Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2010 Trip Report: Part Deux - France!

After the last post, Michael lectured me on writing LESS, or, at the very least, writing shorter paragraphs. We shall see if I can limit myself to just a few 100 words when waxing poetic about our French portion of the BIG TRIP.
As you can see from the following pics, we were in Paris and captured a few of the ubiquitous sites:

Funnily enough, despite the pictures of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, we actually did not venture in or up either one! The "Paris interlude", at the beginning and the end of our stay in France, was actually quite relaxing for Michael and me. Perhaps because we stayed with friends in a fairly non-touristy part of the city and because we did "normal" activities like grocery shopping, there was a sense of routine and normalcy that I did not expect while in Paris, such a cosmopolitan city! Not that we did NOT go out and see the sites, but since we had visited Paris a few years ago, the sense of urgency to go, do and see everything did not take hold of us.
Rather, we spent most of our time wandering around the streets, relaxing in parks and hanging out with our friends, Brian and Sara. They took the brave and bold step last year to pick up, leave the comfortable life that they had been leading in SoCal and experience living in France for a two-year stint. We actually credit them for this entire trip - if they hadn't been there, we certainly would not have traipsed across the Atlantic for such a long jaunt!
We were not total slackers, however! We spent some time at the gardens of the Rodin Musuem (See below: Michael and Sara are looking confused at the museum guide that I picked up for them to peruse. What, who cares that it's in Spanish?!).

No photo of it, but we did return to the D'Orsay Musuem which displays, as Michael said, "Impressionism's Greatest Hits", and we spent time oohing and aahing and staring silently over Monet's "Water Lilies" at the L'Orangerie Musuem. I think that may have been my favorite place - I could have lost myself in those paintings, they were so beautiful and rich with color.
Inevitably, one of our favorite parts of the experience in Paris was the food! We were a bit tired of eating out after a week on the road in Spain, so we enjoyed cooking IN most nights. Still, we hit three different markets while in France, and I think that I could have gone to a different market every day, had I been able to do so. Sara kindly took us to the President Wilson Market in Paris the Saturday before we returned to the States, and you can see how excited I am below:

Don't most people talk to vegetables?!
It was wonderful to stock up on fruit, vegetables, wonderful herbs, and cheeses at the market. We also loved our frequent trips to the Carrefour, the French "hypermarket", where I could spend hours staring at cheeses and yogurts. Don't even mention the boulangeries! We once bought two loaves that were just *hot* out of the oven. Despite not being extremely hungry, we managed to devour a few mouthfuls just because we couldn't resist. If I had stashed a pound of butter in my backpack, we probably would have eaten the entire baguette! Although some people are drawn to the "pain au chocolate" (a chocolate croissant, basically), I was a huge sucker for the "pain au raisins", which is a pastry with tons of butter and raisins. When we were in Brittany, our friends found a bakery whose pain au raisins must have weighed a pound or two. No fluffy little morsel there!
While in Paris, Brian and Sara let us in on a bit of a secret: the Mouffetard, right by the Pantheon, an area that is lined with every single type of "eatery" that a person can imagine, most of them quite affordable. For our first night out with them, we went for crepes, but then we returned two more times and ate the most amazing wrap from a Lebanese place. I honestly would return to Paris JUST to eat one of those sandwiches!
See how happy Michael looks with that sandwich/wrap?!

Do you want a bite?

Obviously we enjoyed the street food, but we also liked the more "formal" meals, like lunch in Tours, as we waited for the car rental place to open up! I don't think I'd ever eaten my fill of mussels, until this trip.

Once we managed to pick up our car in Tours, we were in business! On the road, ready to explore some chateaus and villages!

The Loire River:

Ussé, or "Sleeping Beauty's Castle" - Sara's daughter referred to the princess as "Sleeping Bleaudy", which we quickly adopted!


The gardens at Villandry - so beautiful!

Sara, again, made all of the arrangements for us. We stayed in a lovely B&B that had been an old, country house, where I was chastised for using a child's bowl for my yogurt. Ah well... We slept and ate quite well there, so how can I complain? After a few days touring chateaus and stopping in a few 'caves' or wineries/wine-tasting rooms and stocking up on sparkling wine, we headed west to Brittany. There, we stayed at the very end of this tiny, tiny peninsula in a town called Quiberon. It was high-tourist season, I suppose, but we were definitely some of the few Americans who ventured there! Brittany was beautiful and impressed us with its wonderful walking paths and dramatic coast, and we spent lazy mornings walking around the village and were up late at night, talking and drinking wine and beer (yes, beer! It's pretty big in Brittany, and our favorite was an ale called "Duchess Anne" which we just called "the Duchess").

I wish that I had a suitable "ending", a conclusion that resonated deeply, a realization about my own life and how I want to live it. I do feel rather envious of Sara and Brian's experience and wish that I were that brave! And, if nothing else comes of the trip, I'd love to return to France and explore more of the countryside. It feels as though we've definitely had our Paris experience and are comfortable in the city, so exploring other parts has a distinct appeal.
I'll have at least one more "entry" for the 2010 trip report, but all of this traveling does remind me how fulfilling and exhausting it is. Not that we suffered any misadventures or mishaps. Not at all! In fact, the most challenging moments were dealing with rental cars and airports. But being foreign and in a place that is alien, makes me appreciate the vitality of traveling.
One final note - I've decided that I REALLY want to learn French. I know a little bit, but being there inspired me un peu, un petit peu, and not only because two different people complimented me on my French whereas only ONE person in Spain complimented me on my Spanish. Most people spoke to me English there, unless we were in the Basque country, where they tolerated my Spanish with a scowl.
Ah, the joys of traveling!


Kim said...

Yes, traveling is fulfilling AND exhausting -- exactly those two things. I love all the pictures! What a great adventure. I have a desire to learn French too. Actually, I'd like to brush up on my Spanish. I used to be fluent, but I fear I've lost it. I think it would come back to me if I was around Spanish speakers. Maybe this means I should go to Spain too ;)
Hope you're settled in back home. I know it takes a while!

Jaya said...

Kristina, what a great recap! The food does indeed sound amazing. One thing I have heard is that there is incredible North African fare in France, which I guess can be attributed to the diasporic groups from in and around that part of the world. My sister told me that she ate some of the best North African food ever in Paris...and my sister has been to North Africa. Anyway, the pain au raisin sound marvellous and I'm so glad that you capitalized on all of the great experiences at your disposal. The photos of the gardens at Villandry are spectacular!
I can't recommend learning French enough! I was in French immersion and learned my whole curriculum (except for one hour of english) every day from age 5 until age 14 and I am so grateful for it! I grew up in Ottawa, which is right on the border of Quebec, so I've found a lot of use for my French, and I'm so grateful to my parents for making that choice. Once you've got some parlez-vous under your belt, Italian (and for those who don't speak it - Spanish) are just a stone's throw away!
Can't wait for the next report! Wonderful stuff - part yourself on the back for those concise little paragraphs!