Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Saturday, January 28, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest & no one is around to hear it...

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching the Today Show on my slingbox, and the hosts started talking about their 60th anniversary special.  They invited viewers around the world to let them know how they watched the show, and on a lark, I sent them a picture of the Eiffel tower and a quick email saying I watched from Paris.

A few hours later, I got a call from one of the show's producers and he asked if I would be willing to be filmed for the segment.  I'm pretty shy and my first response was No, but we talked for a while and he said to just think about it and get back to him.

That night, I was telling Chris all about it while watching Royal Pains.  In that particular episode, one of the characters was obsessed with promoting their company on the Today Show, and he was stalking Matt Lauer.  They ended up getting a short segment on the show in the end, and the randomness of it all convinced me that it was a sign from the universe to go ahead and do it.

So a few days later, I found myself at Chez Françis with their Paris producer and her cameraman. I had suggested Café de Flore, but they chose the location because of its great views of the Eiffel Tower - because as we all know, in TV land it is mandatory for any shot of Paris to include the Iron Lady.

It ended up being an interesting hour or two - both of them had met all kinds of fabulous people, and I really enjoyed hearing about their various experiences.  In the meantime, they took a lot of shots of me watching the show from the café from all different angles, of me getting out of the metro and sitting down, of me walking along the Seine, etc.  It was actually pretty neat, and funny to see how people reacted to seeing a cameraman following someone.  Like "Who is that girl and why is she being filmed?  Should we take a picture of her just in case?"   And then that was followed by a short interview with questions such as "How/why do you watch the show?" and "Who's your favorite host?" etc.

That night, I met up with a friend for a drink, and she immediately noticed something was different and then asked why on Earth I was wearing fake eyelashes on a Monday. So I explained what the whole story, but asked her not to mention it to anyone. She found my request completely ridiculous - like why would I agree to be on one of the most-watched shows in the US if I didn't want to be seen?!  And of course I understand that makes no sense whatsoever - but I'm still shy and I had justified it to myself by saying that no one I know watches the Today Show, so it wouldn't really matter if I was on it anyways. 

And it really didn't - they chopped all that film down to about 20 seconds, and the only people who saw it were my cousin's wife (who's on maternity leave) and one dear reader of this blog.  And that suits me just fine - it was a fun experience, but I am quite okay with the fact that my 15 seconds of fame went largely unseen by my friends and loved ones.  Does that make me weird?  (Sophie, don't answer that).

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dear Dad

I can't believe it's been twelve years.  Twelve long years. Sometimes it still seems like just yesterday.  Sometimes not.  But I still remember.  I often wonder how many others do.

2011 was a good year for me. I got a big promotion at work.  Despite the male dominance, The Company has been good to me.  Looking back on it now, I realize I spent almost three months in the US last year.  Three months - how about that?  I am certainly lucky to have found a company that flies me back "home" so often.  And also lucky that C was able to spend two of those months there with me.

Then in March we got engaged. It's funny because right before each of these big life steps, I feel a bit of trepidation....but once we actually do it, it's like "Well, what were you waiting for silly?  This is wonderful".

And of course the engagement led to the wedding.  It was a great day - hopefully you were watching us?  You were certainly on my mind. I always said I could never do a church wedding without you there to walk me down the aisle, so the mairie ended up being the perfect compromise. Either way, I sure hope you approve.

Thanksgiving weekend found us back in our old town.  I haven't been there for a few years since mom moved away.  We celebrated our marriage with family and friends, and then I showed Chris all the traces of my childhood.  Where I went to school, where I worked, the ice arena where I practically lived from the age of 4 through 18. Our old house.  Your farm.  I also took him down to the cemetery to see your grave, but maybe you saw that?  It makes me sad that I can't visit you as often as I used to.

And now we are back in France. I am thinking 2012 will be a good year too. We have a lot of "maybe" projects in the works, and the wait is just about killing me. Remember when I was little and mom used to get after me for being so impatient?  Well apparently  I haven't changed that much since then - I have to keep stopping to remind myself to breath and not taken my frustrations out on others.  But I suppose that's a (slight) improvement from stamping my feet and throwing a fit, right?

It doesn't help though that so many of the (French) people around us are negative about these projects and are trying to discourage them.  Why can't they just be happy for us, and encourage us?  I have to remind myself that it's just a cultural difference, that the French are often resistant to risk and change, but it's not always easy.   Anyway, I know everything will work out as its should in the end, and that is what I try keep reminding myself. In the mean time, I think of you often, and I hope you are still connected to us somehow.

Love you Dad. xoxo


Friday, January 20, 2012

Villers sur Mer

New Year's weekend, C & I spent a wonderful few days in Normandy chez Jenny & Milkjam - but eventually it was time to make our way back to Paris.  It was quite a drive however, and given his tendency to drive ever-so-slowly, I decided that rather than having me turn into a crazy person when our 4 hour trip turned into a 6 or 7 hour trip, it would be better to break it up into two legs and stay overnight somewhere. 

I wanted to be near the coast yet not too far from the autoroute.  And the bigger cities like Deauville and Trouville were out for their prices - but thanks to the Internets, I discovered that just a few kilometers away, there are tons of other smaller and equally cute towns with fewer people and much more reasonable tariffs. 
Empty city streets
 Which is who we found ourselves staying overnight in Villers Sur Mer.
Their beautifully-decorated City Hall
It turned out to be a great choice - we had the beach to ourselves and watched the sunset over the water:
And then went back to our super cute hotel:
The next morning, we drove along the coast and passed a whole bunch of other cute buildings, with plans to hop back on the autoroute straight after....
I absolutely love how much the architecture varies from region to region.
Until we saw a sign for "Calvados tasting". Sign me up please!
So we took a little detour into this place. The owner offered us a free tour of the establishment, and it was a lot of fun learning about the different things one can do with an apple.  I personally am a big fan of pommeau.

 I really liked these oak barrels, with a giant spigot in the front to show how much was left:
Some of them were really old and had some amazing details:
Others contained some really nice vintages of Calva:
It's always interesting to me how they are able to keep so many different years on hand for so long.  This particular place had a promotion going on for those who wanted to buy a bottle from the year they were born/married/etc which I thought was kind of fun.

At the end, they offered us a tasting of two types of cider (apple & pear), the pommeau and a younger calvados. By that time I was feeling particularly "happy" so we bought a few bottles and then continued on our way back to Paris.  It was a great way to ring in the New Year, and I can only hope that 2012 will continue along the same vein!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Post office

While we were back in the US, I tasked myself with getting all of our thank-you cards done. It was a huge amount of work, but we finally finished and then headed over to the post office to mail them out.  The mail lady weighed all of our envelopes, including several that were set to go abroad, and told us our total.  I could not believe it how little it had come to, and asked her to double check.

We started talking about the prices of stamps to various destinations, and it turned out it was cheaper for me to mail letters from Minnesota to the UK than from France to the UK. It was also cheaper for me to mail letters from the US to France, than from France to France!  France is the size of Texas people - how is that even possible?

Oh wait, that's right, it's because La Poste has to fund all of the benefits their employees get.  And conversely, the United States Postal Service is not allowed to make a profit.

It just so happens that the day of our visit was also the day the USPS announced that they were going to close hundreds of post offices nation-wide, eliminate Saturday deliveries and get rid of next-day shipping. They "can't" raise prices because of the effect it would have nation-wide on deliveries and thus increased costs to the consumer (a big no-no during difficult economic times), so they are forced to cut services instead.

Apparently several people had come in to complain, so they had put up a sign talking about how first-class postal rates vary around the world:
And there's the US down at the bottom.  But holy cow Norway  - $1.22 for a first class letter?! 

The weights allowed for a first class letter also differed.  I wanted to include some pictures in some of the envelopes, and in the US ones, we could add in several photos and not go over the weight. However in France, if we put more than the card + one picture, it required an additional stamp.  So my advice to all the complainers in the US is to sit down & stop your whingeing - compared to the rest of the world, we've got it quite good.  It's still reasonable to mail a letter cross-country, you rarely have to worry about letters getting lost in the mail (*ahem* La Poste!!) and most postmen still make an effort to deliver your packages.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What we did

Basically the only things not included were the extras, like the excursions.  Thanks to the great suggestions here, we had decided to use Honeyfund as a registry for our wedding gifts, and the excursions were part of these. Thank you to all of our great family and friends who made them possible, we had a blast!

Now C is a "relax on the beach" kind of guy and I am a "can't sit down" kind of girl, so we compromised by having one day of relaxing and then a day or half-day of activities.

Our first excursion was a trip out to the coast to the whales and dolphins.  It was a beautiful day and we saw all kinds of beautiful scenery as we floated along the coastline.

Just as I was starting to get worried that the whole trip was a scam - ie did they really have an 85% success rate or was that just a gimmick to get our money?? - we saw a whole bunch of these little guys swim under our boat:
The dolphins were so awesome and playful, jumping around and racing our boat.  I've never really understood the appeal of dolphins before, but after this trip and seeing how intelligent they are, I would definitely do a "swim with the dolphins" kind of thing next time.
Flying dolphins!
We had lunch at the beautiful Marigot Bay and visited the resort where the original Dr Doolittle was filmed. This particular bay is known as a haven on the island because it's a double bay, ie on a windy day as you can see above, the waves are spectacular but they break on the first bay, leaving the second bay calm as can be.  Which is why during hurricane season many boats come to dock there.  
See that rope? I'm trying to shake the tree and pull down a coconut!
As a side note, Marigot Bay was also a favorite hideout of the Brits during their many battles with the French because the masts of their boats were hidden by the palm trees on the first bay, so they could just hang out there unseen until the French boats passed.
Marigot bay seen from above
Next up, was a volcano and rain forest tour for me.  C wasn't that interested in seeing a volcano (it was the world's only drive-in volcano, come on!), and we have a policy of not forcing one another to participate in activities we're not interested, so I went alone.

I cannot even tell you the number of people who found this bizarre.  So much so that our tour guide actually turned the bus around because she was sure that we'd forgotten him.  I tried to explain that he didn't want to come and why should we pay extra for him to sit and be miserable all day instead of doing something he wanted to do, but she couldn't understand it and eventually ended up calling us "modern". And another couple made jokes about us being in a fight. We may be newly married, but we don't have to be attached at the hip 24/7.  At least this way, we both did what we wanted to do and at the end of the day, we reunited and had a great time sharing our day.

Even though this excursion was to see the volcano, since it was on the other end of the island from our resort, we also saw a ton of other stuff along the way. We saw the beautiful Marigot Bay above, we stopped to get fresh coconut milk from a street vendor and we saw a guy with an 8-foot boa constrictor. And all along the way, our guide was telling us about the history of the island and each little town we passed.
We finally got to the volcano and sure enough, we could drive right into it since it had imploded.  After a while, we got out and had a guided tour of the rest.  The volcano hasn't exploded for 300 years or so, and is overdue for another.
Next up was a "Sugar and Rum Adventure".  (Thanks Jpack and Milkjam!).  Again, we had a really interesting time learning about the history of the island, and how it was prized for its sugar cane and tropical fruits. The above picture was of some of the local fruits, and we also got to try a cocoa nut - so different than what I was expecting (and slimy).
Cocoa tree

We also drove through a banana plantation - did you know that banana trees only produced one time and then they die?  I had no idea. It turns out it's a great crop for the St Lucians because that means they have trees at different stages of the growth cycle all year-round and thus have a continuous source of income. Plus if ever there's a disease, they don't loose all of their crop.
The banana plantations came to be rather quickly, after the Brits realized they could grow and harvest sugar beets at a much cheaper rate than importing sugar cane from St Lucia.  However this essentially wiped out their major industry and caused a stressful few years.  They rebounded though with the bananas, export of fruit juices and oils, and of course rum!
Sugar cane processing à l'ancienne
And after that, we were on to the good stuff, ie the rum tasting!  As you can see on the table below, there were 19 different kinds of rum to be tried.  I tried all of them except for the last one on the right. Hey, that's a lot of rum, and it was 180 proof!

Afterwards, we all needed some fresh air, so they took us out to the rain forest to look at some of the beautiful tropical plants:

We also had several resort activities planned.  Like I mentioned, my brother got us a candle-light dinner on the beach.  It was a ton of fun, and very romantic - here they are setting up the table:
We also got a couple's massage, and it was FANTASTIC!  C was a little nervous since it was his first time - and his eyes just about popped out of his head when his masseuse said "I hear you're a virgin", but I think he's a convert.
On top of that (and the relaxing), we also did a lot of swimming, both in the water and in the pool, we went to the gym a few times to work off all those calories we were consuming and we did a few water activities.  They actually had quite a list of them: canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, water tricycle, snorkeling, water skiing & knee boarding. We tried the water bike and canoeing, and C went windsurfing the day I visited the volcano.

So not too bad for eight days and seven nights, huh?  I really enjoyed myself in St Lucia - I didn't want to just be one of those tourists who goes to an island and then never leaves the resort, and I feel like the different trips we took really gave us a feel for the place and allowed us to learn so much about its history.  The St Lucians were so friendly every where we went and many were just willing to talk and share - it wasn't at all like in Egypt or Tunisia where they are constantly harassing you.  Sure everyone has something to sell here, but if you're not interested, you just say no politely and then you can just keep chatting with them no big deal.

There were also people at the edge of the resorts hawking other excursions and jet skiing, but we didn't try any of those. But again they weren't pushy at all, and I did see a lot of people recommending using them on TripAdvisor.

Hopefully this series has been useful for those considering a holiday in the Caribbean and/or an all-inclusive resort.  We had a great time, I would definitely recommend Saint Lucia as a vacation destination if you're looking for a tropical island getaway!

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Good Stuff

Before we left, I had a lot of people ask what all-inclusive meant - and in this case, it meant free food and free drinks 24/7.  I'm not sure if this is the same for all room categories, but our butler asked us what we wanted in our liquor cabinet and we had a full bottle each of gin, vodka, whiskey and; rum.  Plus champagne, various juices and water in the fridge.
Felt like we were on a movie set
 There were also various bars around the resort with different opening hours making all kinds of mixed and blended drinks. My favorite was what they called the "BBC", a blended drink made with ice, Baileys, a banana, coconut liqueur and rum.  Delish!

The British Pub
As far the food went, one of my concerns with doing an all-inclusive place was that we'd be eating the same food all the time - so another reason we chose this resort is because there were 3 different options for breakfast (plus room service) and six different options at night (plus the Pier restaurant and the candle-light beach dinner we'd been gifted by my brother).

On top of that, we also had the right to go spend a day and/or eat at the resort's two sister establishments elsewhere on the island. There were shuttle buses that left every 2hrs and did a loop between the three. We wanted to see what at least one of the other ones looked like and try out a well-reputed Japanese restaurant, so one of the evenings we made our way over to the golf one. We ended up having a fabulous tepanyaki dinner there, cooked by a very entertaining chef.

Beachfront resto
The other restaurants at our resort besides the Pier included a very nice Italian restaurant, a French brasserie, a pizzeria, a barefoot beach-front restaurant, a British pub and a semi-formal sit down restaurant.  And besides that, the other resorts also offered various cuisines, such as a Caribbean restaurant or a formal French restaurant.

Romantic Italian dessert
All of this meant that we never had to eat the same thing twice, and I actually enjoyed the whole all-inclusive thing more than I thought I would.  I'd always poo-pooed cruises for that same reason, but I would now consider going on one if they had as much variety as this placed did.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The resort

When we arrived, we were led into a super comfy open-air lobby:

I had to laugh at the Christmas tree - growing up in Minnesota, 85°F and Christmas decorations don't really go together...but I guess that's not the case for most of the rest of the world:
 This was the view walking from the resort to our room - the people on the first floor (US) had rooms that opened right onto the pool:
 Now onto our room - this was the view upon entering:
Just to the right of the door was a big closet and just to the left, the first bathroom.  Across from the couch was a gigantic flat screen TV, and the dining area also had a fridge hidden in the big hutch.

If you go through the open doors on the left, you come across my favorite part of the room, ie this lovely king-sizer four poster bed:
The second bathroom had a jacuzzi tub, a shower and a double marble sink.  There was also a walk-in closet and a nice desk area.   And running all along the length of the room was a balcony:

Then it was on down to the beach - I sure do love me a good white sand beach:
"Here, why don't you guys sit down and enjoy the view, while I go get you the drink of your choice":
Don't mind if I do....
Then it was on to visit the six different pools - though this one was my favorite because of its swim-up bar:
The boardwalk:
Lunch, les pieds dans l'eau:
We saw beautiful sunsets over the water almost every night:

It really was a good-size resort for a week-long vacation.  Even if you didn't go on any excursions, you could still visit a different pool each day and not get bored.  And because things are so spread out, we actually didn't even realize how many people were at the resort until the night they had a BBQ barbecue and all the other restaurants closed down.  It was actually quite surprising how calm the resort was given the number of people - I guess because there were so many great options, people didn't all congregate in one place and it never got crowded.

And it's true that was one of the things we were looking for - we really wanted a couple's resort, not a party resort.  Despite all of the free alcohol, we never saw anyone who was drunk the whole week. The large majority of guests were just there as a couple, so it remained a fairly tranquil destination.

The excursions we did were all great too - before leaving, I was a little worried we'd be crowded into a coach bus and herded around, but in reality, there were always been 6-8 people in a passenger van.  This meant that we could always hear and interact with the guide, and that we could make random stops if we saw something interesting.

As a side note, another thing we liked was that tips were also included for the week for everything except the excursions (since they were a private company).  We also tipped our butlers at the end of the trip, but that wasn't necessary.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

To Butler or Not to Butler - that is the question

Once we'd picked our resort, it was a matter of choosing which room category to go with. I saw they had a "Butler" category and that intrigued me.  Like really, what would a butler actually do for you?  As someone pointed out, it's not like they would have to open the doors for anyone.  So I did a little bit of googling and read some reviews and we decided to go for it.  After all, (hopefully) there will only be one honeymoon so why not treat ourselves?

For those of you who were wondering what the butler actually did, here's a list (as a side note, we actually had two butlers - Bailey & Gisele- who worked shifts):
  • With the butler room, we got private car transfer to and from the airport.  Regular transfer was in a shuttle bus and from what we heard from the others, almost everyone got carsick in it because they were packed in and the island was so hilly.  It also took most people 2-3 hours to get to the resort, while we were there in under 1h30min. 
  • Upon arrival, the butler sat us down with a cold drink and then took our bags to the room to unpack them. They also offered to iron two items free of charge.
  • Once that was done, he came back to give us a private tour of the resort.
  • He had also set up a chilled bottle of champagne for us in our room. It was a combined wedding gift from the lovely Lisa and Jpack, and it was a gift that kept in giving - we ended up getting a bottle of champagne every day!  Thanks guys!
Yay! Champagne!
  • The following morning, he ordered us breakfast in bed, which was a nice treat after a day of travel.
  • And then after breakfast, he brought us down to the beach where he had reserved us an excellent spot. This actually continued daily - every night, they would ask us if we wanted to sit by the beach or by the pool and then they would reserve us great seating.  Which meant we could take our time waking up and getting breakfast, whereas everyone else had to either get up early and lay down a towel or else just pick and choose between what was left.  
  • They would also bring us down a little cooler stocked with our favorite drinks or order us the cocktail of the day from the bar and have it sent over.
The butler phone and the daily cocktail
  • And any time we had a question, we could give them a call on the "butler phone" they'd left with us - this phone could also be used in case you needed anything, ie you forgot your book or your sunscreen in your room and they'd go get it, but we never asked them to do anything like that for us. We mostly just asked questions about the island or times of certain things like the water sports or the gym.
  • The butlers also had three beach cabanas at their disposition, so we were able to reserve one of those for free instead of paying the $90 per day fee - this actually ended up being one of my favorite days!
What could be better than a bed on the beach??
  • They also took care of all of our restaurant reservations and basically just said "Be ready at X time and we'll come and get you to escort you to the restaurant"
  • At the restaurants, the butlers had the best tables reserved for their guests, so we always got the ones with the nicest views or that were the most secluded.
  • We also had the right to eat at the fancy four-star, white-glove service restaurant on the pier, which was payant for all the other guests.
  • They also confirmed all of our tours for us and notified us of any time changes.
  • They had our rooms cleaned twice per day (though this was a bit unnecessary and wasteful IMO)
Our beach-side cooler
  • The butler room also meant we could order room service 24/7, so we'd often order salmon plates or little petits fours to drink with our champagne.
  • They'd also decorate our room while we were out, with those crazy towel animals you usually see on cruise ships.

  • Most days too the butler would leave us a little snack plate in our room, either fresh fruit or cheese cubes or mini-sandwiches.
  • They would also bring us lunch on the beach or poolside if we requested.
  • And every once in a while, they would send the chef over with a sweet treat for us while outside - here he was with chocolate mousse-covered strawberries!
  •  They also asked us what our favorite alcohols were and then stocked our fridge with them on a daily basis.
  • They would turn down our bed every night while we were at dinner.
  • And the night we had a candlelight dinner on the beach, we had a hot bath with rose petals waiting for us - oh la la!
  • Lastly, I stupidly forgot all of my chargers in MN, and my camera ran out of battery two days in. I was really upset, thinking I was either going to have to pay mega bucks to buy one in the gift shop or not have pictures of most of our honeymoon.  But I decided to ask the butler just in case, and they actually had chargers on hand and were able to charge it for me.  It was a HUGE lifesaver.  She was also able to provide me with an iPhone radio docking station, so I was able to charge that as well. These two things alone almost made having a butler worthwhile.

Hmm, that's about all I can think of for now.  But to sum it up, having a butler made our honeymoon 100% relaxing. We basically had nothing to think or worry about - they took care of it all and we just had to show up, which is exactly what we were looking for. Plus all of the extras we got probably added up to more than the extra we paid for the butler room. All in all, I would definitely do it again for a big anniversary or some other major event.

Go Butlers!

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