Pulling heartstrings in Paris

This is the story of a love affair. The kind of love that makes you wake up with a silly smile stuck on your face and uses your heartstrings to create a beautiful melody. The kind of love that makes you   IMG_2534 feel warm inside even in a cold breeze. The kind of love that makes you feel at home. This is the story of how I fell love with Paris.

Maddie and I are the last get off of the train. After the scene we caused while trying to put our suitcases on the top luggage rack, we were in no rush to elbow our way through the crowds and possibly cause injury.

Even though it was 9pm, it was still bright outside when we arrived at Paris du Nord. Maddie, one of my best friends from university in Canada, led the way. With her iPhone out and head on the “tourist swivel,” we stuck out. After walking the wrong way for about five minutes, Maddie showed me the screenshot of the map and directions she saved when we had internet. Once I translated the French (not), I realized the directions we were following were from the hotel to the station, rather than the station to the hotel. So, after pulling our suitcases back past the same groups of people, we stood at an intersection for another five minutes trying to decide which of the six streets to walk down.

Don’t worry, we managed to keep the awkward ball rolling once we found the hotel 15 minutes later. After a highly confusing check in where the total ended up being a substantially larger number than we expected, the man at reception told us our room number and pointed out the lift. After pressing a couple of buttons, pushing on the doors, and mumbling a profanity or two, we decided to casually walk by reception and lug our suitcases up a couple of flights of stairs. Once we got to our floor and walked down the hallway, we realized that neither of us remembered the room number. “306, was it?” “No, I thought it was 308…” I tried using the key on a couple of doors, but once I heard someone approaching the door from the other side I quickly aborted the mission and took off around the corner. Maddie was forced to go back down to reception and play it cool while asking your man what room we were in. Great start.

Finally we left for dinner. Strolling down the streets of Paris made me forget about every mishap we’d had. All of my senses were engaged — the smell of fresh bread, the sight of beautiful stone

Maddie hanging by the Seine River

Maddie hanging by the Seine River

Parisian buildings, the sounds from the locals wining and dining with trails of cigarette smoke wafting behind them. I felt as if I had walked into a painting, and I belonged there.

We found a cute restaurant with a terrace that was packed with locals. Maddie ordered for us in French from our server, a pretty girl with delicate features, sporting a massive bandage across her nose… (Nose job?) Our meals ended up being completely different from what we expected, but we enjoyed every bit of food. We sipped on French chardonnay and devoured a salad that was topped with multiple cheeses, as well as a crusty baguette, and a croque monsieur.

The locals surrounding us oozed class. The women all sported longer bobs, natural makeup, and chic style consisting of black rimmed glasses, black jeans and a smart jacket. As for the men — tall, dark and handsome. The cliche must have originated in Paris.

This city inspires people. Although it never worked out for us to visit any of the art museums, we were constantly surrounded by art. Besides the physical paintings and photos that were sold on the streets, there were the sculptures outside of the Louvre, the stunning bridges over the Seine river, and the mesmerizing Gothic churches. The architecture is a delicious feast for your eyes — buildings are perfectly symmetrical, clean, and utterly European.

Picnicking under the Eiffel Tower (#61 on my Before 30) has earned the title as one of the best nights I’ve had since I’ve moved to Europe. We spent the afternoon wandering around markets, bakeries, and shops till we got the perfect picnic dinner. Once we got off of the train, we walked underneath the Eiffel Tower, our feet pounding on the pavement where hundreds, thousands, millions have walked before. One look up and my heart skipped a beat. This is Paris.

#44 - Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

#61 – Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

Up ahead there was a stretch of green grass with people scattered across the lawn. We spread out our towels, set up our smorgasbord, and decided to bust out the wine.

I was a little nervous about using the corkscrew we bought at the corner store. It looked simple enough — s metal screw about four inches long with a perpendicular wooden handle at the top. I’ve used enough wine openers to know that the ones with more gadgets (the bigger, more intimidating looking openers) tend to be the easiest ones to us.

Our picnic

Our picnic

“Okay, pass me the Riesling!” I said with an air of confidence. I’ve been a server for six years and drink a good bit of wine in my spare time, I’m practically a pro wine opener. I peel off the foil cover and discover a synthetic cork. Grand. No worry of it breaking to bits. I tilt the tip of the screw and turn the handle until a  little bit shows, and pull. Nothing. I put a little more muscle into it. Still nothing. I give it everything I got! Not even a budge. Maddie and I proceeded to pass the bottle back and forth for a good 10 minutes before we decided to try the other bottle. We heaved and pulled and eventually freed the wooden cork from the Chablis. Little bits of cork never tasted so good as the first glass of wine.

We spent the evening under the Tower lights drinking wine, debating philosophy in the homeland of many greats such as Foucault, and eating an obscene amount of French cheese – Camembert on baguette, wrapped in prosciutto, on top of a cherry tomato, and straight up. All of the cheese.  I didn’t want to even look at cheese again after that night.

Parisian culture is relaxing, indulgent, and beautiful. I think it’s fair to say that Paris captured my heart, and I don’t plan on asking for it back for awhile.

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Outside of the Louvre

Outside of the Louvre

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City landscapes

City landscapes

The last supper!

The last supper!

The moment after I just finished saying I wished we had heard more French music, like the accordion.

The moment after I just finished saying I wished we had heard more French music, like the accordion.

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The differences between Australia and Canada, part one: food.

I was originally going to write about what I have observed to be the  general differences between Australia and Canada, but ended up having so much to say about food that I’m going to have to write about social differences next time. Show’s where my priorities are..

Cheese:

Orange cheddar does not exist here. If that doesn’t throw you for a loop, cheddar tastes very different as well. Dairy products in general do not taste the same. Different agriculture, different cows, different product!

Milk:

Okay, this is confusing, but stay with me. In Canada, we have 2%, 1%, 3.25%, skim, half and half (for coffee) and cream (also for coffee). I would say 2% is the most common with 1% skim running a close second. They don’t bag milk here – it’s all cartons. I asked someone about it once and recieved a confused look and a “Canada is weird” response. In Australia, there is full cream (I believe it’s 4%, and this is their most common milk), “lite” (2%), skim, and thickened cream (for desserts). I was pretty confused the first time I went to the grocery store for milk: “But what are the percentages?!”

Coffee:

Percolated coffee doesn’t exist in Australia. It’s all about the espresso here (although it’s not commonly called espresso… It’s just called coffee.) People drink cappuccinos (espresso, steamed milk with a decent amount of foam and chocolate sprinkled on top), flat whites (espresso, steamed milk, and a thin layer of foam in the same mug used for cappuccinos), lattes (same amount of foam as a cappuccino but it’s in a clear glass without a handle), long blacks (shot of coffee and hot water), and short blacks (espresso shot). On the plus side, coffee is more of an art here — people become skilled at making coffee. I’m constantly impressed with the pretty designs – a treat for your eyes and your taste buds! On the downside, coffee is incredibly inconsistent. I’m pretty sure I’ve had more bad coffee than good here. I’m always nervous taking the first sip of coffee at a place I haven’t tried, or even a place that’s normally good but a different barista. There are many factors involved: the coffee roast, properly rinsing the machine in between coffees so that bits don’t get burned, running the water through the shot immediately so as not to burn the coffee, steaming the milk appropriately, and the list goes on. Needless to say, there’s a lot of potential to mess it up. In Canada, percolated coffee is pretty consistent. Once you find a place with a good roast, you’re good to go. However, I think that percolated coffee is mediocre at best, whereas a good espresso based coffee is delightful. Depends on if you want to play the risk or go for the sure thing.

Eggs:

The eggs from the grocery store are more orange here. There are a lot more options with free range, caged, grain fed, farm, and so forth. Also, in Woolworths eggs aren’t stored in a fridge. Eggs are always refrigerated in Canada.

Biscuits:

I have had the privilege of eating Tim Tams, and believe me, they are a gift from the cookie masters. A Tim Tam is an Australian “biscuit”, or in Canadian terms, a chocolate cookie. In the grocery store there is an aisle for biscuits, which are essentially cookies and crackers.

Meat:

Lamb and veal are incredibly popular here. They are not that common in Canada. That’s that.

Bananas:

Banana’s are so expensive here! I haven’t bought any bananas since I’ve been here because one single banana could cost almost $3! The banana fields got wiped out in the floods back in January, and ever since they’ve been too expensive.  Sad.

Restaurants:

Mc Donald’s has many a nickname in North America. One that I hadn’t hear till I arrived down under was Maccas. There’s also a place called Hungry Jacks, which has the exact same logo as Burger King. Speaking of burgers, it’s hard to find a good one here. As for restaurants, you can always find lots of Italian, Indian, Thai, and “Australian.” Also, there’s a kebab (shawarma) place on every corner. Oh, and fries are called chips.

Bacon most commonly used at North American restaurants.

Breakfast:

Australian’s are better at portion control. In Canada, if you see “eggs on toast” on a menu for $12, you’d assume it also comes with hash browns, meat, and maybe some tomato or fruit. Here, it literally means, eggs on toast (gasp!).  Also, over easy eggs don’t exist here. You can have eggs fried (sunny side up), scrambled, or most commonly, poached. Bacon is a lot more thick here. It kind of looks like long strips of peameal bacon.

Food health and safety:

The type of bacon commonly used in Australia.

I’ve worked at two restaurants in Australia and we’ve never been randomly tested for health and safety. In Canada it’s very common for  someone to come and do tests to make sure cleanliness is up to snuff. Also, I know in Toronto and London there are grading systems outside of restaurants so that patrons can see how a restaurant did on testing (red, yellow, green, etc). I haven’t seen anything like that in Australia. This definitely speaks to the differences in cultures. North America is a lot more legalistic and Australia is much more laid back. However, this doesn’t mean that restaurants here are unsafe. The places I’ve worked at are incredibly clean and I haven’t walked into any super sketchy places.

Chocolate:

Let me tell you about Max Brenner, also known as a glimpse of heaven. It’s this glorious restaurant that serves chocolate fondue, chocolate brownies, waffles with chocolate drizzled on top, chocolate smoothies… So. Much. Chocolate.

MAX BRENNER!

Need I say more?

Overall, there are a lot of a food differences between Australia and Canada, with positives and negatives in both countries.