Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ouigo or no-go?



I'm out in the countryside all week for work, and I took one of the new Ouigo trains from Montparnasse to get out here.  If you haven't heard of it yet, the SNCF advertises Ouigo as the "new high-speed, low-cost trains".

Up until a few months ago, the Ile de France departures only left from outside of the city, but they started offering routes from Montparnasse last November.
There are a few things to know though before you go - like they recommend showing up 25 minutes before the departure.  This is for several reasons - 1) the trains leave from the Hall Vaugirard, which is a good 10 minute walk from the metro. 2) You need to have your ticket validated (and show ID) before you are allowed to enter the boarding area. 3) The size of your suitcase will be verified, similar to when flying a low-cost airplane in Europe.

This last one got me today - I have a small red suitcase that used to be an acceptable carry-on size, but that no longer fits today's standards.  It's still small though, and I figured it would pass, but wrong!  They had folks verifying everyone's baggage prior to boarding, and the suitcases had to fit into that little rectangular box airlines use. They were also measuring people's handbags with a ruler.  Poor little reddie missed the mark by a few centimeters, and I ended up having to pay the 20€ baggage fee.  Always a joy at six in the morning, let me tell you!

Next, there's the inside of the train. In order to get more bang for their buck, they have made the previous two seats into three seats and they don't recline. It's a lot less comfortable than your standard TGV, but it's doable for shorter trips.  There's also no bar car, so you have to stock up on your own food before you go....and then keep all the trash with you because there are no more trash bins in the cars (only near the toilets).  
There is a small workaround though for the seats - if you pay 2€ extra, you can get a seat with an electrical outlet, and those all appeared to be two-seaters.   And if you need more than a carry-on, pre-paying your luggage costs only 5€ in advance instead of the 20€ I paid at the station. 

A few upsides of this low-cost service?  Tickets start at 10€.  For my trip, I paid 19€ for the Ouigo, and a regular TGV train for the same route departing a few minutes later cost 60€, 3x the Ouigo price. The Ouigo trains also have staff on-board to regularly clean the bathrooms, there's no weight limit for luggageand a big perk for families is that kids under 12 can travel with a paying adult for a flat fee of 5€.

So would I take it again?  Probably, especially if I was traveling on my own dime.  I'll just be sure to measure my suitcase next time....

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Another year in the books

Well hello 2018!  I can't believe 2017 is over and done with already, but I can't say I'm sorry to see it go.  It was a rough year for me professionally - The Company restructured about 18 months ago and I'm still struggling with how I fit in to the new layout, which has led to a lot of sleepless nights and a general malaise.  I've been trying to focus on the perks of my job and how lucky I am to have made it this far in life to have work that I love - but at times it's been a struggle.

I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff this year though -in the first quarter of 2017, I traveled to Egypt, Germany, Thailand, Japan and Poland. We spent a very romantic Easter weekend in Venice.  After that I went to the UK, Norway, South Africa and China.  Then Hungary, Japan again and Marseille/Cassis for our anniversary. 

Back to Japan for a third time in the fall (didn't realize I went there 3x this year!), where I had some free time to do some cool sightseeing in Hiroshima and Kyoto, and then it was off to Zambia followed by India.  And somehow interspersed between all of that were 4 trips to the US, which allowed me to spend some precious quality time with our newborn niece and to attend multiple family events (a bachelorette party, a wedding, a christening, etc).  I guess now looking back on it all, it's easy to see how the year went by in a flash - most of it was spent on a plane lol. 

And funnily enough, I'm writing this from Rio de Janeiro.  On the Friday before Christmas, I was asked "Is there anyway you could go to Brazil on Tuesday for three weeks?".  I was like "As in Tuesday in a few days?? Umm....let me check".   I didn't want to spend that much time apart from C (nor miss New Year's together), so I quickly asked him to see if he could get time off from work at the last minute, and here we are - ringing in a very unexpected New Year's in Rio.  Thank goodness for visa-free travel to Brazil with French passports.

It's been interesting here - Brazil is not necessarily a country I would have visited on my own, but I guess it's one more to scratch off on my map.  C will be heading home soon and then I'll be flying out to the countryside, which will likely be a whole new adventure in itself...

I don't really have any resolutions for 2018 - I just want to find some way to be happy and healthy.  And I wish you all the same!

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Balance Ton Porc

Last week, I had the pleasure of catching up with a dear, dear friend who was back in town.  Over drinks and nibblies, she expressed surprise at having forgotten about the overt cat-calling that goes on in Paris.  Many times, she'd just been sitting at a café, minding her own business, only to be interrupted by one or more men.  We laughed about the sheer balls of these men, and then I started regaling them with the"return of the gym bise-r", whom I had not seen for a few months.  

At the end of my story however, she reframed it in a way that I had never thought of before.  She pointed out that there was a guy who was repeatedly making me uncomfortable on a weekly basis, so much so that I had actually changed my work-out schedule to avoid him, instead of confronting him, or bringing it up to management.  What really got me though is when she brought up that I might not be the only one dealing with this guy.  What if he was doing this to a different woman every day, and we were all collectively just de-dramatizing it or not wanting to make a fuss?  I mean, that's the message that we keep hearing over and over again on the news - that the women thought they were the only one or that they were somehow responsible in some way, so they didn't speak up.

This whole conversation has occupied my thoughts quite a bit lately, especially as for the past few weeks I had been saying that I had been 'lucky' enough to not have my own #MeToo story to share. I mean sure, I run into enormous amounts of sexism in my line of work, but not sexual harassment.  But now I'm thinking about all the subtle ways that I modify my behavior to avoid being in those kinds of situations.  I take self-defense classes.  I don't go to certain neighborhoods at night. I pay attention to what I wear when I go out without C. I cross the street if I see an aggressive-looking man walking towards me. I enter the most-populated metro cars at night.  I take an uber so that someone will be able to trace me if I disappear.   I've come to realize that these are all things that I've been doing unconsciously - it's only now after discussion that I realize that no, it's not normal that women have to do these sorts of things on a daily basis.

On the flip side, I heard a really good counter-argument to the "women are asking for it by how the dress/look/act" line.  If someone's home gets robbed, you would never say to them "Well, you were really asking for it by having such a nice house.  I mean, with your lawn trimmed so nicely and all those flowers and fancy decorations - you really can't blame someone for breaking in".  Or "Well what did you expect having such a nice car?  Leather seats, all the options, fancy rims....your car was just begging to be stolen".   And therein lies the irony - we would never say that to someone about their things, but yet many people wouldn't think twice about making such statements about a woman's body.

Not that I have any magical solutions.  But maybe my girlfriend was right in that it starts with each one of us calling out the small incidents we see around us, instead of sweeping them under the rug, making a joke about it, or somehow thinking it was our fault.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

#parismaville

There was an interesting study released recently on the inhabitants of Paris, and I thought I'd share a few facts:
  • 53% of city dwellers are Parisiennes
  • 1/3 of the city is aged between 20 & 39 (vs a national average of 24%)
  • There are 325,000 foreigners coming from 176 countries
  • People marry more in Paris than elsewhere in France 
  • 18% of marriages are for people of the same sex (vs 3% elsewhere)
  • This one surprises me since having children in this city seems to be such a pain, but Parisians have more kids than the rest of the French - 12.8 kids per 100,000 vs 11.8 in the rest of the country
  • The employment rate is slightly higher here - 77% vs 74%
  • And conversely, unemployment is lower - 7.8% vs 9.7%
  • Only 10% of the intra-muros population uses a car to get around. 
  • 29% of Parisians volunteer (vs 25% nationally)
The top three things Parisians love about their city:
  1. The pure beauty of Paris
  2. The diversity of activities
  3. The public transport
The top three activities Parisians love to do:
  1. Stroll the streets
  2. Grab a drink in a café
  3. Exercise outdoors
The top three things Parisians dislike about Paris:
  1. The cost of rent
  2. Rudeness
  3. Pollution
My feelings for Paris were definitely mixed before I moved here, but this city has been great to me and you can now count me among the 93% of Parisians who love it!

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wanderlust

I ended up unexpectedly going back to the US at the beginning of the month for work, and flights to MN were horrendously expensive, so I decided to swing by NYC on the way back to lower the cost and see my BFF.  I was exhausted after two jam-packed weeks, and I didn't really want to do the typical touristy stuff, so I checked out the 'what's on in NYC' page and came across two unique events. 

The first one was a picnic in Central Park organized by the Breton-NYC association (my secret goal is to get my BFF to meet a French guy so that she comes back to France regularly).  Unfortunately the picnic was a bust - everyone already knew each other and they weren't interested in mingling with new folks.  Sidebar- there was no alcohol!  How can Bretons have a non-alcoholic picnic?!  It blows my mind. We did end up running into an American friend from my Bretagne days though, so that was a random coincidence, and it was fun to meet her (Breton) husband and their baby.

The second event was a 'Mindful Triatholon' organized by Wanderlust.  It was a 5K, 60 minutes of meditation, and then 30 minutes of meditation. It was around $40 to participate in the whole thing, but you could also attend just the yoga and meditation parts for free, which is what we did. It was a fantastic event, and because they were trying to break the Guinness World Record for Partner Yoga, we even got a free t-shirt! 

The sponsor booths were also amazing - I've never been to an event with so many great free samples. We got free kombucha, free natural drinks, tons of different energy/health bars, a free veggie burger, free (Samsung-sponsored lol) fresh coconuts, vegan yogurt, etc. The list went on and on, and I was really happy to stock up on some healthy snacks for the plane ride home. 

On top of all of that, there were some bonus activities that were normally only for people who had a paid ticket, but you could show up last minute and get on a wait list to get a free spot, which is how I ended up trying aerial yoga for the first time.

It was such a great day, with a great atmosphere - and I saw online that they are also doing it in various cities around the world, so I wanted to share the love.  This weekend, events will be held in London, Adelaide, Tampa and Washington, DC, and the following weekend, they will be in Philly, Milan and Detroit.  So if you like yoga and that sort of thing, check out their website here to see if they'll be holding an event near you!

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday musings

As I was walking to the gym this morning, I started thinking for some reason about my maternal grandmother.  She immigrated to the US from Finland in her early 20's and lived on a farm in a Finnish community her whole life, so she still has a very thick accent and never really learned to speak English fluently.

We have all always considered her to be your typical sweet little old grandma.  She is so loving and never wants anyone to fight or have any sort of conflict.  But I've never really considered until now if that is really her *true* personality.  So many of us expats here in France lament about never being truly ourselves in French - we say aren't as funny, outgoing, deep, expressive, etc - and it occurred to me all of the sudden that she has likely felt the same over the past nearly 70 years in the US.  Unfortunately though I don't think her English is good enough to understand me if I tried to bring it up....and my Finnish skills have long gone by the wayside after so many years in France.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Free boat cruise on your birthday!

Just thought I would pass along this bon plan for anyone who will be in Paris on their birthday:

The bateaux mouches company Vedettes de Paris will give a free 1 hour cruise ticket + a glass of champagne (or a muffin+soft drink) to anyone on their birthday.  You just need to show up and provide proof that it actually is your birthday. 

This offer is valid on all 1 hour non-theme cruise all year long.  How cool is that?  Too bad I learned about it just after my birthday...but there's always next year!

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