Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What happens in Toulouse...

So, I feel like I should at least give a brief run down of what I did in Toulouse because, well, because I have pictures.  And I want to show those.  And somebody, somewhere might be interested....
Sinon, tant pis!

Basically, one of our traveling companions with whom we had booked the hotel in Toulouse, dropped out at the last minute (the last minute being at the train station in Paris).  I had booked the hotel through, which I will probably no longer use.  In short, I tried to cancel through the website.  They said I had to contact the hotel.  I tried to contact the hotel; they didn't answer.  So we arrived at the hotel on Friday Feb 19th (Elvynia's birthday) where we were told that if we didn't cancel through hostelworld, we would have to pay for the entirety of the four nights.  There was no way to contact hostelworld.  Finally the lady let us cancel nights 2-4, but we lost the booking fee.  We were tired, so we walked to a nearby boulangerie, bought sandwiches, and had a quiet night in, watching BBC.
The next day we planned to couchsurf.

Saturday we wandered around Toulouse, had a fabulous lunch at an Indian restaurant, and saw this:

Then we met our couchsurfer who, honestly, didn't seem to know what was going on and told us that we could sleep in one of his roommates beds that night, but there were people coming the next day.  And he didn't know where exactly we would sleep.  We talked for an awkward while and then played Mario Kart then he and one of his roommates made "dinner," which was just a huge thing of pasta with shredded cheese we could put on it if we wanted.  They did have a tasty looking baguette on the table, but they didn't eat any, nor did they offer it to us.  So we made do with the pasta.  After that we met Elvynia's friend Remy for a belated birthday drink (or three).  Then we went back to the couch surfer's and slept sideways on the roommate's bed.  I did not trust the sheets and slept on my coat.

The next day when we finally got up we got lunch at a very cute little tea house/crêperie: I had a very good green salad with green olives and pesto dressing and a nice little crêpe buerre et sucre.  
Then a miracle occurred.  Elvynia's friend Yva who she met when she studied in Toulouse met us and chatted for a while.  We, without going into too much detail, explained our couchsurfing plight.  Then she said "Oh!  You can stay in my boyfriend's apartment. He's never there (they were about to get a new apartment together); he stays at my place.  It's clean and there's a washing machine.  How lucky we were!
It was a really nice, little apartment.  It was clean and comfortable.  Thank you Yva!
That night Elvynia went to eat with Remy's family.  Meanwhile Sheena and I had comfortable night in with some strange but tasty pasta that I made.  (It was Sunday, and the only thing open was a night Épicerie with overpriced pasta and tomato sauce.  I included a kind of chopped ham called lardon fumé and canned mushrooms in the sauce.  Yes, it was weird, but it was good.)

Monday we planned to go to Carcassonne.  Per usual, it took us a while to get ready, and by the time we got to the train station, we found out we would have to wait a while for the next train.  We went and sat in a café.  It was nice.  There was also a crazy man/drunk sitting at the table behind us who made quacking noises.  Carcassonne was cool.  Before going I wasn't sure if I had been there before (during my high school trip to France and Spain) or not.  Well, I have definitely been there before.  It was nice the second time around, except the sky was gray and overcast, and we were tired.  We wandered around.
Elvynia took this picture of me:
I took this picture of some pigeons:
We wandered around the medieval city, which would be impressive if it hadn't been so overcast and hadn't been made into complete tourist trap with overpriced restaurants and doo-dad shops galore.
We walked back to the new city and found a café where we sat and had hot chocolate.
Back in Toulouse we met Remy and a couple of his friends for dinner at this Chinese restaurant.  The food was very disappointing, but the guy who owned the place was almost entertaining enough to make up for it.  We went to the main student bar that was so packed that we couldn't even buy drinks.  Sheena and I decided to rentrer chez nous. (go home), and Elvynia and Remy came back a little while later.  Sheena had an early train back to Angers, and we had a later one to La Rochelle.

We had planned to stay two days in La Rochelle, but we were so tired.  We ended up just staying one night with couchsurfers Justine and Justine who were roommates and friends and both studied Chinese. They were super nice and welcoming, and it would have been a great place to see.  I think we'll go back.  It's a very pretty little city, smaller than Angers and a port.  Here are some pictures:

We also had some tasty galettes (savory crêpes).  Then we came home.

And that was what happened in Toulouse.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Midspring Night's Schizophrenic Episode

Coolest thing to happen recently: On Thursday, Meredith asked me if I was interested in going to a dinner theater.  A Midsummer Night's Dream was this weekends show, and she thought it would be a fun, different thing to do in Angers.  So we went last night, Saturday.
Meredith, Elvynia, and I arrived at the Restau-Theater a little after 7:30.  We weren't sure what to expect.  It was a restaurant with a small stage decorated with bright red, pink, and white plastic flowers and paper leaves.  The food was excellent, three courses.
Here's what I ate:
Entrée (appetizer): Grilled  Shrimp with something-Provençal, which was like a cold Ratatouille.
Plat (main course): Duck with some kind of dried berry. It said sec airelles. "Sec" means dry, and "airelles" means bilberry, blueberry, OR cranberry.  It tasted closest to cranberry, but cranberries do not grow in Europe. On the side were cooked peas, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes; they were plain but good.
Dessert: Mille-feuilles de pancake avec fraises et chantilly.  I thought this was going to be a Mille-feuilles like I had in Paris.  Mille-feuilles literally means "a thousand sheets."  It's typically a tall, flaky pastry with a custart cream in it.  This was not that.  This was pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream, which was also good.

Anywho, we enjoyed having a semi-fancy meal.  Before the show, I commented on the bright scenery, saying that I hoped it was a moderny-interpretation.
It was better than that.

It was one woman.  One woman with her hair in crazy braids, sticking out all over her head with a pink dress and stripey witch tights and crazy pink makeup.  She came into the center of the dining room and strew paper leaves all over the floor while a kind of electro-rock song played on the speakers.  Then she started the play.  We knew ahead of time that it was going to be a French translation, but I think the fact that it was in French tripped me up at first.  I knew she was saying Puck's lines.  Then she put on crazy white hoop skirt and changed the tone of her voice, which I didn't pick up on immediately.  I kept waiting for more actors and actresses to show up.  They didn't.
There were two skirts, which she put on to play the female characters.  She crouched and looked mischevious when she was Puck, and she stood under a blue spotlight to be Oberon, king of the fairies.  She did this kind of jumping/creeping dance to switch between characters, which was amusing when two characters were conversing.
She looked like a crazy person.
But, it was impressive.  And it was definitely interesting.  After getting over the initial shock of what she was doing, I enjoyed it.  I understood much of what she said, and she gave us all balloon flowers at the end.

A cute kid story: One little girl asked me Friday, comment tu es née? "How were you born?"  I pretended I didn't understand, but she was persistant, so I just told her I didn't know.  Then she asked, Comment ta mère t'a appris anglais?  How did your mom teach you English?  I explained that that was the language we speak at home.  Then I asked her what language she speaks at home. She told me "sometimes Morroccan, sometimes Turkish."  But she still didn't seem to grasp that I also spoke another language at home.  It was very cute, though.

In other news, there is a teacher's strike Tuesday.  What does that mean for me?? I don't have to work!  I am so unreasonable excited about the strike.  I'm not striking; I don't think I even can strike.  But because all the teachers I work with on Tuesdays won't be there, the kids won't be there either.
The teachers do not get paid for the days they strike.  Christophe told me this amounts to about €60.  The strike is for hiring more teachers and changing some benefits.

I have another theory on why they are striking.  They, too, are tired teachairs.  I've had several classes cancelled in the last couple weeks because teachers were absent for one reason or another.  It's almost spring.  The weather is nicer, and the kids have spring fever.  They are getting crazier every day, and the teachers are just plain tired of dealing with them.
But, I could be totally wrong.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We interupt this broadcast for an update...

Ok, I continue to be remiss in updating on my vacation, but there are some great things happening here.

First of all, it stopped being freaking cold.  It's only regular cold, with some warmish tendencies!
Last week, it was sunny, but below 0˚ every single day, and it was also windy.  In fact, it was so windy that due to the horrible nature of my windows, I could feel the wind through the KEYHOLE of my door when standing in the hallway.  Today's high is 12˚C (54˚F), and tomorrow's is 16˚C (60˚F).  It's absolutely lovely, and I am about to go for a much-needed jog.

Second of all, Elvynia and I went to Paris for the day on Saturday.  We went to an exhibition at the Musée Maillol called Vanité (yes, vanity).  It was entirely made up of artwork that included skulls in some capacity.  Some of you might know about my affinity for skulls.  It's just a funny thing I like, but the exhibit was awesome.  There was everything from paintings to installations, from classical to contemporary.   Picasso, Warhol, Cézanne, canes with ivory skull tops, fruit carved into skull shapes, diamond encrusted skull rings, grim reapers, skeletons with the crucifix.... It was a little expensive; the student rate was €9, but it was really worth it to see a different kind of exhibit.

After the exhibit, we were starving, so we found a brasserie with a €10.50 lunch menu, which included a plat du jour, a glass of wine, and a dessert.  I had steak frites, which was was too much food and totally worth it.  I didn't even finish the fries, a rare thing for me.
Afterward we did a lot of walking and a little shopping.  I have to brag that I found a cropped black winter jacket with a large collar at Zara for  €5.99. It was very exciting.

It was just a really nice day despite the cold and depressingly overcast skies.

Finally, I need to report on my kids.  I think some of them are getting more insane as the school year continues.  One kid (I wasn't there when it happened) apparently pulled down his pants and crapped during recess one day.  This kid is pretty bad, and he drives me crazy in class. He's usually anywhere but his seat, and often that means he is rolling on the floor or hitting another kid or climbing on the radiator.  Christophe told me he was scared to go to the bathroom, so he just went on the blacktop.
Another kid said something vulgar in Arabic yesterday.  Neither the teacher nor I speak Arabic, but most of the kids in that class do.  It was clear it wasn't nice when all the kids started shouting and laughing.  One girl kindly shared with the class that what he said was le truc entre les cuisses des filles. That translates to: the thing between a girl's thighs.  Lovely.  The teacher sent him out of the room.
Today, we finished drawing monsters in CE1 at Jacques Prévert.  The activity goes like this: I say something like My monster has two heads.  My monster has 5 arms. etc.  The kids have to understand and draw the monster. Today I gave the body parts colors: My monster has yellow feet.  My monster has green eyes.  They actually did really well.  But...
Well, have I mentioned Muhammad Ali?  Yes, there is a kid named Muhammad Ali, and he has a pretty appropriate personality for his name.  He's a pint-sized little demon.  Today he decided to draw penises, four to be exact, on his monster.
C'est le sexe du monstre? Jean-Marie, the teacher asked him. Oui said Muhammad Ali, coloring diligently.  At least he didn't go around showing everyone.

Good grief.  Everyday I gain more respect for elementary school teachers, and I become more and more sure that elementary education is not my calling.

And one more thing: Yesterday was Zeus' birthday! We don't know Zeus' exact birth date, but one vet said he was about 6 months old when I ended up with him in September 2008.  In our family, we tend to give our pets birthdays that coincide with holidays, so we can remember them.  (We don't really do anything crazy for them like presents or cakes; it's more of a marker to keep track of their ages... That being said, Zeus had an awesome birthday part last year, which means my friends and I had a party, and Zeus was there. There was also a very snippy little Chihuahua.  He had to be shut in Drew's bedroom.)  Anyway, the estimate that Zeus was 6 months old put his birthday in March, so I went with the 15th.  Not a big holiday, but who could forget the Ides of March?  Well, apparently, me.  I didn't even think about it yesterday.

My monster has four legs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

... and go awry and go awry and go awry...

Dear Readers, I am so sorry that I am tardy in updating my blog. Every time I think about my vacation, it makes me very tired!  Isn't that horrible?  I mean, I am freaking lucky.  I work for 6 weeks, then I get two weeks off, paid!  Not to mention the huge amount of discounts that I can get just for being under 26 and having a student card.  I'm not bragging; I really feel like I am absurdly tired.  I have a theory, though, which I will expound upon in my next post.

So here's the plan:
I work best in outline form, but I already started writing more about Lisbon.  *Update: I attempted to reduce it all to outline form, but that didn't work.... Now it's day-by-day, which helped me organize my thoughts... Hopefully this will convey the incredibly ridiculous amount of things we attempted to do and the multitude of snafus we encountered.  (I don't think that's the correct usage of "snafu"... oh well.)

So the next day I woke up, and I was sick.  Sick sick sick.  But, I was in Lisbon!  And I wanted to see it.  
I put on my many layers, in anticipation of cold and rain, and we headed for Belém.  Except before leaving, I decided I was too hot.  So I took off a layer.  We took the tram, and about halfway there, the tram stopped, and the driver said something in Portuguese.  A couple people got off the train.  The rest of us idiot tourists just sat there and looked at each other.  After several minutes, every one, us included, kind of dribbled off the tram.  It shut its doors and took off.  We had no idea where we were, and why it left us there.  But, lucky for us, we were with tons of tourists! (Who would ever think that was lucky?)  So we all stood by the tram stop for a while until another one came, which we hopped on and headed to Belém.  While we were waiting, I started feeling much much colder than I had before we left.
And  de la chance! It was free to enter the monastery on Sunday afternoons.
Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  Really.  The cathedral part is nice, but when you go to the cloister... It's really like nothing I've ever seen.  Pictures are better.  This one was taken by my fabulous photographer friend, Elvynia:

Here's one of mine:
After seeing the Cloister, I was about at the point of having chills.  I needed food and a warm place to sit.
Luckily everyone else was in agreement, and we went to a sandwich shop where I had the cheapest and most satisfying meal I can remember: a thick kind of potato and vegetable soup and bread, for €1.90.
It was delicious and wonderful.
I considered heading back and skipping the tower, but I didn't.  The tower is also impressive.  We also saw it during something like a wind storm.  It was freezing and raining and wind-ing.  A lot.  And most of what there is to see in the tower is outside.  I was pretty much miserable, but I guess I'm glad I saw it.  Plus, Elvynia took this cool picture of me:

Monday Feb 15th: Lisbon Aquarium, which was impressive with its humungous central aquarium with hundreds of fish.  The Lisbon Oceanarium is supposed to be one of the best in Europe, and I think I had my hopes up a little too high.  It was really cool, but I guess I expected something a little flashier.  All of that, however, was made up for by the Big Ugly Fish.  The appeal of the Big Ugly Fish can only be explained by clicking that link.  There were also some pretty damn cute otters of whom I also took a video, but that, sadly, will not upload for some unknown reason.  After the aquarium we went to this huge mall that was close by.  Meredith did some shopping, but I think the rest of us were just exhausted. After eating we walked slowly, in a daze, then just found another place to sit down in the food court.
Mistah Crab?

Tuesday Feb 16th:  We walked around and took one of Lisbon's "elevators," which is actually a trolley car that goes up a hill.  We were somewhat tricked by one of our companions into going to a Basilica.  It was pretty, as Basilicas are apt to be.  I did have a lot on my mind, so I just sat down and took the quiet time to think.  Then we went to a cute restaurant café where I had a much needed Irish coffee.
That night there was a "party" at the hostel, which was fun until we found out the other rooms had heaters and one of these Australian boys got a little too friendly with Elvynia.  She and I then befriended the Polish guy working at the desk who gave us bottles of water for free.

Wednesday Feb 17th:  Of course, for our last day in Lisbon, the sun came out.  Meredith had a mid-day flight back to Paris, and the rest of us were heading for Madrid.  We just made our way back to the water and sat and looked out at the ocean. We found a weird burger place to eat lunch then we wandered back to the water and just sat some more.  Sitting became a recurring theme throughout the rest of our trip.  I think being sick just totally took the energy out of me.  I don't know if the others felt the same, but I was glad other people were into sitting.

Evening of Wednesday Feb 17th: With all of our things gathered, we arrived to the airport - like the good little travelers we were - just under two hours early.  We sat a while.  Then we found out our flight was delayed.  And delayed and delayed.  The flight left two hours late, and we did not get to Spain until after 1:00 am.  This is were our trip got interesting.  Elvynia and I had planned to Couchsurf in Madrid.  (I will talk about couchsurfing later) But, the metro closed at 1:30, and we were not going to make it.  We decided it would be easiest and safest to share a taxi with Gloria and Sheena to the hostel in the city center.  So we thought.  One hour and €60 later, he finally dropped us off at the hostel.  It should have been a 20 minute €20 ride, but it was 2am.  And we didn't speak Spanish.
The hostel was near the Gran Via metro stop, which, we discovered, is also where some prostitutes hang out.  An imposing man stood at the door to the hostel.  He said something in Spanish, which we didn't get.  Then he asked in English where we were going.  "The hostel," Sheena said.
"What is it called?" he asked.  At this point, we were exhausted, we had been cheated by an evil taxi driver, and we were surrounded by Spanish prostitutes.  We did not feel like being interrogated by a scary Russian-looking Spanish doorman.
Sheena looked at him.  She looked at the sign on the wall next to him and read it.  He did not look impressed, but he said something into a walkie talkie and let us in.  We should have couchsurfed, I thought.  Inside, the deskman was nice, and Elvynia and I ended up with a private double room for the price of a dorm.  Sheena and Gloria went straight away to their room.  But while we were getting ours reserved, some of the freakiest looking people started coming in.  Shiny-pleather-jacket man, bleached-hair-with-black-eyebrows girl.  It was like some kind of creepy meeting of people that only come out after midnight.  We hurried to our room and promptly went to bed.

Thursday Feb 18th: We woke up and met Gloria and Sheena for breakfast.  The hostel was decidedly less creepy in the day light, and I had some very good bread and coffee.  Elvynia and I checked out, and the four of us headed out into the great city of Madrid.
It was overcast and dreary, and Madrid, I am sorry to say, is not one of the prettiest of European cities.  We walked by the Grand Palace, saw some statues, and went to the Plaza del Sol.  Then, Elvynia and I set out to our couchsurfing place: chez Rafael.  We hopped on the metro and arrived a ways out of the city.  We then walked for a good 15 minutes along a busy road.  There was a "sanatorium" across the street.  I will admit, I was a little scared.  The neighborhood looked alright, and when we got to his building I was relieved.  It was nice-looking and a friendly neighbor woman let us in.
Rafael let us in where we met hi parents and his dog, Pipo.  Even after being told that we didn't speak Spanish, Rafael's father continued to talk to us and point at the dog.  I'm sure whatever he was saying was very interesting.
For our first time couchsurfing, we were spoiled.  Rafael and Miguel have a small third bedroom where they host couchsurfers.  There were two twin beds with clean sheets.  They even had a map and small tourist guide set out for us.  Rafael had to go back to work.  We made plans to meet for drinks and tapas, and he dropped us off at the metro station.  Back in Madrid, we went to the Museo Reina Sofia of Contemporary Art.  It was great.  There are a number of paintings by Picasso and Dalì, as well as one of my favorites, Miró.  The main attraction is Picasso's Guernica, and it is impressive.  You also are not allowed to take pictures of it, but I managed this one from the next room over:

I think this picture beautifully captures both Picasso's magnificent work and the modern aesthetic of nazi-esque museum volunteers.  (While at the Reina Sofia, I was told to step away from a Dalí paint -- which I have to add was BEHIND GLASS.  What is the point of seeing a painting in person if you can't get close enough to see the detail?  ESPECIALLY WITH SALVADOR DALÍ. )

After the Reina Sofia, we spent entirely too long finding a place to go and sit for a while.  I am not pointing fingers.  But sit we did.  After a bit, we went to meet up with Rafael and his roommate Miguel.  Rafael and Miguel are awesome.  They didn't know us.  We were only staying one night, and it was a Thursday.  Yet, they took us to three cool tapas bars where we had good food and drinks and fun conversation.  They have hosted over 100 couchsurfers and are both very interested in traveling.  We traded stories and had a really nice time.  Elvynia and I headed back with them and had a nice, full night's sleep.
We didn't bother and try to see Madrid on Friday.  We slept in and headed to the airport.  Did I mention earlier how fabulous the Lisbon airport was?  Well, it was awesome.  Very clean and modern with lots of food options and comfortable places to sit.  The very opposite of Charles de Gaulle.  Madrid's airport was in between, and all of the food was overpriced.  Luckily, our flight was only delayed by a few minutes, and we were on our way back to France.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The best laid plans of mice and men...

... do often go awry*.

Yes, I am back from Winter Vacation.  In fact, I've been back for almost a week, and I think I've spent the days since then vacationing from my vacation.  It was a good vacation, but... well you'll see:

Our comedy of errors began, oh, so, long ago on Friday February 12th when we took the last train to Paris.  
(Actually, my comedy of "errors" began the day before when Professor Connelly from McNeese State University emailed me to say he really liked the manuscript I submitted for the MFA program and would there be a good time to chat on the phone.  That is another story, which I shall relate later.)

The quote does say "the BEST laid plans," but I'll go ahead and admit our plans were perhaps not the best laid.  One might say they were moderately well-conceived and rather sloppishly put together.  

So the last train to Paris left at about 9:40 on Friday night, and we arrived at Paris Montparnasse around 11:15 or so.  The really great idea we had -- in order to save money -- was to arrive at Montparnasse, rather than Charles de Gaulle, then catch the last RER train to the airport.  This probably saved us less than €20.  Investing that €20 in the train directly to the airport would have saved us from kicking off our trip with confusion and panic.  In Paris, we found out that part of the tracks between Montparnasse and CDG were under construction.  According to the signs, there was a shuttle between another station and the airport.  (Without pointing any fingers, we should have known about this.)
We ended up taking the train to the stop we thought was the right one.  When we got off the train, we were at what could be any anonymous station somewhere within Paris' banlieues.  We stood with several other luggage-carrying foreigners until our savior arrived in a blue coveralls and a yellow reflective safety vest.  
"Charles de Gaulle?" he yelled.  
"Oui, yes!" the crowd of us said.
"Zis way!"
And we followed him.  He led us down the stairs out of the metro and to a coach bus waiting for us.

This brings me to the real genius part of our plan.  We had 6am flights to Lisbon.  Again, they were cheap.  Our brilliant idea was to stay the night in the airport.  Yes, it can be and is done by many people all over the world every second of every day.  But, that is often either done by the involuntary or homeless.  A recap of our night at CDG: it was cold, and it was uncomfortable.  And we were hungry.
I didn't sleep at all in the airport, and it was a relief to board the plane and pass out for the entirety of the three hour flight.  The plane nap somehow revived us, and we arrived in sunny Lisbon.  Despite warnings of sneaky cab drivers, we took a cab to the hostel, and he did not gyp us.  The hostel was very nice and very cheap.  Giddy -- probably from both lack of sleep and the sun, which we haven't seen in ages -- we set off to explore Lisbon.  We almost immediately headed for the water.  We made a pit stop at a corner grocer, mostly because it had an appealing fruit stand outside.  The woman at the counter saw us looking at the bottles of port wine and proceeded to let us sample several of the wines.  That little shot of alcohol only improved our spirits, so when we found ourselves at a rather dingy area of the port (meaning the water, not the wine), we decided to take inordinately silly pictures in which we look a little worse for the wear.  Or, at least, I look very worse for the wear because that 24 hours without sleep had taken its toll on my immune system.  I didn't know then, but I was about to develop a very bad cold.

Then, we went to the Castle of São Jorge.  This meant an uphill hike through Lisbon's Alfama district, one of the most visually interesting parts of the city.  The Alfama district is the only part of the city that wasn't destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.  It was historically the Moorish part of the city and was just beautiful to walk through.

Then we saw the castle.  The thing with castles in Europe is: well, they're everywhere.  So castles kind of become a moot tourist attraction.  The Lisbon castle, however, is cool.  According to Wikipedia the Moors also did their thing on this castle, which makes it different from a lot of the more medieval-knights-in-shining-armor castles.
After the castle, it was much-needed nap time.  I think we tried the famous Lisbon pastries at some point too.  Lisbon is know for these pastries that are one of the best things I've ever eaten.   The Pastéis de Nata are like flaky little quiches with custard filling.  We proceeded to eat one or so of these fabulous pastries every day that we were there.
Anywho, we ended our first evening with the best dinner ever.  Seriously.  Meredith has a friend from Lisbon who reserved us a table at this random little restaurant.  It was crowded.  When I saw the drab looking trays that the food came on, I knew we were in for something good.  It just screamed home cooking.  I had cod, apparently something you are supposed to eat in Lisbon.  I asked the waitress "It's good?" "Si, si" she said, nodding enthusiastically.  And it was.  In fact, I don't think a single meal on our trip could rival that first night.  My cod was cooked in butter and garlic with a side of potatoes and a green salad.  Plus we has a carafe of wine and cheese and bread before the meal.  They charged for the bread, and we still only paid like €11 each, which, when you have been living in France, is downright cheap.

We ate well, and we headed back "Home" (literally, the name of our foyer) where we made a wonderful discovery.  Our room had no form of heating!  At all!  We had to request extra blankets, and I quickly discovered that once I had optimized the position of the blankets and my layers not to move and to go to sleep.

I am going to publish here for now!  I know that is very anti-climactic because nothing too terrible has happened yet!  But I am very tired, and I am having a hard time gathering my thoughts.  Just thinking about everything we did makes me exhausted.  I promise more soon.  Here's a quick preview to whet your appetite: delays! missed rendez-vous! prostitutes! liars and cheats! a nasty cold!

Bonne nuit tout le monde!

*Quote from Robert Burns's Poem "To a Mouse" later became the title of one of the most famous novels in American Literature. Of Mice and Men, which I am embarassed to say I own but have not read.  I added "do" because I think it adds a nice emphasis on the predicate.  Plans do, quite often, go to hell.