Thursday, October 28, 2010

Travel Tribulations

My Mom and Granny Jill have come this week to visit us in France. However I think that the posts of their visit should begin in Canada, and can best be told by the emails I received and sent Friday night….

So Friday night sitting in our living room in France I receive the following email from my Mom sent from my Dad's blackberry on the 400 highway in Canada:

Some problems at this end; G. Jill left her passport at home so I am going on without her. I don't think I'll be too late to catch the plane with this delay of driving her back to Orillia, but I doubt she will make it. I will contact you if I have any further upsets. G. Jill is devastated, very upsetting for us all.

My response: I just got your email, any news? (this isn’t happening)
Skiff at the airport:
I think it looks like he and I felt the same way

Mom: G. Jill is waiting at Timmie's in Orillia for G. Tom. He has her passport and she is going to try and catch the plane. I am getting close to the city so I hope I'll be ok for time.

Me: Alright keep me posted… (okay it’s happening, starting to freak out a little)

Some emails discussing alternatives in case she did miss the plane

Dad: Moms checked-in and has made arrangements for G. Jill’s bags. They should be here in 40 minutes. We took the 407 highway and shaved at least a 1/2 hour. Keep your fingers crossed :)

Dad: Granny is in the line to check her bags. Whew!


But it doesn’t end there, As my Granny Jill and Mom go through customs together and head towards the boarding gate they discuss their car rental insurance to come to the realization that my Mom forgot her driver’s license! Luckily Granny Jill is well versed in manoeuvring French highways in a standard vehicle! They made it to Arras Saturday without any further hindrance, how happy and relieved we all felt when they finally arrived and walked in our front door!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Action de grâce en France

My Brother Fishing Thanksgiving, Arden 2010
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a long weekend always spent with family and most preferably at a cottage where we either have to use a bbq or a wood smoker to cook the Turkey. It was our first holiday away from home. Since Thanksgiving is not actually celebrated in France, it being a New World thing and all, we Canadians banded together to have a wonderful Action de grâce. We had two dinners, one with Andre's co-workers who are from the east coast and one with the guides.  Andre and I spent the Saturday making a pumpkin pie from scratch.

To see a hilarious Youtube video about making pumpkin pie from scratch click here

We bought the pumpkin in the market Saturday morning. The vender was quite surprised we wanted the entire thing, since pumpkins are usually sold by the slice here in France. Sunday's dinner with Andre's co-workers was a traditional Jigg's dinner, which was fantastic! Tuesday night we had Thanksgiving with the guides. They cooked an entire Turkey; which is only available by special request at this time of year;  "Ce n'est pas possible." We had such wonderful Thanksgivings; a good Turkey dinner really can bring a little bit of Canada to France.....

And so can a blackberry ;-) 

A night in Rouen

Rouen Cathedral

After my Gramma returned to Canada, Andre and I decided to take a little getaway to Rouen. It was a spur of the moment decision, all we knew about Rouen was that there is a Cathedral Monet painted and that we had found a wonderful small quirky hotel to stay at. We arrived in the afternoon and checked in. The weather was not the best but we wandered around the old streets and entered the Cathedral that Monet had studied so fervently.

Inside the Rouen Cathedral
Exterior statues now preserved inside 

 It rained in the evening so we lounged around with aperitifs before heading out with an umbrella to the closest Indian restaurant. After a huge dinner we wander around a bit more in the rain before heading back to the hotel.

Jacques Cartier is everywhere in France
 The next day we did some shopping and grabbed a bite to eat at a place where their entire menu consisted of different bagel sandwiches! I have not had a bagel in months, and I actually hadn’t realized it until I saw them on the menu… delicious

 After lunch we went to the Musee des Beaux Arts to see the famous Monet paintings of the Cathedral. Sadly there was only one, and the collection that was supposed to be second only to Musee d'Orsay in impressionist paintings was pretty sparse. We ended the mini vacation walking around the city gardens on our way back to the train station.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On y va à Paris!

Statue of Arras At the Gare du Nord

Monday Gramma and I took the train to Paris.  We arrived close to noon, but got a little lost looking for our hotel on rue Rochechouart, rather then boulevard Rochechouart. It worked out very well though when we stumbled upon the restaurant “Aux Pipalottes Gourmandes” which was one of the best meals I’ve had in Paris! The menu is selected from a variety of salads and spreads that are combined with wholesome quiches and other savoury baked goods. The restaurant is also tiny; the walls are filled to the top with gourmet items for sale, while the restaurateurs eat at little bistro tables lined up along the centre. 

We did make it to our hotel to drop off our luggage and from there we caught l’Open tour bus that stops outside the hotel. We took the bus around the major sites stopping off to see the interior of the l'Opéra de Paris and go to the Galleries Lafayette for a café on their roof top terrace. 

Roof top Terrace Galleries Lafayette

We got back on the tour bus to go see Notre Dame. After wandering along the Seine we hopped on the Batobus to cruise our way to the Eiffel tower as the sunset. At the Eiffel Tower  we finished our day of sight seeing and took the Metro back to our hotel. We had diner at a little bistro near around the corner. Gramma had a croque monsieur and I had confit de canard, two very safe bets in a French restaurant. Andre met us at the restaurant and we returned to our hotel for the night. 

The next morning we went back on the tour bus to see the sights. We got off at the Madeline Cathedral and walked over to la Place de la Concord for a picnic lunch along the Champs-Élysées. We then hopped back on the tour bus to go around the Arch de Triumph and back to the Eiffel tower where we switched lines onto the Batobus Boat tour (included with our two day pass) which we took down to the Musee d’Orsay the line was far to long and it was a beautiful day so we opted instead to walk across the Seine to the Tuileries Gardens for a pint and some ice cream.

Back on the bus we went to our hotel to relax for the evening with some snacks and the view of the Sacré-Cœur. Once reinvigorated we took the trolley up to the Sacré-Cœur for the view over the city. We had dinner at the base of the Sacré-Cœur at l’ete en pente douce, another fantastic meal. I would recommend planning your trip around going to this restaurant for dinner! Besides, then you can see the Sacré-Cœur at night too!

We returned to our hotel to rest up for the next day and our trip Versailles.

Versailles Hall of Mirrors
Fountains Versailles
We took the RER to Versailles the next morning. 
We had thought to go early to beat the crowds but I guess that’s what everyone thought…. Versailles was PACKED we waited in line at the tourism office for our tickets and then we waited in line again to get in, but the whole visit felt like a line there were so many people jammed into the rooms we all shuffled amongst each other trying to see the elaborate decor.

Repos before catching the RER back to the Gare du Nord
We broke free of the crowds at the first exit and escaped to the beautiful gardens. We wandered through the hedged walkways, grabbed an ice cream cone and walked along the pooled fountains.  It was a very hot day, but a beautiful spot to be outside sitting in the shade of the trees. It was quite the experience, and I cannot wait to go again!

We returned that afternoon to Arras for my Gramma’s last night in France. We spent the evening relaxing to prepare for the early morning train and her long trip home. We had such a fantastic time.

Thank-you Gramma!!! (tu me manque)

Amiens, Birthday Party, & Vimy

After our little Switzerland vacation we took the Friday morning off to relax in the apartment doing odds and ends. By noon it was a beautiful day so we packed up a picnic and went to the Jardin Minelle.

After our picnic we walked along the Scarpe river to the Cité Nature, which was and still is currently, hosting an exhibition for the local dress designer, Sylvie Facon. The dresses are absolutely beautiful and very unique.

The next day was my Birthday. To celebrate my Gramma and I went to Amiens for the day to see the grand cathedral and have lunch along the Somme at one of the riverside restaurants. We checked out the local market before heading to "Le Quai" for two gigantic bowls of very filling salad. After lunch we walked over the canals along the various bridges up to the Cathedral.

Birthday Feast

We also did some shopping in the city centre and stumbled upon a cultural fair with plenty of stands offering flavors of the world. At home, Andre prepared a delicious birthday feast with foie gras as the aperatif, Carbonnade Flammande for the main course, and of course a cake; tarte au flan with berries from the local bakery.

On Sunday we made our way to Vimy via the local taxi to see the monument and walk around the site. It was our last full day together in Arras, because Monday we went to Paris!

Vimy Grass cutters

Vancance en Suisse, Gruyères - les dernièrs jours

View from our hotel in the morning

The next morning we met my Gramma and her friend in Vevey. From there we all headed out together to the town of Gruyère.

Gruyère is where they make the Swiss Gruyère cheese. It’s in the pre-Alpine foothills; fairly close to Bulle & Fribourg. These foothills are where the cows that make the Gruyère cheese are taken to pasture. It is the bovine diet of fresh wildflowers that makes the Swiss cheeses unique. Traditional paintings called “poyas” depict the annual event of the herds being led up the mountains and the festive return.

We arrived in time to have to see the initial stages of the cheese making process in the AOC factory/museum. Not too much action occurred in the 20minutes we watched of the beginning processes. It is a very long process of boiling, stirring, pressing, soaking and then aging the cheese on wooden planks.
Making Gruyère 

We then headed up to the old part of the town. We had a delicious lunch of Gruyère cheese at Chalet de Gruyères. The dish of choice was a Croute au fromage. This is a traditional dish of bread dipped in fruit brandy, covered in Swiss alpine cheese, such as Gruyère, and served with some cornichons. There are a few options with a variety of combinations but I thought the best was one that had a slice of ham and pineapple underneath the mountain of cheese.

After lunch we went to see Le Château de Gruyères. The Château dates from the 11th century, and has had many owners due to some financial instability. In 1849 it was sold to the Bovy and Balland family who had the painter Camille Corot decorate some of the interior rooms.

 There were little exhibitions throughout the chateau including a mummified hand, knight’s armour, cloaks of nobility, and also an exhibition on while we were there of some very fantastical paintings.

Above: Patrick Woodroffe painting "Sur l'eau du sablier"
Top Left: Camille Corot mural paintings 
Left: Music room
Lower Left: Château Balcony
Lower Right: Château Gardens

We stopped in a few of the shops before making our way back to the car. Andre and I were dropped off in Nyon for the night where we stayed in the Hostellerie du XVIe Siècle. We had a nice dinner at a Chinese-Vietnamese-Thai restaurant, Mekong, and walked around the town under our umbrella.

The next day was the last of our Vacance en Suisse. Andre and I went to Geneva in the morning to do a quick walk around the old part of town before having lunch with my Gramma and taking the long train ride back to Arras!

We had a fantastic trip! Many thanks to my Grandmother's friend, she certainly showed us a wonderful time en Suisse.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Vacance en Suisse Geneva-Montreux Day Two

The next day we walked around the little village seeing the community gardens and various fountains. We stopped in for a café at the local auberge before I caught the bus to meet Andre in Geneva. He had to work Monday but was meeting us in Geneva for his days off. Andre and I went from Geneva to Montreux where we had a hotel booked for the night. 

My gramma stayed with her friend and toured the countryside for the rest of the day climbing even higher through the sloping hills along Lac Leman for a more spectacular view of the French Alps.

Andre and I arrived in Montreux in the afternoon and walked along the waterfront to our hotel. We checked in and continued our walk to the Chateau de Chillon.

 The most interesting aspects of this Chateau were in the underground chambers where various prisoners were held and left their mark over the centuries. The most famous being Bonivard, popularized by Lord Byron, in his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon.” Also in these underground chambers is a display explaining the exaggerated stories early guides in the 19th century would terrify tourists with, going so far as to insert a beam “for the hangings.”

We returned to the hotel despearetly seeking a swiss kebab to eat on our hotel balcony; its our goal to sample either the shawarma, kebab, or gyro of every country and major city we visit. We finished of our evening with a night on the town by checking out the slot machines in the Montreaux Casino...