For some reason I’ve always felt compelled to go to Strasbourg. Fortunately I had just enough time during my vacation. I woke up early last Friday morning and headed to Gare de l’Est. I grabbed a coffee and headed to my train. Two hours later I was in Strasbourg.
I proceeded to my hostel from the train station. It was a short 15 minute walk and the weather was beautiful. I was really lucky. Since I got there early, my room wasn’t ready. I locked up my bag and mapped out my plan for the day. I headed towards the Grand-Île, where most of the attractions are located. After walking around a bit I headed inside the Cathedral to watch the Astronomical Clock at noon. We were first shown an amusing film in French/German/English and afterwards we watched the clock move. It was short, but interesting nonetheless. After the clock ceremony I took a walk around the Cathedral. It was very lovely. Then it was time for lunch. The concierge at the hostel recommended a place near the Cathedral called Au Dauphin. I ordered a vegetarian rosti which was DELICIOUS. After my relaxing lunch I decided to walk around Petite France, an island off of the Grand-Île. It was adorable, truly belonged at Disney in my opinion. By the time I finished Petite France I figured my room would be ready and I could take a quick nap before dinner.
When I got to my room one of the people staying there popped out and started speaking to me in French. We started asking each other basic questions (neither of us were native French speakers). She was from Italy. She wanted to know more about my work as an Au Pair. I mentioned to her also about my language exchanges in Spanish and she mentioned she taught Italian in Spain for 5 years, ergo she spoke fluent Spanish. Instantly my new friend Stefania and I began speaking in Spanish. It was much easier for us to communicate. She spoke very limited English and I don’t speak Italian. Despite trying to speak in French together throughout the weekend we would always slip back into Spanish. C’est la vie. Stefania and I took a long walk around the city. She had arrived a few days for me and had seen pretty much everything. We returned to the hostel and both passed out from exhaustion.
The next day, Stefania headed to Petite France and I went to the European Institutions. They were on the edge of town so I took the tram. After walking around the complex I jumped back on the tram and met Stefania for lunch. After a mediocre meal we took a walk around the city again. Having both seen pretty much everything at this point we were kind of ready to go back to Paris. We split up and planned to rendez-vous at the train station.
Over the course of the next couple hours I had the worst service ever at a restaurant where all I wanted was a salad (ask me about it sometime). I also ate a pretzel and walked a little more around the city and went back to the hostel to use the internet. I then collected my things at met up with Stefania at the train station.
It was time to head back to Paris. Overall I had a lovely weekend in Strasbourg. It’s small and cute and you really only need a couple days. You can really feel the German influence in the city. Alsace as many of you know floated between Germany and France for years and after WWII it remained within the French border. It’s a interesting place where you can see how the two cultures have blended.
Photos from the Normandy American Cemetery
It had been a goal of mine to make it to Normandy. I can now scratch that off my list.
The family that I work for has a place in Cabourg (2 hours outside Paris) that they like to go to during the school holidays. So on Saturday after lunch I jumped in the car with Sophie and the kids and we were off! Alexis was to join them the following weekend. Upon arrival we settled into the home and Sophie went to the market with the oldest to buy a few things. I headed down to the beach with the younger two. It’s a casual round the block walk from the house. So we played games in the sand and I received a beautiful shell as a gift. After an hour or so we headed back to the house to relax and get ready for dinner. As per usual it was absolutely delicious. After a quick discussion at dinner, we decided that we’d go to the Cemetery in the morning.
Sunday morning we all got up and had breakfast before heading out the door. The Cemetery was about an hour away. The weather was perfect. Normally it rains all day in Normandy so we were very lucky. The visitors center at the Cemetery has a small museum and theatre on the basement level. After walking through and reading a bunch (it was in English and French) we proceeded to watch a short 15 minute film on the history of the D-Day landings and the Cemetery. The five of us then headed out to look at the grounds. Impressive doesn’t quite do the place justice. It was incredible. Headstones lined up perfectly for acres. The clean white headstones juxtaposed on the perfectly manicured green lawn with trees and bushes strategically placed made for a beautiful site. At one end was a Memorial with a giant statue at the center. In the middle there was a tiny chapel. At the other end stood two statues representing The United States and France. The Cemetery was so peaceful. I’m so happy I was able to make it there.
We then proceeded down the hill to Omaha Beach. The kids just wanted to be by the water. They didn’t really understand the significance of where we were. As we ventured downward I took a look at how steep the hill was. To think that roughly 70 years ago thousands of young men landed on these beaches and charged up this hill is mind blowing. Not only were they carrying weight on their backs, but they were headed uphill into the line of fire. All to liberate France and defeat the Germans. Their bravery and selflessness was extraordinary. We walked along the beach for a while and made our way up the hill, seeing a few more monuments on the way. I ran ahead to check out the memorial at the Cemetery and met up with the family at the car. Hungry, we ventured off to the town of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain for lunch. It was sheer luck, but the most adorable of little towns. There was a dock with a bunch of boats with restaurants lining the streets. After buying a few things for dinner we sat down to a tasty lunch and ice cream. Then it was back in the car and back to Cabourg.
Sunday night before dinner involved playing nerf where I got shot in the eye. Good times. Our evenings involved delicious dinners, watching the Olympics, and watching a movie before bed time. I also got a bunch of reading done Sunday afternoon and evening.
Monday morning involved a journey into downtown Cabourg. It’s like we had the place to ourselves. The kids there still had school and second week of vacation. So we were literally the only ones in the market when we went grocery shopping. After walking around a bit we came back to the house and had lunch. We then headed to Deauville, which is known for it’s American Film Festival to spend the afternoon. It’s about 30 minutes away from Cabourg. I can best describe it as Atlantic City before it got super seedy. It has a lovely boardwalk with restaurants and shops along it. Apparently in the summer it’s packed with tourists. We then grabbed an ice cream and headed back to Cabourg. I did a bit more reading and then it was time for dinner. It was a weekend filled with meals of fresh fish, salad, and potatoes.
I stayed up a bit later to continue reading and then eventually made my way up the stairs. When I turned on the light in my room I found a giant insect on my quilt/pillow. The children were asleep in the next room over so I couldn’t scream. I didn’t want to wake them up. I saw the light on in Sophie’s room and wanted to get her, but I thought it would be best to let her be. So I thought to myself, “Be an adult. What can I do here?” I saw a shoe on the floor and grabbed it. I attacked the bug. Then with toilet paper I grabbed it and took it to the bathroom. Feeling heroic I climbed into bed and hoped that the bug was alone.
Tuesday morning I woke up and had breakfast. Sophie took me to the train station in Caen. I was headed back to Paris for a few days of relaxation before part two of my vacation. I thanked Sophie for a wonderful weekend and was on my way!
Paris Catch Up
It’s been a wild week and a half or so since my post about the goûter. My weekdays were pretty much the same. Routine and all. However; I’m just going to post a couple of highlights:
Katherine and I continued our brunch tradition at La Chambre Aux Oiseaux. It was absolutely delicious. My teacher recommended it to me. It’s out in the 10th. A very adorable spot. I hope to return to the Canal Saint Martin area of Paris when it’s warmer. I’m sure it’s even more lovely in the springtime. This brunch followed what was a totally perfect/wonder/exceptional week where the Dream Team ran as a well oiled machine. It brought me oh so much joy. Sunday I found myself once again at the Spanish-English-French language exchange. I exchanged numbers with a few people to possibly meet during the week for a coffee or meal to continue working on our English and French (the two languages most in demand).
Then it was the week leading up to vacation. A bit of a side note, in France, every six weeks the children get a two-week vacation. They fall in October, December, February, and April. If only we were so lucky in the US, am I right? So we chugged along last week. Biggest highlight was getting dinner with Justin. We went to this Mexican restaurant down the street from his place. It was absolutely delicious. Very authentic. They also had Chilean wine on the menu which was a must. I’m going to slowly convert him into a red wine drinker! It was also wonderful to catch up. I hadn’t seen him in weeks! Our schedules are just so opposite and now he’s taken on an internship. We will try to see each other more.
Also was the only one in class on the last day before vacation. It was an awesome opportunity to speak French for the full two hours. And my teacher is so cool.
It’s a quick post yes I know. Not a ton happened that was thrilling and/or exciting. Except delicious meals and great people. But ultimately that’s what matters most right?
French Culture Interpreted by an American: The Goûter
Goûter. I told you I would eventually write about this. I know it’s not my weekly post about my life here in Paris but I thought I’d reflect on French culture as well. Where was I?
Ah yes, the goûter. It is the most important part of the day for any French child. After a very long day of school the children are finally released into the loving arms of their parents/nounous/nannies/au pairs/caretakers for the rest of the day. At least at the school where my younger two are at the teacher must see me before they allow the kids to leave school grounds. Same goes for all the children. Not only are they greeted with a hello and a hug/bisous, but also with a goûter.
Goûter is basically snack time. And believe me it varies. Some have candy bars, others have bread. I’ve seen children eating cookies, cakes, pastries, fruit, pain au chocolat and so much more. It’s really wild. Often they’ll have juice or water with their snack. This is for the walk/ride home from school. Usually when we get home we have goûter part deux which involved yogurt or tea or some other snack.
There is such excitement from all kids as soon as they see their treat. It’s also a reflex or Pavlovian response. Greeting their caretaker is the stimulus and the response is reaching out their hand for their snack. After school pick up is utter chaos, but this doesn’t matter to the children. They want their goûter no matter if they are in the middle of a giant crowd or the only ones on the sidewalk. The amount of sugar I see consumed daily is unbelievable. Maybe I should change careers and become a dentist in France.
Speaking of snacking, the French love it. Honestly I walk down the streets and constantly see people eating chips, candy, sandwiches, you name it! And yet they stay so thin. There must be something in the water….
This Past Week
So I’ve decided that I’m going to update either once or twice a week. Definitely on Sundays. Yes today is Monday, but yesterday was so busy!
Monday and Tuesday were business as usual. However I cooked dinner both nights!
Monday: Charcuterie and cheese night
Tuesday: Pasta in a garlic and olive oil sauce
Wednesday was pretty lovely. I decided to stay for dinner and heard the doorbell ring. A few minutes later I asked the middle child who was at the door. She said Antoine. I asked who that was and upon hearing it was their grandfather I ran into the kitchen and said I’d be right back. I was in yoga pants and a sweatshirt which is very unacceptable in my opinion, especially if I was to be meeting the grandfather. So I quickly changed and enjoyed a delicious rôti with the family. I thanked the grandfather in advance for having me at his place for dinner on Friday (more on that in just a bit). Another Wednesday highlight involved me getting my debit card from the bank. The super nice man who works at the front desk was patient with me as per usual.
Thursday. Oh boy. So I told the kids I’d cook Mexican food for them. So I started with the basics. Homemade tortilla chips an guacamole. I also made taco stuffed peppers. But before I could cook I had to buy groceries. Enter the week’s frustration. Long story short prices and items were not properly matched and upon hearing the total cost of the bill I asked to check things out. The lady at the register proceeded to tell me that she didn’t have time for that. Well I wasn’t going to pay without clarification. Then I had young people help translate and then tell me just to pay because they were in a hurry. Uh, no. You can wait because I won’t pay without clarification. So two more employees came by and I had two yelling at me in super fast French and one trying to speak English with me. I finally was able to see the case of food, explain myself, and head back to the register. After voiding and ringing things a few times things were settled. Most of the people in my line flat out left the supermarket because they were in a hurry. But not being able to explain things and communicate was super frustrating. Also, yelling at me and speaking quickly will not help me understand you any better. So thanks ladies at the Monoprix. You’re real gems. Next time I’m going all out English if things get bad again. That is if I go back. On the bright side Thursday morning things were finally settled with the gym. I’m officially a member, I have my card, and I’m good to go. About time right!?
Friday was a rather short day. I didn’t really have to work that much. However I went with the family in the evening to Antoine’s apartment for a big family dinner. They were celebrating the birthday of one of the cousins. So I met the entire extended family. Everyone was absolutely lovely. The apartment was stunning and dinner was fantastic. I had such a lovely evening. The evening was solely in French which was awesome listening and speaking practice. One of the cousins is starting Spanish this year so we spoke a little bit. Dessert was delicious as well—cakes from the Patisserie des Reves, the best in Paris. After a very delicious and very filling evening we headed back home and then I headed upstairs to bed.
Saturday was fun! I had lunch with the family and watched a French film (with French subtitles) on my laptop. During the evening I went out with a group of Au Pairs. Our kids all go to the same school. Some of them brought their boyfriends. We started out in the 13th arr. at a Chinese restaurant. We had the room upstairs so we could partake in karaoke. Let’s just say after plenty of wine and beer, everyone was singing. It was a quality list of throwback tunes. Some songs I’m embarrassed I still know all the words to. We were originally going to go to a Motown night at a bar, but they wouldn’t let the 10 of us in. They weren’t playing Motown music anyways. Lame. So we went to a discotheque on a boat on the Seine. It was pretty neat. Then it was time to split a cab home and head to bed.
After my nap I woke up on Sunday morning to meet Katherine for brunch. We went to this fantastic place called Claus in the 1st. It was such a delightful brunch. The food was yummy, the atmosphere was adorable and the pastries looked AMAZING. We are definitely going to go back sometime. I would recommend it to all those looking for a brunch spot. So then I walked to the Opera Garnier area for the French-Spanish-English Meetup. There were about a dozen of us. It was a lot of fun meeting more new people and practicing my Spanish and French. After a little over an hour I headed to the 5th to meet up with a friend. Louise is a friend of Justin and Suzy’s who is also working on her Master’s in Paris. She also studies law and is from the South of France. I met her a few times at functions at Justin’s place. She and I briefly discussed the possibility of a language exchange. She really wants to work on her English and I want to work on my French. So after she returned from a class trip in Prague we arranged to meet. We went to this adorable restaurant called Le Fourmi Ailee. It was an absolutely lovely afternoon. We chatted a bunch in both French and English. We had a bite to eat and coffees. Afterwards we headed to the metro to head back to my part of the city. We walked around a bit more in my neighborhood and then I had to go because I was skyping a friend. But we both decided that we should get together at least once a week to chat and work on languages. Also she’s super sweet and it’s really nice making another friend in this big city. I’m very much looking forward to our next lunch/coffee.
A few photos from my Saturday!
A Week Full of New People
Wow this week went by fast!
Monday and Tuesday were pretty much business as usual. Take the kids to school. Go to the gym. Shower. Lunch. French class. Pick up the kids. Gouter, homework, bath, dinner, bed. (Side note: I will write a post about the culture of Gouter).
Wednesday was a little different. The youngest had a birthday party to go to. So after school we headed straight to the party and I dropped him off. After a short walk around the neighborhood I settled at a cafe/tabac with my books and a coffee and let the afternoon pass. Then it was time to pick up the youngest and head home. I was supposed to then take the middle child to tennis lessons, but she was not feeling well. Sophie was already home with her, so I was done for the day. I headed to the gym and then headed back to my room to prepare dinner. It was a very relaxing evening.
Thursday: enter the first wave of new people. I went to pick up the kids at noon for lunch and found myself almost stepping in something rather unpleasant. You see, the dogs of Paris use the sidewalks to relieve themselves. Luckily two older nannies caught me before things got messy, for which I’m extremely appreciative. Later that day however, another Au Pair was not as lucky. Over the last couple weeks I heard her English accent so when I saw that she was standing in an awful spot I tapped her and said, “I just wanted to tell you to watch where you’re stepping”. After a minor freak out she thanked me and proceeded to walk over to another group of girls. I noticed that a bunch of Au Pairs hung out together before after-school pickup. But I usually stand by myself and wait. So I picked up the two youngest and we went home.
Friday was pretty routine. Class throughout the week was rather small. It was me and another girl from Korea along with our teacher. This was great in some regards. More opportunities to speak and practice reading. On Friday however, the other girl left for a weekend in Rome. Fortunately there were two other girls in class for discussion day. After a solid week of class I headed to school to pick up the kids. The English Au Pair from the day before approached me. She asked me if I wanted to join her with the group of English speaking nannies that stands together waiting for their kids. Most were from the US and UK. One girl is from Sweden. It turns out they have a Facebook group and plan nights and weekend activities. This upcoming weekend they’ve planned karaoke and invited me. I was pretty excited to meet some people. Friday night the kids and I had dinner and watched Monsters vs. Aliens. Cinematic brilliance, I’m telling you…
Saturday was wonderful. I met up with Katherine for brunch. This week we went to Les Pipelettes in the 14th arr. It was delicious!!! We stuffed ourselves with meat, scones, yogurt, bread, potatoes, salad, juice, and hot beverages. I can’t wait to go back. It’s such an adorable place as well. They sell a bunch of candies, mustards, jams, oils, and treats. It’s a bit of a journey from where I live/work, but it was totally worth it. Also, during the week they change up their menu everyday! I must go back to check out lunch or dinner sometime! Afterwards I had to walk off all of the food. So I wound through the neighborhood, stumbled across a protest (this always happens to me I swear), and ended up at Cimetière Montparnasse. This is where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are buried. I also looked for Julio Cortazar, but couldn’t find him. However he’s not going anywhere so if I make it back I’ll make sure to find him. I continued walking throughout the streets of the 14th and the 6th arr and when I eventually got to Odeon I jumped on the metro and headed home.
I had a little bit of time to relax and then I headed downstairs for dinner. Friends of the family from when they lived in Canada were in town on vacation. They have since moved from Toronto to Buenos Aires, Argentina (a fantastic city by the way…I’ll blog about it along with my other South American adventures). I helped finish setting up and our guests arrived around 8/8:30. They were absolutely lovely. They too had three children the same age as the kids I’m watching. Dinner was delicious. Sophie prepared such a wonderful meal of fish, rice, and ratatouille. There was also a cheese and salad course followed by dessert. Everything was so delicious. Between dinner and brunch I was full for a week! They left around midnight and then it was time to help clean up and make sure the kids were all in bed.
Sunday (today) was interesting. On Friday night a friend of mine told me about Meetup. She just moved out to San Diego to live with her boyfriend and was planning on using it to meet people. So I checked out the site and they had a bunch of different groups in Paris. I saw that a group was meeting for a French-English-Spanish language exchange. I thought, “Why not?” and RSVP’d. I figured it was in a public place during the day. Worst case it’s bad and I don’t go back. So I ventured to the Opera area for the Meetup. There were about 8 of us. It was a mix of people. They were a really nice group of people. Some were studying in France, some working, and another guy is an Au Pair as well. It was really nice being out and meeting some people. We talked about a whole range of subjects. I spoke a lot of English since others wanted to work on that, but next week I plan on speaking more French. It was quite a success. It was pouring today so instead of walking I headed back to the metro and back to my room until my meeting and dinner. Sophie prepared a delicious roast. It was nice sitting down to a family dinner.
All in all I’d say this was quite a week. Things are really shaping up. I’m branching out a bit more while really honing on the routine. I hope to maintain this balance for the duration of my time here! We shall see!
Snapped this photo during my walk last week.