Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alsace Road Trip (part 2)

To add a few bits to the Alsace Road Trip Weekend:

The morning after our squatting camping experience, fog had settled over the fields and really gave an eerie feeling to start the day:

Bridgette, my navigator extradinaire, led us successfully to Riquewihr, a little medieval town that has kept its appearance for a few hundred years, as well as its walls. I couldn't help but feel like I was transferred to Disneyland while walking around the tiny cobblestone streets with innkeepers and tourists. We saw no dwarfs or elves, unfortunately.

And we caught some good sunlight beaming into Saint Étienne de Metz. This is truly a huge, glorious cathedral. Almost too much.

Slideshow of our weekend.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Bridgette and I attended the SAPV Thanksgiving dinner last night, which was held at Au Chapeau Gris. Items we learned from last night:
  • Allegedly the pilgrims discovered America with Columbus sailing the ocean blue in the Mayflower.
    (These are architecture students. Not history buffs.)
  • One can draw direct comparisons between the Native Americans / Pilgrims and the French / American students.
  • Squanto was a good guy.
  • A French interpretation of Thanksgiving cuisine is delicious.
  • The youngest professor gets to make a speech. Guess who that was?
  • A 7.30pm dinner means show up at 8pm, sit down at 8.30pm, start eating around 9pm, then have to rush out to catch a train at 11.15pm.
Besides the abrupt ending to the night, we had a great time chatting with the students and other guests and enjoying some American tradition. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Afternoon in Chambord

(Wrapping up the Saumur trip...)

The Saumur weekend trip ended with an afternoon visit to Chambord. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

And they will sketch. Always.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pharmacies - WTF

Every now and then, there’s one of the WTF moments…as we like to say, ‘What the France?!’ Our cultures have their differences, and that’s all well and good, but sometimes you have to just shake your heads and let out a confused ‘WTF?!’. We’ll be sharing these as they come up, but for now, here’s some randomness we just learned.

I’m reading a book called ‘At Home in Paris – Your Guide to living in the Capital,’ and there’s a section on pharmacies. Luckily, France hasn’t been overrun with Walgreens and CVS’s, but you will find the French version scattered everywhere throughout the city. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“Identified by a green cross and governed by a strict set of legal regulations, pharmacists are highly trained professionals who do more that simply dispense prescribed medicines. They can give medical advice on minor medical complaints…and will also administer basic first aid. For instance, if you happen to fall on a sidewalk and cut your knee, go to the nearest pharmacy for treatment…”

Ok, that’s cool, right? But then, continuing on…

“ …Lastly, Pharmacists are also knowledgeable about mushrooms. If you pick mushrooms and aren’t sure if they’re edible, bring them to your pharmacy for identification and advice.”


We hit up the market again last Sunday, which is always an exciting and overwhelming experience. For anyone who loves to cook, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. The French take fresh food seriously, and market day is like a religion. Hoards of people swarm and push and wander through as venders yell, then yell louder. God knows what the hell they are saying, but it certainly pumps up the enthusiasm. It’s said that most of the time, the French just go to the market to see what to buy, then figure out what to make later. The trick, though, is finding those guys who are actually local farmers, not just some schmo who imports most of his stuff. We finally found a stand touting a huge homemade sign saying they were from Normandy, and we had to go back almost a full booth’s length just to get in line. Long line. They must be good. We stocked up on apples, pears, a cooking pumpkin, potatoes, carrots, and some lettuce (yes, the items we actually know how to say which can be a limiting factor at times) then pointed to the leeks.  We keep seeing everyone buy these things, and we’re thinking, what the heck do you do with those? But hey, if these food savvy locals dig ‘em, then they must be good, right? We bought the last of their stock, and the girl laughed at us as she taught us how to say it in French. ‘poireau’. It’s a tricky one. So for anyone wondering, it’s like a big fragrant green onion, and god does it smell good. I recently made some potato/leek soup that was to die for….definitely good comfort food for a cold rainy/snowy day. Give it a try, let me know what you think.


Coming home one night, we kept getting a whiff of something…something rotting? dying? Sewage? We opened the fridge, and man it was fresh. As Adam gave me that ‘what the hell did you buy’ kind of look, I sniffed around everything, but it was hard to tell with all the smells of fresh food melding into one. Then the culprit – the Pont-l’Èvêque – and unassuming square of cheese that had the same consistency of brie. This was more like brie’s older brother who liked to kick people in the ass. There was no warning label on the package, only cute little figures of farm girls and cows in Normandy. We ended up tasting it, and it was actually pretty interesting….not disgusting…but not something to chow down on. So we both had a taste, decided it could be left to live a while longer (vs. being executed straight to the dumpster), and we threw it into solidary confinement on the balcony in it’s own Tupperware. Thank god for moms who bring you that kind of stuff! Tupperware here is insanely expensive.  (Though I’m sure French people never buy enough at once to have to store things later) It’s also probably blasphemy to put riping cheese into any such thing. I will say, though, we had very few pigeons out near our sill as the cheese sat alone, thinking about what it had done. Long story short, we never got back to eating the cheese. It got more pissed the longer it sat in the Tupperware and let out its full revenge when we opened it again….we almost died that night. Lesson learned.

Mom and JoAnn's Visit

My Mom and Aunt JoAnn recently came for a visit from Nov. 4-15 to do the power tour of Paris as well as give me an excuse to get out and about and get used to the city. Unfortunately, upon their arrival, I got slammed with a horrible head cold and had to hold my head high and trudge through. No it wasn’t that bad, just bad timing to feel lethargic and already be whittling away at my scant supply of cold medicine only two weeks in. In any case, Paris stood no chance. We saw just about every highlight in town including all the tourist sites, gift shops, museums, the market, Versailles, the city sewers, and even the archeological dig under Notre Dame; not to mention…more importantly, dozens of boulangeris, patisseries, chocolatiers, salon de teas, wine shops and of course cafés. This is the city where calorie counting stops, and you learn to just indulge once in awhile and enjoy. Yes, girls trip of the century that I think everyone needed, and I think a great introduction of Europe for JoAnn. To top it off, we even headed to Germany for the weekend to visit our cousin, Scott, and his family as we stayed in their luxuriously renovated 200 yr old(?) barn. I will say, though, despite frying both their curling irons, those two did an excellent job fitting right in. Each learned a bit of French, could decifer a lot of menus, were able to figure out the Metro, quickly got the groove as to how to buy things at the outdoor market, got a taste of the high-speed rails, learned probably more history about the area than I can remember, took enough pictures to last a lifetime, and hell, just made it to/from/and throughout Europe and back all on their own. A huge success.

Alsace Wine Route

 Wow, this seems like forever ago with all that’s been going on lately. Just a quick relapse for ya. After night of surviving the forest, we headed east to the Alsace Wine Route that stretches from Marlenheim near Strasbourg to Thann near Mulhouse. This 170km of windy roads and roundabouts are pure heaven for any wine lover as it’s packed with gorgeous countryside, vineyards, wineries, tasting cavs, and medieval villages…all sandwiched between the Vosges mountains and the Rhine. It is definitely recommended to have your own car for this kind of trip. The interesting part was the tasting aspect. Some of these ‘Cavs’ or tasting rooms were classy established places while others were in some guy’s basement. A few times we turned around and got right back in our car because it literally seemed we were supposed to ring some guys doorbell and go in and sit with grandma in their living room. We had no idea how this all worked. So yes, there are literally 100s of places along the road you can stop and have a free taste or ten. The portions that were given also caught us by surprise, for some places were giving us half glasses for each taste. So unlike our Michigan bus tour where the sommeliers are just plain stingy. Can’t blame them, I guess, when they have huge busloads all coming in at once. Noticing this, we decided it best to at least buy one bottle wherever we stopped, which actually to our surprise, didn’t really break the bank. Of course, you could buy super fancy stuff, but they also had typical wines that were affordable and probably tasted just as good as anything fancy. Very comparable to Trader Joe’s, we’ll say. The best part, though, was the ability to be able to practice some French. A lot of the people serving us didn’t speak English in the first place, so it was great to learn some new vocab and gain a bit more confidence for the next place we stopped. No one ever looked annoyed with us, and usually helped us stumble through a description of what we wanted to taste. I told Adam that this was how they needed to teach French classes; learn a few words, then go out, taste some wines, loosen us, and use that vocab!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Leaf Peeping

A friend of mine from work once asked where a good place to go leaf peeping would be...a term him and his east coast friends use to more or less see the fall colors. This entire trip definitely had some of the best fall colors I've seen in a long long time...totally worth the long haul in our little Chevy Spark rental that took us all the way from Paris to the Alsace region... the area right at the border of Germany. Sorry Chicago, the French countryside has you beat in terms of leaf-peeping-capability ; )


And We're Back

Now to update you all on the going ons around here. Back to our first road trip we took two weeks ago from Paris to the Alsace region to hit the wine trail. As our travels began, somehow we took a wrong turn heading out of Paris and realized we were heading straight south instead of straight east as needed. We first thought, damn...then decided we'd push forward and take a more unexpected scenic route. As we wound through small towns and beautiful countryside, it was our plan to hopefully find a campground along the way to crash for the night. We had about two hours until dark and low and behold, the glorious brown sign with a tent appeared and we excitedly headed in that direction. The sense of relief was immense....until we reached our destination and found the entrance to the grounds locked up. Pondering for a moment as to the validity/legality of hopping the fence and camping anyways, we decided to press on and hopefully either find another campground down the road or find a discreet patch of forest we could hopefully drive to. Alas, no luck. Then we found this tiny road with a patch of trees in the distance, and we went for it. It almost looked too good to be true as there were wide open paths within and large clearings that had been created. Not having much else of a choice, we popped the tent just as we lost our last bit of light....hoping that no one would be lurking through the forest that night and find us. Though a peaceful setting, it was a bit terrifying just laying there in the dark listening to the sounds around us. The creepiest thing was the fact that once night fell, the entire forest fell silent. Absolutely silent. The simplest crunch of a leaf outside our thin walls was absolutely deafening. Even more so to hear the occasional footsteps of critters walking by. Sleep was a bit restless, but as the sun rose, and we stepped out of the forest, we saw we had been hidden the entire night in a huge cloud of fog. You couldn't even see the main road from our patch our trees. We survived the night and decided to get the hell outa there as quickly as possible.....just as the sound of a pack of dogs in the distance came tumbling our way. Onward....

Friday, November 4, 2011

No Bears

No, bears did not eat us. We had a successful weekend trip, and we now have family in town, so posts may be sparse over the next few days ... weeks? Be back asap.