Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fun French Facts

-France is roughly the same size as Texas.

 -Only trailing Russia and the Ukraine, France is the 3rd largest European country in terms of land.

 -It is customary to put your hazards on when traffic slows down on the highway to alert those behind you (wish I could of invented something for that purpose, ummmm...brake lights).

-There are reports of between 500-1,000 types of cheese in France ( and sometimes I still have to go to two different stores to find Cheddar for tacos).

-Besides tourist restaurants and fast food joints, most kitchens are closed from 3-7, serving only drinks.

-You bag your own groceries at the grocery store (and while some try to hurry to keep the line moving, others seem oblivious to that notion).

-In order to get a cart for the grocery store, you have to unlock one (outside) from another by inserting either a euro in the slot or using a free 'jeton' from the store (cuts back on the random grocery carts miles away from the store).

-McDonald's, referred to as MacDo, is very popular. True story, a few years ago one of Shaun's teammates closed a nightclub down with some others and when he asked where they were off to next, the overwhelming response was 'MacDo'. Not knowing what that was, he followed everyone to what he thought was another club but instead found himself in the land of fluorescent lighting, Big Macs and Mc Flurrys.  

-Incoming phone calls and texts on cell phones do not count as minutes used, only outgoing calls and texts do (yeah, you heard that right Sprint and AT&T).

-With 75 million tourists yearly, France is the most visited country in the world.

-The oldest bridge in Paris is called Pont NeufPont Neuf means 'new bridge' (it makes a cameo in The Bourne Identity for all you who have never seen it in person).

-There are 17 verb tenses in French. There are 12 in English (I am trying to justify my 'not so perfect' French).

-French and English are the only languages taught in every country in the world.

-The French language has more than 1,000,000 words and every year, 20,000 more are added (still trying to justify).

-There is a 5 year term for presidency in France with only a 2 term maximum....and from what I've read, it seems like Sarkozy and his 2-inch heel lifts are in for a battle if he chooses to run.

-French toast is not french but that doesn't stop us from making it almost every weekend (use brioche, it is much better than regular bread).

-Baguettes here do not have preservatives in them, which makes them unbelievably good and also a weapon if not eaten with 6 hours of purchasing.

-Rumor has it, the 'croissant' did not originate in France, but in Austria.

-And lastly, if you refer to July 14th as Bastille day, the French will have no idea what you are talking about. They only know it as Fete Nationale and ...our wedding anniversary :)

Now, I am pretty confident in all these facts above so I will state my sources: my friends, our own eyeballs, old men at bars, old drunk men at bars, eavesdropped conversations, the Internet, our neighbor, Shaun's coach, the bum on the corner......

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dolce Fregate

{Hotel Dolce Fregate}
     We have been really lucky here. The weather has been unbelievable. Up until this past weekend, the last cloud we saw was in December. I tried to not talk about it too much, for fear of jinxing it. Kind of like talking about a pitcher with a no hitter going, but I must have pressed my luck because it looks like winter may finally be upon us (or at least it will be here for the next week or so).  We realize good weather is not a guarantee here in France, even in the South. A few years ago, we lived in Pau, in the southwest of France, and they had record lows while we were there so we try to take advantage of it when possible and get out. As long as there is sun, I am fine how cold it is. I am like that dog that follows the sun spot across the carpet in the living room.  So when it was in the mid 60's a few weeks ago, we decided to strike while the iron was hot and brush off the ol' golf clubs and head to the course. Now I don't golf, I will go to the driving range, but the last time I actually golfed was when I was 13 and I hit my step-father in the back with a wicked slice on a par 3 course.  True story.  But Shaun is a golfer. He lives for the summers to golf with his friends back in Atlanta. Personally, I couldn't be outside for that long in the hot Atlanta sun but he and his boys wake up at the crack of dawn to get out there early and beat the heat. Those Tech boys are some smart ones... can't get anything past them. Every year, Shaun brings his clubs with him over to France in hopes that one of his teammates plays too. He has been lucky since the last few years he has been able to get out with a few of them. However, this year, he is stuck with me and the most action his clubs have had were me moving them from one side of the closet to the other. So a few weeks ago before his back flare up, we decided to head to Bandol and hits some balls at the driving range for a few hours. The course is at the beautiful Dolce Fregate Hotel overlooking the ocean with many of the holes having water views.  We spent a few hours there at the range and piddling around on the practice green before heading back home. The day was mostly a success.  The clubs got some action, we enjoyed the beautiful weather but Shaun seemed to catch a case of the yips in the process... don't know if that was intentional or not to spend more time at the range. Like I said, Tech boys are smart.

Friday, January 27, 2012

La Toque et les Sportifs


     Since both Shaun and I speak french, we are often invited to do things outside of basketball. I will not try to kid myself by saying that it is because we are so cool or because we are in such high-demand.  I am pretty sure it has 100% to do with the fact that we have the allure of being foreign but you can actually converse with us also. If the others players spoke french they would be in our shoes, but not as many of them do since most players hop from country to country playing.  Not us, been here all 11 years and are semi-fluent to show for it. I say 'semi-fluent' for fear that I will one day say I am fluent quickly followed by not understanding a question someone asks me in french, making myself look like an idiot in the process. So semi-fluent it is. Some of those things we are asked to do seem cool from the get-go then as they creep closer, we question why we said 'yes' in the first place. Others seem not as fun at first, but surprisingly turn out to be great nights. Like a dinner at a sponsors house 5 or 6 years ago. They were a conservative older couple who spoke English (thank god) with which we had practically zero in common with. The dinner went great except one thing.... they got my name wrong. They kept calling me Vicky. I let it go the first time, which was a bad move cause how can you correct it later on without making the situation even more uncomfortable?? I just avoided all eye contact with Shaun (he thought it was great) and went with Vicky for the night.  The following day,  I sent them a thank-you note with my name clearly written as Nikki. After that, we never talked about it, they called me Nikki and we all still keep in touch years later. So when Shaun came home last year and said the coach invited us to a dinner, I didn't know how I felt about it....

     Turns out the dinner was a annual charity event ( La Toque et les Sportifs)and I am embarrassed to admit, I still don't know what type of charity. The public could buy tickets for the evening to have 'celebrities' cook and serve them dinner along with a few auctions. The 'celebrities' ranged from soap opera stars, tv personalities, to athletes and prominent figures in the South of France. The food, well it was Michelin rated 3 star type food. Of course the 'celebrities' didn't really cook the food but they did do some final preparations (under a close watchful eye) before it was served. Shaun was whisked away from the moment we arrived to right before we left, leaving me to spend some quality time mingling with the coach and his wife. The food was excellent, there was foie gras stuffed ravioli with truffles, fresh loup (fish) and Shaun's dish to prepare, roasted pigeon with mushrooms and foie gras. I didn't really look at the menu, I just ate what was placed in front of me and drank what was in front of me. After all, when in Rome (in Michael Scott voice talking about Spain). It was the kind of meal where they served a separate wine with every course. The kind of meal where there was every kind of dessert possible.  The kind of meal that went on for hours but you didn't want it to end. At the end of the night we said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for allowing us to be a part of something that not only was for charity but was so memorable and delicious. With 4 full bellies, we got in the car for the 1.5 ride home and started talking about the night, soccer, life etc. when the coach turns around and says, "Vicky, who do you think is the best footballer in the world?" Seriously, this again........
{Shaun and Serge Dupire, a french soap star on Plus Belle La Vie}
{In action}

{Bonus for me, Shaun got to keep his hat and chef's coat. Bummer for me, it is a XXL}

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


 Often times, when a team or a sponsor finds out that not only do both Shaun and I like soccer, but I was once a professional soccer player ( way back in the day),  they offer us tickets to some local games. Now, sometimes those games could be a semi-pro team, a women's recreational team or a near pick-up game, to which we politely either go, or 'unfortunately' have something to do that exact time, darn.  In all of our years over here, we have never really lived close to a team that interested us into going to see a game. That changed a few years ago.  Before we were in Toulon, we were about an hour west of here in a small city called Fos sur mer for a few months. If you look it up on the map, actually... don't, you will have a hard time finding it, that is how small it is. However, it was only 35 minutes from Marseille and when we were given the chance to go to a OM (Olympic Marseille)game, we took it. And this wasn't any ordinary game either. It was a game that if OM won, they would clinch the championship for the first time in 17 years so we were doubly excited to see not only the game but the atmosphere. Shaun's coach went with us, which was a huge help, considering 55,000 people were going to the game and the stadium is smack dab in the center of Marseille, which is a cluster as it is. The weather stunk, it was May and was colder than it is today in January, but we were prepared and when you have that many people so close, it seems a lot warmer. OM won 3-1 and it was an 'experience' to say the least. We stuck around for the celebration for about 40 minutes after the game to take in the atmosphere and watch the fireworks. Then we called it a night, guess we are not 'true' fans. Rumor has it, the 'true' fans went down to the Vieux Port and jumped in the ice cold water.  Think it's safe to say there were a lot of 'sick days' taken the next day and I have a feeling the celebration continued long into that night and may still be going on 2 years later in some households.
{Lighting flares after a goal}

     One of the many highlights of the nights was when we were exiting the stadium and as it was starting to get a little rowdy, a TV crew came over to my mom and tried to interview her. I am assuming the blond hair in the sea of dark was like a light a moth couldn't resist. So the man rattled off a question then shoved the microphone in her face and as I am just leaning into to tell them she does not speak French, she screamed out "Viva Marseille!!!" and slowly retreated as all the kids try to climb all over each other to get on TV. I have to admit, I was a little impressed and relieved that she didn't just spit off her 'go to' French lines that she remembers from grammar school which is "de donc, ou est la bibliotheque? C'est tout droit......"--which translates into,' so, where is the library? It is straight ahead.....'  We have yet to go back for fear that it will be a let down after our first experience but it is on our 'bucket list' of things to do before this year is over. Here are some pics of the atmosphere, and since you can't really grasp everything with pictures, we added videos also. And yes, it was that crazy the entire game.

{Close to the end of the game..notice all the security}

Sorry for the dodgy camera work, the stadium was shaking. The first video is after a goal, and the second is about 30 minutes after the game with fans still singing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Route des Cretes

{Cap Canaille over looking the sea side town of Cassis}

      Along the coast here in the South of France, there are many quaint cities/villages with oodles of character tucked away between mountains, larger cities and the Mediterranean. Some are more famous than others (ie. St. Tropez) but there are also others that in order to find, you must go off the beaten path. When we first moved down here, many people gave us suggestions on places to see and things to do, which we welcome with open arms. And often times, those suggestions were, and still are, far better than anything you could read in a Fromers travel book or tour guide. The one area that everyone seemed to agree was a 'must-see' was the Route des Cretes. The Route des Cretes is a windy scenic route along the coast between the cities of Cassis and La Ciotat about 16km long. So after many suggestions we decided to head out one afternoon with camera in hand to see what all the buzz was about. And let me tell you, it was unbelievable. Although it took us a bit to actually find our way, you would of thought it would of been easier with a gps but seeing we are a little 'gps-challeneged', it took us 45 minutes to spot the sign that looked like it was hand written....on a twig....in 1945....with a pencil.....in a rain storm.... facing only one side of the street. Did I get my point across? The drive is not for the faint of heart as it hugs the cliffs over looking the sea and to describe it as 'windy' is a major understatement. However, there are perfectly timed little stop offs so you can get some fresh air to combat the feeling of car sickness while also taking in the view.  Since we have lived here, we have made many trips and it is definitely one of the spots we take visitors to for a little 'local flair'. So if you are ever in the South of France near Marseilles or Toulon, do yourself a favor and take the drive on the Route des Cretes, you won't be disappointed (but check the weather first because they do close the road in extreme wind, and believe me, it gets windy-blew Shaun's father's glasses right off his melon).
{Windy road and very narrow in some spots}

{First and lowest stop..we were pretty happy with this view until we saw the next one}

{At the peak overlooking Cassis}

{Pictures don't do it justice..see that boat down there, that is a Carnival cruise ship...just kidding}

{Closest I was getting to the edge, was a little sick at this point..hence the pastiness}

{Felt like we were on top of the world and it was so quiet up there}

{The water was like glass, it was so calm}


Fun fact I learned after going.

The peak of Cap Canaille is over 1300 ft tall making it the tallest seaside cliffs in France and the 4th tallest in Europe.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Les volets...

 While browsing the Internet the other day,  I stumbled upon a picture over at House of Turquoise of a house in the South of France. Anything that says 'South of France' peaks my curiosity to see if it is anywhere close to where we are. Come to find out, it is over near Monaco, not too far but not close enough to do a drive-by either. However, this is the house...

The first things I noticed were the the swimming pool, the entertaining area, the perfectly manicured grass and how I would die for an outdoor space like that with out bugs...uhhh hummm Atlanta. Then I scrolled down to the comments to see if anyone knew exactly what street this house was on. Might not make a trip just for the house but the next time we are in Monaco, I want to be prepared. While I got a pretty good idea of the vicinity of the house, I couldn't help but noticing the many comments on the shutters ( or les volets). So I scrolled back up and gave the shutters a second look since they didn't resonate with me the first time. And I'll be damned, those are some pretty fabulous shutters. Then I got to thinking.... why did something as pretty as that breeze right by me?  Then it hit me, shutters like that are a dime a dozen here. I'm not saying that in a 'they're nothing to look at' kind of way, I am saying it in a 'I am immune to that stuff since we see it every day' kind of way. Sad huh? Kind of reminds me of visiting my mom in San Diego and eating outside overlooking the harbor and downtown. For many, that is a once in a lifetime view. But for my mom, it is a Wednesday afternoon. Or when we are up at Cape Cod visiting Shaun's family, and every house (including the Feins') has the most unbelievably beautiful hydrangeas in every color you can imagine, but for them, it is nothing out of the ordinary. We kind of become immune to the things that we see or do everyday, and so that leads me back to the shutters. I decided today to take a walk around our neighborhood and 'attempt' to look at things from a visitors point of view, to see them as if I don't see them everyday driving to the grocery store, taking the trashcan down to the bottom of the street or on my usual run route. And I have to admit, it was pretty cool. I took my camera with me to snap some of our shutters here in Toulon. As you will see, they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. The one thing they all have in common: they are fully functioning shutters. These aren't your plastic Home Depot ones where you permanently drill them to the exterior of your house for decoration....cause I wouldn't know anything about that now, would I?  Enjoy...and if you want to see the rest of the Monaco house (interior etc.), click here.

Last but not least, the shutters on our back doors that lead out to the patio/backyard

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


     Last May, while the guys were on road trips, Allyson and I went to the beach... a lot. We live about 5 kilometers or 2 miles from many beaches so it was never too much of a hassle to go.  Now, I have two criteria for actually going in the ocean: the water has to be clear and it has to be warm. Like, warm enough where it doesn't take your breath away...I'm talking to you San Diego. This criteria works two-fold. First, it eliminates most places since there are a handful of places like that and secondly, if I do find somewhere like that, it will keep me in my comfort zone.  ( I realize there are more than a handful of places like that exist but for story purposes... you get the picture.) 

{ Clear waters}

     The water here is clear, glass clear. Check. And I had a sneaking feeling that since it had been beach weather since late March, the water was warm enough to actually swim in.  My feeling was confirmed when I stuck my toe in and my first reaction wasn't to pee. Check again. So in the water it was. In all seriousness, it was so hot that I welcomed a refreshing dip in the water.  Come to find out Allyson had the same criteria as me.....must be a girl thing. I know that if I see a shark, I at least want to have the opportunity to do my best Phelps impression and haul ass out of there. So, we decided not only to go in the water but to also rent paddle boards. It was great AND I would like to add that neither one of us fell.  We kind of stuck somewhat close to shore, about 100 yards out, for fear that if we did fall, we were close enough to land for some one to don their best red Baywatch swimsuit, cue the music, start the slow motion run and rescue us. It was the most relaxing afternoon. There was little to no breeze which allowed us to see straight to the ocean's floor. Like discovering hidden gems on our bikes, we vowed to return with the guys and fortunately we met a kind man who had many paddle boards that he offered to us for use when they returned from the road. Which we took him up on....

{The point where we realized we were going to run into each other}

     For the guys, it wasn't as smooth sailing as it was for us. I don't know whether it was their size or what, but something was off. In the beginning, they both spent most of the time in the water. The funny thing was when one fell, the other fell soon after. I chalk that up to mimicking the other person when you are watching them do something. (We've all seen that soccer coach on the sidelines looking like an idiot kicking that imaginary ball)  I soon figured out I couldn't be any where near them, not just the jerking around and try to balance themselves, but the splash and little wave that the fall sent my way. After 10 minutes or so, it seemed they got the hang of it and could relax a bit. There was the occasional fall followed by many giggles from shore (not the most graceful of falls), but for the most part, we all enjoyed the afternoon in the sun. We haven't been yet this year but when the water warms back up, you bet we will be back out there and I'm expecting big things from Shaun this time since he is no longer a newbie.

{Shaky start...keeping my distance}

{Feelin' really good about himself}

Saturday, January 14, 2012


     It's a little slow around here right now, literally. Shaun has thrown his back out and can only move at a snail's pace. It's not only a shame for Shaun but also because the weather has been super nice, which got me reminiscing a little of last spring/summer here. So I thought that since we did so many fun things last year, that I will do a few posts re-capping some of our favorite times here in Toulon.   Let me start off with saying I had the perfect partner in crime last year, Allyson. She was down for anything, no responsibilities and had no problem making an ass out of herself, sounds familiar huh? She is a professional basketball player so she only could be here from the end of March on and coincidentally, when she arrived, so did the hot weather. The first day I met her, we went and bought folding bikes (at the grocery store none the less). I have always had this vision of riding a bike through the city in a long skirt with a basket full of fresh vegetables from the outdoor market in the front (so cliché). Needless to say, I had been eyeing a bike forever. (Little did I know that a long skirt can and will get caught in the spokes/pedals and riding in the city is more dangerous than I thought as I did get hit by a scooter once. For the record, it was not my fault, the bike held up beautifully, I did not fall and I would like to forget about that as quickly as possible.)  The hard part is where we live. We live in a neighborhood full of hills so at some point you were going to be in an uphill battle. That is where the folding bikes come in, or Topbikes as we called them. You put it in the car, drive to an area where you want to ride (one preferably with no hills or scooters), pull that bad boy out, un-fold it and go. It solved all our problems and looked a little like a 'low-rider' too, double bonus. The guys would meet at the gym for practice and we would take one car and drive down to the beach and bike all day. We would go to markets, wind through old residential streets, discover places we would vow to return to with the guys, stop for lunch, try to pop wheelies, in other words, go wherever the bikes took us. The boardwalk seemed to go for miles and we were more than happy to follow it. We used those bikes so much that we became 'locals' at the food market down on the beach. Sadly, Allyson is not back this year, or rather they were one of the many players affected by the poor management here, so it is just me, myself and 2 Topbikes...hmmmm, wonder if I could get Shaun and his 200lbs on one of those, after all, it did hold up well against the scooter.

After a few hours ride we stumbled upon a hidden beach..

This being the beach.

Another stop on the way.

Who knew Allyson was a tour guide for Mount Faron also? Notice, the walking stick, took us 20 minutes just to find the right one.

Don't know if you can tell but we are really high, like 2,000 ft high and I'm about 2 feet from the edge. I may seem calm but I'm not.
Port at Sanary sur Mer where we stopped and ate many times.

The Wednesday market at Sanary.

Remember my last post about the clothes that sometimes don't flatter?? Well I had to give it up for this lady cause not only did she wear this, but she wore it PROUD.