Sunday, January 29, 2012

Walking Around

A beautiful church we ran into yesterday while exploring:

Place Saint-Pierre church

And I finally have a photo of me in front of this fountain in Place de la Bourse.

Place de la Bourse

We walked to other places, but I forgot to take pictures. Sorry!

Protest

A protest for Anonymous (the people who wear Guy Fawkes masks) was held in front of Hotel de Ville (City Hall) yesterday. They were chanting and their signs seem to be talking about the attempt by many developed countries to censor the internet. 



I have heard that the French will protest anything (a stereotype, I know), but this is something I actually agree with (not Anonymous as a whole, but stopping censorship of the internet).

For more info about SOPA and Protect IP watch this video: http://vimeo.com/31100268

For a more risque version, go here: http://theoatmeal.com/sopa

These two bills are only in the US, but other countries are trying to make changes in this direction as well... including China and North Korea. Yay, censorship! It leads to great* things.

* Sarcasm

Some Food

Food Story 1
It's wonderful to learn a little French as I go, but I'm looking forward to knowing more. A friend from Australia, Ann-Marie, and I went for a walk around town yesterday. We ended up having lunch at a nice restaurant on the river. I didn't bring my French dictionary because I get tired of carrying my purse around. So I look at the salads and recognize some meats in them, but I'm not sure about all. 

The waitress comes to take our order and I say (this is spelled phonetically), "Juh swee vegetarion. Juh parl Englay." The waitress understands and points to a salad but says "Foie gra is okay?" I completely brain fart on what that is but thankfully my friend says, "It's pate, liver pate." 

Yuck! I say no and the waitress asks if I like pasta... a resounding YES! So I order a lasagna for 14 euros with a 14 minute wait. 

This is what I get:

Salad with Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna
-- A restaurant along Le Garrone river

Probably the best entree I have had since getting to France, and it's Italian food (this must be a trend, I leave for Rome in about an hour). Real ricotta cheese, baked to a perfect golden top, brought out in the dish it was cooked in.

Food Story 2
A couple weeks ago, I won a laser tag game and received a 30 euro coupon to a restaurant in Place Victoire. Hellen and I went on a Sunday after mass and before my evening church service. We struggled with the menu until the waitress brings us an English menu. I decided to try the option that allows you to choose five items from a certain part of the menu for 15 euros.

We researched the phrases and words on the menu until the waitress helps us and shows me the two vegetarian options in that part of the menu. I go for it because there are about six dessert options and I can't resist. I choose three.

Yes, that is three desserts. Plus my friend's dessert in the background. 
-- At Cassolette

My desserts are a brownie with some kind of liquidy custard; a chocolate pudding-type dish with chocolate shavings; and baked apple with sugar covered in some yogurt/sour cream stuff.

So wonderful!

You can see from the picture that I resisted chowing down and clearing out each dessert. But I wanted to.

Sherlock Holmes 2

Well, my first try at seeing a movie at the cinema was very interesting. The film association on campus was offering free tickets to Sherlock Holmes 2 for any students. So I went to their office and put my name on the list. The two girls there didn't speak much English, and I knew even less French than I do now. 

I was able to communicate my name and Hellen's name so that we could go to the cinema the next Tuesday evening. They said the showtime was 19:15 and the film was in English with French subtitles (Hurray!!). All I would need to do is show my student ID. 

So Tuesday rolls around and Hellen has an oral exam in French the next day, so she decides to stay home and prepare. I walk to the cinema that's about five minutes from our home, Le Francais. 

Le Francais Cinema

There are two people at the ticket counter. One is in training and the other is training her. The trainee actually speaks some English! So I'm trying to tell her that the film association put my name on a list to see Sherlock Holmes for free. She tells me that my student ID only makes the film 5.50 euros, not free. I keep trying to say that it's through the association.

She says "Which association?" I draw a blank. All I can think is "Film Association"... actually, I still don't know the proper name of the association.

Our of nowhere, the trainer says "Ah! something, something, something" - in French. She runs out of the booth, goes to the concession stand and grabs some papers. She comes back with a list of names! Hallelujah!

But my name isn't on it.

I start to get really frustrated, I half jogged to get there on time and was now standing in a warm entrance with my forehead sweating and my winter jacket suffocating me. I think the trainer just took pity on me, because she took over the computer for a moment and printed me a ticket for free.

Relief comes in the moment of sitting down in the waiting area. Then... the smell of popcorn hits me. I have to buy some. It was relatively painless to get a small popcorn, but it cost me 3.50 euros.

Instead of a queue forming by the entrance to the theatre entrances, something like a mosh pit starts up. I join in because it seems like the thing to do. At 19:45, on a TV screen above the entrance, the red box next to Sherlock Holmes 2 turns green. Everyone surges forward to get through an opening about three feet wide -- all 50 people trying to go through at once and hand our ticket to the man collecting them there. I make it through pretty early and follow the crowd to theatre 3. I take a good seat, with a railing in front of me, instead of seats. Another swarm of people come and pretty soon the cinema attendants are counting seats.

Only three left. Three more people enter and are pointed in the directions of the three seats. A few more people enter and take seats on the stairs. But, it's a wonderful theatre with a huge screen and tiered seating for those who can get it.

The movie starts... Narrated in French. I think, "It's got to switch to English soon and French subtitles, they only did this for the narration. Once the actors come on, it'll be in English..."

I was wrong. The whole movie is in French. And toward the end of the movie, a headache is spreading from the base of my neck upward because I am focusing so hard to decipher any words that sound similar to English. I know funny things were said, and I understand the basic plot, but I did not get more than ten words.

So that is my incredibly long and slightly interesting experience at a French cinema.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chateau LaTour Martillac

The tour guide at LaTour Martillac. 
Tours are given in French, German or English at this chateau. 

The tour provided by the wine association at BEM was given in French because most were French nationals. Thankfully I had two friends there who speak French and English who gave me the gist of what was said at times. By the end of the tour, I was very curious about the production of the wine so I asked the tour guide for an extremely quick explanation in English. He kindly obliged.


Above, the sliver cylinder to the left is used to press the grapes. White wine is pressed very softly and very carefully. The red wine grapes are first very thoroughly looked through to make sure there are no stems left on the grapes, otherwise the wine becomes acidic. Red wine is then put in the big wooden barrel (on the right hand side of the picture above) with all of the juice, fruit, and seeds. The bits and pieces rise to the top of the barrel and form a "cap", it's like a sponge. This is where the red wine gets its color. Twice a day for three weeks, the juice is sucked out of the bottom and pumped back into the top to mix with the cap. 


White wine only goes through this twice daily cycle process for one week, otherwise it would become too dry and bitter.


All of the wine (from three types of grapes) are stored in barrels for one and a half years before bottling.


The winery only mixes the different types of wine from the different grapes after it has aged and right before bottling. The red wine, when it is older than ten years before being sold, is called "LaTour Martillac" and the younger red wine is called "Martillac". The white wine is specific to this region and is called "Le Grave" and has no wine classification system because it is different from other white wines.



These are the white (left, 17.50 euros) and red (right, 25 euros) wines we tasted.


Surprisingly, I enjoyed both the red and white. I learned that when the wine is more viscous (it sticks to the glass more) the grapes had more sugar in them so there is more alcohol content. The flavor also tends to stick in your throat longer. In this case, the white was more viscous.

I still wouldn't choose red wine or dry white wine if a sweet white wine is available, but I have come to appreciate red and dry wine for what they are.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wine Tasting

Well, this happened a little while ago, maybe my first week in France. The Melting Potes Association took us, with the wine association (AOC), wine tasting.

The proper procedure is:

1. Color, look at the wine.
2. Smell.
3. Aerate, swirl the wine in your glass.
4. Smell again. More scents should reveal themselves.
5. Sip.
6. Aerate, this is done by pulling in a little bit of air between your lips.
7. Swallow.

I fell in love with sweet white wine during this wine tasting. So wonderful. And Bordeaux wine is the best in France.

We were able to taste three wines, two white and one red. 

The group. 

I very much enjoyed learning the proper way to taste wine. While I was at the Chateau, though, the tour guide swirled her wine at about 100 miles per hour. I'm not sure if that's the proper way, or if it only takes slow swirling. It feels a little dangerous swirling so fast so I'll stick with my speed. 

Chateau Cos d'Estournel

I was able to make it on a Chateau visit through the wine association, AOC, at BEM (Bordeaux Management School). It's very competitive to get in, and it was spectacular. The chateau was influenced by Indian architecture.

Chateau Cos d'Estournel. 
About one hour outside of Bordeaux, France.  

I'm guessing the grape fields look much better when it's not the end of winter. 

Interesting grass and brick design outside. 

Who knew a door could be so ornate and beautiful?

Demonstrative of the Indian influence. 

I have never seen so much wine in my life - especially not in barrels! 
This picture only shows about a quarter of the room we were in. The entire place was full of these barrels, wall-to-wall underneath the sky bridge we were on. 

For Dad 
1954

An entire room full of wine from this Chateau. 
Every year was represented, I believe, since the early 1800s. 
Too bad red wine isn't good after one hundred years, according to the tour guide. 

The original founder of the Chateau. 

The bottle of wine we tasted... 130 euros. 

And I don't like red wine. It was a sad day, indeed. I really wish I loved it. The wine was supposed to taste like cinnamon and raspberries. I tasted dirt with a hint of cinnamon.

I hope to go on many more Chateau visits. The wine association has them almost every week on Thursdays. But to sign up is incredibly competitive. We are all on our computers or cell phones, ready for 12:30 on Tuesday, when the application opens up online. Then it's first come, first served by email.

This was also a great way to meet new, international, friends. I hope to visit one of those new friends in Germany soon! I will definitely be going to Munich and Berlin - and the Deutches Museum because of a recommendation (Thank you, Aunt Marilee!!).

I love meeting new people from all over.

A Couple Days in Bordeaux

I am going to combine a few things I've done and seen because it's been a while since I posted anything.

Rue Saint Catherine is basically the biggest and nicest shopping street in Bordeaux. It is full of shops and this month is a huge sale across all stores in Europe. I am blown away by some of the prices... and sometimes by some of the original prices (the sale only brings some clothing prices into the 'normal' range, or slightly affordable). I have managed to avoid a shopping spree and have bought one long knit shirt and some slippers (I was getting massive slivers from the old wood floors in my bedroom so I needed some rubber soled slippers for the house - yes, I look like a granny!).

Rue Ste. Catherine
I'm only disappointed I didn't think to take a picture about an hour earlier. 
It was like Black Friday, but France style - a little more pushy. 

I also took a walk around Meriadeck and Gambetta (neighborhoods in Bordeaux near where I live). I found some beautiful architecture:

This is near around the back side of Hotel de Ville (which means City Hall). 

This is the church in Hotel de Ville's square, I think. Might be called Primatiale Saint-Andre (I may have my locations mixed up, though). 

I look at these trees and can't help thinking, "Whomping willows!" (nerd moment!)

All in all, I really enjoy walking around and seeing what there is to see. But I am very excited about my coming week in Rome! I may try to go farther north in Italy, but we'll see how my money holds out! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Planning

Most people who know me know that I like to plan...

And I am stumped on how to plan travels outside of Bordeaux. I've heard of 20 euro flights, and have seen them. But none of them seem to leave from Bordeaux to somewhere I would like to go. But I shall prevail! I want to travel all over Europe while I'm here!

I've been asked many times where I want to go and my first thought is "Where do I not want to go?!"

My list of countries/cities to visit is about a mile long. I may have to cut some from the list. Or at least prioritize them. So difficult. If you have any suggestions for this, let me know! What can't I miss?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Week One

Who knew I would be ready to come home after one week?! I thought I would be super excited for at least one month. But maybe it's school, or the fact that I still don't feel like I'm in a foreign country -- other than the fact that everyone speaks a different language, I only know how to get to certain places, and it all looks completely different. Maybe I just need to have some pizza or popcorn. And, did you know, cigarette smoke in France actually smells good?

Oh, well. I'm in France! I have to enjoy it!!** I've been trying to book cheap flights to anywhere in Europe, but haven't succeeded yet. I have a local bank account now, which is required for basically everything in France. I think I could get by without one, but you need a bank account for the most random things, like a tram card or a cell phone.

Here are a few things that I have done lately (that make France a much better place to spend six months):

This is Grosse Cloche (it means 'big bell'), it used to be an entrance into the city.


Pont de Pierre along the river. Beautiful bridge. I have been over it once on Tram A to get to a church in another part of Bordeaux.



Still along the river.


Very odd statue. Detail of the front fountain is in the lower picture. There is a rooster on the front and several horses with fish tails for rears. I'm still not sure what mythical creatures these are all supposed to be. 



A road. Facing an old entrance to the city. Don't ask me where it is. I just walked there with a big group. Sheesh, what's with the interrogation!?


Church near Hotel de Ville tram stop. So breathtaking. 


I wish the pictures were clearer. 


Just the pipes on that organ were twice my height!


Wonderful to see a nativity scene. 


Sorry this became somewhat of a picture album. I figure some of you will want to see pictures and some may skip over -- no, wait. All of you will want to see pictures.

**I acknowledge the fact that I am blessed to be able to spend six months in a beautiful area so different from my home. Please no "Keep your chin up" type comments! Thank you. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Europe

I hope to keep this blog updated with pictures and what has been going on while I'm in France for the next six months. This blog is for family and friends and anyone else who stumbles upon it.

It was a grueling process (it seemed like) to get to France: figuring out my visa, housing and flight was difficult. But I am so glad to be here! I arrived in Bordeaux, France three days ago after 24 hours of travel and three days without sleep. I did the economical route. Shuttle from Bellingham Airport to SeaTac, SeaTac to Chicago O'Hare, Chicago to Madrid, Madrid to Bordeaux. My longest flight was 7.5 hours. And I had the best seat in the house!


I know that's probably blurry, but can you see that there was no seat in front of me?! Amazing!! I felt bad because the guy behind me was the height of a pro basketball player. Oh, well. I really wanted that seat after 4 hours squashed in the window seat trying not to touch the guy beside me that was a bit to large for the seat.

The day I arrived was spent hanging out on BEM's campus. This is the school I'll be studying at, all English courses, and I was exhausted. That afternoon, I went to Madam Renaux's apartment, or condo. It is beautiful, and so stately. This is a picture out my bedroom window:


Every wall is wallpapered, almost all the floors are wood, some areas have tile floors, it creaks everywhere, the doors are ten feet tall, the ceilings are fourteen feet tall and have crown molding, there are hidden closets all over the place... all in all, the best place I could have gotten. Ever. The owner does not speak English, but luckily my roommate speaks English, French and Italian (she is Italian). Translating is difficult but she helps me understand Madam Renaux when needed.

We have had two orientation days on campus and classes start on Monday. As I am 9 hours ahead of those in Bellingham, the time change has been a little difficult.

I'll come back and get some more pictures up from my trip around Bordeaux with Melting Potes.