Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oops!

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Thursday, March 10, 2011

Craig and I had planned to arise early for a day trip to Chambord, since Darcy would be at work all day, but I had forgotten to set the alarm. With the shutters closed, our room was quite dark and we didn't wake until 11:00! We were very disappointed, but set out to make the most of our extra day in Orléans. 

We decided to do a bit of shopping and took the tram across town to Auchan. There, we ate lunch at Flunch, which is next door to the mega-market. We managed to order without holding up the line too badly. I like the way you can choose your salad, main course, and dessert and then have as many side dishes as you wish. No one ever goes away hungry! 

In Auchan, we wandered the aisles, looking for items to take back to the U.S. I found some wonderful scented soaps and a fabulous tea that was soon to become my favorite. We also put together a tool box for Darcy. She had not even the most basic household tools at her apartment, and was badly in need of those things. 

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the wonderful little bakery at Halles Chatelet and picked up some pastries to enjoy with our afternoon coffee. The caramel eclair I chose was one of the best pastries I have ever tasted! Craig liked it, too, and he also ate a bouchon, which was like a baba au rhum without the custard. Why can't we find such delights back home? 


What to choose?

After Darcy and Mathieu were both finished with work for the day, we all crowded into Mathieu's little car for the two-hour drive to Bitry, where we would have dinner with Mathieu's family. This was something we were very much looking forward to, as we had dined with them in the past and had a wonderful time. 

It was twilight when we arrived. We were immediately greeted by two very enthusiastic Boxer dogs. We had met Roxy on our previous visit, and were now being introduced to her half-grown pup, Rouky. Mathieu's parents, Muriel and Thierry, and younger brother Gregoire were soon welcoming us back into their home. After greetings and kisses all around, we were ushered into the dining room, where the table was set with a beautiful floral arrangement surrounded by charming accents of wooden mushrooms and nuts. The meal began with champagne which was mixed with a green apple liqueur. This was something I had never tried before and I really liked it. We nibbled from small dishes of cashews, olives, crackers, and some hot, delicious little puff pastry appetizers which were filled with a variety of flavors from tomato to salmon. 


Thierry pours the wine as we begin our delightful meal.

We had begun a lively discussion of the days events as we moved on to the next course. A large tureen of Pot au Feu was brought to the table. Muriel ladled up servings of vegetables in a rich, beef broth fragrant with herbs. As before, a different wine was served with almost every course. We slowly savored our soup as we talked and told them of our misfortune of having overslept and missed our trip to the castle.

Next, Thierry brought out from the kitchen a large platter of the tender beef which had been cooked with the vegetables. This was served with a flavorful, dark rustic bread, honey mustard, and fresh butter from Brittany. It was scrumptious! I really didn't feel that I could eat another bite when the cheese course was served. Since I am supposed to limit my intake of dairy products, I only nibbled a tiny bit of the cheese, but Craig certainly enjoyed it. 

Last, but certainly not least, Mathieu came walking into the room with a lovely raspberry-cream cake which had a candle stuck in the center! Everyone began to sing "Happy Birthday" to Craig, much to his surprise. Our travel day had been his birthday, so we had not had a chance to celebrate it, and he was touched by their thoughtful gesture. They had gifts for both of us - a bottle of Muscat, a cute pizza serving set, and a huge bag of walnuts from their own tree; a tree which they had brought from Brittany years ago. Those were the best-tasting walnuts ever!


It was as delicious as it was beautiful!

It was such a wonderful evening, and we will never forget the warmth and hospitality shown to us. I am grateful that Darcy and Mathieu translated so well and so rapidly for all of us. Our conversation had flowed very smoothly, and it seemed as if we were all speaking the same language. 

RECIPE: Here is a version of Pot au Feu made in a crock pot.
  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Lazy Day

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We had a great day today, though we didn't really do all that much in the way of "touristy" stuff. Darcy had to work this morning, so Craig and I slept late, had breakfast of - what else - pastries and coffee, and then walked over to Carrefour to do some shopping. We meandered around the mall until it was time for lunch, and just grabbed a couple of sandwiches at a little place there. 
Rue de la Republique, across from Carrefour in Orleans, France.

Darcy met us at the hotel in early afternoon and we accompanied her back to Carrefour so that she could do her shopping for the dinner that she was preparing for us that evening. We then met up with Mathieu, and all went to the museum to see Catherine, Mathieu's former boss, whom we had been hoping to meet for quite some time. We had heard many nice things about her. She is very sweet, and speaks excellent English. 


Yes, I photograph doors.

At Darcy and Mathieu's apartment, the four of chatted for a while over snacks and drinks. Darcy, Mathieu, and Craig then left for an excursion to a cat shelter across town. I remained behind so that I could make some phone calls home and check my email. At the rescue shelter, a very beautiful, blue-eyed cat named Azur chose Darcy and Mathieu, climbing into both of their laps in turn, and making them understand that he was theirs. How could they resist?  I was sorry that I would not get to meet Azur, as he had to remain at the shelter for a few more days. Craig had taped a video of the cat and the shelter, so at least I got to see what he looks like.

Dinner was an enjoyable meal. It was a raclettes party! Remy and a friend, Antoine, joined us and we really had fun. The raclettes machine is a table-top oven into which small skillets heaped with cheese are placed. The top of the oven is used to warm the cooked potatoes. The bubbly, melted cheese is then poured over a plate of potatoes and charcuterie, or deli meat, with a side of cornichons, which are tangy little pickles. Some people like to also add a cooked egg to their dish. It's a casual and very social way to dine, somewhat like a fondue party, and is popular in France, Switzerland, and Belgium. 


The raclettes oven. Try it if you get the chance!

We played Pit after dinner, which is a very noisy card-trading game. The French are somewhat reserved, and I was afraid that this rowdy game might be a bit much for them. But everyone seemed to be having fun, and due to the thick stone walls of the apartment, we didn't upset any neighbors! 


We're Back!

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday March 8, 2011

We arrived in Orléans from Bretagne on Tuesday. It had been a long travel day, but we soon felt very much at home. It was good to see familiar places. Not much had changed in the two years since our first visit. Our train trip today was beautiful. It was another gorgeous, sunny day. Craig and I felt awake and alert. Jet-lag gone! 

We had begun our morning the usual way - with delightful pastries. Craig chose a baba au rhum topped with fruit, Darcy enjoyed another beignet, while I tried something new. It was called a paille, which means "straw", and it did resemble straw a bit, with its light, crisp, almost hollow layers. Sandwiched in the middle was a layer of raspberry jam. It was very tasty!


Our petit déjeuner.

Craig and Darcy in the square 
outside the hotel in Carnac, France.

After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and shopped a bit for souvenirs before calling a taxi to take us to the train depot in Auray. I enjoyed the incredibly scenic views of the French countryside as the train sped to Paris. We passed many quaint villages and farms, and cattle-studded fields intersected by lively streams. We saw at least three small chateaux, which were very picturesque. We had stored some of our luggage at Gare Montparnasse, the train depot in Paris, so we picked it up, and then hailed another taxi to Gare d'Austerlitz, and boarded the train which would take us to Orléans. A quick taxi ride later, we were at the hotel. Whew!

Our hotel of choice this time was the Jackotel, which was located a mere three-minute walk from Darcy and Mathieu's apartment in the ancient part of town near the Loire. The hotel had a rustic charm and the staff were friendly, though not one of them spoke English. We were certain we could muddle through.


Our cozy room at Hôtel Jackotel.

The ancient church, St. Aignan, is just across from the hotel.

That night we ate kebab sandwiches and hot, crisp fries at Le Grec Gourmand. Mathieu's brother, Remy, was able to join us. It was great to see him again. The food was plentiful and inexpensive. We were a bit worn out from traveling and were soon ready to return to our cozy hotel.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Mysterious Alignments of Carnac

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, March 7, 2011

No fair! I awoke with a migraine. What a rough start to the day. I was very glad to have some decent medication. While I waited for the meds to kick in, Craig and Darcy walked over to a nearby bakery and returned with wonderful pastries for breakfast. Darcy and I shared a couple of beignets - one chocolate, one raspberry - and they were a delight. Craig had his usual apple pastry, which he said was exceptionally good. We took our time getting ready for the day, and it was mid-morning before we finally left the hotel.

We set out on the nearly two-mile walk to the site of the Alignments of Carnac. It was another gorgeous, sunny day, though a bit brisk at first. The standing stones were simply astonishing. Even after thousands of years, they are still shrouded in mystery. Thousands of the megaliths stand in rows, as if they are marching down to the sea. There is a legend that these are Roman soldiers turned to stone by Merlin. Since it was early in the season, we understood that we could actually have entry into the fenced area which encircles the menhirs. All we needed to do was locate the gates marked with small flags. We were never able to find those special entrances, but that did not stop us from enjoying the spectacular views of the ancient stones. They are definitely awe-inspiring.


The Alignments of Carnac, Brittany, France. Definitely worth a visit.

Many of the boulders are over 10 feet tall.

We found the visitors center to be very interesting. There we learned the theory of how the enormous boulders that make up the Alignments might have been put into place.There was also a large map that detailed the layout of the megaliths, which are a prominent feature of the landscape for miles. We witnessed a strange sight as we were coming out of the gift shop. It was a long column of fuzzy caterpillars, crawling nose-to-tail across the parking lot. It must have been at least 15 feet long where it disappeared into the grass. I later learned that this type of caterpillar can cause a burning rash if handled. Oh, and I just love the French word for caterpillar. It's chenille!


A long line of chenilles.

After a time, we were becoming hungry and a bit tired. We had seen signs for a creperie up ahead, but were disappointed to find that it was closed. We walked back into town and purchased some sandwiches made with fresh baguettes from the bakery across the square. They were wonderful. And so was my dessert of a delightful coffee eclair! We played cards in our hotel room for a while after lunch. We had brought "Pit" from home, which Darcy was unfamiliar with, and she really enjoyed it, so we gave her the game to keep.

For dinner that evening, we had planned to go out for pizza. We arrived at the restaurant only to discover that it was closed. We had seen another pizzeria around the corner, but soon found that it was closed as well. We began to walk the picturesque, cobblestone streets in search of any open restaurant, and finally found a tiny brasserie that looked promising. It was a charming little place, very narrow, with just a few small tables and a little bar. There was jazz playing softly. The menu was small, but we made our selections of grilled duck breast for Darcy and filet from Normandy for Craig and myself, which the waiter assured us was sublime. The beef was served with a tasty green-peppercorn sauce, fried potatoes, and an interesting salad with a horseradish dressing. We also enjoyed some wine with our meal. It was indeed a delicious and memorable feast. Tuesday, we would leave Carnac, but it had been a treat to visit this delightful seaside village.


A farm cart in a field near Carnac, France.

Travel Tip: Keep a travel journal, even if all you have time for is a brief outline of what you have seen and done. It will help jog your memory later. Jet lag can steal those memories if you don't have a record of them, and photos aren't enough.


It's Better With Butter.

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, March 5, 2011

We had gone to bed early on Saturday night, worn out from all the traveling. But after a good nights sleep, we were ready to explore. We were very glad that Darcy had brought along her electric kettle. It enabled us to wake up with a cup of coffee before going out to find some breakfast. After our pastries and more coffee, we began to walk in the direction of the beach. I enjoyed looking at the old stone houses along the way, many of them with the traditional bright blue shutters of Brittany. The boulder-strewn beach was beautiful with the morning sun glinting on the water. I would never have imagined that my first contact with the Atlantic ocean would be from "across the pond". 


Darcy and Craig on the beach at Carnac.

We began to meander back toward the center of Carnac, and found a cute little place in which to have lunch. It was decorated inside with a nautical theme, and as it was a bit early for lunch, it was uncrowded. We chose grillettes, which are tasty open-faced grilled sandwiches made with hearty, rustic bread. Craig ordered one with egg, cheese, and jambon cru, which is a bit like proscuitto. Darcy and I each selected a sandwich made with lardons, tomato, cheese, oregano, and olive oil. They were quite tasty. My lunch was accompanied by a Breton cola, which I really liked, while Craig and Darcy had a dry cider. 


The delightful grillette.

After lunch, we decided to walk down toward the site of the Alignments of Carnac. It was a long walk, but very pretty, with lots of old houses and beautiful gardens. Soon, we began to see some of the mysterious, standing stones. We also discovered a charming pathway through the woods that was walled on either side with rough, mossy stones. We followed the little lane until it became too muddy and we were forced to turn back. There was a brisk breeze blowing in, and the evening was drawing near, so we turned back toward the hotel once again.


A lovely, old stone wall on a pathway in Carnac.

Our first glimpse of the standing stones.

We rested in the hotel room for a while, watching a sitcom on the laptop. When we finally went out to look for a place to have  dinner, we found only a few restaurants open. We chose Chez Marie again, and did not regret our decision. Craig ordered the Tartiflette, which was what I had enjoyed so much the night before. Darcy had a gallette made with spinach, ham, egg, and cheese. My selection was ham, cheese, egg, and tomato. Yummy! This time, we ordered dessert crepes as well, or at least Darcy and I did. We both selected a delicious chocolate-orange crepe which was so good we almost licked the plate! As we were waiting for our crepes, we were having a discussion about Breton crepes and wondered just why they were so much better than the crepes in other parts of France. Is it the fresh, local ingredients? The buckwheat? The famed Brittany butter? Darcy was seated in such a way that she had a slight view into the kitchen. As we were talking, she said, "I think they are making our dessert now. No, wait, they just put down a block of cheese, so that can't be it." Then she got an incredulous look on her face and said, "That wasn't cheese. That was BUTTER! That IS our dessert!" So now at least part of the mystery was solved. Butter, and loads of it. The key to a true Breton crepe.


Friday, November 22, 2013

A Visit to Brittany

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, March 5, 2011 

So much has happened since our last visit to France. Darcy has chosen to remain there to pursue her Master's Degree and to be with Mathieu. That has meant many changes for all of us, but we are happy for her. She is following her heart and living the dream! It hasn't been easy. Work permits, visa problems, and other stumbling blocks have caused her a bit of stress, but things seem to be going smoothly for our daughter now.

On this day, we were off to Bretagne, or Brittany, France for a new adventure. Darcy met us at the airport in Paris, and it was so good to see her again! We made our way to the Montparnasse train station, where we had to wait a couple of hours before departing for Carnac by way of Auray. It was very chilly in the station, and we were happy to find a warm, little cafe in which to have coffee and pastries while we caught up with Darcy's news. She seems to be so happy, and is looking forward to our visit to Carnac as much as we are. She had been there previously with Mathieu, and wanted to share the experience with us.  

We were very impressed with the TGV. The quiet, gentle motion of this high-speed train was so soothing that we nearly dozed off. However, I was too excited to sleep, even though Craig and I had been traveling for over 20 hours. I enjoyed looking at the lovely scenery while chatting with Darcy. The forsythia was in bloom, as well as some red-bud and dogwood trees. The countryside was beautiful, with hills, streams, forests, and an occasional castle in the distance. We passed through several picturesque villages that looked so inviting.


The wonderful, high-speed train which whisked us to Brittany.

Darcy had packed a lunch for us to enjoy on the train. Our compartment had comfy, high-backed seats with a narrow table in the center. We munched our way across France on chicken salad sandwiches, madelines, and fruit. After lunch we played a game, which helped to pass the time.

I had reserved a hotel in Carnac called "Hotel de la Marine". It wasn't luxurious, but was clean, inexpensive, and had everything we needed. The bedroom was large and so was the bathroom. The beds were comfortable, and there was a table and chairs in the room as well, in addition to a television that we never switched on. We went for a short stroll through the charming village, spotting a couple of creperies that looked promising. Because it was "off-season", the town was uncrowded. The downside was that many business had not yet opened for the tourist trade.


Craig and Darcy, 
standing in front of our hotel in Carnac, France.

We ate an early dinner at a creperie called "Chez Marie". It has been there for 50 years, so we were certain that the food would be good. It was a charming place, warm and welcoming with old stone walls, slab tables, and beamed ceilings. The gallettes we ordered were all fantastic! I finally understood what Darcy meant when she told me that I haven't eaten a crepe until  I have eaten a true Breton crepe. Craig chose a salmon gallette with salad on the side. Darcy ordered one with herbed mushrooms in butter, and mine was a heavenly combination of lardons, potatoes, Roblochon cheese, onions, and creme fraiche. We drank the wonderful cider that is the usual accompaniment to a meal of gallettes, and enjoyed everything so much that we planned to dine at Chez Marie at least once more. 


The delicious sweet cider is commonly served with gallettes.


Heaven on a plate in Carnac, Brittany, France. 


Recipe: This recipe for Gallettes Bretonnes is from Darcy. You're welcome.







Another Sad Goodbye

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We returned to the hotel after our visit to Versailles, in need of a rest and a cool shower. We were to meet some friends of Darcy and Mathieu's for dinner that evening in the area of the Bastille. When we arrived at the Metro stop near our destination, we came up out of the ground into a thunderstorm, which is not a common occurrence in that part of France. I am leery of lightning and prefer to stay inside away from danger, but people were standing there gawking at the lightning as if it were a fireworks display. 


The Colonne de Juillet,
commemorating the revolution of 1830.

I don't recall the name of the brasserie at which we dined; it was a crowded, charming place with great food. It was nice to meet and converse with Xavier and Bérengère. We started our meal with drinks, and I had wanted to order a Pecheresse, which is a delightful, peach-flavored beer introduced to me by Darcy. I had to settle for something else, and so I chose a Desperados, which is a mixture of beer and tequila, served with a wedge of lime. My meal consisted of a steak with Bearnaise sauce, salad, and the best fries I have ever eaten. The steak, of course, was not as tender as Kansas beef, but it was very flavorful. The grand finale was a dessert of crème brûlée, the first I had ever tasted. And it was wonderful! I'm glad that Darcy and Megan shared it with me, though, because it was more than I could have eaten. 

And so ended our last evening in France. It was late when we returned to the hotel, but we did most of our packing then. We were up at 6 AM the next morning for our drive to the airport, where we breakfasted one last time on the usual, delicious flaky pastries and divine coffee. Then came the difficult goodbyes. I know how heart-wrenching it was for Darcy and Mathieu. It will be late October before they see each other again. And as for me... when will I see France again?


Boats on the Seine.

Versailles

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 

After our usual breakfast of fresh pastries (mmm - a flaky twist of custard-filled goodness), we set out for Versailles. Getting there involved another ride on the Metro and then a transfer to a train. When we arrived in the beautiful town of Versailles, the first thing we saw upon leaving the train station was a Starbucks! Because it is a rare treat for Mathieu, we just had to stop in and enjoy a tasty beverage. I was surprised that Mathieu didn't order coffee, but instead asked for a frappé made with hibiscus. It was an interesting and unusual flavor, very refreshing.

It was easy to locate the palace of Versailles. We simply followed the crowds. Even on this sizzling July day, there were hundreds of tourists. We rounded a corner and got our first glimpse of the magnificient structure. On that unbearably hot day, I had been looking forward to the coolness of the royal chateau, with its thick, stone walls. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was almost as warm inside the palace as it was outside! Built in the 1600's, Le Chateau de Versailles is considered to be one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th century French art. It defies description and is really one of those places that you must experience for yourself. 


Talk about your golden gates!


Traversing the courtyard, I could almost see the horse-drawn carriages of old, clattering over the cobblestones. I wondered how on earth the ladies of the court were able to tolerate walking across those stones in their dainty slippers. We paid the extra entry fee for a 1 1/2 hour guided tour which took us into the King's private apartments and some other areas we would not have seen with a general admission. The opulence will take your breath away!


The royal salon, where breakfast was served.


A very grand organ in the Music Hall.

The extensive gardens on the palace grounds are simply stunning, though we only scratched the surface! We even enjoyed touring the orangerie, with rows of citrus trees growing in huge tubs. There are many elaborate fountains, but to our great disappointment, they were "off" until 4 PM. We walked down to the edge of the Grand Canal, where it is possible to rent a boat. That might have been a way to cool off a bit!


A glimpse of the gardens at Versailles

We enjoyed our visit to Versailles very much, though I wouldn't recommend that you go during hot weather. I would love to visit again, as there is much more to see than can be viewed in one day. 


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Paris, Pere Lachaise, and Pizza

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 

We all slept late today; I guess we must have needed the extra rest. Tramping around in the heat can take a lot out of you! During the night, a little rain shower had passed through, and our room became cooler, which made for better sleep. 

We left the hotel and rode the Metro to the stop nearest the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. Everything was so fresh and green after the midnight rain. Since none of us had yet eaten breakfast, we bought crepes at a little stand near the Seine. I had a wonderful sucre citron crepe which was sprinkled with sugar and spread with a tangy lemon filling. It was neatly folded into a triangular shape and handed to me in a colorful paper cone. Very tasty! We perched on a bench near the carousel, where we were treated to a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower. We sat there for almost an hour, enjoying our surroundings. 


Not a bad place to have breakfast.

Soon, we were back on the Metro for a long, hot ride across Paris to visit the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. This cemetery, which was opened in 1804, consists of 110 undulating acres of cobblestones, simple headstones, monuments, and miniature chapels. The landscape is lush with many varieties of trees and it is an interesting and attractive place. We had wanted to locate the grave of Oscar Wilde, so I took a photo of the map and Megan zoomed in on it and used it to navigate our trek around the graveyard. We did a lot of walking and found the resting-place of Oscar Wilde, which was covered in lipstick kisses and surrounded by flowers. We had also considered visiting the graves of Jim Morrison and Jules Verne, but the day was growing hotter, so we took our leave. 


The final resting place of Oscar Wilde.

Pere Lachaise is a beautiful, old cemetery.

Another long, hot, Metro ride landed us back at the hotel, where we rested for a while over cold drinks and snacks. The evening was a warm one and we chose to order pizza instead of going out for dinner. The pizza was from Domino's, of all places! But it wasn't like any Domino's I had ever tasted. After all, this was France. One was called "The Australian" and had toppings of barbecued chicken, onions, and jalapeno peppers. The other was called "the Foresteiria" and consisted of a creme base topped with lardons, ham, onions, mushrooms, and plenty of cheese. It was amazing!

After dinner we began a card game in the room that Megan and I were sharing. At one point, Mathieu excused himself to use the "facilities" and as he closed the bathroom door, Megan and I exchanged glances and began a countdown, "Three... two...one" and then we heard a thump, a curse, and the sound of the blow dryer roaring. It was hilarious! Darcy was puzzled by our actions and after I explained the significance, she had to see our tiny bathroom for herself. She informed us that theirs was much roomier. Later, I went up to Darcy and Mathieu's room to watch a movie with them. It was a French film with English subtitles and I enjoyed it. It was a relaxing way to end the day.


Megan and Mathieu, playing cards in the hotel room in Paris.





Paris in Summer

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, July 20, 2009

Arriving in Montmartre, the four of us climbed the infamous stairs there and after a stop or two so that I could catch my breath, we made our way to Sacré-Cœur. The day was warm but there was a welcome breeze to cool us as we explored the area around the Basilica. We paused in front of a statue and I asked Mathieu whom it was commemorating. He told me that this man had been killed because his music was unpopular. Darcy told me that Mathieu might have been making that story up, so I may never know! The view from the Butte Montmartre is spectacular, and I took a picture of the distant Eiffel Tower from the same vantage point I had used in February. Montmartre, loosely translated, means "mountain of the martyr" and was named after St. Denis, who was decapitated there in 250 A.D. 


This view of the Eiffel Tower from Montmartre looks
 a bit different from the photo I took in February.

We left the hill in the opposite direction from which we had ascended and found ourselves in the area where the movie "Amélie" had been filmed. The hillside was teeming with tourists and the carousel was whirling merrily, loaded with children and their parents. We stopped at a cafe for a cold drink, and then did a bit of souvenir shopping. Darcy and Mathieu bought a pair of socks for me which have a map of the Paris Metro imprinted on them! At the toes, you can find the station across from our hotel. I collect socks, so that was the perfect little souvenir.


A close-up of Sacre Coeur.

Pausing for a breather on the stairs of Montmartre.

Paris in summer... it's HOT! We discovered that our hotel does not truly have air conditioning. The hallways are much cooler than the rooms, so we propped the door open a few inches and with the window open on the opposite wall we were able to get a nice little breeze going. It was too bad we couldn't leave it that way for night! Speaking of the hotel - I finally ran across one of those miniscule Paris bathrooms that I had heard so much about. The one in our room was so small that when I tried to undress, my elbows would bang against the walls.The shower stall seemed to be the roomiest place in the bathroom! There was a large hair dryer unit attached to the wall across from the toilet, and one of the magnets was missing, so if you even breathed on it the drying wand would fall off and automatically begin to blow. It was  pretty hilarious, and happened within a few seconds every time one of us went into the bathroom for any reason.

Travel Tip: Avoid Paris in summer. The temperatures are brutal!




Like A Bike

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, July 20, 2009

Our day began around 8 AM when Megan and I walked over to Paul for pastries. Darcy and Mathieu arrived at 10:00, worn out from lugging Darcy's suitcases down four flights of stairs, onto the tram, and up to our hotel room. We checked out of the hotel, but left all of our luggage in the storeroom at the front desk. The four of us took the tram back across town, where we enjoyed an early lunch at the Grec Gourmand. On the way back to the Ibis, we returned to the train station to purchase our tickets, forgetting about the student discount that would have saved 10 euros. We retrieved our luggage from the hotel and set off for Paris on the 1:20 train. We felt pretty smug that we had managed to find a near-empty compartment, until the train stopped a few minutes later at Les Aubrais and we discovered that we needed to switch to another train immediately! We struggled with our bags down a long flight of stairs and up another. If the conductor had not come back to lend a hand, we would have missed the train for sure! The doors closed and we departed the moment I stepped inside. Finding four seats together proved to be impossible, as we towed our bags down the entire length of the train, and finally found an empty compartment. And I mean EMPTY. There were no seats or luggage racks because we had stumbled into the bicycle compartment! We shoved our bags inside, and stood there laughing, relieved that we were at least all together. About ten minutes later, our train made an unscheduled stop. There was an announcement that this was for our security. By then we had all slid down to sit on the rather dirty floor, and we waited. And waited. And wished that we had a game to play. Darcy and I, at the exact same moment, burst into the same song, "Kum Ba Yah". Megan and Mathieu laughingly joined in. When the train began to move again, we were told that the delay had been due to "projectiles" being shot or thrown at the train ahead of us. We were just glad that we were not on a schedule, with no planes or other trains to catch.


Mathieu and Darcy,
 riding to Paris in the bicycle compartment.

Megan took it all in stride.

We grabbed a taxi and made our way across Paris to the Ibis Eiffel Cambronne. I had looked at the hotel on Google street view, and recognized it as soon as we turned the corner onto Rue Cambronne. I had chosen this hotel because of its proximity to the Eiffel Tower and because it was advertised as having air conditioning. We checked in, dropped our luggage in our rooms, and set out to find a cold drink. The cute little cafe we chose served us four soft drinks at a price of 18 euros. Paris is SO expensive. I later learned that drinks are cheaper if you sit at the bar, but we probably wouldn't have done that anyway. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a boulangerie and could not resist buying a snack. On the corner near the hotel was a small convenience store where we purchased cans of Coke for 1.25 and bottled water for just .80. I picked out several fresh, juicy plums, which turned out to be the tastiest plums I had ever eaten!


The view from our hotel window in Paris.

We ate an early dinner at McDonald's. Yes, McDonald's.  Or, MacDo, as the French would say. It was something we just had to experience. Mickey D's was housed in a beautiful old building and occupied two levels. In France, you can buy beer with your meal. Hello, "happy" meal! And they have real desserts, such as little citron cakes and chocolate souffle. 

There was a Metro stop conveniently close to the hotel, where we boarded in the direction of Montmartre. Mathieu was looking forward to seeing the sights. Though he was born in Paris, his family moved to another part of the country when he was small. He had been to Paris on many occasions, but only to conduct business or meet someone at the airport. He was enjoying being a tourist. The Metro makes me a bit uncomfortable, as I am claustrophobic. It was worse on this day because of the heat. I tried to focus on just breathing. Soon, we were arriving in Montmartre. 



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A French Barbecue

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, July 19, 2009

It felt so good to sleep late. We enjoyed leisurely sipping our coffee before getting ready for the day. Darcy and Mathieu brought over a breakfast of fresh pastries, which is always a welcome way to greet the morning. Did I say morning? Well, I suppose 10:45 still qualifies as morning. 

After breakfast, we all went to a barbecue at the home of one of Mathieu's friends. There were about a dozen people in the lovely garden; some of them tending a grill upon which sausages and chicken were sizzling. A friendly Doberman named Helios accompanied us on our little tour of the beautifully landscaped garden which featured a waterfall and a koi pond. When lunch was ready, we all sat down to enjoy the barbecued meats and a huge bowl of paella along with fresh bread. There was also plenty of wine and beer. I had never eaten paella. It contained lots of tiny shrimp and scallops and, of course, mussels. I enjoyed trying it and it was very good, although I found I am not a big fan of mussels. Perhaps they are an acquired taste? Later, someone brought out a cheese tray, which I declined, and some ice cream, which I did NOT decline. It was a fun meal, with lots of lively conversation, most of which I could not follow because it was in French. I was seated next to a young woman from Macedonia who was one of just a few people present who spoke English, and we had a very nice conversation. 

After the barbecue, we visited the art museum. I had been there previously with Craig, but got more out of it this time, because we had Darcy and Mathieu to translate. We had an enjoyable time commenting on the many sculptures and paintings.


Megan and Darcy, taking a break 
by the fountain near the art museum.

The beautiful Cathedral of St. Croix.

Later in the afternoon, we met a friend at the Hendrix Pub on Rue de Borgogne. Antoine is a very lively and interesting young man. He is originally from Cyprus and has lived in Jordan and London and has traveled extensively in Europe. He is fluent in several languages and speaks English perfectly, with only a slight accent. We all had so much fun at the Hendrix that we invited Antoine to join us for dinner that evening to celebrate Megan's birthday.


Megan, Darcy, Mathieu, and Antoine at the Hendrix Pub.

Antoine agreed to dine with us, and we had a wonderful dinner at Wokasie, which is a Mongolian barbecue. It's a large restaurant with an equally large buffet area. The food was quite good, and at 20 euros per person, not too pricey. We ate and laughed and talked for nearly three hours! It really was a party and made Megan's birthday in France even more special. But it also meant another goodbye for Darcy, as she said her farewells to Antoine.  

Tomorrow, we leave for Paris, where even Mathieu will be a tourist.
  

Coffee, Crepes, and Cider

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, July 18, 2009

Today, we had intended to visit Gien and it's renowned pottery factory, but since I awoke feeling a bit under the weather, we changed our plans. Darcy, Mathieu, and Megan went out for the morning. They returned around noon with a delicious poulet roti. Along with the chicken, we had some chips and cherries that I had purchased previously. I was feeling much better, so we left the hotel and walked over to the square near the cathedral where we stopped for coffee and hot chocolate at Autour de la Terre, the wonderfully eclectic place I mentioned in a previous post. Along with our hot drinks, we enjoyed dim sum - tiny cakes steamed in bamboo wrappers.


Autour de la Terre is a cozy place for coffee and a snack.

Another view of the interior at Autour de la Terre. 

Coffee, hot chocolate, and dim sum
 at Autout de la Terre, Orléans, France.

As we continued with our wandering, we simply had to introduce Megan to the delights of Leonidas, the fabulous Belgian chocolatier. Oh, that heavenly aroma when we walked into the shop! We spent some time sampling various delights, and we spent some money on treats such as fruit pates and, of course, chocolate! 

That evening, we met Mathieu's family for dinner at the Brettonne Creperie on the Rue de Borgogne. There was plenty of room for all of us at a long, rustic wooden table in the charming restaurant. Gallettes, crepes and sweet cider were enjoyed by all. My gallette (a savory crepe made with buckwheat flour) was a yummy combination of lardons, potatoes, onion, and gruyère cheese. For dessert, I enjoyed a caramel-orange crepe. It was wonderful to have a nice, long visit with Mathieu's family while we were dining. They are such sweet people, and I hope one day to be able to converse with them in French.



Mathieu's delightful parents, Muriel and Thierry.

After dinner, Darcy bid a tearful farewell to Mathieu's family. It was sad to see how heartbroken she was to be leaving. She is being pulled in two directions, and between two countries. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Very Orange Stairwell

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Friday, July 17, 2009

This morning, Darcy, bless her, showed up at the hotel with fresh pastries. We woke up over coffee and conversation, and then left the hotel to explore. Our first stop was the public library, or bibliothèque. That may seem like a strange destination for tourists, but with the three of us having worked at our own local library, we just had to take a look. The library in Orléans is a large, modern structure not far from the train station. There are some lovely views from the huge windows overlooking the town. 


Darcy and Megan, 
going to the library (in the background) in Orléans. 

I couldn't resist taking a photo
 of the very orange stairwell at the library.

Once outside again, we took a wrong turn and were momentarily lost in a very old and lovely residential area. We soon located the tram, which took us across town to Auchan. Darcy and I enjoyed showing Megan around the huge store. I bought some cherries, which were sweet and delicious. The weather was drizzly and cool, but that did not prevent us from going back into town to shop. There are many unique stores on the main streets in Orléans and we had fun poking around in them. 

An interesting place we visited was Halles Chatelet, an indoor market with a wide variety of shops. There are bakeries and delis, in addition to clothing stores, a cheese shop, a butcher, and gift shops. I picked up a small container of strawberries at a fruit market, which were tiny and delightfully sweet. I couldn't seem to get enough of the delicious fruit there!

Dinner that evening was at Bombay, an Indian restaurant situated on the Rue de Borgogne. The food was wonderful and we had the added bonus of entertainment provided by a trio of musicians. Darcy and I purchased one of their CDs as a souvenir.


Darcy and Megan outside the Bombay restaurant in Orléans.

Darcy and Mathieu are so cute together. None of us can bear to think about them having to part soon. We are all doing the Scarlett O'Hara thing: "I won't think about that today". But, sadly, her year of study has come to an end. After this vacation, she will be returning to America.