Archive for the 'La France' Category

Paris views

Posted in La France, Paris, Photography at 20:40

I’ve been back in Paris for a week now, enjoying the city as it moves from a cold and windy spring to a sunny, warm one. Paris also has something that the Riviera doesn’t: fog! One morning, my walk to work resembled a fairyland of steel skyscrapers coiffed in dainty white caps. Unfortunately, it was also the one day I left my phone at home, so I have no pictures to show for it.

This weekend, two friends (and former landlords, and readers of this blog!) invited another friend and I for a delicious dinner of Thai food, made from ingredients brought from Thailand, and cooked by a Thai friend of theirs. The views from their rooftop apartment were similarly authentic, for Paris.

Parisian rooftops

The weekend before, I visited the Louvre again, and met a long-time internet friend. I had my Nikon with me, for much nicer photos than on my last visit.

Le Louvre

Going forward in time to this evening, we had beautiful sun and blue skies. Paris au printemps, c’est beau !

La Defense le soir

Fraise niçoise

Posted in La France, Nice at 12:24

On May Day the cats and I took the TGV from Paris to Nice, for a week and a half of vacation. It was the first time in two months that the kitties returned home, but they hadn’t forgotten a thing. Not twenty minutes after they were freed from their carriers, Susu was swatting around her favorite toy, and Kanoko had reclaimed his habitual perch on the kitchen bar. Both of them asked to be let out onto the patio, as always, when I approached the door.

Wednesday April 30th was my birthday – which was another reason I had decided on a Louvre membership. On top of being in Paris and having spent a lovely weekend filled with some of my favorite sculptures, at work on Wednesday I earned another “gift”: more professional responsibilities! I’m now Test Lead on the GDF project, adding communication and coordination duties to the usual Test Analyst responsibilities, which include managing a test repository, supervising testers, and reporting on progress. While it is still early on, only two months into the project, it’s increasingly enjoyable and looks to have the potential to remain that way for a long time. I’m loving Paris, both personally and professionally.

Back in Nice, today I strolled to my favorite fruit & vegetable shop on Avenue Borriglione. They had fat yellow lemons from trees in the hills of Nice, strawberries from Carros, beefheart tomatoes and Pink Lady apples from Nice, and Mona Lisa potatoes from farms I’ve visited in Provence (the 04 département). Once home I rinsed the strawberries and ate one. “Oh my goodness,” I sighed luxuriously, “why buy sugary pastries when you can find fruit this delicious.”

You’ll need to understand French for this video, but it’s a nice interview of a strawberry farmer in Carros, which is on the other side of the Var river from Nice. When he talks about going to the MIN, he’s referring to a professional market center in Nice, the Marchés d’Intérêt National where farmers bring their produce, and others buy it for distribution at markets or stores.

Amie du Louvre

Posted in La France, Paris at 18:32

Fontaine de Diane

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain. “A museum day,” I yawned while preparing breakfast. Once the fruit and gluten-free apricot bread had woken me up, reality hit: I’m in Paris. I can go to the Louvre. But wait… not only can I go to the Louvre, I could get a membership!

As an adolescent, when I first began learning French in middle school, our teacher regaled us with stories of her time in France, and showed us newspaper clippings from Le Monde. One was about the then-controversial construction of Le Pyramide du Louvre, finished during my second year of French studies. Our teacher told us how unimaginably vast the Louvre was; how full of amazing works of art; and how, if you were very lucky and stayed in Paris long enough, you could get membership in the museum, and visit whenever you wanted.

Amis du Louvre

Twenty-five years later, I did just that. The card is somewhat expensive; you would need to visit the Louvre more than six times for the card to be worth the investment. Difficult to do on holiday, but easy when you live in the city and can visit on weekday evenings: the Louvre is open until 10pm on Wednesdays and Fridays.

I remembered how massive the museum is from my last lengthy visit in 1998, which was also the first time in my life I had set foot in the Louvre. So I wasn’t too surprised when, after two hours browsing just one floor of one wing (Richelieu) of French sculptures, I had reached “peak artwork” and wanted to go home. With the card, the decision was easy – I knew I could come back at any time, and take in the Louvre at my own pace. My life feels very charmed indeed.

Parisian street finds

Posted in La France, Paris at 17:38

Kanoko on chair

Slowly but surely, I’m settling into life in Parisian suburbia. My rental apartment came furnished, but street finds have added to its décor these past couple of weeks. The first was a simple wood end table that became a cat tree, then I found two plastic croquet balls that are perfect cat toys. This week I crossed a pile of clothes, shoes, old purses, and broken shelves. I nearly kept walking, but took a second look – beneath four cushions peeked out the tell-tale taper of midcentury modern furniture legs. I took off the cushions, and lo and behold, there was a perfect little chair.

Midcentury chair

I took three of the four cushions (the fourth was in terrible shape) along with it, and now they too have become a feline favorite.

As for other “street finds”, I’ve mainly been visiting Paris on foot so far. A couple trips to Montmartre for its cobblestone streets and amazing fabric shops, and a neat walk from La Grande Arche de La Défense, which is a few yards from our offices, to the Arc de Triomphe. It takes about an hour, and you get to go from the postmodern skyscrapers, cross the Seine, and walk through the posh suburb of Neuilly to reach the neoclassic Arc. There’s a large métro station there from which you can get anywhere else. Hopefully the weather will cooperate tomorrow (Sunday) and I’ll finally be able to spend a bit longer on foot in the City of Light.

Paris-Nice by TGV

Posted in La France, Travel at 12:32

Ever since learning about the TGV as a child, I dreamt of one day taking it. When I finally rode the Paris Gare de Lyon – Lyon Part-Dieu two-hour stretch as a newly-arrived exchange student in 1997, I was giddy. It was the end of August, early in the morning, and the French countryside was covered in shades of green, grazing cows, and houses whose walls and roofs changed as we moved a kilometer every twelve seconds (300km/h) from cooler northern France to its central region.

Since then, I had only ever taken the TGV once in a while. I promised myself that if I ever had a job that sent me away from home, I would take the train – not just because it’s cheaper and more convenient, but because the sight of France from its windows was so breathtaking.

On a flight from Nice to Paris, you get a lovely view of the Mediterranean Alps, and when flying over Switzerland, an enviable sight of some of the tallest mountains in the world from the air. Once you’ve seen them a couple times, however, that’s about it. You’re too high up to benefit from much detail.

Yesterday I took my third morning rail trip from Paris to Nice. I’ve been accustomed to taking in scenery on my bus commutes between Nice and Sophia Antipolis; this third time by TGV suddenly made me aware of another reality. I’ll be seeing France as she changes seasons! In just one month, from early March to early April, she has gone from grey and muted greens with bare deciduous trees and huddled cows to relishing in the returning sun. Bare-earth fields have now become resplendent in yellow canola robes. Hibernating vineyard stumps have begun pushing out their first leaf buds. Countryside roads are graced with cyclists in short-sleeved jerseys wearing smiles on their spring faces. Such a happy metamorphosis to witness.

La Défense en boucle

Posted in La France, Paris, Photography at 19:08

Businessman sculpture, Courbevoie

Today I took a long walk around the northern half of La Défense, starting from the top (northwest), in Courbevoie, which has RER rail tracks leading to the business quarter. From there I walked to the opposite side, in Nanterre, the southwestern end of La Défense. It’s the first time I’ve been outside of skyscraper-land; unfortunately, I can’t really say I was impressed by the large Parc André Malraux, meant to be the area’s greenery. Most of the visual interest in this part of the Parisian suburbs comes from architecture rather than nature.

Thus it was that I returned to the parvis de la Défense on my boucle, or “round”. Yet another temporary art exhibition is being set up, which looks like it will be glass mosaic fishes in front of La Grande Arche.

Now with enough photos to merit it, I’ve created a set for La Défense. It has a mix of pictures taken with my phone, which has quite a decent wide-angle lens, and my Nikon SLR. You may notice several shots of the GDF Suez building (shown below) – that would be because not only do I find it a beautiful skyscraper, it’s also the client I’m currently working for. During my first few days in Paris, the sun came out and turned all the glass and metal into beautiful plays of light. Indeed, while I generally prefer natural vistas, I’ve found La Défense, with its fields of rock and concrete, trees of glittering steel, and flowers of iron, to be a postmodern forest in its own right.

GDF Suez T1 tower in the sun

Paris in a day

Posted in Cats, La France, Photography, Travel at 19:17


Yesterday my employer sent me to our consulting company’s Paris offices for a client interview. The potential project would be with a client located in La Défense, which is a business sector in Neuilly, just outside of Paris. You can see La Grande Arche de la Défense from the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées; it looks like a contemporary square white arch not much larger than the historical Arc. Once you’re actually in front of it, though, you realize that it is massive.

After the meeting finished, I had an hour of free time to see Paris. I took métro line 1 to the Tuileries, the large gardens in front of the Louvre. I found a tea shop nearby, with reasonable prices given it was set between the Conseil d’État and the Louvre. I sipped a delicious jasmine tea, then took the metro and RER back to Orly for my flight home. There are a few more photos in this set of the trip.

I thought the kitties would understand me getting home a couple hours later than usual. They seemed to yesterday evening, but not this morning. As I prepared to leave for work, Susu started mewing at me and circling my feet. When I went to get my purse, she said, “MEW?!” and jumped on it. She refused. To. Budge. “No! You are staying home today! No more purses taking you to offices! Mew!” She managed to jump back on it the three times I picked her up; eventually I had to pick up my purse with her on it, then put her on the floor. “Meeewwwwww…” she cried. Too smart for her own sweet good, that little kitty-girl.

Christmas ride to Cagnes

Posted in Cycling, La France, Travel at 18:17

La Cagne - river through Cagnes

The town of Cagnes-sur-mer is named after the small river that flows through it, La Cagne, Provençal for chienne, the feminine form of “dog”. Considering how popular dogs are on the Riviera in our modern times, it is fun to watch them trot alongside their human companions and think, “dogs on the sea”, the literal translation of cagnes sur mer.

We’ve had a rainy Christmas, but the sun finally came out today. I hopped on my bike and rode to Cagnes along what used to be my commuting route to the client I was working with. If you stay along the sea, it’s a very easy ride, and quite picturesque. If you don’t mind climbing 15-20% grades, you can also ride up the castle hill in city center, or another hill (described below) to get this view I had on my commute:

Cagnes in the morning sun

Route from Nice city center
Overview: about 30km round trip; 32 if you go up either hill. Very little elevation change unless you decide to climb, in which case you’ll have 75-100 metres elevation change over about 500 metres distance. That’s 15-20%, and they are narrow, curvy roads also used by cars.

Map: IGN Cannes-Grasse “Carte de randonnée” n°3643, at 1:25,000, or 1cm=250m.

Take the Promenade des Anglais out of Nice, and stay on it. If you take the bike lanes, do be aware that there are several stop signs along the way, and once you reach Cagnes, there is a strictly-enforced cycling speed limit of 10kmh. That’s just over 6mph. Great for easygoing sightseeing, but I coast at that speed. If you’re like me and average 20-30kmh, it’s much easier and more pleasant to stay on the road.

Once you reach Cagnes, you can either stay on the Promenade, or go into the city. The nicest way to reach city center is to go along the canal of La Cagne, shown in the first photo. There’s a painted bike lane, and trees separate it from a larger walking promenade along the edge of the canal. You often see geese and ducks, and always children playing, people walking dogs, and so forth. The only tricky bit is the passage beneath the railway line and autoroute, which is quite dark – slow down in case of oncoming bike traffic. I’ve also crossed motorized scooters there. Normally they’re not allowed, but some cut through at that crossing. You shouldn’t have to worry about them elsewhere along the bike lane.

Then it gets a bit tricky. There’s a large parking lot which you can continue to follow up north, if you want to go to the castle hill. It’s not always easy to follow the bike lane, so keep your eyes peeled for its green paint. You’ll reach a large intersection with a few bus stops: follow signs for la colline du château / vieille ville (either or both terms may be used). Watch out for pedestrians.

To get the same view I had, take a sharp left after the underpass. Go straight until you reach an intersection with a small, forested park across the streets. The intersection is full of strange angles; you’ll be going west-northwest up Rue Pasqualini. The end of Pasqualini gives onto another strange intersection: go straight uphill. After crossing the intersection, you’ll take the second right at the tiny roundabout, up Chemin de l’Hubac. This is where your climb starts.

Chemin de l’Hubac isn’t too rough when you know it. The first climb has a couple corners and is rather short, after which you’ll have a breather. But then there’s a very steep section, followed by another breather, then it climbs a third time. The second climb is the most difficult. Stay on Hubac, don’t turn onto other streets. Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view of Cagnes’ castle hill and the Mediterranean. There’s not much beyond that, but it is worth it for the sightseeing.

On the way back, the Promenade road (not bike lanes) is more stressful. I’m not sure why – perhaps because drivers more easily see the protected bike lanes going this direction – but cars and buses get very honk-happy and crotchety when passing road cyclists on this segment. All my worst experiences with drivers have been here. You do have the right to use the road, of course. I’ve never seen all the car lanes full, even at rush hour there’s usually an empty lane. It is better if you’re a fast rider. That said, there have been days that I’ve swapped to the bike lanes just to avoid possessive drivers.

Enjoy the fresh sea air and sights!

Cycling in Cagnes

Cycling the Basse Corniche

Posted in Cycling, La France, Nice at 15:12

Panorama, Port of Nice

Last week I mentioned that many bike touring places here take you along the Basse Corniche, a relatively easy and picturesque ride. Still getting my legs into shape, I decided to take it rather than the more difficult Moyenne Corniche today, for a quick ride to Villefranche-sur-mer. I’ve done the Basse Corniche by car and bus (line 100 takes you from Nice to Monaco along that very route), and always thought the Moyenne and Grande Corniches were much nicer for views. I wasn’t counting on a bicycle making a large difference. I was very happily mistaken!

Above is a panorama I put together from three photos on my camera; that is the sort of thing you can see with a quick look over your shoulder by bike. No car frame or roof to block your view. When I turned the cap de Nice and came upon Villefranche, I nearly fell off my bike from astonishment at the unexpectedly incredible view. As it was, some tourists on foot heard a surprised cyclist exclaim, “wow mais c’est trop beau !!!” There was no way I could have captured it with my camera. To your left you have the Mont Boron rising up nearly 200 metres from sea level; in front of you the nearby hills and Préalpes form the backdrop to charming Villefranche; to your right, the blue Baie de Villefranche dotted with sailboats and the occasional cruise ship, more rocky hills plunging into the Mediterranean, and Cap Ferrat jutting into the sea. All of it visible without effort. “Breathtaking” is correct.

Baie de Villefranche

Church, Villefranche old town

Here is a closer view of the Port de Nice, which had a French flag draped over our WWI-WWII memorial for the WWI Armistice commemorations today.

Port of Nice, 11 November

Route from Nice city center
Overview: 20km/12mi round trip, 90 metres/295 feet elevation gain over the 2 kilometres/just over 1 mile between the port of Nice and the Cap de Nice, as well as between Villefranche and the Cap on the way back. That’s a 4.5% grade.

Map: my favorite is the IGN Nice-Menton “Carte de randonnée” n°3742, at 1:25,000, or 1cm=250m.

I went the easy way from Nice, namely, the Promenade des Anglais, and rode up the port. Do be aware that the bike lane along the port ends before reaching its north, so you’ll need to safely rejoin the road. Turn right to follow the north end of the port, and go straight through the lights to Boulevard Carnot, which is a steady, moderately easy climb. It does climb for two kilometres, so you’ll need to be in decent shape for it. I wouldn’t do it on a Vélo Bleu, they only have three gears and are quite heavy.

The bike lanes are a bit odd from the Cap de Nice onwards, but drivers are careful as it’s a heavily-cycled route. Remember to look over your shoulder before merging or turning, and you should be fine. While riding to Villefranche, also keep your eye out for cyclists riding the wrong direction – I crossed several. Understandable, since the climb isn’t easy, and they were clearly not from the area, but still awkward.

Once in Villefranche, you can follow signs that indicate Vieille Ville, which will take you to the old town. Keep in mind you’ll have to climb the narrow, winding roads back up to get out of the village. Roads back to Nice are well-indicated, and the Basse Corniche is the most easily accessible.

On your way back from Villefranche to Nice, you can ride on the road, near the rock face of Mont Boron. Cars are well-behaved here, and as paradoxical as it may feel, it is in fact safer than riding the wrong way up the shared cycle-footpath. Predictable behavior is always safer than something unpredictable, such as coming across runners or other cyclists while riding the wrong direction. On that note, wherever you ride, always signal your movements, even if it’s only to move to the left a few feet to avoid car doors. I straighten my arm and point down and slightly left for that. In France, scooters and motorcycles have the right to pass vehicles on the left, and they usually drive fast, so you don’t always hear them or see them. If you do a quick check behind you, then signal, and keep signalling until you’ve finished moving, you’ll be much appreciated by all. I’ve now ridden 250km on my road bike, a good half of it on narrow, winding roads, and have never yet been honked at or buzzed dangerously. (A few “?!?!” incidents, yes, but all of them predictable from a defensive cycling viewpoint. There has been one scary incident, but it was so off-the-wall that it could happen anywhere. In short, use your eyes and hand signals, ride predictably and defensively, and you should be fine.)

For a bit of a change on the ride back into Nice, you can go straight on Boulevard Carnot, and continue going straight on the wide street that takes you to Place Garibaldi. In other words, don’t turn left to follow the west side of the port; just go straight through that intersection. Place Garibaldi has older cobblestones, you’ll cross the tram line as well, then ride under the MAMAC, our modern art museum. Position yourself in the left lane: after the MAMAC, turn left onto the protected bike lanes that follow our new Promenade du Paillon, and watch the lights! They’re designed for cyclists, so if you have a red, stop: it will save you from left hooks. Enjoy – it’s a beautiful ride, our city has come a long way for cycling these past few years.

Un peu de détente

Posted in Cycling, La France at 21:21

Cagnes in the morning sun

Another long weekend ahead of us here, this time for commemorations of the 1918 Armistice on Monday the 11th.

As I continue commuting to work by bike, a distinct pattern of experiences has emerged, one I never expected, and yet that is a wonderful balm for the soul. Children. I’ve always loved kids, and apparently have a face that shows it, since babies spontaneously coo at me even when I haven’t looked at them. It makes for fun surprises at parks and in public transportation: there’s nothing like getting on a crowded tramway, hearing “wheee! gaaa! heee!” then looking in the voice’s direction to find a giggly-eyed, happily-squirming infant meeting your gaze, who punctuates your eye contact with that pleased flop-the-arms-and-legs motion and a bubbly “daaaa!”

My commutes usually have some overlap with school opening and closing hours; I cross toddlers with their parents, grandparents, or friends’ parents. Without fail, little girls are delighted to see my bike. Boys love bikes too, many will make eye contact and share a smile. I nod and return the smile, and they turn back to their playing. Little girls, though… I’m a woman, I remember being a little girl and noticing early on that you don’t see many women on bikes. Even the cycling competitions that get broadcasted are overwhelmingly those with men. I remember being excited at Jeannie Longo‘s feats: here was a woman being awesome on a bicycle, something I too loved. And so, today, when little girls look at me, stop in their tracks, and stare, I get it. The little girl in me who grew up riding around her valley hills also smiles. I nod at them, as I do with all the kids.

The girls almost always widen their smiles into elated grins and respond excitedly:
“Le vélo ! Le vélo, le vélo !”
“Coucou ! Tu fais du vélo !! Du vélo !!”
“Ouaaaaaa ! Le vélooo !”
“C’est… v’zêtes sur un… un vélo !!!”
“Mamie ! Le vélo ! Le vélo !” This little girl yesterday paused for several seconds, taking in everything about my bike, until adding, entranced: “il a un CLIGNOTANT !” which means, “it has a BLINKER!” I do indeed turn on my blinky lights as soon as twilight falls. I call them my blinky-blinks. “Faut penser à mettre en route les blinky-blinks,” I remind myself before starting out on dark rides.

Another little girl yesterday evening, riding on her father’s shoulders, made an already fun commute even more so. I had just turned onto the last street before reaching my place and slowed for a yellow light. Next to me was a souped-up Citroën Saxo with windows open, blaring Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky“. I started whistling along, bopping on my bike at the red light, happy for the evening ride. I heard a tiny whistle nearby. I whistled again, and heard another whistle response; definitely a kid. I looked towards the whistling’s source: there she was, a little girl cozy in her puffy white winter coat, who bounced her arms and giggled as our eyes met. “Vélooo !” she said. I grinned, whistled a bit more, and father and daughter both smiled. The light turned green, I nodded to them and rode home.