Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Fit for a King

Maybe Louis XIV stole all of the architects and designers from the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte back in the 1600s, but he sure didn't steal its Christmas cheer.

Just south of Paris, this chateau dazzles, sparkles, and shimmers at Christmas time with its halls quite literally decked. And they know their way around a Christmas tree at this chateau. Maybe its more popular and bigger, but could the Chateau of Versailles pull off such a festive feat?

No, and here's the proof.

First off, it's a 17th century chateau, and people still live in it, so of course it needed to be decorated...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Provins: Medieval Christmas Market and Other Oddities

Something out of a Game of Thrones episode, or nearly.

Nothing says Christmas like wenches and codpieces – or at least that was the impression I was getting. Provins, a little town just southeast of Paris, is known for its annual Medieval Christmas market one weekend each December. This past weekend, it all happened.

I had been waiting for years to find the right moment to go to Provins. I’ve read about and to me, it was a secret little vault of miracles just outside my front door. But alas, I had procrastinated. But being Christmas, and needing to get into the spirit, I decided it was the right year, month, and day.

An early train on Sunday whisked us away, and in just over an hour, we were there, walking back through time, mostly, through the streets of Provins. I mean, they’re not stuck in the past entirely – they have a Monoprix, after all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Studying at the Sorbonne: Making Money

Save money, make money
Work hard, play hard. No need to sacrifice everything if you're earning pennies...

How does a student survive in Paris? I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, and I thought it might be useful to share a bit of info to dispel any notions that we students are all funded by our parents. That is certainly not the case for me and nearly all of the international students I know.

Clearly, it is very possible to live in Paris as a student. Why else would it be the top city for students, in this year’s QS rankings? 

But here’s the thing – nothing s handed to you, and no one will give you the answers if you don’t ask. So since so many people have been asking me, I thought I’d give back a bit of insider info in a nice, convenient, English-speaking manner. While no means exhaustive or universally-applicable, this list should get the ball rolling for any student wannabes in France.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

[Old] Orléans, A Joan of Arc Fandom

Heading back to the Middle Ages...
It’s was a Wednesday. I wasn’t working. The sun would be out, so really, all signs pointed towards a daytrip outside of Paris. But where to go?

The destination was selected thanks to SNCF, France’s national train service. Using their website, I found 20 euro round-trip tickets to several towns. After a quick look on WikiVoyage, I kept coming back to Orléans, about an hour south of Paris, on the Loire River.

Now, we had spent a significant amount of time in the Loire this summer, but I had never been to Orléans. More than the namesake for the “New” version in the US, and with less gumbo, it is a hub of medieval history where Joan of Arc famously led French troops into battle against the English.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

True Happiness in Paris: Princess Crêpe

Yes, in Paris.

I kicked myself for coming to the Marais on a Sunday afternoon. Of course the lines for falafel were too long. Disappointed in myself, hating everyone around me, but more importantly hungry, we headed down rue des Ecouffes to a little Japanese place called Don’s. It was a good value for some simple bento and rice bowls, but my tummy wasn’t ready to quit.

But this is not a post about Don’s. That was just the beginning of my Japanese day on a street in Paris that caters almost exclusively to both Jews and lesbians. You know, the usual type of Sunday.

Finally, after more than three years, I decided it was time to try the creperie just down the street, called Princess Crêpe, opened in 2011. Hardly news, but it's a shop that's proven itself. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When Technology Taints Travel

My newest enemy...

Back in 2006, I called my parents from my semester abroad in a phone booth. I had a little digital camera and a phone that could only text and make calls. There was – gasp – no camera on the phone. Twitter had just been born but Instagram was four years down the road. I didn’t have a Gmail account.

Life was good.

Living in Paris and backpacking across Italy, taking weekend trips to Stockholm, or planning spring break in Prague were all done in the most rudimentary way possible: with paper and people.  It was a hipster approach to travel without even trying to be hipster. I was just broke. I had invested in or borrowed a few guides, but I mainly relied on people in the places I went to visit to find out the things to do.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Famous Haunts: A Walk in Père Lachaise

I’m not obsessed with cemeteries. In fact they creep me out. But stepping into the Père Lachaise cemetery is different. It’s like walking into some marvelous wonderland where someone decided that humans should be buried. It’s like if there were a graveyard put in Disneyland – it’s out of place, but you couldn’t blame anyone for wanting to rest everlastingly there.

Père Lachaise has the same thing going on. It’s gorgeous, peaceful, and full of celebrities. So what if they happen to be dead?

I like to walk through it in the autumn, preferably with a pair of boots to crunch on the leaves falling from the orange and crimson tinged trees. I’ve got some friends there that I visit, like Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. I mean, sure, tons of people head to their graves, but I know they’re waiting for my visit each fall. It’s like trick-or-treating for me, even though I really do love Reese’s Cups.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Art and Chocolate: Keeping Things Interesting in Paris

It's all about chocolate, right?
The takeaway message from this weekend is that Paris can still surprise me. That’s the happy part of this story. The other part is that it took chocolate butt plugs to get to that point.

I should probably explain…

Paul McCarthy, the American artist who made headlines by inflating a giant butt plug-shaped “Tree” in Paris’s Place Vendôme, has an exhibit at the Monnaie de Paris. This gallery, the historic mint for French money, reopened this past weekend, October 25th, as a home to contemporary art exhibits. The first show – McCarthy’s deliciously titled “Chocolate Factory.”

Since the exhibit was free this weekend, of course I went, and I absolutely loved it. I am not ashamed.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chicago in 26.2 Miles

One minute and forty-two seconds more and the tears wouldn’t have been falling across a smile. Who knew such a small chunk of time could be so significant.

It was a sunny early autumn day in Chicago. The air was crisp, the gloves were on, but my red racing shorts were making their American debut. It was marathon day, the Chicago Marathon, in case that wasn't clear, and after a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris, waking up at 4:30AM was a cinch.

The task at hand was one I had already met 6 times: run 26.2 miles. Simple enough. But this time, the training, sobriety, and healthy eating that I had endured left me hell-bent on finishing the marathon in less than 4 hours, something that I almost did in Paris. This time, finishing over four hours wasn’t an option if I wanted the trip to be worth my while. Would it be lucky number seven?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Camargue: France's Natural Narnia

The fabled white horses of the Camargue...

You don’t need to travel far from Paris to feel like you “got away.” After a long weekend in Marseille this summer, I rediscovered a place I had passed through several years ago that isn’t on every tourist’s radar: the Camargue.

The area, in southern France near the town of Arles, where Van Gogh spent his final days, is something of a French freak show, in the best way possible. It’s a mix of surprisingly beautiful flora and fauna, with certain livestock guarded by genuine French cowboys – no joke.

Pass down south, heading west along the Mediterranean, and you can experience it. We had to drive, the only way to do it besides biking, and before entering the nature reserve, we waited at a stoplight for what seemed like half an hour. The bridge, well, actually a car ferry, allowed us to pack in with other local drivers before making the crossing. Let the adventure begin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marseille: On Soup, Soap, and Snorkeling

Oh hey Marseille...

“Oh I hear it’s really dirty down there,” people tell me every time I discuss summer vacation. I guess it’s tough to shake some labels. But seriously, Marseille is far from the cesspool people think it is. Or at least that's the case since 2013 when it was the European Capital of Culture, forcing it to scrub up a bit.

My friend Lindsey, who loves Marseille, has written about it quite a few times, so I know I’m not exaggerating. The city, the third largest in France, is also the biggest port along the Mediterranean and the town that has now stolen my heart twice.

It was the starting point for a road trip from Provence to Paris, and it started with a taxi ride from the train station that could rival the zigzaginess of any Parisian driver. Safe and sound in the Panier, one of the oldest parts of town, we slipped easily into vacation mode. There's just something about the south, ya know?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Marathon du Médoc 2014: A Masquerade

This was well before any notion of fatigue set in...

Third Time’s a Charm

Two Americans, an Aussie, and a Singaporean walk into a marathon…

It was just another Saturday in the Médoc region of France when 10,000 runners and wine lovers descended upon the sleepy town of Pauillac, north of Bordeaux. Dressed in their Carnival finest, we were ready to run the world’s longest marathon.

Fireworks burst overhead at 9:30AM as we set off on a 42 kilometer trek unlike any other in the world. Musicians lined the streets as locals joined runners from around the world, cheered on by an equally international crowd. Water was plentiful, but played second fiddle at this marathon.

I’ve written about it before, and I’ll say it again. It bears repeating. There's a reason I've come back for a third time. We drink wine – hearty red wine – at multiple chateaux along the route, racing towards the last few kilometers where oysters (with white wine), steak, and ice cream await the willing.

And we were all willing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back to School in Paris: One More Time

All ready for my first day of class!

It was the last time I’d ever receive this type of letter. After grammar school, there was the excitement of high school. Then letters arrived about college. Then an acceptance letter to a master’s program arrived. Then came the notification that I had been adopted by the Sorbonne as a PhD candidate.

Yesterday I received my last set of “certificate de scolarité,” renewing my enrollment for the 2014-2015 year – my final year – at the University of the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3. This officially marked the end of my higher education in France, and probably in the world. There will be no more first days of school for me as a student after this October. My lunchbox would be retired, forever.

Well, at least that’s the most likely scenario. But this being France, who knows what hiccups I may encounter…

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bib Giveaway: Reebok Spartan Race France

Running in Paris – it’s a thing now, no news there. I get anxious when I hit the Canal on a Sunday, afraid of running into the hordes of other runners, while at the same time I’m ecstatic to see everyone sprinting along. It’s all about challenging yourself, keeping positive energy, and having fun.

With so many races, an increasingly popular marathon that has switched to a lottery system, and new running groups all across the city, Paris is an easy place to run however you want. And one of the newer trends has been the obstacle course races, like The Mud Day, which premiered in 2013.

New to the Parisian scene this year is a challenge put forth by Reebok, following the success of Nike’s “We Own the Night” and Adidas’ “Boost Battle Run.” The course, a team event, called “Spartan Race,” is inspired by the Greek soldiers and challenges participants with up to 26 obstacles during some 20+ kilometers. The first one in France happened last year in Marseille, and this September it’s coming to Paris for the first time.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Paris Without Parisians

Just you and me buddy...
Riding my bicycle along the Canal on a Sunday afternoon, the sun shining its best and the temperature giving no one a reason to stay inside, I was taken aback. Hardly anyone was in the streets jogging, walking, playing, biking, picnicking. It was deserted as few beautiful Sundays have ever been deserted before. 

But it's August. Silly me. I’ve been summering in Paris since 2008. Finally I am starting to understand it. 

There are the obligatory activities that I partake in, be it the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on July 14th or the Paris Plages along the Seine and Canal. Maybe I’ll play pétanque, maybe go out for a drink along the river, or jog for hours through the Bois de Vincennes with a little SPF on my face.

But only in August do I really start loving Paris because, well, the Parisians leave.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Growing Green Thumbs in Paris

Eat it, LeNotre...
I’ve never had a green thumb. Let alone two. But being in Paris has a way of convincing me that I should be in charge of another life form, be it ivy or hydrangea. And apparently my thumbs are starting to ripen with age.

If André Le Notre could do it, why couldn’t Bryan Pirolli?

I have a little courtyard in my building that neighbors pass through, with a bit of sun, and a neighbor with a tangle of vines and plants in front of her flat. Convinced that I, too, could create my own tangle, I took the few plants that I inherited from the previous tenant – a mangled geranium and some green spiky things (the technical name) and I began tilling the soil.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Paris, Like the First Time

No big deal...
Seeing Paris through a first-timer’s eyes is a precious experience. Just when I think that the Eiffel Tower is boring, that Notre Dame is dull, or that the Opera is just kind of blah, a tourist comes around with an audible, “Wow” as we take in the view from in front of the Sacre Coeur and I am revived.

This is the coolest part about being a tour guide. Having just wrapped up a few weeks of intense guiding with a few Paris newbees of all ages, I feel like Paris and I have hit the reset button for a moment. Don’t get me wrong, I am chomping at the bit to get out of the city for some vacation, but I feel like I’ve readjusted my appreciation of the city, tightening it up just ever so.

Tour guiding is one of those professions like journalist or barista that just anyone can do – and I have done them all – with the right training. You don’t need a degree in tourism and hospitality to share a city with visitors. You need a bit of passion and a sprinkling of knowledge and voila, you can do it. Of course it’s not in everyone’s comfort zone to get in front of a group and spout stories from the 1600s in Paris, but I made it work for me. It’s easy, however, to get jaded.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Love Can Build a Bridge...or Destroy One

Oh dear...
I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon. A few weeks ago I wrote an article for CNN Travel about the “No Love Locks” campaign in Paris, to spare the bridges and public spaces from the padlocks of “love” that have taken over the city. I thought it was an interesting topic but I wasn’t really sure it’d go anywhere.

While I agree with the cause and trying to preserve the historic monuments that help make Paris, well, Paris, I didn’t think the locks were the biggest issue.* Plus, who wants to be the person to speak out against so-called “love locks” anyway? That’s a pretty tough badge to wear.

Then one of the panels on the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge by the Louvre, broke away from the fence and fell.

And then another did.

And then another.

See where this is going?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Needed: YOU for Sorbonne Study Questionnaire

The sun is setting on my PhD...but a bit further to go!
One more year to go! I’m finishing up my thesis at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, but before I do, I need YOU

I’ve been trudging away interviewing bloggers, journalists, TripAdvisor users, and other writers about how they produce travel content. But now I need to know what readers actually think about it all.

So here is the challenge – maximize my responses to an online questionnaire followed by at least 15 interviews with those who have filled it out. So if you aren’t in Paris or don’t want to chat with me, no worries:

If you ARE in Paris or would like a Skype date, I’d love to meet up with you after you’ve filled out the survey, and the coffee’s on me.

There are no wrong answers, and there is no wrong person to take the questionnaire (it only takes a few minutes). Even if you aren’t planning a trip to Paris, your input is still extremely valuable, so take a stab at it and I look forward to reading your responses. When (if?) I become Docteur Bryan, I’ll have you all to thank!

But for the time being, I’ll thank you in advance and please share the survey with those around you who may be interested.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Cost of French Nationality

Do I become a shareholder in this? 
Today I paid 200 euros for my visa renewal. Granted, I got a new visa, but it’s never easy forking over that kind of money.

At the same time, I bought a fiscal stamp for my nationality application to become…dun dun dun…French. It cost 55 euros. At first I thought, “Weird that it’s cheaper to apply for nationality than for a temporary residency,” but then I remembered that I had spent quite a bit on this precious file that will, hopefully, lead to a French passport.

For those who might want to become French, or who have put in the time (5 years, or 3 with a 2-year French degree), it’s a costly process, but when you think about the potential payoff (an EU passport!) it’s really not that expensive at all. If I get refused, I might sing a different song.

Here’s the rough breakdown of my costs for naturalization:


Most of the documents were already sitting in my file box. After nearly 6 years, I had saved every tax document, pay slip, electricity bill, and contract to make sure that this process would run smoothly. But a few documents needed to be freshly procured.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Old Haunts: Return to the City by the Bay

The Painted Ladies...
We were walking to the Ferry Building. It was déjà-vu. The food stalls were out. The chocolate store was there. The bay breeze was blowing. But something was different. Someone was different.

Just over a year and a half ago I visited California for the first time. Little did I know a family wedding would drag me back to San Francisco for round 2. 

I usually don’t visit the same places often, at least not so quickly. I haven’t been to England since 2009, and before that not since 2006. Italy in 2013 was the first time since 2011. Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and the Czech Republic haven’t had repeats yet. Germany has had me three times, but with mostly different cities and different beers each time.

There’s a lot to see in this world, and who wants to spend too much time visiting the same places?

Going back to San Francisco, everything was still fresh. After a trek along the pier, back in the Mission, everything was just as I left it. 

I remembered sitting at Pancho Villa chowing down on Mexican food with an assortment of salsa, inevitably picking one that was too spicy for me. Arizmendi Bakery was still there with its line and case of self-serve pastries. Bi-Rite still had the honey and lavender ice cream I remember tasting back in January 2013.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Liberté, Egalité, Homosexualité: On Progress

Some very spirited eclaires...
A year ago, I was walking to the Marais district with some friends, about to have a celebratory drink. The streets were ablaze with excitement, especially around the local mayor’s office, which was about to see a whole lot of action soon. Drag queens waved rainbow flags on scooters and the party poured into the streets from local bars, with a largely male clientele.

It was an early gay pride when on May 18, 2013, France legalized same-sex marriage. Who would have thought that a country with a reputation for sticking to tradition would take a leap? At the same time, with a very different idea of masculinity and what it means to be in a committed relationship in France, it’s not entirely surprising…but I digress.

A few drinks and a nightlong celebration were only the beginning. Just over a month later in June, the US Supreme Court struck down that bit of the Defense of Marriage Act which prevented same-sex marriages from being recognized on a federal level. For many, this means nothing, but imagine the implications for lesbians and gays abroad. It was a big year. Very big.

Since that historic spring, the Figaro reported that 7000 same-sex couples have tied the knot in France, a mere 4% of total marriages, but be it 7 or 7 million, it’s an amazing headline to read no matter what.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Music of the Paris Metro

Singer-songwriter Sian Pottock at her RATP audition.
Sitting in the basement of the RATP building, Paris’s urban transportation headquarters, I was tapping my foot along with the young girl who was crooning along with her guitar. Next on stage was a Cuban salsa band, followed by a blues singer with an American accent that gave him away immediately. As the jury looked on, it felt like an episode of The Voice, and not an audition to play in one of Paris’s largest theaters…

You get on the metro. And then it happens. You’re on your way to work, probably with your earphones in, and that man you know oh so well boards the train.

Mesdames et messieurs…” he begins, and then the music starts. It’s an accordion, maybe violin, or  God forbid a trumpet, but the scene is always the same. They play some music for a stop or two and then ask for money.

“But I didn’t ask you to play that music,” you think to yourself, narrowly avoiding eye contact as the musicians pass by with their paper cup or hat.

As you recover from the blaring trumpet, returning to your Beyoncé or Céline Dion (no judgement), you don’t even entertain the idea of paying him.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Paris Marathon Round 2: For the Love of Pizza

I was reading through a note book that I often take with me on my travels. During a daytrip to Luxembourg in 2009, while sitting on a terrace eating a pizza with a Belgian beer, I recapped my trip in about two pages. At the end of one page I scribbled, “PS train do a marathon, please.”

Little did I know how that would end up coming true, and then some.

Last Sunday was my second Paris Marathon, with some 40,000 people taking to the Champs Elysées and racing through the city’s streets. I’m back to normal after a couple nights of sleeping soundly and eating copiously (we ordered 8 pizzas after, they were finished within 24 hours). But oh what fun…

It all started with a 5:30AM wake-up call, some breakfast, some morning music, and then a quick metro ride with fellow marathoners to the corals. Rarely is there so much energy on a Sunday morning…

Exiting at the FDR stop, the crowd was there, just as I remembered from last year. The urge the pee began, and I excitedly joined other runners, peeing right by the Tiffany’s store with zero risk. I jumped into my very ambitious 3.5 hour coral, hoping to finish the marathon quickly and painlessly, only to pee again in front of onlookers as we approached the starting line. Inhibitions? Ha.

Monday, March 31, 2014

How Do You Say "Gender-Neutral" In French Anyway?

...and boys don't cry.
It’s an exciting day. You head to Monoprix, the Target of France. You beeline to the home section. You see the all-too-familiar logo as you begin the hunt for that perfect Hallmark greeting card.

Maybe it’s a birthday, maybe it’s a wedding, maybe it’s just a friendly “Thinking of you” card that requires the illustration of a bouquet of flowers because, let’s face it, they’re not worth a real bouquet. While nothing compared to the Hallmark card stores of American mall fame, the choices are all there.

On this particular Friday, I was looking for a card for a friend about to give birth to a baby boy. The French don’t really do wedding showers, but that wasn’t going to stop us, and it was all planned. But I needed the perfect card, and finally, I found the category entitled, “naissance,” or birth. What a find!

Quickly, however, I realized that the task would be a difficult one. My friend, the farthest thing from a 60s housewife, wasn’t bound by traditional stereotypes. But these cards were.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Studying at the Sorbonne: The Costs

I’ve been getting a few messages from prospective students around the world about studying at the Sorbonne. It’s exciting and terrifying to hear from people just starting their journey, and I can imagine all of the questions they have. Essentially my memory of starting at the Sorbonne in 2010 was one giant question mark over my head.

How will I make ends meet? Will I understand the professors? Will the work be too hard? Am I too old? Am I too experienced? Am I not experienced enough? What will I WEAR?

Here I am, over three years later, still making it, trudging away at my doctorate. For those just starting in the undergrad or masters programs, however, there is of course much advice I could give you. So I will. While I love to answer questions via email, I want to make some information instantly handy, so hopefully you’ll find some answers here regarding practical information for the Université de Paris system (note: I am no expert at all on the Grandes Ecoles, like ENS and Sciences Po, but a lot of the same info will apply).

If you have burning questions, or themes you’d like covered, let me know! But why not start with the most pressing: money. Students can work the equivalent of 20 hours a week, which doesn’t amount to much if you’re making 8-10 euros per hour. Don’t rule out other student jobs, like tour guiding for backpacker groups or looking for a paid internship (good luck!), but whatever the case may be, there are a few notes to keep in mind.

Student life can be rough in a city known as one of the most expensive in the world, but fear not. Money woes need not prohibit studying in Paris if you know what you’re doing…

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reburying Hidden Gems: On Travel Writing Sloth

...and this one!
Check out this gem...

Who isn’t a travel writer these days? With so many blogs, websites, books, magazines, and other publications out there, everyone and his (or her) uncle can write about travel. The general requirement isn’t a degree in journalism or even expertise in, well, writing. Mostly anyone who goes somewhere and does something can write about it as an expert (or “expert” if you will). But even that’s not a given anymore. Am I complaining? Not at all. Multiple points of view are, plainly speaking, awesome.

Destination writing, however, is often as much about getting clicks on a website or getting invited to press events as it is about sharing information and helping our your fellow traveler. Whether it’s a blog, a tweet, or a thoroughly-researched in The New York Times, travel writing has exploded with social and other online media, and few of us can remember what it was like in the days when guide books were the only recourse. Ah the simpler times...

But all of this potential and power has made travel writers, dare I say it, lazy. While updating a travel guide recently, I think my track changes feature on Microsoft Word was about to blow a fuse. Aimless litanies of useless information, adjectives like “great” and “nice” splattered everywhere, and passages written by someone who doesn’t have a solid command of Paris geography (let alone the English language) were feeling my wrath.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

First Paris Half Marathon: The Recap

Barreling down Rue de Rivoli, crowds on all sides, darting my way in and out of runners from Mexico and South Africa, I didn’t feel nearly as fresh as the last time I ran this stretch during the first few kilometers of the Paris Marathon in 2013. Instead, I was more than halfway through the 2014 Semi-Marathon, huffing and puffing my way against the clock.

The goal? Ideally, 1 hour and 40 minutes, but I was content with anything under 2 hours. It would be a first. The record for the course was 59 minutes and 44 seconds, so my goal was a modest one at best.

Joined by 40,000 runners, I left the Bois de Vincennes feeling good. Really good. Having binged on Rice Krispy treats the day before (gluten free!), I felt full of energy. Training had gone well, the sun was shining, and I had already gone to the little boys’ room three times (once on the fence right by the starting line -- your welcome, onlookers). Things were looking up.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Camera Killed the Coffee Star

It's cold to drink, but I'll get at least 15 likes...
I don’t make coffee at home. I don’t need my morning jolt to wake me up, nor would I ever be very far from any since I live in Paris. I discovered a café down the street that offers a coffee and croissant for 2 euros. I don’t care if it’s not organically-grown fair trade brew from a rehabilitated criminal living in some distant corner of the world. It’s coffee. If I want it, I’ll drink it.

Often, however, I’ll go to one of the newish “boutique” coffee joints that are taking locally roasted beans (it’s as “local” as coffee can get in France) and making some really great stuff. It doesn’t end up costing more than most cafés, and it tastes really, really good. These places often have that “local” feel to them, where you can chat with the baristas who eventually know your order right away. It’s great, really. Hats off.

About 4 years ago, I actually used to work for one such place, just as coffee was becoming “king” in Paris, according to The NewYork Times. I loved being able to interact with customers, to have a real rapport. I appreciate what these places are doing, but I’m not sure how long this local can keep going to them, even if they do know my order before I sit down.

First off, just try to find a seat. It’s not always easy in these cozy palaces. As I sat by the window, awaiting my cup, a French girl walked in with a look of disgust – even more disgust than on a good day. She couldn’t find a seat at the coffee shop, and promptly turned around. It can be frustrating, since it’s never really a fight at a traditional café, but hey, at least the boutique coffee shops do take-away without a fuss.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paris First World Problems: Round 1

Inspired by the wonders of social media, where #Paris seems to have taken over my life, I’ve started to notice some things that many people tend to exaggerate. It’s fun to embellish and practice hyperbole, it’s a great tool, but when it’s not paired with proper perspective, it can become borderline offensive. Here's round 1 from some of my latest observations...

My sushi delivery is taking forever
That moment when you realize that you ordered sushi online to be delivered to your 5th story walk-up, and you know you don’t even have to leave the delivery boy a tip. He better not have forgotten the miso.

Even the gelato is frozen...ugh...
I hear they serve frozen meals here...

I had to eat a meal made of partially frozen food
Maybe you’d like a really fresh meal, but plenty of people, about 840 million of them, wouldn’t complain if their broccoli came from a freezer instead of right from the ground. But they probably wouldn’t appreciate the fresh stuff anyway.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Getting Inked in Paris

I'm a pro now? (shakes head)
Then there’s that time when you realize that you still don’t know everything about Paris. I needed to get my fingerprints taken for my dossier, so I convinced myself that I could get them taken at any of the many public law enforcement offices. No problem. No fuss. No cost.

First the commissariat, then the prefecture, then the special judicial office, one after another, all looked at me like I was from another planet – which I basically am as someone looking for fingerprints in 2014.

The US needs fingerprints for background checks, which is apparently not the case in France, where a simple online form takes care of it. Yes, while getting most any other paperwork requires hurdles, a background criminal check is a few clicks away…

The French office workers and police were happy enough to listen to me, and even entertain my request with a few phone calls. But they were mystified by the request. “America is really strict,” one worker said. “I’ve worked here for years and I’ve never heard that request before,” another responded. “I cannot help you at all. I honestly have no idea,” said another. Bewilderment all around.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Keeping the "Travel" in Traveling...

Traveling through train stations, Paris...

Holiday travel, well travel at all, is stressful business. But for me, getting there is half, if not most of the fun. I put that theory to the test this year as I returned to France from Philadelphia. It still stands. Budget travel may be uncomfortable but it pays you back in other ways.

The return included flights and trains, car rides and sprints. A ride to the Philadelphia airport, complete with traffic backups on I-95, was just the beginning. The first leg of my journey included a flight to Chicago. Not quite in the direction of France, but the crying baby next to me and the entertainment-less fight (oh United...) kept me distracted. This was also a low point.