Sunday, November 19, 2006

It is a difficult thing to be the tour guide for a trio who have no opinion and are truly content to just be in France. But so it was these past ten days when my parents came to visit me here in Nantes...

I was at work when they arrived, but when I called to let them know that I was on the tram heading their direction my father's slightly frantic/tired voice responded by saying, "We're lost." After figuring out where they where and giving them the wrong directions, we all eventually made it to their hotel.

Chez L'Huitre (House of Oysters) is a restaurant highly recommended in every book about Nantes and now by my family as well. This was not the first time I had tried to eat here, but their first night in town was the first time I found it open - ever! During the off season there is only indoor seating at six tables for a grand total of twelve people and one waiter maximum. Also, there is no menu. Just four or five green chalk boards with today's three course menu, the suggested wines, a la carte items, etc. The waiter/owner's son/essential-charming-handsome Frenchman stands behind the bar in the back seeing to every detail of the meals while enjoying wine and cheese himself (he needs to know what to suggest, of course). This restaurant became that place that you talk about and compare others to at every other meal. Bon appetit!

As far as our days were concerned, we spent them driving through the countryside (ie vineyards). Actually, our first day did not go as planned as it was 11/11 (Armistice day) and the Maison du Vin and Wine Museums were closed. After realizing that we needed to change our plans a little, we stopped at a random small village. Minutes after parking, a small parade of veterans came marching from the town hall to the cemetery with flowers for their fallen comrades. It was quite a touching little celebration at 11:11, 11/11. We also went to Paris for the day (first class! - the benefits of traveling with parents!) and I occupied myself by trying to find the perfect flat. I will live there someday!

In summary, by the request of my Uncle Tom:
My mom and dad visited and it was fun.
We ate fish and drank wine. It was tasty.
We went to Paris. It was pretty.
They left. It was sad.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

SO, I'm rather adept at travelling cheaply and happily; however, not really this time and I regret nothing! It may have to do with travelling alone or with the region... either way I ate and drank my way through Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux... oh, and there were some great museums too. This past week was All Saint's Day holiday at my schools. Rather than being bored here in Nantes, I gathered the rest of my dwindling savings and headed south.

Carcassonne is a beautiful Medieval castle near the Pyrenees that is complete and perfect. My hostel was actually in the heart of the Medieval town, but when I arrived it was dark, the information center was closed, and I had no taxi fare. After a guided wandering to a bank in what looked like the old part of town, I was told that this was the new town and the old town is to my left, across the river and I will see the ramparts way up on the hill. Up I went!. In the morning I was one of the first people/tourist up and about - giving the impression of being totally alone in the beauty of Carcassonne. The rest of the day I was happily entertained by walking the tiny streets, ramparts and dirt roads of this magnificent town.

Toulouse is where the gastronomic tour-de-force began. This part of France is where much of the quintessential French food originated. At 8pm exactly, I was seated at the last table in Benjamin's and ordered the expensive Ménu (24€ = 35 dollars-ish). Everything I ordered was a Toulouse classic recipe: fois grois de canard, cassoulet, and pistachio cremé brulé. The fois grois was the creamiest, most luxurious thing that has ever passed my lips - it easily makes you forget to ask about ingredients. Cassoulet is a long-cooked casserole dish of beans and unidentified meats of every kind. This was the hardiest dish I have ever eaten in France - it puts hair on your chest for sure. The end was sweet with a very burnt desert and strong coffee. Lovely. A day trip to Albi, Toulouse-Lautrec's hometown, was also in order as well - which was completed by sitting across from the museum at a grand café eating one of his favorite foods - red wine (he was quite a lush and often went for days without solid food, but, as someone put it, he never lacked calories/sustenance).

Bordeaux was described by Moliére and Montaigne as a city that far surpassed Paris as the center of culture, beauty and commerce. And, at the time, it did; however, after a series of misfortunes, Bordeaux sunk into disrepair. Nevertheless, they are pulling themselves out of this and making the city grand again. What is a girl to do in Bordeaux? Take a wine tour! Through the Tourist Center you can participate in just such an adventure (as long as you are willing to put up with picture happy people, stupid question asking people, and people who thought taking a 3 and 5 year-old to a vineyard was a good idea). Médoc region! The low-cut vines are turning red and yellow and the fermentation of the future wine makes the entire countryside smell of ripe dark fruit and warm bread. The number of grand Chateaux lining our route was unbelievable - each with their individual charm and unique beauty. At each of the two stops we were supplied with "tastings" - as our guide informed us, in France to do a proper tasting you have to fully appreciate the subtle tonalities and aromas, which might take a few glasses to discover!

That is a brief overview of my past week and a half. Beautiful weather and fine food, what a trying life I lead.