Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Birthday, Leila!

We have met many amazing people in Toulouse, but none more amazing than my friend Leila.  She and her husband used to live in California near San Diego.  In fact, Dan and her husband both worked at the same project near San Diego, but during different times.  Now the guys are both working at the same work campus in Toulouse, but on different programs.  I met Leila at school, her young daughter was in a different class than my boys, but Leila noticed me speaking American with the administrators during after school pickup.  She invited me to hang out.  She has showed me many things about Toulouse and we have wandered, metro-ed, and biked all around the city.  She is very smart and caring and is not only a good mom to her daughter, but also shows care and concern about my boys.  

Yesterday was her birthday!  We attended at a French restaurant that wasn't far from our apartment.  Fortunately, Leila lives with walking distance of us, so it was also close to her place.  They seem to specialize in hearty, delicious French food.  It's called "Le Point D'Ogre."  I can only assume this means the place where the ogre hangs out.  Perhaps the vegetables are taken from the ogre's garden.  Fortunately someone was able to acquire the vegetables without being eaten by the ogre themselves.  

As we arrived at the restaurant, we managed to explain in French which reservation we were a part of.  We were led to the basement which was shaped like half of a brick cylinder.  There were already six guests there, so we awkwardly made small talk in French while waiting for the guest of honor to arrive. After Leila arrived, everyone revealed that they spoke English, and the rest of the dinner was a mix of English and French.  

The food was fabulous.  The entree was a basket of vegetables and sausages accompanied by a vegetable soup.  

Basket of Ogre Food

For the principle plat, I had the duck breast with delicious mashed potatoes and Dan had a gateau de canard.  It was duck with potatoes on top.  

As is the tradition, the reservation was at 8pm.  We might have started eating around 9pm.  We got to talk to people, eat lovely food, then have birthday cake.  Dan and I were the rude Americans at the end and instead of staying after and talking some more, departed shortly before midnight.  

Happy Birthday, Leila!  I look forward to celebrating next year too!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Anniversary in Paris!

We have been married for 14 years.  So what should we do now that we are living in France?  Jet off to Paris for the night, right?

Fortunately, one of Dan's co-workers and his wife were able to host the kids overnight along with their two boys.  They were smart and took all four boys out to the woods for a pine cone hunting expedition to tire them out.  Don't tell these guys that they actually had fun...

Us?  Having Fun?

Our trip commenced at about noon on Saturday after we left the children.  We took our two small backpacks to the airport, we didn't check any luggage and breezed through security.   We have now embraced minimalist packing.  Of course, it was pretty easy since our trip was for one night.

Our flight to Paris was short, but had quite a few drunk passengers on it.  One guy was yelling stuff, harassing the flight attendants, and trying to suddenly surprise his friend who was sitting across the aisle.  Oddly, other than a few mild warnings from the flight attendants, there were no other consequences.  In the US, I feel like he would have been detained when we landed or something.  In France, I think they even served him another drink during the flight.

On arrival, we headed to the shuttle bus that goes from Orly to downtown Paris.  Of course, there ended up being a manifestation downtown that caused a re-routing in the bus' path, causing the bus to cancel one of its stops.  Unfortunately, this meant that one woman on the bus decided it would be good to cause a scene, demanding her money back because her stop was impossible to go to.  She didn't speak French, so this was slightly difficult for everyone to understand.  Fortunately, the bus driver managed to get her off the bus and rerouted to the metro or something.  We continued onward... the Arch de Triomphe!

Where we took an arch selfie!

That's us, with a landmark!

We have determined that we are now selfie hipsters.  We are taking selfies with all of the other tourists in an ironic manner.  But no, we are never going to use a selfie stick.  We may consider making duck lips sometimes or taking the selfie at a weird angle though.

We also found this other famous landmark:

La Tour

And took a selfie!

Tower Hat for Dan
I also had the chance to buy an awesome touristy scarf that says, "PARIS" and "EIFFEL TOWER."  We then went over to our hotel to check in.  We dropped off our backpacks and changed for dinner.  Where might dinner be?  Why IN the Eiffel tower, of course.

We went back to the tower and found the special dinner entrance.  For the second time in the day, we breezed by security.  We headed to the restaurant check-in.  Lucky us, there was only one couple in front of us!  Unfortunately for us, they had a very complicated check-in.  For some reason.  It took nearly 10 minutes to sort out whatever was going on with them.  Fortunately, I had my super warm poofy winter coat on.  Our check-in took 10 seconds and we were on our way to the elevator!  The elevator was awesome and fast.  We got up to our restaurant and made Dan pose in front of it for a pic.

Happy to not be behind difficult people in line

Once inside and seated at our table, we thought all craziness of travel and tourists were behind us.  No, I'm just kidding.  We knew that we were at probably the most touristy dinner destination in all of Paris, if not the world.  We also knew from one of our honeymoon dinners 14 years prior, that typically at touristy destinations, the view is usually better than the food.  We have always tended to do slightly cheesy things for the fun of it, knowing they are cheesy, but enjoying them ironically anyway.  Just call us travel hipsters.

For part of our honeymoon, we went to Niagara Falls.  We had dinner at the Skylon Tower, a rotating restaurant with a view of the Falls.  The food was terrible, my order arrived with mushrooms on it (yes, I ordered it without mushrooms).  But the view was great and the company was lovely.  Here we are in 2002 at Skylon.

Angela and Dan with some fancy folded napkins

The, um, view at Niagara Falls

The view of Niagara Falls from the Skylon was actually pretty nice. Picture, not as much.  It was dark, neither of us are photographers, we were rotating, and our camera had all of 3.1 megapixels of resolution.

Fast-forward to 2016, and we have much better cameras, on our phones, of course.

View From our Table

After Dinner View from Higher Up the Tower

Much like the food of the Skylon, our Eiffel Tower food was not great.  We have amazing food when we go out to eat normally in Toulouse.  This Paris food was ok.  The appetizer was probably the best of the bunch, the dessert was pretty good, but the main course was quite salty, for both of us.  And, since we are in 2016, here are the food pictures...

Dan's Appetizer.  Foie gras, quince and white balsamic vinegar marmalade, toast

Angela's Appetizer - Marinated Trout with some tiny pancakes and fromage blanc.

Dan's dinner - Steak, potatoes, mushrooms

Angela's Dinner - Chicken and Parmesan Potatoes with vegetables

The couple that was between us and the view didn't arrive until a bit later, so we had an amazing view right away, and could still see quite well even after they arrived.  We think they were Italian, they spoke in a reasonable tone, which meant that we could barely overhear their conversation.  The couple on our other side were a bit less accommodating.  They were the loudest American tourists we have ever come across.  People were giving them looks from across the dining room.  We couldn't quite figure out their relationship, they didn't seem to be dating or trying to impress each other.  But we did find out that the guy used to write poetry, he likes potatoes, he had an ex-girlfriend named Chloe, and his grandma's cat is named Sparkles.  They basically said crazy things, like the things you used to say when you were in college and had stayed up too late talking in your dorm.  On the food, they commented that the bread "tasted like money."

We ended up chatting with them for a short time at the end of the evening.  It turns out they were old friends.  The girl was currently studying in Ireland and the guy was studying in Spain.  They have birthdays during the same week and decided it would be cool to meet up for dinner at the Eiffel Tower to celebrate their 21st birthdays.  Although loud and annoying, I guess I have to give them credit for creativity.

After dinner, we explored the tower some more, going up even higher to the second level.  However, the champagne bar at the top will have to wait for another visit, or perhaps not.  It's really high.

Internal Structure Tower Picture

Internal Structure Tower Selfie

It turns out that the tower sparkles at night, each hour for five minutes.  We got to see this from inside, under the tower while we were waiting in line for restaurant check-in, then again while we were in the restaurant, then again as we were leaving.  It's not as awesome from the restaurant, but very pretty and sparkling in the other places.

Tower Not Sparkling

Tower Sparkling

We had taken the earlier dinner seating reservation time 6:30pm so that we would have enough time to make it to our after dinner show reservation at 11:45pm.  In between reservations, we headed back to our hotel to warm up and take advantage of the free drinks they offered to Dan, the loyal Mercure customer.  

Having Serious Fun while wearing touristy scarf

Then we walked over to our show venue, but we were still early, so Dan also expressed seriousness.  Here we are waiting at the restaurant next door to our show having a serious pre-show drink.

Or is it a happy and goofy pre-show drink!?

The show started.  We shared a booth with another couple, one was an investment banker from San Francisco and his date was a nice Swedish girl.  So we talked satellites and Scandinavian tourism while drinking champagne.

Champagne, but not pink like on our honeymoon

After the show, we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel as it was now even colder and darker and later.  Here is the tower as viewed from our hotel!  But now, it is is dark and non-sparkly.


Sunday morning we woke up bright and early.  We grabbed our tiny backpacks and checked out of our hotel.  We made our way to the underground entrance of the Louvre.  Here is the inverted pyramid underground.  We arrived about 20 minutes prior to the opening because everywhere you read, you hear that it takes hours to get into the Louvre and that the security lines are a pain.  We were the first ones in line and it took 10 seconds to get through security.  We dropped our backpacks off at the lockers, grabbed our NintendoDS Audio guides and went exploring.

Inverted Pyramid

Inverted Pyramid Selfie

What can I say about the Louvre?  It was huge, had tons of art.  And each room was full of masterpieces.  It reminded us of the first time we went to Italy where we saw so many masterpieces that we became desensitized to them.  Here is a small collection of what we saw:

 Venus de Milo

No arms:(

But I have a cool marble room to hang out in...

Mona Lisa

Protected behind Glass

Mona Lisa Selfie

This other painting by Leonardo da Vinci which reminds me of the one at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, but different and only one-sided.

Another beautiful giant painting 

Dan using the NintendoDS audio guide to learn more

A lovely, delicate painting

Paintings of Italy


Entire Room with Italy-Based Art

Large Sculptures

I have the wheat!

I can't have the wheat because... no arms.

Apollo vanquishing the serpent Python...

...and taking a selfie. 

More Art

Lion playing with a ball

Tilt-able Marble Maze

A pod of hippos hanging out in the gift store

Quite overwhelming amounts of art in so many different mediums and themes.  A bit before noon, we grabbed the train to the airport where we has some delicious lunch before going easily back through security to catch our plane.

The flight back was much more calm than the original flight.  I napped.  We got back to Toulouse and were treated to dinner at our friends' house.  Yes, the boys were over having a sleep over, so we got them home and into bed a while later.

An amazing weekend!  I wonder what we could possibly come up with for next year!  Let's see, 15 is traditionally crystal and the modern gift is watches.  Votes for visiting an atomic clock, anyone?