Tag Archive | France

11 Days, 7 hours, 53 minutes

…. until I leave behind the soaring stained-glass windows of Sainte Chapelle, the miles and centuries of skeletons stacked inside the Catacombs, and the glow of the Eiffel Tower at night [as well as a few more wondrous things I mentioned here.]

Three months ago, I came with no grand expectations, no lengthy to-do lists of shopping on the Champs-Elysées (too expensive), climbing up the Eiffel Tower at night (worth it, no matter how cheesy), or trying overpriced macarons (definitely not worth it; alfajores are much better). In about 11 days, I will leave this barbaric paradise, appreciative and relieved.

Windows of the Ste Chapelle church

Lower hall of Ste Chapelle

Stacked bones inside the Catacombes

Tour Eiffel at night

Appreciative for the chance to get the living-in-romantic-Paris-for-a-few-months bug out of my system; to witness a city that’s changed much in terms of history and architecture, but very little in terms of mindset over the last few centuries; to eat the best crunchy-outside-and-soft-interior baguettes you can imagine; to better appreciate [American] washing machines that don’t jam your fingers as you attempt to close them and [American] windows that have screens to keep out mosquitoes and [American] diets that include real vegetables and fruits, not drenched in butter or syrup.

Relieved to find out that I will not need to move to Paris to be happy, as I had naively thought as a kid. I’ll miss the endless array of colorful, completely unhealthy pastries on display in neighborhood bakeries; the ability to walk along the Seine on a warm night with the yellow haze of lights transforming the water into Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhône; and the inevitable respect for the old and older while walking down the small, winding streets of the Marais… But I won’t miss the many rude waiters, the urine-stained streets, the racism and resistance to change, the need to wear heels to a grocery store to fit in.

My humble verdict: Is Paris worth visiting? Absolutely. Is it worth living in? Only if you live with friends.

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Giverny!

After weeks of seeing limestone upon limestone (not to mention rain every single day) in Paris, going to Giverny made me feel like a kid in a candy store–except the candy became flowers. There was just so much COLOR!!!

As a bit of context, Giverny is a small French town in Normandy, NW of Paris, where the painter Claude Monet spent most of his later years. I was extremely surprised by the house itself: it was relatively small, and infinitely more humble, than most French houses of people who were as wealthy and popular as he was by the end of his life, and especially given that he was born and raised in Paris. I had the impression that his biggest investments were his collection of Japanese prints and his garden. At any rate, it was interesting to see where such a well-known artist spent his life and gained inspiration.

The town itself was very bucolic–ivy everywhere, brick and green.

A view of Monet’s house from the gardens

These two looked almost like they were talking to each other

Walking towards the lily pond from Monet’s gardens

The lily pond!

The cheerful kitchen of Monet’s house (with Japanese prints on every wall, bien sûr)

The view from Monet’s bedroom window. I can’t really blame him for being inspired.

Auvergne — the Most Isolated Region of France

I’ve been meaning to post photos for some time from Istanbul, Barcelona, and Paris–all wonderful, beautiful, and ridiculous places in their own ways. But I’ll start with a much less well-known spot of Europe: the region of Auvergne, in central France, where I spent this past weekend. Many of the towns we visited were part of the Santiago de Compostela route in France–a holy pilgrimage for Christians that links to where St. James is believed to be buried, in NW Spain. One town that we drove through even seemed to be throwing its own medieval fair–everyone in the streets and in the shops was strangely minding their own business, as if their stockings, colorful dresses, and frocks were completely expected in the 21st century.

There is some truth to my growing suspicion that most medieval towns in Western Europe are very similar… nonetheless, this region still had its own flavors:

  • lace-making (which we learned was much more complex than previously thought),
  • the bright-green, surprisingly strong liquor called Verveine,
  • black foxes running along the highways,
  • the icy-cold rapids of the Loire, and
  • plenty of extinct volcanoes (Auvergne is in the heart of the Massif Central mountain range).

I’m also starting to think that they don’t care about diets like the Parisians do; the general population in Auvergne was of a healthier weight on average–perhaps partially because they were older, and central Paris’s population is much younger… The people of Auvergne (and particularly the staff of restaurants) were also thankfully friendlier than in Paris. 🙂

Auvergne in context

On the way to Auvergne

A view of Le Puy-en-Velay

The old (medieval) part of Le Puy-en-Velay

The very Roman, Moor-inspired Cathédrale de Nôtre-Dame at Le Puy-en-Velay

A view of the dyke and St Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel

Looking up at the Chapelle St Michel d'Aiguilhe from the stairs

The cloisters of the Abbaye Saint Georges, La Chaise-Dieu

A view of Château Lafayette from the chateau's lush gardens

Mustard fields near Clermont-Ferrand