Keep up on your French

Back in the 90s I spoke French fluently (with an Idaho accent). French is still my preferred language for profanity during heated basketball games, but it’s tough to hold on to vocabulary and fluid speech without many francophones around and with visits to France few and far between. Here are a few things that have helped.

Lessons

Victor Hugo plays the guitar in the metroI’ve tried Duolingo, Memrise, Rosetta Stone, and others. They might be good for learning the basics of the language, but none of them were very engaging to me for improving beyond that. Enter Frantastique. They have the weirdest, most entertaining French lessons du monde. Daily sessions involve aliens who decided to thaw cryogenically-frozen Victor Hugo (after considering Michael Jackson and others) who then has various adventures with old friends, including Quasimodo (who needs help applying for a job). The animation is weird, the voices are weird, and the weirdness really helps the lessons stick. They also feature famous French movies and songs each day.

Radio

TuneIn is great for accessing pretty much every radio station in the world. My favorite is FranceInfo, which is similar to NPR – lots of talk and few commercials.

Podcasts

You can see the top podcasts for several countries at iTunesCharts.com. I tried several before I settled on my favorite: Sixième science. Topics are interesting (why does time seem to pass more rapidly as we age? – are plants intelligent?) and episodes are short and filled with little clips from movies and songs.

Music

News

Le Monde is the biggest. I prefer Le Figaro.

YouTube

I haven’t really found anything I come back to regularly, but check out Top Channels in France. Français Authentique is good for slowly-pronounced discussions of topics like La Bise.

Movies

Have you seen Les Choristes? So good.

Books

Le Petit NicolasLe Petit Nicolas is my favorite easy read. It’s at a child’s level with great drawings and jokes only the parents get. You can also try a French translation of a book you know well in English – I’m currently reading Je Suis Une Légende (I Am Legend). Sometimes I get more ambitious with French classics like Les Misérables and L’Étranger, but those sometimes take more mental effort than I can spare.

Audiobooks

I’ve had mixed success here. LibriVox has a bunch of free French audiobooks, but it can be tough to find a good narrator since they’re all volunteers. My library has a few French audiobooks, including Le Petit Prince. If you have an Audible subscription, they have a large collection of French audiobooks.

Scriptures

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a few apps with French content, including The Gospel Library and The Book of Mormon (a standalone app which I prefer because I can leave it in French every time I open it instead of switching back and forth). There’s also a French website – https://www.eglisedejesuschrist.fr

The YouVersion Bible app is excellent and has French content as well. There are some really good audio versions in English and it looks like some French ones, too.

Paris Itinerary

Every once in a while someone asks me for tourist ideas for Paris. Here’s a summary of what we did last week. We like a fast pace, so cut this in half if you prefer to relax on vacation.

A few recommendations before you arrive in Paris:

  1. Buy Rick Steves Paris and read as much as you can — highlight and mark pages and lug it around with you during your trip.
  2. Download Rick Steves Walking Tours if you want to do any audio tours
  3. Download the TripAdvisor app and save Paris for offline use. Perfect for tracking down restaurants and sights that are close to wherever you happen to be in the city.
  4. Download the Citymapper app. I can’t say enough good things about this. You tell it where you want to go and it will figure out the quickest options via bus, metro, Uber, and walking. It will even tell you which part of the train to get in so you are closest to the exit when you get off.
  5. Set up your phone for international use. We use Verizon and pay $25 for 100MB of data (expires in 30 days). This can easily last a week if you are careful to only turn on Cellular Data when you need it. (For example, turn it on for 1 minute while you type in a Citymapper route. Click the star to save the route for offline use. Then turn Cellular Data back off. You only used a fraction of a MB.) Make sure your phone is not doing App updates or other heavy things over a cell connection – these can eat up your 100MB very quickly.
  6. Consider a Paris Museum Pass – this is a great deal if you’re going to see 3+ museums during your stay. It also includes climbing Notre Dame, climbing Arc de Triomphe, and several places in Paris suburbs if you want to explore further out. You can buy a 2-, 4-, or 6-day pass.

Ok, here was our itinerary. Keep in mind that the day of week matters. Many places are closed on Mondays, others (like the Louvre and Pompidou Center) are closed on Tuesdays. Click a day below if you want more detail and photos:

Day 1 – Arrive, climb the Eiffel Tower, check in to Airbnb, explore

Day 2 – Bike tour of Versailles, visit Mormon temple (if you’re so inclined), climb the Arc de Triomphe and walk the Champs-Élysées.

Day 3 – Church, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Louvre Museum, Orsay Museum, Sacré Coeur and Motmartre, Bateaux-Mouches tour of the Seine

Day 4 – Notre Dame tower climb, Sewer tour, Napoleon’s tomb, Pantheon, Sainte-Chapelle, Luxembourg Gardens

Day 5 – Catacombs, Rodin Museum, Picasso Museum, Museum of Music, Pompidou Center and Les Halles

Day 6 – fly home with mounds of Chocolate Cruesli

My stash of Cruesli – brought an extra suitcase for this.

 

Paris 2017 – Day 5

We saved most of today for catching up on anything we missed earlier.

Catacombs
This is the second activity where long lines are difficult to avoid. They actually do have a skip the line option now, but it’s more than 2x the normal entrance fee. You could also try Fat Tire Tours again if you want the VIP tour. (For me, this one is worth the line.)

The Catacombs are fascinating. My non-historian understanding is that graves were full and unsanitary in the 1700s and they dug up all the bones and dumped them underground. Monks and others organized them into neat piles with some designs. There are miles and miles of tunnels — the tour only covers one mile. There are groups and individuals that sneak down there to read poetry, watch movies, and do who knows what else.

That took until about noon. Then we ran from one thing to another to make sure we saw all the main sights: Bastille, Rodin Museum, Garnier’s Opera, Victor Hugo’s home, Picasso Museum, Museum of Music, etc. We went to the Pompidou Center, a fun area for people watching, but it was calmer than usual because the museum is closed on Tuesdays. We finished out the evening with some more souvenir shops, one last crepe and réligieuse pastry, and a stash of so much Chocolate Cruesli my luggage was declared overweight the next day at the airport.

 

Paris 2017 – Day 4

Notre Dame towers
This is one of two events where the lines are unavoidable and fairly painful. We arrived at 9:30 – it opens at 10 – and waited more than an hour. But it’s one of my favorite things to do, so it’s worth it for me. I love gargoyles and this is the best view you can get of them. The line to enter the cathedral is also long, but moves quickly.

While you’re in line it’s a good time to catch up on the Rick Steves book and/or audio guides.

Paris Sewers Tour
It’s gross and fascinating. You get an overview of the history of Paris and how much effort has gone in to dealing with the waste of an ever-growing population. I’ve done it twice and will go again. It’s covered by the Paris Museum Pass and there are no lines! 🙂

Napoleon’s Tomb
Interesting but not a must-see for me. This includes the Museum of the Army, which is huge – you could spend all day here if you’re into that.

Pantheon
I enjoyed this more than I expected. I like tombs and graves, especially of famous people. And this has several: Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas, and others.

The Sorbonne is nearby – we accidentally walked onto a scene that was being filmed there and forced a take two.

Sainte-Chapelle
The Museum Pass gets you in quickly (after security check). This place is beautiful. Each frame of the stained glass is a different event from the Bible, and there are over 1,100 of them.

Luxembourg Gardens
This wasn’t in our original itinerary, but it was a nice place to visit and take a break. Kids can rent little sailboats, pick a flag (including pirate), and chase it around the pond.

That was a full day! One day left.

Paris 2017 – Day 3

This was a Sunday and ended up being the nicest day of Spring 2017 so far. Everyone was outside. I have never seen so many people in the Tuileries gardens and Sacré Coeur. It was perfect for our itinerary, though, because there were virtually no lines for the Louvre or Orsay Museum, which are usually packed.

We first attended church in my old LDS (Mormon) ward of Paris-Lilas. I met up with a family I taught 24 years ago as a missionary, which was a highlight of the whole trip.

Père Lachaise Cemetery
I love it here. Coolest cemetery I’ve ever seen. I lost my 3-day metro pass as I pulled my camera in and out of my pocket, so we walked almost the whole thing twice trying to find it. (I found everyone else’s expired passes, but not mine.)

Louvre and Orsay Museums
Since my travel partner was 18, we just did a speedy “highlights” tour (with some delays from getting lost).

Sacré Coeur and Montmartre
I always enjoy it here: street performers, impressive church, great views of Paris, artists, and lots of people watching.