A graffito of a girl crossing her arms in front of her body like in a defense move

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Shortly after the rentrée (as everyone calls the return to work after the summer holidays, but also the start of the school year) Gergö and I went to the parc de la villette. I’d heard from my Pokemon Go playing colleagues that there are always lots of raids going on.

It was a beautiful summer day. I’d been to the park once before but forgotten about it. In the sunshine the big globe of the science museum’s imax cinema is really impressive. They also have a u-boat on display and an enormous toboggan. There were only kids in the line for the toboggan, so we didn’t try it out. We might have to come back at a later time, when the kids have gone to sleep. There’s also a big event hall and under the canopy there are people doing breakdance, practising acro yoga and other impressive feats. I always wonder how they agree on the music to play in a place like this. There was also an elderly lady pushing a pram with cold drinks around. We also walked past the concert hall, la philharmonie and looked at the canal st martin.

On another Saturday I went for a walk with my friend, took photos of street art and had a Pokebowl. I was only a little disappointed that it has nothing to do with Pokemon Go. It’s a Hawaiian dish with fresh vegetables and raw fish over rice and it was delicious.

The Menu of the Poke bar with photos of their bowls

Poke Bar that has nothing to do with Pokemon Go.

The first September weekend Gergö’s dad came for a visit and we did a few touristy things – the tour Montparnasse. It’s one of the few skyscrapers in central Paris. They say after they saw how ugly it was Paris decided to build no other high rise buildings in the city, but it actually has more to do with the statics of the city.

We also went to visit the Louvre – a first for Gergö, I think. We spent a few hours in there. It amazed me, again, how few people check out the Egyptian collection. Even in the room of the Venus of Milo it is comparatively calm compared to the mayhem that is Mona Lisa. Very fittingly we overheard a group of American tourists say: “We saw the Mona Lisa, Ah think we’re done here.”

Once a month (except for the summer) we have lunch together at work and this time we went all the way from the sad ugly part of St Ouen to the artsy part at Paris’ biggest the flea market.

 


Alea iacta est

After our little trip to Austria we had Gergö’s brother visit for a few days.

He was really motivated to do some sightseeing, so we went on a walk of the petite ceinture. It’s a lot like the promenade plantée – a raised disused railway line that used to connect various Parisian train stations. And it’s called ceinture, because it goes around Paris like a little belt.

Even though the little belt went around most of Paris at one time, only parts of it are now open to the public. We went to a section in the 15th district which led directly to Parc Georges Brassens. Apparently there’s a book market there – we could see the empty stalls.

We also went to Centre Pompidou again. I hadn’t been in a year, and A. wanted to see the David Hockney exhibition. I usually visit the 5th floor, with the permanent exhibition of modern art and then I am too tired to look at much else. This time we looked at Hockney of whom I had only a vague idea and then Walker Evans who I’d have sworn is an actor who plays super heros.

This time I also took some time to look  at the contemporary art as well and I liked a lot of things. Last time Gergö and I loved the big pile of shredded money and a room that was extremely quiet. It was insulated with wool all around. Very strange feeling.

This time there was a former record shop that the owner, Ben, had turned into a museum of everything. I was impressed enough to try to google the art work with only this information. I found it on the Centre Pompidou website. There’s a picture of the whole thing, go look at it!

I also saw the meat dress for the first time. The one Lady Gaga got into trouble with PETA for wearing. I didn’t recognise it at all at first, because it’s all dried and odd looking.

But we didn’t only look at art, we also used almost every meal to have fancy food and drinks in nice locations. And most of it wasn’t too crowded because Paris really is empty in August, except for a few tourist hot spots.

In between all the food and apéro I managed to play quite a bit of Pokemon Go – There are raids now, where several people have to fight an arena boss together in order to defeat them and to get a chance to catch them. During the last couple of weeks legendary pokemon were released this way. These are birds that don’t occur in the wild, so your only chance of getting one is a raid. You need  about 8 people or more to defeat them. So if you are not in a group of players, you show up to centrally located raids and hope other people will show up too.

That’s what I did for a raid in my neighbourhood and because it’s the summer there were enough people in the middle of the day to defeat the boss. Then a few people decided to go on another raid, across the river and I tagged along. It happened to be in the rue René Goscinny. I’d been there once before, where I took the photo of “Ils sont fous, ces Romains!”. Turns out there are more of those signs along the street and a tile on the ground with one of the more famous quotes attributed to Julius Caesar.

The last free day I spent playing Pokemon with a friend who was passing through the city. We wandered around town looking for rare Pokemon and raids.

In other news, the elevator still isn’t repaired. I though the notice inside said August 1st-31st in order to be on the safe side. But it really takes this long, apparently. Every time I leave and every time I come back, I hopefully push the elevator button. Since Friday it glows green when pushed, but nothing further happens. By the end of August I might get used to the 7 flights of stairs (I won’t).

 


En cherchant la Joconde

My mum came to visit us here in France again. January might be cold, but it is a good time to do sightseeing. The queues are noticably shorter this time of the year.

We walked a lot, like the last time she was here. This time we explored the Jewish quarter of Paris. The area is great, lots of interesting shops and signs and restaurants.

I’ve been in France for a year and a half and I still hadn’t visited the Louvre. I wasn’t that interested in seeing Mona Lisa in person and the queues were always daunting. Plus none of my visitors expressed an interest. My mum finally asked me to get tickets ahead, because the only thing that’s worse than queueing is queueing while it’s 5 degrees and rainy.

I had to give the Louvre my birth date and address and pay 2 € extra for the privilege of printing out the ticket myself. I even complained about it on twitter, because with every click i got a generic error message. And I mean that literally:

The Louvre sent me a private message to explain it’s necessary that I enter my birthdate because it’s necessary and that they will take care of the error. They haven’t.

Enough of my rant, the offline Louvre is great. In both size and content. We also didn’t have to queue at all, because it’s January. I grabbed a map and went right to the French painters, where I expected the Mona Lisa to be. It took me two floors of paintings to realise my mistake and find the Italian painters on the map.

At least we saw a few gems on this little unscheduled detour.

Once we were in the right wing of the Louvre there were arrows pointing the way and people to follow. Mona Lisa is in a large room with lots of other paintings that go mostly ignored. There are 2 types of barriers separating the throng of tourists from the painting and two very bored guards on either side. People take selfies with the image all the time and there are queues for good selfie places.

I already knew that the painting is fairly small and didn’t expect to be impressed. And it felt like it was a matter of duty, seeing Mona Lisa in the Louvre :-)

Afterwards we had coffee and tackled the rest of the museum. I had no idea the Venus of Milo was also in the Louvre and the room she was in was almost empty.

We had tickets to go to Reims for the next day. So we got up early and went to Paris to board the TGV to Reims. It’s only a 45 minute ride with no stops because the train goes over 300 km/h. My mum was really excited about the velocity, but didn’t want to act too touristy. I totally encouraged her to get up and take a picture of the sign that displayed the speed. I take pictures of anything and everything, I very much understand the impulse :-)

Reims is a pretty town, not too big to walk. A lot of it was destroyed in WWI, so many houses in the center have art deco façades.

It also has a giant cathedral in which most of the French kings were crowned. Some of the stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall in the 70s. We missed the opening times of the palace de Tau, which houses the coronation museum, so we wandered on to the basilica.

Reims is also the place were Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945. When my mum mentioned that I had to laugh. I only know the name because of the Hitler reacts to meme and he is one of the people who stay in the room. I tried to explain the meme to my mum but retelling YouTube memes doesn’t really work.

I was confused. All French towns appear to have a rue 8 mai, why not 7 mai? It turns out, the surrender was signed on the 7th in Reims and then signed again in Germany in the presence of the Soviets on May 8. In Russia the end of the war is considered to be May 9, because it was already after midnight Moscow time.

We visited the museum dedicated to this event. It’s in the former headquarters of Eisenhower next to a school. It was a small museum but I found it really interesting. I don’t need the uniforms but I liked the contemporary newspapers and the original war rooms with all the maps.


Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

We had visitors again, this time with a little kid. It was the first time we had a toddler here! In order to be able to stay up later than an 18 month old, we let them take the bedroom and slept on the couch for the week. I have to say it’s not bad at all. The couch is comfy and I can spend all day in my current bed without appearing too lazy or anti-social.

Our guests enjoy walking through Paris (who doesn’t?) and were very tolerant of my Pokémon catching and egg hatching. I think that they are former Ingress players might have something to with it. One day we walked along the South bank from Notre Dame to Musée d’Orsay.

Along the way there’s a place I call coffee porn:

walking around Paris, I like the glimpses I get of shop windows and courtyards. This one is a bit WTF though.

Walking around Paris, I like the glimpses I get of shop windows and courtyards. This one is a bit WTF though.

Mona Lisa on the other hand is pretty neat.

Mona Lisa on the other hand is pretty neat.

The area around Musee d'Orsay is really pretty.

The area around Musee d’Orsay is really pretty.

It's not just the art, though. Also bank windows can be impressive.

It’s not just the art, though. Also bank windows can be impressive.

On a different day, we walked from Notre Dame all the way to the arc de triomphe. We wandered along the north bank of the Seine, researching Macarons. I opted for matcha ice cream instead. In this one fancy patisserie we found, they dunk it into liquid chocolate icing for you. I opted for the matcha chocolate icing.

matcha ice cream

many green, very matcha, wow!

We also strolled along the Seine beach for a little while.

circulation alternée

Because it’s the rentrée (back to school!) there were empty chairs and hardly any oncoming traffic at all, much less crocodiles. Nor alligators.

Champs Elysées is much longer than I remember, every single time. We made a stop at the Disney store.

There are no silly hat selfies this time, mostly because I couldn't figure out how to make this hat is supposed to fit.

There are no silly hat selfies this time, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to make this hat is supposed to fit.

Other than large chain stores, there are also a couple of surprising places on Champs Elysées.

like this courtyard of maison Denmark

like this courtyard of maison Denmark

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In the end we didn’t go up to the arc because, as this picture nicely illustrates, you need to walk down stairs in order to get up again and we didn’t want to carry the pram down. Instead we opted for a playground break to dry out the toddler after a water bottle related accident. It always amazes me how such a small amount of water can get an entire baby and their pram soaking wet.

From the étoile we walked to the Eiffel Tower. Since we moved here, I had never approached it from this direction. It makes for really nice photos, though.

Nice view of the Eiffel Tower from the direction of place de la concorde.

Nice view of the Eiffel Tower from the direction of place Trocadéro (I wrote place de la concorde earlier, oops).

It’s also a great place for hunting Pokémon – I caught an Onix there and the last Magicarp I needed for the Gyrados. Today we discussed that we think it’s only a matter of time until the selfie stick vendors start selling battery packs as well.

We took a photo and crêpe break on place Trocadéro. The pigeons had brioche crumbs, hand fed by a fearless toddler.

let them eat brioche

When I realised what was going on, I started giggling and taking photos of pigeons being fed brioche, while repeating “Let them eat brioche!”. It all started making sense, when I explained that brioche is what Marie Antoinette allegedly said in the “Let them eat cake” quote.

Edited to correct place de la concorde – it was place Trocadéro, of course.

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Mon chaud manchot

The day after Parc Astérix we went to the zoo. Paris has two Zoos, a smaller one that is next to the botanical garden and a bigger one a little further outside, close to the bois de Vincennes. It doesn’t have as many species as some of the zoos we visited, but the enclosures are much better, I found. Huge and often with more than one species inside.

Just as we came by the enclosure, the sea lions were being fed. So we stopped and watched, took photos (my niece) and listened (Gergö and I). The sea lions are called otarie in French, not lion de mer. Next on our path and also being fed next were the penguins. Although in French they are called manchot. There is the French word pengouin but it refers to guillemots (Alk in German) which are birds that can fly. I saw a lot of them in Iceland last summer. Guillemot is also really close to the French word guillemet which refers to the French quotation marks « ».

So in order to learn the new vocabulary and finally memorize these words I repeated “manchot, otarie” to myself. Gergö asked “Who are you calling a hot sea lion?” (Get it?!!)

My favourite part of the zoo is the giant rock which works really nice as a dramatic backdrop for photos.

giraffe

And the tropical glass house. This time it wasn’t even noticably warmer inside than outside. It’s huge and a lot of birds fly around freely. There are also sloths climbing on the inside of the roof. And there’s an aquarium with manatees inside.

The flora of inside the glass house is pretty impressive too

The flora of inside the glass house is pretty impressive too

tortoises doing it

I’d also like to include this picture to commemorate the fact that whenever my brother visits a zoo with tortoises, they are doing it. Very slowly.

bush dog / Waldhund

Other memorable animals we saw: dogs that seem to be related to either sausages or very small bears. They are called bush dogs / Waldhunde.

The giraffe enclosure is very big and also contains ostriches

The giraffe enclosure is very big and also contains ostriches. They seem to be permanently saying “Hi, I’d like to add you to my personal network on linkedIn!”

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That’s also a photo of the giraffe enclosure (hence the elevated feeder hanging from the tree, the zookeepers aren’t sadists). The deer (maybe kudu?) also live there and so does this bird who appears to be practising to become a cult leader.

The zoo also has a little botany section we looked at, mostly to remind outselves how depressing the state of our balcony is.

 

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Ma mère nous a rendu visite

Last week my mum came to visit us in Palaiseau. She stayed for a week and we walked so much, she joked about requesting a wheelchair for the airport.

I’ve been to the cathedral of Notre Dame several times, but I never actually went inside. This time there was no queue at all, so we had a look. Mum brought her SLR and it’s okay to take photos, as long as you don’t use a flash. I just took a single blurry photo of the candles, because I was surprised that they let you light a real candle with real fire in the old cathedral.

It started to rain, so we wandered in the direction of Les Halles, to catch a train home. Les Halles is a big train and metro station and underground shopping mall. The ground floor has been a building site for years. Now the giant yellow canopy roof is finally finished and was officially opened.

As we took the escalator down, I could see regular wet spots where the brand new roof is leaking. At one end a rain pipe funnels the water onto the stairs. There are guard rails surrounding the spot where the water comes down, so I think it was on purpose. The waterfall splashed beyond the rails though. I am not the only one who noticed the leaking.

Les Halles is used by a lot of people. You have to go through the underground mall to get to the train and metro station. Yet some stairs were closed off. I suspect it has to do with the fact that there’s a security guard at every entrance that waves a metal detector at passerbys and asks to look into bags. The whole redesign was planned long before the Charlie hebdo shootings and the November 13 attacks.

The day after our walk through the city we walked along the Seine. At pont neuf we rather spontaneously decided to get on a boat for an hour long tour.

It was lovely and sunny which then changed to a drizzle while we were walking to the Musée d’Orsay and then to horizontal rain while we were trying to find the entrance. The business savy vendors out front sold umbrellas, which were of no use in the wind.

The museum is in a former train station. I read about that fact and didn’t much think about it, until I went inside. The train station was built for the world fair in 1900. Apart from the beautiful beaux-arts architecture (yeah, I looked it up) it also has a huge collection of impressionist paintings. Also, there’s a small replica of the statue of liberty.

After the museum visit the weather had cleared up and the vendors had returned to selling water bottles. We walked to Jardin Luxembourg, just across the Seine and headed for the obelisk. The guide on the boat had said that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded on the Place de la Concorde and we wanted to see the plaque for ourselves.

At this point I’d like to point out that we are still on day 2 of sightseeing.

And because the Arc de Triomphe was already in sight and it was still nice, we decided, what the hell. We reached the Arc while a ceremony was winding down.  Lots of people in uniform and at least one marching band were leaving the place when we arrived. Under the Arc is an eternal flame and a memorial for the unknown soldier which I assume was the reason for the event.

Day three was spent in Palaiseau, where we took a walk along the Yvette and finally had dinner in the restaurant that has the best tripadvisor rating of Palaiseau. It serves specialities of the mountains and is decorated in that fashion. We had giant portions of potatoes with smelly cheese with beer brewed with water from Mont Blanc. It was delicious, of course.

Potatoes, salmon, spinach with lots of reblochon cheese.

Potatoes, salmon, spinach with lots of reblochon cheese.

I think that’s enough for today. I still have some stuff to do before our next guests arrive tomorrow :-)


La culture néerlandaise

After all that time spent on coffee and cake, I decided to check out some culture. I visited the Strijp-S. It’s a former Philips production facility that was closed down. Instead of letting the space go to waste, they decided to create a new urban district with, yes, lots of hip cafés and shops, but also some cool features like a community garden, vertical gardening and all these things that come along with gentrification.

So that was a week of Eindhoven. My mum’s coming to visit this week, and we’ll be doing lots of sightseeing.


Les égouts des Paris

On the weekend we went down into the sewers of Paris. There’s an actual, official museum of the sewers of Paris, even though you wouldn’t believe it, looking at their website (That might not be an official page, though, maybe just a fan-site).

You could have explored all by yourself, just following the smell, but we had a souterrain guided tour of the sewers. I didn’t understand all of it, because there was too much unfamiliar vocabulary and too much background noise, but I could catch a few things

Sewers have to be cleaned or there is a buildup of sand and grease and unspeakable things. This would lead to blockage, which means water would back up onto the streets. Cleaning all of Paris sewers takes three years and when they are finished they start all over again.

If you drop your keys down a manhole in a small street, you can call the sewer department, give them the exact address and they can retrieve it for you. If it’s on a big street, the pool that collects rainwater and dog poop etc. (fourth picture below) is too big, but they offer this service completely free for the small side streets.


Arrête! C’est ici, l’empire de la mort.

I did some more touristy things last week with my visitor. We went to see the Cité de Science – the Science museum. After visiting a decent number of them, the visual proof that a2 + b2 = c2 doesn’t excite me as much (though it is cool). They had an exhibition on cats and dogs that was cute, but a bit too childish, even for Gergö and me. There was an indoor garden that looked promising but then didn’t deliver. I think it’s used for teaching.

On Monday we visited the museum of the middle ages, mostly because they exhibit a tapisserie “The woman and the Unicorn”. It’s their most prominent exhibit. I sadly forgot to take a picture of a unicorn wearing headphones. It’s what they use for the audio guide. Unicorn Headphones would be a good album title for my imaginary band, though.

Another day we visited the catacombs. When we tried that in summer the line was huge, basically once around the entire building that houses the entrance. February is good for impatient visitors, because we waited for zero minutes. The catacombs are really interesting. For one there’s some information on the strata that make up Paris and how they were formed. Then some history on the catacombs and finally, “The Empire of Death”. Lots and lots of bones and skulls. They are stacked along the path in alcoves based on the cemeteries they were dug out from.

Watching thousands of bones while an unidentified liquid drips on you is a bit creepy, I can tell you. It was raining outside and according to an attendant, the rain water filters through the ground and then drips on everything. There were even tiny stalagnites on the ceiling.

We rounded off our day of the dead with a visit to Père Lachaise cemetery. The weather was fittingly grey and dismal. The cemetery is big and old and still in use. Lots of famous people are buried there. The most famous is probably Jim Morrisson, who we visited as well. According to the Internet(tm), the grave is also one of the most popular tourist spots in Paris, but again, not in February.


La vie continue

This weekend we went to the palais de la découverte – the science museum. In my head I always translated découverte as uncovered, as in, doesn’t have a ceiling and said something like that to Gergö. He said: “Yes, uncovered, like, you know discover.” All these years, I never noticed how discovery, Entdeckung, and now découvert all have the same meaning and root.

That was the first time that not just my bag was checked, but they also checked me with a magic metal detector wand, like at the airport. I could leave on my shoes and belt, though.

The museum is fun, even though we couldn’t see the “rat school” show, because it was already full with kids. We always joke about how we are usually the only people without kids at these places. This time it was even more apparent than usual. But now we have figured out that it’s a better idea to go early on a Sunday. Early, for people who don’t have kids and who like to sleep in is probably 1 pm. It gets much busier after the kids had their afternoon nap.

I also had a chance to find out that the entrance fee is really free for unemployed people, so yay for that! I can return some other time, when kids have to be in school and check out the rats all by myself. I also saw leafcutter ants and there were termite colonies to see. And there’s a room dedicated to π.

The dinosaur exhibition was pretty cool, too. First I saw the sign and thought “aww, how sweet, they try to scare us!”.

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Then, I saw this:

There was also an Archaeopteryx, which was much smaller than I thought they were. All exhibit’s signs had a human in a different position next to a drawing of the dino, for scale.

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In related news: Archaeopterix Jazz Hands will be the name of my next band.

After the museum we wanted to catch a bus on Champs Elysées. It made me feel all Christmassy, what with the Glühwein stalls, the heavy traffic and pissing rain in November. Or maybe I was coming down with the stomach flu, difficult to tell the difference, really.

Next week will be pretty busy, because what I thought was a one day course in job application, turned out to be a 4 day course. I really need to stop skimming stuff. And the invitation only mentions that it beginns at 9 am, but not how long it lasts, so I’m fearing the worst. Maybe these courses are better, if I don’t understand much of what’s going on. The clerk at the unemployment office said I don’t need to bring my computer, though, how good can it be, really?