cheap Chinese food

Buy yourself a pair of shoes, girl.

Intern social at Place de Luxembourg, Thursdays

The Atomium

Non-touristy waffles. And more of the touristy kind too.

Photograph all the graffitti pencils I can find (up to five or six now)

Museum of Musical Instruments

Go to the beach. Any beach. Three tons of sand being dumped in the city center counts.

Day Six: The three signs.

Happy weekend, kids. Let’s talk spirituality, shall we? (Seems like the only natural follow up to yesterday’s American table dance.)

My religious upbringing was Catholic, as was my university. I hesitate to use the “spiritual but not religious” tag that a lot of Americans use now, because it’s not quite true – I still love the community and camaraderie that you feel when church gets it right, though my beliefs have a bit more mixed in than before.  I believe in karma (see: yesterday’s episode with the waffle/whipped cream disaster), but I also believe God is very much here… in all things. Jesuits FTW.

So as I was visiting an apartment today, I heard God loud and clear three times in the course of fifteen minutes. Let’s start with the third and move backwards.

Sign #3
I turned the corner after leaving the house and stumbled upon a Greek food market, and I needed dinner. When I went in, I was greeted by an adorable old man, with eight round serving trays displayed in front of him. He was selling hand-made miniature pastries, each featuring different nuts. I had just come off of a full hour conversation in French so I decided to keep going, and I asked about his food. I taught him the English translations of pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts, and he assembled a tiny tray for me. He handed it over with a laugh, looked me square in the eye and said, “Tu vas rentrer demain, je te le promets.” You’ll come back tomorrow, I promise.

Weird, because that was the plan if I moved in. Demain.

"comme des oiseaux!" i said. like birds! (now i know a nest is 'un nid.') those are peanut eggs, to give you an idea of scale.

“comme des oiseaux!” i said. like birds! (now i know a nest is ‘un nid.’) those are peanut eggs, to give you an idea of scale.

Sign #2
The sweet French girl giving me a tour was in the kitchen trying to show me how the microwave works. It’s additive, rather than only being able to type in the one cook time. When she typed everything in and she pressed enter? 111.

Weird, because that’s my lucky number.

 

Sign #1
This was certainly not part of the online tour, but it just became the best surprise of all. Off the kitchen is a walled off garden (I can actually get in!), and at the end was a little shed. As we stepped outside past the roses and the benches, she asked, “Es-tu catholique?” I gave her a strange look as she pushed into the shed, and crossed herself. Oops, not a shed. It’s a shed sized chapel! I’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t much bigger than this.

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The chapel was made of cedar, so inside smelled… well, heavenly. The light fixtures were made of palm fronds, and there were fresh roses laid under the crucifix. I was sort of at a loss for words, in both languages.

I had justified my current living situation as a sanctuary from work and the noise of the city, but when I looked closer at the city, I found the real sanctuary waiting for me inside.

Just weird.