Travel

Spaetzl and Sangria

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I write this as I sit in the swankiest train car I could imagine. This journey, to Amsterdam, the first leg of my marathon two week long spring break, is one of those rare occasions when first class happened to be cheaper than second. Suffice to say, I’m impressed. After settling myself in my red velvety extra wide seat, I realized that we first class passengers have the privilege of free wifi, free drinks, (a well deserved beer,) and free snacks (fig tart). Unfortunately our train is currently undergoing some technical difficulties and we’ve been barely squeaking forward inch by inch for the last 30 minutes. The gare (train station) is still within sight. The nice Belgian man next to me is getting rather testy, but personally I’m quite satisfied to sip my Leffe and write with a view of the Paris skyline. 

Strasbourg


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Let’s play catchup, shall we?  Since I last wrote, I’ve covered a lot of ground, we’ll start with was Strasbourg. The weekend jaunt was another group trip with the other Dijonettes and was quite a different experience than those that preceded it. Our trip was much less structured than others like the La Loire valley trip and consequently was a lot more relaxing. All the same, we started the trip at the European Union, which was quite a sight to behold. Imagining the assembly in session and the work of the translators did, admittedly, plant a seed of interest in terms of potential future careers. Can’t have too many options, right?
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Our next Strasbourg tourist obligation was to climb to the top of the resident Notre Dame cathedral. While the climb certainly surpassed any exercise I’ve done since leaving the states (aside from the occasional sprint for a tram or metro,) the view was well worth it.
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Of course, we also indulged in a few other Strasbourg treats, like spaetzle, massive steaming pots of choucroute and (my favorite,) Alsacian tarts.  Alsacian tarts are, as the name suggests, a specialty of the Alsace region and are rather reminiscent of a pizza, with tomato sauce swapped out for a béchamel and covered in julienned onion and lardon (bacon).  Its crispy and creamy and bacony and wonderful – eat in large quantities whenever possible, its good for the soul.  Luckily for me and my fellow American travelers, Strasbourg is something of an anomaly compared to the rest of France and the portions are almost always huge.
 
In terms of evening entertainment, a few of the other girls and I had a bang up time shimmying to Latin music at a Cuban club on a bateau mouche on the l’Ill river. It looked exactly like the boat scene with Johnny Depp in Chocolat (if you don’t catch the reference, watch the movie, of only to ogle a young Johnny Depp and a lot chocolate).
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Before returning to Dijon, we toured le château du haut koenigsbourg and it was beautiful and completely different than any other we had visited previously. The magnificent structure was built more or less as part of the cliff and consequently shares he rich russet color of the rocks. It was in all other circumstances a miserable day and was cold and rainy, but that somehow made it much more magical. Peering out the guard tower was my favorite part and went very well with the book I’m reading right now; the story follows a woman that travels from the 1940’s to the 1740’s in Scotland and has become my escape the past few months. It’s called Outlander if you’re in need of a new obsession, it’s also recently become a TV show.
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Easter in Barcelona


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The following weekend another Dijonette, Marissa, and I were off to Barcelona to celebrate one of her friends birthdays.  It was my first time leaving La Belle France since arriving in January.  Seventy degrees and sunny was just what I needed after months of grey and cold.  So I swapped out boots for flip flops and a trench coat for a sundress, and crossed swimming in the Mediterranean off my bucket list.  Actually, we had rather little choice other than going to the beach as everything is closed for Good Friday and Easter respectively.  We made the best of the situation and sipped mojitos at Platja De La Nova Icaria and I worked on getting a gnarly sunburn (Marissa, having better fore site than I, bought and used sunblock).  I should also note that our hostel was astonishingly nice, in fact it was significantly nicer than any hotel I’ve stayed in since arriving.  Most impressive features include a pool and thumb print activated door locks, not to mention overall cleanliness, friendliness and sleek design.  TOC hostel, put it on the list for future travels.

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To keep things fresh, I decided against trying to see every tourist attraction the city had to offer in my 3 days and instead tried to enjoy just being in a cool new city. Of course, I couldn’t leave without a bit of culture, so Sunday morning I visited the Sagrada familia with one of my new friends, Gwen. What a bizarre and spectacular edifice! The contrast between the different styles is striking, it was wonderful to see it in person after having learned about it so many times in class.
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I didn’t sleep much in Barcelona. Aside from the fact that Spaniards dine at an hour (10pm) that approaches my bed time, our new friends had quite a lot of partying in mind.  Our first stop was to a cavernous bar where patrons can buy sangria by the liter.  We also indulged in papas bravas (fried potatoes covered in cheese and tomato sauce. drool.) and a Spanish tortilla, not to be confused with the other sort of tortilla.  For those unaware, this variety is effectively a very dense omelette most often with potatoes but occasionally other things tossed in. All in all, Barcelona left me tan, happy and exhausted.
 
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Suggestions for your next trip to Barcelona:


MILK Bar & Bistro, complete with crispy bacon, three egg omelet, mimosa, grits and sweet decor, this was best breakfast I’ve had since leaving the states and the perfect way to start Easter Sunday.

Sangria bar, futile Google searches haven’t turned up much information but I can tell you it’s in the Université area which is great to visit even if you can’t find this gem.  This would be the buy-it-by-the-liter bar I mentioned previously, which also features a cool cavern and hip atmosphere; and papas bravas.  I love papas bravas.

Le Cyrano, three words: two. euro. drinks. And you get to pour them yourself. Yes, you read that right, these lovely people will ask you what type of mixer you would like (a bottle of orange juice, for example) and your vice of choice (such as vodka,) and a highball glass.  You can fill that highball up with vodka and keep the OJ for the hangover if thats what suits your fancy.  In any event, come prepared to party.
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I hope you’ll be a better tourist than I was. I guess I’ll just have to go back now. 
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We’ll Always Have Paris

13 mars 2015


After a very long day Versailles, I bid my three traveling companions (Claire, Piper and Ryan) adieu and embarked on my first solo adventure abroad. I’ve heard traveling alone in your 20s a great lesson in discovering yourself, and I’m a big fan of self discovery.  I didn’t have much of a plan for my time, but I did know that I love Paris so I decided to play it by ear – solid choice. My trip was to be short, only Saturday night and Sunday day. It just so turned out that a girl in my room at the hostel went to my high school!  This coincidence made all the more shocking given my graduating class was 82 people.

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I started Sunday, appropriately, at Saint Chapelle. The stained glass windows tell a very lengthy count of how King (later Saint) Louis received the thorny crown from Jesus himself. A less than humble choice given that it was Louis that commissioned the work. The stained glass is stunning and certainly was worth standing in the cold in ballet flats; however, I did all but sprint to the nearest warm looking café after standing in the stone walled, refrigerator-like sanctuary.

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It was at this café that I made my first new friends of the journey.  Having seen the best pizza I’ve ever eaten through the window, two lovely American women stopped in a sat at the table next to me. While self discovery is all fine and well, it is nicer to have someone to chat with over a great lunch. If you two are reading this, thank you for keeping me company, it was so nice meeting you!

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My afternoon was full of art. I had yet to see the Musée d’Orangerie and had no idea what I was missing. Conveniently located in the same area as the Louvre and the D’Orsay, the Orangerie is host to Monet’s Waterlillies. the artists intention was not lost on me, the 360° watery splendor was a welcome respite from the thriving city just outside the museum walls. The history of the paintings were almost as interesting as the actual works. Installed in the 20’s, they were wholly unappreciated and more or less abandoned as the public lost interest in Impressionism. In the late 90’s, the public regained interest And the museum received enough funding to restore the paintings and fit the gallery with the sunlight Monet intended. How something so beautiful could go unnoticed for so long is beyond me.

After a somewhat brief return to the D’Orsay, I was dead on my feet and decided to return to the hostel (and bar) to wait (and drink a beer) before heading to train station.  At the hostel I was greeted by a gaggle of English speaking people around my own age.  Given my limited contact with people outside our ten girl group at the moment I’m not sure I can call missing that train entirely unfortunate. After chatting a while at the hostel, it was an appropriate dinner time and headed to get pho (hallelujah). The group was quite the motley crew of all solo travelers hailing from India, Wisconsin, Argentina, Texas, England, and California.

After my exercise in futility of trying to catch and promptly missing my train home, I caught the group heading out to the Eiffel Tower. Four miles or so later we returned to the hostel and my legs were shaking from walking, or adrenaline, or both.

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The following morning, I decided that if I was going  to miss my art history class I might as well experience some in the flesh. Eight of us hiked the butt-shaping stairs up to Sacré-Cœur and, after taking in the breath taking view, feasted on crêpes and mid-afternoon wine. Even after less than 24 hours with my new friends, it was hard to say goodbye.  I can’t wait to see some of you in our future travels!

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20 mars 2015


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This past weekend, I returned to Paris.  My obsession with Paris is becoming something of a running joke with the other Dijonettes, but Piper was kind enough to indulge me this weekend and joined me on the trip.  Due to a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to experience the Paris nightlife Friday night, we stumbled across Shakespeare and Co. Booksellers.  Thumbing through weathered pages and imagining the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald browsing the same selection was more than enough to make my night.  It’s too bad my current reading list is far longer than my time here (Harry Potter in french is next).

On Saturday we swung by Monet’s Waterlillies (Nymphéas) at the Orangerie, which Piper had yet to see, and headed up Champs Élysées en route to the l’Arc de Triomphe.

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Fun Fact: The french equivalent for “window shopping” is “lèche vitrine,” or “window licking.” The french expression is a much more accurate description of what I look like in front of stores like Chanel, Dior, or Céline.  Among those stores I can’t afford is Louis Vuitton, and I don’t think any window licking could have prepared me for what the flagship store had lurking behind its mirrored walls.  The first few floors were what you may expect from a luxury brand, with the added novelty of people sipping complementary (with purchase of handbag) champagne and gabbing away in an impressive assortment of languages.  The real intrigue lies in the luggage room on the third floor which features a three story dripping with crystalline spires.  The semi circular room has a mysterious looking pitch black rectangle cut out of one of the walls – it’s an elevator.  Rather, its a lightless fabric lined box that, should you dare, will take you up to the top of that three story ceiling to show you the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton.  Given my natural curiosity and Piper’s flexibility, we boarded the plush death chamber and rode, in body odor-filled, stinky silence up three floors. The exhibition proved to be a very modern, abstract art installation involving a lot of thread/string, strange lighting, and a great view of Champs Élysées.  I think you’ve gotta see it to believe it.

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A bit shell shocked from that experience, we returned to our tourism goals via the subterranean walkway to the Arc de Triomphe.  My takeaway: it’s a lot bigger when you’re standing underneath it.

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Other highlights of the weekend include:

  • Thai and Indian food.  Sometimes a little variety from the bread and cheese lifestyle is good.
  • Ladurée.  Need I say more? Pistachio and Rose Water are my favorite.
  • Open air markets.  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of gawking at the abundance of fresh produce, drooling over mountains of cheese, marveling at the seafood selection and breathing deep next to the rotisserie chickens.
  • The metro.  I’m not sure this should qualify as a highlight, given the frustration it caused. Aside from the standard half mile long, urinal smelling underground treks, this weekend the metro had another irritating trait: it was free. Free, to our great dismay given that we had already unknowingly bought 12€ day passes. Did no one think to inform us?! Fingers crossed we’ll be able to use them in the future.
  • Street musicians.  As a result of unlimited free rides around the city of lights, we were treated to a frenzy of musicians turning a 100% profit. Piper got to experience just how much I love these musicians and patiently stood by while I took videos and scrounged what loose change I could. After spending quite a bit of time in the metro, I’ve compiled quite the collection of videos ranging from the ways classic accordionists, violinists, polka bands, mouth harpists and the like. With this much footage I feel obligated to compile something; ideas are welcome.

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Spring has sprung here in Dijon and with it I have a few new things to smile about.

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Daffodils (Jonquilles) will always have a special place in my heart.  The hillside behind my house annually produces a rather impressive selection of the buttery flowers and I’ve fond memories of picking them and handing them out to neighbors.  In the spring here you will find street vendors have swapped out chestnuts roasting on an open grill for baskets overflowing with little bouquets of daffodils.  These guys brighten my day even without buying the flowers but at one euro per bundle, it’s a price I can get behind to brighten someone’s day.

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Water Works

THE FOUNTAINS ARE ON.  Well, at least some of them are.  Back in December, Which feels like a lifetime ago, I was googling photos of Dijon to get myself acquainted and the most popular photo I found, aside from the bounty of mustard pictures, was of the fountains at Place de la Libération.  While those fountains have yet to spring to life (pun intended,) those in front of my tram stop have.  It’s beginning to look a lot like spring time y’all.

People Watching – french edition

Now that people can stand to be outside longer than to just run between buildings, all of the picturesque, very french looking cafés have unfurled their outdoor dining areas. My lunches have consequently improved ten fold. There’s nothing quite so lovely and french feeling as sipping a white burgundy, nibbling on a croque monsieur, and basking in the sun while watching the dijonnais amble by.

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Thank you for being here today

Chateau la Loire – 16th century StairMaster


Since my last post, my life has been the stuff of fairy tales.  Our second group excursion was to the many châteaux in the La Loire region of France. The trip was a four day extravaganza of châteaux tours – much more tiring than it sounds.  We were warned to dress for chilly stone chambers in spite of warming temperatures and the promise of spring.

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The unofficial group pose

The first day we hiked up stairs that I would imagine might have deterred a few house guests to the Château de Blois.  Like many other châteaux, Blois was built over many centuries, as its erudite inhabitants saw fit or encountered the fortune I imagine it must cost to construct such a bundling.  The particular intrigue of this chateau is that those inhabitants paid little to no attention to the structure or style of the previous builder and thus erected a series of incongruent structures.  Noteworthy additions include the eye-drawing and elaborate external staircase that was wholly ignored and unused as indoor staircases became more fashionable. 

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Château de Chambord

Out next stop – the same day – was Château de Chambord.  The largest and probably the best known, it was actually just built for show, to stand as a testament to what beautiful buildings the French were capable of constructing.  The effect was accomplished given the desire, the coolest part being yet another staircase.  This one is in the form of a double helix, meaning there are two staircases stacked on top of each other and should you enter one of them, you would never cross paths with a person on the other. I know the concept is relatively simple but I still had quite a time trying to wrap my head around the construction. The staircase also led to a few good conversations about romance or horror films that could be filmed on it. Just imagine the prospects! The construction also appeals to my compulsively organized side. The design is centered on the staircase and the surrounded area is divided into eight sections which are then further divided horizontally and vertically on higher floors. As if that weren’t enough, the château boasts a mini village on the roof, which, I believe was actually inhabited. Such a pity the King of France spent only two weeks at the estate. 

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Château de Chaumont

We began our second day at the Château de Chaumont. If my memory serves me this palatial structure inspired the design of sleeping beauty’s castle.  The grounds of the chateau are appropriately regal, with paths weaving through flower beds, around impressively large stables and to outlooks over the adjacent river. In contrast to Chambord, Chaumont was completely furnished, and thus felt much more homey.  That lived-in feeling may factor into it being my favorite of the four we visited. I also made friends with a very nice orange tabby cat that then followed me around the gardens; more likely the reason I enjoyed my time there so much.  

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Château de Chenonceau

Finally, we made our way to the Château de Chenonceau.  While Chaumont is my favorite, I must admit that Chenonceau, a close second, is the most impressive. The palace stretches over a “rivière,” not to be confused with a “fleuve” as I thought it was. A “rivière,” is actually a tributary, though it sounds an awful lot like a river, which is actually a “fleuve.” In any event, Chenonceau is built over this body of water and as a result has the COOLEST KITCHEN EVER.  The kitchens (note: plural) were often located in the basement in most architecture of the time, but what makes these particularly sweet is the delivery method made possible by the river/rivière/tributary. When delivering food stuffs, boats would tether under the chateau and offload cargo through the boat-level windows (the top of the wall) of the kitchens; pretty convenient. The kitchens are divided into a butcher area, the bakery area, the classic kitchen and the servants’ dining area. I also loved the somber but beautiful bed chamber of la reine Louise de Lorraine.  The queen of King Henri III fell into a state of deep depression after her beloved king’s death and mourned for the remaining twelve years of her life.  In order to grieve properly, Louise lived out her final days wearing only white (apparently the color of mourning) and had her room and all of her possessions bedecked in black velvet.  I suppose if you’re going to grieve for twelve years, you might as well do it in style.  

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At Chenonceau, each room was decked out in custom, fresh floral arrangement; this one was in Louis de Lorraine’s bedchamber.

To bolster the awe striking appearance of Chenoceau, it also has some of the coolest, largest and french-est gardens I’ve ever seen.  

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Château de Chenonceau

Casualties of the trip: I ate too much foie gras.  Be wary, you can in fact have too much of a good thing. 

Our last morning, three of us hiked up another set of impressive stairs named for Dennis Papin.  My mother recently informed me that we are indebted to this 17th c. French physicist as a result of his pioneering invention of the steam digester – forerunner of the ever important pressure cooker.  The view from the top was well worth the climb and made for the most peaceful way to start a Sunday and reflect on over a month of time spent in La belle France.

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Château de Chenonceau

Versailles


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the Hall of Mirrors or Galeries des Glaces at Versailles

In keeping with the castle theme, three of the other dijonettes and I embarked on a weekend adventure to the only true palace in France: Versailles. Of course we watched Marie Antoinette to prepare ourselves for the trip, given that it’s the only movie to have ever been filmed there, I highly suggest watching it before any future trips you might be planning. We boarded a train in Dijon at 7:30am dressed in our most princessy outfits (it was in preparing for this trip that none of my clothes are particularly princessy, but I tried.)  My first reaction upon arriving was shock that the Versailles is actually surrounded by a town. The movie did not prepare me for this moment, nor did it prepare me for all of the peasants cluttering up my photos. I digress. Our time in the palace proper was no more than three hours. My personal favorite rooms were, of course, the hall of mirrors, but also the library of one of the princesses. The room was smaller than most others and had a surprisingly cozy feel, given the straight backed charms and formality of everything. I mostly enjoyed the thought of ladies in corseted gowns reading leather bound books, each with the seal of the daughters of France on their covers.

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Hanging out with a thousand of my closest friends in the Hall of Mirrors

Another great attraction was the Google 3D simulation room. Something about 3D simulations makes me way more interested.

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Posing with Piper behind the main palace

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The summer palace

Moving on from the main palace, we explored the gardens and, my favorite part, Marie Antoinette’s village. As I understand it, this  little village was constructed largely so that the former queen could experience the aspects of “normal” life which intruiged her. Of course, servants cleaned the eggs in the in the coops before touched by royal hands. Maybe that’s not true, I’m mostly going off the movie here.  Regardless of the practical functionality of the village, I think we all preferred it to joining mobs of people peering over banisters at ornate furniture.  We opted to abstain from the five euro tram through the gardens and given that the afternoon turned out to be a beautiful and brisk spring day, it was undoubtedly the right choice.

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Giggles with Ryan in the gardens

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Enjoying Marie Antoinette’s village

As if I didn’t already feel like I was in a real life fairytale world, the town surrounding the palace solidified the sentiment. We snaked through the streets, all too quickly for my liking, watching sorbet colored sunset light glint off shop windows.

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Let’s Talk About Food

Vittel


As I mentioned in my last post, my first weekend jaunt without the group was to Vittel, France. The quaint little town (and I do mean little) is known almost exclusively for its hot springs which, I gathered have long drawn visitors. As a result of the hot spring’s relative fame, the town also exports a bottled mineral water. It seems most people are far more familiar with the product than the actual city. Karina, another Dijonette and I headed out on Saturday morning, heading the advice that we would be bored after more than a day in Vittel; fairly accurate.
Given that our spa day was inadvertently scheduled on Valentine’s Day, we were surrounded by couples. Romantic atmosphere and milling lovebirds aside, the spa was quite an experience. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a few spas stateside and they did absolutely nothing to prepare me for this one. After strolling through a park and cloister straight out of a Jane Austen novel, we entered into an airy two story lobby dominated by a massive staircase. We checked in and were given a tote bag, to be carried at all times in the spa which held our itinerary, shower cap, and hand towel. The entire building seemed much more like a conference center than the zen, cozy spas I’ve apparently grown accustom to. That being said, we had quite the time bopping from sauna to steam room (the biggest I’ve ever seen) to hot tub to weird pool with weird volcano jets and handles, and drinking raspberry syrup water and feet smelling tea. Like I said, quite the experience. In spite of our intentions to explore the local (minimal) nightlife, we were absolutely exhausted after a day of relaxation and crashed around 10:30pm.

Beaune


Our first group excursion! All ten Dijonettes boarded a mini bus early last Saturday morning headed for Beaune, France. The relatively short ride there took us past countless vineyards and picturesque châteaux, which ruined my plan to catch up on some sleep, darn it all.

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Our first stop was the Saturday market, naturally I freaked out and took by far the most pictures since leaving Paris. I splurged a little on dried fruits and cashews, rationalizing it as future afternoon snacks (I’m always hungry between lunch and dinner); so worth it. A few of the other girls and moved on to nibbling and sampling our way through the rest of the stalls. I never knew 2-4 year old cheese could taste so fresh, and then there was truffle cheese. Ooohhhhh the truffle cheese. Given the firmness of the pecorino that was playing host to the truffles, it practically melted on my tongue. Those truffles must have been ridiculously fresh too, no stale or musty taste ruining the flavor. Cheese is great. Alright, I’ll stop drooling.

The most heavenly cheese I have ever tasted.

Having successfully dragged me away from a cheese stand, the group trickled into our main activity of the day: wine tasting – at 11am. The dégustation took place in a dungeon-like cellar that definitely didn’t turn out well in the photos. We feigned understanding, swilling and slurping as instructed our way through six wines.  I guess it’s hard to understand words in french that I don’t even know in English. Best part: we got to keep the tasting cup/saucer things. Afterwards, I took particular joy in trying to find the most expensive bottle of wine; it was 3,000€. I also found a bottle of wine that was my age next to a bottle of my dad’s vintage (pun totally intended). Sorry for divulging your age on the Internet, dad.

dégustation cups, the cutest darn things

After our dégustation, we meandered through the streets of Beaune and climbed into another dungeon space for lunch. Prepare yourself, this is another lunch marathon. This feast started with escargot – FINALLY.  I couldn’t believe how long I had been in France without eating escargot and alas, here they were. They were drowned in butter and garlic just as you’d hope they would be. Unfortunately, I am apparently incapable of removing them properly from their shell and couldn’t manage to wrestle two mine free. Word to the wise: don’t dump out the butter from the shell, it makes it easier to remove them. If you do, you will be left scraping and prodding to no avail, like I was. The escargot was accompanied by the same dish we prepared with Chef Thibert, the previous week, both good in their own right. Next we were presented with some chicken stewed in wine over pasta that I’ve since forgotten the name of. The typical cheese course followed, served on cute wooden boards that I’m guessing came from wine crates. Finally, stuffed to the brim, we had crème brûlée, I think it was cassis flavored but I’m not positive. It was at this point that I really understood the purpose of the post meal coffee ritual. After so much food, spread out over two and a half hours, coffee isn’t so much a nicety as a necessity to make it through rest of the day.
Post-dégustation tour of the Hospices de Beaune
With barely enough caffeine in our systems to keep moving, we went on to tour the ancient hospital of Beaune. Very cool architecture, but I blush to admit I hadn’t the faintest interest in translating french history after the days activities. I did learn that the hospital disposed of their waste via a river that flowed underneath the grounds. We stumbled back onto the minibus around 4:30pm and I fell asleep no later than 4:40pm.

La Vie Quotidienne


Daily life in Dijon remains interesting with weekly activities like last weeks dinner theatre production called “Salut Les Yéyés!” – a musical tribute to the music of the ’60s. I’ll summarize it in telling you that nothing compares to hearing “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and “Satisfaction” frenchified.

Our first class with Monsieur Thibert!

The same week we swapped out our weekly dinner party at the Condorcet center for the first of a series of cooking classes. Again, I lost it in culinary nerdiness. The aforementioned dish was something of a coq au vin, but with a poached egg instead of chicken. My biggest takeaway: I’m a pro at poaching eggs now. Oh and that I got to see the quantity of truffles a french chef casually keeps in his personal freezer.

Piper and me at the Opera (I’m drinking a Kir; the cocktail was created in Dijon!)

Last night we went to the opera to see Le Barbier de Séville. Because that’s what college students do on Thursday nights, right? The show was wonderful, it was a modern take on the original and the set was incredible. The staging was minimal but artistic, very french, I guess. The stage was inflated with small lights and hanging light bulbs would periodically descend or ascend as it was appropriate. My favorite part was a giant illuminated weather balloon that served as a stand in moon.

One of our weekly dinners!

The music continued just this morning as my class featured two of my classmates performing their own musical talents. First, the guy from Mexico brought in his guitar (we have weekly show and tell, just like elementary school) and sang us a song he wrote about his grandmother. Next one of the Chinese girls was put on the spot and sang a song in both Chinese and french. It was a pretty pleasant way to spend a Friday morning, sweetened by the fact that I had time to buy a pain au chocolat on the way to class.

Paris


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A preview of what’s to come; this is only part of the tea selection at Angelina salon de thé in Paris

Just like last time, I’m writing this post as I roll north on a train; this time to Paris. I guess it’s becoming something of a habit, I find trains provide a good atmosphere for reflection and thus blog writing.
I’m headed back to the city of light to visit a friend from school, Grace, on her spring break! I don’t have many plans yet and I think I’m pleased of that, it sounds pretty dreamy to walk around Paris and do whatever strikes my fancy. Here’s to finding a few adventures along the way.
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More Beaune produce

 Things I would consider committing minor felonies for:


A burrito

A burrito

Ramen (good not packaged ramen)

An heirloom tomato

Sourdough bread

Tacos

Several burritos

Literally just a tortilla

Matzo ball soup

The good news: a Mexican restaurant is opening in Dijon in 15 days.  News on the quality and authenticity to come.
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Travel

Two Weeks

When I was young, someone told me it takes two weeks to form or break a habit. I’m not sure if that’s actually true and if it applies to everything but I’ve always found it helpful when I’m adjusting to something new.

I have been living in Dijon for two weeks as of today. When I first arrived I was praying for this day to come, hoping that I would feel assimilated. I guess I stopped counting the days a while ago because the realization came as somewhat of a shock. I was right though, this place is starting to feel like home, if only for just a semester.

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Marissa, Karina and me on our first day of school!

Of course, I still struggle with some relatively simple conversations in daily life, and the conditional tense continues to make my life unnecessarily challenging. I think I just recently managed to grasp the words for numbers 70-90 (barely). My french is unquestionably improved. One of the other Dijonettes, Karina, and I went out with her host brother and a few of his friends and spent the night gabbing away in French. The bar was super cool (chouette, chic, whatever) and I was ridiculously proud of my ability to hold a conversation over the drone.

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An otherwise unmentioned bar reminiscent of hobbit life.

Other aspects of french life are a bit more challenging to adapt to. While I think I’m getting closer to blending in on the streets (all black works nicely) the quantity of bread consumed here is a bit much – even for me. My average day includes three to four servings of bread. Toast for breakfast, part of a baguette for lunch, and bread with the obligatory post dinner cheese course. My favorite new bread trick is using it to clean utensils between courses (of which there are many,) seems pretty obvious now. I have also learned that you might as well lick your plate to finish the meal, these people leave absolutely nothing behind. Leave a grain of rice for Buddha? No way no how, you should probably wipe that up with some bread.

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On the subject of food, I was not prepared for Sunday lunch. I don’t think it would do it justice to call this a meal, it’s more of an all day activity. Last Sunday my host family (and I) were invited to a lunch extravaganza that ran roughly five hours. Naturally, I woke up at noon, and was immediately shuffled off to this party at 12:30. We started with an aperitif – grapefruit vodka (always good on an empty stomach,) there were also crackers and tapenade to nibble on. Sitting down to the lavishly set table, we were was presented with a smoked salmon quiche and steamed vegetables. Thinking this was the entire meal, I had a rather large portion. I was wrong. The main course was a Moroccan dish that resembled bœuf bourguignon but included pork, peaches, almonds, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t recognize, served over a bed of cous cous. Next was the cheese course, which also included a popular cheese with french and swiss children. I’ve since forgotten the name, but these little cylinders of cheese or rather like cream cheese, but softer and they’re eaten, drowned in granulated sugar, with a spoon. That was a new experience. Finally, dessert. Our generous hostess brought out a large pan of what appeared to be chocolate cake, and in fact was, but much closer to fudge. It was accompanied by a bowl of plump orange slices, marinated in orange juice. They oranges were my favorite part of the meal. After the meal, we enjoyed espresso and tea and settled in for several hours of conversation.

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It’s important to note that we were also served two bottles (a red and a white) of 2007 vintage fancy wine from the region. I returned home at 5:45 after being allowed to leave early. That was a marathon.

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Things that have been putting a pep in my step:

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Baby solo cups:
Dijon has been kind enough to accommodate my caffeine addiction in an affordable and adorable manner. There are coffee machines absolutely everywhere with surprisingly delicious cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, and chocolat chauds. There is one right next to the international student classrooms and at 0.50€, I’ve decided that it’s a habit I can afford. Not to mention that they come in the cutest mini solo cups, is that safe?

Peter piper the pickled pepper picker:
My new favorite conversation starter is asking about french tongue twisters (“virelangues” according to Google). My best one in English is the Peter piper one, so it’s become something of a competition to swap tongue twisters and try to master the other foreign one. The one I’ve heard most here is as follows:

«Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse sont-elles sèches? Archi-sèches!»

Try saying that ten times fast. I can’t.

I kief that:
What? Yeah, people actually say that. In my Familiar French class this week, we learned that the kids these days use the term in the same way I use “I dig that.” In class the example was “je kiffe Beyoncé.” The origin being, kief = drug, drug = pleasure, pleasure = liking. I checked with a real french youth, they do actually say it. Or he lied to me. Either way, funniest thing I learned this week.

People that look really french:
I still get a little giddy whenever I see someone strolling down the street toting a baguette or snacking on a crêpe. That’s all.

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On the platform headed to Vittel

I write this entry while watching snowy hills and picturesque towns of the french countryside zip by en route to Vittel, France. I’ll be spending Valentine’s Day rejuvenating and luxuriating in “healing” thermal waters. Pretty good for a trip we planned yesterday.

With five hour lunches, trendy bars on Thursday nights, and spa weekends with good company, I think I’m going to be quite happy here. La vie est dure.

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Travel

Very good smells and very bad smells

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Since arriving in Dijon, there is very little I’ve been certain of; however, there is one thing I have found without exception during my time thus far in la belle France. There exist very good and very bad smells. The frequent odor of dog poop (ever present on sidewalks here, mind your new shoes) and less than modern sewage systems is more than enough the kill that appetite you’ve worked up. And beware the metro stations, each has its own unique perfume that will linger in your nose long after you’ve left. Although, when juxtaposed with whiffs of browned butter in crepes, fresh cut flowers, and steaming croissants or baguettes or tarts or chocolat chaud or really any food its quite enough to keep the nose guessing.

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Travel

Paris

The journey to Paris was, to say the least, tiring.  A word to this wise, do not fly out of London Luton.  Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not in London; and unless you take a cab, it requires navigating a very well hidden hour and a half long bus ride.  We allowed a 3 hours for any mishaps and we wound up sprinting through the airport after arriving 10 minutes before boarding.  Oh well, another lesson learned.  Arriving in Paris, we encountered the surprising struggle that is the Paris metro.  After the blissful straightforward simplicity of the London Underground, the metro provided a slight challenge, which of course, peaked my curiosity of the history of the two systems!

Mini history lesson: 

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London Underground circa 1862

The London Underground was the first underground railway and was opened in 1863 (?!?!?!?!?!!!!!omg).  At that time, you could have embarked on a cozy ride from Paddington to the city of London, like the gentlemen in the cart below.  The cart would soon be swapped out for gas lit wooden cars, pulled by steam engines; sounds safe.  Given the more organized and well maintained state of the London Underground, I had anticipated that it was newer than the Paris metro.  I was wrong.

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Paris Metro circa 1900

The Paris Metro was opened in 1900 (I had guessed 1920,) but I haven’t found as much information on what it might have been like to ride at the time.  I did learn that there were blue second class cars and yellow first class cars.  Very important to note, I guess.

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Melancholy chairs at the Tuileries Garden.

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We arrived, dead on our feet with roughly 90lbs of luggage each.  We spent our first night at the Three Ducks Hostel and it was beautiful.  The building was built (I think) in the 17th century and was remodeled just last year which meant the best of both worlds, high tech + old world beauty.  The next day we were on the move again, checking in to l’Hôtel Jean Bart.  Given our limited energy, we settled for a short day and only visited one major tourist stop: the Eiffel Tower.  The top was closed unfortunately and given the breathtaking views from the second floor (115.73 meters [379 feet, 8 inches] above the ground) , I can’t even imagine what it would look 161 meters higher.

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How many pictures from the Eiffel Tower are too many pictures from the Eiffel Tower?

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The limit does not exist

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Our second full day in Paris, and Lea’s last day, we were fully committed tourists.  We started with the Louvre, quite a lofty first task given that walking through every gallery is equivalent to a half marathon.  We settled for looking at the most renowned pieces and the Greek sculptures, per my request.  Next was Notre Dame, which still had Christmas decor up.  We oohed and aahed and got back on the metro to head to l’Arc de Triomphe.  Easily our most brief stop, we spent just about enough to snap a few obligatory tourist pics and cross it off our to do list (this is speed tourism after all).  The final stop of the day was my first Bateaux Mouches of the trip, and my favorite.  We cruised the seine marveling at sparkling Eiffel Tower lights and clutching warm paper cups of vin chaud.

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After celebrating our one week-aversary in Europe, Lea and I parted ways the following morning.  My school group met up for the first time that afternoon and we set out to take my second Bateaux Mouches – daytime edition.  While the commentary was greatly improved with a live guide rather than a recording, it lacked the magical quality it had at night.

It’s quite a contrast to have a leader after navigating London and Paris alone, and for me it was a welcome one.  It was quite a relief to follow instructions rather than having to plan out metro stops and train changes and remembering to eat meals and finding affordable meals, etc. etc. Our program leader here, Nathalie, is wonderful.  We had planned activities in the morning and afternoon time to do as we pleased.  Our planned activities included tours of the Louvre (again), the Latin Quarter and Sorbonne, and the impressionist paintings at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

The most magical clock at the Musée d'Orsay.

The most magical clock at the Musée d’Orsay.

I admit, I had little recollection of the Sorbonne before the tour, but loved it.  L’Université Paris-Sorbonne is the third oldest university in the world dating back to the 13th century classes were taught in Latin (hence the Latin Quarter).  I spent my free time that day at the Musee d’Orsay and was absolutely awestruck.  Theres something about seeing paintings in person that reproductions can never capture, maybe its seeing the brushstrokes or imagining the painters so many years ago looking at the same canvas, but something about it had me on the verge of tears throughout the museum.  Paintings aside, even the building is magnificent.  I was particularly into the giant clocks that harken back to the buildings days as a train station.

Dijonettes pouting at l’Opéra

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This was just a small room off of the more grandiose hall, but I was obsessed with its sparkly celestial ceiling.

Another free time adventure was to the Paris Opera – musical theatre geeks rejoice.  If you havent seen the movie or musical numerous times, allow me to enlighten you.  The Paris Opera house is the setting and home to The Phantom of the Opera.  They even has his box (number five) marked with a plaque, though we never found out if they leave it empty for him.  It was pretty surreal to see the various sights from the movie, thought the most magnificent room was one I had never seen before.  Unfortunately, there is little information about the Phantom, but a fellow Dijonette informed me that there are in fact Catacombs and a lake underneath the building.  Spooky.  Further research to come.

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The Jardin du Luxembourg was our last stop before heading to the train station and I guess I hadn’t been listening properly because I had no idea there were more impressionist paintings there.  Several of the other girls and I discussed our favorites of the Renoir Danse series, mine is the Danse à Bougival and now I have a snazzy bookmark version of it.  I guess I couldn’t escape Paris without a tourist trinket.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something but it will just have to wait until the next post.  See you in Dijon!

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