Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My address

Hey everyone,
I know almost no one every actually uses snail mail anymore, but in case you should desire to, here's my address:
13 rue de Tanneurs
07000 Privas

Well thats all for today. Matt and I are off to Lyon tommorrow for 4 days. Matt has two weeks off from work for All Saints Day, so were taking a mini-vacation. I'm looking forward to it. Lyon is the third largest city in France, and is known as the culinary capital of France. I've already researched chocolate shops and restaurants to go to. I'll post lots of pictures when we get back.
Have a good week!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Les Chataignes et la foret de Privas

Matt and I went on a hike to the Privas town forest a few weeks ago. It was the first real hike we've been on in months. Hiking in France is going to be far different than hiking in the U.S. Half of the hike was just getting from our house to the edge of town, which meant walking down streets. And let me tell you this town was not built for pedestrians. Or maybe it was 300 years ago, but those paths that used to be nice wide paths for horses and people are now roads for cars, without any real sidewalks. But there is a nice simplicity in walking down old roads past french farmhouses, grape vines, gardens and horses to get to your trailhead.

Privas Chestnuts 002

The forest was nice in that it was full of deciduous trees... and amoung them Chestnut trees. I can't say these forests could compare at all to the forests of California or Oregon, but there are reasons for that. Part of the beauty of having a country as young and as big as the U.S. is that by the time the West was being developed an environmental ethic had developed to protect the major forests and natural areas in the west. Here in France, a country the size of Texas with a history of civilizations that go back a 1000 years, you can only imagine what happened to the forests.

Privas Chestnuts 005

However you can tell that the government is trying to re-establish forests and each town seems to have their own town forest. All the kids in Matt's classes have been up to he forest, and they have started an arboretum up there. Here are some trees from the arboretum.

Privas Chestnuts 010

Privas Chestnuts 014

The best part of our hike other than eating lunch, and actually getting to be in a forest again, was picking chestnuts. Each region of France has specific foods and dishes that they are known for. In the Ardeche where we are living that specialty is chestnuts. You walk down any country road around Privas and you can't help but stumble upon the fuzzy prickly chestnut balls. And once you've seen them its really hard to resist picking them up. You crack through the prickly exterior and find big plump chestnuts.

Privas Chestnuts 020

Privas Chestnuts 025

The town forests was literally exploding with chestnuts. They were everywhere. You could barely walk for a few steps without stumbling on them. And we started collecting them, because they were just fun to hunt down. And quite quickly we had filled our pockets and eventually a bag we had with us. The experience made me think of my friend Robin who is constantly picking up fruit, nuts, and the like when out hiking so that it not go to waste (and making things like apple cider and blackberry wine out of it!).

Privas Chestnuts 023

When we got back home, we had to figure out how to go about making roasted chestnuts. I did know that you can't eat chestnuts raw and they have to be roasted or boiled. I figured sticking them in the oven at around 350 degrees for half and hour or so would do it. Our one mistake was not thinking about the fact that a chestnut in a shell with moisture in the nut, heated up just might explode. We're sitting playing cards and suddenly our oven is popping and exploding. So needless to say it took me two more tries to figure out how to roast chestnuts. The most important part is scoring the nuts so they don't explode and then baking for 20 minutes or so on 350. They are actually quite tasty, sweet and earthy, but they do take a lot of work.

We may roast a few more, but I think I'll just be buying the prepared chestnut cream from the farmers market. It's some amazingly sweet vanilla chestnut cream that you serve over ice-cream. They make a fantastic dessert served everywhere in town called a Coup Ardechoise, that is vanilla ice-cream, chest-nut ice-cream, chestnut cream, chuncks of candied chestnut and whipped cream. It's enough to put you in a sugar coma for life, but boy is it good.

Anyway, its been fun seeing what can be made of chestnuts. I've never really considered using them and have only seen a chestnut tree in the states once, so its been an experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The "New" Appartment

Well I was hoping to be able to share some pictures of our new apartment with everyone say two or three weeks ago when we moved in, however the lack of internet access prevented that from happening. Luckily we are finally connected, so I can stop spending my money at the internet cafe and stop going insane using french keyboards where the letters are in different places.

Anyway, back to our humble abode. So the apartment is really quite grand. It far exceeded my expectations of what we would be able to find in Privas for our budget. Not only that its fully furnished! We have furniture that is old and beautiful, a real kitchen, a real bed, a dining room table that seats 6 and a kitchen table that seats 3!, a shower and a washing machine. And I'm not being facetious in my amazement here, I really didn't know if we'd be able to find a furnished apartment in Privas at all. I had nightmares of sleeping on the floor, of one room studios with no kitchen, of cooking on one burner and not having an oven and various other horrors. Matt can attest to the fact that when Madame Cruz the property manager brought us in to sign the papers, my jaw pretty much dropped in amazement.

Privas group 2 033

Privas group 2 035

A few other notes... as you can see from the pictures of the outside, our apartment is in a very old building. I'm not sure how old, but the exterior is made of stone, and less than 100 yards from our house there is a bridge called the Pont Louis XII that was built in the 12th century. The exterior door to our foyer looks like a castle door and we get to use an old-fashioned long key on it. We have a small courtyard thats shared with the other 3 apartments, and windows that looks out on a small creek. The only downsides so far have been that there are lots of creepy crawlies about (small scorpions, spiders, millipede like bugs), all the locks to the doors and cabinets use old fashioned keys, and we don't have a couch. However, in the greater scheme of things I'll take the downsides.

Anyway I took lots of pictures so you can check it out for yourselves. Here are the main rooms:

Privas October 2007 011

Livingroom Pictures 003

Livingroom Pictures 002

Privas October 2007 017

Privas October 2007 016

Privas October 2007 007

We have a very nice view from our livingroom/kitchen and can see down to the stream/creek below our house and to the houses across the ravine from us. Next door there is an empty stone building that looks like it will be made into usable apartments at some point. We also have a nice little creek and waterfall next to the building, which increases greatly in volume during rainstorms.

Privas group 3 008

Privas October 2007 018

Privas October 2007 019

Well thats all for now. I'm sure I'll post more in the next week or so about our adventures here in Privas over the past few weeks. We've done lots of hiking, chestnut gathering, fromage eating and so much more... It's nice to be back online to be able to share my photos.

I hope everyone back in the US is doing well.