Lego Paris

In den Weihnachtsferien gingen wir in die LEGO-Ausstellung im Hôtel de Ville, Construire Paris de brique en brique. Diese stets wechselnden Ausstellungen im Pariser Rathaus sind ohne Eintritt, dafür immer recht voll mit langen Warteschlangen. Wir kamen vor Öffnungsbeginn morgens an und fanden uns weit vorne in der Schlange am Eingang, mussten dann aber doch unnötigerweise warten, da einer der benötigten Sicherheitsbeamter noch nicht eingetroffen war, und die Türen solange nicht geöffnet werden durften.

Die Organisation schien also bereits am Anfang nicht top zu sein, doch so ging es leider weiter. Ein Raum mit etlichen großen gefüllten Legoboxen zog natürlich sämliche Kinder wie ein Magnet an, doch nur die durften dort hin, die sich vorher für einen Bauworkshops (“Atelier”) angemeldet hatten – der Raum war versehentlich offen gelassen worden. Wir mussten einem enttäuschten Léon erklären, dass wir dort nicht bleiben und spielen durften.

Die Hauptattraktion war dann zwar beeindruckend: Fünf große, einige Meter breite aus Lego bestehende Bauwerke (Notre Dame, Louvre, Eifelturm, Panthéon, Hôtel de Ville). Unseren Dreijährigen amüsierte das aber nicht länger als 10 Minuten.

Also weiter zum Filmbereich, der sich schon mit Zuschauern füllte. Die dann einem Angestellen zuschauten, wie er 10 Minuten lang am Projektor herumfummelte, bis der endlich funktionierte. Der Film, der dann gezeigt wurde, war “Die Lego-Story – wie alles begann“. Hm, vielleicht nicht gerade Stoff für Kleinkinder, aber mal sehen, vielleicht ist es ja niedlich mit stop-motion Legofiguren? Wenn es einen Film gibt, den man mit Legofiguren machen sollte, dann sicherlich die Lego-Story? Fehlanzeige. Niedlich ja, aber computer-animiert. Na ja, nochmal 20 Minuten herumgebracht.

Lego

Was war sonst noch? Zwei solarbetriebenen Lego-Räder, die man an- und ausschalten konnte, von denen eins aber nicht funktionierte. Und der Shop am Ende der Ausstellung, wo es aber kein Lego zu kaufen gab, sondern Parissouvenirs (Vélib-Tassen und Gläser, Tischsets, Taschen, Photos, Postkarten etc.). Sehenswert waren Gemälde von berühmten Persönlichkeiten aus Legosteinen, die aber wieder eher mich als Léon fasziniert haben.

Da war das große, zweistöckige Karussel vor dem Hôtel de Ville die schönere Attraktion. Zumal alle Fahrten in der Zeit vor Weihnachten gratis sind.

Karussell Hôtel de Ville

Und danach gab es immerhin noch einen Café Gourmand im Le Renard Cafe. Mini-Crèpe, Zitronensorbet und Brownie. Die ersteren sind zwar nicht überaus originell, aber die Qualität war gut (+½), und die Desserts dreier Kategorien vielfältig ½). Mein Rating: ★★★½.

 

Trainline

Selten bin ich voller Preis und Lob für eine Firma, eine kommerzielle Internetseite, oder ein käuflich erhältiches Produkt. Außnahmen würde ich wohl nur für Tesla, Ortlieb, Dahon und wenige andere machen.

Heute geht es aber um trainline.eu. Über diese Seite kann man Zugtickets kaufen, und ich bin restlos begeistert von Komfort, Schnelligkeit, und Preis. Die Seite lief seit einigen Jahren under dem Namen captaintrain. Die Firma wurde im März diesen Jahres von der Britischen Trainline aufgekauft, die sich dadurch auf internationalen Ticketverkauf ausweitet und seit September 2016 auf trainline.eu anbietet. Interface und Funktionalität sind im wesentlich identisch mit captaintrai.

Nachdem man sich ein Konto zulegt, kann man sich und andere Personen speichern mit allen möglichen Rabattkarten aus allerlei Ländern, bis jetzt sind dabei Frankreich, Deutschland, Österreich, Schweiz, Italien, Spanien, Niederlande, sowie Eurostar und Thalys. Das erlaubt z.B. Tickets von Frankreich nach Deutschland mit Carte Enfant und BahnCard zu kombinieren, was weder per bahn.de noch sncf.fr möglich ist.
Die Einstellungen werden gespeichert, mann muss also nicht jedesmal wieder BahnCard etc. eingeben.

Es gibt keine zusätzlichen Gebühren, die Preise sind also die gleichen wie die der Bahngesellschaften.

Die Seite ist schlicht gehalten, es gibt keine Werbung. Das Interface ist einfacher und intuitiver als alle mir bekannten anderen Ticketseiten.

Features von landesspezifischen Bahngesellschaften werden unterstützt, z.B. werden SNCF-Tickets eine Woche mit Preisgarantie ohne Zahlungszwang reserviert. Ebenfalls kann man Rabattcodes eingeben. Sogar die französischen Cheques Vacances kann man zur Zahlung benutzen. Diese werden (per Einschreiben) an trainline geschickt und dann auf dem Konto gutgeschrieben. In meinem Fall habe ich die Cheques am Montag weggeschickt, und am Dienstag nachmittag erschienen sie auf dem Konto!

Bis jetzt habe ich auf trainline.eu Tickets lãnderübergreifend für Frankreich, Deutschland, und England erworben. Ich kann die Seite nur weiterempfehlen.

German word of the day: die Not

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While hanging up the laundry today, my son started singing the song “Hänsel und Gretel”.  With the Halloween season upon us, witches have been on his mind and he seems to sing it at least once a day.  Of course, I know the tale and I know the lyrics to the song, but I realized that while I understood the song, I actually didn’t really know the meaning of the word Not.

Hänsel und Gretel verliefen sich im Wald.
Es war so finster und auch so bitterkalt.
Sie kamen an ein Häuschen von Pfefferkuchen fein.
Wer mag der Herr wohl von diesem Häuschen sein?

Hu, hu, da schaut eine alte Hexe raus!
Sie lockt die Kinder ins Pfefferkuchenhaus.
Sie stellte sich gar freundlich, o Hänsel, welche Not!
Ihn wollt sie braten im Ofen braun wie Brot.

Doch als die Hexe zum Ofen schaut hinein,
ward sie gestoßen von unser’m Gretelein.
Die Hexe musste braten, die Kinder geh’n nach Haus,
nun ist das Märchen von Hans und Gretel aus.

As it turns out, die Not is a pretty complicated word!  Dict.cc has the first noun entry as “distress” and so of course several examples abound for any synonym you could think of.  But then there are others delightfully not so obvious.  I like the idioms “ohne Not”, meaning without good cause, or “zu Not” for in a pinch.  From the pleasing “Not-Aus” meaning kill switch to the strangely specific “Not-Aus-Pilzdrucktaster” meaning emergency mushroom-shaped push button to the curious “Tag der Not” meaning rainy day (which Martin has never heard of) or “Retter in der Not” for white knight.  And when you’re desperately chasing after anyone with a heartbeat, your friends might describe you as “notgeil”

I often end up learning a bit of English while looking up German words, and I discovered a gem of an English word this time around.  I learned that “in Not” could be translated into “straitened”, meaning not having enough money.  But I digress.  I decided to put my new-found knowledge to work and concocted this little tale:

Ein Tag der Not
Wir hatten mit Mühe und Not genug Geld, um ein Taxi nach Hause im stürmische Wetter nehmen.  Als wir in den Aufzug stiegen, drückte mein Sohn, ohne Not, den Not-Aus-Pilzdrucktaster.  Wir steckten für einige Zeit fest, bevor unsere Retter in der Not, der Aufzugtechniker, uns rettete.  Er sagte, dass der Tag der Not diese Verzögerung verursacht.  Zum Glück wurden wir nicht für seine Dienste berechnet, sonst wären wir wirklich in Not!

(We just barely had enough cash to take a cab home in the stormy weather.  As we got into the elevator, my son, without cause, pushed the emergency halt button.  We were stuck for sometime before our white knight, the elevator technician, rescued us.  He said that the rainy day caused his delay.  Luckily we were not charged for his services, otherwise we would have really been without money.)

And so let’s return to the song my son was singing.  By now you might see, “Welche Not!” cannot be literally translated into something like “What distress/hardship/emergency/dire strait!”.  I saw somewhere online that someone had translated it into “What trouble!” which sounds clunky in this context where we, the audience, have the feeling we should try to warn Hänsel of danger, rather than merely exclaim to our neighbor about it.

And now, my translation for Hänsel und Gretel:

Hansel and Gretel found themselves lost in the woods.
It was so dark and so bitter cold.
They come upon a little house of gingerbread so fine.
Who could be the owner of such a little house as this?

Oh look, out comes an old witch!
She beckons the children into the gingerbread house.
She seems to be quite friendly, but oh Hansel, watch out!
She would like to bake him in the oven, as brown as bread.

But as the witch looks into the oven,
Our little Gretel pushes her in.
So the witch bakes as the children go back home.
And thus ends the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

Café Gourmand

Our go-to dessert in French restaurants is the Café Gourmand: an espresso served together with a selection of typically three miniature desserts – tiny pots of mousse au chocolat or crème brûlée, a madeleine or mini gateau, a macaron, or a few slices of fresh fruit. When ordering, you don’t know what’s going to arrive, and restaurants might change it frequently. It is a nice way to try different desserts that a place has on offer.

Over the years we must have had Café Gourmand in dozens of places. To remember which ones are good, we’ve written reviews on tripadvisor for some of them. But it’s about time to do this in a more systematic way!

So here is our own rating scheme ‘fait maison’ for Café Gourmand:
A standard Café Gourmand should have three desserts from two different categories for variety. Categories could be cake, fruit, creamy desserts, etc. The standard rating is 2.5 stars. Stars are added or subtracted for quality, number of desserts, variety, presentation, and other, as shown here:

Default rating ★★½
Quality +/- ★ (or more)
Number: 3 desserts +/- x +/-
Variety: 2 categories +/- x +/- ½
Quality of coffee +/- ½
Presentation +/- ½
Price +/- ½

For example, a Café Gourmand with 3 desserts that are very yummy and come in 3 categories but poor presentation would get 3.5 stars, ★★½ + ★ + ½ – ½ = ★★★½.

Let’s present our first place: Pizza del Navona on avenue des Gobelins. They actually have two Café Gourmand, one with 3 and one (more pricy) with 4 desserts. They were both really good (+ ★½ for quality), but all creemy (- ½ for variety). Also they only came with one spoon (typical is two – one to eat the desserts, one for the coffee, but I’m not going to subtract anything here). So there we go:

Café Gourmand 3 desserts:   ★★★½
4 desserts:   ★★★★½

More ratings:

Place Rating Date Comments
Le Renard Café ★★★½ 19/12/2016 Variety 3, quality +½

Wörter

Léon ist von drei oder mehr Sprachen in seinem Alltag umgeben. Aus seiner Sicht ist es jedoch vermutlich so, dass für ihn verschiedene Leute einfach verschiedene Wörter für die gleichen Dinge haben. Wir haben ihm bis jetzt noch nichts von Deutsch, Englisch oder Französisch erzählt. Wir sagen stattdessen oft so etwas wie zum Beispiel: “Papa sagt Löffel, und Mama sagt spoon. Und was sagt Francine (oder eine andere Betreuerin aus der Crèche)? Cuillère.”

Über Ostern hat er wieder einige Zeit bei Oma und Opa verbracht, und sein Deutsch hat ein paar Sprünge gemacht. Oma und Opa verwenden mit Léon einige Babysprach-Begriffe, die er bei vorherigen Besuchen sagte, inzwischen aber ersetzt hat. Aus Gewohnheit, weil sie vielleicht denken, Léon versteht sie so besser, oder weil es einfach lustige Wörter sind. Interessanterweise hat er einige dieser Wörter (wieder) aufgenommen. Er kann sich meiner Meinung nach nicht an die Baby-Wörter erinneren, aber für ihn ist es einfach das Wort, das Oma und Opa benutzt.

So sagt Léon”Lego-Tschu-Tschu”, wenn er bei den Großeltern ist, oder über dessen (mein altes) Spielzeug redet, obwohl er mit mir “Zug” und “Eisenbahn” benutzt. Und Omas Begriff für Schlafen ist “Hush”, vielleicht kommt das vom Geräusch, das er und wir machten, wenn wir so tuen, als ob wir schlafen, oder vom “Hush”, das die alte Frau in “Good Night, Moon” sagt. Jedenfalls kann Léon seit langem “schlafen” sagen, in Ulm benutzt er aber manchmal “hush”. Das dritte Beispiel, das mir noch einfällt, ist Opas Lautmalerei “Bim-Bam” für die Kirchturmglocke, die Léon zu dem schönen Satz veranlasst hat: “Die Bim-Bam macht ding-dong.”

On the slow boat to China: Our love for the Little Asia of Paris

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At the Chinese New Year parade

We rarely leave the Rive Gauche, being parents of a toddler, but it’s also because we love our quartier. It’s not too touristy, but has lots of flavor and liveliness. And yet at the same time where we live – a quick 30-second walk from Place d’Italie – is quiet.  The arrondissement has so much to offer that we’re discovering new treasures constantly.  For when we do venture into other areas, there’s access to metro lines 5, 6, and 7, complemented by loads of bus lines to connect us to the rest of Paris. But for the most part you’ll find us on any given day of the year somewhere in the 13ème.

 

How did we get here?

DSC02535 On a languid August afternoon in 2013, not 6 weeks after our son was born we moved into our apartment in the 13ème. Before that, we were a two-domicile couple, with me living in Clermont-Ferrand and Martin living in the 5ème. Once we learned we were expecting, and that we would move our domicile permanently to Paris, Martin submitted a request through his institute to Dossier Familial to let us know what might be available. While we waited to hear from them (we were provided with one apartment we ended up not getting), we targeted areas that would be easily accessible for Martin to get to work out in Saclay, searching the 11ème, 12 ème, 13ème, 14ème, and 15ème arrondissements. We did this in January of 2013, and looked at apartments within each of these neighborhoods, each time refining our application packet more and more until our dossier was accepted for our current place in April. So it’s fair to say we didn’t choose the 13ème, it chose us.

A brief geography and history of the 13ème
The 13ème, or quartier asiatique is huge, extending from the Seine to the Périphérique.  It is comprised of smaller neighborhoods, with us living in the one known as Croulebarbe. As a history enthusiast, I’m very proud of the rich history of our particular neighborhood, and while I could share so much about it, I’ll simply say Croulebarbe is taken after the founder of the mill of the same name on the Bièvre (once the second river running through Paris, which has a fascinating and wonderful history all its own, if you’re into such things). So while taking a slow boat into Chinatown would’ve have been impossible on this narrow branch of the Bièvre, the river was definitely a huge figure in the history of the 13ème .

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It’s hard to imagine a windmill once standing tall at the current western entrance of the Square René Le Gall where the above placard is located. It was removed, however as the Bièvre was culverted into an underground channel in 1912.  But that was the past, onto current times and how we enjoy the 13ème…

For the love of Food: where to eat in the 13ème
Eating out here is a wonderful experience, and I’ve found that all the restaurants we’ve been to have been accommodating and friendly whenever we’ve showed up with our little one.

(note: asterisk next to the restaurant name indicate high chairs available)

French food
Our favorite place to go, for coffee or meals is Il état un square*. It’s definitely a place where locals hang out, but you frequently also see out-of-towners enjoying the meals there as well.   It’s right next to Square René Le Gall (see below), so often in the summer we’d go to the park after the crèche, play until someone was exhausted, and then head over for a cool drink, and often dinner. We know the owners, Gérard and Nicolas, one of which has a daughter in Léon’s group at the crèche. They have high chairs for little ones and a piano for customers to play at, which Martin usually takes advantage of.

We also highly recommend L’avant Goût, which we go for lunch as the formule is far more reasonably priced than dinner. The food is excellent and beautifully presented, and we often tell our guest to check it out for a French food experience.

When I’m feeling nostalgic for the Auvergne, I take the family to La Halte des Taxis or La Butte Aveyronnaise

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mmm, Aligot!!!

For a cup of coffee we like Café Noisette, which has decent lunches as well. Another is La Manufacture, the place we also go to for le complet brunch on a Sunday. For tea and to show off to visitors, we like L’OisiveThé*. Fantastic tea collection, a wonderful brunch spread, has knitting meetings, and also a decadent chocolat gourmand. Another favorite is La Butte aux Piafs*,  an excellent place to enjoy a café gourmand and wonderful ambiance for lunch or dinner.

 

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Léon in the restaurant’s Tripp Trapp, inspecting the menu

…and because it’s the quartier asiatique: International fare
For Chinese restaurants, we enjoy Au Pays De Confucius* where the wait staff are so used to Chinese customers that French speakers are often misunderstood, as well as Ba Mien, and La Table du Ramen. If it’s Thai you’re craving we love Thai Papaya and Baan Issan.  Then there’s Comme au Vietnam* which is high on our list, not in the least because they have Tripp Trapp high chairs, but also because they serve a wonderful iced passion fruit tea and the owners are a lovely German and Vietnamese couple.

La Catrina Taqueria has my, being half-Mexican, approval for their tacos (but not their nachos, fake cheese, yuck!) and lovely freshly-pressed hibiscus juice. The fancier El Salvadorian restaurant called Ana M. is great for a lunch date. Café d’Italie* (formally Monte Cassino) rounds out our favorites as our preferred pizza for takeaway as the (mostly Italian) staff always give Léon a little treat as we wait.

Other places include Café Margeride*, Havane Café, and L’Aimant du Sud, solid backups for spontaneous outings, watching football, or for when we have guests visiting and have discovered one of our favorites is closed for an inexplicable reason.

What to do, what to do? I’ll tell you what to do…
When we’re feeling young and hip, we head over to Butte aux Cailles. It has a nice bohemian feel to it, with its many small bars and restaurants. There’s loads of street art along the quaint cobblestoned roads and in fact every year there is the Lesarts de la Bièvre  where over 40 artists around the 13ème open up their homes and/or galleries for the general public to stop in and admire. Sometimes accompanied by music or including a lecture, it’s a great opportunity to support local artists, and in fact one of Léon’s favorite books,”Compter aver un monster” was purchased during one of these “open doors” day. Other than that, Butte aux Cailles also has a piscine and fresh water artesian well where you can see locals filling up their water bottles liters at a time.

There are loads of parks for children, the closest one for us being Square René Le Gall. The biggest park by far, however, which we like to go to when we meet up with a big group, is Parc Kellerman.  Both are wonderfully shady and cool during the hot summer months and have all kinds of events for families to enjoy.  On Sundays, after shopping at Tang Frères for exotique fruit and cheap spices or the farmer’s market on Boulevard Blanqui we head over to the less crowded park (where we’ve been able to do Easter egg hunts without fuss) up the stairs from Corvisart called Jardin Brassaï.  We sometimes wander out to the Quai de la Gare, which has some excellent children’s events (Léon particularly enjoyed himself at a show on the Péniche la Baleine Blanche).

When the weather is cold we go to the Bibliothèque Italie, which has story time for children (0-3 years) eIMG_20160220_172220very 4th Saturday and for the 3+ crowd every 2nd Saturday.  Then there’s the wonderful Ilots des Bébés, an indoor play area for 0-3 or the Ludothèque Denise Garon, an indoor play area/boardgaming place that allows you to check out toys and boardgames as well as play on the spot. Another boardgame café is Oya, which we’ve visited once without Léon and were impressed. Cinemas include Les Fauvettes for classics, La Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé for silent films accompanied by live music, and for blockbusters UGC Gobelins.

There are so many other things to see and do, and perhaps you’ll be tempted to to check out the neighborhood on our recommendation alone, but mostly the 13ème is lovely because it’s where we’ve begun some of our first journeys as a young family.

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Helping Unaccompanied Minors in France

In the grand tradition (and in memory) of my mother and my Abuelita, who helped anyone, anytime, and anywhere…

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After sending out emails to a few places to see how we could help the refugees here in Paris, I received a message from “Collectif parisien de soutien aux exilé.e.s.” As I had put us down as being interested in temporarily hosting refugees, we opened our home to 4 young men (aged 15 and 16) for 3 nights. It was a wonderful experience, and I encourage you, no matter where you are in the world, to do something to help (see this post for links on what you can do). And if you’re in Paris, even if you’re like us with our tiny apartment and a 2 and a half year old, please think of hosting, especially now that those at La Chapelle, women and babies included, have been expelled,  Check out the closed facebook group “Soutien aux exilés de GdE” (PM Elise or Morgann) or contact Refugees at Home. at hebergement@refugeesathome.me.

Our experience was as followed…

Our brave, young men were from Afghanistan, and had traveled through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Romania, and then somehow made it to France. They have travelled without their families with them, without knowing anyone in their final destination here in France. They are so considered unaccompanied minors. They were polite, respectful, and so kind to Léon. It warmed my heart to see how protective of him they were – for example, whenever we went out, they formed this lovely human wall around Léon and his bike. It was wonderful to have 4 extra pairs of eyes watching him! They all had little brothers and sisters back home, some Léon’s age, some even younger. Beyond that, we didn’t find out too much more about them, as communication was limited. I became interested in trying to learn Dari, but my attempts made the Big Boys (as Léon called them) more confused.  I think they only understood when I said ‘Yek” which is “One” and “Man” which is “Me”. But I couldn’t stop thinking of how their families must feel. I felt very much for their mothers and fathers (those that were still alive) who were so far away, without regular news of their sons.

I very much felt like their temporary mother, and kept asking them to eat, and worried so much every time they had to go out – what if something bad happened? Would we know?  Were they warm enough? Were people being nice to them, or did they experience prejudice everywhere? Whenever I accompanied them, I saw people staring judgemently and wished I could have told them how sweet and brave each of these young men were. I can only imagine what their lives had been like, before they left Afghanistan, while they were traveling, and now that they are here in France.   In this way, I  had a very, very small window into how strong both my grandmothers must have been: my paternal mother with 10 children and my Abuelita who took in I-don’t–know-how-many folks (including my own mother when she was an infant) over the years.

What I learned is, when you have a growing toddler and 4 teenagers in the house, you really must plan your meals and shopping trips!!! I learned this after the first night when I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of food we had. We didn’t have to provide them with anything as they had meal tickets (other wonderful people were taking care of their administrative and various other needs during the day), but we did anyway. We spent our breakfasts and dinners together, and during the day the Big Boys went out and about, meeting with various social services.

It was fun to learn from the guys what a typical Afghan breakfast was (through Léon’s picture dictionary), which was actually similar to our Mexican-American one: eggs scramble with onions, peppers, and tomatoes, served with flatbread. I’ve never had so many tortillas at once in my house, and I was reminded of Abuelita’s bottomless pot of warm tortillas:

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They are gone now, and I don’t know if we’ll find out how they’ll get on. We’re friends with one of them on facebook, so I’ll at least know if he’s ok. Whatever happens, I’m glad we met them.  Léon has just said “Léon suche Big Boys” and it was sad to tell him they won’t be here tonight. But maybe we’ll see them again. We wish them well and good luck for the future.

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