Pt 1. Jewelry Making with Beads, Stones and Crystals

Freshwater pearl in red, lapis lazuli, rose quarts, amethyst
Some Czech crystals
Even more Czech crystals but smaller

I decided to enter into the foray of doing hand-made/hand-crafted goods that does not involve doing any form of typing. It needed to be small, compact, easy to travel with, something that I could make and then keep. Also something inexpensive. I decided to get started with jewelry making when I came across a profile of a designer, artist and jewelry workshop organizer. Had a look at her studio/home office for supplies (spent a good 60 minutes just talking about jewelry making!) and came home with some materials to get started with including a few starter tools.

I was quiet happy with the trip and result. First I need to do a few practice rounds with the bendable wire before I get started with the materials. I have in mind to do at least one ring and a bracelet.

Starting the first month of the Lingoda language marathon – French and German

Two one hour classes per day and another two hours of self-study (at least) for each language. That’s about 4 hours of language learning per day or 28 hours per week which is almost like a full-time job.

Some of my classes are taking part very early in the morning (ie 5am) and some very late at night (11pm start).

Read part 1: Learning French and German every day for three months

Disclosure: This is NOT a paid and sponsored post but I do have a promo code -G-JXFNCM for 75 euro discount off the first month for you (I get 5 group classes / 5 private classes)

Reims

I went to Reims for the weekend. It was super cold – about -3 to 3C overall. It was also low season but nonetheless worth a visit, at least like me if you went during Winter to make sure to go during the warmer weather and also check out the champagne growing regions.

Photograph of two entrances to Palais du Tau and Palais Archi-Episcopal

Facade of Reims Cathedral https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reims_Cathedral (notice in the second photo what looks like canines running in slow motion)

A meal I had at a brasserie – it was really good! And a lot of window displays featuring champagne as this is set in a famous champagne producing region in #France

Learning French and German Every Day for Three Months – Lingoda Language Marathon!

Disclosure: This is NOT a paid and sponsored post but I do have a promo code at the end which you can skip.

So here I am, taking part in the Lingoda Language Marathon , full marathon for three months. That’s taking one hour of language lessons every day for three months, no excuses to miss it otherwise you are disqualified.

It has been less than a week since I decided to start learning. I started off doing an introductory ‘lesson’ 1-1 taking place on a video conference platform. This was not so much a lesson but more like a hour conversation with someone to talk about myself a bit, my motivations to take up the lessons, history, and we got into one of the classes. It turned out that I needed to start from the beginning A1.1 for French, so here I am.

I decided to go ahead and purchase the 3 lesson introductory week for 20 euros. This was a group lesson with up to 4 other people however in the two group lessons that I have been to, has been with one other person. You are provided with a PDF (generally about 30 pages) of study material to work on during the hour. The teacher is a native speaker, so you learn how to pronounce the words, the rules, and so on. With one other person, the teacher takes turn practicing although I don’t know what it will be like with 3 or 4 other people. It is recommended that you take 15 minutes at least to go through the material first, look up the objectives of the courses and what to learn, and also (of course) spend some time to learn in between the classes.

After each class, you rate the teacher and provide feedback and in turn the teacher provides feedback to you albeit it has been largely quiet brief.

So far, I have been quiet happy with the experience and was actually considering to take 30 lessons per month, or more. Then I ran into the Lingoda Language Marathon but only by sheer chance that I decided to one day look at their Instagram account as I don’t follow them on social media. I was really excited by the prospect and the fact that I had already taken the group classes and I was already considering doing a subscription made the decision making process easier to take part.

Tomorrow, I am sitting in the German introductory 1-1 conversation to talk to someone at Lingoda and determine where I sit, but since I have been on-off learning the language, I want don’t want to start from the beginning but I do have some brushing up to do. I asked their Support if I can take part in two languages for the marathon providing that I use two emails and two account without being disqualified and they said it is perfectly fine, so here I am, doing both French and German group classes.

It is quiet a jump, since I have never done language tutoring before. I’ve done self-learning using various resources but I just feel inadequate both in terms of skills and motivations. I think that having a social community, taking part in a shared common goal, and betting my money into the study has given me some motivation to better myself and hopefully we will see more results in a few months’ time!

Below are my promo codes, I am adding them here because I get free lessons and you also get a discount of 75 euros off the first month!4

G-JXFNCM for 75 euro discount off the first month for you (I get 5 group classes / 5 private classes)

Pâtisseries et Le Bon Marché

Had a day out in and around Paris.

I went to a Pâtisserie, Sadaharu AOKI Paris which was French-Japanese fusion. I had a Mont Blanc with marrons (then I realized that I had a Mont Blac before, but in Brussels)

Then I walked to Le Bon Marché along Rue de Babylon. Went on a walk around the department store as well as La Grande Epicerie de Paris which was super busy.

Orléans, December 2018

Orléans was very cold and rainy, but I spent the day at the marché de Nöel (Christmas markets), went to Musée historique et archéologique, Maison et Centre Jeanne d’Arc, Musée des Beaux Arts, treated myself to a vib chaud, bagel and fancy sushi (apparently some collaboration with a fashion house). Cathedral had an holiday themed projection mapping too. #

A very pleasant surprise – I didn’t realize Orléans had a connection with Joan of Arc! #

Many artworks, a statue at Place du Martoi, rue Jeanne d’Arc, a multimedua exhibit

Losing Weight – how I lost nearly 25 kilograms in 6 months, doing intermittent fasting, low carb, more exercise

Writing that headline feels like I am writing something that is deliberately ‘click-bait’ content. But really, I did lose nearly 25 kilograms and yes, I lost it in a 6 month time period. And yes, I am still maintaining my weight to around the BMI 20-21 range.

The simplest thing I learned? Once you put your mind into a goal, you can achieve it.

I mean, 25 kilograms is a LOT of weight and I still can’t believe that it happened in a 6 month period.

The day I decided to change my life, I posted an update for help on ways to go about it. I took on board the advice and suggestions, and I went with it. I went with a low carb, low sugar diet. I did not watch calories and same with fats.

I changed my diet and I moved to something more healthier. More fruits, more vegetables. Less refined sugars, less refined carbohydrates. Yes, I ate potato chips, I had a burger, I had some cake. It was still OK, not punishing myself over this.

One of the big challenges I had was facing a working period from 6-7pm to 2 am due to timezone differences. I decided to do intermittent fasting where I stopped eating from 8pm and I would eat again at 1pm. It was a bit brutal, and each morning I felt lazy not being able to get up due to staying late. But my body adjusted – first meal by 1pm, exercise at around 3 or 4pm, a meal after that and final meal by 7 to 8pm.

Yes, I also had the plateau. In fact, I think I plateaued for about three months and seriously wondering how the heck I could move against it.

To top it off, I was on a five week holiday throughout Italy, and Croatia in the summer season. But, I still had pasta (the most delicious was one with raw shrimp near Lake Como) and I still ate SO much gelato (I have lost track of how many flavours of gelato I had, maybe more than 20). And still, during my holiday I kept eating salads and fruits, walked a lot and if available I would also go to the gym. Somehow that is how I moved from my plateau, lost several more kilograms while back in Paris.

One person even commented that while back in Paris, I would gain weight. Well to that person (who themselves is also overweight…) no, I have not gained weight, in fact I have not only lost but I am also maintaining it. All these even though I have been a bit more free eating fresh bread and cheese and enjoying croissants AND enjoying pastries.

It was not just the weight loss that had changed, but also my mindset around healthy eating in general. It was just so, so, so easy to do it now.

Verdict: Doing a ‘No Added Sugar’ Month in Paris in November

Photo of a glass of champagne with a slice of cake through it.

All throughout the month of November, I decided to do a ‘No Added Sugar’ month here in Paris. This means, no gâteau, no pâtisseries, no sugars in coffee, no artificial sugars, no fruit juices and so on. This also extends out to not eating foods high in sugars in the carbohydrates dietary information that is available in foods, which these days could be anything.

After watching a couple of YouTube videos, I really thought that I’d have a hard time doing this say within the four day and 15 day mark. I thought that I would lack energy, that I would be irritable, that I would constantly complain and so on. But take note, these videos were coming from people either used to consuming mass-produced types of foods all the time.

How my body dealt with it

However, it turns out that my body did quiet well. In fact, I had very little complaints or issues taking out refined sugars and artificial sugars from my diet.  I don’t have this problem in the first place anyway, having completely changed my diet in the past several months. In fact the diet changes I did (intermittent fasting, LCHF type, ketogenic recipes) were far more challenging to go through.

Sugar-free was good for the budget

I went to the gym about 3-4 times a week, which meant that I went through a very busy entertainment precinct in Paris. Doing this sugar-free month actually helped with dealing with the cravings of getting ‘something’ to eat on the way to and from the gym.

It also made purchasing decisions much easier since I defaulted to bananas, clementines, freshly squeezed orange juice (not the ready made stuff), 99-100% cacao (with 1g or 0g sugars for the whole block) and lots of tea to snack on.

There was very little effect with social events

In social events, I usually just have something to eat before going and then have a glass of water.  There was a tart involved which I declined in one of the events. There was also a lunch where I opted instead for coffee. Otherwise, there were little negative effects when it comes to social events and minuscule, compared to if you were vegan.

Expat How To: Take Yoga Classes in Paris

I just started a subscription at a yoga studio here in Paris since early last month. Ever since I moved here late July, I’ve been looking at what my fitness options there. There is actually a range of options – from aquacycling, to the free ‘fitness machines’ available on the streets, large parks where you can even meet with a group and exercise together, as well as a number of gym offerings and other sports centres. They are not usually in large ‘warehouse style’ buildings like you’d expect in North America or Australia, usually quiet smaller buildings just off the street or tucked away in a private driveway.

Whenever I looked for options, I usually considered the following (and is applicable beyond studios):

  • How close is it to me? Can I walk? Or take a bike? I want an option that does not take long for me to get to, especially during the colder winter months.
  • What are the subscription options? For one month? 6 months? It’s really unfortunate, but I have noticed that many gyms will offer low subscription options but they tack on high fees to join, to be able to leave flexibly, to use the lockers and so on.
  • What is the facility like? I’ve seen gyms that look quiet upbeat, and others that are more depressing such as actual doors that had been broken into and dark rooms.
  • What are the people like? If you are about to spend an hour or so in a centre, you might as well also gauge the community vibes.
  • What is the area like? Paris is a very built up city, with many different personalities. It is an extra plus if the area that you go to happens to have a lot of activities or things to do before our after your practice, or if it’s a central transport hub.

Late in September, I was browsing along and noticed an ad that a yoga studio near me is offering yoga in English classes. Not only that, but the classes were free. There was no option to sign up, so I had all the dates in my calendar and I ended up attending to quiet a few free yoga classes in English.

If you are new to the activity and don’t know the language – starting in English is recommended

This is the case in yoga, but can be applicable elsewhere. The reason why is that you are doing a new intensive physical activity. If you are new, then you are not only unaware of the posture names being used, but also what the possible alignment is.

Instructors should be there to make sure that you are not overly straining your arms, legs, back and so on. Doing so can lead to some injuries or at least some discomfort after the practice.

If English is not available, learn the poses first (such as on YouTube) and learn the French language names of the poses.

There are some key terms and phrases that you need to know to get a grasp. Hopefully after taking a few lessons in French, you get an idea of the instructor as well as the French language!

Photos: Enjoying museums, galleries and more in Paris, September to October

One of the first things that you do in Paris after moving here? Making sure to make the take to go to the museums, art galleries, walk around the gardens and get lost and explore the city.

Here are some photos mainly from September and October 2018.

Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature on rue des Archives was the most unique museum that I have been to and highly recommended!

Outside and inside the Archives nationales in Paris:

Inside the Picasso Museum and works by Picasso

An outside garden as part of the Rodin Museum, with sculptures inside

Amazing and iconic outside sculpture at the Rodin Museum

Commissioned sculpture outside a de ville (city hall):

Typical scene at Les Marais:

Two types of art near Les Marais, street art and commissioned sculpture:

Translates to: “Go ahead boss and let me have a dream”:

Boats moored near Cité/Bastille:

Some interesting reflections near Cité:

Just one of the stores selling various knick knacks near Bastille:

The most famous boulevard in the world opened itself up to accept pedestrians only on Sunday:

The public parks and gardens of Paris in summer

Paris may be busy in the summer period, but it is definitely a great place to be to capture the floral and greenery of the major parks here. From the large Jardin du Luxembourg right through to the smaller pockets of greenery, these parks offer a respite from the crowds.

A thing I like to do is to grab some fruit, a bottle of water, and a salad from Monoprix or from any of the groceries, sit in the park and eat lunch. It’s a cheaper way to refuel compared to going to sitting in a cafe (which is also nice!).

There was one such time near the Picasso Museum where I overheard a group of three women talking about perfume scents (I think their job involved coming up with ideas to talk about perfumes), not to mention watching the families and tourists alike mill around.

I highly recommend milling around Jardin de l’Ecole Botanique and so on and taking a look at the descriptions (if you can read the French).

 

Discovering the Père Lachaise Cemetery

Normally, it would be quiet unusual to add a cemetery in your itinerary, but in Paris it is not. Alongside the Catacombs, there is also the Père Lachaise Cemetery which holds a number graves for famous people (from Jim Morrison to Chopin) as well as memorials, the most affecting one being for the Holocaust victims.

Venice, Part 2 and Mostra di Architettura di Venezia

From Naples, I flew to Dubrovnik but with an all day stop at Venice. I made a point of exploring the side of Venice that I have not been to on the previous trip the week before and spent much of the time around the Dorsoduro area instead.

Mostra di Architettura di Venezia

There was also the Mostra di Architettura di Venezia (Venice Biennale of Architecture) and while my time was limited, I was able to go to the Portugal and Montenegro exhibitions.

Portugal exhibition

Homeland, News from Portugal  intends to report news about the current architectural, social and economic life of Portugal , reflecting and informing about the wide range of aspects of modernization that has hit the country in the last hundred years.
In particular, Homeland aims to address the issues raised by Rem Koolhaas ( Fundamentals Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 ) through a critical and determined reflection on living, an area of ​​excellence for experimentation with modernity that has always represented a fundamental element urban and rural environments, as well as a socio-cultural reflection of its inhabitants. (Source)

Montenegro exhibition

I was most affected by the installation of the Montenegro exhibition, but it was very hard to capture on camera. I almost wanted to purchase a book – despite not having any ties to Montenegro or the artists – it was that good!

From the official website: The Montenegro exhibition aims at the multidisciplinary integration of the results deriving from contemporary ecological research and collaborative practices in urban design and spatial planning. The curator Sonja Radović Jelovac proposes to widen the framework of the research of the Montenegrin project, referring to the need to apply the principle of resilience to the local context, as well as the need to adopt shared values. The project of Montenegro at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition consists of three related parts: the book, the exhibition and the networking, each of which, from its point of view, addresses the universal theme Emerging Resilience, varying in size, materiality, duration and propagation method. Together they constitute the vital support for an open debate on the subject within the pavilion and beyond. A new topic is associated with the main theme: Wo / Man under the Umbrella .

“Why do not umbrellas dissolve in the sun – or at least they do not grow in the rain?”  Cedric Price

Mt Vesuvius, 2018.

Trying to decide when and where from to go to Mt Vesuvius can be a bit tricky. If you decide to go by train, it can take a while. And there are tours that tend to combine Mt Vesuvius with Pompeii for example.

I don’t recommend doing these tours, and instead you can go to Mt Vesuvius on your own by catching a bus from Pompeii. In this instance, I decided to go at 3pm which meant that the sun was not at its highest and it gave me a chance to rest after spending almost half an Italian summer’s day in Pompeii.

Once you arrive, you are taken near the base.  You then buy a ticket at the entrance or the bus driver offers it (they do not markup the price). And from there, you proceed to walk.

Most people were appropriately dressed but I even saw some people wear wedges or bowler shoes. Not recommended! You can take your time going up the mountain. There are a few ‘stations’ offering things from souvenirs to water and even alcoholic drinks.

Once you reach the rim of the volcano you have the option to walk around it, then come back and walk down the mountain.

Pompeii

You can read posts about Pompeii below:

Sorrento and Capri, Italy.

After almost a week in Montecatini, we went to Sorrento which is a town overlooking the Bay of Naples in Southern Italy. To get here, I took the train to Naples and then arranged a hotel pick up to Sorrento. Otherwise, it takes about an hour by train which is quiet long and uncomfortable (which, I’ve had experience in going to nearby areas!).

You can stay near the town which makes going to and from very easy.  I also stayed at a hotel situated right uphill which required taking a hotel bus to and from the town centre.

Sorrento is a town that can suit many interests – if you are into shopping, there are many places there, for those that want to go to the beaches and island hop they can do so. For me, I went to Pompeii and Vesuvius (to be covered in another entry) instead.

I was not overly fond of Sorrento, but it was also nice spot to be in.

Capri

I only took a brief day trip to Capri as I then had to go to Naples that night. Unfortunately, either it was too brief or it wasn’t my style, but I was not overly fond of Capri also! There may be other islands that I could possibly like but not in this case.

Somehow, I thought Capri would be a bit like Monaco.

Pisa, Italy including street art by Blub.

I navigated Pisa without maps, which was actually a good idea as the signs to go to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (or Torre pendente di Pisa) was clear and you also had an opportunity to wander around the piazzas of the older part of the city. There are some people that do a tour, but when you ask if they have ever wandered through the other parts of the city it turns out they haven’t.

You will also see a series of street art with a common theme by an artist called Blub. He has a lot of works also in Florence but can also be found in Pisa. See below!

Il Gelato Di Toto is a gelato shop that I recommend because of the flavors!

La Spezial and Cinque Terre, Italy.

From Montecatini, take a train to La Spezial. And then a regional train to one of the several villages known to be a part of Cinque Terre. This is a picturesque set of villages set along the Italian coast.

La Spezia

I was there on a Sunday so it was quiet empty. I highly recommend a gelato place that also serves Sicilian ice treats!

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

I only went to one town, Vernazza, and it was packed. There was a recommendation to go to one of the towns, but I went to the wrong one. Oh well, it was an interesting experience anyway!

Firenze/Florence, Italy.

I was only in Florence for the day, but you can definitely spend more than a day!

I went to the touristic and historical sites (primarily, the Duomo area), and walked along the Gold Bridge or ‘Ponte Vecchio’ with a history from the medieval times.  There were a number of museums and galleries which I did not attend but you can satisfy your historical, cultural and artistic curiosities here.


It is easy to wander around the city and think of times of yore with the artefacts from the yesteryears.