23 October 2009

Wasserfahrt!

Life in Ventenac so far...

We've got it reaaaaaaly good here.  We arrived in Ventenac late in the night a few days ago --so it wasn't until the next morning that we really got to see how picturesque this place is.  Our hosts, David and Sundara have an amazing (and enormous) home that we feel very lucky to be sharing with them for a few weeks. 



This is the view out of our window on the third floor.  If you squint, you can see Spain!




We are definitely in the land of vignobles (vineyards) here in Ventenac.  We are very close to the Corbieres region and Puy, two big wine producers.  We have been lucky enough to sample quite a few of the local creations each night...delish!




Family photo!  From left to right, Erika, Helen (another helper from New Zealand who just left today), Hannah, Sundara, and David.  





David and Sundara are passionate music-lovers.  They have two grand pianos, are both singers, and have an incredible CD collection that we've enjoyed tuning into while we "work" here.  When they found out that we both are singers, we were immediately invited to join them for a tune. 





Sundara -- master chef of the house.  She has endless amounts of energy, vibrance, humor, and enthusiasm -- it's infectious.  




Today, we were finally able to take a bike ride along the Canal du Midi.  





On our bike-adventure, we came across the little village of Roubia.  Where there is a little French village, there is always a boulangerie and where there is a boulangerie, Hannah and Erika are never too far away.



Every breakfast, lunch and dinner, we are treated to delicious, fresh, gourmet meals.  And, in typical French fashion, each lunch and dinner ends with a taste of cheese.  Here we have a lovely camembert, a roquefort, and a lusciously melty brebis (sheep's milk cheese).   Also note the homemade bread -- we are still working on the art, soooooooo we might need to stay here several more months to work out the kinks.  We told you we were working hard!



After all the stress of bread baking, sometimes all a girl needs is an escape, a retreat of some sort, maybe a meditation room...good thing Sundara thought of that and placed one right next to our bedroom.


22 October 2009

The End of Joan of Arc

From Paris, we headed north to Rouen -- the capital of Upper Normandy to visit Caroline, an old amie of Erika. It is a medium-sized city with a big university so there are many young people and international students. It is also home of Flaubert and the site where Joan of Arc was burned alive........you go gurl!

Luckily for us, Rouen is also home to the annual Gastronomy Festival of Normandy. It just so happened to be on the very weekend we came to town. We were treated to a wide array of sights, smells and tastes including: delicious caramel, truffles, Camembert, crepes, pastries of all sorts, and local pressed-cider.

We also went to our first French party. At first, we thought it would be very similar to American parties -- they were playing all the same music. But then, we discovered some significant differences...there was a definite shortage of dancing, alcohol, and crepes -- seeing as though it was advertised as a crepe party. We think they could definitely stand to learn a few things from us Amuuurcans.



Here is the tower where Joan of Arc was kept for months before and during her trial. Of course, she was eventually found guilty and burned just down the road. This cross stands in the site of the public burning in the center of town.


This is the main street through Rouen -- lots of shops and restaurants.


A taste of the Gastronomy Festival. These are "pommes d'amour" -- a French take on caramel apples that are common at festivals and carnivals. We saw a whole family of five walking down the street, each one of them eating one of these tasty looking apples of love.


Truffle making (and tasting!). We definitely hit up this spot several times during the day. Note the traditional garb.


This dude is busy cooking up some andouillettes -- stewed in cider with apples, pears, and onions. Perfect warm comfort food for a chilly fall day.

CHRISTOPHER you would have looooooved this.


More traditional garb...and cankles.


Note the traditional wood-accented buildings -- a fixture in cities and villages throughout Normandy.


Cathedral of Rouen, made famous by Monet's series of paintings of it at different times of day. We had pity of this poor petite fille who was dressed like an old woman, whose mom never let her out of arm's reach.


At the Gastronomy Festival, we were also treated to a butter making demo by a local producer. The kids got to participate in the process, each one got to make a little jar of butter. Fun Fact! Because it rained a lot in Normandy last week, this weeks batch of butter is yellow-er than usual. This is because more rain = more herbs = better-fed cows.



...



And finally...our endless wait in the salle d'attente of Gare de Lyon in Paris (not to be mistaken with Gare du Nord...ummm...which we might have). Five and a half hours later, we boarded the train to Narbonne in search of a Scottish guy driving a silver mercedes who would be our host for the next two weeks in the south!

21 October 2009

Goodbye City of Love

After two and a half whirlwind weeks in Paris, it is time to say so long! Paris is such a diverse, complicated, and wonderfully busy place. Every day we experienced a new part of the city: we saw the gritty, the elegant, the silly, the far-too-serious, the moody, the jolly, the modern, the ancient, and plenty in between.

We'll miss our daily walks; our bread, cheese, and saucisson picnics on the bridges over the Seine; our steaming bowls of cafe au laits; our local fromagerie off Rue de Javel; and the smell of urine and piles of dog shit on every every street corner...mmmm, maybe not that last one.

Of course, we know there is still much much more to discover. So this is just "goodbye for now" or "a bientot" because we know we'll be back!



heads
These three fellas used to decorate Pont Neuf (the grandest bridge over the Seine) and can now be found in the Musee Carnavalet, a fascinating museum devoted to the history of Paris located in a grand old mansion on the left bank.  


clocks
Much of the Carnavalet museum was a chronological walk through the centuries, with each room decorated in the style of a different era.  These clocks were focal pieces in many of the most elegant rooms.  Apparently the Parisians back in the day liked to keep time in high style.   


ballroom
The grand ballroom in the Carnavalet.  And yet another clock! 




On our very last day in Paris, we visited the Parc de la Villette in the far north east corner of Paris.  It is the largest park in the city and the second largest green space, second to the Pere Lachaise cemetery.  It was quite an interesting place...definitely a product of the 1980s with lots of what I'm sure was at the time, cutting edge installation art, but which now looks pretty dated. 

bikestatues
Here are giant pieces of bike-themed modern art.  Profound, no?

parc
We did find a little bamboo forest in the park that was very serene.  Apparently I was having a moment of deep reflection about the pieces of giant bike I had just encountered.  

parc

Paris' version of Millenium Park's "the bean"! 


This shot is very much Paris in a nutshell with the contrast of ancient and modern -- severe and whimsical.  

hannah
On the stairway of Victor Hugo's apartment in Place des Vosges -- sporting an oh-so-French beret!

nunswalking
Invasion of the nuns!  Which way to church!?!?!  

musicians

A lovely scene in the tunnels of the metro...



video