The Worst Tourist in Paris

First things first – this post is going to disappoint you. Fabien & I went to Paris last week for a few days and I may have been the worst tourist in the city. We went to see the Eiffel Tower the first night but it was so foggy, you could only see to the 1st level. We never went back. I’m a loser. Do as I say and not as I do – Paris is not a city to say, “been there, done that.”

The perfectly decorated Galeries Lafayette - 2011

But, honestly, after visiting the city a 2nd time, under different circumstances than before (ie. our luggage getting jacked from the car on the first day), I fell in love with Paris. Thank God Fabien is in Tennessee otherwise, it might be really difficult to return to Smyrna after being in this city. There’s just something so beautiful about this place. Just like Owen Wilson in the film Midnight in Paris, I love the way the city looks, at night, after it has rained.  It’s little stone streets. It’s Haussmann buildings. The way everything is so perfectly decorated for the holidays. How the cafés are littered with Parisians sitting outside because they would rather smoke than be warm. I don’t even mind the gritty metro which has a certain smell all its own. I love how things are done for beauty and not because someone wants to build something as cheap as possible. I see why it’s called the City of Lights and known as the worlds most romantic town. However, this visit was not about running around the city like a manic making sure I see every amazing and beautiful site. It was about visiting friends and spending quality time with my husband who would be leaving me soon to return to the States.

Sacré Coeur from Buttes Chaumont

We did manage to pass by a few of my favorites – Montmartre, Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees.  Also, I added a few new favorites to the list. Visiting the Galeries Lafayette (see above) and Printemps to see their amazing Christmas displays. Canal Saint Martin where I can invision Amelie throwing stones.  And the best new discovery, the park, Butte Chaumont. I am no expert on Paris, but I am telling you, if you want a beautiful view, go to this park. From the highest point, on a clear day, the view of Sacré Coeur is so stunning it looks as though it’s not even real. In another spot you can see the Eiffel Tower. So, if you only follow one piece of advice I ever give you – go to this park. Don’t waste your time and money going up the Eiffel Tower. I mean, you can’t see the Tower from the Tower.

The China Crew

Our goal was met though. We caught up with old friends from US and China who were gracious enough to let us stay in their adorable, little Parisian apartments.

The Detroit Crew

Aside from seeing our friends, spending time with Fabien and discovering some new favorites in the city, the highlight of my trip was the last night when I got to ride in the driver cabin of the Metro. One of our friends manages a line and asked the driver if he wouldn’t mind giving us a lift. I felt totally special and thought it was super cool to see the veins of one of the oldest subway tunnels (established in 1900) in the world with a panoramic view.

I didn’t even take many pictures. So, not to totally disappoint, I included photos from this year and the last time I visited the city. View them here.

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Tennessee – A State of American Classics

A really exciting aspect of living in a totally different part of the country is traveling to the little areas that would we probably never make it too had we stayed in Michigan. While Fabien & I have only been in Tennessee for 1 month, we have found time to explore. Through these explorations, we have found Tennessee to be a state of true American Classics.

Country Music Culture. Other than Baywatch, there is nothing outsiders associate with America more than Country Music and its surrounding culture. When we were living in Detroit, Fabien and his friends loved to go to a Coyote Ugly-esque bar called ‘Coyote Joes’. On any given night you would find the girl next door shaking her barely dressed body in an American flag bikini top to ‘Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy’. This American flag wearing, cowboy boot sporting, country music listening scene is oozing from Nashville and the whole state.  Having been a fan of the music for years, I love it.

Jack Daniels. Say you live in Tennessee to a foreigner and they’ll picture you sitting on your wooden porch, shotgun at your side and a Jack on the rocks in your hand. Lynchburg is an hour from our house and while some friends were visiting we ventured to the one and only Jack Daniels Distillery.   While I’ve never tasted whiskey without gagging, I really enjoyed the tour. The grounds are absolutely beautiful and are similar to a Michigan Cider Mill, but in the mountains. I love that their business is run in a simple and grass-roots manner. The headquarters is no bigger than the office at my last job and once a month employees walk away with a free bottle.  My favorite fact surrounding the brand is that the headquarters is located in a dry county which has been since Prohibition (1920-1933).  It’s a vicious cycle really- the county does not have enough voters to overturn the law and no one will move there because they can’t drink. However, through a huge financial bribing disguised as taxes, the company has arranged to legally sell alcohol on their grounds.  The rule is: you can buy, but you can not consume. To see pictures of our visit at the Jack Daniels Distillery, click here.  One tip if you ever find yourself in Lynchburg – go on a weekday when the actual bottling takes place.

Elvis. Okay, seriously. How can you not love Elvis? He is such an endearing icon of American culture and the driving force behind Memphis’s tourism industry. I could not wait to go to Graceland, so as soon as Fabien got a couple of days off, we drove 3 hours west to see the King’s Castle. From the front, it doesn’t look like much, but the property is impressive in the way of elaborate decor, rooms full of awards, a car museum, planes (yes, planes) and countless wardrobe displays. It should be a sin to go to Memphis and not visit the home, just be sure to bring some cash. To cross the gates, it costs $35 causing Fabien to say “Elvis raped me.” for the rest of the day.  However, if you visit the attraction website (Graceland) and become an Elvis Insider (free), you get free parking and a few dollars off your tickets. For pics, click here.

Fried and Fattening Anything. No wonder this season of the Biggest Loser had two Nashville area residents as finalists. Everything is fried, dipped in BBQ sauce and then refried. Recently, I went to lunch and in lieu of french fries asked for the vegetable of the day. Guess what I got? Fried pickles. As yummy as I find them, I don’t consider anything fried a vegetable.

Total Cheesiness. Note the bullets above and all of it has an element of American cheese. This was most evident when we visited Ruby Falls in Chattanooga. As a teenager, I visited Lookout Mountain in the area and thought it was only a tad smaller than Everest. So, when we arrived and Fabien said, “That’s it” (He’s such a mountain snob), we decided to go to Ruby Falls instead. As your driving to the city there are literally 200 signs located on farm lands, billboards and painted on barns urging you to “See Ruby Falls”. Upon arrival, you can expect to pay $17.95 per person and  to get on an elevator that takes you a 1,120 feet towards the earth’s core. The falls were quite beautiful and interesting, but whoever manages the attraction slathered them in cheese. Our guide thought he was a comedian and his plan was to hold us all hostage for an hour to listen to his stalagmite and stalactite jokes. And when you finally arrive at the falls, dramatic music and disco lights are queued on the water.  “Why can’t they just shut up and leave the beauty alone?” (Fabien) If you are ever lured to the attraction via the highway signs, go to the Falls. It’s neat. Skip Lookout Mountain and drive to Point Park for even more beautiful, natural (and free) views. Pics are here.

Having been in the state for only a month and finding all of these great things to do, we are really looking forward to exploring even more American Classics over the next couple of years. Feel free to leave comments of not to miss places in the great state of Tennessee and/or other areas in the south.

Bonjour Y’all

Our new house in Smyrna

As most of you already know on Friday, Fabien and I are on our way to, what feels like another country, Nashville, Tennessee. Of course, we are very sad to leave all of you great people behind, but we are not in the habit of ignoring adventure and opportunity. Needless to say, life has been chaotic, but everything has fallen into place nicely. Our house in Michigan rented after 3 days of being on the market and we quickly found a house in the quaint town of Smyrna, just 5 minutes from where Fabien will be working.

And because Fabien & I don’t have enough going on, we have both decided now is the perfect time for me to finally learn to speak french fluently. As of last week, I have officially been accepted to the University of Orleans for their intensive, immersion french language program. This means, I will be spending January – May in Orleans, France taking an 18 hour per week class and living with Fabien’s parents in the village of St. Cyr en Val (pop. 3,251). I am really looking forward to tackling the language, spending time with his family (as 30+ of them live in the village), and experiencing all that Europe has to offer (between classes, of course). Sadly, this particular journey is one I will be taking on my own as Fabien will be working and getting us settled into living in the south.

When we were in Asia last year, I really enjoyed keeping in touch with all of you through my blog, therefore, I have given “Stacie in Asia” a European make over. The new site is located at www.stacieswanderlust.com. Like before, you can subscribe and posts will be emailed to you at a frequency of your choosing.

As for the French Wedding Festivities, they will be held on July 7th, 2012 in St. Cyr en Val. Let me know if you are interested and I can give you more details.

While this is a bitter sweet time, we truly appreciate the support of all our friends and family. The past year has been so amazing for us and we are truly grateful to have all of you in our lives. :)

The door to visit in France or Tennessee is wide open. Lots of love to “y’all”!

-Stacie & Fabien