Sunday, September 30, 2007

Un Vrai Repas Francais

So Matt and I are currently knocked out from our first really true French meal. And by true French meal, I mean a meal with many many many courses. Matt's advisor here in Privas, Yvonne, invited us to lunch today (Sunday). I figured a lunch would not be as overwhelming as a French dinner. That was not the case!

So the meal started with appetizers of olives, french toasted almonds, and pumpkin seeds... with cider to drink. Then the real meal began with Italian dry breadsticks and an aubergine (eggplant) spread, followed by salad and rye bread. Then came the quenelles, which are a specialty of Lyon, where Yvonne is from. They were so different I don't think I can even describe them. It was almost like a mix between pasta and quiche, with a tomato sauce. They were very very good. When we were done with the quenelles, I was sure they were our main dish, but no there was more. Then came the fish course of sole with lemon. I loved it, though was served a lot of it, and felt I had to eat it. Of course french bread, and a local red wine came with the meal. Next came the cheese course of 3 local chevre's. Then finally was a fruit and dessert course with some kind of spanish pastry and coffee. Whew, it almost knocks me out just thinking about it again. It was truly amazing. I puts all of my past dinner parties to shame. I will definitely have to step up my game when doing dinners here.

After lunch, which lasted 2-3 hours, we went for a walk in the hills above Privas where Yvonne and her husband live. It was very beautiful and seemed very French. Lots of stone houses, chestnut trees, roosters roaming about, etc...

Well this shall be my last post for a little while. We're leaving the hotel and its free wi-fi for a place of our own finally. I'm very happy to finally be able to unpack my bags, a month after leaving Portland! However, the internet access may take a week or two.

Enjoy the coming week!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ups and Downs

Trying to exist in a country where you don't speak the language well is hard. It doesn't feel very good. I'm really hoping that this feeling of alienation will pass eventually. I really thought that the French I knew before I left the U.S. would at least get me by in basic situations. And I suppose it has to a degree. Where I am really having problems is understanding what is being said to me. Everyone seems to speak so fast, and an aspect of french that makes this harder is that words in a sentence tend to be blended together when spoken. It's also plainly obvious to anyone that I speak to that I'm a foreigner and can't speak very well. It doesn't help that I'm an introvert who doesn't really like to speak to people in any language!

Oh well, C'est la vie! I'm hoping this will get easier with time. Matt of course is having a grand old time speaking French, and that makes it easier on me, when we're together, but also makes me more dependent on him for understanding and communications. He really enjoys speaking French and its fun to watch him. However, if I'm going to stay here I'm going to have to learn more of this on my own.

On the upside I have been greatly enjoying the fact that pastry and baking is given great reverence here. There is literally a patisserie on every block. I couldn't believe how many we passed when we were in Paris. There are also Boulangerie and Chocolatier shops all over the place. I love it! I can't wait to go into the local places here. I've already had many great desserts in the past week. In Paris I tried a Glan (eclair with pistachio glaze), in Grenoble we went out to each in the Italian district and I had the best Tiramisu I've ever had, and here in Privas, Matt had an amazing ice cream dessert with chestnut puree (apparently chestnuts are a local specialty).

This whole past week has been full of ups and downs. I think this has been a very emotional experience so far because I left my whole life behind to come here, and its difficult to realize that I might not always be happy here, and its going to be a struggle to fit in. But I'm hoping that the beautiful sights and yummy pastries, and good company will get me through the down times.

The best news of the day is that Matt and I have a place to live. This was a big worry for both of us, so we're both feeling really happy about it. Matt has a wonderful school supervisor/advisor who is helping him with administrative issues and she took him out to appartments this morning and helped him find a place within 3 hours! Renting appartments is apparently much more difficult here than in the U.S., so it was wonderful to have her help. It's also inexpensive ($350 euros a month for a one bedroom appartement) and fully furnished.

Anyway, so things are looking up and down and up and down and I never really know how I'm going to feel, but hopefully once we can move into our new place and get settled things will mellow out. All I can do is keep trying to learn the language and try to find a place for myself here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Paris, Grenoble!

Well we have been in France for about four days now, though it seems like weeks at this point. We have done so much, and been to so many places in those four days that its hard to believe we just arrived on Friday.

On Friday we arrived on our flight from Chicago at 8:30 in the morning, and were kindly greeted by my friend Ally, who drove us to our hostel so we could avoid rush hour on the metro. She informed us that we were on the same plane as Segolene Royal, candidate for President of France this past year.

We were tired Friday, but checked out Notre Dame Cathedral and Ste. Chappelle. They were both beautiful and had amazing stained glass windows, but I preferred Notre Dame.

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On Saturday we had a lot more energy and had a day full of art, going to the Musee D'Orsay which houses impressionist and post impressionist art, and the Pompidou Center, which houses modern art. I really enjoyed both, and liked seeing the Monet's, and Degas the most. At the Pompidou I enjoyed about half of the art and was perplexed by the rest. But seeing Matisse's cutouts made it all worth it. We went out for a nice dinner that night and I had some of the best salmon I've ever had.

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On Sunday, Ally acted as our tour guard and took us all over Monmartre, and to the Eiffel Tower. She also made us an amazing French dinner which included Apertifs Peche, Chevre Chaud (goat cheese salad) and Tarte a la Orange.

Monday we lugged all our bags on the Paris metro (not fun!) and got ourselves to the train station. Then we took the TGV (one of the fastest trains in the world at 180 mph) to Grenoble. I have certainly never gone that fast before, and it was amazing to watch the landscape go by. Grenoble is an extremely beautiful city surrounded by mountains. Matt calls it the French Portland and now I understand why he would want to live here. So now Matt is leaving for a 2 day work retreat/orientation in the mountains and I will be on my own in Grenoble until Thursday. It seems like a friendly city so I think I'll be fine.

I'll add some pictures to this when they finally finish downloading.
Bonne Journee!

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Silly Nephews

I have very silly nephews and every time I go to visit them we play very creative and interesting games together, whether they involve trains, star wars legos, deep dark jungles or light saber battles.

This last visit the main game we were playing involved them being groundhogs who were hiding under mounds of pillows in the living room. I would have to try to take their pictures as they popped up out of the pillows. An entirely silly adventure, which really didn't yield very many clear photos, but fun photos none the less.

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Simon, whose about 18 months was getting into the pile of pillows with his older brothers and was having a fun time of it.

I love the fact that whenever I play with Jaron (6) and David (4), they always make me the bad guy. When we play light sabers I'm always Darth Vader! I also love the fact that I always end up "dying" the most, but after about 10 seconds I get to come back to life so that I can keep playing. Sometimes I'll play dead for a little longer just so I have a chance to rest. Kids have endless amounts of energy to be creative and I just can't keep up.

All I can say is that I may not want kids of my own yet, but I really like being an aunt and I'm going to miss those 3 kiddos this next year.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

France Pre Trip Part 2- The Bay Area

Well this week of travelling around the Bay Area has been quite busy. When I planned our trip, I wasn't quite anticipating how tiring it would be to sleep in a different place every night. But at the same time, there were a lot of people I wanted Matt to meet and places I wanted to show him.

On Monday (Labor Day), we gathered together all of our Bay Area friends and went on a hike to China Camp State Park. It was nice to spend a day with my friends from college and beyond and to meet Matt's friend Kirsten from Illinois. We all had a picnic lunch under an oak tree and enjoyed views of the bay. Matt and I then headed over to San Anselmo for dinner with my Aunt Debby and Uncle Mark. I hadn't been to their house in at least two years, so it was fun to visit. Both Matt and I got to ride in my uncle's electric car on our way to and from a Mexican restaurant. It was a very busy day but lots of fun.
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On Tuesday Matt and I braved San Francisco to get his VISA from the French consulate which was a success. So I guess that means we're really going! After the consulate we took a tour through China Town, and checked out City Lights Bookstore. I think we both figured out that we really don't like being in big cities. Despite Portland being the largest city in Oregon, it doesn't feel like a big city. You never really have to worry about traffic or parking all that much.

On Wednesday we headed to my sisters house for quality family time, and Aunt Wendy time. Matt enjoyed seeing me play star wars and read to Jaron, David and Simon. My brother in law John grilled Portobello mushrooms for dinner and pinneaple for dessert.

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On Thursday I had the pleasure of taking Matt to see the Santa Cruz campus. He had no idea such a beautiful place could exist as a college campus. We toured the campus, went to Mariannes for ice cream and Vasilis Greek food for dinner. The next morning we checked out Natural Bridges State Beach, where I used to volunteer.
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On Friday we drove up Highway One to San Francisco, stopping for lunch at one of my favorite beaches. Then we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping for close-up pictures directly across the bridge. After getting pictures, we headed up to Marin Headlands for a more complete view of the bridge.
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Now I'm enjoying some time off from being a traveller and spending time with my sister, grandma and parents for the next week.

Friday, September 7, 2007

France Pre Trip- The Pacific Ocean and the Redwoods

Before Matt and I headed off over the Atlantic Ocean we decided to take a trip down the coasts of Caliornia and Oregon with the ultimate destination of San Francisco. We needed to get to San Francisco, so Matt could get his VISA from the French Conulate, however we decided that since we were going there anyway, we may as well have fun on the way, see some sights we've never seen and visit friends and family. The first 3 days of this part of the adventure (August 31st-September 2nd) were occupied by the Oregon Coast and Redwoods.

Friday we drove down the Oregon Coast from Newport to Coos Bay and camped at Sunset Bay State Beach. We spent the evening watching the sun go down over the Pacific at Cape Arago, and I begrudgingly agreed to get up at 3:30 in the morning to watch a once in a lifetime meteor shower. Depsite there being a very bright moon we saw more shooting stars than I've probably seen in a lifetime, and I appreciated seeing them. But believe me it was a struggle to get up that early when my vacation from 4:00 a.m. work mornings had just begun.

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Saturday we got up early and stopped at Cape Blanco about an hour into our drive. It is the westernmost point in Oregon and the site of one of the oldest still functional lighthouses on the Oregon Coast.

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However, the focus of our day was on the Redwoods, so we drove most of the morning, and reached Jedidiah Smith State Park. There we saw some of the largest and most beautiful stands of Coast Redwoods that I've ever seen:

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On Sunday, we left our campsight at Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park as early as we could, and drove out to Gold Beach and Fern Canyon, an 8 mile trip down a dusty dirt road. And as Matt aptly said in the car on the way there, it wouldn't be a normal trip for us if he didn't want to get to some beautiful destination that requires me to drive on a crappy road. But luckily the end result is usually always worth it, and Fern Canyon was definitely worth it. Fern Canyon, is pretty much what you would expect from the name, a narrow canyon, located just off Gold Beach that is filled with ferns.

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Just as we were leaving fern canyon, the sun broke through some trees at the top of the canyon and created this beautiful sight:

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The rest of the week has been quite busy as well and filled with other great adventures, but this is a very long blog already, so I'll leave it until later.