La La La Loire

We are starting to settle into life in Paris.  So much so, we decided we needed a little getaway.  We looked at options within France, easy to get to quickly from the Capitol. The Loire Valley seemed like the perfect choice.  Not only for our favourite Sancerre wine grown in the Loire, but also for the plentiful and incredible Châteaux littered around the Valley.

Just over an hour train ride from Gare Montparnasse, we arrived in Tours.  A lovely, charming French city on the Loire River.  Beautiful!  Lucky we got to see it, because it was actually the wrong stop for us.  We rented a car to explore the Valley – I did it all by myself! Little did I know that this was far more complicated than I realized. Tours has 2 train stations and the only car rental outlets are located at the Gare de St. Pierre des Corps, the first stop in the city. Easy mistake to make, right?  How was I supposed to know that when the car rental website says the location is ”Gare de Tours” that it actually means ”Gare de St Pierre des Corps” aka the Other Tours Station?

If you squint, you can see Monsieur and The Little Kid waiting at the Taxi Stand

Anyways, we found ourselves in the beautiful Tours Station one stop past where we were supposed to be and began our adventure in the Loire.  I found the ticket office, the only place in the station where there was a human being who could possibly help us.  The lovely SNCF attendant explained that we could get back on the train we arrived on and travel back 5 mins to the St. Pierre stop.  Apparently this was a common mistake. We just needed to buy new tickets.  At the vending machine, I paid approximately €5 for the 4 of us to ride back.  I came out of the ticket office triumphant that I had found a solution and vindicated that my mistake was not as big a deal as we thought, until I realized that the train had already left.  No matter, we could catch the next one… oh wait, it will be an hour and the agent at the car rental place was growing impatient with me.

Back to the SNCF ticket office and my new friend, imploring what are our options.  A bus.  But we just missed it as well.  A taxi?  Sure, if you can find one. Uber?  Why not, but the only Uber around is a good 20 minutes away and we need 2 as most regular Ubers in France can only take 3 passengers max due to Covid protocols.  We are not in Kansas any more Toto (we don’t even have a bike like the Wicked Witch of the West).  We need to travel for 5 minutes by car, that’s it. But its too far to walk with luggage and kids.

So we decide to divide and conquer. Monsieur and I each plug in the location, which is super hard as we seem to be in some sort of bus loop/ pedestrian only area and the Uber App is of no help at all. Finally we are able to drop the pin in the app and then we wait, and we wait and we wait some more.  The train in an hour is starting to look good. When out of the blue a taxi shows up, a lovely big SUV! The driver agrees to take us all the 5 minutes to St. Pierre, so we cancel the Ubers (and pay the cancellation fees) and jump into the taxi.  Five minutes later, my new boyfriend dropped us at the car rental office at St. Pierre des Corps armed with plenty of suggestions on how to fill our two days in the Loire and assurances that we were not the first people to make this same mistake. So if you ever go visit The Loire, you’ll know what to do.

We booked ourselves into a lovely small Château just outside of Tours, Domaine de la Tortinière.  Imagine a bit of a Fawlty Towers vibe.  Our room was literally in the tower.  Like all good 400 year old houses, it was drafty and home to a family of stink bugs (the latter perhaps somewhat inexplicable) yet utterly charming with a very kind staff and a yummy breakfast.  We enjoyed a nice glass of wine by the fire and a delicious dinner in their dining room.  

One of the charming cottages at the Domaine de la Tortinère

The following day was a Sunday, so on the recommendation of my new taxi driver boyfriend, we ventured to the historic town of Amboise for their Sunday market.  Our first stop was to meet my even newer boyfriend, Henri the cheese and salami man.  This region has been hit hard by the pandemic, so it was clear that Henri was VERY happy to see some gullible charcuterie loving Canadians show up.  We tasted and decided on a super yummy young cheese – don’t ask me what it was – and a pepper salami.  Monsieur La Banque (my ACTUAL boyfriend) forked over the €65 for the goods.  I’m not sure how you say rip-off in French but suffice to say Henri was VERY happy we stopped by and we chalked it up as an opportunity to support the local economy.

Le fromage

It was a very rainy day in The Loire but we persevered and headed to the incredible Château de Chenonceau.  I won’t bore you with all the history, but suffice to say it has a long and infamous past.  The most incredible thing for me was the hotel-lobby-grade floral arrangements in every single room of the castle.  They were phenomenal and I had to take pictures of them all for my sweet friend R the Gardener back in Vancouver.

One the of the floral arrangements at Château de Chenonceau

Due to the rain, we cut our trip to Chenonceau short, the Gardens were lovely but not suited to the weather. We decided to make the schlep back to charming Amboise to get more cheese. Just kidding! We wanted to see the Château de Clos Lucé. This Château is quite special as it was the last home to Leonardo Da Vinci. He finished painting some of his most important pictures there; Mona Lisa, John the Baptist etc. If you wonder why The Louvre has so many of the very few paintings Da Vinci painted, it was because they were completed here in France at Clos Lucé. Da Vinci was invited to Amboise by King Francis I in 1516. Amboise was the seat of power in France at the time with the King reigning from the Château Royal d’Amboise. Clos Lucé is quite interesting if you are a Leonardo fan, like my people are. Its a small Château, so an easy tour to do.

Da Vinci’s studio/ workshop at Château de Clos Lucé with a copy of John the Baptist

A little damp, a little cold and very hungry we googled our way through all the restaurants within a 15 minute drive from our little hotel that were open on a Sunday.  Let’s just say its not many.  But as luck would have it, we found an Italian place that served fresh pasta and pizza.  Jackpot!  We put the address in the GPS and off we went, marveling at the bucolic Loire countryside which suddenly turned into suburban strip mall land.  We found the Italian place tucked into the front side of the parking lot of an aforementioned strip mall just like an East Side Marios!  But this one served us PILES of Burrata cheese, as an appetizer, on our pizzas, on our pastas.  We were in cheese heaven – and this time it didn’t cost us 65 bucks!

Before we hopped the train back to Paris, we decided to venture to Château de Chambord.  Apparently this castle was the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  The sun was out and the drive was lovely.  We arrived in Chambord to a fully scaffolded facade.  The massive castle is undergoing a major restoration project.  Not an uncommon sight when visiting these historic locales across Europe, but a bit of a bummer to not see the castle in its full regalia.  Oh well. A reason to return.

Set on acres of land, the Château is massive. A large castle with ramparts around it and gardens and forests as far as the eye can see. Definitely a place where you can spend the day exploring. The small village next to the Chateau includes a few small bistros (with great food), a wine shop and a hotel. In summer, it must be something else!

The only part of the Chateau de Chambord without scaffolding.

Back to St. Pierre des Corps, we hopped on the train a station late and in a blink of an eye we were back in sunny Paris.  Such an easy little weekend away with so much to see and do, we wished we had more time in France when the weather is warm as the Loire in the summertime must be a treat… but maybe steer clear of Henri’s cheese cart on a hot day.

The Little Kid with the spoils of the Sunday Market in Amboise
The breathtaking Gare de St. Pierre des Corps. I love the dude on the scooter riding out of the station.

En Marchant in March

Paris is a walking city.

Walking in Paris is a constant revelation in awesomeness, and dog shit. What is it with all the merde? I’m sure in this day and age, people are sensitive enough to know that they need to pick up their dog’s poop? But its a thing here. Everywhere, all the time. Seriously, watch your step.

But besides that, when you aren’t looking down, there is so much to see when you look up. The beautiful architecture, the tiny boutiques that are always so interesting. You can see why most of les terrases are situated with the seating looking out at the street. There is just so very much to see.

Paris is geographically quite compact. The 20 Arrondissements wind their way from the centre of the city like a great big Escargot! It is quite compact and you can cover a lot of ground much faster on foot and as a bonus, you really get to feel this city. Walking along you bump into a tiny park with a beautiful fountain or a small lane that’s been converted into a skate park. You can wander along in Paris and literally stumble on wonderful things at every turn; a tiny shop that only sells buttons, a map store or another amazing patisserie. The flower shops are always so enticing! The tulips can be wilting but I’ll still buy them if the front of the shop looks like this:

The other day, we ventured out towards Montmartre. We ended up on Rue des Martyrs. What a great street. We stopped at the first Patisserie for the vanilla eclairs and a raspberry tart. Farine + O at 10 Rue des Martyrs is the place. The eclairs were hands down the best I’ve ever had. We stood on the corner and devoured every last creamy bite and then carried on our way. Four doors down, another amazing Patisserie with delicious looking Millefeuille. Did we fuck it up? Were we stupid to simply accept the first pastry offered? Another couple of blocks – a meringue shop. ALL LIGHT-AS-AIR, PILLOW-Y MERINGUES. Faaaaaaack. How the hell were we going to make it through this gauntlet of deliciousness? Seriously. The only thing working in our favour was that we were at least headed up hill so the calorie burning walk would be most efficient.

Tarte framboise

The Kids were up for the walk to Sacre Coeur knowing that we could take the Funiculaire up the hill, rather than walk it. I entered the Montmartre Funiculaire into Google Maps and on we walked. When climbed several steps and hoofed it up hilly streets, we made it to the Funiculaire entrance. But at the top. Woohoo! Well, lets just call that Gym Class for today. And we did have those awesome eclairs to help fuel the uphill haul, no?

Aside from the very touristy spots, Montmartre is so beautiful and charming. We couldn’t help but feel like we could be in a small Provencal town on these narrow streets. Every little thing is such a feast for the eyes. The flowers crowning the cafe terraces, the gorgeous flower shops, the cute boutiques. It was one of the best wanders I’ve ever had in Paris.

We have an old painting of this view of this exact square in Paris that belonged to Monsieur’s grandmère. The kids thought it was cool to see it in person.

We even managed a spin through Sacre Coeur. The beautiful white church on the hill overlooking all of Paris. We marvelled at the ability of the Catholic church to find the commerce of tourism. Light a candle as a prayer for the low, low price of €10. No cash? No worries! A credit card machine has been installed at all the candle stations (of which there are plenty throughout the church). Visit the gift shop (deep inside the chruch) for what I can only assume would be a ”My friend went to Sacre Coeur and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirt. A vial of Lourdes holy water thrown in for free? Vending machines selling commemorative coins. Please just deposit your money quietly, people are praying! Good to see that the Jesus business is booming?

If you ever find yourself here in Paris, make sure to schedule an afternoon to just wander and get lost on the narrow streets. You won’t be disappointed and truthfully you won’t stay lost for long!

London Calling

One of the reasons we chose Paris as it is a great, central jumping off point to explore Europe. Pretty soon after our arrival to France we were already off to another country. Jolly Old England.

Just a quick stop at Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station

Since we would be away for the kids’ birthdays, we offered each of them the chance to choose a place to spend their day. The Big Kid chose London! Nowhere near a chore for us, we were very happy to make the trip over on the Eurostar train. What a pleasure. Quick, convenient and so much easier than flying. We need to figure out trains in North America like they have in Europe.

London is always a rush. First of all, haven’t you heard? Boris Johnson has declared Covid over in London! Hurrah! (Fact check: I think he said we need to learn to live with Covid and that technically its not over, but that doesn’t read as well.) The day we arrived the mask mandates and vaccine passes were eliminated. We still prefer to wear masks but wow, its amazing to be out and see so many maskless faces.

After checking into our hotel, the Little Kid was absolutely floored when they bumped straight into their favourite actor from their favourite TV show. Hannah Waddingham, Rebecca from Ted Lasso, was absolutely gracious and lovely when the Kid said “hello”. She even got teary eyed when the Kid explained that Rebecca was their favourite (and not the expected Keely). A little while later, the Kid almost imploded when they spotted another one of their favourite comedians and authors, David Walliams (Little Britain) just outside the Hotel. What a day! Guess which city is now their new fave?

The Kid and Hannah

We took advantage of the fleeting sunny skies and took a walk to Buckingham Palace – poor Liz wasn’t there, she was convalescing from ye olde Covid at Windsor Castle. Sadly nor were any of her bear-skinned Beefeaters. Just some normal looking cops with automatic weapons. So much for Pomp and Ceremony.

Heading back to the hotel amid much “my feet hurt” and ”I’m tired”, we made a little detour to Savile Row to see the famous Apple Records offices, now home to Abercrombie & Fitch. After devouring Get Back on Disney+, Mom and Dad were happy to see the site of The Beatles last concert, even though the kids were pissed that the walk was taking longer than planned.

For dinner, we were booked at one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants, NOPI. I’m a BIG fan of Ottolenghi’s many cookbooks and was excited to visit this bustling and sparkly London restaurant. The food was great, tried a lovely wine from Georgia (the country not the state) and I even got completely wigged out in the bathroom which is a mini hall of mirrors and I couldn’t find my way out. If you go – please check out that bathroom and let me know I’m not losing it. Thanks, you’re great.

Day 2 in London was POURING RAIN. Oh, and the Tube was closed due to a strike. Fun. We managed to get a black cab and ventured out to see The Tower of London. With the traffic, we managed to make the trip in about 45 minutes, only twice as long as usual. Our cabbie was a fantastic wealth of knowledge – as London Cabbies are known to be. He gave us all sorts of intel on the rigorous testing process these people must pass to get their license. Incredible. They need to know every street, every landmark, every hotel (big and small). They need to know multiple routes to anywhere. All memorized. You’ll never see a GPS in a black cab. AND these folks are their own boss. They have to buy their cabs on their own at a cool £75,000. Monsieur Le Cabbie also gave us the best tip ever, with the incredible traffic jam in the city, he suggested we take the City Cruise along the Thames back to Westminster which was a total WIN! The moral of this story is – when in London skip the Uber and take a Black Cab.

In the cold rain, The Tower of London was a bit of a bust. So we decided to do the SPEED TOUR. Luckily, between the weather and the Tube strike, we were able to walk straight in to see The Crown Jewels. Another little wander around the White Tower and then off we went to hop the boat and back to the hotel. The Crown Jewels are impressive, but pretty fucking weird in 2022. Knowing most of the jewels were the plunder of war and colonialism AND such an ostentatious public display of unreasonable wealth seems pretty tone deaf in our awakening culture. Since when have the monarchy been ”with the times”, I guess.

Yeah, no, for sure, no.

We booked to visit The British Museum the following day. I just couldn’t shake the thought that we were going to see a bunch of stolen loot. After seeing the Haida and Nisga’a Totem Poles from Northern BC, I definitely had the creeps viewing all these wonderful and amazing treasures that were plundered. One thing is definitely true, the Colonial British were more than just robbers, they were fucking hoarders!

The Big Kid chose London because she wanted to see the show Six. A modern re-telling of Henry VIII’s 6 wives and their stories. Brilliant. She loved it, we loved it. It was a fun night out. We were in a theatre seeing live music and performance and it was fantastic!

Our last night in London we had dinner at the buzzy and delicious La Petite Maison. Great food, great restaurant, quick seating – so eat fast! My former boss introduced me to LPM years ago and its still the same busy place with great Southern French food. But really, eat fast. The Maitre ’D came to let me know what we needed to chop chop with the veal chop as he needed the table back tout de suite. Bien sûr, Monsieur.

Before hopping the Eurostar back to Paris, the sun managed to make an appearance in time for our departure. So my Monsieur and I took a walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens with a stop at the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain – unique and pretty like she was – and at the Albert Memorial – grand and splashy like he was?

You can call me Al

And just like that, 3 days in London done and dusted. Our first side trip from Paris was in the books (and now on my blog) and we are getting our travel legs back. We managed to do the trip with 3 small carry- ons and one bigger suitcase (to carry all the London shopping back to Paris as well as our quickly-becoming-redundant Covid safety kit).

On the train, I was happy to hear the Little Kid say ”I can’t wait to get home to my own bed.” They were talking about their Paris bed. I’ll take that as a small win 🙂

Parlez-vous anglais?

When we chose Paris as our home base, there was some reasoning behind it. Its a city I know reasonably well after years of business travel here. I also studied French in school up until university so I have a basic understanding of how to speak the language. Plus Paris is fairly centrally located within Europe and well, its FUCKING PARIS!

Every time I come here, I realize what a load of bullshit my French language education actually was without ever immersing myself. Its VERY clear that the hours Mme Sharon spent hammering the Notre Père (Our Father) into my head were absolutely useless in trying to explain to the pharmacist that Monsieur has terrible acid reflux and what could she recommend to help. The conversation went like this:

Pharmacist: Bonjour Madame

Me: Bonjour Madame. Vous m’aidez? Mon Mari a une problème avec son éstomac. Avez-vous un medecin pour lui assistez? (“Hello Ma’am. Can you help me? My husband has a problem with his stomach. Do you have a doctor for you to help him?” I was trying to ask for medicine.)

Pharmacist: 😳

Me: Ummm, Notre Pere? Qui est aux cieux? (“Ummm, Our Father? Who art in heaven?”)

Pharmacist: 😐

Me: Que ton nom soit sanctifié? (“Hallowed be thy name”)

Pharmacist: Ahhh???

Me: Que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel? (“Here on earth as it is heaven”)

Pharmacist: Ummmm….🥴

Its mostly ok, I think. The Parisians are being extremely generous in encouraging me in my french speaking. However, I know that they are just being kind. I’m sure that my tenses are all over the place and that I’m telling people we’ve lived here for 4 months instead of we ARE going to live here for 4 months.

Just the other night, in one of these tight quartered cafés, the kid dropped something under the table and cracked their head on the way back up. I felt quite proud of the fact that I managed to ask the waitress for a napkin full of ice. I was certainly successful in asking for ice cubes (glaçons) instead of ice cream (glacé) – common mistake I make. However, I’m pretty sure I told her that the kid had broken (casser) her head instead of hit (frapper) it, which probably explains why she brought les glaçons tout de suite.

Hopefully, in a few more weeks I’ll be a lot less wobbly and more able to communicate. In the meantime, merci beaucoup Mme Sharon, FOR NOTHING! At least I won’t look like a chump when we visit any churches.

The kid BEFORE the “frapper”

Get Into the Groove

It has taken me a while to get back to the blog. We’re starting to settle into our new Parisien lifestyle, but it is with heavy hearts and watchful eyes.  To say the war in the Ukraine is unsettling is an understatement.  I’ve been labouring on how to write a silly blog about our adventure while the world has been thrust into such fear and uncertainty.  The suffering in the Ukraine is devastating and is front of mind for us every day.  We set the intention for peace and for the greater good of humankind to prevail.  So please know and remember this as you read my posts, that we are not turning a blind eye to this on-going tragedy.  Here, I’ll keep it light and (hopefully) funny because we all need to find some levity from time to time.

We have rented an apartment in the 2nd arrondissement, tucked into a small side street behind Blvd des Italiens and nestled between The Opera, The Bourse and Palais Royale.  The apartment is on the 4th floor of a Haussmanian building with (thank Oprah!) an elevator.  It’s a cute little elevator and it took us about 4 trips to get the aforementioned 11 pieces of luggage to our 4th floor enclave. The 5 flights up to our place is a bit of a workout, however it helps accommodate my pain au chocolat habit.

Monsieur and I made our first trip to the local grocery to stock up.  Unlike our typical Vancouver shop with stops at the Whole Foods and the Shoppers and the Save On, we visited the local G20.  A grocery store which is about 1/10th the size of our Whole Foods yet had just about everything we could need.  No longer blessed with our SUV and easy underground parking, this new grocery experience would be an experiment in how much we could actually carry the 2 blocks back to our place and stuff into the teeny elevator.

Armed with a rolling basket, we started our shop.  As the basket started to quickly fill I began to calculate the combined strength of Monsieur et moi.  Guess what, it’s less than you think.  And there, in the last aisle, le vendeur uttered the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard, “Un livraison, madame?”   My jet-lagged, Canadian-self squeaked out a “Non, merci.”  I’m delirious and overly polite not wanting to inconvenience this lovely French man, but I am clearly not very smart.  And then, like a lighting bolt all my 12+ years of French education and 2 solid years of Duolingo came flooding back to me. Wait, what?  Livraison = Delivery!!!! Here we are with all these groceries and 2 block walk and I’m saying “Non, merci” when the guy wants to deliver it to me?  “Oui monsieur, un livraison s’il vous plaît.”

So we began our check out and my knight in shining armour started to pile the bags of groceries into a shopping cart.  He then walked with us the two blocks back to our apartment and safely delivered us to the elevator door.  What an angel, sent from the heaven of the G20 stockroom to help us in our hour of need.  What a win!  

The haul from the G20

As with most AirBnbs, there are always things we need to make it feel more like home.  Like scissors.  Why are there never any scissors in an Airbnb?  Or just one cutting board and a frying pan with every layer of teflon scored away by lazy renters like us?  I wish Paris had a Winners.  Everybody loves a Winner! Or so they say.  Being the noobs (ask a person under the age of 16 what this means if you don’t know) that we are, we headed to the kitchen department at Galleries Lafayette and paid through the nose for decent spatula and some tea towels.  We also stumbled upon very mobile Granny Grocery cart, which I will argue is the best €80 I’ve ever spent.

L’Éclair de Génie at Galeries Lafayette

On our continued mission of filling the fridge we spent a lovely morning on the Rue Montorgueil, an incredible market street with beautiful fruit stands, cheese shops and patisseries.  One of which is Stohrer. A gilded beauty the size of a walk in closet that has stood in this exact spot since 1730. Nicolas Stohrer former pastry chef to the former King of Poland, was brought to Paris by Marie Leszczynska who married Louis XV, presumably when she couldn’t find a decent Rum Baba.  We picked up some of my Monsieur’s favourite, Millefeuille.  Verdict was a thumbs down when compared to the same from Cafe de Paris.  You’d think that if they’ve been around since 1730, they’d have it nailed by now.

We also found a fantastic gluten free bakery called Copains just off the Rue Montorgueil at 60 Rue Tiquetonne. You’d never guess that every loaf and pastry in the place is sans gluten. We picked up some yummy babka and a boule with figs and walnuts that is killer.

The kids have been outfitted with some new clothes, mais bien sûr.  The options just outside our door are endless as they find their feet in the fashion capitol of the world.  Monsieur and I have also picked up some new comfy, yet stylish sneakers to accommodate the 12,000+ steps a day we seem to be clocking.  Another excellent way to allow that addiction to pain au chocolat.

We’ve walked around The Louvre, through Place Vendome, up Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré past the Embassies and the Élysées Palace, down Avenue de L’Opera and along the Rue des Rosiers.  We’ve eaten éclairs and croissants, croque monsieur and soupe a l’oignon, macarons and millefeuille, falafels and tagines and we’ve only just begun!  Now that our blisters have healed and we’re managing our indigestion, we’re ready for many more great days in Paris!