Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"So what can I do when I'm thinking of you?" - Shout Out Louds

The Answer? Wear my mom's earrings, eat belgian chocolate for Rachel, try pink beers for Paddy, order a dose of Jameson for Joe, attempt to purchase a giant bra of Belgian lace for Karina among other things

Location: En route to Dublin
Currently Listening: My Friend and the Ink by Shout Out Louds
Weather: Surprisingly sunny

I didn't make it to Lux, but I got the "Be" & "Ne" parts out of the way.

An Overview of Belgium & the Netherlands:
Emily, her friend Carley, and I caught a train Friday morning to Brussels where we met up with Chole. None of our cell phones worked and meeting up in the train station was nothing short of a disaster. It's funny how now matter how clear a person is about meeting place there's always some unavoidable confusion with the interpretation of places. Anyway, I followed the little-kid-lost-in-the-grocery-store-plan and stood in one place till Momma Chole found us.
While Em and Carley dropped off their things at their hostel, Chole and I walked around the Grote Markt (Market Square) which was full of SURPRISE, SURPRISE beer, chocolate, and waffles!! You know that bewitching smell of buttery popcorn they pipe out of movie theatres to lure people inside? Well, intensify that by infinity and switch it out with the cozy smell mapley waffles and dark chocolate. Basically Richard Simmon's worst nightmare. Of course, I hit up Neuhaus and Leonidas, which are the more affordable, most heard of chocolatiers, but couldn't walk two feet with out finding myself in smaller local chocolate shops where I selected the most interesting truffles. I didn't even step inside Godiva since it's way too easy to find it at home.

For dinner, we met up with with Carlos, my cousin Ram's new wife Monika's college buddy who I met at the wedding. The restaurant was traditionally Belgian and of course lacking in the vegetarian department. I ended up with fondue and a Lindemans Framboise beer. Surprisingly the beer went down pretty easily and I rather enjoyed it. The fondue on the other hand was some sort of fried mushy cheese. Not really pleasant. I will have to try fondue somewhere else in Europe, that's for sure. At dinner we talked about how easy it seemed to ride the metro or train in Brussels without anyone checking tickets, but Carlos warned us that the train station closest to him was often checked by controllers. Sure enough on the way home sleepy from beer, Chole and I forgot to mark our Belgium "Go Pass" with our arrival destination before getting on the train and were fined by the controllers! Luckily they only gave us fine worth the price of a ticket.

The next day Chole and I met up with her friends Patsiya and Pui to explore Antwerp. We tried to meet up with Emily and Carly at the train station, but couldn't find them anywhere. Apparently we were standing on either side of a wall and missed each other completely! After a long while we had no choice but to give up and left the train station. A short walk from the station and we found ourselves in China Town, where I found the most ginormous Jumbo Size Asian Rice Crackers. I felt like a little kid and haddd to get them. :) Plus they are considered a luxury in Paris and cost a arm and a leg (a theory later disproved by trip to LIDL discount store). I also picked up some instant Pad Kee Mao to make in Dublin... wouldn't recommend it..but apparently I'm not allergic to MSG 'cause the noodles didn't kill me (This is my version of living on the edge).

My intense Belgium research (I spent all of Thursday during class reading wikitravel) told me about a hidden street in Antwerp, which you won't find on any maps. Needless to say it's a walking street that can't be accessed by car and is found behind giant sometimes closed doors. I won't ruin the fun if you plan to visit so I'll just tell you the street is near Hoogstraat. The street was full of surprises: cute European stacked homes, a bizarre art gallery, greenery, and a small restaurant.

We spent most of the day walking around the nice clothing stores and small boutiques deeper into the town. The major fashion museum was closed, but we peeked inside the building through the windows and it was so beautifully designed. The boutiques surrounding the museum made for a delightful browse. I couldn't peel my eyes off some of cardigans and dresses I found, but of course none of trees on the street were sprouting euros. The Staadstfeetszal shopping centre was also a sight for sore eyes. In the center of the mall there's a swanky Laurent-Perrier Champagne Bar....literally the shape of a champagne glass. Who wouldn't want to sit on top of the bar and drown himself in champagne?

We picnicked in the main square by a beautiful flower market. It was nice to see the bright reds, purples, and yellows after a cold, colorless winter. Good old PB&H (Peanut butter & honey - new cheap love) wasn't enough to fill our bellies so we ventured off to find dessert. I spotted a GuyLian Cafe and dragged the girls inside. My chocolate milkshake was was essentially a glass of milk with tiny bits of chocolate on the top and bottom and gave me a terribly stomach ache (lactose intolerant)... but the chocolate was naturally sinful.

After some more shopping and a visit to Castle Steen, we ended our day taking goofy pictures on the boardwalk of Antwerp Port. Pretty sure all the locals were staring at us...4 crazy girls photographing themselves jumping up into blue sky. I will never get too old for some games.

In the morning, Chole and I met up with her friends Sara, Laura, Corinna and Lad for day in Maastricht, a town in the Netherlands for Carnaval. Again we tried to meet up with Emily and Carly at the train station but to no avail. We picked up some beer and rum cola at the nearest Albert Heijn and headed into town to meet up some more friends at an Irish pub.

We'd heard that Maastricht was second best after the carnaval in Venezia. Well needless to say, Carnaval was absolutely crazy. Not sure if it was water falling from the sky or beer. We spent the day in the streets making friends with everyone (One lady just gave me a glass of Heineken for no reason other than I raised my hand slightly when she asked her friends if anyone wanted one) in their crazy costumes. The locals spend all year putting together extravagant costumes. Sometimes it seemed as though a family spent all year collecting all things blue(or green or pink or silver or black) and sewed it together to make some sort shiny, fabulous outfit. Every group had floats (equipped with coolers for storing beer) and swarmed the streets for the parade that lasted all day collecting more and more people. The craziest costume was an entire group of toilet brushes..but the shock from that was nothing in comparison to the baby-in-a-glass-box float.

We felt ashamed for our serious lack of costumes and searched all through town to find the one store left open on a Sunday. Chole and I bought masks but mine couldn't really fit over my glasses so I wore it on the back of my head and used Carly's eyeliner(I ran into Carly and Emily out of sheer luck later that afternoon) to draw a peace sign on my cheek. I also made a make-shift hippie headband out of a yellow clip-on highlight from Corinna....haha. It was interesting-looking...

Whenever it got too cold or alcohol in-take required relieving we made ours way into the bars that were extravagantly decorated. Imagine Party City puking on a bar. The one thing that seemed to confuse me was the street full of not bottles or beer cans but glasses. Apparently the bartenders don't collect the glasses or make any attempt to stop people from walking right out of the bar with glasses in hand. So naturally I felt no need to return the adorable beer-mug shaped shot glasses after Sara and I had ourselves some Jameson.

On the train to Brugges I realized I left all my notes and my map at home. Luckily I ran into some guy from Cleveland who let me borrow his guidebook for the train ride there where I hurriedly jotted a list of things to see.

Map-less and groggy I made my rainy day exploration to the nearest tourist center where I had to buy a city map from a machine. After leaving the tourist center, I looked everywhere for this lake of swans, but gave up trying and headed into the town center.

The architecture of the town was delightful and overly cute. It's kind of like walking around Southlake Town Square but much bigger. Mostly the city's remodeled so it's kind of like historical fiction...but I don't mind it much. I imagine walking through Brugge is what it would be like to walk through a town of ceramic Christmas houses if came to life.

The cold sprinkle made me shiver so I was pleased to come across the Museum-Gallery Xpo: Salvador Dalí in one of the squares. Dali's work never fails to surprise, amaze, and delight me. He was so unbelievably clever. The gallery itself was its own work of art, such glorious colors and textures and arches.

But what's a day in Belgium without handmade chocolates? I decided to eat chocolate and keep walking as food seemed too expensive, plus rain and being alone was too depressing for un table pour une.

The Truffle Hop:
On Rick Steve's recommendation, I tried a slab of dark chocolate with crispy cacao beans of which I made scrumptious lunch.
I'd remembered reading something about a small museum underneath the chocolate shop, but the lady inside had no idea what I was talking about so I gave up bought some champagne truffles and walked away.

Louvain La Nueve
Walked around the fresh/flea can pick up a jumpsuit or 1kg of epinard for 5 Euros. At the mediterranean stand, I picked up red bell peppers instead of tomatoes (YET AGAIN). I thought they were feta stuffed cherry tomatoes. I hate my life sometimes.

Of course it didn't take me long to find a kitchen store where I found a few must-haves.
3) Yes the are birthday gift hints. Think of it like this. You buy the supplies, I cook you up a wonderful meal.

The rest of the mall was unimpressive, except for the grocery store...I kick myself every time I see the prices of food in other countries. Paris is so dang expensive. I feel like I'm living on a shoestring cooking every meal, not shopping, and staying with friends when I travel, but I'm failing miserably as my bank account is draining. I'm not sure what I can do except to try and stay in Paris as much as possible. I really wish I had a summer internship sorted out to make things more comfortable for my family and had made a bit more money working over the fall semester.

Great, I'm going to be late for school now. Wish me luck. I promise not to complain as much seeing as I'm in Paris, but I'm afraid it's absolutely Parisian to complain about everything. À tout à l'heure'

"What do you think they do in the Netherlands for two hours?" -Sara

Location: Chole's Air Mattress in Louvain La Nueve
Currently Listening: Super Sjoene Daag (vlierglied) - De Radlers
Weather: Mild/Humid..probably from hanging wet laundry

Well, it sure has been a whirlwind weekend as I've spent the past few days making a tour of Belgium with a quick stopover in Maastricht for Carnaval. My weekend has consisted of the following:

- Losing my hat in the bathroom of a biscuit shop
- Intense  BBCW consumption (Belgian Beer Chocolate & Waffles)
- A day each in Brussels, Antwerp, Brugge, and Louvain La Nueve (where Chole is studying)
- The Maastricht Carnaval (the European origins of Mardi Gras void of beads and flashing)
- Catching up on the Buck Wild History of Miss Chole Brumley

I would love to write more, and maybe I will on the plane, but I am of course totally unpacked for my flight to Dublin in a few hours. Promise fun stories to come!!

Every five seconds this song played from a float in the Carnaval parade in Maastricht.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"And I won't be satisfied till there's nothing left that I haven't tried," - Brendan Benson

Location: My room, which has not experienced invasion by the Rat King. I'm waiting for my Nutcracker Prince to save me from Francois.
Currently Listening: What I'm looking for - Brendan Benson
Weather: Right index-finger-aching cold (That's zero degrees Celsius)

Fun Finds in Le Marais

Today's Reverse Course Dinner!

Creperie Suzette
24 rue des Francs Bourgeois 75003 Paris
Alas a good c
repe curbside! I'll have to go back to eat inside where they have a much larger selection, but man it seems like you're more likely to get quality crepes when you go to a regular creperie that has a "take-away" window.

I ordered a crepe citron....Soft, sweet crepe doused in the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon and SUGAR. As Laura described it, he "rained" that sugar on, baby. Tasty, tasty!!!! What did Laura get? Nutella banana, as always! I would complain more about her need to try other flavors but I take comfort in the fact that she tries all the ones I order, and that I always get to sneak a bite of hers to get my Nutella fix.

L'As du Falafel 34 Rue des Rosiers, 4th Tel 01 48 87 63 60 Frankly, I'm not at all concerned with the fact that this in Lenny Kravitz' pick of Paris (If you forget to read your Lonely Planet, don't worry, the menu will remind you), but this place was freakin' de-lish. I loove my neighborhood, so much good food in such close proximity. Anyway, I had the Falafel special... red and white cabbage, roasted egglants, cucumbers, tzakiki sauce, and crisp - made on the spot falafels. They make 'em better here. I used to get tummy aches from the ones I find around Austin.. probably not fresh.

3) Laura picked out my new Metro husband...he's moroccan and has funny shoes.

The past fortnight...

Last week we threw a party at chez moi (my place)! A bit of wine and cheese is enough to get a party started here - big change from the trashcan-punch "soirees" that give UT its "#1 party school in the nation" title. I miss apartment parties from back home - good mixture of relaxed conversation and wild dancing with no cover and coat check fee! Most of our friends are all international students and live in dorms so we're mostly "forced" to socialize in bars and clubs, which gets expensive quickly...but sometimes wealthy friends get bottle service. The other night we went to Club Med. On the tables they had some atypical apple juice. I hope this apple juice and vodka craze doesn't catch on in elementary schools back home...

How is school going? (Apparently, I'm allowed to conduct self-interviews on this thing) Got a ton of group projects I'm working on... I gave a presentation today for my International Business Management class on the how investors should put their money into the tourism sector of Vietnam. In the afternoon I had my European Model class taught by a rather young professor dressed in mustard suspenders, Harry Potter gl
asses, and purple tie who spent three hours discussing in detail the madness behind today's financial crisis.

I wish all topics could be taught by visiting a museum. The other day I went to a really neat art exhibition 6 Billion Others which should be coming to a museum near you! This man went to 65 different countries interviewing people about life over about ten years and created this video art presentation. Basically, you walk through different tents on subjects like change, dreams, fear, first memories, love, happiness, etc. and watch clips of responses. Incredibly moving.

Today Laura and I explored some random gardens we found on a page in our Paris map/guidebook. By explore I mean to say played make-believe and acted like we were on the Discovery Channel and crawled through passages in the bushes and made up descriptions of plants. She probably doesn't want me to share this with you. Outside the leafy labyrinth we found ourselves at some sort of zoo like exhibit where we met some wallabies! (Mmm Wallaby Yoghurt is delicious! It's just a brand don't worry not freaky australian food) We kept on walking and ended up at the Grande Galerie de l'Évolution, a natural history museum. Pretty fascinating display of animals. I'm too lazy to upload pictures, otherwise I'd show you. The whale jaws/teeth were kind of gross/weird like a sea broom. I'm rambling. Probably should wrap up.

Wraps make me think of Greek food which triggers baklava which reminds me of the dessert I found in the bakery down the street from the gardens. Kristina will be jealous because it was AFRICAN food! I thought it was Algerian, but the receipt says Les Graines de Kenza. I know that was not the name on the building though so good luck finding it. Incredible display of desserts I've never seen in my life. I have no idea what I ate, but it was a triangle and was flakey with honey and almond. Pleasant, but I think my tummy is rejecting sugar today. Oh well, the sun'll come out tomorrow.

1) The infamous little sucker that gives me a little heart attack whenever I enter the kitchen. God, if I ever find him in my boot....

He likes hanging out under the sink, so I stand awkwardly away from it when I wash my hands.
The vegetarian/Gandhi-ist in me refuses to put the rat poison out or use a trap that may maim Francois. I tried to catch him in a cardboard box once. Quite the disaster. . he has too many passages to run through in the walls. Gandhi, help me, how do I kill him with kindness?!

2) They listen to TAYLOR SWIFT in the supermarkets here. Should I be surprised?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Oh give me the words, give me the words" - Nouvelle Vague

Location: Train to Paris
Currently Listening: Nouvelle Vague - In a manner of speaking
Weather: Snow fall!


The Cast
Mama Blair

Description: Moves as fast as a bullet, powered by yogurt cups

Hobbies: Eating yogurt, speed-walking, making sarcastic comments

Famous Quotes:
“I’m prepared to do something illegal.”
“I want my carrots. Just give me the damn carrots!”

The Old Couple
Laura/Turtle #1

Description: Ham-nivore eager to play rugby and meet Mr. Darcy

Hobbies: Eating Nutella banana crepes, listening to HSM soundtracks, Skype-ing with Mama Suttles

Famous Quotes:
“You know, Camp Rock, the Disney movie?" (No….)

Saloni/Turtle #2

Description: Vegetarian with uncontrollable enthusiasm and bangs, and mad map skills

Hobbies: Finding husbands on the Metro, eating hummus, carrying too many bags

Famous Quotes:
“Oh my God, I saw a donkey!”
“What’s that recycling sign for?”

I strongly advise against visiting Normandie in January unless you are from Poland. Not even thermals, jeans, a cami, long sleeves, coat, scarf, gloves and hat could keep this Texan girl warm in the blustery winter of North France.

Overview of the Plot
On Friday Laura and I rushed after French class to meet Blair and head to the train station for a little weekend trip to Normandie and Brittany. The train ride was more than pleasant; clean, sleek, fast and heated! Much different from my experiences in India (the scent of urine can be so strong and the fight for a seat can be an ordeal) and in Italy (on our way to Pisa, there was a strike and we had to sit around waiting for hours on the train)… but nothing like riding through the French countryside! I just need to find me a nice plot of land in the middle of the country and set up a little B&B or creperie or something of the sort. Although I don’t think I’d like making a bunch of beds and cleaning bathrooms all day… Seriously though, I can’t wait to have my own house. I daydream everyday about the kitchen I will have with the a big round stove to make crepes or dosas, copper sinks that deepen in color with age, and the pizza oven out in the backyard…

Our train arrived in Deauville around 4. … not too much going on in Deauville although we kept seeing signs for some American cinema festival they have every year…This place is definitely for the wealthy who want to waste away on their yachts or in the casino hotel…. I gambled for the first time… Stuck a ten center in a slot machine. Yeah, I think I’d get a much bigger kick out of finding a toy in a cereal box. The shops were nice, lots of well-known designers, and smaller unheard of boutiques, but we arrived as they were closing (Oh Europe, the continent that starts falling asleep at 6pm). Blair spotted an Astin Martin and naturally wanted a photo shoot with the beauty. (Blair must’ve been a model in another lifetime because she can pull out the pouty lips or a sultry pose at a moment’s notice) Unfortunately for us the owner started walking up to the car just as we were taking photos. Hahaha how embarrassing!
After an Italian dinner, (you’d think I’d learn by now that Italian food sucks in France. I want basil on my Margherita pizza and I don’t want it coated with emmental!) and a 25 minute hike in the blood-freezing cold out of the city center along some dark foresty road, we arrived at our small hotel Kyriad.

Saturday morning we woke up and tried to get a car we’d rented online from Hertz. Unfortunately Hertz US failed to tell Hertz France about our reservation – much to our surprise because our families have relied on Hertz many times in the past. There was not a single automatic car in the city so we were forced to take a train (Thank God for public transport) to Caen and rent a care there. What’s a good road trip without a few hiccups?

We had to wait a few hours till our train arrived so we warmed our bodies by a heater in nearby brasserie. There we learned about the typical breakfast offering. Orange juice + Coffee + Croissant also known as death-wish for Saloni so I ordered a chocolat chaud and called it a meal.

Our train to Caen stopped in Liseux by the time our empty tummies began eating our insides. We walked around but nothing was open (again!) but this bar next to the train station. There was nothing vegetarian but a plate of fries. Tempting at the time, but I do not want this feeling of an extra layer building up to be more than my long underwear…so I found some chirwa I’d brought a long for the trip and made it my lunch while Laura attempted a strange baguette filled with mayo and hard boiled eggs – needless to say that did not end well…

Caen was a breath of fresh air. We walked around a nice set of shops along some cobblestone streets (I love cobblestone streets) where we found my French lover Paul waiting for us. I had the most delicious sandwich made with olive bread. Mom, I know you’d eat a loaf of this stuff in a heartbeat. I am growing a new liking to olives in more than just the olive oil context. After a quick look in Sephora, which was having a crazy sale like we’ve never seen in the U.S., we found ourselves in an environmental shop, Nature & Découvertes, which sells a lot of neat green products from beauty supplies to clothing, to incense to camping essentials. Of course everything was in French so when I tried to put on moisturizer, I ended up putting on soap. This tree-hugger/shop-aholic couldn’t walk out with buying something so I ended up walking out with this swiss army knife like thing with a cutlery set… for all the picnics I plan to have in warmer weather. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out of grocery store in Europe wishing I could make a cheap healthy snack of yoghurt or couscous if only I had a spoon. I’m sure it’ll come in handy especially when I backpack through Greece.

We also walked around Abbey Aux Hommes, which was gorgeous. Don't worry, Karina, they also built an Abbey Aux Dames on the other side of town!

We drove off to Bayeux a nearby town. While the girls freshened up, I went off exploring on my own and picked up a few goodies at Salon de The, and Jeff de Bruges chocolate shop. Truffes in French patisseries are really chocolate dipped meringue balls with chocolate crème. I walked through the whole in search of good place for dinner but everything was close or way too French (code for anti-vegetarian). I ended up at what a surprise, another Italian restaurant. I had a nice aubergine pizza, nothing remotely Italian, but at least better than the night before.
This time there was a bit of chili oil and salt and pepper for me to give a little more flavor.
After getting lost a little I mustered up the strength to ask someone where I was and soon made it to the delightful Hotel Le Bayeux where I warmed up and watched The Daily Show while the girls ate a restaurant famous for the Normandy pig.

Sunday morning we visited the world’s longest tapestry, which tells the tale of William the Conqueror. Pretty amazing to have survived the years.. it did get a little gory at one point with chopped heads and horses getting strewn about.

Nothing like staring at a tapestry to work up our appetite (Laura and I could pretty much eat at all hours) so I brought the girls back to the Salon de Thé…I love the marble counters lined the shop and beautiful white tables and chairs perfect for tea parties. I found another apple dessert I like besides apple pie. If a Tarte Normande comes knocking at your door, by God open it!

After Bayeux we hit the beach…I thought we could have a picnic, enjoy looking at the water, it was of course cold. BOY WAS I IN FOR A SURPRISE! The weather found its way into negative Celsius degrees and the wind burned my cheeks and the occasional stronger gust had enough strength to knock me off balance. Still, we made attempts to enjoy all of the beaches we stopped at along the Normandie coastline by taking a few snapshots and getting as close to waves as possible without succumbing to death by frost bite.

The three of us brushed up on our history by visiting the American Cemetery where we
watched several short films about WWII and read about stories of war heroes. It was a little unnerving to walk through the room where a recording of a woman reading the names of those lost played and the sight of all of the white crosses. Blair and I looked at the pictures of then young boys in the war who had to grow up so quickly. I think if the entire world was suddenly at war, American boys our age wouldn’t be prepared or be able to handle what those before us went through and hopefully, they never will.

4 o’ clock on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of nowhere Normandy, we knew we were Kanye-West-screwed in terms of finding food since we’d missed lunch. (Oh the ever present American worry of missing a meal). We attempted a 2 hour drive to St. Malo south of Mont St. Michel where our hostel was that evening in search of food. Again we found ourselves among gated up shops and restaurants with the exception of a Domino’s, a questionable tri-Asian restaurant, and a fondue place…which appeared to be the French equivalent of a biker bar. We got as far as sitting down at the table in the fondue place, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to order anything on the menu and the restaurant wasn’t technically open (they were cleaning and setting up) so we ran across the street to this tiny food mart and picked up some life savers (Monaco crackers & yogurt for Blair) and set out for Mont. St Michel (got way lost – we couldn’t find a map large enough to cover the area).

Just outside Mont St Michel, we spotted a large, nice looking restaurant with, PEOPLE and a fireplace! We rushed into La Restaurant de la Galette and had a nice long, hot meal. The owner served our meal and was a very nice man who was gracious to serve us difficult English speakers at what must have time for closing. Blair begged him to bring her out a plate of carrots (All of us are concerned with our nutrition here…it’s really hard to get vegetables in restaurants) and luckily he whipped up a vegetarian crepe for me. It was basically a crepe with a tomato, carrots, and white beans lying on top of it, but I was so hungry and the food tasted so nice and fresh I didn’t care (We found out afterward that everything came from the fields next to the restaurant). Oh, I almost did something horrific. I almost ordered a crepe with bourdin noir… Blair’s Oxford French – English dictionary translated this as black pudding…. But really it’s BLOOD PUDDING. Perhaps if I had eaten a proper meal that I would have lost it right there on the table when the waiter told me this. I think it was just the combination of my being ready to order it and who knows if I would have been able to tell what it was on a plate. Thank God they teach us in American schools (opposite in French ones) that no question is a stupid question!

We got back into the car to discover the dashboard lights had decided to turn. All this time, Blair had been driving with a flashlight in her right hand to see the dashboard. The radio also decided to stop working so we had to pull out my laptop and listen to the random songs I had on my iTunes. I think it was midnight by the time we made it to our hostel Au Bon Accueil,
which was advertised as in Mont St. Michel…To our surprise it was a good 20 minutes away…which is enough time to take you through a couple of city centres in northern France. But the hostel was cozy and the lady who owns the place turned out to be a really nice British lady, who was kind enough to give us a proper map of the area.

Monday morning we woke up and ate Blair’s fantasy version of Thanksgiving. Two cups of yoghurt (mine had tiny pieces of green apple! Yum!). We finally got to explore Mont St. Michel, which is a small island with a large castle and a few gift shops with freakish souvenirs: rabbit food with a cat’s head on it, tiny fake cats, dolphins on surfboards, etc.) A+ for creativity though! We were convinced the shops and restaurants had some sort of price-fixing going on. All of the creperies had the same menu (colors, prices and everything) posted outside each of them. We ended up getting these Tartes Provencales (sometimes an actual tart, but in this case, crunchy toast smothered in shredded cheese, herbes de provence, tomatoes, olive oil, and basil.) and, of course, yoghurt for Blair. Also, for whatever reason, we ran into gobs and gobs of Japanese tourists.

We tried to visit what we thought was a chocolate factory but it
ended up being a lame shop with a small museum… so we skipped that and attempted the yoghurt factory for Blair.
We literally saw it off the side of the highway and decided to just stop and see if they would let us in for a tour, but they rejected us. Depression. We made one final attempt at an industry tour and called a local ciderie, Les Vergers du Ducy, to see if they would let us visit in the off-season.

We talked with the owner over the phone, and he was gracious enough to give us a tour without a moment's notice! He was a very nice, knowledgeable man and taught us all about the cider-making process and let us taste a lot of the products they make, which are all organic! They make several drinks apple juice, cidre, pommeau (wine), crème de pomme (similar to Bailey’s), and calvados (brandy). We took a few drinks home, and some cidre vinegar and this yummy-looking confiture de lait, a creamy apple spread to use in crepes.

After that quite delicious pit stop, we hit the road for Deauville to catch our train to Paris. While waiting for our train we sat in this truly vile smelling room to keep warm..I think it was a mixture of vomit and urine. Once a couple, also cold, came by and turned around walked right out because it smelled so bad. They’d rather sit outside. 15 minutes later a woman came in and tried to sit down, but then threw her hands up in frustration and said “Non!” and walked right out. Oh the things we will do to stay warm. A little later, we got on the train and watched the snow fall as we traveled south to Paris.

Shocking news! I started testing out my French on REAL FRENCH people, and I’m starting to get the gist of what people are saying when they respond to my questions. A few new phrases I’ve tried out…
Vous avez chocolat san soja? Do you have chocolate without soy?
Vous avez lait du soja? Do you have soy milk?
Vous avez un carte du Deauville? Do you have a map of Deauville?
Un tableau pour trois., s’il vous plait. A table for three, please.