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 5 & 6: nancy


5.6Today was a relaxing day – no major plans during the day, except to prepare for the Superbowl party J&M were throwing. Naturally we started our day with coffee from McCafé. Trés fancy! This time I took pictures of all the cute little treats they sell, though I decided against ordering a macaron, because after having the ultra-delicious, fancy ones the day before, I figured I’d be pretty disappointed by the ones McD’s had to offer. This time though, we got our coffee to go (gasp!) and it still took forever for them to make. Again, French people just have way more time on their hands!


I enjoy their ‘this is hot!’ symbol





I took a few pictures of some random shops we passed by on our little jaunt.


A bar window



This picture is for Sarah

This picture is for Sarah

Justin had ordered chicken wings so that they’d be ready to pick up the day of the party. But when we got to the butcher’s, the guy on duty didn’t really speak English and told Justin that his wings weren’t ready – they would be ready the next day. Justin noticed his name on a piece of paper behind the counter and tried pointing out the date on his order was today but the guy just kept shaking his head and saying tomorrow. We ended up having to go back with Margaret, and that time a friendlier guy was working and we got the wings. We also went grocery shopping and the store had everything from food to beer to TVs to car parts. And the cashiers get to sit down!!

I basically sat around reading and playing on Facebook. J&M made dinner for the party – Justin made some really awesome sauces for the wings: buffalo, sweet & spicy, mirabelle bbq, and coconut curry. Margaret made the best coleslaw I’ve ever had (I ate so much of it), plus we had veggies to dip in bleu cheese. They had other assistant teachers over to watch the game and it was a pretty good gathering. I didn’t really talk to anyone (yeah, I’m still shy), but I enjoyed listening to everyone’s conversations (like a creeper).  Overall, it was nice to have a break from all the sight-seeing.




Another relaxing day – fine by me! While Margaret was at work Justin & I watched some TV. He nipped out for cigarettes and I’m glad I stayed inside, because while he was gone (probably about 20 minutes) it started to rain, then sleet then snow. Definitely not weather I wanted to be out in! I did a lot of reading too. I’ll admit that while it was nice to take a break from the constant barrage of awesome sights to see, not having anything to focus on made me homesick (probably because all I do at home is curl up with a book). For lunch, Justin and I had a random assortment of leftovers – kimchi, cheese, olives, pickles, pickled radish and garlic, marinated mushrooms, crunchy bread and red pepper jelly. I was really digging the picked radish!


Art Nouveau style woodwork at the local bank

Finally the weather cleared up, so we wandered around Nancy for a bit. We went to the main square of the town, which is all cobblestone and gilded fences and fancy looking buildings with all that old-world charm. There was a pretty cool looking fountain too, but of course it was under construction. There was also this glass shop called Daum, and I guess they’re pretty famous (and expensive!), so we poked around there too.

We walked around the Duke’s palace and saw a really old section of wall, which is part of what used to surround the whole town. There were some cute looking shops too, but I didn’t really feel like shopping.




The wall

We stopped in at the apartment (so I could put more layers on) and then went out again because Margaret was giving an English lesson. We went back out to pick up our La galette des Rois (King Cake), and of course we had issues picking that up too. Due to the language barrier we didn’t end up picking up the cake the Margaret had ordered, but we ended up just picking one out from the ones they had ready. Then we stopped at a bar called Les Artistes, which was a three-story bar with with dilapidated couches and creaky wooden floors. Neat place though (except their bathroom was friggen disgusting).


Art Nouveau house

Dinner was wings again, this time samurai (my favorite), buffalo, Asian (had fish sauce in it, but was also a sweet and sour sesame goodness), and salt and vinegar (which made my eyes water). There was also salad with home-made dressing and goat cheese (my obsession at the time). We ate the galette, and I got the little favor inside (a porcelain sphere with what I think are polar bears on it), which made me  King for a Day, and I also got the paper crown. The galette was very flaky and delicious, with a light filling inside – the flavor is hard to describe. We finished up with a shot of the Korean liquor the couch surfers left behind, but it was kind of like bland sake and I didn’t finish mine.


day 4: art


4.1We all slept in since we were out so late the night before, then Justin, Margaret, Claire and I all went to get coffee at Starbucks. From there we headed to the Louvre and saw the Obelisk, which France stole from Egypt and wouldn’t give back.  Before we went to the Louvre, we stopped at the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is a place Monet designed – he wanted someplace for people to view his work, and meditate and such. There were two main rooms with four paintings each, one per wall. It was awesome to see his work up close like that. It was hard not to reach out and touch it. If we had time, I probably could have sat on a bench for a few hours just staring at his paintings. Naturally we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. Nothing would compare to the original anyway. There was also a gallery downstairs with work from various artists, but honestly, after seeing Monet’s work, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else.

4.2After that we tried to stop at a mustard shop called Maille, but it was closed. So we popped in next door at Ladurée and got some famous (and of course, a little expensive) macarons. We tried pistachio, coffee, rose petal, raspberry and orange blossom. Orange blossom and raspberry were my favorite, and I have to say that I was disappointed in rose petal. The coffee was good and I don’t like pistachios, so obviously I didn’t like that one. They were super adorable though, and I totally wanted to buy all the colors just to have a rainbow of macarons. Charlie came to pick up Claire and we bid them adieu for a few days.

Before stopping at the Louvre we grabbed crepes (my first, of course). I picked an apricot jam filled one and Justin got one with ham and cheese. Honestly, I preferred the ham and cheese. The sugary-marshmallow-like consistency of the crepe dough was just too sweet paired with the jam.

The line for the Louvre was quite long (free admission on the first Sunday of the month), but it moved really quickly. Margaret kept our place in line while Justin and I walked through a stone courtyard towards the back of the building and mused on how long it took to build this huge museum (Margaret later informed us that it was built in stages and added on to over the years). By the time we came back to the line Margaret was at the front waiting for us. We joined the mob and headed off to the Venus de Milo. We also saw the Winged Beauty and of course the Mona Lisa. Honestly, Lisa wasn’t that impressive. So small! And of course EVERYONE was crowded in there to see, so there’s no way to really look at it and appreciate it, not to mention it’s behind a rope and glass so you can’t even get close. They also put it in the room with some of the biggest paintings I’ve ever seen, which made it seem even more diminutive.

Typically when I go to a museum, I like to meander and stare at certain works, sometimes sit and stare, or maybe sketch (back in college). That’s not really an option in the Louvre. There were just so many people, constantly moving and talking and shuffling about that it was impossible to have the “museum experience” that I enjoy. However, it was great to see so much artwork. Naturally we weren’t able to see everything, but I think we spent close to two hours cruising through, so I got to see quite a bit.

After a quick snack back at Charlie and Claire’s place (they weren’t home), we headed off to Nancy – pronounced Non-see. There was a girl that was supposed to carpool with us back to Nancy, but after about 20 minutes on the road she decided she wanted to stay one more night with her boyfriend, who lives in Paris. We ended up dropping her off at some random metro station. I was glad for the extra space in the backseat (our car was small) to nap in. It was a four hour ride back to Nancy, in the dark, so there wasn’t much to look at. I tried to sleep most of the time.

When we got to Justin and Margaret’s apartment (super cute little place) we had some leftover Korean food for dinner, that some Korean (yeah, duh) kids had made when they were couch surfing at J&M’s place. I tried kimchi for the first time (LOVE) and had some sort of noodles and squishy rice bits to go with it. And of course several cups of tea, because basically all I drank in France was black tea, café au lait and wine. The Super Bowl came on at about 1 AM and I watched up until the half-time show and then called it a night after Beyonce’s lame performance.

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.

photo friday

I’ve got to get back into the swing of things and start blogging more, as well as start working on more personal design projects. I also need to get back my motivation for Mondays. Until then, here’s a random picture taken at the Animal Kingdom when I was 18.


weekend in maine

I went to Freeport, Maine to celebrate Mum’s birthday with her. First time staying in a B&B and I really enjoyed it (though a hot tub would have made it perfect). Had a good time and took lots of random pictures. But first, a random picture of Tim sleeping. ^_^



photo friday