I Can Ride My Bike With No Handlebars Tuesday, Jun 8 2010 

Did you pack your Chucks along with your Gucci talons (high heels) from Monaco? Good deal! Because now, instead of promenading along the gilded streets of Monaco, we’re off to Dijon, where the famous mustard originates, the wine flows more freely than water and the tourists get sloshed every day (because they can!)

Countryside near Dijon, France and beautiful vineyards (or as Laura would say, "wine fields!")

Armed with a lot of water, and good shoes, the two Lauras and I took a train from Dijon (which seemed wrong, since we had just arrived in the city less than 24 hours earlier) to Beaune. Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy wine-producing region, and although nearby Dijon is much larger, Beaune is largely unspoiled by gawking tourists and remains blissfully picturesque. It boasts a “smashing Saturday market,” so after renting bicycles for the day, we wandered to the market, and “smashing” it certainly was!

Me and my bike!

We bought fabulous mustard seed-coated formage (cheese), a twisted baguette, sweet tomatoes and the rest of our yummy picnic lunch.  Packed with our pique-nique lunch, we embarked on a 24 kilometer trip to Puligny-Montrachet where some of the world’s foremost Chardonnay is produced. We explored on our bikes via rolling, sweeping hills and zipping down and around the old streets of picturesque villages and gazing at the zigzagged rows of vines on either side of the roads.

A column naming the vineyard's owner and city of origin

Vineyards.... and a horse and plow!

Baby grapes...

Everything was smooth riding (with the exception of some huffing and puffing up some hills) until the moment where Laura T thought it would be a good idea to tumble, headlong, off her bike and on to the pavement, effectively scraping herself in several places and scaring Laura the Chef and I silly. But what a trooper she was! After getting bandaged up (along with popping several painkillers), she hopped back on her bike and away we went.

My Lauras, just before Laura T had a close encounter with the pavement.

The fateful road... and a wicked rough hill to bike UP. (A moment of silence, please, for Laura Trude's skin.)

When we reached Puligny-Montrachet, we were tired. Some of us were sporting abrasions, others were sporting awesome sweat stains and others were regretting the giant 1.5 liter of Coke she had purchased earlier (It turns out that Coke is heavy not to mention NOT thirst-quenching!). But none of the above were going to stop us from tasting the world’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir!

Wine tasting (and spitting bucket in background). In case you didn't know already, you don't DRINK all the wine in a tasting. You unceremoniously spit it OUT, right in front of everyone. Counter-intuitive? Yes.

So we signed up to taste (NOT GULP!!!) wine while we lazily soaked in the atmosphere of the Burgundian countryside. That night, back in Beaune (and still sweaty and somewhat bedraggled by this point), we had a delicious meal of Boeuf Bourguignon, regional wine, cheese and exquisite dessert.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Pretty Laura the Chef at a great dinner in Beaune!

By the end of the day, when we removed our Chucks (not our Guccis!), we were exhausted: physically and emotionally. But I think it is safe to say that it was my all-time favorite day of this last fling in France.

Boeuf Boeurginon

To learn about Pugligny-Montrachet, click here… and then get a corkscrew and a wine glass! Chin! (Cheers!)

To see the surrounding area of Dijon and a map of the route we took biking, click here.

Remember to check out Laura the Chef’s blog! It boasts a great new post about our Ice Cream Overload in Nice from a few days ago!

[I have 24 hours left in the country and only a few more blog posts before I say farewell. Stay tuned for the final installments!]

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Nice la Belle Wednesday, Jun 2 2010 

I’d like to have you come along on the last 9 day adventure that Laura Trude, Laura Vein and I have embarked upon! Grab your camera and your valise, and hop a TGV train from Paris to Nice, France!

Nice, France! (Laura Trude, left, Laura Vein, right)

We left Paris after spending two touristy days in the big city and headed south to where lavender grows in purple fields and the Mediterranean kisses the red earth. Nice, France is one of the oldest settlements in the world, dating back to prehistoric times. It is the capital of the French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur (Azure Coast). It is nestled right on the Mediterranean coast, and the water is aqua-blue. It rarely rains and the weather is so pleasant that you almost can’t fault the sunbathers sprawled topless all over the pebbly beaches.

The foamy, aqua-blue Mediterranean, rushing up on the pebble beach

2010 is the year that Nice celebrates its 150th anniversary of union with France. Before it was a French city, it was an Italian dominion. For that reason, there is an extremely strong Italian influence that runs through the city that boasts “home-made pasta!” and “Tiramisu!” English runs rampant in Nice, but the locals roam the streets too, parading around in quintessential French style on bicycles, armed with freshly cut flowers, high heels and fashionable eyewear. Add a scarf and a cigarette, and there couldn’t be anything more a la Francaise in a former Italian dominion.

Me, in the Mediterranean!

The culture is a very unique melage. There is a stark difference in the absence of beggars and homeless individuals in Nice versus Paris. The gypsies are gone, and no one asks if I speak English. The streets are much cleaner and the people are not as flippant. Men do not look oggle blonde women, much to my joy! In the tourist-riddled squares, full of hotels, cafes and little shops, there is a unique arrangement of local people, tourists and homeless. It is genuinely hard to distinguish an upscale street from one that is a little sketchy. All the buildings are painted different colors, and every set of windows has a wrought-iron balcony and shutters. People hang their washing out on clothes lines everywhere, which doesn’t take away from the beauty of the city but rather adds a whole other dimension to it.

Old Nice, glowing from all the lights

Tiny, winking Christmas lights swing in the soft ocean breeze from balcon a balcon (balcony to balcony) and from the awnings stretched taut over the outdoor cafes that seem to pour from every niche. Plats du jour (menu of the day) are displayed on chalkboards, written in curly writing (that every French person seems to know how to produce) and waiters lurk, ready to pounce and show you to a table. The fountains splash water, reflecting the sunlight by day and the lighting by night while wandering minstrels play romantic classical guitar on the streets.

When the aqua water comes crashing up on the shore, the pebbles tinkle musically, rattling against each other. The small lights from homes that rise above the Mediterranean twinkle on the hillsides. While you slowly lick the ice cream purchased at a boutique that boasts 96 flavors, it’s hard to think about anything except how utterly peaceful you are.

Peaceful beach

To read more about the extensive history of Nice, click here.

To read the awesome blog of Laura the Chef (who puts some her beautiful photography from the trip on her blog!), click here.

[I have exactly one week before I return home. Until that time, stick around while I describe what I see from trains, planes and automobiles on this fun last-fling in France!]

Culinary Creativity in Caen Saturday, May 15 2010 

I love to cook. I’m typically quite handy when it comes to baking, cooking and most anything in between. However, most chefs would be horrified at what I have been working with as far as kitchen facilities for the past 4 months. This post will shine light on a previously unexposed area of life at the Université de Caen Basse-Normandie and the source of very minor cultural annoyance I’ve had to learn to work around.

When Molly and I first set foot in Bâtiment B (Building B), we were overwhelmed with joy because we had beds. If anything else was wrong with the building on that fateful, exhausting day of travel, jet lag and culture shock, we didn’t bother looking for it because we were so thrilled to have a bed. But as time wore on and we explored the building, our friends’ accommodations and houses, we found ours to be severely austere, especially with the lack of a cuisine (kitchen). Okay, okay, having no kitchen is a bit of a lie because we do have a room that’s officially labeled “cuisine,” but what’s inside is a double-burner induction stove and a sink. The end. There is no garbage can, no soap, no utensils and no towels.

Orange Shrimp, Rice and Garlic-y green beans for the 2-Burner Stove WIN!

Try to contain your excitement over my stove. It boils water in less than a minute.

Before I start to sound too whiny over my “kitchen”, let me tell you that there are a lot of things you can do with a two-burner induction stove and a sink, and the novelty of a stove that boils water in less than a minute is pretty awesome. After all, my mother has made incredible meals while camping with a kerosene stove. Surely, I thought, I can manage to make food for 4 months on an induction stove!

So Molly and I started in on the pasta saga. I have, since that first meal of pasta on January 30th, eaten enough pasta to make anyone hate Italy for the rest of their lives. If I ever have another noodle it will be too soon. Without a proper refrigerator for most of our time in France, we were limited not only in our culinary abilities but our sanitation regulations. If your Camembert cheese is green and fuzzy, it’s not OK to pair with wine. If your milk has an IQ of over 15, it’s NOT okay to drink. If your “refrigerator” is illuminated by sunlight and is over 65 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s not a fridge–it’s a balcony where you can grow flowers and get a tan.

The First Pasta Experience of very many pasta experiences we'd encounter in the next 4 months.

Nonetheless, over 4 months of experimentation and Carrefour shopping trips, we have become experts in how to cook with 1 very dull 3″ paring knife, 1 cutting board, 1 strainer, 1 whip, 1 rubber scraper, 1 spatula and 1 can opener. Among our repertoire of favored meals is cheap packaged soup with lots of chunky potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic, tuna pasta, a squishy baguette and pate and egg sandwiches with chived-whipped cheese spread. We’ve found that it’s not the end of the world to use your dish towel more than thirty times in a row or dry your dishes on the same towel you’ve used all month.

What IS concerning is what will happen when I get my hands on a real kitchen again!

Are you ready for this, Chef Laura?!

What my desk looks like on any given night we have soup for supper.