Paris in the Rain: A Photo Essay in the City of Lights

Paris in the Rain: A Photo Essay in the City of Lights

Happy Friday everyone! So now that I’ve shown you what I do on a day-to-day basis, I want to show you what I do on my day off.

On my days off I can generally be found wandering Paris in the rain.

Paris in the rain – yes, an undoubtedly cliché photo subject, but certainly a charming one. And let me say, it rains a lot in Paris. Whenever I see the sun I throw on my riding boots and run outside – it’s not a common occurrence in these parts!

Paris in the Rain

Le Marais

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain

Paris in the Rain Note to other photographers – when I lower the shutter speed enough for the subject to be blurry like the man on the bicycle, it way over-exposes the entire image. How do you avoid that?

Anyway, if you are ever in Paris, make sure to wander the city by yourself. Whether you spot the yamaka-wearing children getting out of school at the Le Marais synagogue or the tourists toting their bright umbrellas there’s always something interesting around the corner in Paris.

Have you ever wandered Paris in the rain?

And if you aren’t sick of me yet then check out my Atlas Sliced interview with Alexa Hart! In the video I talk a lot about how to become an au pair while swishing my hair like Justin Bieber and giggling.

A Day in the Life of an American Au Pair in France

A Day in the Life of an American Au Pair in France

Note: After writing this post I realized that my entire day revolves around food. And to that statement I have no defense; it’s completely true.

Today I want to give my readers a glimpse into my very glamorous life here in France. So, ready to find out what the life of an au pair is really like?

7:45 I wake up to the sounds of the family having breakfast and getting ready for school. I groggily roll back over because I stayed up too late reading.

French Breakfast

8:20 I drag myself out of bed to prendre le petit déj (have breakfast). I pop two slices of pain de campagne in the toaster while I swirl raspberry jam into creamy Fjord yogurt. When the toast is ready I slather it with tangy goat cheese.

9:00 Catherine, the lady I work for, comes back from dropping the girls off at school. Before she leaves again for work she asks me if I can make boeuf bourguignon for dinner and shows me the recipe. I nod and fake a smile. I can make boeuf bourguignon, right? Gulp.

On her way to work Catherine drops me off in town which is awesome because I don’t have to walk 30 minutes to get to the center. I head to bookstore and buy two French grammar books for my language school, for which I begrudgingly cough up 40 euros.

French market

9:50 Today, Tuesday, is one of the three days a week when the market is in the town plaza. I photograph the market and chat with the vendors – all of whom are more than happy to have their pictures taken, to my surprise.

Downside – most of the vendors call me madame and I begin considering preventative botox.

Farmers Market

11:30 I realize that I’m famished so I stop at a small café for an early lunch.

I order an espresso with cream (café creme) and it tastes watered down and bitter, as it usually does in France. I sigh and fantasize about journeying to the nearby coffee kingdom of Italy for some real espresso.

While their coffee is downright terrible, the French have mastered the art of salad creation. The shallot vinaigrette on the salade parisienne I order is perfection.

Upside – the waiter repeatedly calls me mademoiselle and I feel my youth flowering again. No botox today.

Bistro Lunch

12:00 I walk home listening to Mika on my ipod, excited to edit the photos I have just taken.

12:35 After a long walk home I run to my computer to begin some photo editing. And to check my Google Reader, of course.

1:00 Reading time. Orwell today.

3:00 I decide it’s time to get domestic, so I clean the kitchen and start preparing the boeuf bourguignon. Note – this is not Julia Child’s boeuf bourgignon. The ingredients are as follows – beef, tons of carrots, two onions, bay leaves and thyme. I don’t even have any wine to use!

Carrots

You dirty, dirty carrots.

5:00 Zoe, the 12-year old girl I take care of, comes home from school and we rush to take the bus to her dance class.

6:00 I wander aimlessly around town for an hour and mosey over to the bakery to buy a treat for Catherine. Because I’m nice like that.

7:30 After we get home, I set the table in preparation for my favorite part of the day, dinner with the family.

8:00 I finish cooking the boeuf bourguignon, and cross my fingers that it works out. I manage to find a water bottle full of white wine so I throw some in and hope for the best.

8:30 Dinner is served. The boeuf bourguignon miraculously turns out, even though it’s the first time I’ve made it.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon
The boeuf is Zoe-approved. I can sleep soundly.

Saint-Felicien

9:00 After the main course Olivier, the dad, brings out the cheese platter. There are the usual suspects like chèvre and camembert, but one cheese that truly stands out; a Saint-Felicien with black truffles on the inside. It turns out that truffles taste like a combination of mushrooms, the forest floor, crack and every savory flavor you’ve ever tasted times ten.

Religieuse

9:20 For dessert we have the little coffee-flavored religieuse pastry that I picked up for Catherine at the bakery today. Religieuese in France means nun, which is apparently because the pastry looks like a nun wearing a habit. I can’t really see that, but I try the nun and she tastes just like an eclair.

10:30 Bed-time. Before I go to sleep, I pray my culinary good luck will see me through another day.

Have you ever worked as an au pair? Would you want to?

Introducing… My Local Castle, the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chateau

Introducing… My Local Castle, the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chateau

Life update! Remember the European to-travel list I shared with you guys a few weeks ago? Well I bought a ticket to Istanbul to visit my cousin who is living there! If anyone has recommendations for what to see/do in Istanbul I would love to hear them.

So this week during my copious free time, I decided to explore the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, to be known henceforth as my local castle. Fun fact – château is the French word for castle. Is it terrible I just learned that?

The castle was originally built in 1122, but was rebuilt and added onto in later years. (Wikipedia tells me the Black Prince burned it down in 1346, which intrigues me.) The only part of the castle that remains from medieval times is the cathedral, which was built in the French Gothic style. I’m no architecture whiz, but I’m pretty sure “Gothic” means lots of exterior buttresses and scary-looking gargoyles.

And the château history just gets more interesting from there; in 1638, Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, was born at the castle, and during the German Occupation of France the castle served as the headquarters of the German Army.

Saint Germain Chateau

What attracted most to the church was the chapel. I particularly loved the unusual green color of the stained glass windows.

Saint Germain Chateau

Saint Germain Chateau

And while I’m not religious, I love the feeling of being inside of a church. The cool stones underneath your feet. The silence and the echos.

After a few minutes of sitting and staring up at the ceiling, I realized I was completely alone.

This allowed for some actual reflection. Am I living my life well? Am I trying my best to make the most of the time I have?

In medieval times you couldn’t be arrested in a church, so thieves would sometimes hide out in them. I still feel that sense of safety and peace.

Saint Germain Chateau

And then I did something arguably sacrilegious (please skip this paragraph devoutly Catholic readers!) – I lay flat on my back to take a photo of the ceiling. Okay, okay, maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but good luck doing that in the Sistine Chapel.

Saint Germain Chateau

And speaking of Catholics; I’ve been helping the kids with their homework and thus have been learning a lot about Elizabethan England (is it wrong I enjoy that?)

And while I had always thought Catholics and Protestants were basically the same thing, they definitely didn’t use to be. It seems that the Catholics were much more strict in their form of worship; they wanted the priests to be celibate and the mass to be in Latin (not English), for example.

Okay sorry, back to the castle.

Saint Germain Chateau

Saint Germain Chateau

Saint Germain Chateau

Saint Germain Chateau

Equally impressive are the castle’s grounds. The gardens were designed to feature panoramic view of Paris, as well as opulent Italian-style gardens.

So um… I know that you are probably dying to seeing this wonderful castle now, but please try to be discreet – some of us need to be able to partake in some unconventional cathedral photography there, you know?

Saint Germain Chateau

Have you ever visited in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chateau?

My (Very Belated) Seven Super Shots

My (Very Belated) Seven Super Shots

I know that the Seven Super Shots were like, so 10 months ago, but I am an official travel blogger now (kind of) so here are mine. It seems I really enjoy contributing to internet memes in a belated fashion, like when I did my ABCs of Travel this September. Without further ado, my seven super shots!

1. A photo that takes my breath away.

Dingle

There was something about standing over the green, wild and windblown cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula that (literally) blew me away. While in my case Rick Steves’ recommendations generally don’t work out (I will never forget that horrible fado bar in Lisbon… ever), Dingle was one place I would recommend to anyone; the people, live Irish music, Guinness and nature fit so well together.

2. A photo that makes me laugh.

Hair hearts

I bet you weren’t expecting a photo of me in here, right?

I think if this photo had a title, it would be, “What happens when you spend too much time with a 12-year old.” My preteen sister styled this photo, and when I huffed something about how I have some dignity I need to maintain, she retorted, “Um, Ashley, I have an Instagram account I need to maintain.”

Touché, sis.

3. A photo that makes me dream.

I took this shot while gazing out the window of an antique wooden train on the Spanish island of Mallorca. I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the dreamy, uniquely Spanish scenery… until my camera died midway through the trip, of course!

4. A photo that makes me think.

Stray Dog Chile

While Chile is by far the most industrialized South American country I have been to, there is a rampant problem with stray dogs in Santiago and beyond. It always broke my heart to see visibly miserable dogs following people around for a scrap of food.

5. A photo that makes my mouth water.

Belgian Waffle in Brussels

This may come as a huge surprise to you, but I really love food. Especially French food. I struggled with choosing a photo for this category – only one picture?

Well it turns out that the food is just as good north of the border; this hot-off-the-griddle, smothered-in-whipped-cream Belgian waffle was the first thing I tasted in Brussels and it was delicious.

6. A photo that tells a story.

1957 Chris Craft

This is a shot of my dad driving our family’s 1957 Chris Craft on Lake Huron, where we have our family cottage. The boat has been in the family for generations and is named “Sweet William” in honor of my grandpa Bill. It’s a very special heirloom to all of us; I hope it stays in the family for many generations to come.

7. The photo that I am most proud of ( my National Geographic photo.

Arthurs Seat

I worked really hard to get this shot, after hiking (or should I say crawling?) to the top of the gorse-covered Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland. I honestly have no idea how the photo came out like this, with the mountain bathed in sunlight and the background black and white – I swear I didn’t edit it to look like that! It amazed me to find a park like this in the middle of a big city; the Edinburghians are a lucky bunch.

Which one is your favorite?

Hiking the Cap Gris-Nez in the North of France

Hiking the Cap Gris-Nez in the North of France

Due to my previous research in Frommer’s, I had read about hiking the Cap Gris-Nez. As the 200-year old apple farm where we were staying was only an hour away, the family and I took a day-trip over to see the fabled and dramatic coastline.

On the car-ride to the capes the sweet and elderly grandfather insisted on having others translate lots of little factoids for me:

“Tell her this is the supermarket where I sell my apples and pears.”

“Tell her that these little houses are for pigeons so you can eat their meat later.”

“Tell her that Europe uses the Mediterranean as a reference to sea level.”

After learning lots of new information about potential Scrabble words and pear cultivation, we started our hike near the adorable village of Escalles. Escalles seemed surprisingly unscathed by WWII bombing, and forgive me but, untouched by time.

Escalles

As we walked up the path of the Cap Gris-Nez, we saw lots of remnants of German bunkers.

Cap Gris Nez

German bunker

We stopped at a largely intact bunker called the batterie Lindemann. Being a huge history buff, it was a treat for me to be able to stand on top of a real-live German bunker. The bunker once housed 20-meter long barrels that were able to deliver one-tonne shells onto the coastal cities of Kent on the other side of the Strait, 40 kilometers away.

Cap Gris Nez

Cap Gris Nez

Sadly, many coastal cities in both England and France were nearly destroyed by bombings in World War Two. And though I had assumed that the Germans had bombed France’s northern cities, it was in fact the Allied forces who had done the damage. The Germans had taken over the cities of northern France (as well as the rest of France, of course) and to reclaim the important shipping ports the Allies were forced to bomb them.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Atonement you might remember the scene that depicts the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” the evacuation of more than 300,000 British soldiers who were hastily transported back to England on anything that could float, including fishing boats and civilian pleasure crafts.

Unfortunately, a flurry of hail stones that suddenly began assaulting our faces and ears cut our hike was cut short. I ran back to the car with my face covered in black mascara marks which is why I won’t be appearing in the photos (damn you, Diorshow!)

But I should’ve known this might happen; a French friend of mine had warned me about the inclement weather in the North of France, “You’ll see it is very pretty if it is not raining which is 99% of the time!”

Though we didn’t hike as far as I would’ve liked, the views and WWII history were well worth the weather.

Cap Gris Nez

Cap Gris Nez

Would you be interested in hiking the Cap Gris-Nez?

Oh and HAPPY THANKSGIVING everyone!

Two Days at a 200-Year Old French Apple Farm

Two Days at a 200-Year Old French Apple Farm

To be fair, I didn’t really spend two days at a 200-year old French apple farm – I spent two days at an apple farm that is at least 200 years old. And despite some editions over the years, the farmhouse itself was built more than 300 years ago.

Catherine and Olivier, the couple whose children I take care are of, both hail from the north of France, but this week we went to visit Catherine’s family at their charming apple farm. (Is there any other kind of apple farm?)

North of France

We arrived late at night after a four-hour car ride from Paris, but luckily there was a full meal waiting for us: arugula salad, jambon persillé and country bread, which we washed down with a healthy dose of red wine. (Or well, I did.)

The next morning we started cooking early to prepare for the birthday party of Catherine’s 11-year old nephew. In honor of the festivities, Olivier made his signature scallops with crème fraîche and mushrooms, which he flambéed with Armagnac. Flambéing is really as simple as take pan off of flame, pour in alcohol and light contents of pan on fire. Who knew!

North of France

North of France

If there’s one thing the French do best, it’s dining. The birthday party was perfect – everyone was laughing and catching up over many bottles of  côtes-du-rhône and bubbly. North of France

As this was a birthday party, for dessert we enjoyed a Merveilleux, a meringue and chocolate buttercream cake from the Northern city of Lille.
Merveilleux - Lille

Note – this lunch lasted more than five hours. We sat down at the table at noon, I took a nap around three and when I came back downstairs two hours later everyone was still sitting at the table chatting over wine. I love France. Birthday party

The beverages were as good as the food; we drank some of the family’s homemade apple juice as well as some cold and crisp champagne. The family doesn’t add sugar to their apple juice, it’s simply the juice of pressed apples. And it tasted like… apples. And I know this word is starting to become vastly over-used on this site, but it was delicious. As I sipped it my alcoholic mind imagined various ways I could use it in a fall-themed cocktail.

Apple Juice
Apple Farm

After lunch the birthday boy offered to give me a tour of the apple orchard and barns. As he earnestly explained every detail of how the farm runs, the only phrase I picked up was, “Les pommes sont plus delicats que les oeufs,” or, “Apples are more delicate than eggs.”

Apple Farm
I loved learning about their family business, as my dad runs the same company my great-grandfather started in the 1930s. And while gasoline distribution is not nearly as wholesome as apple orchards, family-run small businesses of any kind have a special place in my heart.
Apples

The birthday boy then took me to see his 11 cats, though only two kitties came out to say hello.

Barn cats Apple Farm
So what did I do on the farm? Not much. I cooked food, ate food, tasted many varieties of apples and spoke French with the grandmother. And while my French may not be so great, I can say that the time I spent on the apple farm was parfait.

The Expat’s Guide to Opening a Bank Account in Europe

The Expat’s Guide to Opening a Bank Account in Europe

As I recently discovered, European banking is completely different from U.S. banking. When I first arrived in France, I was completely baffled: How do you open a bank account in Europe?

And while I have a Charles Schwab debit card that allows me to pay abroad with no international transaction fees, I recently decided that I need a French bank account for a few reasons:

I am working as an au pair in Paris and need somewhere to deposit the money I am earning.

I need a card with a “chip” in it. (See the small silver box on the left side of the card below?) There are many places in Europe where you can’t swipe with your card (like the Paris métro for example), and must pay with a card that has a chip.

French Credit Card In Europe, the debit and credit card system works very differently. There are basically two cards: ATM cards and credit cards. An ATM card can only take cash out of an ATM and can’t make purchases. A credit card can charge credit as well as take cash out of the ATM; it’s like a combination of a debit and credit card.

 

Advice for opening an account in Europe:

  • Schedule an appointment with an English-speaking banker. Sit down with him or her and talk about your options, and make sure to read the fine print regarding online banking, monthly charges, etc.
  • Even if you speak the local language fluently, bring along a local because you may not understand all the banking terms or contract differences between your own country.
  • Bring along your passport, your proof of residence (like a utility bill or rental agreement, or  bring your host’s proof of residence if you’re staying with a family) and any kind of paperwork that proves you are working or studying in Europe.
  • Open the bank account once you get to Europe; it will be easier than opening it from your home country.
  • Make sure that your bank charges a flat fee as opposed to a percentage when transferring funds to a non-Euro bank account, so that when you leave the country for good the bank charges you around 20 euros to transfer your money into your bank account back home, as opposed to taking a percentage. Imagine losing 3% of all of your money!
  • Choose a bank that’s close to your house or apartment because in Europe you have to go into the bank more often than in the U.S.
  • Study abroad students can also open bank accounts in Europe, they just need to bring proof that they are in fact studying abroad.

 

What I learned about French banking, and especially CIC, the bank I chose:

I decided to open a bank account with French bank CIC simply because it’s close to my house and because the lady I work for banks there. Luckily the bank’s policies are quite fair (besides the absurd charge to access my bank account online) so I think I made a good choice.

  • At all banks in France you are assigned a pin code for your ATM or credit card, and can’t choose one like in the United States.
  • In France I have found that the best way to transfer my money into and out of the country is by using the Xendpay money transfer service. It’s so easy!
  • CIC charges no ATM withdrawal fees anywhere within the Eurozone (any country that uses the Euro). Even if you withdrawal at a non-CIC ATM there will be no charges. If you are paying or taking money out of an ATM outside of the Eurozone, the bank will charge you a fee (i.e. if you were in the U.K., United States, etc.)
  • CIC charges for online access to your bank account, but if you pay 2.50 euros a month you get unlimited access so that’s what I chose to do.
  • At CIC sends you your PIN code in the mail, but you have to come into the bank to pick up your new card.
  • At CIC you can’t overdraft your account (the card will be denied once it has no money left).
  • CIC charges about 20 euros to transfer funds to a non-Euro account.

 

Am I missing any important points? If you have opened a bank account abroad what was your experience like?

Saturday Snapshot 7

Saturday Snapshot 7

It has been cloudy all week so the only pictures I took this week were at the at the farmers market. I know, no excuses play like a champion, but it’s honestly really hard to take a good photo in this grey Parisian weather!

I was actually quite happy with the results considering the vendors were so happy to be photographed. Here are my top three favorites… can you help me narrow it down by voting? As always I love reading your comments below. (more…)

My European To-Travel List

My European To-Travel List

So I booked my ticket to Cologne, Germany to see the Christmas Markets with my friend Marina! I have since made a list of all the locations I’m planning to visit over the next nine months. I’m posting this for other travelers and travel bloggers to see – I would LOVE your wise advice on where to go.

To date I have spent five summers in Europe; a grand total of almost eight months here. I’m ashamed to admit that during that time I have barely gone outside of Western Europe, and have missed some truly amazing countries and cities. Here is what I hope to see during the next nine months… bring on the Easyjet!

Pompidou

Please pretend I’m standing in front of a far-off, exotic location and not this contemporary art squiggle-fest at Pompidou.

1. Istanbul

I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul ever since I saw pictures of the Hagia Sofia. Also I adore Arabic architecture so I’m sure I would be in photo-heaven. My only concern is getting there as Easyjet sadly does not fly there. Also would it be safe as a solo female traveler?

2. Budapest

I’ve heard Budapest has incredible nightlife and lots of hot baths. And I feel really guilty for having seen virtually none of Eastern Europe.

3. Berlin

The big draw for me in Berlin is the street art – I’ve heard rumors that it’s everywhere. I also have a huge fascination with war history, so seeing the bombed-out Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church would be really interesting for me.

4. Spanish Basque Country

I have studied in Spain twice and visited five times, but I have never been to the fabled Basque Country. I was green with envy when I saw Anthony Bourdain’s episode there in which he ate pintxos in an old-school bar overlooking the harbor. I will get there.

5. Netherlands Part Two

While I found Amsterdam beautiful, it didn’t feel particularly Dutch to me with so many ethnic restaurants and tourists. I want to return to the see the “real” Netherlands with the family I work for in France, as the dad is Dutch and hails from Eindhoven.

6. Croatia

To be honest I don’t have that much of an interest in Croatia (or at least I don’t have a preconceived fantasy about it), but my friend went there last summer and said it was like the new Tuscany: filled with truffles and good wine, but less tourists and lower prices.

7. Morocco

In Morocco I want to barter for rugs and pottery in the bazaars and eat tagine and cous cous. I want to hear the call to prayer and experience something truly different – in fact I have never been to a Middle Eastern country! I’m thinking Marrakesh is the best place to start, but I’ll have to wait until I find a male travel buddy to come with me.

8. Venice

I have a feeling I will hate Venice (I despise crowds), but it is a city with a fascinating merchant history, and I mean come on, it’s sinking! I need to get here sooner rather than later. I’m also assuming it will be less crowded in the winter.

 9. Who knows?

There are lots of other places I’ve been thinking about: Krakow, Prague, Slovenia, Copenhagen and Sicily among them! Basically anywhere I can cheaply fly to with Easyjet is on my list.

 

Destinations in France I want to visit

1. Brittany

I want to see the sea here, as well as try the galettes. I love galettes.

2. Normandy

The D-Day beaches would probably bring me to tears, and the nature here would be a great escape from Paris.
Fleckenstein Castle

3. French Alps

My friends are planning on taking a trip to the French Alps and have invited me to come along! As a total ski bum it would be a real treat for me to ski the Alps – and mark my third continent for skiing!

4. Family Castle

Okay this is a little strange, but a long, long time ago my family had a castle. My last name is Fleckenstein and we can trace our ancestry back to the owners of the Fleckenstein castle, which is located in present-day Alsace. My dad has been there and visited our family who still lives nearby, so I would love to go see the castle too. Also the castle is basically a ruin now, and this photo is what it would have looked like 500 years ago.

5. Corsica

After spending one of the most amazing weeks of my life in the nearby island of Sardinia two summers ago, I would love to visit wild and French-speaking Corsica.

Where do you think I’m missing? I would love to hear your ideas for great European destinations!