A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: rubywheels

Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

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This past week was an interesting one… I had a very busy week from a work perspective and as such, was a bit tired throughout the week. This, coupled with the fact that I jinxed myself a week ago, has left me under the weather (why would I utter the phrase “I can’t believe that I’ve managed to make it nearly two months on this trip without getting sick!” ?? Surely I was asking for it…). The upside of this is that I am in a country where they freely give prescription medication… the downside, of course, being that I can’t read the labels and have to trust that:

1. The pharmacist understood my ailments and
2. Taking everything together isn’t going to send me to either detox or rehab.

That said, I’m halfway into a 4.5 hour train ride to a city on the West Coast of France called ‘Brest’ for a meeting tomorrow morning. From there I’ll head back to Paris Monday evening for my last few days in France.

Summary since last blog:

Weekend of 20/21: It’s almost difficult to remember what I did that weekend! So much happens in a week. Anyway, Rachel and I got a late start on Saturday, but still managed to enjoy a day walking around the lovely city of Paris. We visited Notre Dame – I even went inside this time!  It’s quite a beautiful structure and I discovered that right outside of it is a place that marks the center of France… when you look at a map this doesn’t really make logical sense, but I’ve confirmed it in a few guidebooks so it must be true. Sunday we enjoyed a very cold boat ride on the Seine… after visiting the Opera Garnier (also went in there this time!), the Place de la Concorde and Arc du Triumph. I managed to find a store that was open on a Sunday (leave it to a professional shopper to “sniff” that out!) and bought myself a much needed large black sac. I’m saying ‘sac’ in French, because this makes me feel better… if I had bought another purse I simply wouldn’t have needed it and this would potentially have been a waste of money. Anyway, our friendly (overly-friendly… just ask Rachel) shop keeper gave me a good deal so all in all, happy with the purchase.

22-24: I went to the UK which, if you ask them, is not a part of Europe. Ha ha! So, despite the opinion the writer or readers may have about that, I felt sufficiently removed from Paris and enjoyed my first train trip between the countries underneath the English Channel. Wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting and happily, the water didn’t come crashing down in the train tunnel. Monday afternoon when I got in I met up with a colleague and we went to a meeting near the Tower of London. I didn’t have much time in London, but managed to…um, well OK shop for a bit… and then we went to a lovely Italian restaurant near our train station. By that Monday night I was in Cheltenham – a city approx 2 hours to the west of London – which is where our offices are.

It was nice to be in the UK for a few reasons:

1. They have chicken sandwiches (they probably do in France too but I haven’t had much luck finding them…)
2. I could ask directions at the train station and the biggest language barrier was my accent
3. People actually showed up to meetings <gasp>! Having been in France for the 2 weeks prior this was a welcome relief. (note: I did not say “showed up to meetings on time”. It has actually been the case in France where they often just don’t show up at all. And then they get mad at you for not being available 2 hours after said meeting time… but that’s another blog for another time…)

After a few days of back to back meetings I took the journey back from Cheltenham to London to Paris on Wednesday and arrived late that night. Thursday/Friday I spent in all day meetings for work, so nothing exciting to report about that.

This weekend (27/28): Yesterday Rachel and I visited Versailles – which is actually only about a 45-60 min train ride from Paris. It seems farther away when you exit the train station… a city has managed to go up around the Palace, but it still manages to be incredibly impressive. The gold decorations, rolling gardens and interior are remarkable. I took quite a few pictures, so be sure to look at them before you sign off the website. The weather managed to cooperate without much rain, but as you can see there were quite a few “angry” looking clouds throughout the day! Mother Nature’s way of providing a dramatic back-drop of scenery for our pictures, I suppose.

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Today I’m on the train I mentioned earlier… looking forward to a nice dinner when I arrive and hopefully finishing up ‘Part Two’ of my expense report. The side you all don’t see is the horrifying amount of paperwork required to make these business trips possible. ;) Maybe someday I’ll rank high enough to have an assistant!

With that, I will turn my attentions to ‘Le Bar’ – yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. ;)

More to come… only a few more days and I will be on the plane back home. Every part of me is ready… especially the part that is sick and wants her own bed!!

Posted by rubywheels 12:29 Archived in France Comments (0)

Freedom, Truth and Love!

The Bohemian Revolution!!

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For those of you that know me best, you understand two things about me and how I travel:
1. I’m not a traditional tourist in the sense that I have a strong desire to go to the most popular places in a city and
2. I don’t like to keep to a tight schedule of tours, museums, etc.

With that said, I did manage to (accidentally in some cases) catch some major sights last weekend.


Saturday I planned a relaxing day of walking around a neighborhood called ‘St-Germaine’. This area is known for being the stomping grounds of the big thinkers of the Existentialist movement here in France, as well as some famous authors. In my pictures you’ll notice three cafes called ‘Les Deux Magots’, ‘Café de Flore’ and ‘Brasserie Lipp.’ They are actually all located within a block of each other and are the hang outs of some well known historical figures . It is actually said that Hemingway wrote ‘Farewell to Arms’ at the Brasserie Lipp. Anyway, also found in this neighborhood are some upscale shops (LV, Cartier…) and also is home to the oldest church in Paris, called ‘St-Germain des-Prés‘. There were some beautiful windows in this church.

From there I walked to a well known park in Paris called ‘Jardin de Luxembourg ‘. The Palace looking thing is Palais de Luxembourg. While it was too cold to fully enjoy this experience, I managed to sit in one of the folding chairs…huddled with my beret, scarves (2!) and gloves… it was about 30 degrees outside. Yikes! But, I did manage to read a few pages of my book before caving in and leaving. The cold gave me a good excuse to go to the Gap (Kara – thought of you – the selection is better in the US) and Starbucks! Sadly a very American end to the day… but I found a fabulous bakery specializing in Macaroons so managed to get some “France” in there as well!


Sunday I picked another famous neighborhood to explore called Montmartre. This is the highest point in Paris and is the original “home” to the Bohemian movement shown in the movie Moulin Rouge. Montmartre was beautiful! The neighborhood feels as though it’s an entirely different city (which it was, until roughly 1860 when it was incorporated into Paris) and the Sacré-Coeur is simply beautiful. The history of the neighborhood is a bit more tumultuous than it looks… it was actually the site of the be-heading of St. Denis and other Christian priests by the Romans in AD 250. Like so many other places in the world, it’s difficult to imagine that kind of history when you are visiting how it is today.

On the walk up I managed to see two of the original ‘windmills’ which were an icon of this area back in the day. As you can see from my pics, one was in much better condition than the other. Anyway, there were many street artists and breathtaking views from the top of the mountain. The church itself was beautiful – I wasn’t able to take pictures inside, though. There was another church right below this on the hill (called the Church of St-Pierre – rivals the church from Saturday for ‘Oldest Church in Paris’ title) where you will see some pics for. There was a particularly disturbing stain glass window, so be sure to catch that in the pics.

On the way to Montmartre I stopped to see the famous Garnier Opera house – unfortunately I couldn’t go in but the outside was beautiful! On the way back from Montmartre I stopped to see the Moulin Rouge! Like I said on my Facebook page, I was secretly hoping for Ewin McGregor to surprise me with his rendition of ‘Your Song’, but alas, the only people around were a few tourists and, well, the kind of people that hang out in the kind of neighborhood where you would find a brothel. ;) (OK, it isn’t really a brothel anymore… I don’t think…but there were certainly what looked like options nearby!)


I FINALLY went to see the Eiffel Tower on Monday night. I caught the light show and it was really pretty cool (although saying ‘light show’ usually means something a bit more… showy). I tried to upload a video of the light show so if it works, check it out!

The Eiffel Tower is a must see in Paris, but the history is funny because originally the Parisians are said to have hated it as an “belfry skeleton” and “truly tragic street lamp.” I do agree that it is rather out of place with the rest of the city, but the massive size is really pretty amazing. It looks like a bridge that goes straight up into the air… I was comfortable seeing it from the ground up, so don’t be disappointed at the lack of panoramic pictures from the top. That’s just not going to happen.

Rest of week:

The rest of the week I spent working, working, working. It’s getting to a bit of a frustrating and stressful point on that end, so I’m not going to taint my happy blog with unhappy work talk. ;) Let’s just say I’ve moved my ticket up again – leaving now on April 1 – and I’m really looking forward to a week off at home… without my computer or blackberry.

I head to the UK for a few days on Monday, so next blog I can tell my tale of two cities (yes, I said it. I’m a nerd… so much so that I’m actually re-reading the book while I’m here… or possibly reading for the first time. I know that I was supposed to read it in high school…even did a solo monologue from it in Forensics…but as I go through the pages there is zero familiarity beyond the first page…which was basically the text for the monologue so not a good sign.)

I’m also excited because my dear friend Rachel arrived yesterday and I’m looking forward to having someone to explore the city with my last couple of weeks!

Posted by rubywheels 09:33 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Parlez-vous Francais?

The Holy Food Trinity: Bread, Cheese, Chocolate

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I'm a bit overdue for this blog update! So far Paris has been great... I've gotten over my snobbery of "Italy is better than anywhere in Europe" and managed to keep an open mind throughout my first week here in a very beautiful city. I have to admit, the primary thing that has pushed me to this acceptance is my love of what I refer to in my Subheading as 'The Holy Food Trinity': Bread, Cheese, Chocolate. I actually spoke to my loaf of bread from my favorite Boulangerie - conveniently located downstairs from my serviced apartment - on my way home from work today. That's right, I said to it "I love you bread, thank you for being so warm and crispy on the outside! I can't wait to eat you with cheese when I get home!". I found myself actually saying this out loud (rather than using my inside voice) which speaks to two things:

1. I really do love the bread here and
2. The multiple time zones, planes, etc., have finally pushed me over the "crazy" edge

Fortunately Paris is a big enough city that no one noticed me talking to myself... and really it was more of a whisper.

Now, I know that no one reading this blog is going to feel sorry for me for what I'm about to say but... well.... Paris is really cold. It's about 20-30 degrees F each day (including a very hefty wind chill) and I am walking to/from the train for work just like I did in the "old days" in Chicago. Apparently the little time that it has been since last fall has pampered me to a degree that I can barely handle the bitter cold. I'm blaming this on my lack of appropriate attire (someone send me my Uggs and some sweaters please!!) and the fact that my body doesn't even know what day it is anymore.

I have a couple of stories to share about my week:

1. My first true experience with the Heading of this blog was the sad reality that I DON'T speak French and apparently not all transitions are, well, anything other than literal translations. Example: I went into the Pharmacy the other day to pick up some contact solution because I ran out and forgot to bring this from home. Seemed simple enough. The store was the size of a large office and there were a couple of others there at the same time, including two pharmacists. I thought to myself (inside voice this time) "I can find this - I don't need help - I'm a World Traveler for crying out loud!" (or something to this effect...). So, I walked around, searching, until to my excitement I found a box marked 'Contact Solution'! How easy was that?! So, I reach forward, past the older women looking at the shelf to my right, and nearly pick up the solution.... until... I really looked at the shelf. The contact solution was located near the global Trojan brand, which to my embarrassment made me realize that this was not the kind of contact solution I was looking for. Unfortunately, my excitement at finding this had drawn some unwanted attention and I had to sheepishly work my way to a pharmacist that spoke English... no worries, I ended up with the global brand I was looking for, which was Bausch & Lomb.

2. I injured my knee (no one panic I'm fine) and need to go to a doctor just to make sure that I haven't seriously created some damage. So, I'm given the number to the American Hospital of Paris, call to set up an appointment only to find that the hours of operation are from 9-5. I've heard of the famous French work ethic, but even given the rumors this seems extreme... wonder what we do if there is actually an emergency after hours? Call back in the morning?

3. Again on the language front I've been approached by at least one person a day on the subway, in a store, etc., that tries to make "small talk" with me in French. While I take some pride in feeling like this means I look like I belong here some how, it is hard to miss the look of disappointment in their faces when I say 'je ne comprends pas' (I don't understand) in a significantly Midwest accent...

4. Last night at dinner a table came over to me to ask me if I am Canadian. Canadian?? Apparently they had been listening to me talk to my colleague and thought that I said 'sorry' in a Canadian way... first, how loud was I talking and second, I thought I'd lived out of WI long enough to drop my accent... how have I picked up an even more Northern accent now when I'm not even there? ha ha!

5. Last weekend I took a long walk along the Seine River and found myself a nice bench where I had a partial view of Notre Dame, the tip of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. I sat there for awhile taking pictures, enjoying the sunshine and, well, just taking it all in. After awhile I started to think a little clearer and realized I couldn't be looking at the Louvre because it was on the same side of the river as me... I was literally sitting right in front of it. So, I took a bunch of pictures of a building that I have no idea what it is.

6. This isn't a story, I just want to rub in the fact that the chocolate eclairs here are amazing.

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There are other stories, of course, but these are some highlights. Work was busy this week and it's starting to get a bit stressful since I've been traveling so much and with timezones it makes things a lot more difficult. I'm tired of traveling and actually am opting for train travel while in Europe rather than flights... I'll have to report back in a couple weeks on how my trip on the Eurostar train under the English Channel goes. I also opted for a 4.5 hour train ride in lieu of a 1 hour plane ride to a remote part of France in a couple weeks... what can I say? I'm sick of planes (and managed to save my company quite a bit of money this way...). I cut my trip short and will be taking time off at home rather than in France after I finish work on April 1, so I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed in a few short weeks.

That's it! Check out my pics and look for another update sometime soon!!


Posted by rubywheels 19:00 Archived in France Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Happy Year of the Tiger!

I've never seen/heard so many fireworks for so many consecutive hours...at random times (even in daylight).. for 10 consecutive days...

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Hello friends and family!!

As my title says - Happy Year of the Tiger! In what I can only describe as the longest New Year Celebration of all time, we welcome in the Year of the Tiger with fireworks, red lanterns, bright (very bright!) colors and some incredibly annoying music that is still playing in the hotel elevator... The Tiger is a very important member of the Chinese Zodiac - known for bravery and competitiveness - typically quite charming and well liked by others. I know what you're thinking... I must be a Tiger, right? WRONG! I have the very exciting honor of being a Rabbit. Ok - doesn't sound exciting, but once you find out a bit more I suppose it's more convincing: "The Rabbit symbolizes such character traits as creativity, compassion, and sensitivity. Rabbits are friendly, outgoing and prefer the company of others. They also prefer to avoid conflict."

Now I also know what you are thinking... they had me until "avoid conflict". Ha ha! I suppose it can't say EVERYTHING about me!

That preface is to prepare you for the accompanying pictures - you'll see LOTS of Tigers and a rabbit or two thrown in to honor my Zodiac sign. Where you see dragons it's just because I like them. ;)

To summarize so far:

Shanghai: I've already done some talking on Shanghai, so the only additional comments here are to say that I have done A LOT of shopping during my time in Shanghai. In my quest to have more purses than anyone in the universe I have managed to purchase...well, let's say a few. I've also discovered a love for tea pots, which will be a fun challenge for the packing and flight to Paris... then home. I suppose my subliminal goal is to spend all of my money here, so that I'm not tempted in Paris, where I really won't be able to afford anything! Ha ha! That said, I'm enjoying the city quite a bit.

Xi'an: Over the weekend I went with a colleague from Kohler, WI, who is on a 3 month assignment in Shanghai to a city called Xi'an. The First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, had it right when he began planning his burial his first day in "office." Determined to be protected in the afterlife, he originally wanted to bury his actual army when he died, but he was convinced that Terra Cotta replicas of each of his men would be a better idea (certainly not bad advice considering the Empire would have been left unprotected... I guess that would have been "someone else's problem"). This was truly an amazing sight - a trio of farmers discovered the first set when digging a well... two of them ran away because they found only a head, which they took to be a bad omen, but the third stayed and turned the head into the Government. The Government Archeologist, realizing how important a find this was, offered him 10 Yuan (not very much money... at all... like 1 USD) for his find... and his land, which the Government then took possession of to begin excavating. To make matters worse, the Farmer's wife forced him to return the money because it was his duty to provide for the government! So, he spent the next few years living as a beggar to support his family, but happy to report that about 5 years later they began to invite him into the growing museum to sign autographs for a fee - enough to now get him a BMW (so our guide says) and live a comfortable life. The cool part is WE MET HIM! He was there to celebrate the Chinese New Year so I actually have an autograph from him on the book that they forced me to buy to get his autograph. ;) $17 well spent!

Anyway, that's all based on what our tour guide told us, so hopefully it's true. For more history (and another somewhat credible resource) check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army

And don't forget to look at my pics! They are truly amazing...The soldiers are over 2200 years old... unbelievable. They are starting to restore them, which is why some are broken and others are put together.

Other Xi'an sites: This is one of the oldest cities in China so we saw some pretty amazing places. There is a village (Banpo) that is said to be 6000 years old, which are some of the less exciting "dirt" pictures. This site doesn't get much attention because of the proximity to the Terra Cotta Soldiers. About a mile away from the Terra Cotta Soldiers is the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, which seems far based on the protection aspect, but there used to be a wall in between so the soldiers were buried right outside of the wall. The tomb is underneath the mound that has a lot of stairs to the top. We also saw the Small Wilde Goose Pagoda - interesting history because 1000 years ago there was an earthquake that split it down the middle and then 800 years ago another earthquake put it back together! Hard to imagine, but that's what we were told... this is the big tower looking thing in my pics. We saw the wall of the city - walked on part of it - this is the area with the really brightly colored New Year's decorations.

I could go on for hours, but all in all, those are the highlights and it was a fun weekend!

Overall China impressions:

China is very different from India... The government here seems to have done a better job making sure that even the poorest of the poor have food and the infrastructure is much more manageable. Even during trips out to the countryside to visit a couple of our plants I've noticed a remarkable difference in planning and housing. I'm sure there are areas that are much less developed if I were to go even more remote, so not sure I'm making a fair comparison, but my impressions are based on what I'm seeing here. I'm also putting aside for a moment the years of study that I've done on the political system and human rights conditions in some areas of the country... so as not to offend I'm saving that conversation for another day!

In general, while I enjoy visiting Asia I'm not sure it's a place I could settle or live long term (probably a relief to my family to hear that!). I definitely look out of place here, which leads to staring and attention that makes me feel uncomfortable. (happens in India too) That said, the people are very nice, cabs in Shanghai are very cheap, so it's easy to get around, and I'm learning a lot about the country. From a work perspective it's been another great experience!

I'm looking forward to Europe and the adventures that Paris and the rest of France will hold for me. It's another place I've never been, so I feel very lucky to have found a job that enables me to discover new places! Even if it does sound more glamorous than it feels sometimes (e.g. I am TIRED of WORKING ALL OF THE TIME) - being in a hotel room it's hard to avoid the Blackberry and computer, so I never really shut down. In Paris I'm hoping to embrace the European concept of 'Work to Live'... it will be interesting to report on how that goes! I'm here in Shanghai for a few more days then off on Friday for a longggggg day of flying halfway back towards home.

Miss you all!

Posted by rubywheels 06:08 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The Year of the Tiger

Chopsticks, Starbucks and a Strange Mascot that Resembles Toothpaste

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Well, I'm a little behind on my blog but I can - with confidence - blame this on the fact that I was not able to sleep Friday night because of the time of my flight (had to get to the airport at 2 am for 4:30 am flight) and the fact that I have lost yet another 2.5 hours of my life to the mysterious timezone no-man's land.

My flight from Delhi to Dubai was actually quite enjoyable. Despite what I always thought, Dubai isn't actually made out of gold, but there was quite a bit of gold for sale at the airport anyway... being a jewelry addict I was looking forward to spending some hard earned money on a bracelet, necklace, earrings, anything really. Sadly, I seriously underestimated the price of gold in Dubai. I tried on two beautiful, delicate and very light bangles (price is by weight) for the modest sum of $1500-ish. Needless to say, I politely took them off and then removed myself from the counter...

The problem is I got quickly used to a 1st class lifestyle. You see, I was given a free upgrade to 1st class on Emirates airline! Not sure why, but who am I to argue. You'll notice in my pics that I'm a nerd and not only took pics of the BEAUTIFUL lounge in Dubai, but of the plane itself. I had a private little room where the seat fully extended into a bed, had a flat screen TV and I could close the riff raff out with my doors. Very fancy. The airport in Delhi was a terrible experience (lots of people, flight was delayed, they mass loaded the plane, ugh!) so the plane was a huge contrast. The flight from Dubai to Shanghai was less fancy and not as exciting, but I can't complain.

OK - enough about my 11 hours of flying 7 hours out of my way West, then back East. On to China!

I have to admit that I have always wanted to go to China. As an International Relations and Political Science major focusing on Human Rights, I don't think I had a single class that didn't include some study on this country. If I weren't too lazy to learn Mandarin, who knows where my life would have taken me! But unfortunately (or fortunately depending on perspective) I went for Italian because of my love for their food, music and the whole romantic appeal of Italy. Anyway, I digress... my point was that I've had a lifelong fascination with China and to be here is to truly realize one of my life's desires. Kinda a cool feeling.

So, China! I've had quite a bit packed into the past 2 days, so I'll summarize where I've gone:

1. "Fake" market: While an enjoyable experience it turns out I'm too much of a snob to fully give myself over to the fake-ness of the market. This is where you can buy D&G, Coach, LV, etc., for a fraction of the price b/c it is a copy of the original... sometimes a good copy but at the end of the day I still knew it was fake! That said, it was also an area to buy lots of local handicrafts and gifts, so I still managed to buy gifts for myself and others. And, with 8 days left in the country we all know I will likely break down and buy some type of designer fake.
2. Yu Garden: These are the more "traditional" pictures that you see in my gallery. My favorite is the very traditional building with the Starbucks in the bottom. :) It's a relief to be somewhere that I can buy my Grande 2 pump skinny vanilla latte. Fortunately some things are universal. Anyway, a lot of decorations are still up for Chinese New Year (It's the Year of the Tiger!) so I have some cool pics. It was a great experience - crowded, but despite that I really enjoyed things!
3. Area around the hotel has some shopping and the random pictures of little giant kids (may make sense if you see the pics) that seem to have something to do with the World Expo that will be here in May... as well as the:
4. Strange mascot that looks a bit like toothpaste. His real name is "Haibao", which is created from a Chinese character meaning people. To see a hip hop dancing Haibao follow the link below. Totally worth the extra work to find it. Anyway, Haibao has become the "Where's Waldo" of China for me as he shows up everywhere...


That's the main points for now! The rest of this week should be fun... tomorrow night the Bund, Wednesday night the Shanghai Circus, Thursday night some more shopping then off to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers for the weekend on Friday!

Check back later this week for more pictures and musings.


Posted by rubywheels 04:56 Archived in China Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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