Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pentecost Weekend

Saturday I drove west and south to Lourdes. That town has a weird spirit about it. In 1858, a teenage girl experienced visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. So there are two churches built on the spot and people make pilgrimages, and street after street after street of souvenir shops. It’s hard to explain but the town gave me the creeps, even the lunch I ate there didn’t settle.
Then I drove south into the Pyrenees National Park. There was heavy, low cloud cover and light rain, but it was still really cool. I was up in the clouds when I stopped at Pont de Espagne (in French that’s actually pronounced Espan-ya as the “gn” is a “ni” as in onion sound.) I got to see the cascades at Cauterets. Unfortunately the gondola was closed due to the clouds. Some clear day I will have to return there or to Pic du Midi to ride the gondola across the mountains to get the amazing views.

Monday I drove down to Montpellier. I needed to see the sun. However the entire drive there & back “Vent Violent Soyuz Prudence” (violent winds, use caution) was soooo true. Montpellier is an interesting town, has a thoroughly modern section and centre historique. The promenade in the historic section has an Arc de Triomphe built for Henry XIV.

I then drove to Sete, situated on the Mediterranean. A neat little town with bustling narrow streets. Stopped near the marina to look around. Not much of a beach in town – just large boulders at the water’s edge. But the 15 km drive south of town along the water has a long stretch of beach. It must be crazy in July & August – parking is on the side of the road. Beautiful blue water.

It’s a short week for me. I fly home on Friday for a week. So I shall see many of you soon.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I do actually work too

In case you're wondering what I do when I'm not traveling about France on the weekends, here's a typical day.
06:00 exercise and get ready for work
07:30 carpool and exchanging passports for badges to get into the office
08:00 start work
18:00 (6 PM to you non-Europeans) or there abouts prepare to leave the office, exchange badges for passports
The evening is dinner and an hour or two online for work. And try to get to bed by 22:00.

We've found the French like 2, 3, 4 hour meetings with no breaks. So there's little time to get actual work done during the work day.

We get to take Monday as a holiday. It's Pentecost holiday here in Europe, and of course Memorial Day in the US.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


As promised – pictures galore! This weekend I’ll try out my shiny new camera.
This past weekend in Paris.
The Arc de Triomphe at night

Sacre Coeur

A view up Avenue des Champs Elysees from Place de la Concorde.

Eiffel Tower

Paris Panoramic

Your panoramic city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It was a bit cloudy so they are not the greatest pictures.

Looking south west down the Champs Elysees, you can see Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden, and Musee du Louvre. You can barely see Notre Dame to the right of the Louvre.

Looking northeast to Basilique de Sacre Coeur on the hill and closer the Opera.

Looking south, the Eiffel Tower.

Looking northwest to La Defense.

Foix and Montsegur

A week ago. In the Pyrenees foothills.
A view of Chateau de Foix from the city square.

A view of the city from the top of the round tower. Also climbed to the top of the square tower.

Grandma - I found my knight in shining armor!

A week ago. In the Pyrenees. Yes, we hiked up to the ruins at the top of the cliff

A view from the top.


Two weeks ago. Awesome medieval city and chateau. Parts of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

City of Lights

I had so much fun in Paris this weekend!!! It was my 2nd trip to the city. I was there in October 2001 for a youth workers conference. That was a good but difficult week on so many levels (right, Heather?) This trip I had a specific list of things I didn’t get to do the first time and others that are a must every trip to Paris. Mission accomplished with time to spare. Forgive any location spelling errors (Christy).

Friday night as I rode the train from the airport into the city, I had a moment of awe and thankfulness. I was so thankful for all the experiences I’ve had to this point that made me comfortable with traveling to Paris by myself for a weekend with no qualms about navigating this city & the metro system. Awe and thankfulness for all the other travel and opportunities that led to that moment. I will be able to post pictures in a day or two since my new camera & card reader are coming Monday. Jose called Friday night to ask some questions about the camera he picked up for me. He started off asking "so where are you at?" "Standing under the Arc de Triumph." Probably the coolest answer I’ve ever been able to give.

I’m bursting with things to share because I had such a great time. Things I learned: 1) I should never go without hair product, 2) avoid buying souvenirs on the Champs Elysee – they cost a lot less in Montmarte and the Latin Quarter, 3) should have brought better walking shoes.
Weekend’s menu: ham & cheese crepe, taziki (sp?) & souvlaki (my favorite Greek foods), escargot Bourgogne (delicious!!), duck in orange sauce, onion soup. The only specialty I haven’t tried yet is fois gras (goose liver pate), but I will.

Friday night I got soaked in a downpour but was determined not to just hole up in my hotel. After my dinner at a café on the Champs Elysee, it cleared off. There were tons of people out & about. It was energizing. Strolled the avenue and went under the Arc de Triumph. Could see the top half of the lit up Eiffel Tower from there.

Saturday dawned cloudy but not rainy, so I headed over to Montmarte. Stopped off to take a picture of Moulin Rouge. Then went to Sacre Coeur (sacred heart). It is a large white basilica that sits high on a hill. Climbed up all the steps, great views. Inside the church above the altar is a beautiful fresco of Jesus with his arms open wide and his heart glowing. All I could think of was the words to this song: Oh Lord, you’re beautiful. Your face is all I seek, and when your eyes are on this child, your grace abounds to me. Did souvenir shopping in Montmarte. Headed down to Notre Dame. There were huge lines to get in, I’d been inside before so I skipped that and did something I hadn’t done previously – walked around the side & back of the cathedral to get a good look at the famous flying buttresses. Did more shopping in the Latin Quarter. Had lunch at a little Greek place. I forgot how all the restaurants down there have someone standing outside to accost people walking by to come in and eat – and they are persistant. Greek, Mexican, French, Indian, Italian, a British pub – it’s all available.

As the sun started shining I walked down to Pont Neuf and crossed to the Left Bank. Walked along the Seine until I was at the Louvre entrance. Then I entered the Tuilleries Gardens and walked thru them to Place de la Concord and all the way up the tree lined Champs Elysee. After a brief rest I was going to climb the Arc de Triumph but the line was ridiculous, so I decided to take advantage of the good weather and took the metro over to the Eiffel Tower. Lines were bad there too, but that was ok since I’d been up it before. I just wanted to get some good pictures of it. Walked down to the end of the gardens in order to get the entire tower into the picture. Then I took the metro back to Champs Elysee to hit the stores for a little shopping. My feet hurt soooo bad that night.

Sunday was rainy. I was thankful I had gotten in the outdoors stuff on Saturday. I headed off to Musee d’Orsay. I’ve been wanting to go to this since museum since my mom’s been raving about it for almost 10 years now but it was closed because of a museum worker’s strike in 2001. It houses an incredible collection of impressionist paintings and Whistler’s mother. I had to wait about 20 minutes in line but within minutes of when I arrived, the line had more than doubled. It was pretty crowded inside, but well worth it. Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Latrec, Renior, Pissaro, Cezanne, Gaugin, Manet, Rodin, Sisley. Amazing works of art.
The rain had stopped and after a French themed lunch in the Latin Quarter, I took the metro up to the Arc de Triumph. Climbed the 284 steps to the top. While cloudy, there were still great views. It’d be awesome to be up there at night when the city and Eiffel Tower are all lit up.
Now I’m back with very achy feet and joints. It was a great weekend and I am so thankful for the opportunity to do such things.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eglise (church)

Sunday. Wow, 3 weeks here.
Went to church this morning. They sang several Chris Tomlin songs. I've had moments this week of jamming to Chris Tomlin's "Indescribable" and David Crowder Band's "Revoluntionary Love". I listened to Vineyard's If You Say Go cd - nice to hear the familiar voice of Travis Ross so far from home.
Church this morning was very interesting. A guest French pastor taught on the great commission in Matthew 28. I have randomly prayed for a heart for the French but what he shared made me want to pray more strategically.
Met some more very nice people there. One lady said if I get tired of all the testosterone with my co-workers to give her a call and they'll come get me. She's from Washington state but grew up in Nebraska. She was thrilled to hear I'm from Kansas.

After church I drove Elisabeth & Chris down to Carcassone. It was very windy - Wichita in spring windy. Elisabeth even commented that it reminded her of driving in Kansas. I bought some violet soap and some lavender soap. As my bro-in-law David would say I'm gonna "stink pretty."

I booked a trip to Paris for next weekend. Decided to pay the extra 10 Euros a night for a room with the bathroom "ensuite".
It will be a busy week. And hopefully a fun, safe weekend. Talk to you from the other side of it.

Pyrenees and more

We finally got into the offices on Thursday & Friday!!! Yippee! One way to know you’re in France? There’s wine on tap in the office cafeteria.
My exchange student from 2 years ago, Elisabeth, & her boyfriend Chris are in town for a week. They are from Northern Germany. Along with the guys from work, we drove down into the Pyrenees Mountains on Saturday. We got out of the city without having to make a correction for the first time! We first drove to Foix. Were able to tour the Chateau de Foix that we saw the first few days in France. You can see a picture of it in my first blog. We climbed up to the chateau and then climbed up 2 of the 3 towers. Awesome views. Foix is in the foothills of the Pyrenees. When I’m finally able to post my pictures you’ll be inundated. I had this moment where I was amazed – I’m driving in the Pyrenees in the south of France!
We then drove deeper into the mountains to Montsegur. The chateau is where the Cathers (Catholic heretics of the 10-12th centuries) had their last stand. in 1244. The chateau is high on a cliff, and I do mean high. It’s a 20 minute hike straight up the side of the cliff to get to it. We got our workout today. The views from the chateau were amazing. Panoramic views of the mountains - well worth the hike & 4 Euros. My legs were shaking when we made it back down.

When I called my parents I got to talk to JT, he’s 2, and he actually had a conversation with me. He rarely wants to talk on the phone so it was extra special. He spend the night at Grandma's house and he and Grandpa were going to the choo-choo train store to get more track. After he said bye he ran to Grandma "I talked to Jem-fer!" Ah, I miss my nephews!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Temporary Papparrazi Ban

It's beautiful today- sunny with a clear blue sky. I'm definitely going to walk in the park tonight. It's about 2-3 times the size of Sedgwick County Park with a large lake. Things are getting sunnier at work too as we have word that we're close to getting into the offices.
Sorry but I won't be able to post pictures for about another 2 weeks. My camera is on the fritz and the card reader has up & quit. I was going to buy a new camera here but it'll cost about 1/3 more and I'd have to deal with customs & VAT taxes. So instead I picked one out online and gave a co-worker a check. He has a turn around trip next week and will buy it for me - a Canon PowerShot 7.1 Megapixel with all sorts of bells & whistles, my photo instructor would be proud. Plus it's cnet.com's top rated point & shoot (I don't want to lug around an SLR). All that to say, you'll have to wait a few weeks for more pictures. I'm excited about the new camera!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Le Weekend

Saturday did much to buoy my spirits. We drove down to Carcassone. An absolute must see if you’re ever in southwest France. La Cite is a walled medieval city that was restored in the 1800s by Viollet-le-Duc. The first settlement there was about 500 BC was built up over centuries to the heyday in the 1200s. There are about 80 who still live within its walls but the rest of the 45, 000 residents live below. You can tour La Cite. Within the walls are a number of souvenir shops, restaurants, and 2 hotels. There is also the ancient castle, cathedral and ramparts. We walked all through it and even down the hill on the back side wall, I took about 50. The views from La Cite and views of La Cite are incredible. I’d show you pictures but my card reader has decided to quit. Grrr. Soon hopefully I’ll figure something out.

The cathedral is Gothic in style and although smaller than the other ones we’ve visited, the stain glass windows were some of the prettiest. It’s amazing to think that the church used to be the biggest patron of the arts. In the medieval age, it was the church who funded artists. There were true craftsman who also built these beautiful places of worship. It’s hard to imagine how they built all these intricate and large buildings without the modern engineering tools.
The castle is quite sprawling with many adds ons and changes over the centuries. We took a self-guided tour of the castle and then a guided tour of the ramparts. An interesting side note: the final scenes of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood movie were shot here. It has been my favorite place we’ve been so far. It was a cold, windy, grey day. We were chilled to the bone when we finally finished. It was quite windy walking the ramparts. But it was worth it.
I was able talk to my parents and sisters. It was much needed contact with home.

Random thoughts:
-I saw a full moon from a school bus. Good to know teenagers are the same everywhere. Our precious Arise kids would never do something like that I’m sure.
-Sarkozy was elected French president on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how things change. He’s considered the "conservative" candidate. US "conservative" and French "conservative" are not the same thing.
-Nutella: who needs peanut butter when they have this chocolate hazelnut spread?! I’m in heaven.

I braved going to church by myself Sunday. I found it online - Toulouse International Church. They have a service in English in the morning – there were about 70 in attendance. In the afternoons they have a French service that about 20 attend. They were friendly. A true international congregation – English, South African, French, American, Scottish. A contemporary service, though the songs were older. The teaching was good. They had 2 baptisms and a "bring & share" dinner (potluck) afterwards that I was invited to stay for. I got my first double cheek kiss greeting from a sweet South African woman. I was somewhat surprised by how many children there were. Most were families, but they had a handful of teens and some young couples.

Some of you will be happy to know that I did watch Pimp My Ride today though an odd combination- Pimp My Ride UK on German MTV. They show the regular MTV shows in English with German subtitles. At the apts I have very few choices for English TV – BBC World (news) and CNN World. And then German MTV has some things in English and there is a movie channel that if it’s an American movie it’s in English but they also show French movies so it’s hit & miss. Not that I watch much tv. I do have to say Pimp My Ride UK was about some of the worst telly I’ve ever watched. Totally cheesy with a host named "Westwood" who must be some British rapper but he’s more like an old Vanilla Ice wanna be. I must admit, I’m more of a Chip Foose and Overhaulin’ kind of girl.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Two weeks in

It's hard to believe I've been here two weeks already. This week was an odd one. France had Labor Day May 1, so most businesses were shut down Monday and all were on Tuesday. Got my rental car on Monday - a cute little Citroen C3. The brake is extremely touchy, and it shuts itself off when you stop. So there's a bit to get used to. We moved into the apts on Tuesday. It's nice to get unpacked and have a little space. I'll have to post some pictures.
Laundry at the apt or at a laundrymat runs about 9 Euros - that's about $12 a load. Good thing I have per diem.
I've been feeling cooped up this week. It's been overcast & rainy most of the time - like what I hear the weather in Kansas has been. Some lightning & thunder. Bought food at the marche, so I've mainly been eating in the apt.
We worked from the apts this week. I don't consider myself all that social, but I'm ready for some interaction after 4 days of basically being in the apt by myself with few mtgs with the rest of the team. We plan to hit Carcassone on Saturday. I googled & found a church that has a service in English that I might try on Sunday.
I haven't had jet lag problems except for 2 nights last week, but my skin is not handling things as well. I'm breaking out and I have a what appears to be a rash at the corner of my left eye.
That's my world for now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Took an hour walk around Blagnac Sunday morning determined to find the centre ville. It’s a nice little spot but still not much in the way of restaurants. But I’m in trouble, there’s a Leonidas shop. That’s delicious Belgian chocolate. (Christy – I still haven’t bought any Milka yet. They give us Godiva each night at the hotel.) I am feeling the castle stairs from yesterday.
My first driving experience was to drive into downtown for lunch. It was actually fairly easy. The brake is a bit touchy, but I made it without getting lost – just followed the signs. I think being here for a week helped drop the intimidation factor. I’ve tried to pay attention while being chauffeured around. I get my own rental car on Monday.
After lunch we walked around downtown to places we didn’t see last Sunday. Visited Les Jacobins – a cathedral that has palm-like columns. It was impressive. The first picture is outside. The next gives you a view inside for scale and the last is of the ceiling.

Then we went to St. Augustin’s – a cathedral & grounds that is now an art museum. It has a bunch of gargoyles along one hall – those are some very strange creatures. The musee has lots of sculpture, grave stones and some very classical paintings. I’ve been surprised at how little admission is for museums and chateaus – usually only a few euros. Not much else is cheap. But I have seen some good places to shop in downtown – though all are closed on Sunday afternoons. I will have to go down there some Saturday. We walked by a Disney Store today.

Thunderstorm tonight. Thunder & lightning. You have no idea how happy that makes me. Moscow was miserable with constant overcast & drizzly skies. But a thunderstorm means it rains, is done, and then moved on. It is making the tv signal weak. My choices – read or watch Pimp My Ride dubbed in French. I think I’ll read.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been here a week. It’s gone quickly and yet feels like it’s been a long time. Things have gone pretty well so far. I do miss friends & family.


We drove to the Mediterranean Sea, only about 1.5 hrs away. We went to Narbonne Plage (beach)– the sand was so soft, the water was a tad cool but not bad. I had to get my feet wet. We spent awhile walking along the beach. I will have to go back when it gets warmer to do some actual swimming.

We had a long lunch. I wasn’t quite sure what I ordered but took a chance. Ended up it was a plate of cold shellfish – Langastino lobsters, shrimp, raw oysters, mussels, and something that looked like snails but was a sea creature. I tried some of all of it – oysters were so-so and the mussels were yucky but everything else was quite tasty.

The road coming into Narbonne Plage has amazing views. You can see the village and ocean as well as the vineyards on the surrounding hills. The drive from the plage to city is pretty incredible as you can see.

Then we drove into Narbonne. Interestingly the city used to be on the Mediterranean but the sea has receded and it is now about 10 km inland. After some difficulty we made it to the cathedral in Centre Ville (city center). We first walked through the cathedral – large Gothic style. I took a ton of pictures. This is a picture of the cloister from ground-level.

Then we walked the 120-odd spiral stone steps to the donjon. I was slightly dizzy and my calves were quivering when we made it to the top. But the view was worth the 2 Euros.

I have friends in other parts of Europe that would be fun to visit, but I think I will concentrate on seeing France well while I’m here. There’s so much just in the region I’m in. So many things are just a few hours drive away. There are so many unknowns with work still that I will take things as they come and not make any long range plans. It has been a very different experience for me, but one I am learning to go with.
The foraging for food is getting old as our hotel is not in a hot spot. We ate at the mall 3 times for dinner last week because it is the only place within a reasonable walk. I am really looking forward to getting into the apartments and getting to know that village.
Ah yes, had the joy of using a public WC (water closet, toilet) in Narbonne Plage – a hole in the ground. Just like in Moscow. Gotta love it. Actually, gotta get some hand sanitizer to carry with me, I already pack tissue. The other odd thing is that a trash can is hard to find in public places like hotel lobbies. I guess it’s that they are a service oriented culture, but I’d prefer to toss my gum myself than leave it on a table to let a worker get it. And don’t even think about serving yourself at a buffet. There are quirks to get used to. But you should see the wisteria and lilacs – beautiful. And there’s wild rosemary everywhere.