Posts Tagged ‘adventures’

Family Times

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

The past few months have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. I have discovered that ending a long-term relationship really is as painful as it seems in those romantic comedy movies, and that working out what you want to do with your life is extraordinarily difficult. However, amongst all of that turbulence I have also experienced a phenomenal stability that I think people sometimes take for granted. Through attending my third-cousin’s wedding in Paris and returning home to Perth for my Grandma’s 90th birthday, I have realised the joy that is family.

At first my return to Perth felt a bit like a roadblock – I was pushing hard to move onwards and upwards with my life and going to Australia seemed like a step backwards. As it turned out, what I really needed were some hugs from my mum and dad and to spend time with my extended family. With 22 of us heading down to Bunker Bay, staying in rather luxurious accommodation, eating great food and spending so much time together, it made me realise that no matter what happens in my life and how down or lost I feel, my family is always going to support me and give me hugs when I need them. And seeing my Grandma smiling and laughing with her half-brother from Holland and all of her 13 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren around her, it was so wonderful to realise the important things in life.

Bunker Bay sunrise

We woke up with the sun and an early morning swim in the ocean at Bunker Bay

So now I am back in Paris, revitalised from my 2-degree dips in the Indian ocean and inhaling fresh Australian air, ready to take on whatever new paths lie ahead of me. I am hoping these all involve a lot of food, good friends and exciting adventures. Allez-y, France! Je vous attend.

Crêpe and Sacre Coeur

Return-to-Paris ritual completed.

Going South

Monday, February 20th, 2012

I appear to have reached a stage in my life where everyone is getting married or at least announcing their engagement, although I am trying to ignore this fact because I am definitely not old enough for this to be happening. Gosh no. I’m practically a teenager.

I spent this past weekend in Denmark, five-ish hours south of Perth, celebrating the marriage of my friends Danielle and Ryan. The weekend was lovely as I caught up with friends who I haven’t seen in a while, drank plenty of good wine (yes, Australian wine IS good, all of you French-wine-is-the-best-snobs), and ate lots of good food. I got a bit teary eyed watching my beautiful friend, Dan, walk down the aisle and become a Mrs. It appears Paris may have made me a romantic after all.

One of the highlights of the weekend was dinner with my friends Velia and Alex at Pepper & Salt, a restaurant attached to the Mathilda’s Estate winery. The food, while priced at your now average Perth prices (i.e. ridiculous), was absolutely delicious with locally sourced ingredients and an interesting mix of flavours. I had pink snapper that was lightly battered with a hint of lemon myrtle, homemade chips and a decent salad. This satisfied my craving for fish and chips while being light and not horribly greasy.

Fish and chips from Pepper & Salt

Fancy fish and chips.

The highlight of the meal was dessert (of course). You can imagine my extreme excitement when our lovely waiter described our dessert options and said the words “Flourless, dark chocolate torte with pepper and chilli”. HOLY MOLY. It was good. It was dark, rich and the pepper made the chocolate buzz. It was served with a piece of chocolate through which were crunchy chucks of pepper. The berries served on the side had been stewed in what I presumed was port and added another dimension to the dish. I was extremely satisfied and very happy to wash it down with a rich, bold Shiraz from the Mathilda’s vineyard.

Chocolate torte

Chocolate and spice

Pepper & Salt Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Back to Business With Galette

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Happy 2012 to one and all! My year started with insane Dutch people setting off fireworks in their back/front yards, carparks, petrol stations etc., plus lots of olliebollen, appelbeignets and general consistent eating.

Olliebollen

Mmm... olliebollen.

It is strange to think that I have come back to Paris with the idea of now being able to eat ‘normally’ and hence hopefully return to my original pant size. I have hit one slight set back – La Fête des Rois. Also known as the Epiphany when the three Kings or wise men visited Jesus and gave him birthday presents, the French have taken hold of this great day and turned it into something even greater. Everyone eats galettes – a round puff pastry delight filled with almond paste goodness. OH, IT IS GOOD.

Galette

Galette

Inside the galette, the bakers place a small item (yesterday I was witness to the discovery of a jigsaw puzzle piece, a green cow, and a miniature ScoobyDoo) and when the galette is divided, the person who finds the item in their piece of galette is crowned the King. They then get to wear a crown for the rest of the evening, lucky buggers.

While we had plans yesterday evening to have a galette party with the other residents at the Récollets, as Ben is a budding baker, we went in search of a GOOD galette (as opposed to one from a supermarket) for morning tea. We decided to go to Julhès, a family empire of deliciousness where you can buy bakery goods, wine, cheese, tapenade, foie gras, chocolate, and every other delicious thing you can think of. Ben, Tom and I divided the galette into 12 pieces and then invented a complicated mathematical formula for deciding who received which piece of galette. Ben was the winner with his second piece of galette and wore, with pride, the golden crown.

Galette

Keeping things fair

The second rule of galette is whoever is crowned King is also, therefore, rich and must purchase another galette for his lowly citizens/friends/family. So Ben bought a second (smaller) galette from my favourite boulangerie to have with lunch. As this was a galette for one or two persons, there was no item hidden inside so no one had to buy another galette. HOWEVER, we did then meet my fellow residents in the evening for dinner and galette eating. Almost everyone brought a galette so there were plenty to go around. This time we followed even more traditional methods and the youngest person was sent to sit under the table to call out names of people and select which piece of galette they would eat.

The youngest person at the table was three months younger than me, and as he was quite insistent that I take the honour of sitting on the floor, I spent the next 15 minutes or so calling out names from under the table. What fun! I failed at choosing a winning piece of galette for myself on both the first AND second round of galette distribution. Once everyone had had two pieces, there were still a few kings missing but everyone was a little bit sick of puff pastry and almond so the rest of the galettes were attacked with knives to find the final items. It was a lot of fun and galette is definitely high on my Deliciousness list. The search for the hidden item is highly entertaining and the fact that you’re eating delicious galette instead of looking for a penny inside stodgy plum pudding is definitely an additional benefit.

Things are returning to normal now after the Christmas and New Year’s break. I have just dropped my brother off at the train station and sent him back to England to continue his baking. My plans for today mostly involve cleaning as I still have christmas presents, decorations and general “I’ll deal with this later” items scattered around my apartment. We returned from our two week trip in Germany and Holland with a lot of excess baggage in the form of presents and food. Lots of food. Tom got excited by the price and availability of Jagermeister in Germany, while I went a bit nuts buying chocolate sprinkles and biscuits in Holland. Luckily there’s no such thing as customs when crossing European borders. Ben is currently travelling back to England with a two kilogram bag of flour in his suitcase. That flour has been through Holland, Belgium, France and now England.

I am trying to work out how I can bring everything that is delicious from France to Australia. I have 20 days left in Paris until I get on a plane and fly away home. While everyone around me is telling me how great Australia is and how much fun I am going to have, the whole process of having to get on a plane for 24 hours, have jet lag, fly to and from Sydney, and spend the entire time crossing my fingers that I am allowed a visa isn’t really making me jump for joy. Yes, yes, beaches, sunshine and family. But also a lot to think about and hope that the French government doesn’t think of a stupid reason not to let me come back to France. What will I do then? Plus what cheese am I going to eat in Perth?!

Well this post is getting very long and I have cleaning to do. Spread the word that Zaum is back in action for 2012 with more stories, more adventures and plenty of photographs of food.

Stroop wafel

Like this fresh stroop wafel I ate in Gouda

Bienvenue, 2012

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Apologies for my recent lack of contact. The last few weeks have been particularly busy with completing my work for the exhibition, playing tour guide for my friend, Rachel, and my brother, Ben, and now Christmas and New Years adventures in Germany and the Netherlands. I am writing this from the loft of my second cousin’s house in Gouda (yes, like the cheese except with the correct Dutch pronunciation – Gcchhhowda.) To my left is a view of apartment blocks surrounded by a Dutch morning sky – grey, foggy and wet. No snow in sight. It seems that all of Europe has been hit by some sort of strange heat wave and snow has been rare this winter. Very disappointing but somewhat expected as I am here and hot weather seems to follow me where ever I go. I have now spent two snowless winters in Europe. I need to work on this.

So today is New Year’s Eve, the day when everyone is supposed to reflect on their past year, examine what they have achieved and what they need to put on their “To Do” list for the next year. We all know I love a good reflection so let’s do it.

This year really started for me in February when I moved to Paris. It is still hard to believe that I only have one month left of my year away. If I hadn’t planned on extending my stay I would now be in a state of complete and utter panic, depression and general Oh-Woe-Is-Me. I am still very nervous about my approaching trip back to Australia and Sydney to visit the French Embassy to ask for a second visa, but at least it is going to happen. I think I can grandly announce that this year has been the best year of my life thus far but how could it not be? I have lived in an amazing city, met awesome people, visited wonderful places and eaten some of the greatest food of my life. What’s not to like?

Next year I plan to continue this current way of living while also endeavouring to put more effort into my writing and ‘stuff’. When I first made my Zaum business cards, I kept my options open by declaring Zaum was a business for “Writing and stuff”. I am still trying to find out what that stuff is and how exactly to do it but my recent sock laboratory adventures have put a few ideas into my head. I have so much I want to do and try – I just need to work out how to do it. According to my horoscope in the Dutch tv magazine, the best time of the year for me to work out what I want to do with my career is from March to June of next year. Sounds like a plan.

So this reflection has become a bit of a pathetic thing but to be honest my stomach is grumbling and I want to go and eat some breakfast. At 10am I am expecting to hear the onslaught of hundreds of fireworks being set off. In the Netherlands, it is legal to purchase fireworks for a few days leading up to New Years and then legal to set them off between 10am and 2am on New Year’s Eve/Day. It is now 9.30am and apparently the existence of sunlight doesn’t put people off. Should be a fun day.

Happy New Year to all – I hope 2012 is exciting and fulfilling for everyone. I highly recommend running away to a foreign country and eating food for an entire year. It has worked out for me rather nicely.

And a special Happy Birthday to two of my most regular readers, Heather and Brendan. I hope people remember to say happy birthday amongst the happy new years.

Beach Time Fun

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Isn’t it funny how you don’t realise what you take for granted until you don’t have it anymore. Funny sad, not funny ha ha. In Perth I lived a 10 minute drive away from North Cottesloe and would go every morning for a wake-up swim. In Paris, the closest beach doesn’t even look like a beach because it has these weird lumpy bits of rock that you have to walk across and most people just lie in the sun turning into wrinkled, brown sausages. So a holiday to a country with potentially more passable beaches was a tad exciting.

Unfortunately, neither Lisbon or Porto are beachside resorts (although this is also a good thing because I tend to dislike beach side resorts with a passion) so to reach the beach we either had to catch a bus or walk a really long way. We did both. In Lisbon we waited at a bus station with bikini-clad girls and guys carrying bodyboards and headed to a beachside town called Costa da Caparica. Due to a miscommunication between myself and Tom, he had brought his bathers while I had left mine at the hotel, thinking we were just going to walk along the beach. Of course, as soon as I saw sandy coast with clear water and a few small waves, my brain switched to “Swim” mode and I went in search of appropriate attire.

Costa da Caparica

Costa da Caparica

At least it was cheap. For less than eight Euros I managed to buy a bikini (the first I have ever owned in my life) plus an extra four Euros for a pair of ugly shorts that would cover the fact that the bikini bottoms were very… well… Portuguese. However, it wasn’t until I was striding towards the water in my new outfit that I realised that despite me thinking I had developed quite an impressive tan while in Europe, I was most certainly the whitest thing on that beach. The sand was darker than me. My thighs that never see the light of day were reflecting laser beams of sunlight back to shore and people were cowering in fear. Ok, not completely true but almost. I felt like a Brit who sits in the shade on Australian beaches, looking vampiresque and rapidly turning into a lobster.

Jess at the beach

Please notice the beach and the fact that I am there. Please ignore my weird tan lines, food belly, awful shorts and the couple lying on the beach behind me.

Once I was in the water my whiteness was less of an issue and I managed to enjoy a cold but refreshing swim. It is such a pleasurable experience to have sea water gliding around you. I did have to fight with a few freak waves but the water was generally calm and there were little sparkles of gold floating through it. Delightful.

Our second visit to the beach happened in Porto. We looked at the map and decided to walk along the river edge until it hit the ocean and then head north towards where the map showed beach umbrellas and ‘sand’ coloured patches. The walk was longer than expected but it was really enjoyable, walking along the river and seeing little pockets of outer Porto along the way. Once we reached the ocean things got a bit windy and we discovered that the surf was up with a cold breeze coming off the water. Not very pleasant. So no swimming but the walk along the coast was beautiful.

Porto beach

Porto coastline

The problem was, there was too much wind for me to wear a hat and for it to remain on my head so I walked most of the way without it. Of course, there was then a lot of sun and I’m reasonably certain that the strong winds and sunny conditions were what led to me feeling rather unwell that evening and the following day. But that, my friends, is the danger of outdoor adventures.

The Future

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Recently I had developed a dream-like world which I was quite certain would exist for me next year. I was going to extend my stay at Les Récollets and simply hop-skip-and-jump between France and non-schengen zone countries to avoid returning to Australia and applying for a new visa. Unfortunately, in the last few days, reality has hit.

It appears the “Schengen Zone” doesn’t want visitors, or people like myself who think they can avoid paper work by country-hopping. They have set a stupid rule that says you can only stay within the Schengen zone (an area of about 15 European countries who have formed a pact to keep the foreigners out) for a total of 90 days within a six month period. This would mean I would have to go to England or Switzerland for three whole months, which a. I can’t afford and b. I don’t want to do. Here lies Problem Number One.

Problem Number Two for my achieving my dreams for next year is that I am not allowed to extend my stay at Les Récollets. Dang. It turns out that a lot of people want to come and stay here (fair enough) and they have already been turned away and put on a waiting list. Basically, if I am allowed to stay here then I would be jumping the queue and really I shouldn’t even be staying here in the first place.

So there we are. My first reaction to all of this news was to break down and declare that my world was over. I then went for a jog, drank some wine, and slept on it and I have since realised there is potential in these new developments.

Potential Number One: It looks like I will have to go back to Australia (I’ll get to use my return ticket after all!) and apply for a new Visa. I am currently trying to find SOMEONE who can tell me if I can apply for a long stay visa in France. No one seems to know or be willing to divulge such information. I wouldn’t mind going back to Australia for February as that would mean I would get to see a REAL SUMMER instead of the rubbish summer Paris put on for me and I could go to a REAL BEACH. Plus I would have to then fly to Sydney to apply for my visa, allowing me to visit my best friend AND I’d be around for another friend’s wedding. So it ain’t all bad. Oh, and I could eat some of my mum’s cooking. Go chicken and asparagus!

Potential Number Two: We would get to live somewhere new. We haven’t entirely decided if we’ll stay in Paris and just try and find an apartment (a scary adventure in itself) or if we will change countries. I am still voting for staying in Paris as I’m not finished with this city and I haven’t written my award winning book yet, but this turn of events has made for a much more interesting spin in my epic tale! Other options include Germany or Holland. I have to say I love the Germans as they are already winning in the “Come and live here!” competition. I can apply for a travel work visa for Germany in France! I could even go to Germany and apply there! That’s amazing. But then I couldn’t go swimming at the beach. And I’d have to learn German. And I’d get fat from eating sausages and drinking beer.

Anyway, that’s how it is at the moment. Lots to think about. I am sad that I am going to be leaving the residency as I have made so many friends through it, however it won’t be far away and I know I’ll be allowed to come to all of the parties. I hope to find an apartment somewhere nearby as I really love living in this area. So much to see and do. But there’s a lot more of Paris to explore. Let the new adventures begin.

What’s Been Happening?

Saturday, September 24th, 2011
Jess knitting

I've been busy knitting.

Grave apologies, friends. I know I have been terrible with my updates but I have been a little bit busy. When one is faced with the conundrum of sitting at home and writing, or finding new shops and art galleries in New York, one generally chooses the latter option. Of course I will now sit at home in Paris and tell you all about my latest adventures except I realise I have seen too much and done too many things. There is so much to tell you. So Step One involves you looking at my photographs that I have finally finished uploading on my Flickr site. Step Two involves me choosing specific things to tell you about, highlights of my past three or so weeks. So if we’re all willing to play our part we will catch up and be reunited in all that has happened in the World of Jess. Exciting times.

What is less exciting is that this morning I finally sat down and researched visas for next year and what I need to do to avoid being sent home. The results weren’t good. Apparently I can only be in the “Schengen Zone” (an invisible, make-believe area of land that was invented by nincompoops just to upset me) for 90 days every six months. That is RID-IC-U-LOUS. Sooo the idea of country hopping has been crossed off the list. I can’t renew my visa, so that isn’t an option. Problem is that I also don’t want to leave France. So we are faced with a bit of a problem. Looks like I might be going home at the end of January as the stupid French government wants me to and then I will fly to Sydney to get myself a “Long Stay Visa”. It is all just a ridiculously expensive way for them to give me another piece of paper. Problem is that I don’t really know who to talk to in France to ask questions like “Do I really need to leave France?” and “Can’t you just give me the piece of paper here?”. If anyone knows, please tell me.

Anyway, go and look at my photos and I’ll start writing things. See you soon.

Jess and Yannick

I've been busy hanging out with hippy ex-tennis players who now sing

The Letters of Paris

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

At the end of this week the Mairie de Paris is hosting a writing festival with conferences, discussions, performances and talks called Paris en Toutes Lettres. It looks like it would be an amazing event if I could understand what was being said AND if I wasn’t going to Madrid tomorrow. TYPICAL. Something interesting happens as I am leaving. Of course, this would be more of a problem if going to Madrid wasn’t going to be a fantastically amazing experience! Madrid sits high on my list of “must visits” largely due to the rumours I have heard about amazing art galleries and delicious food. Tom and I are spending five days there and our friends Rom and Coup are joining us. It is going to be much fun and we are preparing ourselves for the Spanish lifestyle of long sleep ins, late lunches, afternoon naps and then tapas, drinks and dinner until the wee hours of the morn. Sounds all a bit exhausting really… I’ll let you know how I go.

The last week has been a lot of fun – Mum and Dad came to visit and I showed them around my favourite Parisian haunts. We avoided most of the tourist sites and instead explored the outer areas where most tourists dare not venture. A highlight was discovering (thanks to Tom’s current obsession of markets) a world food market that is held in Belleville twice a week. It is HUGE. It stretched at least three blocks down the main road of Belleville and there was stall after stall selling fruit and vegetables, spices, cheap clothes and even toiletries. Bargain prices and plenty of “ALLEZ! ALLEZ! ALLEZ! KILO DE TOMATES! UN EURO! UN EURO! UN EURO!” By the end it was all a bit exhausting and I was quite pleased to get out of there. Tom and I have purchased a wheelie trolley to take to the markets so we’re now true blue market goers.

A la Bretagne

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Grave apologies for the lack of posts. Actually, no… My Dad said to me via email that it is good when he doesn’t hear from me as it means I am too busy doing enjoyable things. Therefore if I don’t write on my blog it is because I am far too busy discovering new places, travelling, shopping, eating etc to spend time telling you about it. But today my planned shopping trip with my friend Pip has been postponed and so I am finally having a day at home. And so I shall write.

I think I will do as I did when I returned home from Nancy and write a list of things to write about in case I forget. Ok, here’s what you have to look forward to:

  1. More sickness
  2. Bretagne in all its glory
    • Crepes
    • Coastline and countryside
    • Friends
    • Salted butter caramel
  3. Mont Saint Michel and impressive tidal movements
  4. The weirdest salmon dish I have ever eaten.

Ok, that will do. I have other things to write about but they fit under other categories and will have to appear separately. Ready? GO!

So Tuesday afternoon I wandered around Montmartre shopping with my Australian friends, Rom and Sam. I bought an amazing dress from a wonderful clothing store called Aeschne and was served, dressed and sold the dress by the woman who made it. I also had a chat with a model who was in all of the photographs scattered around the store. I didn’t just talk to the photos – she was actually there and was very friendly. Anyway, the dress is a beautiful blue silk and is just stunning. I am now searching for a reason to wear it and will continue to hint to Tom that he needs to take me out for a nice meal. You can see the dress if you go to the Aeschne website and look at the Automne/Hiver 2010 collection and look for the picture of a short-haired woman standing against a white wall. My dress is a nicer colour though. And it looks WAY better on me.

So my point is that I had a good day but at about 5.30pm my stomach started turning on me again and I felt like the dread E-coli was returning. It didn’t completely but I did have a dinner of plain rice and boiled broccoli (which I actually enjoyed). On top of this, Tom had been complaining about feeling off all day but as I decided I was feeling worse I ignored him.

The next day we got up early (too early – we ended up waiting about 40 minutes at the train station because we were too organised) and caught the metro to Montparnasse before catching a train to Morlaix in Bretagne. Tom spent most of the train ride groaning and saying he was sickly, which I continued to ignore. We arrived in Morlaix and were met by Sarah (a friend who had been staying at Tom’s house the week before we left for Paris. Sarah is French and her husband, Brandon, is American and they live in Paris but are spending the year travelling through Australia. They had to return to Paris for a few weeks to sort out Brandon’s visa) who took us to her house for lunch before showing us around Morlaix. That evening, Tom lay in bed with a fever as he had apparently caught the flu and actually was sick. Damn.

 

Sick Tom

French blood tests are just as gross as Australian blood tests – I had to watch in case he fainted and I had to translate his unconscious groans.

So Tom ended up spending about two and a half days in bed while Sarah and Brandon took me exploring in Bretagne. Tom went to the doctor and had a blood test which I kept trying to talk-up as an ‘exciting experience in France’! I don’t think Tom felt the same way.

Bretagne is beautiful – rugged coastline, beaches and green, green, green countryside. We had one day of amazing sunshine and Sarah took me (Tom stayed home) on a long drive along the northern coast of France, visiting little coastal towns along the way. A highlight – galettes and crepes for lunch (a galette is a savoury crepe). Also being able to walk along the beach in the sunshine and inhale fresh sea air was quite wonderful. It has been awhile and I am getting a bit sick of Paris’s pollution and general secondary-smoke.

 

Bretagne

From a cold and windy day...

Bretagne

To sunshine by the beach – Bretagne has it all.

It was nice to be in a family environment again and to speak a bit of French. It is quite strange talking to Sarah and Brandon in French as I spent a week talking to them in English in Perth but now that we are in France it seems only appropriate to change languages. Speaking French with Brandon is very weird – he is American so it is instinctual to speak to him in English but we spent a lot of our time speaking in French. I guess when you are surrounded by the language it is easier to just stick to it rather than constantly reverting back. I do enjoy jumping between English and French with people who can speak both languages. It adds a new level to conversations and you can explain yourself to a much greater extent. Somethings sound better in French than English and vice versa.

I think it is about time that I wrote about the food. As I have previously mentioned, galettes and crepes are products of Bretagne and it is customary to drink cider with them. As they say, do as the locals. While I find eating galettes fun and a bit naughty, I’m not sure I would choose to eat them often. Crepes, on the other hand, I would eat at the end of every meal if I wasn’t guaranteed to get fat. Particularly if they are filled with nutella…

 

Galette

Spot the difference between a galette...

Crepe

... and a crepe

I also sampled a cake which was made from pastry, sugar and butter and butter and butter and butter. You had to drink a litre of water after every mouthful as it was so buttery. So so good. And then there was the salted butter caramel. I’m generally not that interested in caramel but this stuff was amazing. On our way to Mont Saint Michel, Sarah took us to Saint Malo where we had afternoon tea at an amazing cafe with amazing cakes. I had a piece of chocolate and caramel tart which was one of the greatest things I have ever eaten in my life. Crispy tart base with a huge slab of gooey, buttery caramel and then a thick layer of dark chocolate on top. My eyes almost popped out of my head as I ate it. It was a huge piece and I doubted my ability to finish it, but I did. I worked through it and I made it to the end. I am proud of my achievements.

 

Chocolate and Caramel Tart

Look at it! That's a burst artery.

So the few days we spent with Sarah and Brandon were full of fun and exploration (and Tom’s constant coughing fits and general groans) and it was sad to part ways. At least we did it at the top of Mont Saint Michel as we were being surrounded by approaching tides. Very cool.

So, for those of you who don’t know, Mont Saint Michel is an island off the coast of Normandy on top of which there is an abbey dating back to the 700s. It has become a bit of a tourist haunt as most days of the year (as the moon prescribes) during the day the tide goes out and you can walk across the sand (being careful to avoid quick sand) to the island, while at night the tides return and the island is surrounded by water. There is a dyke with a road allowing for easy access these days but you still need to remove your car from certain car parks before the water returns to avoid having it washed away.

 

Mont Saint Michel

Wow.

We arrived on the island at about 5.30pm and stood in the rain and slightly cool temperatures until 7.45pm and watched the water come in from the ocean.

 

Mont Saint Michel

The water approaches

It was one of the most amazing natural phenomena that I have ever seen. I put it on a similar scale to seeing the salt lakes near Menzies in Western Australia – truly spectacular. It started slowly – you could see the water approaching from the ocean far off in the distance and slowly covering the sand. Then, at about 7.15pm, it all started happening – the water broke over the lip of sand and you could see waves of water sweeping across and filling every hole it could find in the sand. The current was strong and before we knew it we were surrounded by water. Of course, my camera ran out of batteries as the water really started doing its thing, but you can see some photos and movies on my flickr site if you are interested.

 

Mont Saint Michel

Waves!

Staying on Mont Saint Michel was nice as there were hardly any other tourists around, but it was also very touristy and every shop and restaurant was set up to remove money from us. We knew we would have no option but to eat rubbish touristy food and so tried to find the best option. I don’t think we made a wise decision. We each had a set menu which is the normal deal for tourist restaurants. The food was edible but not special and my main meal was one of the most thought-provoking dishes I have ever eaten. I ordered “saumon avec riz de bretagne” – simply translated, it means salmon with rice of Bretagne. It sounded ok – I like salmon and rice so I couldn’t go too wrong. The salmon was a fairly average fillet but at least it was salmon. The rice consisted of two inverted cups of rice – one flavoured with saffron, the other was some sort of ‘wild rice’. Tasteless but I love plain rice so that was ok. It was the sauce that really got me – I think they were trying to make a béarnaise sauce but I’m not sure what they were thinking. I’m fairly certain they had whipped it, creating a soft, fluffy sauce that was just WEIRD. The fish was completely surrounded (swimming, if you will) in the stuff. Further consideration of the dish makes me wonder if perhaps the chefs were trying to represent Mont Saint Michel and the tidal movements in the form of a seafood meal. Whatever they were thinking, they should think again.

 

Salmon

Just weird.

The other problem with Mont Saint Michel is accessing it without a car. We had to catch a train from Rennes, a town 1.5 hours away at 6.30pm and so we figured we had plenty of time to wander the island before catching a connecting bus to the train station. Luckily I decided to check the bus timetable in the morning and discovered we would have to catch a bus at 2.30pm in order to be in Rennes at the right time. There were only four buses a day and the last bus would arrive 15 minutes after our train left. So we visited the abbey, wandered through the town, ate a quick lunch before catching the bus to Rennes and wandering aimlessly through the town for 2.5 hours. Luckily the weather was beautiful and Rennes is a lovely town so it wasn’t so bad. But considering the bus connection between Mont Saint Michel and Rennes is promoted as being the way to get there, it was quite disappointing.

 

Rennes

Look at how French Rennes is!

So a great week away was had and we returned to Paris being not all that excited to see rubbish and filth and dog-poo everywhere again. That said, this week Paris has had amazingly warm weather and I have been quite happy to wander aimlessly through the streets. The parks are in full bloom and every evening the canal is chock-a-block full with people sitting by the water drinking wine and eating Pringles. Tom and I joined them on Wednesday night with beer and cashews before trying out another local restaurant. Very, very pleasant. I think we will be doing that a lot in summer.

 

Beer and the canal

Good times.

Canal

All of the French people were silly and faced away from the nice view

Canal

But not the Australians!

Vot a dae!

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Mon dieu… quel jour! It is currently 9.16pm and I am finally sitting and trying to wind down. We have had quite a day and my brain is mush. Pure mush. Possibly delicious but most likely not.

This morning Tom and I caught the metro to the Grand Arche in La Defense – a newish commercial area on the perimetre of Paris. Having spent a lot of yesterday wandering around trying to find a large supermarket (a hypermarche – pronounced ee-pur-mar-shay) and failing, I realised that I had visited an Auchan at La Defense with my mum some years ago where she had stocked up on espadrilles. So off we headed, illegally taking an RER train instead of a metro which meant our ticket was declined as we tried to pass through the exit. Luckily a kind Frenchman let us slip through the gates on his ticket. Merci, monsieur! Our shopping adventures resulted in some GREAT buys – a clothes horse, pegs, wine glasses, tea towels, a pair of scissors and in a 1 Euro bargain bin section we scored ourselves a broom (which has already broken but is still good.) Very exciting! I just said to Tom that our house finally feels a bit more ‘homely’ and lived in. I like it.

Grande Arche

That's one big arche

Unfortunately we had to hurry back to the city in order to get to our 3pm appointment at the bank where a very friendly bank lady helped up set up accounts. Les Recollets has a relationship with BNP Paribas – supporters of the French Open. This relationship allowed us to set up fee-free accounts for the next year! BRILLIANT! We’ll be saving over 100 Euros each a year. That’s a whole trip to Budapest.

The bank experience was another showcase of French bureaucracy and their love for paperwork. For each of us there were piles of papers that we now get to keep as souvenirs. All quite ridiculous and unnecessary. But amusing. So in about a week we will have bank cards that will allow us to use our money without being charged ridiculous Australian bank fees. HOORAY!

One of the greatest things about the bank trip was that last time I went and opened a bank account in France, I had one of the teachers from the school I was working at in Custines come with me and I sat and couldn’t understand a word that was being said. This time I was in charge and translated between our bank lady and Tom. Rather pleasing to know that my French has improved enough for me to open bank accounts and discuss fees and insurance.

On a final note, today out at La Defense, Tom and I went to a Paul Cafe where we both consumed chocolat chauds and I had a tarte aux mrytilles and Tom had a tarte au chocolat (which I sampled of course.) So good. So very good. I’ll have another one soon.

Paul patisserie

Deliciousness.