Letting the cat out of the bag...

Alright, friends...apologies for having taken so long in writing a new post. I've been waiting for the dust to settle after dropping a pretty major bomb in my personal life. And I'm about to do the same to you all...

So, back to Paris. I believe I left you with my Parisian celebration of Thanksgiving. On to Black Friday...so there was no shopping, no fights in parking lots, no standing in line to spend money at three in the morning, no pushing, no shoving, no consumerism. Instead, we headed out to Chartres, where I lived for a year.

It is a beautiful little town that is completely and totally overshadowed by its magnificent cathedral. When I first moved to France, I rented a room in this charming old house owned by an older couple. The adorable room was up under the eves, with sloping ceilings, a straw-stuffed mattress, and antique furniture. Unfortunately, it was also infested with bedbugs and barely heated, and the kitchen was forbidden to me, so I wound up eating a lot of cold ravioli out of a can. I made an effort to spend as little time there as possible and would wander the cobbled streets of Chartres to kill time between teaching my classes and resigning myself to going "home." When the weather turned rainy, I turned to the cathedral. I would sit inside and take shelter...I'd read or work on lesson plans and it was one of the few places I felt safe and comfortable during my first month living abroad. To say that it is significant spiritual landmark in my life would be an understatement.

And now, Notre Dame de Chartres has taken on a whole new significance since that is where I got engaged!! Damien asked me to marry him in one of my most personally meaningful places and I happily accepted. I'm going to keep a few details to myself for private reminiscences, but needless to say, I am fortunate to be with a very sweet, thoughtful and sensitive man.

We spent the rest of the day wandering Chartres in a happy daze...I was staring at my left hand a lot, so I'm not sure if there were many changes in Chartres since the last time I was there. It still feels like home, though. That I can say for sure.

We headed back to Paris for a champagne toast and celebration at, appropriately enough, the very trendy bar/restaurant at the Hôtel Amour. So that pretty well beats getting 40% off at Kohl's, don't you think? ;)


Paris, J-2

So, what's Thanksgiving without turkey? Well...in Paris, it is a solo scavenger hunt through Montmartre, a chausson aux pommes with fresh coffee, a stroll along a very grey Seine, a bad case of baguette-mouth, and an after-hours trip to the Musée d'Orsay. Not quite the same as eating too much and passing out for a nap, but enjoyable in it's own way.

Walking through Montmartre for the Nth million time on my own was extra-fun since I took along a book of scavenger hunts set in Paris. I followed a set of clues (in French) to observe monuments and special sites to find code words which led me to a secret message at the end. It was a blast! On top of cracking the code, I saw some fresh corners of a neighborhood I thought I knew pretty well and stumbled across the French version of Mood Fabrics (Project Runway fans, you know what I'm talking about!!!). I could have spent all day feeling all the silks, tweeds and jerseys, but I tore myself away...without buying a thing! Anyone who has witnessed my fabric hoarding tendencies will admit that that shows remarkable restraint!
After a lazy afternoon of wandering along the Seine and through the Jardin de Tuileries, we hit the Musée d'Orsay, which happened to be open late on Thursday nights. Even though it was packed, it was great to wander through such an incredible collection of paintings, photos and sculptures. I've only ever been to this museum once in all my trips to Paris, since I'm usually too impatient to wait in the perpetually long lines. Glad I got to see it again after all this time.

A full day on my feet sent me to bed pretty early tonight (just as if I had had that turkey feast after all!), but tomorrow should be an exciting day...off to Chartres for my every-so-often pilgrimage.



Alright...I owe everyone an apology. Je m'excuse!! I thought that the apartment we rented had wi-fi, but it didn't, so no new posts as I had promised. Désolée! Instead, I think I'll write a retroactive series of posts that follow my trip as I would have done on a daily basis if I had had the means.

Okay...I imagine at this point you've all figured out that I was in Paris for Thanksgiving! Hooray! After an uneventful flight experience on my old friend, Air Canada, we found our home sweet home in Paris, the 18e arrondisement, better known as Montmartre. We rented an adorable apartment in an Art Deco building from a really nice woman I found on the internet. After hiking the hills of Montmartre with our luggage, it was a treat to load them onto an elevator from the 1930's...how cool is that!

Feeling a little low energy after the long flight, but naps being forbidden, we went for a stroll in the one place in Paris with the majority of the residents had even less energy than myself. Père Lachaise Cemetary is wonderfully creepy and the overcast afternoon set the perfect ambiance for some sombre photos. Tons of famous people are resting in Père Lachaise...some of them were even moved there from graves elsewhere in Paris. When the cemetery first opened, it wasn't very fashionable to be buried there, so the powers that be moved a bunch of famous corpses there to entice people to buy plots!

After the sun went down and we got chased from the cemetery by the shadows, we hopped the Métro to somewhere that had the exact opposite energy...the Champs-Élysées. Unbeknownst to us, they were lighting the holiday lights for the first time and the whole street was mobbed! We took refuge under the Arc de Triomphe and then fought the crowds all the way down to Place de la Concorde.
We followed it all up with spaghetti and meatballs made in a microwave and a single hot plate...a lot more complicated than it sounds! Turned out to be very tasty, though, and worth the effort. A tasty red wine that cost only 3 euros (3 euros!!) knocked any last bit of energy out of me and I hit the futon like a rock. Bonne nuit!!


A puzzle

Bonjour everybody! I'm back after a few months grounded in IL for another travel adventure...where am I off to? Well...I'll give you a few clues:

I will need to take this mode of transportation in order to get there...

These two items will factor heavily into my survival...

It's somewhere that has a pretty firm lock on my heart...
Hopefully, I've piqued your interest...if you haven't figured out where I'm going yet, perhaps this final clue will help you...

Yep...she goes to Paris :) More to come...


Looking back

Well, the time has come to head back to the US of A. I'm at the airport waiting for my flight to depart and decided to use the time to reflect on my experience here. While it's always difficult to sum up an immersive trip like this in just a few images and words, I'm going to try. Here goes:

Prince Edward Island:
Red, blue and green
Cultivated beauty...literature comes alive...
...and becomes a commodity.

Bosom buddies

Simple, tranquil

Je me souviens, mais je continue...


New friends

Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-identity...


Beauty and peace


Relaxation, recharging, and fun


And, I guess that's it. It was a great trip...I learned a lot...made new friends...challenged myself...and had a fantastic time. So until the next trip, she goes...home.


Loose Ends

Well, there's a point in almost every long trip where you feel that you've overstayed your welcome and that it's just time to go home. I'm there. This has been an amazing few weeks, but it's to the point where there's not much more to be seen, not much more that I'm eager to do and I'm ready to get back to a normal daily routine of grocery shopping, cleaning, lesson planning, and so forth.

It feels a little like Quebec has turned on me. What was once just background noise is now the source of aggravation...the heat and humidity, the throngs of tourists in Quebec City, the clochards and festival crowds in Montreal. I still love it here...it's just time to go home. Rather than continuing in this navel-gazing vein, I'll just share some photos from my return to Quebec City and some final shots of Montreal...tomorrow before leaving for Chi-town, I'll do a proper retrospective of the trip as a whole that won't be whiny...promise.
En route from Quebec to Montreal
Finally! A real hotel room...treating myself at last!


Two wheels, a rainstorm and moi

So, I decided to test out the Bixi system of Montreal yesterday...Bixi stands for "bicyclette" and "taxi" and the idea is that you can borrow bikes from stations around the city and return them to any other station. It costs $5 a day for unlimited rides of up to 30 minutes a pop. If you have the bike for longer than 30 minutes, they charge you a little bit more. This bike-rental system combined with an amazing network of bike lanes makes for a good urban biking experience....one that would have been even better had it not rained!

In any case, I rode out to a sculpture park waaaaaaayyy out on the St. Lawrence River, which was a lot farther away than it appeared on the map. It really felt like a million miles away as well...just the sounds of water lapping on the shore, the cry of seagulls, the loud grinding of my bike, and the squealing of my quadriceps. Apparently, the Bixi bikes are not all in the best of shape...nor am I!

So I survived the trip, returned the bike to another station, which just happened to be near a market...quelle surprise! In fact, it was lucky I happened upon the market because the rain started pouring down...it was nice to have some tents to huddle under to keep dry. My thighs seemed to enjoy the break too.

Cinérobothèque personal viewing pod
However, the rain kept coming and I was getting impatient, so I got another bike and braved the rain biking along the Canal Lachine to the Old Ports area and onward to the Latin Quarter. Since it was still raining and I was getting pretty soggy, I dropped the bike off and hit the Cinérobothèque...coolest invention ever! You reserve a personal viewing pod and choose from hundreds of films to watch...all for free! The chairs were cushy with headphones that wrapped around from behind and a touchscreen that allowed you to choose what you wanted to watch. Now, these were not big budget films that you'd see at the movie theater...they were smaller documentaries and short animated films. In any case, it was a fun way to get out of the rain.

Kind of hard to see, I realize, so squint!
After the Cinérobothèque, the rain had stopped, so I explored a few parts of the city I hadn't visited yet. I also poked my head into a few stores...why oh why is the American Dollar so weak?? I remember when buying things in Canada was like getting a 50% discount!! Where have those good old days gone? In any case, I managed to restrain myself, but made a mental note of places to return before I leave. I figure if I still want something in a few days, I'll treat myself :)

Off to Quebec City this afternoon to poke around a bit more and hopefully catch a free version of Cirque de Soleil...keep you posted!



So, I've experienced three big adventures between my arrival in Montreal last night and this morning!

The severed head (aka exploding Coke can) with some other Canadian delicacies.
Adventure #1: First, as I was falling asleep last night, I was suddenly awakened by a loud, violent bang on my door...it was so loud and so sudden that I leaped up about 2 feet in the air from a prone position on my bed! After landing and as I lay there trying to restart my heart, I heard a weird dripping noise. Having just finished a mystery novel in which the detective found a severed head on her doorstep, I became convinced in my half asleep state that someone had thrown a head at my door. Somehow, I swallowed my terror and got out of bed to peek out the door and stepped straight into a puddle on the floor of my room. Suddenly, it all became clear. I had put a can of Coke in the freezer of my mini-fridge to chill faster and had forgotten about it. It exploded with such force that it dented the inside of the fridge...shhhh don't tell the front desk.

Adventure #2 - Yesterday afternoon I went on a treasure hunt and found copious treasure in the form of mid-century modern furniture. Wow! This is the place to come for furniture shopping. I have a feeling I will have to physically restrain myself from renting a moving truck to drive myself and all the treasure I would love to own back to Chicago in a few days. While I was in the neighborhood, I explored Le Village Gay for a little while...lots restaurants, bars, boutiques, etc. They were getting all prettied up for the upcoming Divers/Cité festival this weekend, but things hadn't really gotten crazy yet. When I was passing by this afternoon, the techno was pumping in preparation for tonight.
Le Village Gay

Indie's costume. If only Harrison Ford were modeling it...le sigh!
Adventure #3: This is the big one! I went to the exhibit "Indiana Jones: L'aventure archéologique" at the Science museum. Very cool! They had lots of props and costumes from the movies and tied the movie stuff into information about real archeological expeditions and findings throughout the years. The exhibit was super-high-tech...everyone received a little iPod touch that you could key in codes to get information, video clips, etc. read to you. To make it all the more fun, you could also participate in challenges to uncover pieces of an "artifact" on your little screen...I got all the pieces except one. Bummer...but it was fun anyway!

My handheld guide!

And, just for fun...a forest of air fresheners :)