Paris, Je t’aime!

Ok cheesy title. Sorry. But everything in Paris is borderline cheesy. Partly due to the many stereotypes floating around about Parisian, but really also because Paris plays such a large role in culture and well life is actually kind of like those stereotypes.

So long day today. And forgive me for skipping straight to the point. But let’s be honest, everybody wants to hear about my Paris adventures, right? Switzerland and the rest of Italy, while gorgeous will wait for another day.

Let’s start early this morning. Our small USC group of 10 girls (perfectly sized) made it to the Cité stop and met with our guide M for a quick tour of the oldest part of Paris, the Île de la Cité and later Île de St. Louis.

We walked around and check out sights like Notre Dame:

These are the side and back views. I’ll post up some front and inside views later in the semester when I have more time to explore. However, needless to say the sides are breath-taking and reveal the extremely intricate Gothic architecture that local Parisians built themselves, usually for free.

These are people with no experience in construction but wanted a beautiful cathedral to devote to the Virgin Mary and to give their children a grand church to adorn the city. Consequently it took 2 centuries to build and the craftsmanship is very evident.

We went to take a boat cruise on the Vedettes du Pont Neuf (ironically called the New Bridge, this bridge is the oldest in Paris). Here are some of the highlights:

My favourite bridge is Paris is called the Pont Alexandre III. It is one of 37 bridges, but considered the most ornate and beautiful.

Clearly you can see the detailed sculptures and decorations like the lamps and columns.

Even the face of the bridge, extremely beautiful with a mermaid like creature welcoming us while we were floating under the bridge.

La Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) - eternally beautiful even in the distance on a cloudy day

Supposedly this is one of the buildings after which the White House in DC is modeled.

The smallest house in all of Paris.

After lunch at some dingy restaurant in the Église St. Séverin (food was not good even though this place has some decent restaurants that offer un menu fixe), we hopped on the first bus that arrived at the closest bus stop to us. This is a great past time and a way to explore Paris through the public transportation which we already paid for with our passe navigo. We got off at Opéra, where (one of) the big Paris Opera building is. Absolutely goregous and many expensive clothing stores and department stores were nearby. So we visited…

Les Galleries Lafayette!

This is if you can believe it, the roof of the department store building. Gorgeous right?

We also stopped by Picard, a supermarket. But this one was special; it only sold surgelés (frozen) meals. It was so funny to see Americans in there, curious about a supermarket that only had frozen goods, when they probably eat more frozen meals than the French. There was everything including veggies, meat, desserts and even guacamole frozen.

Funny story 1: My friend T was absentmindedly walking toward the exit. She pushes open a door with a green sign and sets of the fire alarm. EVERYBODY stares at her in the store including the check out guy. Everybody cracks up laughing and the check out dude tells her to close the door. Even the strangers on the street laughed. Luckily T has a great sense of humour and laughed a long too. So lesson learned, not every green sign means go (in S’s words).

Turns out the street we were on is also a market street with tons of cute little shops that sell all types of food. There was fresh produce…


more cheese (it is France after all)…

et encore plus de fromage (you get the idea)…

Luckily I finally landed in a candy store…The candyland dream…

Yum yum. Reminds me of all the delicious candy I had as a kid. On the opposite note, below is boudin. And we’re not talking delicious San Francisco sour dough I blogged about a few months ago. This is something I never ate as a kid. It’s bloody sausage (also called black pudding, it’s a sausage made with blood that’s cooked until it congeals).

My friend S who looks beautifully French, and confused.

Hilariously juxtaposed with D who looks bored in a sex shop. At this point we stopped by the red light district after a delicious and cheap dinner at New Locomotive (a lovely Vietnamese resto I discovered thanks to my uncle).

Funny story 2: We got off the métro at Marx Dormoy to go to the restaurant. And unfortunately for D, we were a bit slow off the bat (you gotta race like those Parisians). So D got trapped as the doors were closing. She couldn’t pry them open and they closed. S ran up to help and D just took at her with the funniest look on her face – partially frantic to open the doors, partially concerned about where she would be sent off to in the train, and partially resigned to her fate. She just put her hands up and shrugged her shoulders. I think we were more concerned than she! Haha we finally got her out in the end. But it was HILARIOUS.

Just for Tommy, I’ll add a caption to this photo. I took this picture while we were exploring a HUGE sex shop in the red light district. No photos are allowed so I don’t know how I managed to get away with this one. But I couldn’t let this hilarious moment pass. The juxtaposition between D, sitting next to two female mannequins getting it on, with the most mundane and bored expression on her face, is roll-on-the-floor-laughing material. That and all the vibrators in the background.

This is a beautiful poem I really enjoyed in a book store. Yes I sneakily took photographed it. But I give due credit. It’s called Couvre feu poême (1942) by Paul Éluard.

We ended the night appropriate at Le Moulin Rouge

The red windmill was beautiful and seductively glittering with light. Much more enticing than the way it looks during the day (look for picture at the beginning of the post).

We took a “Marilyn Monroe” photo above a drain thing where the wind was blowing up our skirts (and pants). Ahhh Paris, so much fun. Je t’aime. Je t’aime.


Food!!!!!!!!!!! Need I say more?

…I’m back. Excuse the hiatus. Haven’t had stable internet for a few days since I went to stay with my cousin B and her fiancé W. I have so much to tell you, recently visited Switzerland so the posts about that will come up soon.

Right now I’m finally in Paris!! But of course, it’s only the second day of arriving and we’re going through orientation so I haven’t done too much exploring and you’re not missing out. But in the meantime I’ll catch you up on the Italian adventures (that I was supposed to finish a while ago).

So without further ado….FOOD. One of my favourite topics, and for those of you who know me, one of my greatest passions in life.

Let’s start with ROMAN food. You know the authentic stuff. We went to a very authentic restaurant recommended by a tour guide. We walked and the cook of the established walked out; it was a real Italian mother with her head wrapped in a towel. Plus when we sat down, the waiter told us we cannot order from a menu. We pay 25€ each and they serve us what they want to from a menu they have chosen and everybody eats the same food.For starts we had the amazing selection above. Lentils, proscuitto, deep fried risotto balls, deep fried mashed potato, olives, tomatoes with olive oil and herbs, and bread. So delicious. There was also house wine (red). For the entrée, we had 2 types of pasta – one with a red sauce and the other with a white. The main was some average stewed meat with some stewed beans. Uninteresting. But the starters…I really enjoyed!

The dessert was a delicious bread-cake concoction which was just right: not too sweet or too dense. Could’ve been fluffier but then it would’ve been more like a cake and maybe it would’ve thrown the whole thing off. It came with a delicious jam sauce.

Honestly, I enjoyed the experience because I was eating real Roman food. But I have to admit I was disappointed because I assumed the food would be more delicious. I found it kind of rough and without much flavour. Maybe I’m too used to French food or had high expectations but I was a bit disappointed.

However that was ameliorated by the amazing gelato I had at Giolitti. Thanks to H for the rec. I got 2 flavours, the Nutella and perhaps Stracciatella?

It was just perfect for the hot and humid weather. Plus of course it tasted delicious melting all over my fingers and trickling down my hands.

Yum yum

Finally we had a seafood dinner as the last way to send us off (and also my second chance for Roman food to really prove itself. I will say I enjoyed the pizza (which is hard to get wrong). It was nice that we could get one separated into 4 sections – one for each flavour. I enjoyed the mushroom and egg sections VERY much.

The rest of the seafood….disappointing again sadly. But oh well I guess Italian food, their heavy pastas and pizzas, and other little odd nibbles, just aren’t for me.

Very fresh seafood

And still despite everything, still delicious of course. Just different and not what I expected. Maybe next time I should go to Sicily and Sardinia. I heard the food is spectacular here!

Amazing Masterpieces, Overexcited Tourists and Dishonest Romans. Hello Italy

It’s been a week since my last post. I have a good excuse for the gap! I’ve been travelling to bring you the hottest material off the press. In the last week or so I’ve made my way to Italy and England and will go to Switzerland soon.

So I decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of sending you posts of what I did per day I’m going to write them based on themes and send them in sort snippets (easier for me to write and probably more entertaining for you to ready them slowly)…approximately grouped according to what makes sense in my brain (which means maybe no order at all!).

N.B. Will try my best to make this sound as little of a tour guide as possible.
[(N.B. a note within a note) this is my first time changing the HTML in my blog, guess those quick how to write HTML sessions were useful after all. There’s always a need for innovation
Last thing, promise and then I’ll get to it. My dad, with whom I travelled over the past 2 weeks, like to take photos with people in them. He’s right it makes the pictures look more interesting. But sometimes obscures the sites and gets a bit distracting. So I will bring you a combination of both.

So today and over the next few days we’ll start with…my favourite monuments and sights.

First stop, Roma!(aka. Rome for those already confused)

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, built over 2,000 years ago by Romans, is one of the best exemplars of Roman architecture and engineering. One of the cool things about the Colosseum is that the Romans took the idea of building an amphitheatre from the ancient Greeks and figured out a way to build two and stick them together to make an elliptical amphitheatre, which in true Roman tradition, is much bigger and grander than what the Greeks had.

Thankfully with the super hot weather that day, Dad and I were able to skip the line for tickets by hopping over to the Palatine Hill and buying the Roma pass which covered the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and the Moses statue by Michelangelo.

The Colosseum was predominantly used for entertainment, such as animal exhibitions (like their own zoo), animal hunts, executions, staged Classical Greek plays, and of course the

Even looking from the outside, the building is daunting. It stands in the middle of a square and looks like it goes on forever. Despite the damage caused by Earthquakes and what-not, the Colosseum still exudes a grand and boastful charm that is as inviting to tourists today as it was over a thousand and fifty years ago to the Romans.

Walking in, the place was teeming with tourists. I looked in, up, down, around and imagined myself as a Roman standing in the entrance looking into the arena. Most of the platform has been destroyed which subsequently revealed the passages and cages underneath. This is where most of the animals, prisoners and gladiators would be housed before they were ready for battle. It’s hard to imagine the amount of blood shed and the number of lives lost over the year. This thought literally brought shivers down my spine despite the hot and muggy weather that day.

I climbed a upstairs to check out the view. We got a good look at the Palatine Hill, the old Forum ruins and a few other bits and pieces. But honestly, the Colosseum was the most breathtaking piece and potentially my favourite in all of Rome.

There is so much history and so many stories in this area there just isn’t enough time to learn all about it. Definitely worth visiting again and again.

Le Château de Chantilly

Ever heard of la crème Chantilly? Well it comes from the same place that houses a magnificent place called Le Château de Chantilly which is a castle in…obviously, Chantilly. For those curious, the cream is like whipped cream except it has vanilla and sugar added for extra goodness and is placed on top of desserts. But more importantly, the castle was the primary attraction I visited today.

It was first built with some relations to the Montmorency family in the 1400s (according to Wikipedia). But it was mostly destroyed after the French Revolution but rebuilt in the late 1800s. So the architecture I saw was a semi-recreation of the castle but in reality incorporated more of the modern style of the 1800s.

The castle is best known for its collection of fine paintings and collection of books. There are so many famous and valuable paintings there it is probably the second finest collection in France after the Louvre. There were many pieces I enjoyed and a lot of nice stained glass.

The library was also packed with books. They all looked in perfect condition so I don’t know if anybody has ever taken them out and translated them since they were restored and neatly organized in the library.

The whole château was beautiful. I had a breath-taking moment the first time I saw it coming over the bend. It comes fully with a moat and draw bridge. The best part of it, well one of the best parts, is the fact that next to it is a huge (I mean huge) stable, and inside museum, for horses.

The stable, les Grands Écuries, was built for horses because the Prince of Condé who was the last owner and who also commissioned the rebuilding of the castle believed he would be reincarnated as a horse in his next life. So he built an extremely lavish stable and has multiple statues of horses, etc. in hopes perhaps he would end up in his stables, which honestly look more like a palatial mansion.

Today the Musée Vivant de Cheval houses 40 live horses that do shows. There is also a racecourse, Hippodrome de Chantilly where real races are still run today.

As the first real touristy exploration I did, I’m going to start rating these things.

My rating: 3.5/5. I liked the château. The building is beautiful and the artwork, even more so. Some of the garden was inspiration for parts of the garden at Versailles, which scores big brownie points. But there was something kind of small and disorganized about the way the wings were structured. The interior definitely didn’t match up to Versailles. But still worth visiting if nothing just to beat the mad crowds that are clogging lines and everything else at Versailles.

Bâteau Mouche FAIL on La Seine

OK this was unnecessary, but I just had to post this.

Today, I saw one of the biggest fails on the Seine River (La Seine). We were walking down the portion of the river where all the boats are anchored. These boats, such as the famous Bâteau Mouche, Bâteau Parisien, Vedettes de Paris give you tour ride down the Seine where you can see big monuments from the water. It’s well worth it if you are interested in sightseeing such as the Louvre illuminated at night and the Eiffel Tower flashing its lights. People were lining up to buy tickets. Suddenly we chanced on a huge crowd of people that were standing around staring at the water.

This is what we were all looking at:

What is happening here?

What are all the police doing?
We direct our attention to some police and life guard people on the Seine…

Still after 5 minutes, had no idea what was happening. After asking a guard nearby, turns out the story is there was a ship that had sunk in the Seine. Take a closer look at the last photo.

There’s a just the very top of the boat visible above water. The boat literally sunk entirely in the river. It was carrying sand. Probably to refresh the supply at the Paris Plage (a fake beach the Parisians create every summer on the Seine). Unfortunately, the boat was carrying too much sand and ended up sinking. The police and ambulance arrived trying to fish and tow the ship out of the water. Nobody was hurt. There was only the captain on board and he swam to safety. Unfortunately all the boats were unable to sail that day. So we drove all the way to Paris for no reason!

The only 2 good things that came from it was I got a decent view of the Eiffel Tower. And it was a hilarious story.

More to come on Paris. Promise next time it will actually be an adventure.

First Taste of la France

Howdy from another country!

As most of you know, I am studying abroad in France for the fall semester. This means I am taking a break from blogging about LALAland and New Zealand (because I didn’t go home this summer which obviously means I didn’t do anything there) and going to be focusing mainly on Paris (where I will be based for the next few months) and periodically on other parts of France and Europe.

So first things first, let me blog about Montesson where I am studying for the next few days before I jet off to Italy with my dad to go see some awesome stuff.

I’m staying with my aunt and uncle (dad’s cousin really, but it’s just too complicated to call him that) in Montesson. It is a little commune (not as big as a town, probably the size of a smallish village, but they call it a commune; there are many in France) which means it has the basics and everything is very small. Here are a few pictures of the “town centre” which is just a few (one) street.

There is a church here.

A Hôtel de Ville which is the town hall. Very small really not much inside.

Next we have the local boulangerie et pâtisserie (bakery and pastry shop). Everything is closed at the moment because it’s August which means EVERYBODY is on vacation. Inconceivable in the US. But it’s the case that nothing is open and the whole town is dead because everybody is out of there enjoying the warm weather somewhere exotic.

I managed to find some cool looking houses and buildings. I like the architecture here.

And lastly 2 interesting things to me. The roads are SO SO SO narrow that people are practically missing each other by 1 cm/half an inch on the road. I saw a huge truck try to pass a car on a road it shouldn’t’ve been on in the first place. This is how close the cars got, I don’t even think they driver believed it could squeeze through. But he tried anyway and thankfully he did it. I wonder, do they ever scratch each other’s car? Guess they all have insurance for a reason.

And interestingly enough, while there are some expensive and nice cars, most French will drive a small car, usually a hatchback because it consumes little petrol (gas [US] or l’essence [if we’re really going to be French about it]), can drive on these small roads and is easy to park. The cars are almost always manual (stickshift [US]) and they look very much the same. There’s  no real personalising or “I feel like I need to buy a huge car to reinforce my own identity because I’m too insecure to drive a smaller car” thing here. Or maybe they’re just better drivers in general in Europe.Who knows, but it was kind of refreshing regardless to see a row of cars that look practically identical.