Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

Accepting Differences

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

My move from Paris to Manchester has been a remarkably smooth process and I haven’t felt as overwhelmed as I expected. This largely due to the wonderful support I have received from my extended family members who have been looking after me and taking me to wonderful places. I think it is also because moving to England is a bit like moving back to Australia, only the buildings are older, the weather is colder and the people say strange, strange things like pronouncing ‘castle’ as “cAssle” instead of “cAAAARRRRstle”. Weird.

I am, however, having to come to terms with some significant differences between Manchester and Paris. While I miss Paris and my friends, I am not desperately wishing to return and am enjoying myself in Manchester. But there are a few key things that I am having to get used to.

Public Transport
It’s rubbish. I am now very aware at how well organised the public transport in Paris is. Here in Manchester, I have had many long waits standing in biting winds and snow waiting for a tram/bus/train that is delayed or apparently non-existant. Last night, for example, I had planned my evening so that I would prepare my dinner and then at 7.30pm catch a tram to Salford Quays to watch a group of people running and dancing around in costumes covered in LEDs. I was very keen to see the performance and it was only going to be on between 8-9pm. At 7.30pm I was at Deansgate tram stop waiting for two possible trams and as I froze to death in the siberian winds that are currently caressing Europe. Half an hour later, neither tram had arrived, despite them apparently coming every 12 minutes. I gave up and went home as I was completely numb, generally annoyed and wouldn’t have been able to see much of the performance if a tram had eventually arrived. This experience made waiting 4 minutes for the next train on the Paris Metro seem very insignificant. Considering these are the only trams that go to the area where the performance was, it wasn’t the best service.

Chain Restaurants
In the three weeks I have spent in Manchester, I have eaten at two chain restaurants and been informed they are good. I have been to a Pizza Express and a Tampopo (which describes itself as an “Asian restaurant”. Hmmm…) My food snobbery has reared its head as I can’t accept that a restaurant chain is a good eating option. Sure – it’s cheap, edible and it isn’t McDonalds – but the food is produced following detailed instructions and is in no way influenced by the person cooking it. Both meals were ‘ok’ but could have been prepared by anyone. The menus don’t change depending on seasons and there is no care, precision or passion in the food. It’s just something to eat. I am looking forward to trying some real restaurants with real chefs in the near future.

Meal Times
Following the food theme, I have also eaten dinner at 5.30pm twice. Sure, both times were because we were going to see a theatre performance, but if this was in Paris then we would have something to eat after the show at 10pm. Most restaurants in Manchester are filling up by 6.30pm and many have special ‘Early Bird’ specials if you eat before 7pm. This does remind me of being back in Perth but I had grown to love the long after-work event of an apero at 6.30pm followed by dinner around 8.30pm in Paris. I hope that summer time will slow things down in England but I doubt it will be the case.

Bread
I was overwhelmingly relieved to receive a REAL loaf of bread when my brother came to visit on Tuesday. There are no real bakeries, no real patisseries and finding decent baked goods is very, very hard. I miss my daily trip to the boulangerie to buy a fresh baguette. I also miss real cheese, although I am enjoying some good English cheddar. At least I have dark chocolate digestives. They make me a very happy girl.

Thankfully I still don’t understand half of what is being said around me so I can live in a bubble of blissful ignorance as people talk around me in strange accents and saying odd things. It is wonderful.

Ma Vie à Paris

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I have realised that I haven’t written about life à Paris for quite some time. My focus has shifted to my experiments in the world of linoleum and paper and I haven’t kept you up to date with the latest and greatest happenings in Gay Paris. Times, they may be a’changin’, but I shall now redeem myself with a longwinded discussion on the ins and outs of the French capital. Vous êtes prêts? On y va!

Weather

Allow me to start with what everyone is talking about – the fact that it is now June, and therefore apparently summer, yet I am wearing pants, a long-sleeved shirt AND a cardigan. Today the sky is covered in varying degrees of grey cloud and the forecast for this afternoon is rain, rain, rain. This is seriously going to disrupt my friends’ and my plans of having a picnic by the canal. Sure, the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm these days, but that’s difficult to enjoy when you can’t actually see the sun anyway. We had a week or so of glorious sunshine and last Saturday I got sunburnt. The following day I was wearing jeans and a jumper. Something is wrong here.

Politics

France has elected its new President, Monsieur Hollande, and he seems to be fitting in just fine. I haven’t really heard much about him, nor have there been any scandals involving him and a younger woman (yet). So really, he’s quite boring and we can tell this just by looking at him. He looks like a maths teacher (or, as I have been informed by my American friends, a MATH teacher). Not that I have anything against maths teachers – they just make for fairly limp Presidents. Maybe Sarkozy will give him some hot tips on how to be a slime-ball.

In the meantime, France is gearing up for the NEXT election where they vote for their local representatives. I really don’t understand how this works because it seems candidates can stick their hand up to be a representative in any area of France that they want. I’m sure there are some rules, but it is probably just as long as you have a friend who lives in that area or you went camping there once then you can be a candidate. This has resulted in the extreme-left candidate from the Presidential election (Melanchon) challenging the extreme-right candidate (Le Pen) in an area in the north-east of France. This is risky business and could result in Melanchon not being elected which would be a DISASTER because really he’s the only candidate with any sort of human sentiment. It would also mean that Le Pen gets in and every foreigner in France will pack their bags in anticipation of their departure. Anyway, we shall see. I believe the first vote is this weekend, with the second round the following week. Exciting times.

Fashion

The latest in summer fashions are in the stores and despite not having been shopping for at least three months, I can report that the style for this season is beige, beige, beige with FLURO PINK or FLURO BLUE or FLURO ORANGE. It is extraordinarily awful. The BoBos have been out in force when the sun does peak its head out from behind the clouds and big, thick-rimmed glasses are still a must.

Food

Weird and disgusting as this may sound, the latest craze in the French food world is… American hotdogs and hamburgers. WHY?? I really don’t know. Actually, I do. While BoBos are proud of their native country and French ways, they also crave the style of New York and therefore a van driving around the city selling over priced hamburgers (on gross sweet ‘hamburger’ buns I might add) is considered to be “trés Brooklyn”. The hamburgers I can manage, but the other day I noticed a new restaurant on Rue du Faubourg St Denis that is a “New Yorkaise” style hot dog restaurant where you can buy a “real American” hot dog for 4 Euros. They even were proud of the fact that you could add fake “mustard” in your sausage in a bun. Needless to say, I haven’t tried these hot dogs and never plan to. I’m happy to stick to good traditional French food that is full of fat and cheese and cream and everything that is delicious and artery-clogging.

Life aux Récollets

Life in the convent is plodding along nicely. The next few weeks will see the departure of some residents who have become good friends. It is a hard aspect of living here – I get to meet so many great people but often they will leave after a short period of time. It is nice to know that I will have people to go and visit in Italy, the US, Canada, Poland, South Korea, Germany, Greece… But still. It would be nicer if they would just stay here.

My electricity still turns off at least once a day and the internet continues to be painfully slow. There hasn’t been much action from the ghost downstairs but I think he/she might come out when summer finally arrives. Becky and my vegie garden is growing like crazy and we will have tomatoes before we know it. We just need to build an anti-rabbit/bird/mouse/snail/monster contraption to save our plants. Something is very, very hungry and likes eating our green-leafed plants. Very annoying.

So I think that is about it. Most of you will have heard or worked out through amazing sleuth-work that I am now a single lady living in Paris. This has both its ups and downs as emotions are still quite raw and so any form of romantic liaison between people on the street can result in floods of tears. This is problem considering Paris is the city of love and sitting on every second bench or lying under every other tree are gross, soppy, lovey-dovey couples kissing and cuddling and doing all sorts of French things. I have considered going over and asking them to stop but I have refrained. Anyway, life is all about changes and growing and discovering new things, new places and new people and that is my plan. I would just like to sun to come out so that I can wear a skirt. I’m bored of pants.

They are Wrong About English Food

Friday, April 6th, 2012

As I am sure you all realise by now, I generally base my enjoyment of a country on how many delicious meals I eat, and I can therefore declare that I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to England. Most people poo-poo British food, and while I agree that some of it is awful, I can also inform you that some French food is awful and that is apparently one of the best cuisines in the world. British food is definitely moving away from stodgy vegetables and mushy peas and you can now find some wonderful restaurants.

The numerous times that I have been to England, I have always managed to have a really good meal at one of the many, many pubs scattered throughout the country. They are a bit like the Parisian bistro – you have to pick wisely but you can find some that offer excellent meals. The area around Creswell isn’t exactly a culinary hub, however, in a nearby town there is a pub called the Elm Tree which I went to with Ben for dinner.

Elm Tree

British Cider at the Elm Tree

Where English pubs differ from Parisian bistros is the presence of friendly staff. AMAZING. A smile and a friendly welcome – who would have thought? Anyway, the Elm Tree is a simple local pub which appears to be very popular as we attempted to go there three times but each time it was fully booked. We ended up there on a Monday night and it wasn’t particularly busy. I had a steak which was served with hand cut chips and vegetables, and I chose a peppercorn sauce to go with it.

Elm Tree steak

Mmm... steak.

The sauce was an extra two pounds but considering I got a bucketful it was worth it. And oh was it delicious. The steak clearly came off one of the cows in the paddock nearby – very tender and perfectly cooked. Ben had a cottage pie which was very well put together and very flavoursome.

Elm Tree Cottage Pie

Ben's Cottage Pie

We both had dessert – I went for the sticky toffee pudding because I think it is the ultimate british pub dessert, while Ben had a chocolate and marshmallow brownie. My pudding was rich, sweet and moreish and was served with a tooth-breaking lump of honeycomb sticking out of it. Wonderfully good. I turned up my nose at the inclusion of marshmallow in the brownie but I was wrong – it was served with a rich, dark chocolate sauce which cut the sweetness of the marshmallow and it was a really good chocolate cake. A fantastic meal.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Look at that lump of honeycomb!

Another food highlight was a lunch in Sheffield with Ben’s friend and co-bread-maker, Martha. We went to a café called the Blue Moon which offers three vegetarian mains which come with a plate-load of salad. The meals are made from organic produce and were HUGE and very, very delicious. It was a wonderfully relaxed environment and a fun place to eat.

Blue Moon vegetables

It doesn't look like much but it sure was tasty!

How Could I Forget?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Those who know me well will understand the complete and utter absurdity of what I am about to tell you. Believe it or not, I have forgotten to count down to my birthday. Most years I would have assembled a count down calendar with the days, hours, and seconds until the big day. Not this year. I’m not sure why – perhaps it is the water, perhaps it is the polluted Parisian air, perhaps it is because I have too many other things to look forward to – but my birthday has slipped to the side relatively unnoticed. However…

2 weeks until my birthday!

Yesterday I received two packages in the mail from my parents and brother and they were full of presents! As I still have two weeks to go I wasn’t allowed to open them, but I will also be in New York for my birthday which means presents will need to be packed into my suit case to be opened on my birthday morning. One of the presents was particularly weighty, so via skype I opened my present with my family. It was…

Brown rice

Brown Rice!

I was excited! Finding brown rice in Paris is like looking for pork in a vegetarian restaurant. So it was the perfect birthday present, although I am glad I didn’t have to cart it to New York. So now my excitement for my birthday is increasing and I am needing to find a nice place to go for dinner in New York. Any suggestions are more than welcome. In the mean time, I am having enough difficulty finding a restaurant that is open on a Monday during August in Paris for Tom’s birthday. He is getting old (yes, old.) this Monday. I have spent the last three or so weeks hunting for the perfect restaurant to take him to and I am failing miserably. Everything is closed or I don’t know if it is going to be nice. It’s impossible.

Presents and skype

Presents, Skype and Magyver

Café de Diable

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

It was Tuesday Lunch Club Day yesterday and Tom, Josh and I were kicked out of our apartments by the cleaning lady (ooh-la-di-da, Jess) at around 11.30am and we headed off on a weird trail set by Josh. It is interesting to see how other people visualise how streets connect in Paris – I don’t think anyone really knows the most efficient way of getting from one place to the next. The streets are far too confusing and diagonal here. No Perth-like grid systems for Paris!

We eventually arrived at Rue de la Roquette, a street full of restaurants and bars frequented by locals. The street eventually arrives at Place de la Bastille and then you will discover the phenomenon of “tourists” but for most part the street is tourist-free. Bliss. I had been recommended a restaurant called Café des Anges, which is French for cafe of the angels. Such a name suggests good things and so we decided to give it a go.

Considering there are no Parisians in Paris at the moment, the cafe was relatively busy, clearly with people who go there every lunch time during their two-hour break. We managed to secure an outdoor table “à la terrasse” – something that is apparently very important in France during summer. You’re low life scum if you choose to sit in the shade or inside during summer – unfortunately, outdoor eating in Paris also means passive smoking so I am often that low life scum, hiding away from the toxic fumes. So we had a table and then we waited for something to happen. And we waited.

Cafe des Anges

Our view from the terrace

Eventually a waitress arrived, looked at us with a puzzled look on her face and when I eventually said “Can we have a menu please?” she said “Oh! You want to eat? Ok.” and ran away. About five minutes later we saw her walking off down the street having just finished her shift. So we waited again. By this time we had decided to stretch our necks out of their sockets and read one of the blackboard menus and decided what we wanted to eat. But another waitress eventually spotted us and declared she would bring us menus as we helplessly said “No, we know what we want!” to her disappearing back. It took three waitresses and a lot of “Excusez-moi”s to finally get the waitresses to realise we wanted to order our food. It also took as much effort to get a bottle of water.

Luckily the sun was shining, we were at lunch club and we were all generally content so we weren’t that fussed by the strange behaviour. What amused and confused us greatly was when Josh (a vegetarian) asked if it was possible to exchange the chicken on the salad he wanted for smoked salmon. There was another salad on the menu that had smoked salmon in it but the other ingredients weren’t so great so we were at least certain that salmon existed in the kitchen. Here was the conversation (translated from French):

Josh: Can I have the Cob salad but with salmon instead of chicken?
Waitress: No. It’s too hard.
Josh: Really? But I don’t eat chicken.
Waitress: No, no, it’s not possible. The kitchen staff would get too confused and it would take a long time to make.
Josh: Ok… well I will just have the Cob salad with no chicken.
Waitress: Really? Are you sure?
Josh: Yes… it’s fine.
Waitress: Ok.
*Waitress walks away, turns around and comes back to the table.
Waitress: You can have potatoes in the salad if you like.

What is the difference between changing the chicken for potato instead of salmon? Apparently that wasn’t going to be an issue for the chefs in the kitchen and they would be able to handle it. ANYWAY.

Considering the speed of the waitresses, the chefs were clearly miles ahead and it didn’t take long for our food to arrive. And it was goooood. Tom was excited about his cheeseburger which had about five different sorts of cheese in it, all of which he declared were ‘real’. No plastic hamburger cheese here.

Cheese burger

Tom's burger

The bun was still full of sugar and out of a packet. I really don’t understand why the French think it is ok to serve such awful bread with their burgers considering how pedantic they are about bread normally. Tom still managed to make all sort of moaning noises while eating it so I believe it was good.

Josh’s salad was quite impressive including an entire sliced avocado and the magic potatoes. I didn’t photograph his food so I can’t show you but think salad, think olives, think green, think yum. It was worth the chicken/salmon/potato discussion.

I ordered a vegetarian lasagna and it was fan-awesomely-tastic. It was rustic, cheesy, and full of delicious vegetables, plus it was topped with a heap of rocket and parmesan cheese. What more could a vegetable and cheese loving girl want?

Vegetarian lasagna

Look at it! I want more.

The food was great and very reasonably priced so we certainly weren’t disappointed. However, we then wanted to pay and we had to rely on slow and incompetent waitstaff to deliver us our bill. The waitress who had been serving us the most (we’re fairly certain she was also the manager of the cafe) had to walk past us at least six times, each time saying “Oh yes! The bill! I will bring it!”, until she finally managed to print it off and bring it to the table. By this time we had looked at the menu, worked out how much we needed to pay and had scrounged together some money. My lasagna was 11.80Euros and I managed to put together the exact amount with a few small coins. I went off to the bathroom while we were still waiting for the bill to arrive and left the boys in charge of paying. When I came back, the waitress was rolling her eyes and grumbling because I was paying with ‘les petites pièces” and she wasn’t impressed that I had dared pay her the exact amount. So we left. If she expected a tip for her excellent service it would have been “Learn how to serve clients”.

It’s a shame when a cafe offers great food but is let down in another department. I can’t say I will rush back to Café des Anges but I did really enjoy my lasagna. So far the Tuesday Lunch Club has had some up and down experiences but I can’t wait for our next exciting adventure.

Cartwheel

I was so excited about lunch club that I did a cartwheel. Or at least pretended to.

Six Months in Paris

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I have been extremely slack with my updates lately. I have been busy working though… that in itself is a story but one for another time. Monday marked the six-month point of Tom and my stay in Paris. As I said when we reached five months, this isn’t exactly a good thing. But I have started thinking more realistically about what I can do next year and there are ways for me to stay in Paris next year – I just may not be able to work. I’m sure Tom will have a high-paying CEO job by then so he can support me. HA. I’m funny.

Anyhoo, to mark our six month moment, Tom and I went out for dinner. We spent about an hour scouring La Fourchette for a decent bargain meal and ended up picking a winner. We went to a restaurant called Le Muras, located not far from our place in the 11th arrondissement. The restaurant was in a very suburban area, surrounded by residential apartment blocks and it had a very ‘local’ vibe about it. The walls of the restaurant were painted bright red, yellow, blue and green and Tom was pleased that he got to spend the entire evening staring at a wall covered with a large image of a naked lady.

Le Muras

How French.

The owner of the restaurant welcomed us warmly and was a wonderful host for the entire evening. It was a relaxed and easy going place and clearly somewhere that people come back to regularly.

After being served complimentary homemade tapenade to nibble on while we worked out what we wanted to eat, I chose the salmon fillet while Tom couldn’t look past the words “Côte de boeuf” and “400g.” He has been missing his t-bone steaks and saw this as an appropriate opportunity to refill his system with a large slab of meat.

My salmon was delicious – perfectly cooked with a crispy skin and juicy flesh, it just melted in my mouth. It was served with what was originally described as a ‘white wine sauce’ but I think it was more butter than wine. Whatever it was, it was moorish and fatteningly awesome. The beans weren’t overcooked (MIRACLE!) and it was a light and extremely tasty dish.

Salmon

That's a good fish.

Tom was overjoyed with his beef and it fulfilled his dreams of meaty-goodness. I managed to score a bite; the meat was tender and not at all chewy like most French steaks and the pepper sauce was spicy and delicious.

Steak

That's meat.

For dessert Tom had the pannacotta with berry coulis while I chose a five-spice poached pear with home made vanilla ice cream. When I ordered the pear the owner of the restaurant informed me that it was “trés bonne” and I would have to agree. It was lightly spiced and matched perfectly with the ice cream.

Poached pear

It's (somewhat) healthy AND delicious!

Tom made “Oh wow” noises as he was eating his pannacotta, with one of the main highlights being the perfectly shaped and oh-so-sweet raspberries served on top. Berries in Europe are glorious. Yum.

Pannacotta

Look at those raspberries.

We left Le Muras feeling great – we have found another wonderful restaurant in Paris that I would happily return to. It is a great feeling when you find local restaurants that serve good food and have friendly and welcoming staff. It just shows that I haven’t completely wasted my six months here.

They Built This City on Rock and Roll and Jazz and Hip Hop and Techno…

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

I love Paris. Sometimes it just really comes through and makes you realise how great a city it is. Yesterday was Fête de la Musique which is the one night of the year where the city fills with music on every corner of every street. At about 8pm, Tom and I headed towards the centre of the city and met up with Rom and Coup (who is sporting a new Swedish hair style and looking very snazzy) and we made our way aimlessly, following the sounds of instruments.

I have never seen anything like it before – bands were competing for sound space and sometimes if you stood in the right place you could have an indie band playing in one ear and a dj ‘mixing it up’ in the other. Thousands of people were out and about enjoying the free concerts and everyone was in great spirits. What particularly interested/amused/excited me was seeing such a wide variety of music being enjoyed by such a wide variety of people. At one stage we were standing outside a middle eastern restaurant listening to an elderly guy singing and playing a keyboard and creating amazing music (I think it was middle eastern of some description – not sure.) There was a huge group of people listening and dancing to the music and the crowd would have had a representative from every gender, age group, nationality possible. Further down the road and into a little side street we followed the sounds of electronic doosh-doosh music to find a white-masked dj playing from the window of a small clothing store with about 20 darkly-clad goths dancing wildly outside. That was just weird.

The potentially strangest moment of the night was our final music viewing. Things had started closing and we hadn’t seen any music for two street blocks but could hear something in the distance and walked towards it. As we turned the corner we saw a small stage set up next to a church where two guys were playing digeridoos to a crowd consisting of happy, drunk, young white folk; a hippy girl on roller skates; an asian guy on a fold up bicycle; children (it was midnight by this point); a punk; and all sorts of other ‘types’. The music wasn’t great but the crowd sure was enjoying it. I was enjoying watching the crowd and trying to work out how on earth this group of people could potentially have gathered in the same place at the same time and actually have something in common. It was brilliant.

Fete de la musique

He definitely wasn't Australian – A blurry photo but you get the idea

So a great night was had and not once did I see a drunken brawl or anyone doing anything even slightly stupid. If this had been in Perth, the riot police would have been in full patrol and everyone would have been strip searched and sent home to bed by 8pm. We bought pints of beer in plastic cups and walked through the streets past police officers who didn’t even look at us. It is technically illegal to drink in the streets but unless you’re drunk the police will overlook it. And it works.

Merci pour un bonne nuit, Paris.

Madrid Part 2

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

The Food

It was impossible not to involve yourself in the buzzing night life – at 6pm head to Bar Number 1 and have a glass of delicious Spanish red wine (so much better than French wine but don’t tell them I said that) or Sangria. Your drink will be served with some form of tapas – chips, chorizo, olives. Still hungry? Order from the tapas menu something small to nibble on. Then head to Bar Number Two where you’ll do it all again.

Tapas hall

A large tapas hall in Madrid serving a wide range of high quality food

Tapas

That's good tapas.

At around 10pm you will settle in one place, order a bottle of wine (for no more than 10 Euros) and a carafe of sangria, fill the table with fried mushrooms, spanish ham, potatoes with tomato sauce, omelette, olives, oxtail, cheese, or whatever excites you and eat and drink the night away. Before you know it, it is past midnight and you’ve eaten some of the best food of your life.

I believe Madrid has more bars than any other city in Europe – how they all survive, I don’t know. We managed to find some brilliant places to eat, full of locals enjoying themselves. It was amazingly cheap and therefore very dangerous to our livers and arteries as we stocked up on somewhat excessive amounts of alcohol and finger-lickingly good oily food. Everything was deep fried, coated in oil or served with cheese. I don’t know how the Spanish people aren’t a bunch of fatsos. No green-age on the plate, which made it a tad tricky for our vegetarian travel companions. Thankfully everywhere did patatas – fried potato with tomato sauce and/or garlic mayonnaise.

Sangria

Sweet, sweet Sangria

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!

Here’s the Latest

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Exciting and fun times have been happening over here. Our French teacher from Perth, Louise, (a wonderful young lady from Versailles) is in France at the moment and has been our tour guide and food provider for the past few days. She was kind enough to invite us to her family home in Versailles for lunch last Thursday. It is so nice to go into family situations in other countries. It gives you a much different perspective on the way of living and how people function.

Louise’s family lives in an apartment on the fourth or fifth floor. The apartment layout is beyond confusing – all rooms seem to be connected with multiple entries and exits, random bedrooms attached to sitting rooms and the corridor to the kitchen is also the dining area. The walls are covered in trinkets and souvenirs from places they have been. It is cosy, warm and inviting and Louise’s family welcomed us with open arms. Wine flowed, we ate delicious saucisson, and Louise’s mum prepared an amazing French lunch of chicken with a mushroom sauce. And we had CHEESE. One of my favourite things about going to French people’s houses for meals is being offered cheese. We were given five different cheeses to try (we sampled them all), three of which they had purchased in the Alps the previous week. It was fantastic and our breath stank as a result.

Friday night we were invited back to Louise’s for a party with Louise’s friends. Everyone was so friendly and spoke English with ease and were excited about meeting Louise’s Australian friends. I’m not a party person and generally hate being social when I don’t know anyone, but I felt really at ease and had a great time. Sadly we had to catch trains back to Paris and left just in time to catch the final train from Versailles to Paris and then the last connection back to our place. I was somewhat relieved to be leaving the smoke-filled rooms of Louise’s house. Every one at the party smoked. We were engulfed in toxic smoke fumes which we are strangely starting to get used to. It amazes me how many people smoke in Paris. My “You know that thing will kill you” threats don’t even seem to work. I couldn’t wait to wash my hair after that party.

Train to Paris

Heading home on the train

Then it was Saturday. We met Louise, her husband Marcelo, and another girl from Perth, Anuska, at the Musee D’Orsay and we wandered around the gallery with hundreds of other people being cultured. The Musee D’Orsay is a brilliant gallery with some amazing works. One of my favourite sections was a collection of photographs revolving around the theme of sleep. The introductory text said that there was a movement of taking photographs of people pretending to be asleep as it was like seeing them at their most innocent. There was also a collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and some amazing paintings by Manet.

After our cultural boost, we headed our for dinner to a lovely little restaurant in Montmartre. I have walked past this place a few times when looking for somewhere to eat but never went there. It is always so hard to know where to go unless you have recommendations. Like most menus in France, the mains consisted of meat dishes. Hard to be vegetarian in France. I had a steak with roquefort sauce. So so good. Everyone’s food was delicious. To start we had an oeuf cocotte which is an egg cracked into a ramekin and cooked slightly. This version then had foie gras on top and you dip pieces of bread into the sloppy egg/foie gras mixture. SO SO SO GOOD. Yes, foie gras is bad. But it is also delicious. Very delicious.

Oeuf cocotte

Oeuf cocotte. Mmmmmmmiam!

Anyway, the past few days have been really great. Today Tom and I went for a walk to a local park called Parc de Buttes Chaumont which has rolling hills a big cliff/hill/thing in the middle with a look out that has views over Montmartre and towards Sacre Coeur. Everyone is out and about on Sundays, going for walks with the family. It’s nice to be part of the ‘normal’ lifestyle instead of just a tourist.

Buttes Chaumont

Parc Buttes Chaumont with the lake and look out

Oh and we have shelves! We had bought them 2 weeks ago from a shop in the city called Conforama but we had to wait for them to be delivered to the store. We collected them on Friday lunchtime and had to carry a 35kg box along streets, down flights of metro stairs and home. My body is so sore. I have bruises on my hip from where I rested the box. I may have given Tom a few evil glares as he didn’t want to pay to have the thing delivered to our door. That said, once we got it home it was fine. We then opened the box to discover it was divided into 20 different parts that had to be stuck together. So we left it in the box until the next day when it was raining and too yucky to go outside and we put it together. Our shelves are so great. We can put things on them. This excites me more than seeing the Eiffel Tower. Seriously.

Shelves

Look at how the shelves hold things! Brilliant.

On saying that, the train ride from Paris to Versailles goes through some outer suburbs of Paris that have an amazing view back towards the Eiffel Tower. The thing sticks out above the city like a sore thumb and at night time is lit up. It looks so cool.

Look for more photos on my flickr site soon (ie. once the internet builds up a bit of speed.)