With so much to write about, I really shouldn’t be taking the time to gloat over all the food we had in France, but I feel much less like making responsible, detailed entries about how impressive Scotland is and much more like writing about something frivolous… like French desserts! Steve tends to be rather Puritan about food, or about the pleasures of eating, in any case. In his view, food as a way to make yourself happy is probably one of the worst approaches possible. This is a stark difference between us, as I am far too attuned to the pleasures of food to abstain. Well, I’ll see how many people read this entry and decide which side you guys are on!
French desserts are pretty much legendary. Everyone knows and loves croissants, pain au chocolats, the crème brulées… we sampled a lot of sweets in our two and a half months in France, and while some of them were very well-known to us, some were completely novel! Here goes an attempt at a rundown. Continue reading Death by chocolate.→
When we arrived in Normandy, Murray and Julie half-apologetically told us that there was really very little in this part of the country except agriculture and dairy. And by agriculture, they meant apples. So cows and apples, for short. There are not really any vineyards (Burgandy) or chateaus (the Loire Valley) or skiing (Alps) or even glamorous beaches (Marseilles)… but that was fine with me. Having grown up in New England, I have a healthy respect for apples and cows and otherwise fairly austere pursuits. On the last day of our stay, Murray indulged us in what Normandy had to offer by taking us to a cidery, a small picturesque town, and getting us some of the stinkiest cheese in the world. Continue reading When life gives you apples and cows, make cider and stinky cheese.→
Summer is in full flower in Basse-Normandie, and it has brought the funniest weather I’ve ever seen. Murray and Julie joke that there’s no point to checking the weather forecast (or what the French call the météo), since it always has a bit of everything: we wake up to brisk and sunny mornings that quickly warm up to hot middays, and work through cloudy afternoons interspersed with drizzle against the windowpanes. It usually clears up in time for brilliant sunsets around 10 pm, and true darkness only descends after midnight. We’ve been keeping quite busy, with our animals and our work, but finding time somehow to admire the weather and the landscape around us. Continue reading The dog days of Normandy.→
This is truly an animal house. No frat brothers and no kegs of beer in sight; instead, the denizens are six dogs and two cats, and we are enjoying quiet cups of tea while watching the World Cup. Murray and Julie’s Normandy colombage house is incredibly cozy, and I’m just having a ball sitting here, sipping on some tea and trying to decide which of the dogs to cuddle with or the cats to pet. This is worlds away from where we were this morning, but still every bit as French (kind of) and lovely.
This morning, Steve and I woke up and promptly got about cleaning everything in sight and packing the rest of our things. Yesterday, I had already run errands to replace some of the household goods we had used and to mail off more postcards and a package. We had also done a farewell visit to the park and our favorite boulangerie. Before we knew it, we were on a train speeding out of Lyon. It was really hard to believe as the morning went on, as we carried our things out of the apartment, turned off the gas, and deposited the last of the trash, that we were really leaving. This is the second longest time we’ve spent in any one place, the only one longer being in Taiwan! It’s been hard to say goodbye to all our favorite corners… Lyon is not a must-visit place in France as far as that goes, but it is a most livable and comfortable and nice corner of the country. Continue reading Animal House.→
For the past week or two, I’ve been putting some heroic efforts toward recounting our journeys in early June with our friend Lele, but I’m giving that up for the moment to write a little about the past two days, because they were very special. France is made up of a lot of famous and romantic things, like the Louvre, love locks on the bridges of the Seine, and Roman aqueducts, but it has smaller, more intimate things too. My college classmate Sarah and her boyfriend Sam live and study in Cambridge, England, but they invited us to experience some of those smaller things this weekend. Sam’s family is French, from Haute-Savoie near the Swiss border, and his grandparents still live in the same town where his mother grew up, in Montchanin-les-Mines, or more commonly just called Monchanin.
On Friday morning, we took the TGV an hour north of Lyon, into the heart of Bourgogne (better known as Burgandy) excited about a short excursion into the French countryside, but unsure of what to expect. At the Le Creusot-Montceau TGV station, the train made a short stop before it proceeded on to Paris, and we got picked up by Sam and Sarah in the old blue Peugeot. Ten minutes away, we turned into a street in Montchanin by the impressive name of Impasse de Chateau d’Eau, and were welcomed by Sam’s grandparents. Continue reading Montchanin and the Chateau d’Eau.→
Steve and I arrived back in Lyon this afternoon, and were more than grateful to climb back into our apartment, open all the windows, and let in the wonderful summer breezes. It’ll be a day or two before I recover sufficiently to start writing about our time in Barcelona and Paris, though, so here’s something of our time in Paris to keep you occupied until more stories and photos go up!
On Sunday, we hung out with our friend Dan from Chicago and Olivia, who is one of my longtime high school friends. The four of us had dinner at Père Louis, a great restaurant close to the Panthéon. It also happened to show a World Cup game with France, which we were able to watch parts of, and then stayed to see the end after we had finished our delicious meal. The World Cup generates of course much more excitement than it does in the US, because soccer (or rather, football) is pretty much the biggest sport in all of these countries here. The enthusiasm is truly infectious! That evening, we watched France vs. Honduras, which was so overwhelmingly one-sided that the crowd felt inclined to cheer Honduras’s futile attempts. The French were victorious, 3-0, amidst excited cheers. I took a quick video of the French singing their national anthem, the Marseillaise, so enjoy! Allez les bleus!
I’m writing a very quick post from the magical land of Paris before I blast off for one more day here. Why is it magical? It must be because there is a roosting pigeon not one meter away from me. Outside the tiny balcony of my friend Dan’s apartment in the north of Paris, in the small sheltered space formed by the corner of the wall and the opened shutters of the balcony doors, a pigeon whom Dan has nicknamed Madame Verdurin is currently roosting with her two (or more) white eggs. Madame Verdurin herself is a character from Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, a doorstopper of a novel which I’ve not had the honor to read yet, and this avian namesake of hers is one of the small things about Paris that is charming.
Magical it is in other realms as well — I have liked this city much better than I thought I was going to. Many nations’ capitals are busy, dirty, frustrating, expensive, and too big for comfort. Paris is quite a few of those things, and most definitely expensive, but at the same time, it is really quite beautiful too. We have been roaming, walking, eating, and seeing things non-stop. Steve and I are practically asleep on our poor feet these days, and fatigue sets in so easily. If I lived in a novel of the late 1800s, my acquaintances would say that I had a run-down constitution and needed to go out to the countryside for a few weeks’ rest and recuperation. Luckily, neither of us have gotten sick, but we are certainly heading back to Lyon tomorrow with a sense of relief. Continue reading A roosting pigeon.→
Written on the TGV Narbonne, France to Barcelona, Spain Saturday, June 7, 20h00
I am writing from the train once more. At the underground station where we are stopped temporarily, “Benvenidos a Girona/Benvinguts a Girona/ Welcome to Girona/ Bienvenue a Girona” scrolls across the display screens. We have crossed into Catalonia, the region of Spain at its northwest which some would say overlaps with French territory as well. I haven’t seen “Salida” on an exit sign since we left Chicago, and the signs in Spanish simultaneously convey that we are in a new country, but somehow echo memories of walking around Pilsen or Little Village in Chicago, where the Mexican community is the majority.
Outside, at first glance, the landscape does not look different. Our train has tunneled through the Pyrenees that divide the two countries, but it is still hilly and mountainous, with small villages and towns. Our train is full of English speaking visitors, some young college-age girls and some older English retirees. Steve and Lele both look tuckered out by our travels, and doze a little despite the bright evening sun. It is 8 pm, but of course, because we are traveling further west in the same time zone, we can look forward to more and more hours of sunlight in the evening. Tonight, I predict the sun will set around 10 pm. Continue reading Crossing the Pyrenees.→
I felt like I have barely slowed down in the last three days. Our days have been filled with hiking, making food, driving around the south of France, talking, debating, and listening to music, punctuated by brief stretches of silence gazing into the endless mountains or the blue, blue surf of the Mediterranean sea. But here is a bit of free time, before we check out for the night, so I will try my best to recount our trip thus far.
Two days ago, we drove out of Lyon as a party of three, joined by our friend Lele, who is a friend from college and from Chicago. We’ve been planning this trip in France for a while to coincide with his vacation, and thus far, it has been quite memorable! We met him at Part-Dieu, which is Lyon’s main TGV station, and breezed on south for a few hours, exchanging stories and updates from Chicago, until we came to the Pont du Gard.
I had been researching this Roman-age aqueduct since I realized it lay on the road between Lyon and our first destination of Perpignan. It was an absolutely thrilling experience to see in person this kind of historical monument, which is so austere in its beauty but simple in its function – it was built as a part of a 50 kilometer aqueduct carrying water to the city of Nîmes, and bridges a wide gap over a river, and has survived first as a toll bridge and now as a UNESCO world heritage site. Some of the things we have seen in the world improve with intimacy – the closer you get, the more you are awed and moved by the structure you see before your eyes and feel under your fingers. Others, most notably for us like the Taj Mahal, are almost better seen from afar, like a scene out of a storybook or a dream. The Pont du Gard is one of those former structures, and walking across the bridge that was built parallel to it, dipping our feet in the river beneath it, and climbing the hillside paths on either side that bring you so close you can touch the stones of the arches truly makes you realize that you are standing in the presence of something that has been here for nearly a thousand years and will perhaps be here for a thousand more. Continue reading Between the mountains and the ocean.→
Well I woke up in mid afternoon cause that’s when it all hurts the most I dream I never know anyone at the party and I’m always the host If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast
– “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” by Counting Crows
Counting Crows is one of my favorite bands from the ’90s, which is also to say one of my favorite bands ever. I thought of this song because tomorrow, we’re moving south down to the coast of the Mediterranean. Tomorrow, we’re picking up our friend Lele from Chicago at the train station in a nifty little Renault Clio or whatever the Europcar office sees fit to bestow upon us, and Steve will get to try out his manual transmission driving skills which have been rusting for about a decade. And we will be on our way to the Pont du Gard and eventually to Rivesaltes, a little town right outside of Perpignan, the biggest city in the very southwestern corner of France, within sight of the Pyrenees and Spain. Continue reading you can never escape/ you can only move south down the coast→