Sunday, October 28, 2012

Which Paris?

And I'm not talking about whether it is Paris in France or Parys in the Free State. No, I'm talking about whether it is JL's Paris or Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  My mom and I always tease JL, as according to him, it never rains in Paris (like on the golf course, you know).  So we've started talking about JL's Paris (as I'm not that fortunate when I'm visiting Paris...).  Then we were watching the dvd of Midnight in Paris earlier this year (for those of you who haven't watched it, do yourself the favour - and if you're not too clued up with some French writers/history, etc, watch it with a French person...And just to brief you - the guy gets transported back to Paris in the 1920's when midnight arrives...)
So when my mom and I decided to go to Paris for a day during her visit a few months ago (yes, I'm very behind on the blog, I hope to catch up soon!) we were making a joke, asking which Paris will we visit - the one of JL or the one of Woody Allen....
The idea was, since we've visited all the tourist sites in 2000, that I'll show her all the places I have since discovered in Paris, not necessarily tourist spots.
The TGV tickets are quite expensive, so after some calculations we've decided it will be less expensive if we drive to Disney, leave the car there and take the RER to Gare de Lyon.  The last time JL dropped me there, I told him the station look very different from what I can remember when my mom and I spent 10 days in Paris in 2000.  He didn't believe me and told me nothing changed. But the building just didn't look familiar at all and I remembered a train station a bit in the bundus, definitely not such a huge building.  My mom confirmed my thoughts and eventually we've confirmed with JL that the new building was constructed to accommodate the TGV line, which was not operating in 2000.  A huge change in 12 years. Not a Midnight in Paris.  The weather looked promising - JL's Paris, we have sunshine.
We arrived at Gare de Lyon and started searching the restaurant that I've seen one night on a documentary programme on the French TV. We were about to give up, when we finally bumped into it and given the prices, decided to only have a coffee.  Well, it arrived with a little croissant, pain au chocolat and other viennoisseries.  It was delicious.  But the highlight was the beautiful interiors.  We were in Woody Allen's Paris, transported back in history.  The walls and roof are decorated in beautiful large paintings of all the towns to which the trains left at that era from Gare de Lyon - Grenoble, Avignon, I cannot remember all the names.  Everything inside were like it was in that era, we've decided it was worth it to pay more for the coffee than what we would have in another place.
The decorative steelwork just outside the entrance to the restaurant
And the beautiful building of Gare de Lyon
And we've hardly left Gare de Lyon, still in awe about the experience in the restaurant, when we've been convinced even further that we're in Midnight in Paris:
When telling JL, Nina and Damien during lunch time we've seen this group, they had no explanation as to why we were so lucky, it is not something ordinary to experience in Paris.
Below: no it is not the famous arc de triomphe, but porte saint-denis, constructed in 1672 in honor of Louis XIV to celebrate his victories over the Rhine and Franche-Comté, on the site of one of the original entrances to Paris that was destroyed before then and not far from porte saint-martin. It is not far from the shop that Sophie showed me where one can buy designer clothes at much less than what you'll pay for in the shops. 
Our discovery of Woody Allen's Paris continued as we were following interesting looking roads and arcades...
 We finally had to rush to meet JL, Nina and Damien for lunch - in another narrow old Parisian street, which we had difficulty to find. But the restaurant was a continuation of our Midnight in Paris experience. A lovely old restaurant with french food and no tourists.
We left Paris late afternoon, not having had enough time to show my mom all I wanted to show her, but happy that we had JL's sunshine and an extra-ordinary experience, being transported back into another era.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A night on the Seine

We were so lucky to receive a gift from our dear friend Sophie - a night in a luxurious boat on the Seine, including a dinner and a cruise.  We left to Paris last Sunday afternoon, happy we've postponed it from the weekend before, when it was raining strings (to use the French expression - and I could understand why, it looked like strings coming from the sky as it was pouring).  It was the first warm weather in a long time and a blue sky, which I definitely treasure more than when living in SA.
We had to be at the boat at 6pm.  We've decided rather than changing metros along the way, we'll take the metro from Gare de l'Est to Gare Austerlitz from where we'll take a short walk crossing the Seine.
Walking across the Seine we could see our boat close to Bercy and across the road the beautiful tower of Gare de Lyon.
Above: the building going across the road with its pillars in the Seine is Bercy, where the financial ministry of France is based. Below the pillars are motorboats, taking the minister to the Elysees, for meetings (quicker by boat than by road...)
Below: Gare de Lyon in the background (dress code for the boat - no jeans, an occassion to dress up a bit)
Above: we were a bit early, but they've welcomed us onto the deck
Below: one of the many beautiful bridges crossing the Seine in Paris (unfortunately we don't have a high tec camera for good night photos)
Below: the hôtel de ville
The bridge where people attach locks to it (you can see some shining on the photo) - apparently if you attach the lock to the bridge your love will last forever (I fear the bridge might not last for ever under the for ever increasing weight, some of those locks are enormous)
no explanation required:
Le Conciergerie: one of the most ancient buildings in Paris, the first royal residence in Paris and jail during the French Revolution:
 The building with its peculiar green structure, opposite the mooring place of the boat (where we were anchored for the night):
The next morning was an even more beautiful day (by 10 I was in a t-shirt, absorbing as much Vit D as possible) - my intention was to work in the mediatheque of the Alliance Française, but I forgot they only open at 11.  As the Luxembourg gardens are not far from there, I headed to the gardens, thinking I'll go there by 11 until I have to take my train back to Reims at 1. But it was such a beautiful morning, I've spent the whole morning doing my work on one of the many chairs arranged around the fountain
 Then the afternoon back in Reims, it was monthly shopping and a few more photo's of the vineyards.  I'll include them (as the colours change so quickly), as well as the ones I took only 2 weeks before the ones of yesterday's posting, when we were having friends from SA, Vernon and Sandra, staying with us. The vineyards were just starting to change colour.
2 days before:
2.5 weeks before:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Destressing in the vineyards

I'll do another blog on my studies that have started this month. All I'll say for now is that it increased my stress levels significantly...
This week I could breath a bit after 3 consecutive days of class in Paris last week.  Going through the notes and reading articles that were handed out in the class to read at home.  All in French of course.  To explain my dilemma: I have three different dictionnaries next to me while doing this, a normal one, one specialising in financial and economical terms and a french only dictionnary, describing the words in more detail.  Some words you'll find in the first dictionnary you'll look, some in the third, many not at all. Then you start searching on the internet, finding that the word is not in the online dictionnary either, but there's a whole debate as to what is the correct translation. Finally you start searching under wikipedia what the concept means and end up having to read an article just to understand one word.
So given this background, by Wednesday afternoon I needed a break.  Since Sunday we had lovely weather (so much so that I've said on Sunday I don't know when last did we have such lovely weather and a clear blue sky, terrible isn't it?).  The vineyards change colours rapidly and with us leaving in the dark and arriving in the dark, I've missed out on the changes during end of last week. 
I took a quick walk up the main road leading to Mailly and then a side street leading into the vineyards.  Then a steep walk up the hill towards the moulin.  The fresh air and beautiful sunshine being medicine to the soul (and the stress levels). 
Above: the road to Mailly taken from the moulin (for those who have been here)
Below: Verzenay and its phare (unfortunately it was a bit hazy)

The harvest time started very late this year, at the end of Sept, and lasted much longer than usual (two weeks compare to about 8 days). The reason being the miserable weather we had this year, so many grapes were not completely ripe and the harvesters took their time to select the best grapes and allowing some to mature a bit more.  (Despite the much lower volume that was harvested this year, in general the champagne growers are very happy with the quality of the grapes, against all expectations)
By the end of the harvest season many small grapes were left on the vineyards and since then, they have started to ripen (some not even completely yet).
I was picking pinot noir grapes as I walked through the vineyards. 

At the beginning I wiped the outside of the skin, as the farmers had to spray a lot of produce this year against diseases.  The small grapes were tasting good and the pips crunching under my teeth.  My fingers got more and more sticky until I finally gave up on wiping the grapes and just popped them into my mouth.  I could understand why they are attracking wild pigs from the forest. (we were so lucky to see some 'big' baby ones one evening coming from the station, busy feasting on the grapes)
Walking through the vineyards I was thinking how far this is from the rush in Paris, which is yet so close with the TGV only taking 45 min. And that I prefer to travel from here to Paris rather than living in that rat race.

By the time I got home my hand was a mess but I felt it was very good 'vinotherapy' and I can face the studies again.
Alas, the stress release didn't last long. JL phoned me at about 7.15pm (his train leaves Paris at 7.28pm).  There was a big mess at Gare de l'Est and no trains, neither the high speed trains, nor the suburban trains, were leaving.  The police had to control the huge number of people all stranded on the platforms.  I proposed he take the RER train to Disney, as it departs from another station and I'll fetch him there by car (as it is just more than 1 hour's drive from us).   The problem, he took the car the morning, so I need to get to the station.  Fortunately my friend, Céline, was so kind to take me, despite her having to get up at 3am the next morning to leave to the Pyrennees to market their champagne there. I had to quickly print his train ticket as proof for the car park payment in order not to pay a huge fine for having no parking ticket, search the extra car keys and then off to the station.  We got back home by 10.37pm, just more than 2 hours later than usual. But while parking the car the radio news were talking about the big mess and that trains are delayed for more than 5 hours, so I guess we were lucky.  The sad thing is that it is the second disruption in less than a month, which will force us to eventually move to Paris, having to say goodbye to this beautiful region.