Saturday, August 22, 2009

Recharging Your iPhone with iGo

Today, while walking along the Seine river touring central Paris, my iPhone died because I forgot Pandora was still running in the background (see previous post). Amanda and I were walking along the Seine River and I had been using my "Streets of Paris" iPhone application as well as the iPhone camera.

But then Amanda reminded me that we had bought this cool accessory while in the Newark airport by a company called iGo. Among other things they provide battery powered accessories for mobile devices. You buy the battery recharger and the iPhone adapter and you can recharge your iPhone with just a couple AA batteries while on-the-go.

Not only did Amanda remember to bring it with her but she even brought spare batteries!

Getting Pandora to work in France on the iPhone

Pandora in an internet-based radio music service. You normally play it on your computer via the internet but it can also work on some mobile devices.

What makes the service rather cool is that you select songs you like and it will automatically creates a "station" that plays similar songs based on 400 attributes. You can also rate (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) a song on the station and Pandora will take that into account in creating the station. You cannot simply select songs to play, however; you select artists and songs you like and Pandora creates the station.

There is also a Pandora iPhone Application which means you can plan Pandora music whenever your iPhone has Wi-Fi access (or if you have a data plan with your provider).

I thought this was perfect for Paris so I got the App and paid something like $30 for the full-blown version which eliminates ads and gives you unlimited skipping-to-the-next song capability not allowed by the free version.

However, when I got here, I discovered that Pandora only works in the US! They control this by checking the IP Address of the network through which your PC or mobile device is connected to the internet.

However, if you use a proxy or VPN service you can route your connection through another network and if this network is in the US, then Pandora should work.

It turns out Secure Tunnel offers just such a service for $5.95/mo. It is not designed specifically for this purpose -- it provides secure and anonymous communications over the internet and data channels for your mobile device -- but it works because Secure Tunnel's servers are in the US! This means that regardless of how you connect to the internet, it APPEARS to the websites you connect to that you are in the US because all your traffic is routed through Secure Tunnel.

Once you create your account Secure Tunnel, they provide you iPhone VPN installation instructions which are very simple:

1. Go to Settings | General | Network
2. Select VPN
3. Select PPTP
4. Enter any description you want (I entered Secure Tunnel)
5. Enter mobile.securetunnel.com for the server
6. Then enter the username and password you created for your VPN account

That's it. It works.

I am listening to the Chris Botti channel now which plays smooth Jazz -- a nice sound for a late night in Paris blogging :)

PS Word of warning on Pandora -- it will suck your battery dry in no time. I use it in the apartment where I dock my phone into special iPhone Logitech portable speakers which simultaneously keeps the iPhone charged. Until I figure out how to get internet access while romping around Paris, I can't use Pandora while out. However, and this is the big catch, it doesn't appear that you can CLOSE Pandora. Yes, you can PAUSE the music but you can't actually shut it down. If you forget this, as I did today when I left the apartment, you will find that Pandora continues to run in the background somehow and your battery will go from 100% to nothing very quickly. The only solution I have found is to actually shut iPhone down and restart it before you take it out.

PSS Read my next post on what to do if your iPhone battery goes dead while you are out.

The Forty(-nine) Year Old (Beer) Virgin

With the exception of a one-night-stand with a Blue Moon on the occasion of my oldest daughter's 21st birthday two years ago (and at her instistence), I had never had a beer prior to coming to Paris. (On the list of other abstention accomplishments are smoking and coffee, which makes for a pretty good trifecta of non-substance abuse I would say!)

My friend Frank Wilder however (who spent several years in Paris) referred me to an iconic pub (?) near our apartment called Académie de la Bière (Beer Academy). Indeed it is only 3 blocks away and we visited today. Hope this post brings back tasty memories Frank!

According to this review:
Twelve beers on tap and about 150 different bottled beers do indeed make for a prestigious Beer Academy. This Latin quarter pub has been an institution since 1960 and still serves a jovial crowd of students and beer aficionados.

For a complete Belgian experience, order some moules-frites (steamed mussels and fries) and taste the night away.

For other reviews and a picture of the outside (I have one also, but it's not so good), click here.

Well, given that school is still out and the rest of Paris are on vacation, we were the only diners at lunch today (well, there was this blond chick who kept leaving the bar to smoke -- smoking is not allowed indoors in public establishments in France! -- but she doesn't count).

Here's a couple of pictures inside. The place is not very large; the outdoor seating is much larger than indoors.

Bar as viewed from our table which was all the way across the room (I told you it wasn't large inside!)




Placemat with official name




In any case, I had committed before I came that I would drink as many beers at the Beer Academy as I could and record each one here for posterity.

So today, in addition, to the 4 sausages and fries we shared, I had a Guinness Dark (25cl -- about 8 oz or 1/2 pint) which probably is like trying single-malt scotch for your first liquor drink or Shiraz for your first wine -- it's a little on the strong side. Actually strong isn't the right word because I couldn't taste any alcohol; it was bitter although the creamy foam on top was kind of cool, kind of like what they put on top of hot chocolate in the winter although not as sweet. Also, compared to the Blue Moon I had 2 years ago, it wasn't nearly as "fizzy." The Blue Moon bloated me in no time, whereas I thought I could sip Guinness all night -- if I liked it that is. It's not that it was bad; it just will take some getting used to.

Guinness was an ironic choice because the Academy of Beer is known for its Belgian selection and Guinness is of course Irish. However, it was the only name I recognized so I started with that. My wife had some blond something or other that I couldn't pronounce (and can't remember).

I will keep you updated. With over 70 days to go, who knows how many different beers I will have.


You can check out but you can never leave

6.5 mi Saturday Walkabout

We spent the afternoon walking to and about the Seine River in the very heart of Paris. The weather was near perfect although a tad on the warm side when directly in the sun. Somewhere around 80 degrees and very scattered clouds.

We didn't actually go IN anywhere yet... just wandered. We're waiting till the Parisians return and the tourists go home to try to get in any of the museums or churches or....

The map at the bottom shows our itinerary -- all 6.5 miles of it!

Our original plan was to go the Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) but they closed down on August 20. (See separate upcoming post on the Paris beaches.)

As we left, just around the corner (literally) from our apartment is a rather magnificent 17th C church I had never hear of -- the church of the Val-de-Grâce (apparently considered Paris' best example of Baroque architecture) built by Queen Anne, wife of Louis XIII, in gratitude to the Virgin Mary when Anne gave birth to a son after after 23 years of infertility.
Yep, this place is right here in my new back yard. Sure beats the old dead oak tree in my current back yard that I'm actually rather fond of.

Furthermore, apparently behind the church is a military hospital (or perhaps, given the size of the hospital, it is more accurate to say the church is behind the hospital!). I will have to check this out more later.

We stopped for lunch at the Académie de la Bière (Beer Academy) recommended before we left by our friend Frank Wilder, who lived in the area with his family for several years. Amanda and I shared a sausage platter and fries. (She had a blond beer while I had a Guinness Dark (see my upcoming post on beer). Still cost us $30! Yikes.

We then took off for the Seine river via Blvd St Michel, which is the main road dividing the 5th (Latin Quarter) and 6th (St Germain) arrondissements, one block west of our apartment. It is a main road that takes you straight to the heart of Paris -- Ile d la Cite.

Upon reaching the river in about 15 minutes, there stood the magnificent Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite just to our right. We stopped briefly, knowing we would return a later day for a deserved extended visit, and continued along the left bank (that is South Bank for you and me) reaching the last bridge (Pont Sully) over to Ile St Louis and across to the right bank.

We could see sunbathers on the concrete banks of the river below but didn't look like anything else interesting if we continued to the east so we headed back towards the center of Paris along the right bank, branching off on the Rue de Rivoli, one of the most famous roads in Paris.

Along the way we ran across an impressive tower I had not seen or even heard of before -- Saint-Jacques Tower -- that used to be part of a church that was destroyed after the revolution (that's the FRENCH revolution, dummies). We stopped here for rest and water.

As we continued down Rue de Rivoli, we came upon a massive structure that I finally realized was the BACK of the Louvre Museum. Amanda and I immediately thought of the same question: Now what window did Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) jump out of in The DaVinci Code? Was it on the right side onto Rue de Rivoli or was it on the left side onto Voie Georges Pompidou.

(By the way, Ron Howard WAS granted permission to film in the Louvre Museum! I have discovered a self-guided tour online that re-enacts the the Da Vinci Code scenes in the Louvre. Sounds like a fun way to spend a day.)

I had never seen the BACK of the Louvre before, having always entered from the front where the famous glass pyramid is. We entered from the back. Not into the museum (which can only be entered down through the pyramid) but into a large courtyard with fountain in the middle (that kids were playing in).

We left the court yard to front side of the museum to see the pyramid surrounded by more fountains. I know the pyramid is artistically controversial but I like it.

Growing tired at this point, we crossed back across the Seine River and headed back to Blvd St Michel. We stopped off at two cell phone stores to inquire about cell phone plans that would provide us with unlimited internet and data coverage in Paris. This topic requires its own post but the bottom line is there is no easy or inexpensive solution to this problem. Arrggg.


View August 22 Walkabout in a larger map

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

We saw Inglourious Basterds tonight, a Quinten Tarantino flick. I'm not a huge Tarantino fan (I hated Kill Bill) because of the gratuitous violence but the movie was supposed to be in English and we didn't have many options.

Turns out the movie IS in English... and French... and German... and even a little Italian. It was confusing at first because the film started off with characters speaking French with no subtitles and it didn't look dubbed so we were confused. However, they then switched to English with French subtitles part way through the opening scene and eventually all four languages were used, which was interesting.

In the states, I assume the French- and German-speaking parts would be subtitled in English.

In Paris, however, the English- and German-speaking parts were subtitled in FRENCH, leaving us with only undertstanding the English-speaking parts.

Christoph Waltz was brilliant as Colonel Hans Landa, the German "Jew Hunter," for which he has already received a Best Actor nomination at the Cannes Film Festival.

Despite language problems, it was worthwhile.

The theatre (see picture below) was near the Sorbonne University in what resembled a college auditorium with velvet red seating that was arranged wider than deep, but the video and sound quality were great.

It was not crowded which I suspect is a reflection of the fact that it is still August and most Parisians are still on holiday and students are out of school. That should all change in a couple weeks.

Tarte Moelleuse aux Pommes (Apple Tart w Almonds and Pine Nuts)

Amanda made a wonderful apple tart today.

Recipe from Savoring Provence: Recipes and Reflections on Provencal Cooking (The Savoring Series)

PASTRY
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
7 T unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
3 T superfine sugar
3 T water

ALMOND CREAM
6 T milk
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 T cane sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/2 t vanilla extract
3 T unsalted butter
1/2 c ground almonds
1/4 c powdered sugar

GLAZE
1/2 c fig jam
6 T water

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 c pine nuts

Preheat oven to 375.

1. PASTRY: combine flour and butter (in pieces), pulse in food processor until blended. Add the egg yolk, superfine sugar and 1 T water and pulse until dough forms. Butter the pie pan. Fold the pastry into your hands and work it until it is one lump. Place in pie pan and press until the edges are covered.
2. ALMOND CREAM: Pour milk into saucepan and heat over medium heat until bubbles appear on the edges. Remove from heat. Separately whisk the egg and egg yolk, adding in the granulated sugar and 1 T cornstarch. Pour into saucepan with milk, over medium heat, until it thickens ( 1 1/2 - 2 min). Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and set aside to cool. In another bowl, cream the butter and add the ground almonds, the confectioner's sugar and 1T cornstarch. Fold the cooled custard into this almond mixture until combined.
3. GLAZE: Combine the fig jam and the water in a small saucepan over low heat until fluid. Brush a layer of 2/3 of the glaze on the bottom and sides of the pastry-filled pie pan.
4. Spread the almond cream on top of the glaze, arrange the sliced apples in two layers in a circle around the pan. Cover with the pine nuts. Drizzle the remaining glaze on top.
5. Reduce the oven heat to 350 and bake until top is golden. Rotate after 30 minutes and then cook an additional 10 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.
BON APPETIT




My new office in Paris

My desk is on a loft on middle level w kitchen, dining and living
below and bedrooms above. Front door is lower left. Large notebook
is Dell Vostro 1500 and smaller notebook to right is MacBook Air

Header Photos

The 8 photos that comprise the header for my blog come from previous trips. Yes, they are my pictures.

Top row, from left to right:

1. Eiffel Tower at sunset from Montmarte
2. Champs Elyees at night lined with holiday lights and Arc de Triomphe at the end
3. Louvre Museum from left bank
4. Moulin Rouge at night

Bottom row, from left to right:

1. Back of the Palais Garnier opera house (inspiration for Phantom of the Opera) with Eiffel Tower in background taken from top of Galeries Lafayette department store
2. Arc de Triomphe from one of the 12 converging boulevards
3. Sacra Coeur on Montmarte from the roof of Galeries Lafayette department store
4. Eiffel Tower from Pont de l'Alma (bridge) (the tunnel under this bridge is where Princess Diana died in a car crash)

Friday Night is Date Night

Amanda and I usually do movies and dinner on Friday nights.

Why change just because we are in Paris?

Don't know what we're going to see but hopefully it will either be in English (w French subtitles) or French (w English subtitles).

Internet Problems Solved

Fortunately, I found an ENGLISH support number for Orange, the internet provider for my apartment. It is very frustrating to try to resolve a technical issue like this and not know where to go. I need internet more than I need water at this point.

I was able to determine that the problem was not with the connection, but perhaps with something on my computer (Norton Security probably). After uninstalling and reinstalling a few things and then a few reboots, all seems to be working now.

Whew!

Now I have to figure out the best way to get mobile internet access without costing me a fortune.

Lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens

Yesterday, after I woke up at noon (!), we bought paninis at the local Boulanger/Patissier around the corner and strolled over the Luxembourg Gardens, the largest park in Paris and home to the French Senate.

These pictures don't do justice to the park but I will publish some of my more artistic pictures taken with my Nikon D80 (rather than my iPhone or Nikon Coolpix S210) later.





Funny French Movie Title Translations

As we strolled the Champs Elysees last night, we noticed the funny titles given to American movies. For example, the recent B-grade comedy Hangover was called Very Bad Trip (not sure why Hangover would have been misleading but apparently it doesn't convey drunkenness).



However, my favorite -- so far, I will post more as I find them -- was the French translation for The Ugly Truth, a hilarious comedy with Katherine Heigle and Gerard Butler (much, much better than the Hangover in my opinion which I saw only on the very bad advice I received from some friends).

How about this translation? Abominable?



Finally Feel Like I'm in Paris

The first couple days we were so busy getting situated in our apartment that we really never left the area.

Finally, last night (Thu) about 9:30p we decided to walk the Champs-Élysées, perhaps the most famous street in the world.

Took the subway (for the first time since we arrived) from Lexembourg (RER B) to Les Halles and switched to Line 1 to Place de la Concorde (the largest square in Paris) at the eastern end and walked up the right side of the street to the Arc de Triomphe at the other end and then back down the other side, hopping on the subway at the George V (Line 1) station and returning home by midnight.

The street is lined with some of the largest stores representing some of the most famous brands in the world. And it is always crowded. This is August and Paris is largely dead with many shops closed and residents on holiday. But not on the Champs-Élysées. If you want to find life (granted, it is tourist life but it as diverse tourist life as you will see anywhere) at any time of day or not, this is the place to be.

The Arc de Triomphe famously lies in the center of a roundabout consisting of 9 unmarked lanes (!) which are converged upon from 12 different boulevards. It is quite amazing. The challenge is to see if you can run across all 9 lanes to the center where the Arc is rather than take the underground walkway :)

I took this with my iPhone


I didn't take this one :)


The roundabout was memorably parodied in National Lampoon's European Vacation as the Griswolds get stuck circling the monument for hours in their car. I was going to post the youtube video replaying the segment but it has, sigh, apparently been prohibited due to copyright considerations.

Pot-au-Feu de Poisson (fish stew)

Amanda's recipe adapted from : Savoring Provence: Recipes and Reflections on Provencal Cooking (The Savoring Series):

SEAFOOD
2 lb white-fleshed whole fish, cleaned
12 small mussels, scrubbed
8 sea scallops
6 large shrimp

STOCK AND VEGETABLES
1 small fennel bulb, 4in lengths
1 leek, 4in lengths
2 celery stalks, 4in lengths
2 tomatoes, quartered
1/8 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T Italian parsley, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
1 saffron thread, crushed and steeped in hot water pinch of cayenne pepper
2/3 cup dry white wine

SAUCE
2 thick slices day-old sourdough bread, torn into thumb-size pieces
1 large red bell pepper, roasted
salt and black pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of saffron

SERVING
1 T Italian parsley, chopped
12 baguette slices, toasted with olive oil

1. Cut fish into 3"x5" pieces. Save crumbs and smaller pieces.
2. STOCK: In a saute pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and then add onions, garlic and parsley. When fragrant, add the fish crumbs. Season with salt and pepper and add the saffron and cayenne. Pour in the white wine and 2 cups of water, boil and cook for 30 minutes. Strain if desired.
3. Cook mussels in shells in pan with small amount of water 3-5 minutes, until open. Remove 6 from the shells. Save the mussel juice.
4. Bring stock to boil again and add fennel, leek and celery pieces 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and reduce to medium-low, add fish pieces and simmer 3-4 minutes. Add the shrimp and scallops and simmer 3-4 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the shelled and unshelled mussels. Season with black pepper and add the mussel juice.
5. SAUCE: Combine bread crumbs until absorbed into 1/2 c water. Puree with bell peppers and season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and saffron. In small saucepan, mix puree with 3T stock over medium heat until hot.
6. Transfer stock and vegetables to a deep platter, drizzle with 1/2 the sauce and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve the remaining sauce with the baguette croutons alongside the stew.
BON APPETIT!




Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jet Lag, Blog Redesign and Internet Access

Last night I stayed up till 6a this morning (midnight EST). Slept till noon today. Still on US time.

I used the time to redesign the blog and catching up with posts.

My original plan was to use Twitter, Facebook and Blogger separately with an actual website as a portal to each of the three and then I would experiment with each of the social networking tools.

Blogger is normal blogging where you can post extended comments and pictures as well as include "widget" applications to incorporate other features such as weather.

Twitter is micro-blogging which only allows short "tweets" of 140 characters or less and are useful for live status updates. (e.g. "Going to park now" or "Going to Eiffel Tower")

Facebook is more social networking but I was having a hard time figuring out how to use it. I created a "business" page but never did any more.

It didn't take long for me to realize that this plan unworkable and that it was best to center everything around the blog and simply use a Twitter widget to show my twitter comments in a side column.

I dumped Facebook as unworkable for now for a project like this.

I pointed the domain name of the website -- http://www.11weeksinparis.com/ -- to the blog (11weeksinparis.blogspot.com) so now everything focuses on one site, with little "tweets" thrown in.

The problem I am having is that I expected to have pretty much unlimited wi-fi or internet access throughout Paris and that hasn't happened (yet), which makes it impossible for me to provide the kind of live updates I had planned.

I am still working on it though.

Without unlimited internet access, Twitter is pretty much useless and my live GPS feed at the bottom of the page doesn't work so good either as it depends on my iPhone having a constant connection to the internet.

I am largely stuck with making blog posts back in the apartment, which is where the GPS always shows me located even though I am not always here.

Bummer.

Well, first order of business is to try to re-sync my body clock with Paris and not the US. It is only 6:46p EST but almost 1a here so I'm going to bed.

Tomorrow I am going to solve my internet problems I hope.

Heat Wave and Amanda's First Cooked Meal

Our first full day in Paris was 95 degrees! Unusually hot. The reason we picked this time of year was for the moderate weather but we got a heat wave. The forecast is for 85 on Thursday and mid-70s on Friday and onward which is more like it.

Having not yet adjusted to the jet lag, we both slept late, had a simple lunch at a local street-side sandwich shop... 15 euros ($22) for a couple simple sandwiches and drinks! We definitely need to do something about these prices!

Amanda did some grocery shopping to stock up while I caught up on some work.

We went shopping at Monoprix to buy a few household items.

I visited a local Orange store to talk about wireless access while in Paris. Orange is the primary brancd name for France Telecom, which is the primary supplier of telephone, mobile, and internet services in France. We have a Livebox in our apartment which supplies the TV and internet connection via DSL. The subject of connectivity requires its own blog post so I'll save it for later. Suffice to say it didn't turn out as good as I had hoped. There really are no good solutions.

Finally, we had our first meal in. Amanda purchased a French cookbook -- Savoring Provence: Recipes and Reflections on Provencal Cooking (The Savoring Series) -- and is determined to cook authentic French meals. So far so good.

The meal included two recipes:

1. Galette au Chevre et aux Tomates (Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart)
2. Pot-au-Feu de Poisson (Fish Stew)

When I eventually show you a picture of the kitchen she has to work with, it is amazing it turned out so well. They were both so good.

Starting to get settled in now. Still a few things to do before it feels like a home but it's certainly not as depressing as it seemed when we arrived. Haven't even begun to think about actually seeing Paris yet.


First Meal In Paris

After a really long first day we stepped out to find a place to eat along blvd St Michel. I had a perfectly safe chicken and rice (with a mint flavor) and Amanda had a fancy salad as we ate along the boulevard as we appraised our new surroundings.

First Impressions

Having finally arrived at the apartment, our first impression (actually my first impression) was that the apartment was rather small although I knew it was 90 sq meters (1000 sf). My wife thought it was about what she envisioned.

We both thought it was dingier than expected. It needed a lot of cleaning... it just didn't look as fresh as the pictures on the website.

I was feeling a little depressed. I couldn't imagine being in this place for 11 weeks. Actually, I was just really tired and, with a sore throat, feeling the onset of a cold. I crashed for about 3 hours in the bed upstairs.

After waking, I felt much better. No cold, just needed rest.

While Amanda set to cleaning up the kitchen and bathrooms and rearranging the furniture, I worked on setting up the computers so I could work. Internet connecitivity was absolutely crucial and I was concerned it might not work. After about an hour of struggling with the wireless feature, I got everything working.

Once we have the place cleaned up and decorated a little better, I'll post a video tour of the apartment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Changing Money and Who Says the French Aren't Friendly

Ok, finally time for my first good story. I admit everything up until now has been pretty dry but I was just experimenting to see how all this worked. But now I have answers to TWO questions that may actually be useful to a Paris visitor and I learned these within my first 30 minutes of arriving at our apartment:

1) Where can you exchange US Dollars for Euros? Especially if you have LOTS of US Dollars.
2) Do Parisians actually LIKE Americans?

After I answer these two questions, you are going to wonder how many MORE wonderful insights I will be able to deliver in 11 weeks if I can do this in just 30 minutes!

The manager of the apartment had insisted that the 3000 Euro security deposit be in cash even though I was allowed to wire transfer the rent (despite multiple attempts by email to persuade him otherwise). Go figure.

3000 Euros at the current exchange rate (approaching 1.5, about 10% higher than last spring) is almost $4500, which is a LOT of cash to be carrying from the US to Europe.

The morning of our trip (Monday), I went to the bank and obtained $5000 in travelers checks. I figured I could either exhcnge them into Euros as soon as I arrived or just give the manager the deposit in dollars.

As I ended my previous post, we had arrived at our apartment early. I noticed a BNP Paribus (Banque Nationale de Paris Paribas ) just at the end of the block (see map at bottom of this post), I told the driver (who had to wait for the manager anyway) who I owed 80 Euros for the ride that I was just going to the end of the street to convert my dollars into Euros.

Should be easy right? I mean where else would you exchange money but a bank?

Well, the tellers (?) immediately informed me in their broken but friendly English that currency exchanges are done by La Banque Postale which happens to have an office just a few hundred yards down the street. (Turns out that this is what they call a "post office" so I don't know if it is a bank, a mail center, or both.)

When I walked to the counter and pulled out $5000 in traveler checks to exchange, the lady behind the counter feinted fainting in quite dramatic fashion and wished I would just go away. Fortunately, another employee came to my assistance and could speak some English. After some back and forth and checking back in the office, they explained that they could only exchange $2000. That was their limit.

Ok... after countersigning 20 $100 traveler check notes, I received my 1342.30 Euros.

I was told to go to ANOTHER office to get another $2000.

At this point, a customer appeared after witnessing what was happening and offered to help. He was a pleasant attractive gentleman probably approaching 60. He insisted that he DRIVE ME to the nearest Banque de France. Surely they would exchange the rest of my money.

So we walked across the street and then down a couple streets to where his car -- a nice Audi sedan -- was parked across from his apartment. He said he normally is never in Paris in August (most Parisians go on vacation in August and many stores and offices are closed -- the city is rather quiet right now) but happened to be in town for the week. His name was Gean.

So.... he drove me to the nearest Bank of France, parking on the curb, where he said he would wait for me. At this point, I have no idea where I am. "Please don't drive away while I'm gone," I think to myself.

I rush into the bank, proceed to the nearest teller who promptly informs me that they DO NOT exchange currency. You HAVE to be kidding me!

A young couple sitting nearby (why they are just sitting there, I have no idea, they looked like they were idling on a park bench) overheard and the man approached me, informing me that I could exchange the money at the next intersection at Le Bon Marche.

"Le Bon who?" I asked.

He pointed me to the big building down the street. I was going to tell Gean but I figured it would be faster if I just ran to the next building and back, hoping (praying?) that Gean didn't see me leave the bank and go the other way (or simply get tired of waiting) and decide to give up on me.

Turns out Le Bon Marche is a VERY impressive department store. It was several floors (I never left the first so never counted how many) and rivals any department store I have seen in the US. I was directed by the concierge at the front door to the back of the store after I explained my problem (which basically consisted of flashing thousands of dollars in traveler checks in front of his face).

Sure enough, there was a desk in the back with a handsome young man who spoke great English who agreed to exchange my remaining $3000 for Euros (after a quick phone call to confirm).

Are you kidding me? A department store is willing to exchange $3000 for Euros and 3 banking centers would not? It wasn't that I looked like some dignified business man in a nicely pressed shirt. I was in khakis and untucked polo shirt having just slept on a plane, and unshaven for several days with disheveled hair who had looked like he had been running around Paris in 85 degree heat (which he had!).

Whatever. 30 signatures later I had my 2010 Euros.

I ran back to Gean who thankfully was still there and never even realized I had left the Bank of France. He likewise was surprised that Le Bon Marche exchanged my money but upon further reflection, it made sense. Wealthy tourists shop at expensive department stores and it behooves those stores to exchange dollars for Euros to facilitate business. Pretty smart, huh?

Gean drives me back to the apartment where Amanda and our driver Olivier are waiting. Emily from the management company had arrived and let them into the apartment. As it turns out, Olivier had wondered where I was (since I had not paid him yet) and had actually retraced my steps first to BNP Paribas and then to La Banque Postale, where of course the trail ran dry after they told him I had run off with some unknown gentleman! :)

Olivier had returned just before Gean delivered me. Gean even gave me his cell phone number in case I had questions. I thanked him profusely and he said it was a privilege to help a guest of Paris!

So what ever happened to those rude unfriendly Parisians you hear so much about from Americans? At each step of the way, I had someone assist me with my problem, in sometimes dramatic fashion. Pretty amazing I thought.

I paid Olivier, then Emily for the security deposit and then I was broke again :) Actually I had a few hundred Euros left but that wouldn't last too long.

So the moral of this story is if you want to exchange money -- especially if you have a LOT to exchange -- go to La Bon Marche (or any decent department store)! And don't be surprised if you run into a couple guardian angels pretending to be Parisians :)

Who would have guessed?

NOTE: As it turns out, we found out today that there was an exchange center in Monoprix, the department store that average Parisians shop at, although this one was located on Blvd St Michel close to Notre Dame... in other words, among lots of tourists.


View Exchanging Money in Paris in a larger map

Flights were perfect and on time. Whew!

I am always nervous flying through Newark because the weather is so unpredictable it is easy to miss connections, which is a major headache when the connection is international.

I intentionally scheduled a 3 hour layover even though the next Paris flight was scheduled 1 hour after our arrival time. Just wanted to make sure that if our flight from Charlotte was late, we had some time to work with. Also wanted our bags to join us! Nothing worse as a traveler than arriving in a foreign country to find your bags did not follow you.

First class was quite impressive from the service ("Hello Dr and Mrs Bailey" --- haven't been called Dr in quite a while), to the 6 course dinner, unlimited drinks (including Glen Livet single-malt scotch!), fully reclining chairs, dop kit, frequent warm washcloths, personal mini-tv with over 40 movies and more. It will be SO HARD to return to "steerage" for future flights :)

Flight took off on time and landed 10 minutes early. Luggage appeared quick (apparently ANOTHER first class perk), customs was a breeze, our driver was waiting for us and off we were, arriving at the apartment before 11a, less than 90 minutes after the plane landed.

In fact, we were so early that the manager was not there to greet us and let us in!

Picture of Paris just before we landed. Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower are supposed to be in the picture but I can't find them either!

I love moving sidewalks

Another test of my new toy.... first ever video posted to blog via iPhone... Pretty cool huh? The technology, not the video (which is pretty bad, actually).

video

Continental President's Club Lounge at Airport

Turns out our frequent flyer mile first class tix gives us access to
nice lounge, coincidentally just above the food court where we dropped
$50+ on lousy Mexican food and margaritas. We only have 30-45 min
before we need to get to departure gate (flight leaves at 8p) but at
least it's nicer and I can recharge my iPhone! I have an airplane
adapter for my MacBook Air so I can keep my iPhone charged via
computer while I play :). Isn't technology wonderful?

Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch from Ben and Jerry's at Newark Airport

I know, I know... I'm just testing my new toy.

Waiting at airport

Just testing my iPhone and ability to post pics live to the blog..... I know this is boring and Amanda hates the pic from behind but...


Taxi Driver at Airport :)

Our nephew Bryan (his mom -- Amanda's sister -- will be visiting on September 3) was kind enough to give us a ride to the airport and unload bags while I... uhhh... took pictures of him unloading bags. Yes!

Packed and ready to go... finally

Six 70lb bags (thanks to Amanda) and 2 carry-ons each. I think only one of them has my stuff in it!

As I explained earlier, I turned my frequent flyer miles into 2 first-class tickets (Yes!) which entitles us to three 70 lb checked bags each, a BIG plus when traveling overseas for 11 weeks.

GPSed Track "Off to Paris"

[NOTE: These comments were added to the post after the fact.

One of the iPhone applications I am experimenting with is GPS tracking using GPSed.com.

Very cool app lets you create "tracks" which maintain all the points in your journey, allowing you to post photos at different stages in the track which are attached to the track. The track is automatically updated and uploaded to your blog allowing others to follow the journey.

Don't know how it will work but below is my first attempt to use it. I started it near our home as we went to airport and then to Newark and eventually to Paris.

Below if the first attempt to use it. ]

View my new track "Off to Paris" started in United States, North Carolina, Charlotte.

Powered by GPSed.com - Free Mobile GPS Tracking Service

Flights

We redeemed a lot of my American Express Reward Points and got two roundtrip first class tickets on Continental from Charlotte to Paris (through Newark) leaving August 17 returning November 3.

Would have preferred direct flights on US Air but they are not AmEx travel partners so points were not redeemable with them although flights to Paris were very cheap back in April. It was tempting to just buy the tickets than use 200,000 points.

This is the first time Amanda and I have ever flown first class internationally and the few domestic first class trips I have made were upgrades at the last minute.

One BIG advantage of flying first class is you get three 70 lb bags each for free (plus two carry-ons). Normally you only get two 50 pound bags with a $50 penalty for overweight and $150 for extra bag. Do the math.

An 11 week trip requires a lot of planning and suitcases.

Where are we staying?

When we booked our trip last fall, we had to make a decision on where to stay in Paris.

Hotels would be too expensive for such a long stay so apartment rental was the best choice.

After searching several Paris apartment rental sites, we decided Paris Attitude offered the best selection for what we were looking for:

1. 2 bedrooms 2 bath (so we could host visitors)
2. Central Paris (preferable in 5th or 6th arrondissements)
3. Under $10,000 for the 3 months

We selected this one located at 22 Rue Henri Barbusse (right on the edge of 5th arrondissement adjacent to 6th):


View Larger Map


By American standards it is quite small (about 1000 sf) but looked cute and clean and was in the perfect location.

We had to pay half first month's rent up front (along with fee to Paris Attitude for half a month rent also!) with second half and security deposit due on arrival, with remaining months due at the beginning of each month.

French law also requires renter's insurance although the fee was modest (less than 100 Euros).

We currently have 4 different groups scheduled to visit, 2 for one week and 2 for 2 weeks (although they may spend some of that time traveling other parts of France). This will leave Amanda and I 2.5 weeks at the beginning to ourselves and 2.5 weeks at the end with 6 weeks of visitors in the middle.

Introduction: Acting on a Dream

Last spring I mentioned to my wife, "How would you like to spend next Fall in Paris?"

At first aggravated that I would dare schedule a trip that interrupted her tennis season (!), she capitulated and eventually got excited about the idea and, well, here we are. (Probably not a good idea to tweak the wife in the second sentence of the blog, but... sometimes I just can't help myself. : ) )

Why are we doing this? Well, why not? Because we can.

I have an internet-based business that I have long thought should allow me to work from anywhere. I have done it for few weeks on trips before... why not a few months. (Actually I DID do it for a few months once before but that is another story!)

I was also inspired last year by Timothy Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week. The book did not so much change my business or work habits but instead gave me "permission" to actually DO what I dreamed about doing.

It's so much a matter of just taking the leap and doing it. If I waited until there was a good time, there would never be a good time. After all, how many people dream of living abroad but don't do it for this reason or that. There is always an excuse, usually "practical" and understandable. Granted, my economic and self-employed status give me perhaps more options than some but I have come to believe that these choices, like so many others in life, have more to do with attitude than money. Indeed sometimes MORE money LIMITS your perceived options because of a fear of what might happen if you dare step off the proverbial gerble wheel. Perhaps, you fear, everything you have built will come tumbling down. Money does not always equal freedom. You can be a rich slave!

Now, there certainly ARE logistical excuses.. err.. challenges and I will discuss those in this blog. But in the end, they are just that -- challenges, not excuses.

We chose Paris because it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world (having visited briefly 3 times before) and more than modern enough to be a safe choice to use as our first experiment. We have traveled internationally frequently for up to 3 weeks at a time in the past but always as tourists, not as short-term residents (except for 3 months in Israel in 2002 -- mostly for business).

If this works well, I hope we can repeat every 18 months or so -- different cities of course.

We picked fall because it is the best weather in Paris, consistently in the 70s. It is also conveniently positioned between the heat of summer and the holidays of winter.

And 3 months is long enough to not feel rushed like a tourist. We can relax and read a book in one of the many parks without feeling like we should be at the Eiffel Tour or Louvre!

Why this blog?

I love to share my observations and experiences with others and it provides a documentary of our trip for reminiscing later. A previous blogging experiment was very rewarding. It is also a chance to experiment with some new internet technologies.

A friend (actually several) asked, "What could you possibly do in Paris for 11 weeks?"

I don't know what we will do. That is part of the adventure. You put yourself in a dramatically new situation and unpredictable things occur. That is in some ways the whole point.

I hope you enjoy it along with us.