Archive for August, 2015

Parisian holiday, part one

Posted in Paris, Photography, Travel at 22:25

Tricyrtis formosana - toad lily

Like a typical salaried Frenchperson, every year I have about 7 weeks of vacation days to spend. Fridays here and there, a couple of weeks at Christmas, two or three weeks in July or August. This year, rather than return to my place in Nice for holidays, I stayed in Paris. I’ve lived in France for nearly 20 years now, and there were still quite a few things I hadn’t done; places I hadn’t seen. When you visit from the opposite side of the planet, you have to make clear choices, knowing there are places you’ll miss. I had seen all the main Parisian museums, climbed the stairs of the Arc de Triomphe, looked over Paris from Montmartre, read the headstones in famous cemeteries, been inside cathedrals, studied skeletons in the catacombs, shopped the Champs-Elysées, walked Versailles… and yet there was still more to see and do!

The nicest part about living here is that you can do things at a more relaxed pace. No dashing around the métro corridors – instead you can flâner dans les rues, wander the streets as you like. The city takes on a different character: no longer are places like Châtelet and Notre-Dame just names and sights imbued with the experiences of others. They become part of a living whole and inextricably tied to specific, personal memories and experiences.

One of my first trips was to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, where I played with sine waves and fractals, then visited the wonderful geodesic dome called La Géode.

La Géode, panorama

On Monday I strolled La Coulée Verte, a garden atop le viaduc des arts near the Gare de Lyon. It also extends past the viaduct for several kilometers. For a shorter, pleasant round trip, walk the gardens one way, then come back via the lovely shops along le viaduc.

La Coulée Verte  Beautiful views from above the streets on La Coulée Verte

Then on Tuesday I explored the wonderful Jardin des plantes, where I’d hoped to also see the greenhouses, but the museum and grandes serres (greenhouses) are closed on Tuesdays. As it turned out, I was more than happy to look at the wide variety of plants. The gardens are large and diverse.

Solanum jasminoides - Morelle faux jasmin  Ipomoea lobata

Bee on lily

Un jardin parisien

Posted in Journal, La France at 23:28

New shovel

“Why is there a shovel on her tile balcony?” you may well be asking. Indeed, a shovel is one of the last things I thought I would be buying in Paris. More precisely, I did not even think about buying a shovel until today, when I went to my favorite furniture store for a fan. They had no fans, but they were having a blowout sale to empty the store for upcoming renovations. Among sale items were some fine heavy-duty steel rakes, hoes, and a single, lonely shovel.

I picked up said fine shovel, which shall no longer be lonely, because in just over a month, I’ll be moving into a new home in the Parisian suburbs! A 55sq.m (nearly 600sq.ft) one-bedroom apartment with a 25sq.m (270sq.ft) garden. Not a terrace nor a patio, though a small part of it is covered and could be considered one, but a genuine garden made of earth. It’s a long-term rental I found through what used to be called 1% logement, but is now ordained Participation des employeurs à l’effort de construction (PEEC). This is a tax paid by employers that funds rent-controlled housing as well as zero-interest loans for purchasing homes/apartments. It takes a bit of time to find a good rental, especially in Paris where housing is in high demand, and you have to go through a government-overseen commission for your application to be finalized.

I first applied in May, rejected three other apartments due to size and location considerations, then this one was offered at the end of June. I jumped at it before even knowing it had a garden. When I visited, it was something of a dream come true. Just one next-door neighbor, a retired woman who also has cats. The garden has a high fence and bushes that climb above it, and gives onto a low-traffic, dead-end street that only serves two apartment buildings. I plan to make sure the cats can’t get so adventurous they go into the street, but it’s reassuring to know that if ever they do, it’s not very dangerous.

The apartment is laid out like a rectangle, if you’ll allow for an old-school ASCII floor plan. Slashes are regular doors and brackets with tildes designate sliding French doors. There are three that give onto the garden, one from every main room:

 ---------------------------------------
|            garden                     |
|                                       |
|[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]|
|                 |       |             |
|   living        |kitchen|   bedroom   |
|    room         |       |             |
|                 |       |             |
|                 |       |  / ---------|
|          |         /____   / _________|
|          | entry  |  WC |    bathroom |
 ------------  /  ----------------------

The commission that approved my application was held this Monday, so the news is recent! I feel a mix of emotions: relief at being able to live in a larger space, happiness at having a garden I’ll be able to work in (the owner lets renters take care of it), and excitement that the cats and I will be in a quiet, clean space near the Seine.

Because yes, on top of having a nice layout in a quiet area, I’m a hop, skip and a jump from the riverbank. I can hardly believe my luck. The only downsides – because every place has a downside, you just need to know what you’re willing to compromise on – are that the building isn’t terribly attractive, being a 2000s example of “concrete squares painted various shades of white” architecture and it’s a ten-minute walk to the nearest train station. But with the Seine so close by, I’ll also be able to ride my bike.

As for my Nice apartment, it still hasn’t sold. French people aren’t big fans of renovated spaces from more than about a decade ago, and my place isn’t in an area where non-French buyers look. It’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however. I’ve always been good at handling my budget, so have managed to keep my head above the water all this time (though occasionally just barely). I’m putting it up for a student rental now, and will fix it up as finances allow. Next summer it will likely be ready for holiday rentals, and I’ll probably put it up for another student rental afterwards. It’s perfect for a young couple, and near university facultés as well as the express bus to Sophia Antipolis for its technical colleges.

I was in Nice this last weekend to clean out more of it. Friends (who are also long-time readers! *waves*) kindly accompanied me to the beach so I could get in a bit of swimming. I hadn’t been in the Mediterranean for a year, so that was lovely.

Nice sunset panorama

Sunny summer day

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris, Photography at 17:32

Palais de Tokyo panorama

Last week I learned about Vincennes en Anciennes and their Traversée de Paris estivale, where vintage cars drive through the city, stopping at a few landmarks. Unfortunately they don’t have a set schedule, other than leaving from Vincennes at a certain time in the morning. I arrived too late at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, which I found out by checking their Facebook page.

It was a beautiful day here, though, so I made the most of it. The walk from Étoile to Eiffel is short and pleasant, filled with architectural beauties and always a surprise or two.

Arc de Triomphe, top

The Arc de Triomphe was cleaned starting last year; you can see a lot more of the detail on it now.

Boat on the Seine

Houseboats from around Europe dock in Paris. This one was from Antwerp, Belgium.

Eiffel from Passerelle Debilly