More French Friday Fun

Cheese is sexy.

…Or at least to the French.

And I’m not just talking about how good it looks or smells or tastes (though a really good cheese does rouse a particular excitement in even the most stoic of Frenchies). No. The French had to take it a step further .

Only the French could possibly make cheese even sexier.

With none other than Des From’Girls, a pin-up style calendar featuring girls and of course, cheese.

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The bug

Let's Go Anywhere

Well, it’s official. I’m living in Grenoble!

I finally moved in a couple weeks ago. It’s been a long back and fourth of visiting for visa purposes, wondering if I could even stay in France, finishing my time in Montbeliard, and running around the south of France with the remaining TAPIF assistants. By the end, I was ready for down time. Traveling and trying to move in/establish a new life felt draining. I wanted to invest in one or the other. And I felt it was time to invest in living in France.

But now here I am, officially in Grenoble and I have the itch. The travel bug is gnawing away at me- impatient and greedy. And I don’t know what will satisfy this fat little fucker. I’m living in France! I’ve been traveling on and off for the past 8 months. I just finished booking a trip to Italy with my cousin and sister in July, and another to Spain in August with my friend. But the bug wants more. It wants Thailand and Morocco. Egypt and China. To revisit Greece and Turkey. To backpack, to explore, to volunteer, to teach. And I don’t think it will stop there.  Continue reading

Happy Summer Start!

It’s officially summer and boy do the French know how to kick it off! June 21st marks the end of school, the beginning of summer and of course, the Fete de la Musique- where musicians, performers and music lovers take to the streets for some good ole free concerts.

I first stumbled upon it years ago in Paris, as my friends and I settled in for a picnic at the Sacre Coeur and ended up staying through the night with a full on Parisian party, followed by an enthusiastic concert by the Seine. Ah Paris. What a memorable night.

Paris 2009

Fete de la Musique Paris 2009

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French don’t give a #@*! about being polite- Part Deux

After a particularly frustrating nonverbal couchsufring dinner experience, my return resulted in yelling at Antoine, “We have may have pride, but the French have pretension! At least we can be proud AND humble!!”

Though I wasn’t quite sure if that statement made the most sense, at the time it felt valid. Because I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again, the French can be rude. Or at least they could care less about being polite.

rude

Their sarcasm is really just blunt meanness, they take over public transportation (and won’t even try to make room for others), they don’t notice their surroundings and could care less about your personal space, and they blatantly make fun of your accent (but to be fair, Americans aren’t much better, and plenty of Frenchies have been nice and patient with my accent…so really maybe this one doesn’t totally count). Oh and they cut lines- oh my god do they cut lines. Maybe it’s because of my dad’s embarrassingly indignant dedication to the principle of holding your place, (and dear god I’ve become him already!) but it drives me crazy when there’s no respect for the line. Waiting for my visa feels like preparing for battle as I try to preserve as much space as possible to gain rightful entry into the prefecture.
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French Friday Fun (sometimes I like alliteration)

A family friend posted a link of terrifying French children’s books, and I thought it was too amusing (and scarily accurate) not to share.

Welcome to the French world- where being unabashedly blunt, and scaring the crap out of your kids is the norm. Where frank, no-bullshit doses of harsh reality are served with a glass of milk before bedtime. No wonder French adults are the way there are. There was never any hope.

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Click here to see more terrifying French children’s books.

Happy Friday!

How to take the SNCF (a.k.a. my love affair with the difficult French train system)

This one's special- so short.

This one’s- special so short.

It’s time to talk SNCF. This post has been in the making for quite some time, as I have had an intimate and frustrating relationship with the French trains over the past 7 1/2 months. But let’s go to the start.

My relationship with the SNCF began when I was a young, optimistic, 18-year-old backpacker with nothing but love in my heart. I was charmed by SNCF’s allure. It was so efficient, so connected, it could take me anywhere- places I’d only dreamed of. After all, I was a mere Texan, where trains transported cargo or cattle, not people. It was easy to fall for SNCF’s appeal.

But as I grew older, and spent more time with SNCF, it grew distant. It let me down. It was unreliable, inconsistent and resistant to providing the information I needed. I became frustrated and bitter, longing for the unknowing innocence of my youth.

Oh SNCF. How complicated you are.

Oh SNCF. How complicated you are.

So now I write. I write so you can know. And because in spite of it all, I still have love for the SNCF.

Step 1: If possible, get a pass. 

First and foremost, decide how long you will be traveling in France. If you are traveling around Europe, consider Eurail. If you are traveling to multiple destinations in France, look into the passes.

For example, if you are under 25, or even if you are under 30, get the carte 12-25. It costs 50 euros and gives you anywhere from 25-60% off of tickets. Buy it in person as the website is hellish (more on that later). Sometimes it goes to 25, 27 or even 30. It depends on the deals they are offering. Bienvenue a SNCF.

*Note- you will need a french passport style picture. You can come prepared, or take one in any of the ready photobooths at the train station.*

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This little guy has saved me so much!!

STEP 2: Decide how fast, and how much (and no, this is not a Boratesque proposition…) TER vs. TGV. 

Depending on where you are going, and how much you want to spend, you might want to take the TGV or the TER (or a night train, but that’s a whole other ballgame).

The TGV is a high-speed train that gets to your destination faster and usually more comfortably. However, it is more expensive and contrary to popular belief, can be a pain in the ass (more on that soon). Here’s what you need to know:

  • TGV can cut your train travel in 1/2, so if you need to save time, it’s worth the cost.
  • There are two prices for the TGV- 2nd class and 1st class. Don’t waste your money on 1st.
  • You have assigned seats on the TGV. Look on your ticket for voiture, your car number, and place, your seat. When the train pulls up, it will have the car number on the side and when you get inside, you will see seat ranges to find your place (ex. 61-80 to the right). If all else fails, there are usually conductors for you to gesture at your ticket and figure out the right direction.
  • More often than not, to get to your TGV, or to get into the center of town, you will have to take a navette, or shuttle service. It basically looks like a big tour bus that costs anywhere from 1.50-2.50 euros.

This is where TGVs can be a pain in the ass. The stations are usually located on the outskirts of towns, so you have to take a navette from the local train station to the TGV station. Ultimately you pay for the navette, and take more time, as you’re out in the middle of no where. I would recommend sticking with local trains, the TER, unless you are traveling to big cities like Paris or Lyon. They seem to have it down.

The TER is the local train that usually takes longer (as it makes many stops), but is cheaper. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Again. Don’t waste your money on 1st class. Stick with 2nd.
  • Pay attention to “période bleue” and  “période blanche” when buying tickets. Blue is usually more expensive as it’s during commuting time. White is cheaper.
  • Pay attention to the train as it pulls in. You can get a preview of what kind of seating you want. Each train is different, and sometimes each car is different. You can have anywhere from normal seating, to cabin seating, where 8 people fit in one cabin. Depends on how you like to travel and how many you are traveling with.
  • If there is construction, sometimes your train is replaced with an autocar- a bus that will take you to your destination.
  • In big cities pay attention to the name of the train station. Sometimes there are multiple stations.

Sometimes you take more risks with the TER- delays, construction, cancellation, but the trains are cheaper, the refunds easier and usually you don’t have to wait long to catch the next available train. Usually.

*Note- A plus of the TER is refunds. Should you have any problems, you can get a full refund before your train departure. If you want to cancel or refund a TGV, there is a small fee.

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The cabins even have privacy curtains

Step 3: Reservations/Buying the Ticket

Depending on how much of a planner you are, you have a few options.

  1. Buy tickets online
  2. Buy tickets at counter (speak to person)
  3. Buy tickets from machine in the train station

1. Buying tickets online would seem like the easier option. However, if you do not have a French card, purchasing can be difficult. Be warned that the SNCF website can be confusing to say the least. This can help you through the process:

http://www.seat61.com/France-trains.htm#How to use voyages-sncf.com

2. If you have questions, do not know the best option, or need help arranging travel plans, speaking to someone with access to all the train times can be helpful. Usually you can find some one who speaks English and is more than willing to help. Again, usually.

3. If you have an idea of the destination and times, the ticket machines in the station can be your friend. It also has options for several languages. However, yet again, if you do not have a French card, this can be a problem.

Step 4: Riding the train

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Once you have successfully purchased your tickets. It’s time to ride the train! But wait- it’s not quite that simple.

First thing you need to do- arrive early. Give your self time to figure out where to go and to find the voie, or platform.

In theory, your voie is displayed 20 minutes before your train departure. Most of the time, it’s more like 10 minutes. If it’s anything under 10 minutes, seek help. Even if you don’t speak French, gesture at your ticket, and you’ll get somewhere. I made the mistake of growing accustomed to SNCF’s delays, and thought 5 minutes was plenty of time. Turns out, my “train” was an autocar.

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I was taking the 9:50 Valance train. Note the time…

While you’re waiting for you voie, composte, or stamp your ticket in one of the many machines. But wait! It’s not that simple either. More often, than not, the lovely machine will reject you. ….or at least your ticket.

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It’s temperamental

Turn your ticket multiple times- try the front, the back, the other side- until the machine has been appeased.

Once your number or letter comes up on the screen, follow the signs for your train and hop aboard!

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STEP 5: Extra- Things to Bring

Just as a little tid bit, these things can be quite helpful:

  • a book and/or music
  • scarf (doubles as blanket)
  •  granola bar/snack as train food is expensive and you don’t know when you’ll be delayed
  •  water bottle
  •  tissues- doubles as napkins and toilet paper
  • patience

All things considered, the SNCF has been there for me. It’s been temperamental and we’ve had our fair share of fights, but at the end of the day, it’s taken places- places I only dreamed of.

Return to Avignon

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As soon as I stepped off the train in Avignon, a surge of flashbacks flooded my brain. Like the weirdest hybrid of sheep-meets-cricket noises I heard in the night. Or getting lost in a hellish loop of a drive through the vortex trapping maze of Orange. Or the time my friends and I almost slept on the streets, got murdered, and ultimately stayed up til three in the morning watching gay porn. Ok. So that might be a tad over-exaggerated. Except for that last part. That totally happened.

My second time in Avignon went much more smoothly than the first. I stayed in a lovely hostel (Pop Hostel) right in the center of town. I had time to enjoy the town, see its sights and feel summer. It’s great to feel summer- eating homemade passionfruit peach ice cream bars, earning more freckles, sitting in a park and soaking up the sun, spying on potential flashmobbers, unfolding people’s secrets (literally) and having an adult playdate- where you talk, picnic and day drink.

But let me talk about the first time because there’s a lesson here.

I first set foot in Avignon four years ago, as my friends and I stepped off the TGV and into the warm summer night filled with…bizarre guttural noises. Those sounds signaled the start of a strange evening. As we tried to get our bearings out of the labyrinth that was the TGV station (which we later learned was on the outskirts of Avignon), the guttural noises got louder and more nasal. Crickets? No. Too loud. Birds? No. Too bizarre. Suddenly the strange noises surrounded us and as we peered into the night, we noticed what looked to be the faint glimmer of water. As I cautiously creeped closer to the waters edge, a small figure moved. And another. Frogs! Frogs with the weirdest assed mating calls I had ever heard.

Happy to have identified the bizarre sounds, and know that potential murder #1 was out of the way, we trekked on into the night with only a print out of directions to our “close” hotel. Long story short- our hotel was not close. We got lost. We wandered through back alleys and parking lots. And we wondered how we could possible avoid potential murder #2 until we finally made it to our sketchy hotel (in the middle of fucking nowhere I might add)…and discovered we were locked out. Another long story short- several phone calls, some lock picking and gate jumping attempts, lots of exhaustion, despair and a resignation to sleep on the streets later, we miraculously managed to get a hold of some one and get in….to our shoebox of a room. Seriously. If you opened the bathroom door, you hit the bed. Correction- if you cracked open the door, you hit the bed.

Too exhausted and traumatized from having endured a long day that ended with surviving three potential murders, we decided to stay in our shoebox, watch some t.v. and venture out when we could see the light of day. We flipped through the 10 channels on our tiny télé, among them there was that lion movie with that 6th sense kid (which was even more annoying dubbed), some news, and…gay porn. At first we watched it out of awe that such a thing could exist within 10 channels, and then changed the channel out of awkward awareness that others were in the room.

But then it became a thing of it’s own, as we watched on in fascination of what kind of french soap opera gay porn drama plot line was unfolding before our eyes. And then all of the sudden it was three in the morning and we all looked at eachother with a “holy shit did we really just stay up until three in the morning watching gay porn even though it started off as a joke and then turned into a thing of its own, and now we have to get up early because we can’t justify sleeping in and missing our one day in Avignon because we actually stayed up until three in the morning watching gay porn” look. Or something like that.

Except we did sleep in. And we barely saw Avignon.

Moral of the story- if it’s an option, and especially if you’re visiting a small or old touristy town, stay in the center. Unless you wanna watch gay porn in a shoe box.

But Avignon really is beautiful. I’m happy I got a second chance to see it. It’s definitely worth a visit!

This is How I Imagined it- Southern France

Well I survived the train travel hell and made it to the beautiful Aix-en-Provence. We even squeezed in a day trip to Cassis (a small gem of a town with the best ice cream! I would like to explore longer/again). Southern France has been built up in my mind, but boy does it live up to it’s expectations (even when France is having freaky summer cold fronts).

I’ve been a bit behind in my life lately. Between moving out, moving in, birthdays, beaches and travelling (I know, la vie est dure- sooo hard), I haven’t been up to date on the whole self employment or blogging thing.

So, in an effort to keep posting, I figure why not let the pictures do the talking? Because this really is how I imagined it- rolling hills of wildflowers and vineyards, quaint towns, crisp wine and fresh food (especially olives), sandy beaches, sunny skies, and lots of smiles.

La vie est vraiment belle.