Lisbon, Portugal

As I said in my last post, I’ve been trying to cram in the travel.  Portugal was on my short list of places to visit and I had some friends that would be in Lisbon June 4-7.  I booked my ticket on Tuesday afternoon and I flew out Thursday morning!  Hooray for EasyJet!  I also booked an AirBnB that turned out to be sort of a hostel in that it hard shared bathrooms.  It was fine, I had a tiny private room with a key and it was safe.  The bathrooms and showers were private and very clean.  The price was right and the location is very central–walking distance to the metro and so many sights. I got into the city no problem, the metro links directly to the airport.  Finding my AirBnB was another story.  I had directions from the far exit of the station and I didn’t know that I emerged from the (much) closer exit, so I walked back and forth in the hot sun with my wool backpack 4x before I figured it out.  I’m so glad I wasn’t schlepping around a suitcase and my pack wasn’t heavy.  Another plus of inter-Europe travel in the summer!  Once I checked in, I changed and quickly set out to explore–simply wander wherever looked interesting.  There was so much to look at, Lisbon is vibrant with colour.  I had no idea there would be so much tile everywhere–on the sidewalks, public squares, and on the buildings.  I wore sandals the whole time and I had to be be careful as the sidewalks were worn smooth over the years and had become very slippery.  One store I knew I wanted to hit up is Luvaria Ulisses.  It’s a very small shop that sells handmade gloves.  Fitting was a unique experience.  The woman looked at my hand and immediately knew my size.  She brought out some gloves and I propped my elbow on a small cushion.  She used a wood tool to open up the glove fingers and blew in some talc.  Then she put the glove on my hand–this must be where the saying it “fit like a glove” comes from.  It was a perfect fit!  I bought a pair then I met up with my friends nearby at the Santa Just a Elevator.  It’s a Neo-Gothic structure that connected the lower streets with the higher Carmo Square.  Lisbon is hilly with some very narrow streets.

Day 2:  I got up early to beat the heat and tourists to take some photos in the Baixa Chiado neighborhood by my AirBnb.  The weather was perfect–slightly cool and dry with the sun rising.  I found an old café for breakfast and had a traditional custard tart; a pasteis da nata.  It was OK, not my favorite.  Then I walked to my friends’ AirBnB and we took a very noisy and bumpy bus ride to the Jeronimos Monastery.  Then we had lunch at the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira which is a really good food court.  The vendors are made up of some of the city’s top restaurants all in one accessible location.  I highly recommend it if you’re in Lisbon.  It’s a great way to inexpensively sample different types of food.  The rest of the day was more exploring to work off my big lunch.  Side note, a lot of people in Lisbon speak English.

Day 3:  I walked to the Alfama neighborhood, which is the oldest district in Lisbon.  It is very hilly and known for it’s narrow, winding, cobblestone streets.  I had to be extra careful to not wipe out.  A lot of streets were festooned with colorful garlands and littered with bottles and trash so it looks like I just missed a party the night before.  I have no idea what the occasion was.  I followed this up with some shopping then hopped on the metro back to the airport.  Lisbon is an incredible city, I hope to go back.  I had a great time and I’m so glad I made this last minute trip!!

Paris!

Now that my days in France are numbered, I’m making every effort to travel and take advantage of the close proximity of so many wonderful cities and countries.  At the end of May I booked a train ticket to Paris and had the added bonus of seeing and staying with some friends who moved there from Portland less than one year ago.  I took a 05h00 train from Annecy that got into Paris at 09h15.  It’s not a direct route, otherwise it’d be a 3 hour train ride.  It’s not bad though, in the context of “hey, I can take a train to Paris!”  My plan was to have the full day in the city, spend one night, then take the 18h00 (I think that was it) train home the next day.  That would give me two full days!  The only “must see” on my list was to go to the Jeanne Lanvin retrospective exhibition at the Palais Galliera.

The Lanvin show was exceptional; so inspiring!  Photos were not allowed but I snuck one in.  The amount of detail and craftsmanship was incredible and a lot of the pieces still look so modern.  Another highlight of the trip was not having any French food, haha.  For lunch Jane and I had Vietnamese food then dinner was Korean.  Lunch the next day was Mexican!  All very good.  Add in some exploring around Montmartre and day 1 was huge success and I was ready for bed.

On day 2 Jane and I went to Jardin des Plantes on the recommendation of her friend who had just been there.  He showed us one photo on his phone and we were hooked.  I had not been to this part of Paris before.  There is a small zoo here, a botanical garden, a natural history museum, and this one place that we made the trip out there for:  http://www.mnhn.fr/fr/visitez/lieux/galeries-anatomie-comparee-paleontologie, the Galeries d’Anatomie Comparée et de Paléontologie.  It’s incredible!!  An enormous 3-floor collection of skeletons and fossils.  The first floor was modern era animals, everything from birds to primates to whales.  The 2nd floor was dinosaurs and other mammals with huge antlers, teeth, or tusks.  The 3rd floor was fossils, ancient arthropods, and that type of stuff, but by then we were burnt out from spending so much time on the first two floors.  I took a ton of photos.  It was a treasure trove of inspiration.  We had such close, intimate access to the skeletons, many of which had old, hand-calligraphed labels.  There were not many visitors there, which was nice.  I highly recommend this museum if you go to Paris.  I’m looking forward to going back and visiting the other museums in the area!

Marrakech, Morocco

I went to Marrakech, Morocco for 3 full days and 3 nights.  I saw and experienced so many things but I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.  I stayed in a lovely riad which is a large, traditional Moroccan home with a central courtyard.  The courtyard has a fountain or water feature like sort of like a pool in it and there are 2-3 floors of rooms surrounding it.  This one is called the Riad dar Sheba and is run by a very friendly, young French couple, which brings me to my next point.  The official language in Morocco is Arabic but French is widely spoken and taught in schools.  I was extremely thankful with my improved French because it came in handy.

Day one was a day of exploring. My riad was located in the medina, the walled old part of the city with a labyrinth of streets.  Street signs and logic don’t apply here.  I was worried about getting lost but the main landmark is the Koutoubia Mosque.  If I needed to gain my bearings, I looked for the tall minaret.  I walked to Jamaa el-Fnaa, a large open square and market.  My senses were inundated.  Horse drawn carriages, smells of oils and spices, sounds of snake charmer horns, drums, extreme dry heat, and the sticky sweetness of fresh pressed orange juice.  One thing I picked up on right away is how in tune the market entertainers and vendors are to the tourists.  Anyone seen with a camera is immediately approached and asked for money.  As I sat with my OJ, two women applying henna to hands and feet came to me.  One grabbed my hand and in seconds applied a design on one third of it.  Then she commanded, “now you have to pay me”.  She wanted 450 dirhams, about 41€. I said no way and after some back and forth, gave her 20 Dhs.  A check for me to be sharp and mindful. During my exploring, I came across La Mamounia, a 5-star hotel.  I read about their gardens so I walked in for a peek.  Let me tell you, this place is the most deluxe hotel I’ve ever seen.  Enormous rooms of plush chairs, tables, and lamps.  Long arcades of intricate tile work and wood doors and a large garden with a high wall of fuchsia bougainvillea.  I went back here on Day 3 and felt all fancy ordering a shrimp-avocado salad and Coke Zero.

Day two I hired a private guide to take me around to the biggest attractions.  We walked around Koutoubia Mosque.  I did not go inside as I am not Muslim.  We went to the Saadien Tombs first.  It is a large mausoleum dating back to 1578-1603.  Sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty are interred here, surrounded by ornate cedar and stucco work.  My guide told me that the cedar comes from the Atlas Mountain region.  There were several feral cats and kittens amongst the tombs.  Some cats were friendly as they are dependent on humans for food.

Next stop:  Bahia Palace.  My guide, Salim, said it was built in the late 19th century and pointed out the ornate painted cedar ceilings.  An influential guy named Abu Ahmed brought in craftsmen from Fez and took up residence here along with his 4 wives and 24 (!!) concubines.  After the palace, Salim took me through the winding streets of the medina.  He walked fast and I had to tell him to slow down so I could see things and take photos.  We walked through areas where artisans were tanning leather, dying wool, hammering metal pots and lanterns, making rugs, and pressing argan oil.  They were mostly crammed into small workplaces often in bare feet.  This is where Salim took me to his friends and the hard sales pitches began.  I bought a few things–a pair of sandals and a scarf.  I was more interested in the artisanry and process than coming back to France with rugs and glass tea sets.  Besides, I only brought a backpack with no carry-on luggage.

Next stop before lunch:  the Ali Ben Youssef Madersa.  Try saying that 5 times fast.  This was the highlight of the day.  So much so that I went back early the next day to see it again at my own pace and I ended up having the place to myself for a while, which was amazing.  This was a 16th century school for young men to study the Qu’ran.  There was a large courtyard surrounded by two levels of 130 small, austere rooms.  4 students slept in each room unless their families had money to pay for a 2-person room; same size.  Even with 2 people it would be crowded!  As many as 900 students attended the school in its prime.  It was hard to find on my own the next day but I asked for directions and a kind man walked me part of the way.  The school closed in 1960.

Are you still with me?  Next stop was lunch then Le Jardin Majorelle or, Majorelle Garden. Salim left me for an hour for lunch and during this time he did his ablution and prayed.  He was originally going to leave me at a place that served a 3-course lunch for 15€ but I didn’t need that much food.  I also wouldn’t spend that much on lunch in France so I asked for a simpler, traditional place.  I ordered a meat tagine and bottle of water for about 45 Dhs, 4€.  A tagine is the ceramic pot used to cook the food.  A blend of savory spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, with onions, carrots, and zucchini in a bit of broth, not much.  I’m not sure what meat it was, possibly goat.  It was a bit tough but the seasoning was good. The other highlight of the trip was Le Jardin Majorelle.  I was really looking forward to going here.  From it’s website:  “It took French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) forty years of passion and dedication to create this enchanting garden in the heart of the “Ochre City”.”  It was a nice break from the hot, dry city outside of the medina.  The bold cobalt blue used extensively in the architecture and garden is named after him–Majorelle Blue.  Yves St Laurent first visited the garden in 1966 and was enchanted.  When he later learned that the garden was to be sold and replaced with a hotel, he purchased it in 1980 along with his life and business partner, Pierre Bergé.  Together they nurtured the garden to respect the vision of M. Majorelle and took up residence in the villa.  St Laurent was inspired here and created his paintings and collages in a studio.  Now I’m inspired, too!  When he passed away in 2008 in Paris, his ashes were scattered in the garden and a memorial placed on the premises.

I was done with my guided tour before 3PM so for the rest of the day and the following day, I did more exploring, food sampling, and shopping.  I had planned to go to a Hammam spa to be exfoliated and massaged but since I was recovering from chickenpox this wasn’t a good idea.  I got a foot massage, which was great.  I never felt unsafe but quickly avoided making eye contact with vendors and men to avoid unwanted attention.  There is so much more to say and photos to share but this post will go on for a very long time.  It was a unique travel experience that I recommend to you!

Everyday Beauty

Today is May 1, a national holiday in France.  Fête du Travail / Labor Day.  I was expecting some sort of protest march but it’s been raining all day.  I don’t mind that it’s raining because I’ve been cooped up indoors on a self-imposed quarantine because I have chickenpox for the first time!  Today is Friday and I stepped out briefly to get some food.  Not an easy task since almost everything is closed but good ol’ Chevallier bakery is always open.  I put on a scarf, hat, and raincoat and hoped with the rain not many people would be out or take notice of the red pox and scabs on my face.  Naturally this one time a woman asks me for directions to the train station.  It was nice to get some air and move my legs.  Up ’til that moment, I had stayed in my apartment since Monday night!  I left my apartment once to take down the trash.  This doesn’t involve leaving my building.  I was able to go outside but sitting on my balcony. The time I’ve spent indoors hasn’t been too bad.  I’ve eaten up leftovers, got my scanner working again, and am tending to my neglected blog.  Cleo is thrilled to have me here all day.

This post is dedicated to some of the things I pass by very often or noticing the detail of everyday things.  It is about taking the time to stop and appreciate the beauty of my town and savor every last minute.

Things Are Looking Up

It’s hard maintaining a blog.  I thought I’d be better at it but my last post was almost 3 months ago!  Winter was fairly mild and Spring is in full swing in Annecy.  There have been some gorgeous days already; warm enough to take a pedal boat onto the water.  Tourists have been steadily increasing for the past few weekends.

This post has been in the works in my mind for a while and I’ve been gathering photos for it over the past several weeks.  I’ve been noticing how much there is to see if you take the time to pause and look up.  Window details, colours, architectural trim, etc.  The title of this post also reflects the next chapter in my life that I’m about to embark on but more of that in another post.  Some of you know what it is already.

365+ Days in France

It happened.  My one year anniversary of moving to France came and went with no fanfare while I was on a work trip to China on January 13.  So much has happened and at the same time I feel like I just got here.  So…where to begin?

I’ll start with accomplishments; things I’ve done.  Most of this has been documented on my blog already.  I quit a great job at a fantastic company.  I sold most of my furniture and awesome car.  My heart breaks a little every time I see an Audi A3 here.  I rented out my house.  I said goodbye to my wonderful friends, all of whom were strangers at one point and became like family, partners in crime, and confidantes.  I saw the moving truck come and take everything I owned in boxes.  I spent my last night in town at my neighbor’s house.  I said goodbye to quirky Portland and beautiful Oregon and flew one-way to Toronto, Canada with my cat, Cleo.  Thank you to Chris Mazelin, though we hadn’t stayed in steady contact since she left Nike, who drove me to PDX.  From mid-November 2013 to January 13, 2014 I moved back in with my parents at my childhood home.  It was a particularly harsh winter that included an ice storm and power failure right before Christmas.  I handed in my OR driver’s license to get an Ontario license that would be easy to transfer into a French one.  I got all kinds of paperwork translated, authenticated, and apostilled.  I experienced some culture shock being back in Canada.  I never lived or worked there as an adult since I left after high school so I was accustomed to American stores, brands, services, and not so much hockey.  While in Canada I got all of Cleo’s veterinary papers to move her to France.  I saw relatives I hadn’t seen in ages and friends from high school and *gasp* grade school!

Fast forward to January 13, 2014.  I land in Geneva and my ride is there to take me to my temporary miniature apartment.  You can revisit my earlier posts to read about that.  No turning back, I was thrown into everything at once.  There were many struggles along the way, from finding an apartment, to installing a kitchen, to buying a car, and of course, starting a new job. Now I’m more settled in my apartment and neighborhood.  My neighbors recognize me.  I know my way around town and where the good coffee and burgers are.  I’m recognized at the Boston Café with a friendly greeting and smile.  I found a dentist for me and a great veterinarian for Cleo.  I’m making new friends both at work and through the expat community, some I hope to stay in touch with for years to come and have made life here so much better.  I’ve learned patience, organization, and to be an advocate for myself.  I’ve learned to ask for help and that Things. Will. Get. Done.  Maybe not in the way I wanted or planned or in the timeframe I had in mind, but they will get done.  I will find a way.  I can do just about anything I set my mind to.

I’ve also learned that I can survive without a TV, a microwave, a dishwasher, and a washer/dryer, though the last two are open to debate now that it’s winter.  I can live in a much smaller space.  I can manage with stores closed on Sunday.  I no longer buy stockpiles of food and sundries.  I buy fresh food that will be eaten that day or in the next couple days.  Milk and eggs here are not refrigerated and it’s OK.  In fact, I’ve grown to really like the eggs here.  Water can be cheaper than wine on the menu.  My French has improved.  It’s still a daily struggle; it’s tough not being able to fully communicate and express myself.

In general, I’m learning that a slower pace of life isn’t bad.  Some people have told me that I’m brave and living a dream.  I don’t feel this way at all.  I decided at one point that I wanted more life experiences and for me that meant living and working in Europe.  Learning the culture, the language, getting familiar with a new place–I’ve always liked the challenge of this.  What was once foreign becomes familiar and part of my regular routine. I’ve done it a few times now and the result is always the same.  Any place can become home after a while.  Even the tiny, crappy temp apt I had for 6 weeks when I first arrived became my nest and comfort zone.  It has been very, very difficult and beyond frustrating at times and I still have some of these moments.  These parts have not been dreamy or a romantic ideal of what living in France is like.  My experience with this is that these low points to turn and go back up.  They have to.  I’ve questioned if I made the right choice in moving to France and I still do, I think it’s normal.

So what’s next?  Definitely more travel.  That’s a huge part of why I came out here, so I have to take advantage that so many places are a short, cheap flight away.  I want to start being more creative at home.  Make time for art and creating with my hands.  It’s something  I stopped doing several years ago and now I have the time and desire to get back to it.  They say the first year is the toughest so we’ll see where I’m at 4 months from now.  Then 6, then 12–the two year mark.  I’m looking forward to it.

Vienna

On Dec. 15-17 I took a mini trip to Vienna.  I found a flight deal on EasyJet for direct flights and went for it.  After all, a huge reason why I moved to France was to take advantage of short trips like this!  I booked a great AirBnB apartment.  It was slightly pricey but in such a good location; walking distance to so many things I wanted to see and given my short time frame, I knew it would be worth it.  My flight was slightly delayed out of Geneva but upon arrival at the airport, it was super easy to get into the city.  It was a little confusing to find the the right street for my AirBnB and my phone GPS wasn’t working but a nice lady helped me and pointed out the way.

My time in Vienna was very short so I researched ahead of time and plotted out a rough itinerary.  I looked up museums, shops, places to eat, reviews, etc. I got to my apt by about 6:30pm on Monday and was leaving by Wednesday afternoon.  One reason why I chose to go to Vienna this time of year was to see the world famous Christmas Markets.  I bought a 24-hour transit pass so I immediately headed back out to the biggest and well-known market, the Wien Christkindlmarkt at the Rathaus (City Hall).  I also hit up the highly recommended Spittelberg Market, which is much smaller and set up in narrow, old streets.  Where the Rathaus Market is very commercial, the Spittleberg Market is much more intimate with unique, handmade crafts.  One yummy thing I ate at Spittleberg was this deep fried potato thing.  I was hungry and there was a long line for this so I decided to wait.  Whatever it was, it had to be good.  The line moved fast and once you had your food in hand, you could brush a garlic-butter on it.  Delicious.

I knew I’d be eating a lot so I was very good in the weeks leading up to this trip.  I cut out bread, cheese, sausage, wine, french fries at the cafeteria, etc.  I’m glad I did because not only do I feel better, I lost some weight!  Even with all the eating I did in Vienna, I balanced it with a lot of walking.  On Tuesday I was up early and out the door to be at Cafe Central for breakfast before 8am.  I’d found it online and expected it to be crowded but it was practically empty save some regulars and a few tourists.  The interior did not disappoint but the breakfast was sub-par, not even worth taking a picture of.  Fast forward to a late lunch–after 2:30pm and I hit up Figlmüller, a restaurant famous for it’s Wiener schnitzel.  I got a table no problem and ordered the house specialty.  I’ll let the photos do the talking but it was really good!  A surprise was the side salad, that I got mainly as the token “healthy” item to go with the fried schnitzel but it was delicious.

One thing to note, it was tough switching gears from speaking French to speaking basic, simple English.  I took one year of German in high school which did little to help me beyond “hello” and “thank you”.  Thankfully many Viennese people speak English, so it wasn’t a problem.

Here’s some more things I saw and did:  Albertina Museum, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (climbed 343 steps of the South Tower), War Museum, Demel pastry & chocolaterie, Karlsplatz Christmas Market, and ate Vietnamese food, something I can’t get in Annecy.  From the onset I wished for more time in this beautiful city with so much to see and do, but in the end it was just enough and I had a great time.  Auf wiedersehen, Wien!