day 7 & 8: off to the val de loire!


I slept in again and relaxed during the day while we waited for Margaret to finish teaching so we could head off to our next destination. For lunch, Justin made me a white bean mash burrito with veggies and samurai sauce. Tasted like a burrito and mashed potatoes had a baby – delicious.

We picked Margaret up from school as well as another carpooler that was headed for Troyes – a stop along the way to Sens. The car ride was long and cramped, and we got lost, but eventually we dropped off our carpooler and made it to the house in Sense that were couch surfing at. My first time couch surfing! Our hosts – Ali & Aisha – were surfers as well, and said they were honored to be my first hosts. They’re Moroccan (I believe) and are fairly new to the couch surfing scene, but have found that they really enjoy the culture. They both spoke enough English that I was actually able to talk to them – though, I stayed pretty quiet anyway. (Again, people cannot believe that I don’t speak French, even though I was only visiting for less than two weeks. Sorry, I’m not that devoted!)

We were given slippers to wear as soon as we walked in and had to leave our wine out in the garage – no alcohol in the house, ever. They had dinner ready for us, despite our 9:30 arrival and we started with a salad made mostly of endives, tomatoes and avocado. Can you guess which part I enjoyed most? Honestly, endives aren’t my thing – this was my first time trying them and they’re just too bitter for me. The main dish was a tajine – made with chicken, potatoes, green olives (first time trying, not my fave), and herbs. Simple, but filling. As usual, I felt as though I wasn’t eating enough. I can’t sit down and eat 3 large courses at every meal!

We took a break for conversation, mostly J&M and A&A sharing travel stories. Naturally, there was dessert to be had. Justin baked a pear pound cake, which was delicious. A&A had some pastries with a cutout in the middle shaped like an eye and filled with peach jam & cream. It was super sweet and flaky, so of course I loved it. We had some tea as well – sort of minty and naturally sweet – the kind where you pour the hot water onto the flower and it blooms inside the pot.

I slept on a type of bench/couch that is apparently popular in Morocco.  It was pretty comfortable and I had a nice fluffy blanket too.


Our goal today was to get an early start so we could have a quick tour of Sens and then head off to Tours by 9:30. Instead we had a slow start and (after a delicious breakfast of coffee and more of those eye-pastries) headed to town at 9:30. It was a little ironic, because Ali mentioned how relaxed people are in Africa and how little time means to them. He felt it was too relaxed, but then it was difficult to get him going in the morning for our tour. Again – the French lead a different lifestyle, it seems they somehow have more time on their hands.

Ali kept remarking on how well he knows the town – and it’s history – and that he really should have been giving us a three-hour tour. Instead, he had to settled for the abbreviated 1-hour version. We saw the Cathedral and the town hall (and Ali gave some history about the battle between church and state that I don’t remember), as well as some examples of rich houses (made with stone) and poor houses (made with carved wood – looked pretty sweet to me!) The statues of the saints decorating the front of the church all had their heads removed, for some historical reason that I – again – don’t remember.

After fond goodbyes from Ali, we crammed back into the teeny-mobile and headed for Tours to meet our next guests, who we would be spending two nights with. Jeanne and Jann are the perfect image of cute, little French grandparents (though I’m not sure if their daughter has kids yet) and their house is beautiful and filled with a collection of eclectic and worldly knick-knacks. They even have a library! They have a black cat named Baghira, and she is actually from the jungle – their daughter adopted her somewhere in Africa and ended up giving her to her parents. She was totally immune to my cat-love though, and wanted nothing to do with me :[

We made excellent time heading to Tours though (and paid 30 Euros in tolls! X_X) and ended up arriving at 1 PM like we’d planned. J&J had lunch ready for us: local red wine, and a dish made with lentils, onions, ham & sausage. Very hearty, though I would have preferred it with some herbs. There was also salad with home-made dressing, and a cheese course. I tried Brie, a Chez (goat cheese, my fave), and local one that I don’t remember (something that starts with a C maybe). Jeanne had made a strawberry and apricot tart for dessert and it was the most delicious dessert I’ve ever had! I drank black coffee with dessert – for the first time – and really enjoyed it.

We relaxed and let our food digest while Jeanne suggested places for us to visit downtown. We ended up just moseying around the city. First we stopped at this market building that had several different butchers, bakers, cheese shops, and veggie stands, as well as seafood stalls, and of course, a wine shop. We bought cheese and steaks for the dinner Justin planned to make and sampled cheeses and breads. I got bored pretty quickly though, since I’m so intimidated by cooking, raw ingredients don’t really whip me into a frenzy.



We stopped in at the Tourist Office and I picked up a bunch of random brochures because they had cool imagery. J&M got some info and maps about castles and bought some tickets to castles we planned to see, to save money. Margaret and I had to use the bathroom, but they apparently don’t allow that, so we were told to go to the train station across the street. We had to pay 50 cents each just to pee! Lame. Margaret and I both wondered how much the bathroom attendant gets paid for that job.

After drifting around various side streets, we made it to the main cathedral in town. This one felt like the tallest one I’d seen yet (not sure if it actually was or not) and it was very…pointy and intimidating. This one had entire statues missing, instead of just heads.




Nearby there was a massive tree and a random taxidermied elephant, which I guess was a gift to the town from Barnum & Bailey after it rampaged and was put down. Strange gift, eh? There was a little garden behind some building (which I think was a kind of school or something), which I imagine would be cute during Spring.




It was Justin’s turn to prepare dinner, so he cooked while Margaret and I chatted with our hosts and drank wine. He made steaks and then a baked mac and cheese, with like 9 cheeses, bacon, broccoli, mushrooms, and tomatoes, with a cheesy breadcrumb topping and a side of jalapeño cream sauce, and it was HEAVEN. Best mac and cheese I’ve ever had, and I doubt I’ll ever have anything that comes close again. I listened while everyone talked more of their travels and after dinner we had some delicious tea called rooibos – something I keep meaning to look into getting back at home. I really loved it.


day 3: lesson learned


3.1Woke up a lot during the middle of the night so I wasn’t feeling very refreshed. Justin and I set off for Montmartre to see a famous church called Sacré-Cœur, which is on a big hill overlooking the city.  On the way, we stumbled upon a fromagerie and tried their samples. I had goat cheese covered in ash (sounds and looks gross but was so tasty) and some other really strong cheese that I didn’t hate but I didn’t love either. We also stopped at a cafe (of course) and it was super cute. 3.4

The outside of the church had all sorts of great gargoyles that double as rain spouts–would have been neat to see them in action, but that would have meant rain pouring down on me, so I’m not complaining about the little bit of sun we had at the time.

Inside the church my favorite part was the organ–they’re all pretty cool. There was a ceremony going on though, so it was a little awkward to be milling about while people were praying and priests were doing their thing and whatnot. After admiring the view from up high, I bought some Eiffel Tower key chains from one of the various merchants selling things on the different platforms of the steps headed down the hill. Why not, right? There were sketchy guys selling fake designer purses too.

As we got further down the steps we had to avoid the  guys who try to put bracelets on you and then force you to pay them for it. They’re pretty aggressive, so even though both of us kept saying “Don’t touch me,” a guy ended up grabbing my wrist anyway. Fortunately he listened the second time I told him not to touch me (probably I sounded a little panicked) and he didn’t put a bracelet on me. I’m not used to this sort of aggression and it made me pretty uncomfortable. I guess they’re used to people not putting up much of a fight, so even if you tell them to go away, they don’t because most people just let them stick bracelets on them anyway.

After the church the plan was to head to the Moulin Rouge. That didn’t happen however, because my cousin and I had a break from common sense and ended up being scammed by people playing a gambling game on the street. I won’t go into detail because it makes me grumpy. But long story short, we ended up gambling and lost A LOT of Euros. Lesson learned on that one. Travelers beware! I learned not to carry that much cash on me and I also learned not to take my wallet out around any sort of street game. The people that tricked us are complete low-life bastards, but that doesn’t mean my cousin and I weren’t also idiots at the time.

We headed for the metro after that and went to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to see the Arc de Triomphe. I was pretty depressed and grumpy on the ride over, but seeing the Arc up close was so impressive that I cheered up a bit.

It started to get really windy and cold though, and then eventually started to hail and then rain (weather in France is SO inconsistent!) and I completely lost whatever bit of a good mood that I had. We walked down the Champs-Élysées, and it’s primarily designer outlet stores and whatnot, so I wasn’t really interested.  We saw some golden-domed governmental-type buildings too, with more statues, but I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t want my camera to get wet. I was definitely read to just head back to Claire’s apartment.


The view from the my bedroom in Claire’s apartment


Later that night was our sushi dinner. Yes, sushi in France! We went to this cool Japanese restaurant that looked kind of like a cave. We ended up getting two sushi boats full of salmon–maki, nigiri & sashimi. I thought there would be different kinds of sushi, but I guess the Groupon we had only entitled us to salmon. Really, this was fine with me since it’s my favorite and it was crazy fresh. I also tried Kir Royale, which was pretty good. Tried to order a Mai Tai too, but apparently those don’t exist in France, and our attempt to get fruit juice and rum failed as well. It’s okay because we took some chopsticks and chopstick rests as souvenirs.

After dinner we went to a “club” which was really just a cramped bar in the basement of a restaurant with overpriced drinks.  They actually had a Mai Tai on the menu, so I tried again…but that was also a failure. I got some blue, lemony drink that was totally weak. Alas. The music they played was random and horrible and there was definitely a male stripper dancing on girls around the corner from where we were sitting. It was kinda skeevy, but fortunately we couldn’t see him from where were sitting.

On the ride home (crammed into to Charlie’s Audi TT–great car but after the claustrophobia-inducing ride I spent crammed into the “backseat” I don’t think I can sit in one again) we stopped by the Presidential Palace, which is where Charlie works. We only drove by but it’s still pretty neat. We got to go down a private road because Charlie is a cop.

day 2, part 2: statues, and patisseries and kebabs, oh my!

Still 2/1/13:

We did a lot of roaming around today. We cruised through some more churches as well as some patisseries too. I feel like I’d be humongous if I lived in France because there’s a bakery on every corner with the cutest, most delicious looking treats. I managed to resist buying treats based on the fact that I wouldn’t even know where to start–being overwhelmed by sugary goodness probably saved me quite a bit of money.

For lunch I had my first kebab! No, not this:






It’s like a sandwich filled with meat that shaved from a pile that’s on a rotisserie, then loaded with lettuce, tomatoes, (and other veggies if you want) french fries, & samurai sauce (think BK’s zesty sauce but WAY better). I never would have thought to try something like this (the meat on display doesn’t exactly look mouth-watering), but I’m so glad Justin recommended it because it was amazingly delicious!

It’s this:

  turned into this: 





2.37After lunch we stopped at the Pantheon but we didn’t go in because we weren’t sure it would be worth the Euros. We also stopped by the Luxembourg Gardens–not much to see garden-wise, but there were several neat statues. There was also a large fountain, an official-looking building, and another “secret” garden with mysterious sand boxes. Definitely a place I could picture hanging out in during the spring and summer though; seems like it would be good for picnics and writing. We had Ben & Jerry’s for dessert; still just as expensive in France as it is anywhere else. ;D


For dinner Charlie made us a “French salad”, which had three different kinds of cheese (turns out the goat cheese was my favorite!), breaded ham, cherry tomatoes and Ranch-ish dressing. It was super filling and delicious. Then, because the French eat every meal in courses, apparently, we had a baguette with some pork pâté, which is basically seasoned Spam.  It wasn’t horrible,  but I didn’t exactly find it delicious either, mostly it was bland. The bread was just something to munch on while we waited for the quiche to finish. It was a tomato and basil quiche, which tasted more like pizza with eggs, but was super delicious. To top it all off, we had some chocolate pudding for dessert. At this point I thought I was going to explode. By the end of my trip, I still hadn’t acclimated to this whole multi-course meal tradition, and more often than not couldn’t finish my food or ended up feeling stuffed beyond belief. People say Americans eat too much, but it’s really not much different in France–they just split large portions into many smaller courses.