La REcyclerie

Iiiiii am so happy that this unique place exists! I have some of my classes as well as my stage (=internship) at Porte de Clignancourt, a mention of which usually doesn’t elicit sighs of jealousy from my friends. Ok, so it’s not Saint Germain. However, real people live and work in this area, and there are some hidden treasures next to the Macdo, KFC and un-classy stores selling imitation shoes and suitcases – beautiful music performed by conservatory/Sorbonne students for affordable prices at one of the campuses of Paris-Sorbonne University (this is where I study and work, shameless marketing plug alert), an antique market every weekend, stores like this with cheap vintage clothes just waiting to be dug up, and now, La REcyclerie!


Upon entry of La REcyclerie

Where to begin? There are so many great things happening in this place. It is located right inside the old, abandoned train station that was part of la petite ceinture (basically the pre-Métro – great photos here). It is a restaurant, bar, cafe, event space, all with a no-waste, green ethos. And yes, I see the irony in my writing a blog post on my Macbook Air about an association whose philosophy is centered around low-tech things, but hey…the new generation gets their information online, so I’m providing it. They have frequent workshops – DIY eco-beauty products, and events where you can use their tools for free to give new life to broken furniture and things. I love the spirit behind that.


Lamb brochettes

The inside is spacious and light-filled with plenty of seating options. The canteen-style food is based on regional themes that change weekly. The week I ate there was Moroccan week, and it was good! It’s definitely the best option for lunch in the quartier – I must say that I’ve had my fill of CROUS food.

I’ve also popped in just to study and write – the espresso is good and I love that they have sirop à l’eau for just 1€. And because the space is so big, there are no glares from the servers, and did I mention there is free wifi?


La terrasse

Ok so I saved the best for last: you can also go outside to a long, narrow terrasse right next to the old tracks, which faces a community garden and is right under the chicken coop! It’s so nice to be in a space like this instead of directly on the street like most cafes.


Looking back at the cafe from the terrasse

A friend had her birthday here a few weeks ago.  Though there were many people there that night, it didn’t feel packed like every other bar here.  There is so much space for everyone to spread out!  No sweating and shouting to be heard on a Friday night?!

La REcyclerie
2 rue Belliard
75018 Paris


Barcelona / Gaudi House Museum – Cafe Bonbon


Cloudy but nice view from Park Güell

After Lisbon, we only had two full days in Barcelona. Both days, the weather report said it would be stormy and rainy, but the first day it was just a bit overcast. We spent that day checking out Park Güell – there is a nice uphill walks, views of the city, weird musicians, and the Gaudi House Museum. Gaudi lived there from 1906-1925, a prolific work period for him. I appreciate that he (or his family I suppose) left the house to the city of Barcelona after his death so that the public could have a view into one of his living spaces, especially since there is a public park surrounding it.


Cafe bonbon!

On the way to this park, we randomly stopped off at a cute little cafe, where we discovered a new coffee drink – cafe bonbon! It’s an easy recipe: in a small glass, make a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk, add an espresso shot and pour steamed milk to the brim, finishing with a dollop of foam. One day I will have an espresso machine chez moi; until then, I make it using normal drip coffee and it’s still delicious. Based on some random coffee definition pages on the internet, it seems like cafe bonbon is traditionally just the condensed milk and espresso, so I guess Maigot Cafe embellished the recipe a little bit, a good thing in my opinion!

Because of the false alarm regarding the storm on our first day, we decided to go out dancing that night and recuperate on the beach the next day. Only half of that plan worked – I’ll write about the dancing in another post. However, the beach plan was FOILED the next day by a torrential downpour. Wearing our shorts and sandals, beach bags in tow, we were headed back to the hot dog place we’d eaten at the day before (post to come), and of course it started to pour rain right when we reached a wide open plaza with nothing to run under. Eventually we got to a little street with overhangs, and when we made it to the hot dog place it was closed.

So instead of going to the beach, we wandered around the area near the hot dog place and did some shopping. I discovered a new line of shoes that I loved and I ended up buying a pair. When I was young I used to love buying random things like shot glasses and spoons from places I traveled to, but now I like to buy clothes and shoes. Then I actually get use out of the items and think of my trips every time I wear them!

It was a total bummer that we couldn’t get to the beach, as we had only gone there one time in Lisbon. But we made the best of it and still had a lovely trip.

Gaudi House Museum
in Park Guëll

Maigot Cafe
Calle Mare De Deu Del Coll, 71
08023 Barcelona, Spain

Raviolis Chinois Nord-est

OMG let me tell you about my new favorite restaurant – 5€ for 10 raviolis! But French people are weird and what they call raviolis are what I call potstickers, so don’t go here expecting any cheese or tomato sauce.



My friend Kate brought me here a few weeks ago and I went again last weekend after suggesting it to a friend for her birthday dinner. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall place right in Belleville. The menu is simple – tons of raviolis in different incarnations either grillé (fried) or à la vapeur (steamed), plus some soups and salads. I really enjoy the porc/poivron ravioli, and I became obsessed with their peanut salad! It’s just carrots, cucumbers, and peanuts in a really spicy dressing (hot chili oil and raw garlic are the only ingredients I could figure out but I’m sure there are others) – but there’s something about it that’s just so good! I’ve attempted a version of it at home because I was getting major cravings for it after eating there the first time and I can’t make it up to Belleville every day. Dice up some carrots, cucumbers with the skin on, radishes (my addition), and mix them with salted peanuts, some hot chili paste or oil, half a minced clove of garlic and a bit of vinegar for a zingy and crunchy salad!

Fun to eat with chopsticks

Fun to eat with chopsticks

This place is a must for anyone on a budget, or if you simply want to change it up from the old jambon-beurre on baguette. There is one non-meat version with tofu that my friend seemed to enjoy, so vegetarians won’t be completely left out. The service was friendly and quick both times I went. Oh, and if you realllly love these, you can purchase 100 frozen ones for 20€ – I’m so tempted but I think I’d eat them all in one go.

Raviolis Chinois Nord-est
11 rue Civiale
Paris 10e

Cours de Civilisation – Sorbonne

I think I mentioned once that I would write a post about the French classes I took once I finished them. *Warning: this is probably really boring unless you are interested in taking these classes.

Last spring, I knew I wanted to stay in Paris but I couldn’t find a job, and I didn’t feel ready to apply for a Master’s. A friend of mine told me about the classes and I realized it was the perfect way for me to stay in France. It would allow me to get a student visa, and I could build a more solid grammar foundation.

Signing up for the classes is pretty painless. Most of the people in the office speak English or will be patient and nice if you speak French. You can even sign up online before you come to France. If you are getting a student visa, it’s better to sign up beforehand so that you can use the receipt of payment as proof of enrollment for the student visa application process.

I did the fall session in level B1-avancé (=intermediate level) and the spring session in level B2 (=advanced). A week or so before the classes began, I took a test (written, listening, oral) and the school placed me based on my results. In true French fashion, I wasn’t notified of the location or hours of my classes until the day before they began. The school and teachers are flexible about moving to different classes if the level is wrong or if the hours don’t work with your schedule. Don’t be shy about this – you are paying a lot of money, and four months is a long time if the content is too hard or easy.

There are lots of options for the type of courses you take (all the information can be found on the website or at the office year-round). I was in the “Cours de Civilisation” which means that I had 2 hrs/day 5 days/week of grammar, 3-5 hrs/week of phonetics, and 3 hrs/week of lecture classes on various topics. In the fall semester I did a normal class 5x/week, and in the spring I did the au pair option which excludes Wednesdays. Friends of mine took Business French and Master’s Prep, which I can’t review personally but they seemed to enjoy them and learn a lot.

Fall Grammar

There were about 15 of us in the class.

Professor – M. Morethe He gets an A+ in my book! He was very young (under 30) but had several degrees in literature and philosophy – basically he was HELLA smart (well-read, spoke lots of languages on at least a basic level) but the best part is that he was a great teacher. Teaching a foreign language is a very specific skill and he had it. He was patient and never condescending, he pushed us to get to a higher level, and he would explain things in several ways until everyone could wrap their separate brains coming from different languages around each concept. He organized the class very well and each week we knew exactly what we would be working on.

Class structure/grammar – lots of exercises in a book that you purchase, and tons of worksheets and packets that he gave us. I had several lightbulb moments when I finally understood concepts, words, and tenses that I had been hearing the whole previous year. You can learn a lot by ear, but it’s great to combine that with someone going through and explaining each rule to you and practicing with written exercises and examples. He also gave us lots of great worksheets and study sheets that I will keep forever as reference.

Class structure/reading – The course fee includes a literature book full of excerpts from French literature. We read a few of these as well as news articles and discussed and studied them in class.

Class structure/writing – We had a few mini papers assigned throughout the semester. He encouraged us to use new words and grammar concepts that we had learned that week. He would hand them back corrected, AND talk to each of us individually about the strengths and weaknesses in our writing. I found this very valuable because I am usually so traumatized by grades (even if they are good) that I put corrected work away in a folder and never look at it again. (I do the same thing with all the recordings of me singing – issues?) Because he spent so much time correcting us, I felt motivated to learn from my mistakes, and put extra effort in for the next essay.

Class structure/listening – We listened to recordings and had to fill in worksheets with what we’d heard. There were a few fun days where we got to listen to a pop song and fill in the blanks, and analyze the poetry.

Class structure/speaking – We did group work (writing and performing skits) and tons of discussions.

Class structure/evaluation – We had tests every Friday. Towards the end of the course we did lots of practice tests to prepare for the exam. The actual exam felt really easy because we were so well prepared. I got REALLY into the class and did all the homework and attended every class I could and made an effort to focus in class. I paid for it with my own money, so I didn’t want to waste a single centime. As a result my French improved drastically this year. All the grammar work can be boring and tedious but I think the combination of my enthusiasm and the great teachers kept me motivated.

Spring Grammar

The set-up was the same. I was hoping to have M. Morèthe again, but I had a different professor. At first he really rubbed me the wrong way, but by the end I liked him well enough. His teaching style was different, not as clear and not as organized. But after a few weeks, I got used to his teaching style and I did learn a lot from this class as well. The only difference in the class structure was that each student did a 10-minute presentation. We brought in an article, went over the vocabulary, and led a small discussion with the class. It was a fun activity and great practice speaking in French as a leader.

Phonetics Review

Every other week we had a daily hour-long phonetics class. The first 30 minutes we took notes on theory and wrote down all the words and sentences we would be using later. The second 30 minutes we went to the lab that was set up with listening stations. Using our notes from the first half of class, we repeated after our professor’s perfect French, which was spoken into our ears via headphones. It was all recorded so we could listen to ourselves compared to her and correct our pronunciation. She would “plug in” to each of us individually a few times per class and help us with our trouble spots, which was very valuable.

I was the only person in my class who didn’t hate phonetics. I loved it, in fact! Learning exactly how to pronounce each vowel and consonant is fascinating to me. Perhaps it’s my singer background? I took a similar class in college in which we learned the basic IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for Italian, German, French, and English. That class gave me a great foundation for the phonetics class! I love when seemingly obscure college courses end up being useful in “real life.”

I only remember my professor’s first name (Aya), but she was great! She was very nice and gave constructive criticism to help all of us improve and sound more French. The second semester was a similar setup and I had Anne (again, don’t remember her last name) and loved her too!

Civilisation Classes Review

These classes are one hour long. There were several more options in the spring than in the fall. They are held in a big lecture hall and many students attend – 100 or so? 200? I am bad with numbers.

After attending a private, liberal-arts university in the US, these classes were cake for me. I never had more than 30 students in a class at UPS, so this was my first big lecture experience. I have to say that I prefer a smaller, discussion-based class. But because I was so enthusiastic, I made a big effort to stay awake and alert in the often boring, droned presentations.

The classes are structured to be an overview of the subject, basically a 101 sort of class by US standards. The classes are for all levels, so the professors speak very slowly and use very simple vocabulary. I think the intention is not to actually learn about the subject, but to hear French being spoken about a topic other than grammar. I understand that it is probably difficult for the school to organize the classes so that the professors aren’t wasting their time and that all the students get a chance to take as many classes as they can. However, it would be nice if the school could at least separate beginners and advanced students. I would have liked to write a paper or do some sort of project, anything mildly stimulating!

The three subjects I took were Art History, French History, and French Literature. The art class was my favorite because the professor was quite passionate, started discussions with us, and we got to look at giant projections of amazing French art. The literature professor was also very passionate, but his soporific lectures simply gave background about French authors and summaries of their works. The history class was the worst – the professor wrote up long-winded accounts of French history spanning from ancient France to present day. We were given print-outs weekly, and he would read directly from the paper for an hour each week. French history is bloody and many of the figures could have soap operas based off their stories, and he managed to make it extremely boring. Raté. (Fail.)

Despite the so-dry-I-was-afraid-my-notes-would-combust nature of the classes, I made an effort to study every week and did very well on the tests! I felt that it was important to learn the basics in all these classes, as the arts and history are integrated into la vie quotidienne here. Even at parties with young people, I’ve relied on my knowledge from these classes to understand references French people really do make. Ugh, so classy.

Spring Civilisation

I could only attend one of the classes due to my work schedule. Lucky for me, it was the Gastronomie class (everything to do with food)! The content was often comically easy. Each week covered a different aspect of the French diet: bread, meat, fish (skipped that one), dairy, produce, wine, cheese, dessert. Actually, there were two classes on wine and they were the first two! Priorities!

Sometimes the class was agonizingly simple – are there really people in the world, among those who move to Paris and sign up for these classes, who don’t know what a croissant is? On the other hand, I learned very useful things such as the names of certain dishes from certain regions, and a lot about wine that has served me well in purchasing and choosing what I drink. The professor was clearly a foodie so it was enjoyable to listen to his explanations. He would say basic things like “this lighter wine goes with this dish to balance the acid” but in French and with the light in his eyes it sounded so beautiful.


One of the best parts about the course is the other students. I had expected the classes to be filled with Americans, so I was pleasantly surprised that we seem to be a minority in the very global student population. I met and befriended people from near and far. One of the more intriguing aspects of class discussions was seeing who actually would speak up (usually the Americans, Canadians, Russians, and those from Latin cultures) and who had to be almost forced to speak (some of the Asians, northern Europeans). Hearing what everyone had to say was always surprising and thought-provoking.

I loved these classes. Overall I give them a B on the American grading scale; on the French grading scale it would be much lower!



-amazing, well-credentialed professors from the Sorbonne who take the classes seriously (M. Morèthe wore a suit every day!)
-French taught from all aspects: reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, discussion, and specific subjects
-enough homework to keep you focused and learning, but not so much that you can’t work and live outside of the classes
-if you sign up for enough hours you qualify for a student visa
-it’s easy to move up in the levels, therefore allowing you to take tests in French that allow you to apply for a Master’s or get real jobs in France
-international student community

-it’s not cheap. I think it’s worth it, but you have to have an extra €2000 lying around
-the hours can be odd, which is hard depending on what else you have going on (job, family, other school) (Fall I had class from 2pm-4pm, Spring from 8am-10:30, plus Civilisation at noon 3x week and Phonetics at another random hour)
-the Civilisation classes are boring overall – they could be so much better
-they are doing construction on their main building so the classes are spread out all over Paris
-the delay in being notified of class times and locations is really annoying if you already have a job

I hope this was helpful for anyone considering doing this program! If you have any questions, please visit their website or their office first, but I am also happy to talk about the program if you have further questions.

Happy Nouilles

Zati at Happy Nouilles

In December, I decided to check out this noodle place I’d read about on Girl’s Guide to Paris. I met up with Phoebe to try it for the first time; she was running late, so I stood outside and noticed that one of the chefs was making the noodles I was about to eat by hand!  I quickly became engrossed as she took a large chunk of dough in her hands and stretched her arms wide, pulling the dough with her as she went. She did this repeatedly until she had an armful of noodles. Who knew it was so simple?!  Every so often she would look up at me and smile, and I’d try to slyly look away and pretend I wasn’t drooling.

Phoebe and I sat at one of the tiny tables and we both ordered the noodle soup called “Zati” that is made with spicy ground pork. It’s hard to know which aspect of this amazing soup to devour first – the spicy and flavorful broth, the chewy and salty noodles, the meat and beans hidden throughout, or the sprinkling of onions and cilantro that freshen it up.

Zati 2 at Happy Nouilles

This is embarrassing but the following fact will illustrate how good this place is: I went to Happy Nouilles three times in three weeks and returned a fourth time last weekend. It snowed for a few days last week and I was chilled to the bone.  I knew this soup would be the perfect thing for a snowy Saturday.  Now I’m hoping it snows again so I can return, although if it doesn’t I’ll probably go anyways.  🙂

Happy Nouilles
95 Rue Beaubourg
75003 Paris
metro Arts et Métiers
*be aware that it’s usually packed and there is not much space between each table – not the most comfortable dining experience but delicious all the same

Chambre de Bonne

Those smokestacks never get old

Before I came to Paris, I would not have been able to define chambre de bonne. Now, I’m surprised when people don’t know what I am talking about when I say I live in one. As I pondered this the other day, I realized that if fellow Francophiles haven’t heard the term, it’s probably unlikely that friends and family back home have any idea where I live now, room-wise. Allow me to explain!

This is not my building, but mine looks similar

Many families who employ au pairs live in apartment building that have tiny apartments on the top floor of the building available for rent. The rooms are normally very tiny (think 10-15 meters squared), with sloped ceilings, a sink, and maybe a shower and toilet, although many of them have shared showers and toilets on the same floor. There is usually a separate entrance in the same building as the more expensive apartments. Sometimes, the entrance is labeled “Service” and usually there is no elevator for this part of the building. Originally, these rooms were rented to maids, but nowadays these rooms host people like me who work as au pairs, as well as other non-au pairs looking to save on rent in a very expensive city.

Steep spiral

Some days, I find my room very romantic. I think about how many other people have lived in it since the building was built back in the day. What were their stories? I see a swath of sky through the skylight that sometimes transports me to Montana, it’s so large and unobstructed. I take pleasure in the fact that I climbed seven stories to get inside, which never fails to raise my heartrate and has definitely tightened my derrière. I am helping to occupy every last millimeter of space in this building instead of letting it go to waste. For such a tiny room, there is an awful lot of storage for my precious junk. At the end of the day, I have a roof over my head, a warm bed, and a lock on the door. That last sentence becomes more and more meaningful each day as I exit the metro in this posh neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower and notice the people sleeping in makeshift beds of cardboard boxes.

Sharpie-d floor numbers and dead plants

Other days, the romance is nowhere to be found. Every step up the stairs is torture, especially because the wall of the stairs is the wall of the elevator for the fancier apartments right next to the Service area – why can’t they just rip a hole in the wall and let me take the elevator too?! I notice all the dirt, and the shared bathroom is disgusting. I wonder how long it’s been since my carpet was properly vacuumed since I don’t have space for a vacuum cleaner and can only use a rubber broom for cleaning. The 3 minutes of hot water in my shower aren’t enough to even wet all my hair. The sink that shocks me 10% of the times I put my hand under the water (can someone please explain this?!) is not charming, and neither are the walls made of painted-over tape. I can’t decide which is worse, hitting my head on the window opener that hangs right over my pillow if I don’t prop it up right, or the ominous drop of water falling onto my head from that same window during a rainstorm.

View through the skylight

Despite my grievances, I know that it could be worse, and I try to remind myself this fact daily. I grew up in a wonderful house, complete with a hot water heater bigger than a microwave and lots of big, open rooms surrounded by trees. At 18 I went to college and lived in new, cushy dorms and off-campus houses. It was my choice to move to a society with very old buildings, so now it’s time to get comfortable! One of my favorite parts of walking around Paris is looking at all of the old buildings. If I look at them, I should be able to live in them too. My new lifestyle has made me appreciate space, hot water, and high ceilings more than before, and I hope I can eventually move into at least a studio, but really, you can get used to anything.

sometimes I actually get my butt out of bed in time to see pretty sunrises like this