Saturday, January 3rd, 2009. I wish it were two weeks ago again. Ian left yesterday to head back to the good old U. S. of A. , and Scarlet and Carl headed back the day before. Being around friends and family from back home kind of makes me miss home that much more, and also makes me itch for my other visitors to start coming. Only 46 more days until Messy gets here. It's all downhill from this point.
I've decided that I like France best when I am visiting it. Whether I am traveling around with my boyfriend, or my sister and her husband, or even the other assistants, I love it here. It's the living part that isn't so much fun. Unfortunately, I am only able to do the traveling bits because of the living here bits, so I will just have to tough it out. I'm gonna go ahead and say that Cookie Monster and I are on the same level--like cookies, France is a sometimes food.
The past two weeks have probably been the best two here, mostly because Ian was here, but also because of the things we did and saw. Ian arrived on the Thursday before vacation, jetlagged and hungry. Friday I had to work, so Ian had most of the day to rest up and sleep off his jetlag. We had a Christmas dinner with some of the other assistants on Friday night, and it was hilarious to watch Ian speak broken French to people. Ian and I rented a car for that first weekend, and drove over to Arles. Since visiting there in October, I was sure that Ian would love it. We did everything that I did the first time over again (the Roman amphitheatre and other ruins, the aquaduct, etc) but it was just that much better to watch Ian running around excitedly taking pictures of the old buildings and structures. The weekend we were in Arles was also the start of their annual Christmas festivities, so not only was the city completely covered in Christmas lights, but we also saw an aerial performance (complete with fake snow falling from the performers) and some crazy light shows in the Place de la Replublique, too. Before we returned the car on Monday, we drove out to Collioure, where Ian was able to fulfill his life-long dream of seeing a castle. He was so excited!
The next day we did some Christmas shopping and then met Scarlet and Carl at the train station. On Christmas Eve, we discovered that more stuff is open in France than in the States (oh my God! It's a miracle! France's business hours, better than America's? No way!), so we did some site-seeing (or is that sight-seeing? I guess it could be both, right?) in Perpignan. We went to the Palais des Rois de Majorque (the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca), which was really amazing, actually. It was used as a fortress/bunker during WWII, because of its position on the hill above the city, too, which also means that we had a beautiful view of all of Perpignan. From way up there, you can't see the dog poo on the sidewalks, so it was quite nice, actually. We had some lunch, went to the Christmas market and had some mulled wine, and did some grocery shopping for our Christmas dinner. When we got home, we pulled a branch off of a pine tree, tacked it to the wall, and put all of our Christmas presents under it. It was very Charlie Brown.
This definitely was the weirdest Christmas I have ever spent, stuck in a tiny studio apartment with my boyfriend, one of my sisters, and her husband. It was good, though, and I was really happy to have company from back home. We got up in the morning and opened presents, which was kind of awkward because most of them were for me. Thank you, by the way, to everyone for everything I got for Christmas! You all should be getting your presents by way of Scarlet or Ian soon! We watched some Christmas movies that I downloaded (Muppets' Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the usual) and then started cooking for dinner. We had pretty standard fare, except that I couldn't find any turkey, so we had delicious roast beast. Yum! We also bought a buche de noel (a real French one, not the kind that Scarlet and Vanessa and I tried to cobble together for culture points in high school French classes) and a cheese platter that the nice French woman behind the cheese counter at the grocery store helped us put together ("You need a hard cheese," she said emphatically). Scarlet and I played at least an hour of Spit after dinner, and we went to bed. Nice and relaxing Christmas, we all agreed. The most exciting part was when Ian found out he's going to be an uncle! His brother and sister-in-law gave everyone back home an amazing Christmas present in the form of pee! Woohoo! I am so excited!
The next morning we got up early to pick up the car rental, and started our drive to Avignon. It snowed on the way there for a while, and I was so excited! I finally got to have some of the winter storm that people were (not) enjoying back home. Woohoo! We also drove out to the aquaduct again, so that Scarlet and Carl could see it (it's not too far away from Avignon, so it was definitely worth the drive). We went to the Pope's Palace, which was cool even the second time for me. Afterwards, we checked into our tiny, adorable little bed and breakfast (if ANYONE goes to visit Avignon, stay at Le Jardin de la Livree), and then headed back to Avignon for dinner, where we had the most disgusting food of all time. After visiting the Christmas market, we were walking around looking at outdoor menus to find a place to eat. We stopped at a place called Jacquemart to look at the menu, and the waiter who was standing just inside the door came outside and asked us if we wanted to come in (come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly....) and it would have been awkward to refuse at that point. Never, ever go to Jacquemart. Awful.
We woke up early the next day to begin our drive to Paris, which was long but beautiful. Part of the drive took us through one end of the Loire Valley, so we saw a few awesome castles just off the side of the road. Breathtaking. Although the drive was cool, I will never ever drive to Paris again. We got so lost, and so confused, and it took us almost two hours to get from outside Paris to our apartment. Ian and I started to use landmarks as a means to find our way within the city (thank you, Cecile, for hammering in Parisian monument placement during our Paris class!) because the original directions we found were not helping. By getting lost, we did manage to see several things that we had wanted to see, so I suppose it could be considered a really stressful way to sight-see. We found the apartment, unpacked our stuff, and then went to return the car. On the walk back, we found the Place des Vosges, and a cute little restuarant called Nectarine for dinner. Exhausted from the drive and from getting lost in Paris, we decided to call it a night and went to bed early.
I won't do a blow-by-blow for out time in Paris, because we saw sooooo much, but needless to say it was amazing. I love that city. Sure, it was really effing cold (I had gotten used to the weather in Perpignan, where it hasn't gotten below 50 degrees for the most part. It never got above 35 degrees in Paris. Yikes!) and kind of stinky, but I got over the smell after about an hour. Scarlet and I had planned out an itinerary, which we managed to stick to pretty well. Also, Rick Steves was an invaluable companion, especially when it came to finding restuarants. We saw the usual things, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, etc. Notre Dame was amazing, as was the Louvre (although a little crowded around the Mona Lisa). Versailles was a huge let-down, unfortunately, but I think that was the only thing I was kind of disappointed in. We couldn't climb the Eiffel Tower because of the weather, which was also unfortunate, but an easy way to save like 18 euros. We did one of those boat cruises along the Seine, which was really cool, although kind of chilly. My favorite was probably the Pere Lachaise cemetery, which we did on the 1st, after Scarlet and Carl had gone home. I got to see Jim Morrison's grave, Proust's grave, kiss Oscar Wilde's grave, and pay homage to Heliose and Abelard. It was really cool. Proabbly the best way for you all to see what I did in Paris is to check out my photos, which I am in the process of uploading now. Of course we couldn't fit everything into our six days we had in Paris, so I am really looking forward to going back to continute exploring. Hopefully I will be able to make it to the Musee d'Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and the National Middle Ages Museum (yeah, I am a huge dork).
So that's the update for now. I had a lot of fun this vacation, but I feel like another week would be good before I have to start teaching again. Unfortunately, I start bright and early Tuesday morning. Blegh. Anyway, here's the link to my photos again: http://picasaweb.google.com/ashley.j.benson Enjoy!