Wednesday, July 29, 2015

London, Here We Come!

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 24 and 25, 2015

Darcy and Mathieu were both at work, so I did some laundry and tidied up the house in preparation for our trip to England. We were all looking forward to seeing Craig in London soon. I knew he was anticipating a break from work!

That evening, we all went to Chez Ming for dinner. Fanny and her young daughter, Jade, were able to join us. We were feeling very festive because this was actually vacation eve for Mathieu and Darcy. We had a wonderful meal and I enjoyed listening to Jade speaking some English. It's amazing how quickly children can pick up a new language. I hope that someday I will be able to converse with Fanny and Jade in French.

I was up late, tracking Craig's flight. I finally went to bed around 1:00 AM, when I saw that boarding had begun. I tossed and turned all night, and finally got out of bed at 5:00. I checked Craig's flight status again, and learned that his flight had been delayed for two hours due to an air conditioning valve malfunction. That meant we would all arrive in London at about the same time.

Darcy, Mathieu, and I set out for Paris by train. We had a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee in the station before our train left for Gare d' Austerlitz. Once there, we grabbed a taxi for the ride to Gare du Nord, where we would board the Eurostar. I had never been to Gare du Nord - it was a busy place! The Eurostar terminal was chaotic, but we found a cafe in which to purchase some sandwiches and sat down for a quick lunch before joining the queue on the platform. I was nervous about crossing the channel tunnel, so I made sure that I had an absorbing game to play on my iPad while making the crossing. I ignored the darkness outside the window, and before I knew it, we had arrived in London! My phone rang before we were even off the train. It was Craig, informing me that he has just arrived at Heathrow and was taking a taxi to meet us at the hotel. He was a bit concerned that his ATM card had refused to work at the airport, though he had managed to exchange some euros for pounds and believed he would have enough for the ride to our lodgings.

The beautiful St. Pancras train station in London.

St. Pancras International  is a busy and beautiful London train station which first opened in 1868. The Victorian Gothic Architecture is a wonder. The elegant interior is crammed with restaurants and shops of every kind. We didn't linger in the station, but set out to walk the short distance to the hotel. It should have been a quick walk of less than two blocks, but it took us a bit longer because we took a couple of wrong turns. We checked into the Hotel Apollo, a bed and breakfast which was small and charming and very clean. 

The Hotel Apollo in London was cozy and clean.

Craig phoned again, this time from the taxi. He said that the meter was ticking away at an alarming rate and asked if we could meet him outside the hotel as he was certain that his 50 pounds just wasn't going to be enough. Mathieu and Darcy sprinted back to the station and located an ATM, where they were able to withdraw from my account. They returned in plenty of time to hand over the 120 pounds due for the taxi ride from Heathrow! We had heard that London cabs were expensive, but wow!  

It seemed that every year we had traveled to France, there was a problem with one or the other of our debit cards. Even though Craig and I had both informed the bank of the dates of our travel and were assured that both cards would work properly, it had never turned out that way. The problem was not insurmountable, but was awfully inconvenient at times. It was actually a good thing that Craig's flight had been delayed! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

The French Word for Sneeze: éternuer.

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 23, 2015

That day, for some reason, my seasonal allergies decided to make a comeback. I began the day coughing, sneezing, and sniffling. I was determined to enjoy myself anyway, and nibbled happily on an apple-filled pastry as I sipped my morning coffee.

Darcy and Mathieu both had to work, so I decided to do some more shopping. I was planning to purchase more adorable baby clothes for the newborns (and some as yet unborn) back in America. Armed with a packet of tissues and a dose of allergy medicine, I truly enjoyed browsing and buying those adorable items.

How cute is that?!
Before returning to the apartment, I made a stop in Halles Chatelet to pick up some fresh pasta and a slice of duck mousse, which Darcy would need to prepare our meal that evening. The proprietor of the pasta shop was very kind. When she realized that I understood little of what she was saying, she very carefully wrote down instructions for cooking the fresh linguine. In French. Perhaps she assumed that I could read French much better than I could understand the spoken language. 

You know the old saying, "feed a cold, starve a fever, gorge on pastries to fight allergies" ? I bought a lovely little Paris Brest for an afternoon snack. As soon as I returned home, I brewed some fresh coffee and enjoyed my special treat.

A get-well pastry.
That evening, Darcy, Mathieu, and I enjoyed apero of cherry beer and assorted chips as we relaxed before dinner. Darcy quickly whipped up a delicious meal of fresh pasta with melted duck mousse and truffle oil, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. I wasn't great company, still fighting those annoying sniffles, and after texting for a while with Craig, went to bed early.      

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's Not Really All About The Food.

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 22, 2015

As I walked across the square to the boulangerie, I was amazed yet again by how beautiful the weather was. I feel blessed in so many ways; the wonderful hospitality of Darcy and Mathieu, the sparkling spring days flowing one into the other, time spent with friends whom I now consider family. I was becoming more relaxed and at home with each passing day. My dreams have come true over and over and my wish is for more of my loved ones in America to experience that magic. 

Another breakfast treat in Orléans, France.

Darcy and I spent the morning on household chores and email while Mathieu was at work. We were enjoying our time together even while performing those mundane tasks. Just before noon, Darcy prepared Bento boxes so that we could have lunch somewhere outside on this glorious day. She used the leftover Bulgogi and rice, plus many other tasty dibs and dabs. We made our way to Parc Pasteur, not far from the train station. It was lovely in the park, which was beautifully landscaped and peaceful. There is a boating pond, a little train (made in Wichita!) and a puppet theater. We found a shaded bench where we ate lunch while sipping on raspberry beer. 

Flowers in Parc Pasteur, Orléans.

After lunch, we made our way to the shopping district downtown, where Darcy introduced me to more of her favorite shops. I had to force myself to turn away from some of the items I fell in love with, as they were just too bulky or heavy to toss into a suitcase. One item that I really wanted proved to be a bit elusive. I was looking for a new eyeglass case, one that had a pretty design. We found only plain, solid colored cases. I had all but given up, when my daughter came across a pretty one tucked back on a shelf at Eureka. It had a world map on it in bright pastels and was just perfect! I knew I would remember this day every time I used it. 

When Mathieu came home from work, we piled into the car for a special treat. Darcy and Mathieu had been wanting to introduce me to a restaurant they had recently discovered in a nearby village. We stopped to pick up a friend, Sylvia, and were soon on our way to La Ferté-Saint-Aubin where the restaurant, La Sauvagine, is located. The town itself was charming and has a Chateau we would love to visit. It is known as the Castle of Games and has many antique, hands-on toys and games that appeal to all ages. 

La Sauvagine was just a few blocks past the beautiful Chateau. Our meal was wonderful. We started with cocktails and slices of baguette which we slathered with a pungent, herbed , sheep's milk cheese. For a starter, I had chosen a scallop crumble, which was served bubbling hot in an earthenware dish. The tender scallops, tiny shrimp, and mussels were topped with buttery breadcrumbs; it was scrumptious. Sylvia had ordered a dish that consisted of escargot in a garlicky cream sauce served over puff pastry. When Sylvia learned that Darcy and I had never tried snails, she picked up her fork, stabbed a morsel, and told us that there would never be a better time to try them. And so we did. And they were very tasty. Sylvia was such fun. She is Italian and has lived in Ireland and speaks with a charming accent.

A tasty scallop crumble at La Sauvagine.

My main course was a mild fish served with sauce beurre blanc, which was simply amazing. It was accompanied by tiny, steamed potatoes, creamy mashed carrots, and haricots vert. Everything was perfectly cooked and delicious. We lingered long over the delectable meal and the conversation flowed like wine. I felt as youthful as my companions and enjoyed every moment. In France, unlike the U.S., restaurant patrons are encouraged to remain as long as they like. There is no pressure to "turn tables" as is often the case in America. What a lovely way to dine.

Dinner at La Sauvagine, La Ferté-Saint-Aubin, France.

Our evening ended with four enticing desserts that we passed around to share. The tarte tatin, chocolate mousse, profiteroles, and chocolate tart were all fabulous and I would have been hard-pressed to name a favorite. That night, I added La Sauvagine to my list of places that my husband must try!