Bonjour Paris


French food is the best. And I’m not saying that subjectively. Honestly, if I had my choice, I’d eat tacos every day of the week over a Croque Monsieur or a plate of steak tartare. And I’m sure I’m offending MANY people by stating this, but French food is the best. You see, UNESCO has actually declared French cuisine as a “world intangible heritage” and the gastronomy of French cooking is protected, just like any other UNESCO world heritage site on Earth. I didn’t even know intangible world heritages were a thing! But apparently, French food made the cut, and so I can’t argue that it is considered the best. So in light of this new fun fact, Jodon and I have spent the past four days eating baguettes, cheese, saucisson, pâté, and moules frites – And loving it.

Jodon loves microwave meals. His freezer is chocked full of 5-min Michelina dinners and ice cream sandwiches. And yet, despite his love for blue-menu cuisine, he has a pretty phenomenal palate. However, Jodon eats to survive. He eats because he HAS to eat, not because his mouth has been salivating over the thought of a creamy brie or a crusty baguette for the past three hours.  

I love everything food. Except raisins, obviously. Who would ruin a perfectly good grape like that? Otherwise, my entire day revolves around when, where and what I’m going to eat next. I could be stuffed to the brim at breakfast while still dreaming of that new restaurant to try for dinner later on. It’s a problem.  

So four days in Paris we’ve had to learn to balance our interests. I keep Jodon on a strict eating-every-four-hours-or-else rule, and he drags me around to museums and monuments and walking tours so that I actually come out of the city learning more than just what pate is made of. If I spend two hours admiring art at the Pompidou, Jodon will allow me to go wild at the local market and have a picnic in the park. If we visit the Louvre, we can then have some icy beers in monmartre with a charcuterie plate. And so long as the meals are never more than four hours apart, I am happy! So that’s what we’ve done.

We learned that the Pompidou is much more wonderful on the inside than the monstrosity of a building suggests. We listened to anecdotes about the city during our walking tour. And we lost ourselves in the art exhibits of the Louvre (albeit mixing up the closing times and missing the Mona Lisa. Jodon says I’m too hip to see such mainstream art anyways). 

By day three we finally made our way to the Eiffel Tower. I had gasped like a giddy high-school girl every time I caught a glimpse of it as we walked the streets. Eight years of travelling and I have never set eyes on the Eiffel Tower before. How is this possible? But even with my high expectations, the tower didn’t disappoint. We wandered the area, catching the views from all angles before heading to the Seine for our evening river cruise. Right as we were about to take off, the clouds broke and the sun turned the Eiffel Tower a shimmering gold. It was perfect. 

The boat then took off on an hour long cruise through the historic district of Paris. Classical music played softly as we rode away from the sunset, catching photos of the riverside, the old bridges and the Notre Dame. At our half way point, the sun set and the lights of Paris turned on. We came back to a glowing Eiffel Tower, sparkling on the city skyline: lit up in all its glory. It was disgustingly romantic, and also my favourite part of our time in Paris.

Some mandatory late night drinks and cheese along the river summed up the evening and was the perfect ending to our evening in the city of lights.

After three hectic days in Paris and a full day trip to the Palace of Versailles, our final day in Paris was spent relaxing. We sipped on ice coffees by the Sacre Coeur, wandered the streets in the Centre-ville and met up with my friend Megan for some bar hopping in the Latin Quarter. It’s always fun seeing friends from home across the world, and even more fun when those times are spent drinking French wine, eating Moules Frites and singing away the evening in a grungy Piano bar. Oh Paris, I will miss you!

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Carcassonne

Carcassonne is considered one of the prettiest fort towns in Southern France. It’s walled old city, with a river running along the outside is exactly how you would imagine small, French market towns to be. And yet, my time there was mostly met with disaster…
Carcassonne is so small, you could walk around the whole city in a half hour. Since there were no hostels in town, I planned on spending only a few hours there on my way through to Marseille. But when I arrived to a tiny train station with no baggage check, I realized I might have a little problem of what to to with the life I was carrying on my back.
The information office was closed, the tourist office was closed, and there was no place to leave my bag for a few hours. According to an online chat group, one hotel in town would take care of a bag for a few hours for a small charge. When I arrived at the address, however, it had turned into a clothing store…
The other hotels I stopped by at in the area don’t keep luggage unless you are already staying at the hotel, so my only remaining option was to go sightseeing with my 75Litre pack and hope for the best. So I strapped myself in and started walking!
The first 20 minutes weren’t so bad! The town is mostly flat, and everything was so pretty I forgot about the weight of the world on my shoulders. But about a half hour in I started cursing the ceramics I’d bought in Morocco, and the guidebooks I hadn’t left behind in some random hostel. My back was aching, and I felt like I was being pulled slowly deeper into the Earth. I made it an hour and 45 minutes of hiking around the area before retiring in the main square and giving in to exhaustion. I was not made out for trekking.
I plopped down on the ground next to a water fountain with a makeshift lunch from the carrefour: a baguette, some cheese and a few apples and oranges. I was soon spied by a couple of chatty homeless men who joined me for lunch and offered me their prized cheap wine, poured into a 1.5L water bottle… Which I politely turned down. But it’s nice to know wine is so cheap here that even the homeless can enjoy a decent tasting vintage!
I didn’t really think it was strange at first, sharing an apple sandwich with two, old homeless dudes on the dusty ground of a small village in Southern France. All of us surrounded by our worldy possessions that we carry around on our backs. If you think about it, I too am kind of homeless at the moment. And too be fair, I’ve been confused for being homeless on a number of occasions throughout my years of travels, so why not embrace it!
The problem with being homeless though, is that after trekking around for hours, and chugging a tonne of water, you don’t have a bathroom to use. And I needed to pee!
Not wanting to have to buy anything at a neighboring cafe, I said goodbye to my new friends and trekked back to the train station to use theirs. Sadly, when I arrived, ready to burst, I realized there was only a single pay toilet out back by the tracks. 30 cents per use, and the door only accepted 10 or 20 cent coins. I stood there digging through my purse in a desperate attempt to find the cash. I had a million 1s, 2s and 5s but no 10s or 20s. I searched my pockets and the change that had fallen to the bottom of my purse as well: nothing.
All of a sudden the door popped open in front of me and a woman came out. She smiled at me as I was elbow deep in my purse looking for coins.
“Please” she said, and held the door open for me…
My angel!!
“Thank you so much!” I said.
She nodded and walked back towards the station.
I left my pack hastily outside and stepped inside the large aluminum room. The door shut and locked behind me and a motor turned on. I looked around for a light, but couldn’t find one. There was just a dim glow coming from somewhere, otherwise I was in a damp, metal room with a squatter toilet on the floor and a strange, seat that popped out of the wall and hovered over the hole in the floor… Just when I think I’ve seen every type of toilet in the world, I stumble across something new. As I quickly scanned the room for a place to balance my purse, the motor picked up and I heard a loud sound of water on metal.
My reaction time was just not quick enough. I couldn’t quite put it all together that fast. The damp floor, the swooshing sound, the French sign in red on the inside of the door that I roughly translated to “self cleaning”. But then it hit me. Literally.
The water moved steadily across the room like a wall of rain coming in from the ceiling, or the wall or something. It started creeping towards me, spraying so hard it was bouncing back off the aluminum floor and spraying me from two angles!
Turns out, the toilet self-cleans after each use, by washing down the entire room, top to bottom, side to side. Because the last lady had held the door open for me, when it shut behind me, the toilet assumed no one was there, and so, started its thorough cleaning process.
As soon as the whole thing clicked I turned and pushed on the door… Which had locked for cleaning. I turned around, watching the water come closer and closer. I stood for a moment in horror, then turned back in a second, more desperate attempt at the door. This time, I spotted a red emergency exit button. I hit it and pushed on the door and the thing swung open, throwing me back out into the light of day.
I was wet, but I think I’d just barely missed the worst of it. I let the door shut behind me, and listened to the rest of the cleaning inside. Not knowing what to do, I just stood there for a minute. Then, still needing to pee, I went back to ransacking my purse for change. Finally I checked the outside pocket and low and behold I found a 10 and a 20 cent coin right away. I had to giggle a little at the ridiculousness of it all. Then I put in the coins for attempt two.
When I’d finished, I opened the door and saw a man standing outside, waiting to come in. In a natural reaction I smiled and held the door open for him.
“Merci!” He said and started to walk in.
“No wait!!” I yelled at him. He jumped and looked at me, this half wet girl emerging from the toilet, shouting at him. He clearly didn’t speak English.
“Don’t go in there! It will spray you down!” He stared at me, now holding the door open himself. I made a lame attempt at a whooshing sound and flailed my arms (I’ve never been very good at charades).
He still stared at me.
So I risked being mistaken for rude and pulled the door from him and shut it. Immediately the motor started up and within seconds the thing started cleaning itself. I pointed to the sound and the man started laughing.
“Ahhh! Merci!” He said. Then looked me up and down and started laughing some more.
Even I had to laugh as I grabbed my bag and walked back towards the station. My time exploring Carcassonne was over, but the trains took a midday break so I still had over 2 hours to wait. I found a rock by the river and tried to relax. My back was still aching, I felt like I was getting a cold, and a super dysfunctional family decided to sit next to me and scream bloody murder at each other for the next two hours… It was fun.
Considering my day, I would still absolutely recommend Carcassonne to anyone driving through the area. Just make sure you’re a little more prepared and a little less homeless than I was…

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Toulouse

I woke up the next morning in Colomiers and felt a lot better. The hostel offered free breakfast and Nancy, the owner of the place, was super friendly and helped me with the bus route into town. Even the guy who was so standoffish the night before turned out to be charming and funny in the morning time. I tried the first bank on the way out of town and got cash immediately. Things were definitely looking up!
To top it all off, the sun came out as I reached Toulouse. And even though I felt embarrassed at my complete lack of French, I managed to get myself a map and explore the city without having to talk to too many people.
Although I hadn’t travelled very far distance wise, France felt wildly different from Spain. And yet, I can’t quite pinpoint what is was. Churches were large and impressive, but had less detailing or moorish influence. It felt more medieval, Joan of Arc-esque and less Arabic or Gaudi than the architecture of Catalan or Andalucia. But nevertheless, it did not lack in beauty.
The churches, the cobblestone, the river running through the city: Toulouse is very picturesque. And, being my first French city, I was able to confirm or deny all my French stereotypes…
For starters, mimes, dressed in white face paint and sporting French berets are, perhaps sadly, no where to be found. However, people DO walk around just holding on to baguettes! (Not everyone of course, but a surprising number, so I dub this stereotype to be true).
People do NOT clean up after their dogs, but the general populous smell fantastic! Okay, so I don’t think smelling good is a stereotype, but maybe just a general observation of mine. I now understand why so many perfume ads are in French… The French are the ones who wear them!
But my real difficulty was not stereotypes, it was the accent. My mind was still in Spanish mode, and switching to a new accent was too much for my little brain to comprehend right away. This of course has made for some interesting conversations of late. My first of which was back at the hostel in Colomiers after I was finishing dinner.
I picked up some veggies at the grocery store on my way home and made a big salad for dinner back at the hostel. When I was finished, I started talking to two of the guys staying in my room. No one at the hostel really spoke English, but these two could get by in basic English, and so attempted to include me in their conversation.
“Do you like chocolate?” One guy asked me.
“Yes, of course!” I said
“I have some black chocolate, do you want me to get you some?”
“Actually, I’m so full from dinner, but thank you.”
“But with salad! Black chocolate, it is the perfect combination!”
“Dark chocolate and salad is supposed to be a good combination?” I asked skeptically, thinking he was joking.
“You do not have this in Canada!?” The look of profound shock on his face was almost comical. “But it is the best!”
“No, I can’t say that chocolate and salad is a popular food pairing at home”
The debate went back and forth for a while until finally he gave up.
“Well you must try it for yourself” he exclaimed, “I insist!” And he ran to his bunk to get the chocolate. When he returned he broke me off a piece and handed it to me.
It was delicious, obviously. Dark chocolate is my favourite. Not sure if it was really a winning match with my salad, but c’est la vie.
“It’s amazing. What’s it called?” I asked. He was confused and didn’t understand. “May I see the box?”
He passed my the rest of the chocolate. It was a brand I hadn’t heard of, but I instantly saw what the confusion was. The box read “chocolate noir et sal” or “dark chocolate with salt” it wasn’t salad he was saying, it was salt!
For some reason I found this so funny, I burst out laughing.
“Ooooh! Sal! Not salad!”
He looked confused.
“I thought you had said dark chocolate and SALAD went together, but you meant SALT!”
“Salt?” He asked confused
“Sal, not salad” to him, the words sounded exactly the same, so he still looked at me with a confused expression. But all of a sudden the guy behind him understood and started laughing hysterically as well.
The poor guy had no idea what was going on until the second guy calmed down from his laughter and explained in French.
“Salade? Salade?!” He yelled at me “But why would black chocolate go with salade!?!”
“Well that’s what I was trying to say!” I replied in between what had turned into uncontrollable giggles.
It was my first of many, many, many mistaken conversations. And I’m not quite sure why we all found this one particularly hilarious, but I was glad to be breaking through the language barrier, however slowly, and making some French friends!

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Welcome to France

I’ve always been a little afraid of visiting France. Not because I don’t speak the language, or heard the people are sometimes standoffish, or because I was worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I have been afraid of visiting France because I expected to love it SO much, that I never wanted to come home. That life in Canada would never compare after living the wonderful lifestyle of the French.
For those of you that know me even a little, you’ll know I have a strange obsession over cheese. All kinds of cheese. It’s by far my favourite food in the world. Followed closely by baguettes and wine… I wonder how France and I are going to get along.
I’ve been in France for exactly one week as I write this post, and I completely adore the country. But with a few hiccups to begin my trip, it took me a couple days to warm up to the place I was so looking forward to.
Actually, at first, I didn’t even know I was in France. I left San Sebastián in a thunderstorm with 12€ in my pocket. I stopped at 7 banks along the way to try to get money from one of the ATM’s. Nothing. My bank card just refused to work, after a month of no issues. Great.
So I hopped on the train in the direction I needed to go, in hopes I would figure the problem out later. With the purchase of a couple oranges and my first metro ticket I was down to 9€.
The end of the metro line dropped me off at Hendaye: apparently a town in France. The signs were in Spanish, the people spoke to me in French and the cafe across the street was called Cafe Jose. I knew this was a border town, but assumed the locals were speaking to me in French because I looked more French than Spanish. Turns out, after having to google where I was, I had made it to France!
I was trying to get to Toulouse. Originally I had wanted to go to Bordeaux, but turns out there are no hostels in Bordeaux. The cheapest hotel I could find was close to 70€/night for one person. Way beyond my budget. Toulouse was all booked up for hostels as well. Luckily, I found a place in a suburb called Colomiers that would take me in for the night, and so I was headed in that direction.
My transfer train to Bayonne didn’t run that day. So I was told my only route would be via Bordeaux, then onwards to Toulouse, then I could change trains again to Colomiers. It was going to cost me 80€. I put it on my credit card… Next train to Bordeaux: 5 hours.
5 hours in the tiny town of Hendaye. 5 hours in a thunderstorm with no where to go. The only place open was Cafe Jose across the street, which charged me 6€ for a sandwich so I could connect to the wifi to reach my bank.
I now had 3€ in my pocket.
The whole day was like this for me. Rain. Rain. Rain. I was freezing. My bank was closed with the time change. The train to Bordeaux was 25 minutes late which made me 5 minutes late for my connecting train to Toulouse. I had a 50 minute wait between my arrival in Toulouse and my train to Colomiers. The line to get tickets took me 40 minutes… I almost burst with anger as I waited in line, thinking I was going to miss my last train. With the ticket price, I now had 1.50€ in my pocket.
When I arrived in Colomier it was pitch black. The directions through the abandoned suburb were atrocious. Through side streets, under the highway, along streets with no name. I walked and walked, with no map. It took me a half hour to reach the hostel in the cold and dark.
The drive from San Sebastián to Colomiers is a little more than 3 hours. I arrived at the hostel at 9:40pm, 12 hours and 40 minutes after I’d left. I was cold, I was hungry, I was cranky, and I was poor. The small sandwich in Hendaye and two oranges were all I ate all day.
I called my bank from the hostel once I’d checked in. The internet cut out on all three phone calls I made to them. I finally gave up and went downstairs to ask if there was some place around the hostel for some cheap take out.
The young man behind the counter looked at me and scoffed.
“There is nothing. It is too late. There is nothing to eat now. You checked in a half hour ago. You should have thought about eating then, because now there is nothing!” He was sitting at the bar of the attached restaurant, eating and drinking wine with his wife. They looked at eachother with a “how stupid is this girl” look. In my hangriness I almost reached over and punched him for being so rude. A simple “sorry, I think everything is closed now” would have sufficed.
Then they started talking in French to each other.
I walked away. “Thanks anyways” I said.
“No, stop” he said. “I will make you a salad if you have to eat. With salmon. Ok?”
I almost didn’t want to eat his salad out of spite, but I was so hungry.
“Ok. Thank you” I said.
I sat down at a table and a salad was put in front of me almost instantly. Clearly it had already been made. I thanked him as he set it down, but he just turned and walked away. I felt sad and tired and cranky as I ate my little salad. But I have to admit, the salmon was the best salmon I have ever eaten.
I took a deep breath when I’d finished eating and told myself to suck it up. I could feel a cold coming on with the damp weather I’d been in all day. I just needed to go to bed, and tomorrow, everything would be better. So I watched the end of the movie that the hostel was playing and crawled into bed early. So much for my instant love affair with France. So far, it had been nothing but expensive and stressful.