Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mont-Saint-Michel / Rennes

We left Paris on a high-speed train for Rennes. As much as I wanted to sit the whole time with my nose to the window, I succumbed to sleep pretty early on. And then kept getting woken up after each stop because the official in an all-purple uniform (hat included) had to check our tickets again. Halfway to Rennes, a man couldn’t present a ticket and was kindly given the boot at the next stop. We got to Rennes and bought tickets to Mont-Saint-Michel. We got to MSM in the afternoon amidst scores of other tourists. The island is certainly a spectacle, simultaneously remote and crowded. For the roughly 20 hours on the island, we circled up and down the winding path, admired the castle-like facade, resisted buying every pretty watercolor painting of the island, took a guided-tour of one of the museums that was all in French (sometimes I fake-laughed along with the group because I felt left out but got the side-eye from Jason), walked out along the road and took close to a million photos as the sun dipped below the sea beside the island, watched the sunset colors – bright oranges and pinks and deep blues – reflected off the sand and water, had a tables-are-turned moment being among mostly French tourists after our time in Paris as tourists among French locals, were dazzled by the abbey and the views on top – SO GORGEOUS, learned about the history of the abbey and the angel that drilled a hole into the founder's skull, admired Marisa’s gumption at getting up before sunrise to take photos, slept-in and missed the morning service at the abbey (sad), woke up to the sounds of seagulls, and explored the surrounding rocky beach (thanks to low-tide) in the morning in peaceful solitude.

We also stayed a day in Rennes, although there is less to say as it was mostly a day of sleeping, wandering and eating. We did see a quaint music festival in a lovely garden with tons of roses and every other imaginable beautiful flower. And a lot of cool medieval-style buildings. It was the place on our trip where the least amount of people spoke English, but people were nicer than in Paris. We stood for a long time in the metro station trying to translate and two different people came up and handed us their tickets with time left on them. We didn’t speak any of the same words, but it was touching.

A lady who took our dinner order kept trying to translate the menu for us and would blow a raspberry when she couldn’t think of the word. We went into a pharmacy and Jason had to gesture the word “deodorant” and the lady at the counter giggled. Perhaps because the deodorant he picked out smelled distinctly feminine once he started using it. We found a grocery store here and it was quite huge for Europe. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I felt much more at home in a huge store with a myriad of options than a little neighborhood market. There I hoarded more cheese, duh.

I think we may have enjoyed the city more had we spoken French and been able to take a tour of Parliament or go to a museum. As we were waiting in the train station to go back to Paris, I talked with the guy sitting next to me. He was originally from Turkey, living in Rennes to get his masters. He asked, “Why are you in Rennes? There is nothing here.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Oh Paris. The darling of my trip; how I loved you. You were at the top of my travel list and even with the added pressure you still didn't let me down (thank goodness!).

It's of course very different existing in a city as opposed to admiring it in art or movies. Perhaps a little more gritty (as in, the occasional street smells, the muggy and crowded subway, the small children living on mattresses on the sidewalk, the scammers, you get the idea). Yet, concurrently more beautiful and inspiring and delicious.

We arrived in Paris in a haze due to a late night stuck on the subway in London and then taking a cab to the airport a mere few hours later. When we landed in Paris, I had slept the most with at least two hours under my belt. Jason and Marisa, probably closer to one hour. Apparently that hour made a difference as I was downright perky compared to the zombies that were my companions. We wandered around our hotel's neighborhood (me: Did you see that?! companions: ....huh? hmmph llullmph...) until they opened our room and we collapsed for a much-needed nap.

Post nap, we headed towards Sacré Cœur Basilica. It seemed as though the city was against us as we kept getting stuck in the subway. The train wasn't coming, the train we got on wasn't moving, the stations were closed, everything was in French. At long last, we emerged to find a group of policemen (maybe 10?) pointing, yelling excitedly and running together. I walked in slow motion, pivoting to see that no one else on the street was phased by this at all. We were clueless, and kept turning corners and running into more groups of police all riled up. I began to worry that even if they told us to take cover, we wouldn't be able to understand. A Frenchman took pity on us and queued us in that there was a Palestinian protest turned riot going on nearby. Ah, just what my mother was hoping for. He told us which directions to avoid and in a boring but safe conclusion, we found the basilica and heard nothing of the riot afterwards until turning on the BBC that night.

(I feel it important to interject here on how humbling it is to consider that I was concerned about my vacation getting interrupted when across the world in the Gaza Strip, others were concerned only about surviving to the end of the day. It's not fair and I can't begin to offer anything to reason or make sense of it). 

During the rest of the trip, we marveled at the views of the city on the basilica hill, ate crepes nonstop (not kidding), wandered along the Seine River bridges full of locks, became breathless upon first seeing Sainte-Chapelle's stained glass, horribly butchered the French language at every turn, explored the mile-long Louvre (I may be exaggerating but it's HUGE), booked it straight to the Mona Lisa and elbowed our way to the front, leisurely ate sandwiches under the Eiffel Tower, got tattled on by a neighboring room in our hotel that we were "too loud", took a boat cruise down the Seine and laughed at the weird tourists who joined us, got caught in a rain storm in front of Notre Dame, covered our entire hotel room in wet laundry after washing everything in the sink, ate a fancy French meal and felt like royalty, decided against going to the Grande Mosque of Paris due to tensions in the city, got giddy each time we saw the Eiffel Tower, watched House Hunters dubbed in French in our hotel, followed these directions and triumphantly found the Paris flea market, wept at not being able to afford any of the antique Parisian furniture, saw an infamous golden ring girl scam at the Arc de Triumphe, got very loud and harsh when a man tried the bracelet scam on Jason on the Sacré Cœur hill (ah, to remember Jason's big eyes as I repeated, NO NO NO and pulled him away), stared too long at the French women on the trains while trying to memorize lipstick color and hair styles and outfits, bumbled through a French grocery store and learned after the fact that we should bag our own groceries, got quite lost trying to find the Palais Royal, vowed to come back some day and buy every block of cheese in sight, resisted stealing every precious French-speaking child, sang "Bonjour" from Beauty and The Beast at least every hour, sang "Bella Note" from Lady and the Tramp far too often even though we kept promising to wait until Italy, and gawked openly at the gorgeous views on every street (while later going back and deleting the majority of Parisian building photos I took because beautiful or not, no one needs 500 of them).

How's that for a run-on sentence? Time for pictures!

I snapped this (the police during the riot), and then worried that they would come after me. The risks I take, I tell ya!

A bridge filled with locks overlocking the Seine.

Les Puces de Saint-Ouen Market

These chairs. I die.

Also, this chair. Deserving of a better photo, and an amazing home. I die again. I must note that Jason and I stood in this booth and Jason said, "that's a big rabbit back there." The owner laughed and told us it's a kangaroo. Close, my dear, close.

3 individual photos with my 50mm - ha!

Thee most amazing crepe: toffee with ice cream on the inside. Amen.

Our fancy French meal. It was fantastic.

 Alright, alright, we did see Mona Lisa.

Backpacks loaded and on our way out of the city.