Sunday, July 25, 2010

Vacation!!!

It's vacation time and I'm happy to say that I am officially on vacation for the next month!!! 

And what will I be doing for that month?  I'll be in the US visiting family and friends and spending a wonderful, stress free month away from Paris!!!

I'll try to post from time to time, but if you don't hear from me for a while it's because I'm too busy with all the fun stuff I have planned for mine and Lionel's trip to good old Ohio!!!

Enjoy your vacations everyone!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The wonderful ville de Tours

As I said, I've been going on a lot of little weekend trips recently.  Last weekend, my friend Jasmin and I decided to get out of Paris and go to Tours.  Tours is probably my favorite city in France, and I dream of leaving Paris and living there one day (unfortunately Lionel is completely against this idea...).

Both times that I studied abroad, I was in Tours.  First for 3 months in undergrad in 2004, then again for the first year of my Masters in 2005-2006.  I fell in love with the city, and the entire area, and I like to go back and visit every once and a while.  It's nice to go back and see some of my favorite things, eat in some of my favorite restaurants, grab a drink in some of my favorite bars and just enjoy the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere of this amazing city.

Tours is located in the Centre region, and is the capital of the Indre-et-Loire department.  The city is cut into three sections: Tours Nord, Tours Centre and Tours Sud.  Tours Nord is north of the Loire River, Tours Sud is south of the Cher River, and Tours Centre is in between the two rivers.

Tours has been an important city since Gallic times, it was known as Caesarodunum during the Roman Empire and was an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages.  Under Louis XI Tours became the capital of France and in 1940 Tours was temporarily the seat of the French government.  Tours has played host to a large number of French kings as well as a number of important artists and writers (Balzac for example) and a great deal of important historic figures (like Joan of Arc).   It is definitely a city with a lot of history.

Unfortunately, during World War II, the city was heavily bombed and a lot of the historic buildings, as well as a large part of the city center, were destroyed.  However, there are still quite a few beautiful, historic buildings to see and some quaint areas that either escaped destruction or were restored to their original beauty.

The Touraine region in which Tours is located is known for the Chateaux de la Loire, which are easily visited from Tours.  It is also known for its wonderful wines; delicious reds are produced to the west of Tours and sparkling and still whites are produced to the east of Tours.  Another particularity of the Touraine region is the troglodyte dwellings which are homes and wine caves carved out of the truffeau cliffs.

On Saturday we rented bikes from our hostel and biked out to the nearby towns of Vouvray and Rochecorbon to visit wine caves and taste the wonderful whites of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée de Vouvray.  Both towns are near Tours and very easy to access by bike.  In all, I believe we did about 25 kms round trip to visit both towns and do some wine tasting.  On the way we stopped and had a picnic along the banks of the Loire.  When you wine taste in the area, you get to visit the wine caves for free.  The caves are dug out of the tuffeau cliffs and you can see how they store their wines as well as how they make their wines.  After the visit you can taste the wines for free!  My favorites are the sparkling wines that are made using the same method as champagne, but aren't called champagne since they aren't produced in the Champagne region, and are therefore much less expensive, but just as good!  They also make some great sec tendre white wines that are unique to the region.



picnic on the Loire near Rochecorbon


wine tasting at the Cave des Producteurs

visiting the Chateau Gaudrelle

inside one of the wine caves

On Sunday we relaxed in Tours and then headed out to the town of Amboise to visit the Chateau d'Amboise and the Clos Lucé, which was the home of Leonardo da Vinci for the last three years of his life when he came to France at the request of Francois I. The Chateau d'Amboise is a royal chateau that sits above the Loire River and affords excellent views of the adorable town of Amboise. Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the chapel of the chateau. The Clos Lucé is an amazing place to visit, and I've been there 3 or 4 times already. Visiting the inside of the house isn't especially exciting, but in the basement you can see models of all of da Vinci's inventions that were built by IBM. The gardens, however, are the best part. The gardens are beautiful and as you wander the paths you can see large models of some of da Vinci's inventions that you can actually use such as a tank, paddleboats, and bridges.




A troglodyte house in Amboise.  It has the facade of a real
house, complete with normal windows, but it
is dug out of the tuffeau cliff


visiting the gardens of the Clos Lucé

We spent the rest of our time visiting Tours. I was thrilled to introduce Jasmin to this city that I love, and to be back! We walked around and visited some of the sites, relaxed and took advantage of the summer sales to do some shopping in the uncrowded stores of Tours!


the Loire in Tours with a view of the Pont Woodrow Wilson and
the city library

the Chateau de Tours and the cathedral

Place Plumereau, the center of the historic center of Tours.  This beautiful square is partially surrounded by old half-timbered buildings and is a popular hang out for the Tourangeaux.  There are a lot of great bars and restaurants in this square.  Unfortunately I didn't take a picture while I was there last weekend, and surprisingly the only picture I can
find on my computer is this one of the square at Christmas.  In nice weather it is full of tables and chairs and people sitting out enjoying a drink and the weather.  My favorite activity in Tours!

For anyone who hasn't done so, I highly recommend visiting this wonderful city and staying for a while to enjoy a region full of amazing history, wonderful gastronomy and tons of activities! I know I plan to continue going back, and I still hope to live there one day!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Petits weekends

I've been travelling a bit recently over my weekends, either just little day trips with the car or entire weekends away from Paris.

While my brother was here we went to a small medieval town called Provins which is about an hour from Paris by car in the Seine-et-Marne.  The town was very cute and they have a lot of shows and activities based around the Middle Ages for tourists.  We spent the afternoon there enjoying the nice weather and visiting some of the major sites like the Tour César and the old subterranean passages under the city where wine, champagne and other products were stored for festivals and markets.  We also visited a small church and explored the city while admiring its medieval architecture.

fortified wall at the entrance to Provins

the main square of Provins

La Tour César

view of the town and the church

subterranean chamber

The following weekend we headed out of Paris again with my brother and Jasmin to head to Picardie to visit a small town called Senlis and the Chateau de Chantilly. Senlis is only 40 km north of Paris and it's another cute little medieval town that also has some Roman ruins. We had a nice time visiting and exploring the town and all its picturesque streets, even though the weather wasn't as nice as the previous weekend. After Senlis we drove 10 minutes over to the Chateau de Chantilly to visit the beautiful chateau and its beautiful gardens.

cathedral of Senlis

Roman wall and mansion in Senlis

Roman ruins in Senlis

cathedral and royal palace of senlis

cute street in Senlis

gardens of Chateau de Chantilly

Chateau de Chantilly

Jasmin and I at the chateau

Chateau de Chantilly

Both of these short day trips were wonderful, and I highly recommend them as something different to do in the Paris area.  It's also a great way to escape the city for a day!

Les parisiens, toujours surprising

I was in the night bus last night, coming home from a late dinner with Lionel and his friends, when the Parisians in the bus managed to once again shock me by their lack of common sense and their lack of concern for anyone but themselves.

A man got on the bus and he was noticeably drunk.  He had a full beer in his hands and as soon as he got on the bus he set it on the ground so he could roll a joint.  Nothing strange here...it's the nice bus quand même.  But the bus driver suddenly slammed on the brakes to stop at a bus stop and pick up some other people.  He braked so hard that the can of beer fell over and poured out all over the floor of the bus while it rolled across the open middle section.  And how did the Parisians react?  Well, they started grumbling about the beer on their shoes (or feet for one girl wearing sandals) and they all stared in shock at the beer can that was rolling across the floor, continuing to spill beer all over the place (it was a full pint-sized can after all).  They kept jumping around trying to avoid the beer that was already on the floor, and spreading around with the movement on the bus, as well as staring and grumbling about the beer that was still pouring out of the can.

This continued for nearly a minute when I realized that these people truly were idiots and that though they were unhappy having beer everywhere, they would much rather complain about it then use a bit of energy to bend over and pick up the damn can of beer so it would stop pouring out.  So what did I do?  I walked across the middle of the bus, bent down and picked up the can of beer, all the while mumbling about the lack of common sense exhibited by the Frenchies who were right next to the can.  While I did this they all stopped complaining, got very quiet, and followed me with their eyes as if they were amazed by the fact that anyone would pick up the offending beer can.  And when I got to my stop I went one step further and I took the can off the bus and threw it in the trash.

The Frenchies had almost certainly never seen such common sense in action or such an act of benevolence.  Sometimes I wonder how these people even manage to function...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

French Administration: 2 million, Michele: 2

Yes, you read that right, I have scored 2 points against the French administration!  I know this sounds unbelievable, and up until a month ago I didn't think it was possible, but I have recently had two amazing visits to the sous-préfecture.  I know, I know, the words amazing and sous-préfecture have probably never been uttered in the same sentence before, but I promise you, these two visits were amazing and I'm still getting over the shock of my incredible luck.  If my sous-préfecture continues like this, I may no longer have things to complain about in France (yeah right, lets be realistic, there will always be La Sécu, La Poste, Le SNCF, Le RATP, etc).

I've been wanting to write about this one for awhile, but I haven't felt like I have had the time to sit down and do the visit justice, so I haven't written about the first visit yet.  But I'm going to now, because it was truly my best ever experience with French bureaucracy, followed closely by yesterday's visit.  Warning:  This is going to be a long post!

On May 28 I had my rendez-vous to renew my carte de sejour.  But I had a second goal on that day - to do battle with the French administration regarding the exchange of my American drivers license which had been refused back in December.  I went in prepared to do battle with both the Bureau des Etrangers and the permis de conduire people, and I actually came out victorious.  Twice.

Naturally, Lionel was with me for this first visit as it is obligatoire that my husband be present when I try to renew my carte de sejour.  We were expecting to spend at least 4 hours at the sous-préfecture, but probably more than that since we not only had to face the Bureau des Etrangers, but we also had to do the line for the Permis de Conduire.  However, we were done in only 2 hours!  For 2 lines!  Our appointment was at 9am and we unfortunately arrived late due to a bus problem (the bus we needed decided not to do its entire trajet so we had to wait 20 minutes for the next one, making us late), and after a brief heart attack of them debating whether or not to accept us since we were late for our meeting, we were in and out of the Bureau des Etrangers in a little over an hour (certainly a record time) with my shiny new récépissé in my hands.

Then we were on to the line for the permis de conduire, and I was prepared for war.  Two weeks before my May 28 rendez-vous I had a stumbled upon a post in one of the Assistants in France forums that made me start to wonder if maybe I had originally been right and the refusal of my drivers license exchange had in fact been illegal.  After reading this particular post, I decided to go to the French government's website to read the law myself.  And I'm glad I did!  I read through the entire law and successfully understood all the legal French (I must admit I am very proud of this because Lionel didn't think I was right, but I knew that I understood correctly and it turned out I did!).  It turns out that they had illegally refused my request for an exchange!  According to article 6 of the law:

"Tout titulaire d'un permis de conduire national doit obligatoirement demander l'échange de ce titre contre le permis français pendant le délai d'un an qui suit l'acquisition de sa résidence normale en France, la date d'acquisition de cette résidence étant celle d'établissement effectif du premier titre de séjour ou de résident.



Ce délai pourra, le cas échéant, être prolongé de la durée des séjours impliquant changement de résidence que le titulaire du permis aura pu effectuer postérieurement à l'étranger.


En outre, si, à l'occasion du retour en France, un nouveau titre de séjour ou de résident lui est délivré, le délai d'un an courra à compter de la date d'établissement de ce titre correspondant à la nouvelle acquisition de la résidence normale en France.


Enfin, l'échange demeure possible ultérieurement si, pour des raisons d'âge ou pour des motifs légitimes d'empêchement, il n'a pu être effectué dans le délai prescrit."

All of this effectively means that you have one year from when you receive your first carte de sejour to exchange your drivers license.  However, if you leave France to reside in another country and then come back and ask for a new carte de sejour (not renewing the one you have but asking for another one) then you have a year from the date that you receive this NEW carte de sejour to exchange your license.  Which meant that since I had left France after my year as an assistant (at the end of my assistant's carte de sejour) and lived in the US for the summer before coming back with a new visa to get married and then asking for a new carte de sejour, I therefore had another year to do the exchange and was well within my rights to ask for it and to not be refused.  I like to think of this as a fabulous little loophole in the French law that most people probably don't even realize exists, but I'm glad I found it, and just in time since I argued my case 5 days before the expiration date on my carte de sejour!
 
Anyway, as I said, I went up to the permis de conduire window prepared for war.  I had the law printed out and the relevant section highlighted.  I had copies of all my old carte de sejours.  I had my passport with all my old visas.  And I had a preplanned speech in my head.  I went up to that window, explained what I wanted, explained why they were in the wrong, showed the woman the law, explained her own law to her, and after 25 minutes of battle (in which I had to repeatedly explain to her and show her using my old carte de sejours and old visas and old French entry stamps as proof that I did in fact still have the right to exchange my license) she finally realized and understood that I was right and she relented.  She relented and let me fill out the exchange form again, turn in all my papers (which I was smart enough to bring with me just in case it worked) and she gave me a récépissé d'échange de permis de conduire which gave me the right to drive in France for the next 6 months while waiting to receive my real license.  During the entire thing I was shaking but determined and I basically did the entire thing myself, even though Lionel was there.  I think he only spoke twice during the 25 minute battle, to emphasize something I had already said.
 
And two hours after arriving, I walked out of the sous-préfecture feeling like a champ: successful, victorious, proud, powerful, shocked and thrilled because I won a battle with the French administration.  And I'm not French, I'm a foreigner!
 
About 2 weeks later I received a letter in the mail asking me to come back in to turn in some documents in order to procede with the exchange of my drivers license.  I was angry because I gave them everything they had asked for but I just told myself to be happy about having won and I resolved to go in once my brother left and my work schedule was more calm in July.  I planned to go in yesterday, and then I got really lucky and over the past weekend I received a letter notifying me that my carte de sejour was ready to be picked up (only 1 month later!!!).  I was surprised they were able to do it so quickly but relieved that I would have it before leaving for the US and that I would be able to do both my carte de sejour and my license in the same day.
 
So I went back in yesterday and though the trip wasn't as amazing as the first, it was still quite a success.  I finished in only 2 hours and 15 minutes and in that time I managed to do both lines again.  The Bureau des Etrangers was much busier than the last time, but the permis de conduire line was shorter. 
 
After spending an hour and 45 minutes in the Bureau des Etrangers I happily walked out with my shiny new carte de sejour in my hands, good for another year in France.  I headed over to deal with the papers for the permis de conduire and when my number was called I headed up to the window with the letter I had received in my hands and my documents ready.  I explained to the woman that I had received this letters asking me to bring in the following documents and I got ready to pull them out of my folder when she asked to see my ID.  I pulled out the new carte de sejour and handed it to her and she went off to find my file.  When she came back she pulled out some papers, asked for my récépissé thingy, and thats when I noticed it.
 
me and my new carte de sejour
 
I saw a permis de conduire sitting on her counter.  I looked at it, brand new and still without photo and thought in my head, while my heart was racing, "there is no way that is mine, that's too fast, it must be for someone else and have just been in the papers scattered on her desk."  But sure enough it was mine!!!  Turns out that, even though it was stated in the letter I received, I was coming in to pick up my drivers license, not to give them more papers!  She stamped it, attached my photo and then handed it over to me along with my ID.  Still not believing my luck, I examined it closely to make sure it really had my name on it, and it did!  I am now the proud owner of a French drivers license!!!!!!!!!!  And I got it for free, not 1,000 euros!!!!!!!!!!!!  I no longer have my American one (they take that since it's an exchange) but I can drive in the US with the French one, so all is well.  And I can drive in France too!  Now we just have to add me to the insurance and I can take the car out and cruise the streets of Paris (though this isn't likely to happen because I'm terrified of driving in Paris)!
 
me and my new permis de conduire
 
And so, I won the battle and I won the war, and I only lost 4 hours total of my life!  Take that French administration!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4th of July in Paris

Like any good American, on Sunday I celebrated the 4th of July.  And living in France didn't stop me from having (almost) the full American 4th of July experience.  We had everything - the barbeque, the hamburgers, the hot dogs (complete with the most expensive relish ever from the Thanksgiving Store), the potato salad, the coleslaw, the strawberry shortcake decorated with an American flag design as well as 7 layer dip and buffalo chicken dip and even chocolate chip cookies and American music.  All we were missing was the fireworks!

enjoying the garden

Jasmin and I decided to have a barbeque for the 4th at my apartment and we invited a ton of people.  Unfortunately, only about 12 people ended up being able to come, but it was fun anyway.  Only three of us were Americans, we had one Russian, and the rest were Frenchies, but we saw it as a great opportunity to share Independence Day with them.

relaxing outside

Jasmin and Yvan

Jasmin and I woke up early and met at 9 am (on a Sunday morning!) to head to the supermarket and pick up all the food we needed.  Then we spent the next four hours slicing and chopping and grating and mixing and baking and cooking, and it was well worth it!  We finished all the work just as the first guests arrived at 2:15 and all our hard work paid off as everyone seemed to really enjoy the truly American menu.

just a little bit of the food we made (I think we made
enough for at least 20 people and I will be eating
leftovers for the next week)

the American flag strawberry shortcake, its upside down in my picture
and unfortunately it didn't fit in my fridge so it melted some
before we got to serve it and it no longer looked like the
American flag by the time I took a picutre, however here
I think it has somewhat taken on the shape of the USA.
But whatever, it still tasted good!

Throughout the day we ate and drank and ate and drank and barbequed and drank and ate and drank and sang the national anthem and listen to American music and while the boys played poker the girls danced in the garden to songs like "Cotton Eyed Joe." 

heating up the barbeque for hamburgers and hot dogs

the boys playing poker

the girls chatting

the girls dancing

singing the Star Spangled Banner (and yes, one of the Frenchies
sang it with us Americans!)

The only thing that could have made this 4th of July better would have been if my husband hadn't been partying until very, very late Saturday night/Sunday morning (an extremely long story) and hadn't spent most of the 4th hung over and in bed.  But all in all it was a great 4th and none of us wanted it to end.  Everyone reluctantly left around 11 pm (since we all had to get up for work the next morning) and then I finished cleaning up and forced myself to bed so I could get up early and take my brother to the RER station before work so he could safely make it to the airport.

I hope all the other Americans out there had an equally amazing 4th of July!!!

La visite de my brother

I don't know if I mentioned it earlier, but my brother came to visit.  He had been in Italy for a month doing an archeaological dig for his Masters program, and when it ended he came up to Paris to stay with Lionel and I for two weeks.  He just left yesterday to fly to Greece before heading back to the US.  It was good to see him again and I was actually sad when he left, even if he did spend most of his time in Paris watching the World Cup.
my brother on the internet in my apartment

me and the bro in Provins

Lionel, my bro and I visiting Provins

Lionel and James in Provins

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bercy Village

Bercy Village is one of my new favorite places in Paris.  I just discovered it back in March/April, and I love it so much I can't stay away.  I was very unhappy in May when the weather didn't allow me to spend my afternoons and evenings sitting on the terrasse at Nicolas drinking wonderful bottles of wine with my friends.  But now that the weather is nice again, I make it a point to go at least once a week (and no, this does not make me an alcoholic, I just enjoy a nice bottle of wine, like any Frenchie).

Bercy Village and the chais

Bercy Village is an adorable part of Paris in the 12th arrondissement.  The area is full of 19th century wine storehouses from when Bercy was independent of Paris and the largest wine market in the world.  Using the Seine and a small railway, wine bottles would be shipped to Bercy where the wine would then be unloaded and bottled in the chais (wine storehouses) before being sold.

This practiced lasted until as late as 1960 when the Bordelais invented a method of bottling wine at the chateau where it was produced, rather than shipping the barrels to be bottled elsewhere.  As a result, the Bercy wine market eventually closed and Bercy became an area of Paris full of businesses and housing.  However, the old chais remained, as well as the train tracks running through the center.

Bercy Village

At the end of the 20th century Paris decided to do something to preserve the area and finally chose a proposal by Altarea which consisted of renovating and restoring the chais and preserving the old train tracks.  After the renovations bars, restaurants and shops moved into the old chais and the area is not a lively district in Paris, and one of my favorites!  It is very cute and has a bit of a small village feel in the middle of the big city.

with Jasmin at Nicolas

The Nicolas is my favorite place at Bercy Village.  Normally Nicolas is only a wine store, but in Bercy Village it is also a wine bar with a terrasse, some food options and, of course, wine.  I love going on a nice day and sitting on the terrasse in the middle of Bercy Village, people watching, admiring the chais and sipping on a wonderful glass of red wine.  And the best part is, it is extremely inexpensive.  Their menu is very reasonably priced with glasses of wine starting at less than 3 euros.  And if you aren't alone, you can choose any bottle from inside the store and enjoy it on the terrasse for only 3 euros extra, which means you can really control the amount of money you spend and drink a good bottle of wine in a wine bar in the middle of Paris for under 10 euros total.  What's not to love???

a nice bottle of red on the terrasse at Nicolas

And since this is one of my favorite places, you can be sure to find me on the terrasse of Nicolas at least once a week!!!

***To get to Bercy Village take the line 14 to Cour Saint-Emilion.  Go up the escalators/stairs and the entrance to Bercy Village is right in front of you (the cute little stone archways).  To get to the Nicolas at Bercy Village, turn right once you enter Bercy Village and it is down the road a little on your left.  Enjoy and santé!