Saturday, May 30, 2009

France: Part 3 (the countryside)

The following day had been set aside for a jaunt through the countryside, which is always a priority for me. I live in a city, so when I'm on vacation, I want to see some green! At least part of the time :) I woke up that morning and walked out of the room to see...

A breakfast of champions! Do you see the pile of pastries on each plate? Mmm. So yummy. Our lovely hosts, who had been up for a little while, ran out to the local patisserie first thing and picked them up still warm from the oven. Heaven, people. Pure heaven.

Then we all piled into our little rental car. I drove while KP navigated, and the boys sat in the back and did their best to drive/navigate from there :) Our first stop...

Actually, there was nothing there except the sign but we had to stop and take a picture. How awesome would it be to be able to say that you lived in Sexey aux Forges? On to the next stop!

I've always wanted to visit a winery, so what better time than when driving through the French countryside? We found one in Lucey, and were given a tasting by the guy in the red sweatshirt. His name was David (pronounced Da-veed), and his family had run this winery for several generations. The region is best known for producing two things - a gris, which is a white wine version of a rose, and the mirabelle, a type of plum used to create various wines and liqeurs. All in all, we tried 2 different gris, a white wine, a pinot noir, a mirabelle liquer, a mirabelle brandy, and then the mirabelle liquer mixed with a sparkling wine. As the driver, I only had a very tiny bit of each, but they were all quite good. We ended up buying a bottle of the mirabelle liquer and a bottle of gris.

It was decided that before we jumped back in the car, we'd walk around a bit and try to find somewhere to have a picnic. Lucey turned out to be a very picturesque little village! The old winepress above was in a little park right next to the winery we'd visited. As we were sauntering about, David drove by and then stopped and told us about a water garden in the area. We looked, but weren't able to find it, so we sat at the first picnic table we came across and watched the local kids play soccer.

Our next stop was an abandonned abbey, which you see above. That was as close as we could get without trespassing (I took the picture through the iron gate that kept us out) - apparently it's only open to the public on Sundays.

That was a problem we ran into quite a bit in France - at least outside Paris. Things seem to be open whenever they feel like it, rather than following their posted hours, if they had any.

Everywhere we went, there were fields upon fields of canola. It was gorgeous!

Our last stop of the day was in the little town of St-Mihiel. Other than the cathedral, there wasn't much to see - at least that was open. But the cathedral was one of my favourites. You could tell while walking around that it's main purpose was to be used by an active congregation, not just to look pretty.

After having a little snack, we headed back to Nancy, driving through village after village, each with it's own little church, and flower-lined streets, and fields of canola.

Friday, May 29, 2009

France: Part 2 (Strasbourg)

On the next day of our trip, we took a train to Strasbourg in Alsace, which is close to the German border. In fact at several points in its history, Alsace has been part of Germany, and the dual influence shows.

That's TC headed down one of the many side streets, which all seem to be shared equally between pedestrians and vehicles of every type. Just a little further down this one, we came across... extremely yummy-looking window display! I had to stop and take a picture, even though we were there before the place opened. I could write for days about the pastries and desserts that we had in France - chocolate mousse, apple honey and almond crepes, vanilla gelato with fresh raspberries, meringues. I need to stop. I'm making myself hungry.

Strasbourg, like almost every other French city or town, has a beautiful cathedral. They're really quite something - everything is more than functional, it's also aesthetically pleasing. We decided it would be a good idea to climb to the observation platform at the top, which meant a good 25 minute climb up a narrow set of circular stairs.

A shot from a window part of the way up gave a really nice view of the buttresses (I think that's what they're called - any architects out there?).

And then the view of the city from the top was definitely worth the climb! It was a clear, sunny day, so we could see quite a ways. Do you see all the windows in the roofs? I learned while there that the reason so many older French buildings are designed that way is that houses were taxed based on the number of rooms, but any that were above the roof line weren't included.

Ever wonder what graffiti looked like before spray paint?

Yup. Pre-spray paint graffiti. "Baron de Seckendoree wuz here 1770" :)

After we made it back to the bottom of the cathedral, we decided that for the sake of our now rather jello-like legs it would be a good time to take a boat cruise through the city. Do you see the German influence in the buildings pictured above? It was a wonderful way to get an overview of Strasbourg and it's history, and really, what better way to spend the rest of the morning than cruising down a river in the sun? All the Strasbourg-ians had come out to eat their lunches along the river, and waved when we came by, which I though was very friendly.

This is where we had our lunch. Alsace is known for its cuisine, so we wanted to try some traditional Alsatian dishes. All of them - heavy cream doused, deep fried, cheese laden meat and refined flour. And incredibly tasty. My arteries were glad we were only there for a day.

After lunch we visited the Alsatian museum. The inner courtyard was beautiful! As for the museum itself, it really wasn't all that remarkable. Lots of ovens, and lots of wardrobes - at least one per room, and often more.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around, looking at all the sights and the people. I got a kick out of the church pictured above. Do you see anything that looks a little off? Apparently, the guy who built this church back in the day messed up a bit when he got to the top. According to the guide, the congregation beat the tar out of him. In good Christian love, no doubt...

All in all, it was a fun day. We headed back to Nancy around 6:00, arriving at 8:30, which is dinner time in France. KP and I were pooped, so we stayed home and sent the boys out to pick up some pizza. Can I just say that pizza makers in Nancy must be on crack? The boys brought home 4 different kinds, and each one was an experience. One had doritos on it. Who puts doritos on a pizza?

Speaking of pizza, I think I'll order one for dinner tonight. Minus the doritos.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

France: Part 1

I just can't seem to get ahead this week. I'm finally getting over the jetlag, and wham! TC gives me the cold/flu that he picked up on the last day of our trip. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, but I tried so hard not to get it - washing my hands, using sanitizer, making him sleep on the futon, taking my vitamins and echinacea. Alas, all to no avail. So today, instead of going to work I am sitting on my couch watching the Price is Right, blowing my way through my second box of kleenex, drinking orange juice and blogging :)

On the bright side, that means I have time to post some more pictures! Here are some of the highlights of our first full day in France (the day we arrived was pretty much a write-off).

We spent the first part of our trip visiting with our friends JP & KP, who moved to Nancy earlier this year. Nancy, which is in Lorraine, is a beautiful city, so we spent the day exploring it. The picture above was taken in Place Stanislas, the huge town square which is surrounded by all of this beautiful gilded ironwork. The downtown area of the city is very cute and medieval, with tiny winding streets, and lots of interesting little shops. And it's only slightly touristy :)

After looking around downtown, JP & KP (that's them walking down the lane - aren't they cute?) took us to the Pépinière, a public garden. Let me say right now that the French definitely have the whole public space thing down pat. And their gardens and parks? Beautiful!

Except for the knobby trees, which were everywhere. Apparently they cut them back like this every year so that they form specific shapes when the leaves bloom. This one will look like a square, or so I was told.

The rest of it was amazing, though. Lush green everywhere we looked, and quite a few flowers though there aren't any in this picture. No, that's not true - you can see some white ones through the arch if you look closely.

The park also had a little zoo, which contained these guys, among other animals. The ape, whose name was JoJo, took a real liking to TC and came right over to see him when we walked by his enclosure. I'm tempted to conjecture as to why the attraction to TC, but it might be best if I refrain from doing so :)

Now that's a clock! It was right on time too, which means I took this picture at around 1:40pm. Just around the corner from here was a long lane that was lined with tents housing the wares of every patisserie in town, who were there to celebrate the "Fete du Pain". We sat on a bench for a while and just breathed in the smell of fresh bread. And listened to the really bad English techno-dance music that seems to be so popular in France.

We ended our day with a walk through a different part of town, where we saw this rainbow. How perfect is that?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My head thinks it's 2am...

Whew - still dealing with the jetlag. I left work a little early today because I couldn't put complete sentences together or remember the names of people I work with every day. Sigh. On a brighter note, I've downloaded (uploaded?) the pictures from the camera and can start posting them for you to see. There are over 400 of them, so strap in! Just kidding - we'll stick to the highlights :)

Here are a couple of teasers:

This was a snack we had at a little cafe next to the Seine on our last night in Paris - citron fruit pressé, which is essentially make your own lemonade, and crème brûlée. According to TC, I now need to learn how to make it. I am more than willing to try. Anyone have a good recipe?

Alli, I took this pic for you! We were walking through the Île de la Cité the same night, and I spotted a shop that sold nothing but the most beautiful orchids. Unfortunately the lighting is a little off (taking pictures through a shop window at night is kind of tricky), and since we were leaving the next morning we couldn't go back to see it in the daytime. But the orchids were lovely!

Monday, May 25, 2009

We're Back! I think...

Hey everyone! We're back from France and had a wonderful time. At the moment I'm extremely jet-lagged, since it's currently 10:30 pm in my head when it's really only 4:30 pm - it's going to be a long night...

I'll be back again in the next couple of days once we get our pictures downloaded. For now, it's laundry time!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One more sleep...

Hey everyone! I just popped in to let you know that not much will be happening here for the next 10 days or so...because I'm going to be in France!! Not that I'm excited. I'll tell you all about it once I get back, so until then, au revoir :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This and that

Where on earth does the time go? I feel like I just sat down and wrote the last post, and it's already been a week! Yowza. On the bright side, I've been crossing things off my ever-growing list like mad, and it's finally looking manageable :)

On a different note, I learned this week why I've been hobbling around on my left foot for the past couple of months. Apparently I have plantar fasciitis, which is kind of like tennis elbow, except in your heel. Painful, but treatable by wearing proper footwear and stretching. I was glad to find that out, since we're planning on doing a lot of walking in France and I didn't want to have to contend with something more serious.

Speaking of France, our trip preparations are in full swing. I've started my packing list, and am gathering the items that we'll need but don't already have on hand (i.e. Euros, emergency numbers, etc.). Our friends JP & KP, who we'll be visiting in Nancy, have asked us to bring them a power bar, caesar salad dressing, soda crackers and chapstick in the black tube. Apparently these are hard to come by over there :) Eight days from now, we'll be on the plane. So exciting!

Another exciting development - my dad is going to be in town for a few hours on Friday while he's between flights, so I get to have dinner with him. Yay! That also gives me the opportunity to send my mum's Mother's Day gift home with him, although I don't yet know what it's going to be :)

That's all I can think of to update you about for now. Between the last paragraph and this I spent three hours running around the office with a couple of maintenance guys, moving stuff - or rather explaining why they were moving stuff to everyone who walked by and just had to know - so I'm pretty much wiped. I'm going to head home in a few minutes, cook some stir fry and head out to a friend's place for games night. Ciao!

Friday, May 1, 2009

I'm so proud!

Do any of these guys look familiar? I'll give you a hint - I'm married to one of them!

Yes, it's true - you're looking at TC's acting debut. My honey - the "Behemoth". The director of this commercial is connected to Massey College, so when he put out a call for extras, TC answered. Who knew I'd be married to a star? :)

(PS - Sorry for the wierd formatting. I'm not sure why it's doing that.)

Rainy Thursday at the Opera

I love rain. There's very little that I enjoy more than the feeling of a rainy day, as I sit all warm and cozy inside listening to the wind and the pitter-patter of the rain hitting the windows. I love the smell of wet earth, and the extra vibrancy that the rain gives anything green.

I do not, however, enjoy it quite as much when walking about in soaking wet shoes and pants that I just discovered were a little too long, as they sopped up more water with every step I took. It wouldn't have been so bad if I had been on my way home, where I could change into something warm and dry, but I was not. TC had gotten tickets to the COC's performance of La Bohème last night, so after work I headed to the southwest corner of Queen St. W and University Ave. where we had arranged to meet. We then walked a couple of blocks to Jack Astor's to have dinner, and back to the Four Seasons Centre in time for the opera. By that time, I was soaked from the knees down.

I was still looking forward to the performance, though, since La Bohème is one of those operas that everyone has heard about, and the COC usually puts on a wonderful show. Not so much the case this time. It started at 7:30, and finished a little before 10:30, which is pretty standard. However, normally there is only one intermission. Last night there were three, each around half an hour long. So of the three hours that we were there, half of it was spent sitting and waiting for the next act to start. I could understand the need for the intermissions - there was a set change between eact act, so some time was needed to make it happen. But the sets were so complex that it took forever, which made it difficult to get back into the performance once it finally started up again. It would have been far better, in my humble opinion, to use simpler sets that set up quickly and allowed the story to flow in a less disjointed manner, especially since the location of each scene wasn't really all that important as the story was completely character driven.

Added to this was the fact that directly behind us sat a young woman of high school age who insisted on emitting a high pitched, whiny, mewling "Oh!", every time one of the characters sang or did anything that could be considered romantic (i.e. every 5 minutes), as though it was necessary to inform everyone around her that this was a moment of pathos and wasn't it just precious? By the end of act 3 I was ready to toss her off the balcony. We were five stories up.

Otherwise, it was thoroughly enjoyable :) The performances were all fairly good or better, and there's a reason it's one of the most popular operas of all time. You can't go completely wrong when you have good material.

That being said, I was glad to get home and put on dry jammies, curl up in bed and listen to the wind blow the rain against our window until I fell asleep.