Road to Bonifacio

Did I mention this was a road trip? Corsica has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen. And hardly anyone visits in the off season — that is, anytime other than August, when the French have the entire month off and flock to Corsica.

Well, there may have been a beach stop along the way…

This was across from the town of Bonifacio, which is, itself, perched on a big cliff.

The sea is so calm

And these are views from the ferry, departing. Yeah, we didn’t spend much time actually in town — there is almost nowhere to stay! We did learn something useful though — don’t settle for the first gelato stand you see. In Bonifacio, if you park near the docks, you’ll have to go up about 100 steps to get to the town and you’ll see vendors selling supermarket ice cream out of tubs. Turn left and go up the street a bit — you’ll find artisan gelato made from local fruit. It’s worth the 30 extra steps, I promise.

Goodbye, Bonifacio

And the ferry took us onward to… Sardinia!

Christmas lights in France

I was in France this past Christmas, and I didn’t get enough pictures. This one is from the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Their theme was “Noel Monstre” and I think you can see monster eyes all over the tree.

Here’s a video of the tree lighting:

Outside the Grand Epicerie of Paris were my favorite lights. (As if the bleu d’auvergne they have inside weren’t enough to make me a lifelong fan).

My church (La Madeleine) was dressed up with neon lights. It looked like a nightclub with all the strobe lights.

Not only colorful lights, but color-changing colorful lights.

The view from the entrance of La Madeleine is not bad either.

Here’s an obligatory picture of the tree in front of Notre Dame.

There was a strange bubble under the Eiffel tower, which housed a few trees.

It seemed most town centers had their unique set of lighted Christmas decorations. They weren’t all the generic strands of white lights looped around trees and lampposts. These were in Dijon’s town center:

There were German style Christmas markets but with an unusual twist. In France, there are rides. Sometimes just kiddie rides like merry-go-rounds, but in Dijon, there was a Ferris wheel.

There was a light show on the face of city hall. This part turned it into a gingerbread house.

And, as a bonus, here’s the little tree I got to help decorate at my boyfriend’s father’s house. Isn’t it sweet?

Christmas feasts in France

Like Americans, the French have a tradition of enjoying an elaborate family meal for Christmas. Unlike Americans, they have a similar tradition for New Years Eve, but with friends. (We skip straight to the drinky drinky).

I’ll take you through one meal that lasted about 5 hours on Christmas eve. I didn’t get a picture of the appetizers — different toppings like tzatziki, pate, chorizo and smoked salmon on tiny toast. The first course was foie gras with homemade onion preserves:

Then came the savory Christmas log, with smoked salmon and spinach, garnished with beets:

I’m not a fan, myself, but oysters are popular for holiday meals:

Instead of that, I got this cheesy seafood gratin, which was so much better, despite looking like a mystery pot:

A specialty of Burgundy is snails. It’s so popular that they sell them even at places like Casino (which I’m told is about the same as Walmart here). That was our next course.

Did I miss anything? We had something from a frozen food wonderland for dessert. Before Christmas, Picard sends everyone magazines full of food porn. At least 10 different kinds of logs to drool over.

We even had a backup dessert we didn’t get around to eating until the next day.

Alice, the ideal cat, demonstrates exactly how I felt after all this food. Oh, but it was far from over.

Because the next day, we started again, with lunch! Again, I forgot to take pictures of the appetizer. Foie gras on tiny toast. This time our snails were nestled in warm pastry puffs.

Followed by a potato leek soup

With a chilean sea bass and fingerling potatoes as the main course

And, of course, this gorgeous homemade raspberry white chocolate Christmas log for dessert

Topped with English cream and lingonberries!

There were other meals and parties, but my camera must’ve been playing passed out in a food coma. I will leave you with a couple of enviable shots of a cheese box though. For those of you that aren’t familiar — many French people have a “cheese or yogurt” course during both lunch and dinner, so they always have about 4 different kinds of cheese in a box (or on a plate, or in a basket) and a few flavors of yogurt cups.

Lets get a closeup of the extra drooly one that I’m told was “déclassé” due to its runaway mold problem.

All right! Now doesn’t everyone want to visit France for the holidays?

Scattered thoughts (Part 11)

My favorite bridge in Paris. I dragged N here my last night: an hour and half of walking.

Rudeness. I have heard horror stories of French people being snotty to American tourists. But I hadn’t considered how the American tourist must have been acting. A response is a response to something, most of the time. No one was rude to me. Not the girl on the train, or any of the store clerks. Not even when I was alone and didn’t have N to protect me. I pretended in public that I could speak French! I was an echo. I am sure I fooled no one, because I could tell that people were amused with my abysmal pronunciation. But they were indulgent, and even friendly.

Fashion. I had this idea that every person would look like a runway model. Not at all. While I didn’t notice any morbidly obese people (maybe a few obese, but not many), the rest were average. The difference was not in glamour — the American version with bling and brands — but in understated grace and refinement. Clothes weren’t necessarily from fancier designers, but there is an attention to fit and tailoring that we don’t have. The American brands they have in Paris made me laugh though. American Apparel. Gap. Abercrombie!

Food. I understand the bread snobbery now. When even towns with fewer than a thousand inhabitants have their own bakery, and the French are used to visiting a bakery for fresh bread daily, there just can’t be any comparison to America, where one expects bread to last for weeks. There is an emphasis on freshness and flavor that shows everywhere, as if store and restaurant proprietors would be embarrassed to serve anything less. I like their model of eating well but not very much. I strongly object to the too-common use of child sized cups though. I also searched everywhere in Paris for an equivalent to a Big Gulp Icee, but there were none. I whined for an entire afternoon about this.

Work. I don’t think workaholism is as common. Everyone gets six weeks of vacation, and there were entire towns which were like ghost towns because the inhabitants had gone elsewhere on vacation.

Homelessness. During my visit, I encountered exactly two homeless people, both in Paris. Each of them had not only a mattress, but sheets. Neither of them hassled passers-by for money. Certainly none of them were insane. I can’t speak to France’s political system or taxes, but if this and the six week vacations are the result, their way of doing things can’t be all bad.

Landmarks. This isn’t unique to France, but it’s pronounced in Paris. The number of people at historical landmarks follows a Polya Urn distribution. I got the impression that people were there only to collect merit badges in the form of pictures to show off to their friends. A checklist of famous sites, and them grinning in front of each of them. Notre Dame is lovely, sure, but there were near-empty cathedrals that were just as nice, if not nicer. Everyone and their mother was trying to get goofy perspective pictures of picking up the Eiffel tower, or bopping it on the head, but hardly anyone cared for just sitting by the fork of the river, under the willow tree. I have no complaints about this — it made my life more beautiful.

Aesthetics. There was a room in the Louvre that made me cry. The one dedicated to the King Louis XIV. There was too much detail. Too much intricate detail, so precious, so loving, someone’s darling pet project. Lots of someones, probably. This was an extreme case, but care is taken everywhere. Sometimes to a fault. N told me what a headache it is to change anything historical. Even your own home’s window shades. I love that there is a governing body that has veto power over building plans which are too hideous. If Honolulu had had that, there would be no buildings in Waikiki save the Moana Surfrider. I think the French fully appreciate the power and even the necessity of beauty. It may be completely impractical, but what good does practicality do if you’re never touched by that feeling of wonder and delight that comes from beholding something truly beautiful?

I’ll leave you now with one more sunset

nb: this the last of a series on my trip to France

Mont Saint Michel (Part 10)

I have been dragging it out and dreading this day. You see, the trouble with dreams coming true is that shortly thereafter, they end.

We stayed at a centuries-old farm house not far from the mont. It was run by an Irish ex-pat and could have been something out of a horror film. Whimsical. Like these statuettes around his well

N chose our dinner spot so we would have a view. I had moules frites again.

This was the last picture I got with my camera, because it fell from a great height (of 2.5 feet) the next morning and was never the same again

The rest are courtesy of N.

The next day, we went to Mont Saint Michel for the nocturne.

I would call it a regret, but it wasn’t really a choice. That poor camera… I would have loved to show you the water rising and flooding the plains, covering the roads and erasing everything but the mont.

There was a cello concert in the abbey at sunset

The sunset casting its dilute gold over everything for miles — taken from just outside the abbey

Don’t worry, N wasn’t neglectful. We spent the end of my trip in Paris walking for miles and seeing all of the things. I just can’t prove it. I haven’t the will right now, but I’ll end this series next time with a few thoughts on my time in France.

To be continued…

nb: this part of a series on my trip to France

Vannes and Saint Malo (Part 9)

It’s been a while since I got back. I almost don’t remember visiting Vannes at all. Which is sad, because I do remember liking the feel of the city.

And we found this hugging monster in a building we just wandered into. No, you’re not scary at all. Let’s cuddle.

N says he remembers visiting this garden when he was younger. He also remembered having ice cream. The things that live on in our hearts…

Saint Malo is a popular resort town, especially with the English. Part of it is completely walled in from Medieval times. It’s also home to a few pirate ships.

And the most colorful cathedral window I have ever seen

It was a little sad for me that it was such a fine day and we didn’t just lay on the beach until sunset.

We strolled along the top of the outer wall

This is a bit creepy, but I thought I could see all the way through this apartment. It turns out, that was just a mirror. Accidental self-portrait.

N was not entirely without a heart though. He did allow me a brief nap on the wall, overlooking the ocean. What a fine nap it was.

To be continued…

nb: this is part of a series on my trip to France

Île-aux-Moines (Part 8)

Following advice from our host at the beach house, we planned for a day trip to Belle-Île, but just missed the ferry.  The next departing ferry was bound for Île-aux-Moines, so we went there instead.

This trip made me want to learn how to sail. Little sail boats though. No motor. No fancy yacht.

This tiny island town of 700 feels a kinship with my city by the bay

I didn’t get a picture, but nearly everyone had a cart that they would hitch to the back of a moped. There weren’t cars besides a few large vans for transporting campers and their equipment.

My future boat, perhaps

It was easy to imagine spending more time here. Beautiful, quiet, faraway.

At the bakery, (yes, an island of 700 has its own bakery) we saw a Filipino woman touch a loaf of bread. Two bakery workers gesticulated wildly and shouted at her (in French) to stop. The woman yelled back in frustration “I DON’T SPEAK FRENCH!” I don’t either, but I think they were giving the international signal of “DO NOT TOUCH.” N was absolutely gleeful at this. He told me “I felt in my heart that it was not right that she was touching the bread.” We stopped for lunch just here, next to the church

I even sat on the wall to eat

Wine colored hydrangeas. Fancy

No one knows what the meaning or purpose behind the stone statues. This one, the monk, is presumably who the island was named after

We followed a path along the coast

There were hydrangeas everywhere. I know it’s an old lady flower, but it’s my favorite. They may look fancy, but they require little care. You just have to set them in the right place — cloudy, cool, dry, and most importantly, no direct sunlight.

We eventually went back. That flag in the window is the flag of Brittany

To be continued…

nb: this is part of a series on my trip to France