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A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 17: Amsterdam: Bicycles, Houseboats, & Canals (Oh My!)

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A day trip from Paris to Amsterdam is an easy trek. A train ride takes you through Belgium into this pristine city which looks like it was designed by a type A toymaker. In a good way. Man-made canals criss cross the city. And they were, indeed MAN-made. The founding fathers ensured we would know this by giving them names such as the Gentleman's Canal, the Prince's Canal, and the Emperor's Canal. Be that as it may, a boat ride takes you through most of the city and gives you a view of some of the 1200 bridges. This is a walking city, so walking along the canal is also truly enjoyable. When you get tired of looking at the water, you can glance into the windows on the opposite side and see into the living rooms of the locals. Window shades are not big here, which makes the voyeur in me very happy. I love to see inside homes.

There are way more bicycles here than cars. There is much more of a chance of being hit by a bike than of being run-over by a tram, bus, motorcycle or car; the other modes of transportation. Everywhere you look there are bikes flying past you or parked on the streets and bridges. They steal bikes where I come from. In Amsterdam, it seems it's safe to leave your bike. The big fear is forgetting where you parked it. I have enough problems finding my car sometimes and have been known to stand in a parking lot trying to open a stranger's car, thinking it was mine. How do people here remember where they left their bike and how do they tell them all apart? Leave a comment if you think you know the answer, please.
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If you don't want a typical tourist experience in Amsterdam, you can rent a houseboat for your stay, instead of an hotel room. They dot the canals and are fully equipped with satellite TV, fridge, stove, living room, and all the comforts of home. In fact, some are stationary homes on the canal. Many, though, are true houseboats. Each is distinctive and has a charm all its own. Privacy, however is an issue since you have boats traveling up and down the canals all day and into the night and people like me peeking inside your windows to see how you live.

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Posted by teethetrav 00:23 Archived in Netherlands Tagged canals paris france amsterdam houseboats netherlands bicycles day-trip Comments (0)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 16: A Meal in Paris

Eating in Paris is simple, delicious, and fabulous. Each day you can decide whether to cook, purchase prepared foods, or eat out. All options are available within a few block radius. Supplies are purchased on an as needed basis, not for a week at a time, as we in the US tend to do. Each day is an eating adventure.

My son and his wife, the Louboutin fan, left and my daughter and one of her best friends arrived today. Goings and comings in Paris. I took my daughter and her friend around my neighborhood. We hiked up beyond Sacre Coeur, then down past the Montmartre Cemetary. We came back up via Rue Lepic, my favorite market street. Some know it as the street where the movie Amelie was filmed. After we had a coffee at the cafe where much of the movie was filmed we stopped at various shops. On the spot we decided to eat in and put together a wine, meat, cheese, and bread meal. We purchased cheeses at the cheese shop, charcuterie at the meat vendor, and accoutrements such as olives, cornichons, and pate. Of course, we stopped at the obligatory boulangerie for a baguette to round out the meal. With our favorite wine in hand, we headed home to partake a simple, delicious meal comprised of our purchases. Perfect. An all around favorite was the goat cheese topped with figs. But the hands-down favorite was the runny, gooey camembert ("It smells like toes" to quote my daughter) which was so delicious, it left us speechless.
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At one point, my daughter turned to me and said, "You're never coming home, are you?"

Posted by teethetrav 11:02 Archived in France Tagged food paris france baguette cheese figs charcuterie pate Comments (0)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 15: Could I Live in Paris?

I got an email from a friend in the USA asking me if I would consider living in Paris. In a heartbeat, I emailed her back. My response? "Oui." I didn't stop to ponder, waffle, consider pros and cons, or think. Wow. That's not characteristic of me at all. I tend to be a ponderer. Sometimes, even a waffler. Why the quick response? I had to consider why I was so sure I would think about moving here.

I've always had a visceral response to France. Some of that is inexplicable. Some, I can explain. In France, people like food and meals. They appreciate sitting at a table for hours with good, simple food made with good, simple ingredients. The food is complemented by the people and the conversation. I have found this in other places in Europe, as well. Italy loves a good meal, good wine, good company, and good conversation. But, as much as I find Italy to be a phenomenally beautiful country, I don't think I want to live there. It's a masculine country.

In France, I feel like women are more respected and appreciated for all of their qualities. France is a more feminine country. Even the architecture is feminine. It is curvaceous, sensual, appealing.

I like that people appreciate art and architecture in France, as well as a good meal. My good meal tonight came from Le Jardin d'en Face on the Rue Trois Freres in Montmartre. It's a tiny place with about twelve tables and a chalkboard menu. I had an insanely good fois gras tarte cooked with an egg on top that was light and impossibly delicious. I followed that with a fresh sea bass, salad, and rice. Simple. Perfect.
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But I digress. What I love about France, and about Paris is there are still bookstores. With real books. A lot of them. And on the Metro, people read those books. Sometimes, they are so engrossed I've seen them miss their stops. I love that.

I love that children eat out with their parents and talk and eat. They don't have tablets with games to entertain them so their parents can eat and not be interrupted.

I love that dogs hang out with their owners and wait for them outside restaurants and sit next to their owners outside at cafes.

I love that history is respected and still discussed. I love that "fast food" is a fresh baguette and real cheese or chicken, not processed cold cuts.

I love that people buy bread daily. And croissants. And pretty much everything else to eat.

I guess the most important point is : what would I miss if I left the US? My family, my friends, some TV shows (don't judge), and...I think that's it.

I have a lot to consider. Stay tuned.

Posted by teethetrav 14:41 Archived in France Tagged paris france dogs cafes Comments (0)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 14: Ex-pats, Moose Milk, & George Bush

Paris is an international city, much like New York. It's hard to find a native New Yorker in Manhattan and the same is somewhat true in Paris. I was invited by an American woman I met on a recent trip to Cuba to a Canadian levee to celebrate the New Year. She and her husband, who is Canadian, hosted the gathering at their apartment in Paris where they have lived for almost two years. The levee is a New Year tradition in Canada, he explained. So is slogging down some Moose Milk. Moose Milk is similar to eggnog. Neither have any eggs, both are milk-based and doused liberally with alcohol. In the case of Moose Milk (at least this version of it, there were at least three types of alcohol I saw being sloshed into the punch bowl: kahlua, Bailey's, and whiskey. No moose is harmed in the making of this drink.

The apartment has a corner view and a wrap-around terrace. On one side, there was a view of Notre Dame which is across the street. From the other terrace there is a view of the Seine (and a GIANT Coca Cola sign, but nothing is perfect).

The group of around 40 ex-pats were mostly American, but there was a couple from New Zealand, a woman who immigrated from India and works as a translator, and a couple from Argentina. The couple from New Zealand has lived here in Paris for thirty years. I also met three people from my home state of NJ and a woman from Pennsylvania. She left the US the day George Bush got re-elected and hasn't been back since. Which reminded me that the day he was re-elected I landed in Rome. On my taxi ride from the airport my driver asked me if I was American. Since Iraq was smoldering at the time and Americans were not beloved in Europe, I hesitated before I admitted I was. He turned and looked at me over his shoulder and said, "What is wrong with your people? Have they lost their minds electing this man again?" I had no appropriate response.

The conversations at the levee were lively and diverse. There was talk about the current terror situation in France, naturally, and of the disharmony world-wide. But there was also talk about food and travel; two of my favorite topics. I was encouraged to go to Sweden, particularly Stockholm in spring or summer. I was warned not to go in winter if I crave daylight since it is fleeting. Apparently, things there are so bad that there are huts scattered throughout the streets. Inside, you can sit on benches under lamps that simulate sunshine for those people, like me, who fall into seasonal slumps due to lack of daylight.

But terror is never far away in Paris. When I entered the apartment, there had been fifty or so Ukrainian protestors across the street. By the time I left, thirty huge police vans were sitting out front, sirens and lights blasting. The protesters were gone. I don't know if they were arrested or just fled. Since the attack at Charlie Hebdo, every time you hear sirens, people stop and look around. It reminds me of New York after 9/11. For a long, long time we all stopped and watched planes as they flew overhead. A plane over NYC was never going to be just a plane ever again.

Posted by teethetrav 01:20 Archived in France Tagged stockholm paris france sweden iraq 9/11 terror charlie_hebdo canadian_levee moose_milk ex-pats_in_paris george_bush Comments (0)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 13: Baguettes and Black Coats

I am learning how to become a baguette person. Parisians carry a baguette early in the morning for breakfast, or on their way home after work when they pick one up for their evening meal. There are specific strategies to carrying your baguette. Some choose to carry them sticking up out of their backpack. Since a baguette is quite tall, depending on the height of your backpack, I've noted that those with smaller backpacks break their baguette in two pieces. I don't approve of or recommend this at all. Because the French do not use any preservatives, their pastries and breads go stale almost as soon as they hit the air. Best to buy them warm, hurry home, and eat them immediately. A few hours later, any bread which remains is good only for bread crumbs. So breaking them in two renders them stale soon after the breakage. Even if you don't break the baguette, a backpack is a dangerous strategy. I worry that someone might touch it as it sticks up in the air, and I tend to be germphobic. But, since I am not a backpack person, I don't have to worry.

A second popular means of transport is to put your bread in your cloth bag which you bring to the market. The baguette will stick up out of the bag, as well, so you have to be careful that it doesn't topple over and fall out. All in all, I've used this strategy with success.
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Own of my personal favorite methods is to eat and walk. Keeping the baguette wrapped in its paper wrappage, you break off the end piece and eat as you travel. I've done this, but it leaves you perpetually covered in crumbs. Since EVERYONE in Paris wears a black coat (myself included), crumbs on black is not a good look.
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The crumbs are from the crust, which is, in part, the appeal of the French baguette. The inside is more airholes than actual bread, which is probably why the French don't get fat. There is some math and science behind this. If the ratio of hole to dough is greater than weight of the baguette, calories don't count. It's a proven theorem. Look it up.

Last, but not to be dismissed lightly, is the under-your-arm carry. This frees your hands for other activities, like paying for your wine to go with your baguette and finding your keys so you can get into your apartment to indulge in your still warm baguette.

Posted by teethetrav 03:25 Archived in France Tagged paris france baguette black_coats Comments (0)

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