29
Jan 16

How to Enjoy a Cruise in 6 Easy Steps

Little lighthouse, Nassau, Bahamas

Little lighthouse, Nassau, Bahamas

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have never called myself a cruise person.

The only one I’ve been on was many years ago with my family when my grandmother treated us to a three-day sail down the Baja coast. Parts of it were fun, like climbing the rock climbing wall, playing Pictionary, and telling funny family stories over dinner, but parts were awful, like the gluttonous buffet, the tiny windowless room my mom and I shared, and the noisy, hard-partying college kids on spring break.

The cruise I went on earlier this month with a group of girlfriends was nothing like that. In fact, I’d say it turned me into a cruise person.

Here’s how non-cruise people can better enjoy cruises.

Splurge on your room

If you’re going on a cruise, it may well be worth it to spend a little more. The room my friend and I shared was really nice with enough space for two small beds (yoga mat-sized, some of the girls called them), a loveseat, coffee table, and desk. It also had a veranda, and let me tell you, being step outside your room and see the ocean makes a huge difference.

Of course the bathroom was teeny-tiny, and the shower didn’t drain so well, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Go beyond the buffet

Another great thing about our packages was they included restaurants beyond the buffet. The one we went to every night for dinner was called Blue. I think the food was supposed to be healthier — either way, it was very good.

My favorites were a risotto (I forgot what was in it), a chicken and pasta, the filet mignon, the short-ribs, all the soups I tried (a corn veloute, a tomato one, and a parsnip one), a blue cheese souffle, the tiramisu, and the chocolate mousse birthday cake we had for the birthday girl. The only thing I didn’t like was the “sugar-free” cannoli which had absolutely no flavor, although I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

Our waiters were also very nice albeit somewhat corny. One apparently resembled the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Our package also included unlimited drinks that were under $13. Most of us could barely make a dent in our daily beverage allowance. It was especially a waste on an alcohol flush reactioner like me. There were also healthy options at poolside, namely this yummy Greek yogurt chicken salad and these quinoa and lentil salads.

Also, don’t get me wrong: the food at the buffet was good, and we ate there a lot. I gorged myself on full English breakfasts — including blood sausage for the first time — until my body begged me to stop, and then I switched to muesli, which was delish.

Embrace the touristy-ness

One of our port stops was Key West. It was totally touristy, but we were all in an accepting mind-set so it was pretty fun, even with the intermittent rain.

While the girls shopped for various tchotchkes, I didn’t buy much except for some coconut chocolate patties (which totally hit the spot) and a Florida Starbucks mug. I’ve recently started collecting them and have three so far: New York, Montreal, and now Florida.

We stopped for lunch at what seemed like a random hole in the wall. But the food was very good. I had the New England clam chowder, which was chock full of clam and potatoes.

We walked to what we thought was the southernmost point in the U.S. but was actually the southernmost beach. The waves were absolutely insane.

While I was down with Key West, by the time we got to Nassau in the Bahamas, I was less so. My roommate felt the same way, and after stepping off the boat for two seconds, we turned around and got back on. What did we do instead? Lounged by the pool, ate, and hit the sauna and steam room, a pretty nice alternative.

Get moving

A cruise doesn’t have to be all about lounging by the pool and stuffing your face. The one we were on also had a good gym and quite a few fitness classes.

I had big plans to hit the treadmill at least twice, but didn’t at all. Luckily, the enterprising birthday girl signed everyone up for Zumba class while my roommate signed us up for Pilates. I had mentioned wanting to try the bootcamp class, and when we were at the gym, my roomie made sure to point out the sign up list. No backing out now!

Zumba was fun but difficult. I’m not a natural dancer so I had a hard time keeping up with most of the steps. I got a few, but by the time I did, the instructor had moved onto a new routine. But like I said, we all had a good time and got pretty sweaty. The Pilates class was also good although maybe it could have been more difficult.

The bootcamp class however kicked my butt. Squats, burpees, jumping jackets, weights, ab work, and other stuff I can’t even remember. My muscles were burning and I was drenched in sweat by the end, exactly the results I wanted. My hearty breakfast and massage afterwards felt well-deserved.

And it was the class that kept on giving. I took the class on Sunday and I was sore all the way until Wednesday. Like barely-able-to-walk sore, but in a good way. I need to take more classes like that.

Treat yo self

On my last cruise I didn’t even consider trying out the hot tubs or pools. They were totally inundated either with horny 20-somethings or annoying kids. This time was another story.

Because we were traveling at an off time, there weren’t many kids. Plus there was an adults-only section, which had whirlpools and, my absolutel favorite, a thalassotherapy pool — that is, very warm seawater.

Late in 2015 I hurt my back. It was so bad in the beginning, I couldn’t sit at all. Just riding the bus was torture. A few months later it was better, and I haven’t had any other problems — until my plane ride to Ft. Lauderdale. I bent down to touch my toes, and felt that familiar, horrible spasm in my lower back. I was worried my vacation was ruined.

But after a couple of dips in the thalassotherapy pool, it was better. It was probably a combination of that, stretching, trying not to sit too much, and walking more. But I do think the saltwater helped. Plus it felt great on my skin.

We also took advantage of the spa. We all got massages and then another treatment. The massage was SO GOOD. My lady had a firm touch but not painful (although a little pain is good sometimes). The only time I winced was when she went at the balls of my feet. (I had no idea they were so sensitive, and she was surprised too. Guess I need to do something about that.) I wanted the massage to go on forever.

My facial was another story. I had signed up for a deep cleanse, but the woman convinced me to get the “vitamin infusion,” which involved putting a million different things on my face. At the end she showed me my reflection.

“See?” she said. “Isn’t it brighter?”

I saw absolutely no difference. “Sure,” I said. “Nice.”

The sauna and steam rooms — aka the Persian Gardens — were delightful. My friend and I would stay in a room until one of us, usually me, couldn’t stand it anymore, douse ourselves with cold water, and move onto the next one. Hanging out there also gave us lots of time to chat and catch up.

YOLO

If the cruise had a theme, this was it. It encouraged one of the girls to try blood sausage (she didn’t like it, unlike me), and most of the group to stay out martini-ing and dancing the night away (I abstained). I did however practice my own little YOLOs. I stopped and watched the sun set — and saw a pod of dolphins! — and the sun rise.

cruise_sunrise_Jan2016

I stepped out on the deck at night to look at the moon. I lost $20 at the casino. I had two appetizers and dessert every night. I tried the aforementioned blood sausage. I went on this cruise in the first place.


02
Jan 16

A Canadian Christmas

montreal_snowyangel_1215

Christmas isn’t that big of a deal for my parents so for the past several, I’ve had untraditional ones. Last year I went down to Los Angeles to hang out with my brother and his girlfriend, which was great fun, and this year I had the chance to visit Mont Tremblant and Montreal.

Mont Tremblant

A friend from college was kind enough to invite me along on a family ski trip. At first I was hesitant since I don’t ski, but then I saw on the website that there were lots of other activities — hiking, ice climbing, snowshoeing, dogsledding — and though what the heck.

No snow

Unfortunately for all those non-skiing activities you need snow, and when we got up there, there was zero. They did make fake snow for skiing and sledding, but not for anything else.

monttremblant_nosnow_1215

Of course I could have gotten out of my comfort zone and gone skiing, but I wasn’t feeling it. However, I did find other stuff to do.

Hiking

Actually, it was more like a walk since it was a paved road. Either way it was lovely.

monttremblant_hike_1215

I ended up walking up to the casino (I peeked in though didn’t gamble), which felt like a trek but was less than two miles. It probably felt long because I wasn’t sure where I was going and there were few landmarks. It’s not like city walking where suddenly you realize you’ve walked five miles.

Saint-Jovite

From the ski resort there’s a city bus that goes into the little towns between there and Montreal. A nice young woman at the information center recommended either the Old Village, although she said in the winter it was very quiet, or Saint-Jovite, which was more happening. I chose Saint-Jovite.

“Happening” is a relevant term. The town was cute and picturesque, but very small. I stopped in a few shops and walked back and forth a few times, basically killing time until the next bus. Unfortunately I wasn’t hungry, otherwise I would have eaten. The restaurants did look pretty good. But it was nice way to pass the time.

Star sighting

While I was waiting to meet my friend for lunch, I saw this African American woman having her picture taken. She had brightly colored hair — which was what caught my eye — and was just stunning. I thought, That looks like that actress from Law & Order who’s married to Garret Dillahunt. (Don’t ask me how I know this. Okay, I’ll tell you. I have a crush Garret Dillahunt.)

Then I realized it was the actress from Law & Order (and many other things) and I thought, Is Garret here too? As she passed me, I saw that he was (almost unrecognizable in all his ski gear) and like an idiot fan girl, I gave a little gasp. But of course I was too chicken to actually go up to them.

By the way, Garret was also disappointed about the lack of snow.

Getting down to Montreal

I had figured out that I needed take the same city bus I took to Saint-Jovite down to the stop where the Montreal bus picked up. But then my friend was kind enough to give me a ride.

Before we left, we had a chance to grab breakfast with her son, after which he and I pretended to stomp on a miniature village.

monttremblant_nickyandme_1215

It had started snowing that morning (finally) so I was extra glad to have a ride. We got to the bus stop, which was at a Shell Station, in plenty of time for me to buy my ticket, for everyone to pee, and to get random snacks.

The bus was one of those big comfy ones, and it was packed. I got the very last seat, which was at first occupied by this guy’s giant duffel bag, but then I went to the driver, who asked the guy to move the bag.

While my seatmate came off as jerky at first, he was actually okay. Behind us were two of his friends, and after one got off, he sat with his friend so that for much of the ride I had a row all to myself. Except for the last 45 minutes that is. At that point, this large French Canadian man sat next to me, and was all insulted that I didn’t want to talk to him and wanted to listen to podcasts instead. Tough merde.

It took two and a half hours but felt very quick. Yay for podcasts!

Montreal

In addition to having fun on this trip, I realized that I’m a total city girl and not big on physical activities (unless those activities involve running, hiking, or punching and kicking things). So Montreal was more up my alley.

The hotel

A high school friend and I stayed at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. I picked it sort of randomly. The price was right and the ratings were good. Plus it was right in downtown Montreal.

I loved everything about the place and would recommend it. Our room was huge and everything seemed new and clean. Plus the customer service was excellent, from the front desk (who printed my train ticket at no charge) to the concierge to the guy who brought my room service.

Museums

We hit two museums during our stay. On Sunday we visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which was free for the holidays. It’s freaking enormous and confusing. I kept getting lost trying to get to the cafeteria to meet my pal.

I saw a few random things, including stuff about Napoleon, a couple of contemporary exhibits, some Dutch still lifes (which I’m a sucker for), and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. I would definitely go back to get a better handle on the place.

The food wasn’t bad either. I had a turkey sandwich, which was basic but hit the spot, and a panna cotta with caramel which was SO GOOD.

The other museum we went to was the Pointe-A-Calliere, also known as the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. It was pretty good although I liked it less than the art museum. I had read articles touting the underground ruins, but those were just okay. They were no catacombs.

I liked better the Agatha Christie exhibit. While I know Christie for her mysteries, I didn’t know much else about her or that she had such a fascinating life. I think I had heard about her 10-day disappearance, which turned out to be the result of her husband leaving her for a woman named Nancy Neele (Christie checked into a hotel under the name Mrs. Teresa Neele).

But I didn’t know she was an amateur archaeologist (hence, her exhibit at that particular museum), and that during a dig, she met the man who would be her second husband. Max Mallowan was an archaeologist and 14 years her junior. When they married, he was 28 to her 42, which to me is pretty awesome.

We ended up spending about five hours there, two and a half of which was lunch. Service was, shall we say, leisurely. But the food was very good: a nice salad, pasta in a cream sauce with Spanish ham, and for dessert this delicious kind of fruit and nut loaf as well as pannacotta, although this one wasn’t as good as the one at the art museum. All in all, an excellent way to spend a freezing cold day.

Chinatown

While Montreal Chinatown is nothing compared to New York or San Francisco, I still liked it. We didn’t have a sit down meal, but we did have steamed pork buns from Patisserie Harmonie. We had no idea the place was so popular. All we saw that it was cute and on the corner, and the wares in the window looked good.

So good in fact that the next morning, we stopped in again, this time for roast pork buns. Those were tasty too.

And if you’re ever in that area and need a place to pee (and thaw), stop in the pagoda-topped Holiday Inn. There’s a very welcoming lobby on the second floor with a restaurant and fish pond. After using the ladies’, we had our buns in warmth and comfort.

Luminothérapie

Montreal seesaw

Need I say more?

Notre Dame Basilica and Old Montreal

We were lucky in that we got to see the Notre Dame Basilica at night and during the day. Unfortunately, the cold killed my phone battery so I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the beautiful blue-lighted angels. I did get plenty of inside shots however.

montreal_seesaw_angela_1215

Walking around Old Montreal was fun although it was so damned cold. And it always somehow ended up being dark by the time we hit that part of town — although that’s not difficult when sunset starts at 4:30.

Poutine, bagels, and maple syrup

A trip to Montreal wouldn’t be complete without trying poutine, their bagels, and maple syrup.

The place we got the poutine was a random bar in Old Montreal. We’re guessing the poutine was good — we got it with cut up hot dogs — but we have nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t bad, that’s for sure.

After a whole day out and about in frigid temperatures, my friend was brave enough to go back out one evening for bagels. (I, on the other hand, stayed in and ordered room service.) She was also kind enough to give me one. It was good although sweeter than a New York bagel. Her theory was that they make them with less salt. It was also less dense.

Finally, we both tried something maple syrupy. She had the famed maple taffy, and I had a maple syrup candy. It didn’t suck.

The trip back

Monday night the city was hit with more snow, which got my bud and me both worried about our bus and train, respectively. However, we made it out in time, even if our trips took longer than they were supposed to.

I had gotten to the station pretty early so I managed to get a window seat, which while annoying for peeing, is good for phone charging. The first third of the trip was okay, even though we sat on the tracks for a good 45 minutes waiting for a freight train to pass. I had my podcasts, worked on my writing a little, and ate bad food from the cafe car (another hot dog!).

We got to the border pretty quickly. My seatmate had said that on the way up, they sat at the border for two and a half hours. I was glad she told me so my expectations were set.

While driving through the border was fast, being on a train took longer. The border police came on and checked every single person’s passport and asked a few questions.

Most went off without a hitch — that is, except for a woman in my car. I didn’t know anything was going on until the police made her get up and go either into the next car or the vestibule. She was protesting a lot in French, saying, “Non!” and “Pourquoi?!” At one point she was screaming. Her kids got very upset, crying and such.

Eventually it seemed like the whole family was getting up to leave, but then I think the dad told the kids to stay with the other adult relative who was with them. The kids cried some more, but eventually they calmed down. A border policeman said, “It’ll be okay. Your mom’s just going back to Canada.” They probably thought she was being sent to jail.

I still don’t know why she was kicked off. Maybe her passport was expired or maybe she overstayed her last visit. But Canadians generally don’t need a visa to visit the U.S. Whatever the reason, soon after that we got moving again.

In all we were about an hour and a half late. We were supposed to get in at 8:50 but got in at 10:30. I was going to be frugal and take the subway, but between my luggage and being exhausted, I splurged on a cab and was home before 11.

The verdict?

While I might not go to a ski resort again (since I don’t ski), I would definitely pay another visit to Montreal, especially after the weather warms up.


11
Sep 15

‘Kate & Allie’ go to Paris

Kate-and-AllieMy travel buddy Yiannis and I are both TV junkies so it was pretty much imperative that we had something to watch while we were in Paris. Because we were outside the U.S., we were limited in terms of what we could watch on the interwebs. Netflix (to my joy) was available although with different content.

For some reason I mentioned Double Trouble, that ‘80s show about teenage twins. It was absolutely awful (we watched one episode; it doesn’t hold up) but we sixth grade girls were obsessed with it. A few in my class even put on a “play” that was just an abbreviated version of the dance contest episode (you know the one, don’t pretend you don’t).

Anyway, I was describing it to Yiannis, who had somehow never watched it: “It was about twins named Kate and Allison…not to be confused with Kate & Allie,” which inspired Yiannis to look for it on YouTube and set us up for several nights of binge-watching.

I loved the show when I was younger, and maybe it, along with Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin series, made me want to go to college in New York. As for how it holds up, it’s way cheesier than I remember (and soooo ‘80s) although still enjoyable.

Something we kept noticing, aside from Kate’s insane outfits, were all the pre-famous famous guest stars. Here are five of the most memorable.

  1. Kelsey Grammer

The very first episode! Kelsey Grammer plays someone Kate goes on a date with, only to find that she’s not into him. Turns out he’s not into her either and prefers former Connecticut housewife Allie.

  1. Ben Stiller

In the one with the sit-in, Stiller plays a rebellious college student.

  1. Stephen Baldwin

The youngest Baldwin brother is a high school student in The Trouble with Jason, which introduces later soap star Ricky Paull Goldin as a guy who has a (rather stalkerish) crush on Emma only later — spoiler alert! — to date Jenny.

  1. Ricki Lake

Lake and her pal think they have a problem with Emma in Send Me No Flowers, but it’s actually a different Emma they have a problem with. I hate it when that happens.

  1. William H. Macy

What do you know, Kate has hurt her back and is in the hospital (really, the actress, Susan Saint James, was pregnant, which the show was trying to hide). Allie also checks in — in her case, to have a mole removed — gets doped up and runs away. Hilarity ensues! Trying to catch her are two orderlies, one of whom is a pre-Oscar nom William H. Macy.

And those are just the episodes I watched. Who knows how many more there are?

This concludes my 2015 series on Paris. Got time to kill? Read them all!


10
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Locks and luck

Kanal svetog Martina u Parizu / Canal Saint Martin in Paris

I’ve talked about French word nerdery, museums, amusement parks, and regular parks — and now, locks and luck.

Lotsa locks

Where we stayed wasn’t far from Canal Saint-Martin, which I didn’t even know existed before this trip. What’s especially cool about the canal are the series of locks used to transport les bateaux over parts that aren’t level. Basically, the water drains and the boat is lowered level by level. Yiannis said it looked neat so we thought a boat tour on the canal would be even more so.

The boat ride was nice (when is one not, given good weather), but who knew going down the locks would take so long and that there’d be so damned many of them. We thought the whole thing would take about 90 minutes, but I think it was more like three hours.

The best part was when we went under this mile-long tunnel, and not just because we were out of the hot sun.

Unlucky but lucky

Before we went on our boat tour, we had another (mis)adventure. The canal boat website said that tours were given at 10:30 and 2:30. We went with the earlier option so that we’d have time to hit the Musee D’Orsay, which was the tour’s terminus.

However, when we got where the tour was supposed to begin, we saw no one. No boat, no people, nothing. We asked a restaurant worker what the deal was (luckily he spoke English and was very nice) and he said as far he knew, tours were only at 2:30.

You should really update your site, Paris Canal.

So unfortunately we had a lot of time to kill — but that turned out to be a good thing because soon Yiannis realized one of his phones was missing. (Yes, he had two phones. I won’t get into why.) On the way, we had sat down on a bench to get our bearings. The bench was pretty far away, but Yiannis had no choice but to jog back there (did I mention it was warm and sunny?) while I waited with his stuff. Luckily I had a book.

When he returned, he was unfortunately empty-handed but, to his credit, remained calm. All we could do was wait for someone to call. Until then, we decided to check out the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Europe’s largest science museum, which happened to be right nearby.

But! The museum was closed. A worker told us it was for “safety reasons” but didn’t elaborate. Safety reasons? What did that mean? A terrorist threat? A bomb scare? Murder? Turns out it was a fire. I’m not sure why she just didn’t say.

We headed back and got some food at the restaurant where we had asked originally about the tour. It was a beautiful day so we had a very leisurely lunch outside (burger and fries, yum! French hamburgers are really good). At one point Yiannis asked our waiter if anyone had turned in a phone, but no one had.

It was so lovely and relaxing sitting there, we decided just to hang out until it was time for the tour. Luckily we did because as we were finishing, one of the restaurant workers came up to us.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said to Yiannis in English.

Turned out security had found his phone right outside the restaurant, and for some reason not only didn’t call the emergency contact (which was me) but had turned the phone off completely. However, we were extremely grateful to both security and the folks at the restaurant.

Needless to say, for the rest of our trip, we made sure Yiannis always had both his phones.

Okay I lied, I have one more post after this one, although it has only the most tenuous connection to Paris.


09
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Not always a walk in le parc

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

In my last post I wrote about Parisian amusement parks. In this one I’ll discuss the regular parks we visited.

Parcs, jardins, et bois — oh my!

So what’s the difference between a parc, jardin, and bois, you might be wondering? We visited all three types and they all appeared to be what we’d call a park in English. However, there is indeed a difference, and that difference is size.

According to the Paris Insiders Guide, places, or squares, are the smallest; parks are medium-sized; gardens are bigger (I’d assume gardens were smaller but I’m imagining people’s personal gardens); and bois, or woods, are the biggest, which would have been great to know before we ventured on foot in Bois de Boulogne.

But anyhoo, on with the show.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (and Belleville)

Yiannis went running in this park during our last trip and told me about the cool rock formations so I thought it worth a visit.

The rock formations were cool, and the park seems like a nice place to hang out, but since the terrain was unfamiliar, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring it too much. What was interesting, as well as disturbing, was the part of town I walked through to get there.

Called Belleville, it has has a large Chinese population — and a lot of Chinese prostitutes. The first woman I saw, I wasn’t sure if she was. She had an a short skirt and was standing on the corner, but she was right across from a restaurant that looked to be about to open so I thought maybe she worked there.

But then on the next block I saw a few who were obviously sex workers, and then I felt both weird and awful. They were speaking Mandarin, which I associate with family and childhood, and except for their skimpy outfits, they looked like regular women. In the movies, prostitutes seem to be always played by models, but these women didn’t look like models. They looked any Chinese woman you’d see on the subway.

On my way home, I didn’t want to walk through that part of town again, and found an alternate route.

Parc de Bercy

This park in the 12 arrondissement was absolutely lovely and probably my favorite. Smaller and therefore easier to navigate, Parc de Bercy has several little ponds with plenty of water fowl and nice grassy areas where you can lie back and look at the trees swaying in the wind.

Plus it was right near a sort of outdoor mall so it was easy afterwards to get something to eat and catch a movie (American Ultra, if you’re curious, which was absolutely delightful).

Bois de Boulogne

This bois is described as being more than twice as big as Central Park. As a result, we, or at least I, imagined it being like Central Park. It wasn’t.

We did eventually find a nice lake, but until then we just sort of wandered around, which was no easy feat. There weren’t any paved walkways like in Central Park, just the road for cars and a sandy path that definitely required hiking boots, or at least sneakers, and not the sandals that I was wearing.

Traveling on foot seemed to be taking forever so I suggested getting bikes although the idea of it made me nervous. I haven’t ridden in a long time so I’m out of practice, and also I was wearing a dress. It turned out to be fine although wearing better shoes and pants or shorts would have made it easier.

Next up, the final Paris post: miscellaneous! I know you can’t wait.


08
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Amusement parks, or causing vertigo and bodily injury for all ages

disney_discoverylandBonjour! If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been yakking a lot about Paris. First it was word nerdery, then museums. Today it’s amusement parks, of which three — count ‘em, three — we somehow managed to visit.

La Fête à Neu-Neu

Unfortunately everything about this fête seems to be in French so I can’t give you much background except that maybe it’s named for Neilly-sur-Seine, which is a Parisian suburb, but we definitely didn’t go to a suburb so I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it started there and now is traveling.

Whatever its origins, La Fête à Neu-Neu is a typical small-time carnival, except that all of the English is slightly off. For instance, there was a ride called Crazy Mouse, which may have to do with Mickey Mouse, but we weren’t sure. Also, the carnies didn’t seem too concerned about rules. You want to stand with your kid in the middle of a spinning ride holding onto nothing? Sure, go ahead!

First we rode the ferris wheel. The height made me more nervous than I expected, but otherwise it felt safe. The log flume was another story. You know how on most American rides, there’s a bar or harness that locks and holds you in? Not so on the Neu-Neu flume. As we settled in, the carny (roughly) adjusted my leg so that my foot was bracing on the tread. That’s when I realized that, as well as holding onto the railings for dear life, was all that was holding us in.

The first hill wasn’t bad, but then I saw the second one. “I changed my mind!” I cried, but of course it was too late. “This is really dangerous!” I yelled as we went down.

neuneu_logflumeOf course Yiannis, that thrill-seeker, had a grand old time. I, on the other hand, had a sore neck from tensing up so much going down the hills.

Jardin d’Acclimatation

The Foundation Louis Vuitton is right on the edge of the Jardin D’Acclimatation so of course we had to take a turn.

For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why the jardin had such a name. It used to be a zoo so our best guess is that a zoo is a place for animals — and at one point, people — to get acclimated to the local environment. In Australia apparently, there used to be a distinction between zoos and places for acclimatization, but then the Melbourne Zoological and Acclimatization societies were consolidated in 1861. Maybe other countries followed suit.

Anyway, the Jardin d’Acclimatation isn’t a zoo anymore but a small, you guessed it, amusement park. It’s described as a children’s park despite a potentially dangerous zipline, which of course Yiannis had to try.

Everything went smoothly although at one point the girl who went before Yiannis had trouble detaching her hook so that she could get out of the way for his, um, impact. There was a bit of panic since for some reason there was no one on that side to help her, but eventually she got unhooked and out of the way.

The food at Jardin d’Acclimatation was more upscale than at Neu-Neu (typical carnival food, including barbe à papa). There were a few eateries to choose from and went with Angelina’s Tea Salon. My go-to sandwich, jambon beurre, was good, as was my chocolate macaroon. I had wanted the chestnut, but the quality wasn’t satisfactory to the counter guy so he suggested a different flavor. Now that’s service.

Paris Disneyland

La mère of all French amusement parks. Since we had dinner plans that evening, I was little worried about getting in Disneyland and making it back in time. However, we quickly discovered my concerns were unnecessary.

While the park is typical Disney (i.e., well-run and clean), it’s much smaller than the one in Orlando. Their version of Tomorrowland, which they call Discoveryland, is very cool in a steampunk way, but has far fewer rides. Ditto the other “lands.”

On top of that, we both got nauseous from Space Mountain, our very first ride. The one in Orlando has hills and drops, but nothing spinny, at least not that I remember. The Paris Space Mountain has hills, drops, spins, loops, and at one point we swear we were upside down — none of it good for our vertigo (yes, we’re both prone to vertigo).

Afterward I was afraid that a) the vertigo would return, or at least b) that I’d feel sick for the rest of the day. However, after a couple of calm rides and some fried food and soda, we both felt much better.

Besides Space Mountain, we rode the Pinocchio ride and perennial favorites, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House, and made it back to the city in plenty of time for dinner.

Next! Regular parks.


06
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Museums are my crack

As you may know, I had the opportunity recently to spend almost 10 days in Paris. While I’ve recounted some French word nerdery, I’ve yet to write a lot about what we saw and did. I was going to write one giant post, but have decided to divide it into more bite-sized parts. This part: museums.

As always, I visited a lot. While I didn’t see as many as I did in Spain — if only because I was in France for a shorter amount of time — I still saw quite a few.

Centre Pompidou

Despite this being my third visit to Paris, this was the first time I was seeing Centre Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg because of its location, and named for Georges Pompidou, who was president of France from 1969 to 1977 and commissioned the building.

A friend we met during our last visit told us to be sure to take in the view, which we did:

view_pompidouAs for the rest of the museum, it was fun and modern.

pompidou_world pompidou_discoball pompidou_chineseguyPlus the mini chocolate beignets in the cafeteria were to die for.

Arab World Institute

I never would have thought to visit the Arab World Institute, aka Institut de Monde Arabe, but Yiannis had read about it and I agreed it sounded interesting.

Originally built in 1987, the newly redone building was unveiled in February 2012 — and what a very cool redone building it is.

arab_exteriorApparently the metal shutters act as a “sophisticated” brise soleil, an architectural feature that controls heat and sun. The museum was indeed quite cool.

The artifacts themselves were lovely and fascinating, from paintings, to ancient scrolls, to traditional clothing for religious ceremonies. Of course before we went into the museum, as per tradition, I had to get something to eat at the cafe:

arab_foodI thought I had overdone it, but I ended up eating everything save for the chickpea ball, which was a little dry for my taste. Everything else, however, was delicious, especially one with a kind of tangy cheese and mint. Yum!

Foundation Louis Vuitton

I had read that the Foundation Louis Vuitton was a new museum that’s a must-visit. Construction started in 2006 and the building opened in October 2014. The architecture, by Frank Gehry, is very cool —

louisvuitton_exterior
louisvuitton_water— but the art was mostly head-scratchingly bizarre. A lot of weird videos, although I did enjoy the one installment of young British people dancing by themselves. I watched one of a white dude who was very enthusiastic and, as Yiannis said, bordered on actual dancing sometimes, but was mostly spastic, and another of a black girl who was extremely shy at first and barely moved, but then suddenly got comfortable and broke into a big smile as she danced.

The Foundation also has a couple of cool outdoor areas but no cafeteria, only an upscale restaurant. There was a long line so we didn’t even bother.

Musee de l’Orangerie

I’ve already written about the origins of the Orange Museum but not the museum itself. I loved it, although not necessarily because it’s all Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. It was on the small side compared to other Paris museums and therefore totally doable in terms of listening to most of the audio guide.

Plus the line wasn’t too long — I did happen to get there shortly after it opened — and it wasn’t too crowded even though most of the other museums in the city were closed that Monday.

And the jambon-beurre at the cafe was good too.

The Louvre

The last time I went to the Louvre was during my first trip to Paris 11 years ago. I didn’t go with Yiannis two years ago as I still remembered the crowds and couldn’t bear the idea of dealing with them again.

I didn’t expect to go this time either. Thinking the museum was closed, I planned on simply walking the perimeter of the courtyard. Then I saw some people go in a side entrance and thought, What the heck, and followed them.

Turned out the place was open and that particular entrance had almost no line, maybe because it was out of the way or because it was only machines. Either way, after not too long, I had my ticket.

It was a crowded as I remember, perhaps even more so because of the plethora of smartphone cameras and (barf) selfie sticks. (That was something new this trip: goddamned selfie sticks.)

I also don’t understand the purpose of taking a picture of every single piece of art. I just want to ask these people, What’re you going to do with all those photos? Have a slide show party? Frame them? I guarantee there are better photos that yours on the internet of these famous pieces of art.

Only worse is having one’s picture taken in front of artwork. Unless you’re doing something hilarious, don’t do it.

At the Mona Lisa, of course, it was a complete fucking madhouse.

louvre_monalisaEventually I had to escape to the basement with the Middle Eastern art that no one was looking at.

Versailles

This was my second visit to Versailles — palatial home to the likes of Louis XIV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette — and it was lovely.

versailles_chandelierThe chateau itself was crowded, especially with idiots who bunched up at the entryways, leaving vast open spaces elsewhere in the rooms, but the surrounding park were peaceful. Despite the intermittent rain, we took a rowboat out on the Grand Canal.

versailles_rowboatMusee D’Orsay

Yiannis and I agree that this is our favorite museum in Paris. We went on a chilly, rainy day, and every other tourist must have had the same idea because the line was hella long. Like through the museum courtyard, down the block, almost to the Metro long. But of course it was worth it.

This time I left the main floors for last, starting at the top and making my way down. On the fifth floor was a special exhibit, Dolce Vita, Italian design in the early 20th century. I really enjoyed it. Because it was a single exhibit, I was able to absorb a lot and to listen to all the audio guide entries. (I was going to get a guide for the whole museum, but the girl behind the counter was so rude, I said forget it. On the other hand, the Dolce Vita audio guide guy was cute and charming. Take my five euros, please!) The other floors had a similar vibe: art deco interior design but from other countries.

Another thing I love about the D’Orsay is that everywhere is beautiful, even the cafe —

dorsay_cafeThe only negative about the museum is that the food at the basement cafeteria (not the above pictured) sucks. The bread of my baguette was dry and chewy, and the chocolate muffin left much to be desired. It didn’t even compare to chocolate muffins from NYC delis, not to mention that one from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona that I still dream about.

Next up, amusement parks! (That’s right, amusement parks plural).


29
Aug 15

More French word nerdery

I’m back from Paris! Eventually I’ll go into detail about the stuff we did and saw, but right now here’s part two in Parisian word nerdery. (And here’s part one if you missed it.)

An orange museum? One day I visited the Musee de l’Orangerie, and when Yiannis said, “The Orange Museum?” I realized I had no idea why the museum was called that. Did it have to do with the Principality of Orange in the south of France? Was it once swathed in orange like some kind of Christo and Jean-Claude exhibit? Neither as it turns out.

The name comes from the orangeries that used to be on the grounds of the nearby Tuileries Palace and were once considered fashionable to have. The structure was built to shelter the orange trees, and was used for everything from lodging soldiers, to housing sporting and musical events, to displaying exhibitions of animals, plants, and yes, paintings.

The building officially became a museum in 1921, and is perhaps most famous for Monet’s Nymphéas, his large panels of water lilies.

Who’s Sully? It seemed that everywhere I went in Paris I saw the name Sully, which made me think of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who, as you probably remember, was integral to the successful crash landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River.

Needless to say, the Parisian Sully isn’t that Sully. So who was he? The Duke of Sully, otherwise known as Maximilien de Bethune, Henry IV’s “faithful right-hand man” who had a role in “building a strong centralized administrative system in France using coercion and highly effective new administrative techniques.” He also has lots of streets and at least one hotel named after him.

What’s a grisette? Where we were staying wasn’t far from the Grisette statute, which we passed every day. But who — or what — is a Grisette?

According to this blog post at Invisible Paris, the Grisette, along with the Lonette, were two female myths that emerged due to an 1830 “influx of males to the city from rural areas attracted by work in the new industries.” Such an influx caused a drastic change in the female to male ratio — 90 women for every 100 men — and subsequently, a shift in power. Women now had the upper hand and “intended to make men pay.”

On the surface, the Grisette (the word originally referred to the “cheap gray dress fabric” worn by such women) was a working class girl or young woman, but she was also someone with “easy morals” who, as Invisible Paris puts it:

spent more than she earned, but who had an elder male ‘friend’, a shopkeeper or wholesaler who would pay her debts. Her other male friend, a much younger painter or student, was the weekend friend, her passion and the one who would take her to fashionable balls and restaurants.

A Lorette, on the other hand, was a woman “supported by her lovers,” and who devoted “herself to idleness, show, and pleasure.” (The name comes from the church of Notre Dame de Lorette, near where apparently many Lorettes lived.)

As for the Grisette statue, it was made by sculptor Jean Descomps in 1909, and features one bodacious woman bun.

An apple of love? The French seem to have the coolest words for junky carnival foods. First, there was barbe à papa for cotton candy. Then at Disneyland (yes, we went to Disneyland), I noticed caramel apples were called pommes d’amour, or apples of love.

It’s obvious where barbe à papa comes from — cotton candy kind of looks like a dad’s long (pink) facial hair — but what do caramel apples have to do with love? Short answer: I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything explaining the connection, although there are a couple of theories as to why pomme d’amour also refers to a tomato.

One theory is that it’s due to the former belief of the tomato’s aphrodisiac properties. Another says that pomme d’amour may be a corruption of the Italian pomo de’Mori or Spanish pome dei Moro, both of which mean literally “Moorish apple.”


23
Aug 15

Word nerdery, the Paris edition

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

In case you didn’t know, I’m currently vacationing in Paris. My travel buddy, Yiannis, and I have been doing lots of Parisian stuff, including a visit to the Centre Pompidou; hitting a carnival where we rode the Ferris wheel and (dangerous) log flume (how dangerous? the only thing keeping us from flying out of the log were physics and hanging on for dear life); a boat tour of the Canal Saint-Martine; a visit to Parc de Bercy; and seeing American Ultra (at least the subtitles were Parisian).

But as two language buffs, we’ve also been noticing and wondering a lot about words.

Puce. When Yiannis went to use his credit card, the sales woman instructed him to put it into a different slot in the machine since his card had a puce, or microchip. That got him wondering about the word puce, which in French also means “flea.”

We guessed a chip was is so-called because it’s tiny like the blood-sucking insect, but then I wondered if the English color word was related too.

“Maybe it’s the color after you smash a flea,” Yiannis joked.

He turned out to be pretty close. The English puce does indeed come from the French puce meaning “flea-colored; flea,” which comes from the Latin pucilem, “flea.” The Online Etymology Dictionary goes on to say, “That [puce] could be generally recognized as a color seems a testimony to our ancestors’ intimacy with vermin.”

Bateaux-Mouche. While we were sunning ourselves along the Seine, we saw several boats called Bateaux-Mouche. From my high school French – and context clues – I knew that bateaux meant “boats,” but I didn’t recognize mouche.

Yiannis looked it up and saw a meaning of mouche was “fly” so we thought maybe it meant that the boats were fast (although they’re not). I dug a little a deeper and found that mouche also means “patch, beauty spot”; “bull’s-eye” (faire mouch means to hit the bull’s eye); and that a bateau mouche is an excursion or pleasure boat.

However, that mouche has nothing to do with a fly, beauty mark, or bull’s eye. Bateau mouche was a registered trademark and referred to where the boats were once manufactured, namely “the Mouche area of Lyon.”

Barbe à papa. At the carnival, Yiannis noticed a sign for cotton candy that read barbe à papa. “What does that mean?” he wondered, and looked it up: papa’s beard.

That got us curious about how cotton candy is referred to in other languages. According to this BBC forum, in British English it’s “candy floss”; Australian English, “fairy floss”; and in Dutch, suikerspin which translates as “sugar spider.”

Then I started wondering if the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s, has anything to do with the French phrase. I didn’t find anything definitive, only speculation that the name is probably a literal translation.

And to complicate things further, cotton candy in Japanese is watakashi, which translates as, well, “cotton (wata) candy (kasha).” In more watakashi trivia, Amaicho Watakashi is a “character” associated with Utau, a Japanese singing synthesizer application.


22
Apr 15

Beantown Birthday

This past week or so I’ve been on my annual east coast birthday trip.

While I usually visit New York, this time I felt like doing something different, namely visiting my pal ES in Boston.

Getting There

While I got my tickets to New Jersey pretty early, I hemmed and hawed for the longest time about how I’d get to Boston from NJ. Flying seemed inexpensive but I hated the idea of going to the airport so many times within a 10-day period. The bus is super-cheap, but my back hurts if I sit too long. That left the train, which is pretty expensive and takes as long as the bus.

But then I hemmed and hawed for so long that the plane tickets ended up being too expensive, and I took the train anyway.

The four hours didn’t feel long at all. It helped that I had no one next to me so I was able to spread out; that there was free wifi that worked (well, mostly); and that we actually got to Boston on time.

Since it was only about three, I headed over to ES’s workplace. Our other buddy, AY, had come in the night before so she was already there. While ES finished up some work, AY and I snacked, spaced out, and browsed our phones.

After we headed out, we almost immediately we ran into one of my must-sees:

Hello Mr. Poe #edgarallanpoe #boston

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

When I saw the statue from far away, I admit I was a little disappointed that it was “small.” But actually upon closer inspection, I loved that it’s street level and person-sized.

Me and Mr. Poe #edgarallanpoe #boston A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Next we strolled through the Boston Common and then down Newbury and Boylston Streets, eventually ending up at the marathon finish line.

At the finish line, pre-race #boston #bostonmarathon

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

I wouldn’t be going to the race so I was glad to at least see where it ended.

That night we had a yummy Italian dinner at this place called Vinny’s in Somerville. From the outside it looked a little hole-in-the-wall-ish, but the food was really good. We shared a few dishes: a calamari salad, the stuffed calamari, the Sicilian rabbit, and a side of angel hair pasta. Everything was delicious but I especially liked the rabbit (very tender and not gamey at all) and the angel hair.

Museum, cider, and ramen

The next day was packed with activities. We spent the morning visiting various food shops (two bakeries, a Greek grocery, and a cheese shop) before heading out to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which, AY, found out, was free if it was your birthday, which on that day it was.

It’s been many years since I’ve been at the Isabella Stewart. I was glad to see the new wing — isabellastewartgardner — and the old courtyard, as lovely as always —

Courtyard #isabellastewartgardner #boston A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

After the museum, we hit a couple of hard cider tastings. I’ve never had hard cider before, and it turns out I like it. The first was at at Bantam Cider

bantamcider

— and the second was at Downeast, which was out on the docks. After a bunch of cider, I was feeling sassy:

Being sassy at the cider bar #boston #downeast

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

We capped off the day with a late dinner at Santouka Ramen in Harvard Square, another AY find. Apparently Santouka is a well-known chain in Japan. I got something with a little kick:

Long spicy noodles for a long spicy life.

Maine

On Sunday we drove up to Ogunquit, Maine.

While it was freezing (luckily ES had a winter coat in her trunk for me to borrow), it was absolutely beautiful. We took a walk down the rocky shore —

Rocky Maine coast #maine #ogunquit #atlanticocean

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

— and had a seafood lunch. AY and ES had lobster rolls and lobster stew while I had clam chowder (I also had an excellent hot dog when we first got there). We also saw a lighthouse:

Cape Neddick Light #maine #capeneddick #lighthouse A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

It was so lovely just to walk around, get lots of sun, and breathe in the fresh salt air.

By the end of the day, we were pooped. We had dinner at a Mexican place near ES’s — shredded pork, yum! — and then crashed.

And back home

The train back to NYC was a bit more crowded and about 15 minutes late, but I managed to get some work done in between dozing off. An upside to getting into Penn Station was that I could just run across the platform to catch another train back to my parents’.

Since Monday I’ve been catching up with work and being a lazy bum. On Thursday I head back to San Francisco.