Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Who Turned Out The Lights?

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Last night I made the mistake of closing the drapes all the way. It was very dark in our room this morning, and since I hadn't set an alarm, we slept very late, not awakening until Darcy phoned at 10 AM! She told us she would be over soon, and so we quickly showered and dressed and started a pot of coffee. Darcy arrived with a surprise - an enormous pain au chocolat! It was the size of a football and was more than enough for the three of us. After breakfast, we zipped over to the nearby mall to do some shopping. Craig found a nice, lightweight jacket and I purchased some souvenirs for the grandchildren and a cute little camera case for myself. It was a little brown owl with huge eyes and fit my camera perfectly. Though we had been inside the supermarket previously, we hadn't really looked around much. Darcy gave us a little tour and we marveled at the huge variety of meat and seafood available. There were the usual cuts of meat, plus kidney, tongue, whole skinned rabbit, horse meat, tripe, quail, ostrich, veal head, fish of every kind - even a large one which looked to be about a hundred pounds. It was on a bed of crushed ice and you simply asked the butcher to cut off a chunk and - voila! There were three huge aisles of wine, and many more of cheese. And this was not what I would call a large supermarket! We then wandered around town a bit more, looking at the lovely architecture, and also window shopping a bit. I have never been one to go crazy over shoes, but there were many adorable styles for every member of the family. At lunchtime, Darcy chose a very nice Chinese restaurant that offered a buffet, which is rare in France. The restaurant itself was very elegant and beautiful, and the food was great. We finished our meal with a dish of rich, French ice cream.

The Hotel de Ville, which is Orléans' City Hall.


Our next stop was the Museum of Natural Science, where Mathieu was working. Though it is not a huge museum, it is very well organized, with many interesting displays in clever settings. There was a group of small children, undoubtedly on a field trip from school, who were chattering excitedly as they toured the museum. 

Mathieu was then free to join us, and after leaving the museum, Darcy steered us toward a wonderful shop called "Leonidas", which is one of a chain of Belgian chocolatiers. The chocolates were stunning! Each one was a miniature work of art. The young man working the counter kept pressing us to try different pieces; he was very generous with the samples. Mathieu purchased for me a lovely golden box filled with exquisite fruit-shaped candies, sparkling with sugar. They resembled shaped gumdrops, but were nothing of the sort. They were called fruit pates and were made from fruit puree and sugar. Each small pear, cherry, orange, apple, plum, lemon, fig, or pineapple was topped with a tiny wooden pick on which a little green paper leaf was attached. They are soft and sweet, with very intense flavors. I have never tasted anything like them. 

Pates de fruits, my new favorite confection.

I take delight in the way food is so artfully presented in France. Whether it is bread, pastry, candy, or cake, everything is decorated and displayed with many creative touches. Even the packaging is artfully done. I feel pampered whenever I purchase anything.

As we walked through town, gazing into shop windows and just generally enjoying the novelty of our surroundings, we were treated to an impromptu concert by a couple of roving musicians. I enjoy the romantic old accordion music very much, though it has lost popularity in France. The young man who sang and played the tambourine was also quite entertaining. 

We stepped into a unique little place called Autour de la Terre, which served coffee, tea, and hot chocolate from around the world. They also offer some alcoholic beverages and a few pastries and such. The menu is actually a book, mostly filled with blank pages, in which the patrons are encouraged to write and draw. The cafe itself is decorated in a very eclectic style and is crammed with a mis-matched assortment of sofas, chairs, and tables of every shape and size. Many of the chairs were draped with bright throws or fringed scarves. There were shelves crammed with books and board games, a piano against one wall, and a large Chinese umbrella in a corner. Plants are tucked into every nook and cranny. It really is a very charming place to linger and savor a beverage or snack.

Mathieu and Darcy near Autour de la Terre, Orleans, France.

That evening, we enjoyed a casual meal at the Grec Gourmand, a kebab shop on Rue de Borgogne. It's very popular with students, as the food is inexpensive and the servings are generous. It was too cold to eat outside, so we sat at a table in the back, where we devoured the flavorful lamb sandwiches and mounds of crispy fries which were served with a garlic mayo. It was an inexpensive meal and a very filling one. Darcy and Mathieu accompanied us back to the hotel. As were passing through the center of town on the tram, we noticed a large group of people surrounding the statue of Joan of Arc. Many of them were carrying torches, the kind that you see in old movies! We were intrigued, but too cold to consider getting off the tram to investigate. We wondered, since it was Fat Tuesday, if this was somehow related to Mardi Gras festivities.

Travel Tip: If you plan to make a lot of purchases on your vacation, pack a suitcase-within-a-suitcase before you leave home. Upon arrival at your destination, you will have an entire empty case in which to pack your treasures. 

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