Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Le Pique-Nique

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Before we left Paris, we wanted to make sure we had the necessary supplies for many impromptu pique-niques (yes, they really spell it that way) as we prepared to spend the next 5 weeks driving through France. When we were out shopping one day, I discovered the WalMart of France, a store called “Tati”. Even though it had been cold and rainy for some time, they had all their merchandise out for summer and it had been well picked over already. I guess the Parisians were anxious to get ready for their summer vacations which is understandable considering how long the winter seems to last. We easily found a small cooler and some freezer blocks. But finding plastic picnicware was a challenge. We managed to get the last two plastic cups, a package of small plates, and a couple of small knives. After searching in several other stores, we eventually acquired a small cutting board and napkins. At home we could have picked up these items in any one of a variety of stores very quickly and inexpensively.

This experience made me think about some differences in lifestyles between our two countries that one would only discover by spending more than a few days here and dealing with simple every day tasks. Where we are accustomed to having a wide choice of readily available paper and plastic products, the French seem to economize on these items. Typically, I would buy paper towels, napkins, tissue, and toilet paper for my household. Here all these paper goods are not necessarily available in every store. Paper towels and toilet paper, yes — napkins and tissue, not so much. And, anything made out of plastic is rare. Maybe they’re on the right track. They must certainly have less waste to dispose of than we do. Recycling is in place everywhere and you are expected to bring your own bag to most stores. We have just recently been required by law to do this in our city and I am just getting used to remembering my bags. I’m getting lots of practice in France.

The French value quality over quantity — a concept that used to exist in the US. Nowadays we are more concerned with the bottom line than customer satisfaction. French products are expensive and fuel prices are very high, but after some time here, you can’t help but think that you might actually be getting more for your money. Wines are excellent, even the cheapest ones. Roads are smooth and well-maintained, including those in the countryside.

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In the end, we assembled a very respectable picnic set that will serve us well throughout our journey. Indeed, we have already put it to use a couple of times. Prior to our visit to the Musée d’Orsay, we had a picnic dinner on a bridge over the Seine. Today we stopped at one of many small picnic spots in the heart of the Burgundy countryside after our drive through several small medieval villages and a visit to the Abbey of Fontenay. It’s a lovely way to enjoy the country and we are looking forward to many more pique-nique stops.

An interesting side note: There is no open container law in France. You can enjoy a bottle of wine with your picnic without having to hide it or fear being caught with it and asked to throw it out. The French police themselves by making it socially clear that it’s not cool to get loud or out of hand in public. You know, a little bit of common sense and respect for your fellow man. What a concept!

La Vie Parisienne… Parisian Life

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This week we have spent some time enjoying the typical attractions of the city of Paris. But, as planned, a lot of our time has been dedicated to figuring out how to live like the Parisians. From speaking French, understanding the Metro, handling Euros, shopping for every day items like groceries and sundries it has been a learning experience. While Norman has carried on in French fairly well for our basic needs, I have not quite conjured up the necessary courage to spit out a complete sentence though I understand much of what I read or hear. This has always been a problem for me in learning another language. I suspect that after 7 weeks of travel I will be able to do a little better.

Since we are staying in an apartment, we have had a chance to live more like Parisians than if we stayed in a hotel. We walked to the local stores to buy our provisions for the day with the obligatory stop at the boulangerie. We prepared our own meals. We did our laundry in the washing machine located in the kitchen and then hung everything to dry with a variety of adjustable hanging devices in the bathroom. And, since we depart tomorrow, today was cleaning day. All the same things you would do at home but with a few modifications.

Of course, we brought several electrical adapters for our iPhone, iPad and camera chargers as well as other small appliance like a blow dryer and iron. All of these things are capable of dual voltage so it is much easier to use them than in the past when you also had to have a converter. But learning how to use French appliances can be a challenge. Yesterday Norman spent an hour trying to figure out how to get the washing machine and microwave (both on the same circuit) to work before we could wash our clothes and heat milk for his coffee. After finding and inspecting the circuit breaker which seemed fine, it finally turned out that the hidden surge protector to which they were connected was switched off.

Our apartment is small — about 400 square feet (large by Paris standards) — so everything has been designed or set up for a compact life. There are surge protectors with multiple outlets everywhere you look in order to increase the number of things you can plug in at any given moment. One hopes you won’t blow a fuse. There is built-in storage in every available space. Furniture is small but comfortable including the bed which is nothing like the monster bed we have at home.

So the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” holds true. Whether adjusting to the weather (it has been mostly overcast, cold, and rainy), shopping, going out to get something to eat, traveling around the city, or strolling through your neighborhood, the thing to remember is that no matter what you do, do it with the idea of enjoying yourself. Don’t be afraid to walk into a store, a boulangerie, a farmer’s market, a supermarché, a museum, a café, or any other place. If you just make a small effort to communicate in French remembering to say Bonjour when you enter and Merci, au revoir when you leave, you’ll always be met with a kind and pleasing response. During this entire week, we have not experienced a single negative or rude reply from anyone even when we could hardly communicate.

Musée du Louvre

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Paris is full of some of the best art museums in the world. You can literally OD on art here and there is definitely something for every taste. My personal favorites are the impressionists and there is no shortage of that — the Orsay, Marmottan, and Orangerie among others are all filled with their work. However, like every good student, it’s important to study the beginnings of anything be it language, music, or art. Hence, a trip to the famed Musée du Louvre.

Being married to an artist has several advantages when visiting art museums. First of all, you have a personal guide who can tell you all about different periods of art, explain various techniques, and answer lots of questions. You also have someone to remind you not to take things too seriously. After all, what ends up on the museum wall sometimes seems arbitrary. The value of art is very subjective. So really you need to decide for yourself what has value to you. You’re not obligated to like anything just because some curator said it was important. My approach is to look at the “required” popular pieces and then go find something — one piece I’d like for myself — the one I’d like to take home… no matter what anyone else thinks.

The Louvre as we know it now began in the 12th century as a fortress and dwelling for a succession of kings. Over time it was added to and enlarged upon. The transformation from palace to museum began in 1793 during the reign of Louis XVI and in 1882 the Louvre ceased to be the seat of power and was almost exclusively devoted to culture. Only the Finance Ministry maintained offices in the Richelieu Wing until 1981. In 1983, the extension and modernization of the Louvre was entrusted to Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei whose controversial glass pyramid was inaugurated in 1989. The Galeries du Carrousel (underground shopping mall and parking garage — with the addition of an Apple store in 2009) made their appearance in 1993. At present, nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet.

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A visit to the Louvre can be overwhelming and exhausting if you’re not careful. Since it was my first experience, Norman let me lead the way and we managed to cover a lot of ground in about three hours. We began with the requisite viewing of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (actually more impressive than I expected her to be), the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Greek goddess Nike – 190 BC), and Venus de Milo (Greek goddess Aphrodite 130-100 BC). Normally I’m not all that enthralled with ancient art, but the Greek and Roman sculptures are so impressive it’s difficult to ignore them. Then we meandered through all (yes, ALL) three wings. We had planned an evening visit with hours until 9:30PM so it was not crowded and there were plenty of comfortable places to sit and enjoy the art, architecture, and atmosphere of the museum. We unintentionally ended up in Napoleon III’s Apartments (carpet on the floor — aaahh!) — something I wouldn’t have chosen to see but am glad we didn’t miss. Did I find something I wanted to take home? Well, actually we both found favorites among the art of Africa and the Americas. Mine was a wooden sculpture I will call the “Blue Man” and Norman’s was a fetish (protective figure covered with nails) from the Congo that sort of looked like a porcupine. We made arrangements to ship them home.

The City of Light

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The first time I saw Paris was standing in the middle of the Pont des Arts where I could just see the top of the Eiffel Tower. I had dreamt of traveling to Paris for so long that I could hardly believe my eyes. If I was looking at the Eiffel Tower, I must really be in Paris. For some reason, it brought tears to my eyes which is something I rarely experience unless I’m watching some sappy chick flick. But this was no movie. It was the real thing!

So, for me, a return trip to the “City of Light” would not be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Paris was originally nicknamed the “City of Light” because it was a vast center of education and ideas during the Age of Enlightenment. In 1828, Paris began lighting the Champs-Elysées with gas lamps. It was the first city in Europe to do so, and so earned the nickname “La Ville-Lumière” or The City of Light.

The Eiffel Tower was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel as an entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. At a height of 1,050 feet, it held the title of world’s tallest building until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building. In 1957, the Eiffel Tower reclaimed its title with the addition of its antenna. While it has been the object of much criticism, it has become the most iconic symbol of Paris and the whole of France for that matter. Lighting of the tower began in 1985 with several projectors illuminating it from the inside. To celebrate the millennium, a beacon and sparkling lights were added. This spectacle of light can be seen at dark every evening on the hour for 5 minutes until 1AM. The best viewpoint is from the terrace of the Place du Trocadéro. Installing the lights was no easy feat. It was accomplished over a period of 5 months with the aide of 25 mountain climbers who attached 20,000 special light bulbs one at a time.

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Late one evening, we made our way to Trocadéro to view this iconic landmark in all its glory. We had previously traveled to the top so we did not feel the need to do this again especially since the tower is currently functioning with only one lift instead of two. It doesn’t get dark until very late so we had a bit of a wait on a breezy, cool night threatening to rain, but the Iron Lady did not disappoint. At 10PM we watched the 20,000 twinkling lights come on and sparkle like a fine diamond. Drawn by her charm, we overstayed our welcome and got caught in the impending rain. Our hasty retreat to the nearest Metro led to an unfortunate fall on a slippery, wet metal plate covering utilities beneath the sidewalk. Fortunately, I was wearing black and only my elbow was worse for the wear. I had paid my price for the visit, but it was well worth it.

La Cuisine

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So far we’ve only eaten one meal out which is intentional. We purposely chose most of our accommodations to include a kitchen so we could cook. Eating out every day for 51 days would be impossible both physically and financially. And, since we both like to cook, it is fun to shop in a different environment. By now we have purchased a wide variety of French groceries and Norman has prepared many delicious meals for us. It is interesting to note that the quality of these products seems to be superior to what we have in the US. For example, yesterday we had chicken and potatoes prepared in a Dutch Oven seasoned with Herbs de Provence. The chicken was meaty but not fatty and flavorful throughout — even the breast meat was very tasty. There are several brands of fruit juices which are sold in tall, square cartons that contain at least 50% real fruit juice and they are delicious. We wanted a large container of plain yogurt and settled on the least expensive store brand of something called fromage blanc which turned out to be equivalent to Greek yogurt — very tasty by itself or served up with some fruit for breakfast or dessert.
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Of course, there are a few products for which France is especially renown like wine and cheese. As you might imagine, the selection of cheeses is overwhelmingly endless. Charles de Gaulle supposedly once asked, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” We have enjoyed a few kinds already and even the ones whose names we recognize seem much creamier and more flavorful than what we buy at home. Perhaps you might say that it’s just because we’re on vacation that everything tastes so good. In fact, the French go about the production of many of their foods in a manner that is no longer followed in the US where food production is driven by profit and quantity, not quality. The French still raise their animals on small farms where they can roam free and eat from the land. They call a pig a pig and a cow a cow — no special words for these when they come to the table like pork or beef. Cheese, like wine, is granted a certification that it comes from a particular region. This is the AOC label which stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and translates as “controlled designation of origin”. If you are a wine enthusiast, you are familiar with the concept of terroir which refers to the special characteristics that the geography, geology, and climate of a certain place bestow upon particular produce. The French apply this to many of their products including nuts, green lentils, and onions. Restricting a product to be made only in its region of origin limits production, but results in the quality that the French expect.

Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

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Mireille Guiliano had a runaway best seller with a book of this title. She gives all kinds of advice about how to live like a French woman, enjoy all the good things in life, and remain slim and beautiful. I decided that it’s really not all that complicated. If you walk and use the Metro to get around Paris, I’m convinced that’s all you need to do in order to stay perpetually slim and trim. You’re easily going to burn off anything you could possibly have the time to stop and eat. The fact of the matter is navigating a big city without a car whether New York or Paris involves endless walking.

This morning while I was getting ready, Norman walked to the boulangerie to buy a couple of baguettes for later in the day and two delicious apricot filled pastries for breakfast. He commented that the baker’s wife had a long face and when I asked him why, he said it’s because she’s stuck there. The ovens are in the basement of the building where her husband works from 10pm till 4am, the tiny store on street level is open seven days a week all day long, and they live in the apartment above. He’s probably right.

After breakfast, we walked to our local marché to buy some more groceries for our pantry. Then we set off to re-explore the area around the Louvre and Pont des Arts that was my first introduction to Paris six years ago. This involved a combination of walking and using the Metro which seemed like mostly walking. When you exit one Metro stop to transfer to another line, it often requires half a mile or so of walking through a maze of passageways to the connection. This generally includes flights of stairs both up and down — remember the trip with the luggage? It looks so direct and simple on the map, but it’s very misleading. It makes you think you should have just walked all the way to your destination in the first place. And if you’re not sure which exit to the street you should take (you usually pick the wrong one) you end up three blocks in the wrong direction before you realize you need to turn around. After a day of doing this, we figured even the Parisians must get confused from time to time.

I don’t envy the people with cars either. Unless you can drive like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, driving through the narrow streets is crazy and parking is impossible. We noticed that people park wherever they can even if it’s obviously illegal. The police are out in force giving parking tickets but they seem to just pile up on illegally parked cars. We observed some vehicles with huge collections that hadn’t been towed. In fact, we haven’t seen any tow trucks at all. For obvious reasons, there is a plethora of motorcycles and scooters all over the place and I do admire the women who are dressed to the nines with hose and heels riding them around the city.

Eventually our Paris hike came to a temporary stop on Pont des Arts which crosses the Seine between the Louvre (originally named the Palais des Arts — hence the name of the bridge) and the Institut de France and has the distinction of being the first metal bridge in Paris thanks to Napolen. Due to its unique point of view, it serves as a plein air studio for many painters and photographers who are often present there. On this day we encountered one lone painter and were serenaded by a colorfully dressed gypsy woman playing an accordion. Pont des Arts is also well-known as a bridge for lovers. The chain link fencing on either side sports an overwhelming array of love padlocks, a tradition that can be seen in various places throughout Europe. The story goes that a couple writes their names on the lock, locks it onto the bridge, and throws the key into the Seine as symbol of their undying love. Of course, if things don’t work out, you have to come back with bolt cutters. There are two bridges where this phenomenon occurs — Pont des Arts is said to be for committed love and Pont de l’Archevêché is for lovers. The latter is reportedly packed with locks compared to the former which still has plenty of room for more. Humph!
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After all this exercise, I was getting hungry and in need of a bathroom. This meant we had to stop somewhere and eat anyway if we wanted to find a bathroom. We continued our walk over the bridge and into Saint Germain des Prés, a very upscale neighborhood and once the home of the existentialist movement — basically where the famous people that lived in our neighborhood of Montparnasse went to hang out for coffee and talk (think Sartre at Starbucks). It’s two most well-known cafes are Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore which you see in every travelogue and movie about Paris. We made a more obscure (and economical) choice, Le Petit St. Benoît, where we indulged in an appetizer of escargot. Someone pointed out that the only reason they taste so good is because of the rich sauces in which they are prepared which I think is probably true. We followed this with a fish cassoulet for Norman and a chanterelle risotto for me and, of course, some wine. No need to feel guilty about the carbs in my dish as I knew I still had the long walk back ahead of me.

When we finally arrived back at our apartment, we realized we had been gone for six hours! We rested, had a small meal while watching the season finale of Madmen on Norman’s iPad (yes, thanks to the Internet and wifi, you don’t have to worry about missing anything from home) and then… We went for an after-dinner walk!!

Dimanche is a Day of Rest

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Our first full day in France and we followed through with our plan to rest and relax before we got too enthusiastic about doing all kinds of things. We slept in and then made a light breakfast with a few things we had purchased after settling in and recovering the previous evening. Then we discovered our local boulangerie — only a few steps away from our apartment (yes!!) What am amazing array of pastries and breads for much less than US prices. Our pain du jour cost the equivalent of $1. I’m going back tomorrow for that scrumptious-looking apricot pastry I saw. Next stop — a neighborhood Sunday farmer’s market where all the locals stock up for the week as did we with delectable meats and cheese plus many fresh fruits and vegetables for our evening repast. We were definitely the only American’s there and Norman did an impressive job with his French. However, Sunday is typically a day of rest for the French. Many businesses, restaurants, and markets are closed. We had one pressing need on our shopping list — toilet paper — for all our apartment’s amenities this particular item was minimally provided. In the end, we had to settle for purchasing it at a tiny minimart.

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Located on the Left Bank, our neighborhood is the 14th Arrondissement better known as Montparnasse. This is where you will find the Tour Montparnasse (the famous Parisian skyscraper), the Gare Montparnasse (train station), the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (university) and the Stade Charléty (sports stadium). Montparnasse is also known as an artist community and is home to a variety of small museums and galleries. This is where many famous artists and intellectuals like Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso lived and spent their days.

Bon Voyage

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Getting on our Air France flight to Paris involved the usual routine of going through security, waiting, boarding, getting the luggage settled, and trying to get as comfortable as possible in your seat. Right away I noticed our aisle seat partner was Mr. Fidget. He must have had too much coffee or some such caffeinated drink because he couldn’t sit still for anything. The good thing about this was the fact that he was up out of his seat off and on during the entire 10 1/2 hour flight which gave us multiple opportunities to move around as well.

The flight attendants went through their drill of explaining all the necessary safety information in French then in English. The only reason I understood any of it was because I knew what they were supposed to be saying. Even their English, spoken with the same lilt and accent as French was fairly unintelligible. We used our limited French to get in the spirit of the trip while communicating with them during meal service. It’s not too challenging to say, “Vin rouge, s’il vous plaît.” But it gave us the confidence that we had brushed up enough to navigate through our journey in French when necessary.

Besides eating to entertain ourselves, we read (Why We Love France but not the French) and watched movies. There were a million choices on individual screens. I always jump at the chance to watch a romantic drama when I don’t have to share so my choice was “The Vow”. Mr. Fidget was bilingual — maybe British. He watched several movies and some TV shows non-stop until we landed. If it was in English, he had French subtitles and in French he had English subtitles. I should have been doing that, but I didn’t want to make such a lesson out of it. At one point, a man collapsed onto the floor as he passed by us and the crew had to administer oxygen until he was finally able to stand again and be escorted back to his seat. The flight attendants didn’t seem very alarmed and took him back to his seat in a rather business-like manner. Perhaps some people put on such an act hoping to garner a seat in first class. I was just worried we would be diverted to some unplanned landing location.

We slept fitfully as one usually does on such a flight and arrived with the typical fatigue and discomfort of sitting in one place for too long. Deplaning, going through customs, and picking up our large checked bag were uneventful. Then the fun of navigating the French public transportation system with all 3 of our bags began. This always the moment when you ask yourself, “Why did we bring all this stuff?” The first step was to take the RER train into Paris. Norman had one of our two smaller bags tethered to the top of the large rolling bag. Due to the combined size and weight of these two bags, we were unable to use the escalators. Fortunately, there were elevators but using them to get to the train required many extra steps. We were well equipped with Euros, but had few coins — the only type of currency accepted in the ticket machines. Credit cards are an option but apparently not for us as the machine refused the efforts we made to use ours. Once Norman secured €18,50 in coins, we were finally on our way with two tickets for this leg of the trip to our apartment in Paris. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the Metro station where we had to transfer to the local subway. Here we encountered no elevators, few escalators, and LOTS of stairs both up and down in various directions in order to arrive at the platform for the correct line. By now, Norman was about ready to leave the large bag behind and we almost had to as it barely fit through the luggage gate. We had a short ride on the Metro, negotiated another maze of stairs and arrived on the streets of our Paris neighborhood ready to make the last haul on foot. We did this at a rather frenzied pace since by now we were almost an hour late for the agreed meeting time with the owner of the apartment — all the while our minds trying to convince our bodies that we weren’t completely fatigué.

Finally, we had arrived at our destination. We entered the building code we were given and rang the apartment. The owner, Madame Faure, a jovial older women came down to greet us and escort us to the apartment via one very tiny elevator. She was wonderful and patient about explaining everything and wanted to be sure we approved of the accommodations before she accepted the rest of our payment as if we were going to make another choice at this point. However, she did not speak or understand any English and being exhausted both physically and mentally at this point, we were more than challenged communicating with her. We managed and at last had the keys to our apartment which we decided we should try out to see if we could get back into the building after Madame Faure left. This experience produced the most anxiety of the entire day.

Norman went downstairs and out to the front of the building with one set of keys and I stayed in the apartment with the other set. The key fobs contained a sort of remote which we did not really understand how to use. He was gone for too long so I knew something was wrong and he was probably stuck outside meaning I needed to rescue him — no cell phones to communicate with each other. For a few minutes we hung in the balance of me locked in and Norman locked out. I really couldn’t figure out how to get out of the building. What if we were stuck for rest of the night with no way to call anyone for help? This was not a good way to begin a vacation. After several minutes, I made it out the front door and holding it open for fear of being locked out too, shouted to Norman who had begun walking around trying to figure out how to scale the building or at least, break in. Then we figured out that all you had to do was swipe the key fob over a rather inconspicuous security logo to gain entrance to all the doors. What a relief! Ok, now we were in control and on our way to a fantastic adventure.

Forget anything?

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One of the reasons I pack so far in advance of our vacations is that I really don’t like to forget anything. I try to think of every possible scenario and what we might need. I make list after list and check them off as I go. I almost never get everything checked off until the very end because I always think of one more necessity that will make the trip a success. I used to do this the old-fashioned paper/pencil way but now I’ve gone digital. I use my iPhone and iPad for every task. My favorite app for list-making is Dropkick. It’s clean and clear plus it syncs between both devices seamlessly. And it has checkboxes — I love checking off checkboxes!

I have to clarify that we really didn’t forget anything… that I can think of so far. However, Norman is always misplacing little things — most notoriously his Apple headphones. They go missing for days hidden somewhere in an unidentifiable jacket or pants pocket. A couple of days ago, he went to the Apple Store with the specific purpose of acquiring a new set of headphones for our trip. The ones he had weren’t working so well and he is always able to charm them into exchanging anything that doesn’t work. As we were preparing to leave for the airport, he realized once again that he couldn’t find them. Since someone was picking us up to drop us off at the CalTrain station for our journey to SFO, we didn’t have time to look in every nook and cranny. I promised Norman I’d buy him some at the airport.

We intentionally arrived at the airport very early so we could just hang out and relax before our flight. Once we settled in to a spot near an electrical outlet (surprisingly not so easy to come at such a large airport), I sent Norman off to the electronics store to pick out some headphones. He was gone for a long time and when he finally returned, he came back a Rasta man with the coolest pair of headphones ever! They’re called Smile Jamaica In-ear Headphones from the Bob Marley Jammin Collection. (http://www.thehouseofmarley.com/in-ear-headphones/smile-jamaica-in-ear-headphones.html) Not only are they really cool looking, but they block out external noises and sound terrific. On top of that, they’re made out of really unique Earth Friendly materials. As soon as I tried them out, I had to have a pair too but, of course, I didn’t want the exact same color. I did my own shopping and discovered they did, indeed, have another version. So Norman has the Rasta ones with the green earbuds and I have the Fire (appropriate if you know me well) ones with the red earbuds.

The first exciting purchase of our trip — Bob Marley headphones. Now we are ready for… Ja-maica mon! But wait — we’re going to France.

Ready for Takeoff

After almost 4 months of planning and preparation, we are finally ready to get this vacation off the ground. The “flight check” list seemed never ending. For the last two weeks, every item we checked off the top of the list generated another to add to the bottom. A 7-week trip creates a lot of things to consider taking care of so you won’t have to worry about them while you’re having fun far away from home — the bills, the plants, the mail, etc. Trying to pack the perfect suitcase is a challenge and taking care of all your personal appointments is an absolute must. Then there’s the mundane stuff like doing the laundry and cleaning the house because while you know you’re going to really enjoy this vacation, when you return to your own modest 1400 sq. ft., it’s going to seem like a palace compared to French standards.

Using Rosetta Stone, we have worked hard to recover the French we learned so long ago in college. Norman has been a better student than I have. He’s also more confident about jumping in and speaking the language plus he does a great imitation of the French. He’s very convincing and will certainly garner much attention and approval with his efforts. I will certainly be depending on him to get us around and through all our experiences. I understand much of what I hear and read but am not really good at producing complete sentences. However, I do have some magic words ready like “bonjour” and “au revoir” for entering and leaving a store. Small businesses in France are considered an extension of a person’s home so it is common courtesy to use polite phrases upon entering and exiting.

Everything is finally checked off our lists. All three suitcases (oops! Did I say we were only taking two?) are packed and ready to go. We will be taking CalTrain to Bart to SFO tomorrow and then we’ll be on our way via Air France… first stop – Paris. See you there!

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