Paris Encore: Bateaux, Bones & Breathtaking Views

Now that classes have started, I have made some friends. (Yay, friends!!!) It’s funny to see our nationality clicks form almost instantly. Naturally, there are a few American girls I have bonded with – two from Detroit. By pure coincidence I have met one of them before, when Fabien and I picked up our marriage license.  Him presenting his passport and her recognizing where he is from prompted the conversation of her coming here in January. The world is so small.

After a couple of weeks in Orléans, we were all ready to get out of dodge and spend a few days in Paris. Yes, I know – I just wrote a blog about my visit there, but….IT’S PARIS and possibly the only city in the world deserving of two blog posts in one month.

Our Adorable Parisian Apartment (www.airbnb.com)

We used Airbnb and (again) had fantastic experience that included our very own adorable Parisian apartment avec a cat, named Terton.  (Please pronounce with a french accent, otherwise, he will not respond. Snobby french cats.)

Americans in Paris

In typical Parisian fashion, the weather did not cooperate, but it was still a fantastic weekend. We visited some usual suspects (The Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur, Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge & Champs Elysees), but we also did a few new things, which were absolutely wonderful.

Friday night, we took a ‘Bateaux Mouches’ (translation, fly, as in the bug, boat) along the Seine. An amazing way to see the lights in the City of Lights. There are a couple of companies that do this and they are about the same price (approximately 12€, but we used the one near the Eiffel Tower – link here).

Catacombs

However, what I was most excited for was going down Saturday morning.  We woke up early only to descend below the sewers & metros to Paris’s world-famous Catacombs. If you’re not familiar and want to read the history, click here. But, basically, in the 17th century Paris had a sanitary problem because of all the dead bodies buried in the city. The solution was to move the remains into the quarries where they remain to this day. There are literally hundreds of miles of hallways underneath the city lined with bones. Rumor has it, there are currently people living in the Catacombs. Très creepy! We spent 2 hours walking through the tunnels, inspecting skulls, bones, carvings, tombs and wells. I know it’s quite morbid, but it was also really neat to see and hear the history.

Finally, Sunday morning we headed to Notre Dame to climb 387 stairs into the towers of the famous cathedral. Now, let me make a correction to my last Paris post (The Worst Tourist in Paris) – I still love the park, Buttes Chaumont, BUT Notre Dame has the best view (see below). Pourquoi, you ask? Well, you can see the Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur and the rest of the beautiful city, but what you get as an extra is a close up of Notre Dame’s iconic gargoyles and a breathtaking view of the Seine. What is more Parisian than all of those things? The answer is nothing. So, here is what I’m recommending…If the budget is tight, go to Buttes Chaumont. You’ll love it. But, if you’ve got a few euros in your pocket (maximum 8.50€) and it’s a clear day, go to the towers of Notre Dame. Do one of these two things or don’t even bother going to Paris. Kidding, but really, being atop Notre Dame was amazing.

Now, I’m going to cool-it on Paris until the weather is better. I’ll be back in early April to run a half-marathon, but until then….Paris, Je t’aime!

A few more pics have been added to the photo gallery.

The best view in Paris

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Testing My Confidence

Fabien returned to the States on the 1st of January. Sad face. This means I had two solid days to prepare for my placement test at the University d’Orleans. So, like a good little student I reviewed by vocabulary, verbs, listened to a few ‘Coffee Break French’ podcasts and made a solid attempt to speak in french more. I wasn’t all that stressed because I was quite comfortable with what I knew and understood.

The other challenge of the day is that this would be my first time driving the manual car and finding the University on my own. Now, I admit that I got lost but eventually found my way to the Insitut d’Francais building. When I arrived I said “Je suis la pour la (and not ‘le’) test.” (I am here for the test). Mistake aside, I was understood and instructed to follow the professor to the testing room. When I took my seat, I noticed the other students had the same terrified look on their faces. The test was distributed and after my first review, I  thought,  am I in the french class?

I understood almost nothing in the grammar and listening section, but struggled and reasoned my way though. Next, I had to write 250 words (no, that is not a typo) on the things to do in my country. Thank God I live in the United States and not Liechtenstein. I put my best foot forward, but I’m sure the essay was riddled with mistakes. And finally, the oral test – a 15 minute dialogue with a professor.

She asked me questions about myself including where I had taken french and for how long. I answered, “Une annee a l’Alliance Francais a Detroit.” (1 year at the Alliance Francais in Detroit). She replied “1 annee ou 1 mois?” (One year or one month?) Did I stutter? Well, probably, but I clarified 1 year. Surely this was because she thought my french was so awful. The second part of the oral exam was all on my own. Fortunately, the day before I had just listened to a podcast on the very subject I was being quizzed on…what I do everyday. (In french) I explained what time I get up, what I eat for breakfast, the processing to getting ready, when I leave the house, what I do at work, what I do when I return home and when I go to bed. Again, I know I made a million mistakes and had a billion “um’s” and “uh’s”, but I’m pretty sure I got my point across. I left after 3 hours, totally exhausted and slightly demoralized.

I felt like I had failed big time and was certain that when I returned for the results on Friday, they would tell me I did not make the cut. So, for the next few days, I did nothing but worry and prepared myself to take the rejection like a big girl.

When D-day came, I arrived at school early so the instructors could tell me I would not be admitted while the other students were not there. The Prof advised me I was early and to have a seat in the class room. Well, this is just cruel, I thought. The least he could do was put me out of my misery now. I even sat next to the door so I could make a quick exit once I was asked to leave. After the other students arrived, my name was the first they called. The teacher handed me a letter that said “Accepted – Level 2”. Surely this was a mistake.

The building where all my classes are held at the Universite d’Orleans

So, I played along with their sick joke and after a couple hours of them explaining class structure (all in french) and understanding 1% of what they were saying, I was told “Bon week end” and “A lundi”. (Have a good weekend. See you Monday).

The French Visa

“Congratulations, Stacie! You have been formally accepted to the Universite d’Orleans Institut de Francais.” Yay! When I received this letter, I exhaled and naively assumed my days of jumping through hoops were over and I could now focus my energy on the end goal – learning the french language.

“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha”, said the French Embassy.

I thought all I needed was a little visa for study’s and based on the fact I am married to a citizen of their country, I might even get a little special treatment. First, I discovered I must make an appointment and have an interview at the nearest French embassy located in Atlanta. After I recovered from that aneurysm, I conceded and snapped up the earliest possible appointment-1 month later. Next, I began researching the requirements, which were filled with many gray areas. However, after 20 phone calls, a snarky email and being told (in English) that “the Embassy does not answer questions in English,”, Fabien (not me) received a call back from a disgruntled diplomat who advised him of the requirements for his wifes visa. So, like a good little documentor, I collected letters from my in-laws, bank statements, pay stubs, university diplomas, evidence of insurance coverage, marriage certificates, etc. for my appointment on Monday, December 12th.

The night before, I drove through the mountains, in the dark, to Atlanta to stay at a shady La Quinta Inn thinking it would all be worth it when the Consulate welcomed me to France and thanked me for choosing to study in their country. You’re welcome! Que the laughs again.

I was not denied at my interview, but was told, by the football shaped woman, that I did not qualify for the visa and she gave me several reasons why.  I named the person at their office who advised Fabien of the requirements and I provided documentation over and above what they were asking. She then reminded me of the Parisian motto: “Not my problem”. Stunned, furious and confused, I left the office in tears and drove 4 hours back to Nashville.

When I returned home, I feverishly research and reinforced what I already knew – she was wrong. At 1am, I wrote a scathing email to the Consulate and almost immediately receive a response that they would see me the next day. I was hesitant to spend another 8 hours driving only to walk away even more furious and hating France. At the crack of dawn, I called, demanded to speak with the man who emailed me and asked for his reassurance, which he (sort of) gave to me. So, I hopped in the car at 5am and drove through the mountain fog, to Atlanta…..again. 6 hours later, I was driving back to Nashville, visa in hand. Turns out, there was a mistake, the football shaped woman did not know what she was talking about and since they felt so guilty, they issued it on the spot.

Should you ever find yourself applying for a visa, it goes without saying, but it is so important to know your visa backwards and forwards. When I applied for a chinese visa, I researched the requirements so throughly that I received my visa even before Fabien, who had an attorney assisting him. However, with the french visa, I simply relied on what I was told my the embassy. One would think that would be enough, but you must confirm, reconfirm and know the requirements inside and out. Had I approached the french visa as the chinese, I would have been successful on the first attempt. But, then what fun would that have been?

After all was said and done, even though it was a lot of stress, work and miles on the car, the embassy’s mistake worked in my favor as it normally takes 3 weeks of processing time. In my opinion, the entire process was France testing my sanity. But most likely it was the Universe playing a game of “how bad do you want it?” Whatever the  reason – I am officially a recipient of a French visa.