Category Archives: France Retour

La Rochelle, Le Retour

Gare La Rochelle

We’re back in La Rochelle, first time since our long séjour in 2014. Planes, trains and automobiles were all involved, but we’re here at last. I can already tell I’m a bit more comfortable speaking French. I chatted with the Paris taxi driver most of the way from the airport to Gare Montparnasse, then dealt with an issue on the train without switching to English. When asked if I spoke French or English, I said “les deux” (both) and defended our right to our seats in French without hesitation.

What fun it was to walk out of the train station, to the familiar streets of this charming town . . .

Rue Bazoges, La Rochelle

Yesterday afternoon, we scrambled to get a few groceries to tide us over until Tuesday, since most shops close on Sundays, and Monday is a holiday in France, so we weren’t really able to take advantage of the warmth and sunshine–not to mention being nearly comatose from fatigue.

Today, Sunday, after an excellent night’s sleep, we were ready to reacquaint ourselves with one of our favorite places. Half a block from our apartment, the main central marché was open . . .

Le Vieux Marché, La Rochelle

This marché is open every day, so we buy only what we need for the day or in this case two days, since I wasn’t sure about the holiday tomorrow.

The breeze was a bit brisk this morning and the sky was overcast, but it wasn’t too bad. Then the weather went a little crazy around noon, sending chairs and signs flying. Fortunately, we were already installed inside a port-side café by then, with pineau des Charentes and moules frites, so were able to watch the drama from l’intérieur.

Here’s le vieux port on sunnier days back in 2014.

Le Vieux Port, La Rochelle
View over Le Vieux Port, La Rochelle, to the famous three towers

The space got a bit cozy as more and more people sought shelter, but that created an air of camaraderie enough that we (well, mostly I, since it was in French) ended up chatting a bit with the people at the next table. (Remember the “next” table in France is often only 3 or 4 inches from your own.) It reminded me of Frederick Buechner’s comments about rainy days.

We lingered a bit over coffee and dessert, but finally ventured out to head back “home.” What a relief it is, having an apartment this time en plein centre ville (right in the center of town). Still David has done more walking in the past two days than he has in months, but he insists he’s doing well.

With the intermittent rain, we took advantage of les arcades . . .

Les Arcades, La Rochelle

. . . which covered us nearly all the way back to the apartment.

Tomorrow, we’ll see Pascale and Jacky, our companions in so many adventures. Can’t wait.

The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.  Amelia Earhart

Wishing you congenial companions in both adversity and adventure!


Step . . .

STEP . . . carefully: France has made an indelible impression on us and now David can say HE has made an indelible impression on France:

Oops. David's Impression on France
Oops. David’s Impression on France

Not so much as a tiny paper note in French, let alone an orange cone, warning pedestrians of the new cement. (David’s are the left and the deep right footprints). He was watching traffic, trying to find an opportunity to cross before the sidewalk completely narrowed into nothing, and all of a sudden he felt the sidewalk was a bit . . . er . . . squishy.

STEP . . . up and up and up (and down and down and down): Wednesday, we decided to give ourselves a break from the 112 steps down to the local metro (and of course the 112 steps back up to get home), and instead decided to visit Sacré Coeur again and see the crypt and . . . yes . . . climb the dome . . .

Um . . . offering a bit of encouragement on the way up?
Offering a bit of encouragement on the way up?

. . . so 300 steps up and more than 300 down, because it’s a different staircase and at one point in the descent you have to go back up 17 steps, then immediately back down 17 (yes, I counted–I was a bit annoyed, okay?), just to get to the other side of a piece of roof, and all this is not counting the steps just to get from the apartment to Sacré Coeur.

Aria Singer Sacré Coeur
Aria Singer Sacré Coeur

On the plus side, the climb was done to the soundtrack of this woman beautifully singing some of my favorite arias on the steps on one side of the basilica. Absolutely magical. We were climbing just above her (and then a LOT above her).

Also a plus: The views were worth every step.


Front View from atop Sacre Coeur

From Atop Sacré Coeur
From Atop Sacré Coeur

Tour Eiffel from atop Sacre CoeurStrange to notice a fire near Opéra Garnier, and not know how serious it was. We later learned it was a gas explosion that was quickly contained.

Fire near Opéra Garnier, shot with zoom.
Fire near Opéra Garnier, shot with zoom.
Steps of Montmartre
Steps of Montmartre

Later in the day, we decided to walk back to Coquelicot to buy another loaf or two of la Picola to see if it was as good as we remembered. (It was.) But since I was a bit tired of the stairs I chose to head a bit east to try to get more around the perimeter of the hill. Imagine my not-so-delighted surprise when our route turned out to include this:

Sheesh. Bet they don’t sell ANY Stairmasters in Paris. Who would need one?

STEP . . . inside. WIFI is terrible in this apartment, so not sure when I can post this, but as I write this, it is our last day in France (for 2014, anyway), and a bit rainy and cool. We tried to think of something super profound to do, to no avail. Instead we decided to be Parisian and go shopping.  We didn’t buy anything, just took a few photos. This is how they do department stores in Paris:

Ceiling of Galeries Lafayette, Paris
Ceiling of Galeries Lafayette, Paris


And now, for a moment, let’s STEP . . . back . . . to remember how far we’ve come. This whole adventure started with a simple desire to learn French in the best, most efficient way possible (living here for a while), and it’s been a long road. But as we enjoyed lunch in a brasserie after our shopping, we both realized that, finally, I was completely comfortable with getting a table, reading the menu, ordering, paying, the whole process, really. And David, although he has not learned French, has kind of learned, well, France – how to modulate his voice to the much quieter French level, how to patiently wait until the server is ready to take our order, how to take our time over a bottle of wine at lunch, how to enjoy a conversation (and a little people-watching) between courses even if the next course is a while in coming.

And finally, it’s time to . . .

STEP . . . forward . . . to the next part of this journey. Five more months to go, but all stateside. No more random, cool Frenchy things on random corners, like this . . .

Building Detail Montmartre

. . . but there will be other things to see, other people to meet, other cities to explore, and I promise to tell you all about them. And eventually, God willing, there will be friends and family to see again, both here in France and back in the U.S.A. So until we meet again, au revoir! 


Baccarat au Petit Palais

Although we are trying to make the most of our time here in Paris, I promise not to bore you with a play by play of everything we’re doing, but I do want to tell you about our visit Tuesday to the Petit Palais. The building itself is worth seeing, and I especially wanted to go this week because I had seen posters for a brand new temporary exhibit of Baccarat crystal. Lots of beautiful urns, stemware and pitchers, but my favorites were the chandeliers. This one was in the main gallery to entice you to buy a ticket to see the whole exhibit.

Baccarat Chandelier against the ceiling of the Petit Palais
Baccarat Chandelier against the ceiling of the Petit Palais

Here are some detail shots of a few of the enormous standing-style chandeliers, sort of super-posh lamp posts.

Baccarat Detail
Baccarat Detail
Baccarat Detail
Baccarat Detail

My favorite part of the exhibit was a dark-walled room with soft music playing and seven or eight absolutely stunning chandeliers alternately brightening and then dimming back to a soft glow, one at a time, as if they were each taking their turn in the spotlight. It was like a minuet, with ladies in hooped ball gowns, and absolutely mesmerizing. Fortunately, the benches along the wall were hard and backless or I would probably still be there!

So put on a little music, and I’ll give you a sample. You can even sit in a comfortable chair and stay as long as you like.

Baccarat Chandelier Gold and Crystal detail

Baccarat Asymetrical Lampshade Chandelier

Baccarat Electric Candle Chandelier

Baccarat Pink Lampshade Chandelier

Baccarat Chandelier bronze and gold detailBaccarat Chandelier RoomShine on!

Time Travel — Paris Style

We’ve settled into a little apartment in Montmartre for the week. This one’s on the 7th floor (Americans, read 8th), but fortunately, there is a functioning ascenseur (elevator), because this time in Paris, we had to bring ALL our luggage back from La Rochelle, including every book I’ve bought since we got here. We still have plenty of opportunity to climb stairs. Our nearest Metro stop is 112 steps below the street entrance. (There’s a sign.)

Courtney spent one night with us before flying home on Sunday. Here she is still looking happy even after tramping up and down the hills of Montmartre.

Courtney, Montmartre
Courtney, Montmartre

After we saw her off at the airport, we had an excellent conversation with the philosopher-cum-cab driver, who drove us back to the apartment. As usual, David primed the pump by asking a question in English that I translated into French, which always gets things going. Then if there’s a lull, he’ll offer another question for me to translate. Monsieur Taxi insisted that David and I haven’t just visited another country. By staying a while and living as we have, we’ve actually added a second culture to our native culture and have been enriched by it. Not just because it’s French, although he was certainly proud of France, but simply that le voyage and l’histoire–which means both history and story–have more to offer a person than cars or houses or any other material thing. I’d love for you to leave your opinion in the comments section, but we certainly agreed with him.

In that spirit, we decided to go have a look at a bit more of what Paris has to offer, like l’Arène des Lutèce, where intergenerational groups play soccer (le foot) in a first-century arena. Here’s a bit of the beautiful square right next to the arena.

Square des Arènes du Lutèce
Square des Arènes du Lutèce

A few blocks further is the Jardin des Plantes, where we saw this . . .

Jardin des Plantes, Paris -- Lion with Human Foot. Do NOT know where the REST of the human is!
Jardin des Plantes — Lion with Human Foot. Do NOT know where the REST of the human is!

Eventually made our way over to Ile Saint-Louis, where we found the restaurant Aux Anysetiers du Roy for lunch. It was like time travel back to the Middle Ages. Here’s what’s on the wall on the way up to the WC.

Aux Anysetiers du Roy, Ile Saint-Louis, ParisFalcon Aux Anysetiers du Roy Cropped

The building was constructed in 1617, and the walls were eventually painted to add to the ambiance, although if I understood correctly, only about 100 years ago. Still. Impressive, non?

Ladies on the Wall up the WC Aux Anysetiers de Roy

Aux Anysetiers du Roy
Aux Anysetiers du Roy

And here’s the sink. You turn on the water with the knobs on the side of the tank.

Aux Anysetiers de Roy, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris
Aux Anysetiers de Roy, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris

After lunch we crossed the bridge over to Ile de la Cité and decided to check out the Crypte archéologique du Parvis Notre-Dame, so a bit more of that surreal sense of existing in multiple eras at once–ancient stone walls all around and several super cool 3-D touch-screen displays that allowed you to swoop in on Notre Dame and see it at various points between 1163 and 1350:

3D Experience of Notre Dame between 1163 and
3D Experience of Notre Dame between 1163 and 1350

Ended the day on our little balcony with this view, (slightly zoomed in):

Sacré Coeur from our balcony
Sacré Coeur from our balcony

M. Philosophe-Chauffeur reminded us that everyone can learn something new every day–that history is everywhere. There’s a story behind every painting, every church, every garden. You just have to give yourself time to hear it. Happy learning!