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.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

omg pie!?

PS, guess who this is