Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Across the pond…

Greetings! The recent lull in the blog department corresponds directly to a bit of jet-setting that took me to London for a brief tour and then to Paris to settle into my room chez Mimi (that’s the family friend I’m living with).  And I know the story about the road trip has ended on a cliff-hanger…never fear, the conclusion will be revealed in a later post.

Now, I know you’re all itching to see pictures of London, and hear about my adventures there…but there was a mishap with my camera.  I have somehow, despite all precautions to the contrary, managed to get some more dust in my SLR’s sensor.  So I had to use the English boy’s camera…and the pictures are with him.  But don’t worry, they’ll show up on the blog by the end of the month!

What I do have pictures of, despite the dust embedded in the camera body, is my room! I was a bit antsy about moving in, as I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it’s a beautiful apartment, and my room is just *so* quaint.  I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence, but it’s decked out in reds, yellows and oranges – and as we all know, orange is my favorite color! So it worked out perfectly.

My room with a view.

My room with a view.

I have plenty of room for my clothes in the armoire (the door in the back, far left), a couple of shelves for my books and art supplies, a private shower and sink (the door in the back, far right) and a WC right next door, plus the piano (which Mimi says is a bit out of tune, but that’s better than nothing!).  I get a private entrance through the kitchen as well, and about ten paces out the door I have a view of the Panthéon (I didn’t realize how close it was on the map, not even a minute away!) and in the other direction, a view to the Eiffel Tower.

So far in Paris I’ve been trying to settle in and sort out some paperwork.  I arrived on Sunday via train, took the Eurostar from St. Pancras in London to Gare du Nord in Paris.  I sat next to a really sweet Australian family, and as usual, wound up spending the trip chatting about cultural differences and what not. A lucky thing, too, that I got along with my co-passengers, because they were able to help me lug my two HUGE suitcases from the train to the taxi stand.

After unpacking I met with a couple of other American assistantes.  We had dinner at a small restaurant in the Latin quarter, and I must say, for €12.40, I got a pretty decent 3 course meal and a couple of glasses of wine.  Plus, the view out the window was of an old church, and I entertained myself by watching pigeons squabble.  The rest of the girls seem fantastic, we’ve exchanged email addresses and I’ll be seeing them tomorrow during our orientation.

Monday was a productive day…I discovered that nothing really opens until 9:30 or 10:00 anyway, so I let myself sleep in a bit, then wandered over to Les Halles to purchase a mobile phone.  Now, here’s a bit of a challenge: I got the phone just fine, and it came with €5 of minutes (11 minutes), and I was told I could recharge it online or via the phone itself.  Well, when I try to recharge it online, it won’t accept my American credit card, and when I try to charge it via the phone, it asks for some random password that I wasn’t aware I had! So I’m thinking I’ll need a French CB (carte bancaire) before I can refill it online…but I don’t get a CB until I get a bank account, which won’t happen until after Saturday…which means another trip to the phone store to purchase minutes manually so that I can actually use my phone in October.

While at Les Halles I also grabbed a map of Paris – one of those Paris par arrondissement deals that’s in a little book and doesn’t make you look like a tourist unfolding the largest map in the world while standing on a street corner muttering to yourself, “Where’s the damn Tower again?”

After a break midday for some lunch (un sandwich jambon beurre – how I’ve missed those!) I did some shopping.  No, I didn’t get any cute French clothes…just the essentials.  There’s an Ed supermarché (kind of like Kroger, but different) right down the street and I bought some basic groceries – pasta, sauce, some fruits, cheese, etc.  On the other side of the neighborhood there’s a Monoprix which is kind of like Target or Walmart (but also completely different) and I bought some cute dishes and silverware and the regular assortment of shampoos and soap.  I didn’t think it would be an adventure, but let me tell ya, I have a hard enough time deciding which shampoo is right for me when the descriptions are in English…at least they had Garnier and the color coding made it a bit easier to figure my way through the massive choices! Interestingly, they didn’t have any conditioner, just shampoo…or if they did, I was completely lost as to where I could find some! I’m still on the hunt for some chapstick; oh, and gum here is ridiculously expensive.  No way am I paying €3.50 for only 12 sticks!

Today’s plan had me hunting down the Navigo pass.  Mine’s a bit pricey, because I’m staying in Paris (Zone 1) and working in Roissy-en-Brie (Zone 5), but I’m supposed to get a 40-50% discount from the school.  I also went and scheduled an appointment to set up a bank account.  I’m meeting with a representative from Le Crédit Lyonnais on Saturday, and will be rounding up my paperwork this week.  Still to do: add money to my cellphone, send off some paperwork for immigration, and grab a FUSAC to find some part-time boulot. Allons-y!

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Four score and Eleven Oceans ago…

I infiltrated the Brat Pack. Not really, but that makes for an awesome beginning, dunnit?

After gorging ourselves on seafood, our troupe thought it might be fun to detox by traversing a desert. There’s not much to say about traversing a desert en voiture, except that the trip is much quicker than if one were to attempt it on foot. At first, I found the rolling yellow hills to be mesmerizing.  It’s easy to see what drew Christo and Jeanne-Claude to this landscape.  But then it gets old pretty quick.  Occasionally the barren view is interrupted with a cluster of vegetation, or a passing train (one trailed us for a good hour), but for the most part, it looks like this:

They're so compelling, I had to take a photo.

They're so compelling, I had to take a photo.

Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s some evidence of the trees and trains I mentioned above.

We saw trees, and signs protesting government sanctioned water rationing posted by the tree farmers.

We saw trees, and signs protesting government sanctioned water rationing posted by the tree farmers.

Anybody else start humming songs from Rent whenever 'Santa Fe' is mentioned?

Anybody else start humming songs from Rent whenever 'Santa Fe' is mentioned?

Aaaaand eventually, we made it to our destination: Las Vegas.

Venturi, eat your heart out.

Venturi, eat your heart out.

Dino managed to reserve us a room in The Bellagio. The lobby was incredibly extravagant, and getting a chance to see some more Chihuly sculptures in person was fantastic! We were upgraded to a Strip-facing suite, whose bathroom was equal in size to my bedroom at home. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make use of the enormous bathtub, though we did all take turns wearing the slippers and flicking the electrically-controlled curtains open and closed.

It sure was a nice view, Danny.

It sure was a nice view, Danny.

Chi-who?

Chi-who?

In what turned out to be thematic of our road trip, we arrived at the check-in counter 15 minutes before we were supposed to be seated at Penn & Teller’s show at the Rio. But we hastened.  Having a super-speed elevator up to our room certainly helped, but I’m not sure what exactly got me out of jeans and into a dress, leggings and full make-up in less than 10 minutes. Magic.

Which was what we saw at Penn & Teller’s show.  Wasn’t that a brilliant transition? I’d heard of them before – seen glimpses, even, while flipping channels, but when Dino, Jr. first suggested their show, I had no idea what he was talking about. This is probably due to the way his (adorable) southwest Virginian accent morphs ‘Penn and Teller’ to ‘Pay-en aynd Taylor.’ Luckily, he wasn’t instructing the cab driver, and we got to the show with seconds to spare.

The show itself was a good balance of magic and satire. I’m not going to post any spoilers, but let’s just say you can’t ever really de-mystify magic.

We grabbed dinner at a noodles place in the Bellagio, dropped some dough at the casino, wandered the streets (stomping on scantily clad women – or their images, at least) and ended the night with a celebration in our suite.

Now, I’m a CSI fan (it’s a guilty pleasure that I suppose I have just opened up to public ridicule), so I couldn’t help but compare my experience of the city to the city portrayed on the show.  The tourist portions of Vegas take a smaller role on the set, and I regret not being able to explore the non-gimicky aspects of the city. The glamorous parts of the city, however, are equally flashy in person, if not more so.  Granted, we don’t get the bird’s-eye panoramas that punctuate the episodes on screen, but the worm’s-eye view is quite blinding.

While I have been known to tote the anti-Venturian architectural perspective of Vegas as an abysmal waste of dollars and design intent, there is some value to an opportunity presented in a ‘designer’s playground.’ In some ways, Vegas is America’s Dubai, and perhaps the millions clients are willing to spend can be used to experiment with innovative ‘sustainable’ solutions that are as attractive, or more attractive, than their ‘old school’ counterparts…

Ok, no soap box. All in all, Las Vegas was fun, as it should be.  My favorite new city? Probably not. I’m a Paris girl at heart, and the wannabe Eiffel doesn’t do the real thing justice.

It's too bad the fake tower doesn't have the snazzy flickering light show every night.

It's too bad the fake tower doesn't have the snazzy flickering light show every night.

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Ahoy, matey, thar be seafood aboard.

Ok, so I’m not really a pirate. But wandering down the West Coast has made me a real seafood aficionado (which I kind of was before, but now even more so).

First, the prize-winner for the best fish’n’chips I’ve ever eaten.  Not that it’s saying much, and it’s game to be contested after my trip to London later this month, but here we go.  Drum roll, please…Mo’s Chowder! For the most part, we tried to stay away from chain restaurants during our trip, to get a real flavor for the localities we were ambling through, but we actually ate at the original Mo’s Chowder on the old harbor in Newport, Oregon.  The restaurant appears to be located in a garage: the 10′ door rolls up to open the space to the street front, letting the scent of batter dipped fish and local beer drift enticingly out to pedestrians. The fish’n’chips are fantastic, and they have quite a few choices (in terms of which fruit of the sea you want dipped in batter).  I did, however, get ‘brownied’ as it came to be called: they skimped out when it came to serving me this amazing bread.  How did I know it was amazing, well, the rest of the table got their share and their eyes rolled back into their heads upon consumption.  Interestingly, I didn’t have any of Mo’s chowder…

It's not my picture, but that's the place.

It's not my picture, but that's the place.

Then there’s the prize for the best milkshakes ever. This award goes to….The Crazy Norwegian’s in Port Orford! Not sure how they did it, but it was smooth and frothy, tasty and not too filling, so I could still enjoy my fish’n’chips.  Speaking of, this place gets second place for awesome fish’n’chips: their batter was tempura based, I believe, which put a nice spin on the classic. As an Interior Designer, I, of course, noticed the interior: it’s really cozy, and I’d attribute that to the pine boards that wrap the walls and ceiling.  It’s almost like being on a boat, or in a Scandinavian log cabin…go figure.

Again, not my pic, but you get the idea.

Again, not my pic, but you get the idea.

We stayed on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which is where we found the last restaurant on the ‘West Coast must eats’ list: the Franciscan Crab Restaurant.  The first two dining venues in this post were delicious and cheap.  The Franciscan? Not so much.  Very tasty, but with a price to match.  The four of us dropped a cool $100 on a platter of their ‘World Famous’ Whole Roasted Dungeness Crabs, which were prepared in a ‘Secret Garlic Sauce.’ The crabs were good, don’t get me wrong, and I think the method of preparation was exquisite: savory without obscuring the flavor of the sea, and it allowed the crab meat to be pulled in large chunks (as opposed to the slivers you normally spend 3 hours procuring from one measly limb).  The desserts were also quite delicious – we each ordered one and had a tasting feast. You’re also paying for ambiance in this place – it’s got an art deco twist, with some funky lighting, and on a nice day (which we didn’t have) you would’ve been able to see across the bay.  Oh, and their menu was beautifully designed.

I was apparently incapable of taking photos of restaurants.  But them's the crabs.

I was apparently incapable of taking photos of restaurants. But them's the crabs.

So there you have it, three divine dining experiences on the West Coast portion of our trip.  Next up: Vegas, baby!

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Holy Giant Redwoods, Batman!

After the most beautiful part of our trip, we continued on to the most awe-inspiring part of our journey: a jaunt through Redwood National Park, where we walked amongst the Giants. Now, I’m a pretty tiny person.  I’m 5′-0″, which is short by normal standards, but when placed against a 200′ tall Redwood (or in our case, several Redwoods), I become minuscule. We actually spent the night in a small cabin in the forest itself, where Dino and Saarinen risked getting eaten by bears during a daring night-time hike, and Dino, Jr. and I played it safe by watching Saving Private Ryan and discussing a citizen’s obligation to fight for his country.

Call me a Californ-i-a hippie, but more awe-inspiring than the size of these monstrous flora is the aura infusing the forest. The golden light filtering through the trees lends an eerie calm, and some how calls attention to the forest’s longevity – as though the light you see shows its age, the several light-year journey standing in sharp contrast to our homo sapien youth.

I’m not sure my photographs do this feeling justice.

Look up, way up.

Look up, way up.

Technically, humans aren't supposed to touch the trees. But Saarinen's a monkey, so that's okay.

Technically, humans aren't supposed to touch the trees. But Saarinen's a monkey, so that's okay.

Prehistoric light documented on digital-film, I assure you.

Prehistoric light documented on digital-film, I assure you.

On our way down to San Francisco we stopped by a vineyard in Mendocino county, Jeriko Estates, where Saarinen and I tasted several delicious wines and even purchased a few.  Dino and Dino, Jr. were exempt from the revelry since they were driving.

The wine-tasting room.

The wine-tasting room.

We then stopped by the Charles Schultz museum, whose collection includes artifacts from the cartoonist’s personal affects as well as contemporary art featuring his infamous characters. I particularly enjoyed an exhibit that explored the research Schultz conducted (with respect to music, for example) before penning his strips.  Dino particularly enjoyed kissing Charlie Brown.

Said kissing.

Said kissing.

San Francisco was, unfortunately, a let down. A dense fog had settled over the bay, obscuring the one sight I so longed to lay my eyes upon: the Golden Gate Bridge. It was so foggy I barely caught a glimpse as we drove across the bridge to enter the city.  We did get to see the crookedest street in the world, since Dino, Jr. insisted we check it out.  He actually wanted to drive down the street, but during the last trip to San Francisco Dino’s car got hit by a bus and he’s now reluctant to let his Mercedes anywhere near the local public transport.

There was a crooked man...

There was a crooked man...

Up next: West coast dining, from amazing milkshakes to succulent crabs.

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Gorgeous Gorges and the Great Outdoors.

One last apology before I vow to never apologize for delays in posting again: I’m sorry!! Now on to the much anticipated Road Trip 2009 recounting.

Day one of RT09 had us checking out the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge.  Tip #1: Do not begin a road trip with a visit to a popular tourist destination on a Saturday afternoon if you expect to find parking for not one, but two cars.

Once we resolved the parking dilemma, we got to see some really beautiful waterfalls! The first one was lovely, the second quite nice, the third took too long to get to, and if Saarinen had made us go to one more waterfall, she wouldn’t have lasted the rest of the trip. And I know you can only see so many waterfall pictures before they get old and start looking like the same thing, but here’s a handful to satisfy your curiosity.  Our visit to the Gorge ended with a stop at Vista House, whose incredibly scenic ‘vista’ was marred only by the dense cloud cover.

The first of the waterfalls, decidedly the most impressive.

The first of the waterfalls, decidedly the most impressive.

Apparently, that rock did some damage at a wedding party.

Apparently, that rock did some damage at a wedding party.

The view from Vista House.

The view from Vista House.

That night we stayed in Coos Bay, Oregon.  The Oregon Coast was by far the best part of the trip as far as I’m concerned.  On our drive from the gorge to Coos Bay we had glimpses of waves smashing against large rocks and sandy shores.  When night fell, we stopped for a moment by the road side to listen to the soft splash of the waves below, a bit afraid to climb down because it was so dark! I think we interrupted a couple in their car…doing what couples in cars do, but it was worth it!

The following morning began with a trip to Shore Acres Park. We finally had a chance to walk around the rocky shore, hike down to a beach and tentatively explore a cave.  Since Dino, Jr. and I didn’t get to see the sea lions at the Sea Lion Cave, we insisted on stopping by a view point that promised the largest group of sea lions on the Oregon Coast.  It was amazing! They were incredibly loud.  And we even got a humpback whale sighting!

Here are some images from the park, I highly recommend a visit to anyone on the West coast!

Beautiful sun, gorgeous water, just divine.

Beautiful sun, gorgeous water, just divine.

The beach where I first dipped my toes into the Pacific.

The beach where I first dipped my toes into the Pacific.

Herman the snail.

Herman the snail.

____ the crab.

____ the crab.

The Cave.

The Cave.

The very loud Sea Lions.  And why I was glad I brought my 70-300mm zoom lens.

The very loud Sea Lions. And why I was glad I brought my 70-300mm zoom lens.

Next time on RT09: Redwoods and San Francisco.  Still to come: West Coast dining!

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