Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 39 – A White Christmas in Vichy!

We had A LOT of snow over night, so woke up this morning to an incredibly white Christmas. So unbelievably happy, and I have had ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas’ in my head all day. God knows why, I got one!

No breakfast for me this morning. Too much food last night, and knew there was another feast coming for lunch today.

Margaux and Alex left for Paris today, so went to visit them this morning and say goodbye. Also got some pretty pictures of the snow.

For lunch I joined Reina’s family again (they really are such lovely people!). The children had all opened their presents early in the morning and there were toys EVERYWHERE. The little girl had received two little princess costumes and kept changing throughout the day.

Lunch started the same as dinner, with champagne and foie gras and this time smoked salmon and the rest of yesterdays seafood platter for entrée. The main meal is where it got a little bizarre.

I ate WILD BOAR today. That’s right. This is the French cultural Christmas I wanted! I believe it’s called sanglier. Not exactly a meal I would have chosen for myself, but it’s actually pretty good! Slow roasted so really soft and moist, served with gravy. For side dishes we had potato fritters and broccoli puree.

The same cheese platter followed again today, before a huge and very delicious dessert of fruit salad, chocolate mousse and assorted petits-fours, including macarons and tarte aux pommes and éclairs. So good!

Spent the rest of the afternoon playing with the children and their new toys, before returning home NOT to eat dinner.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, I know I did!


Day 38 – Le Réveillon de Noël

A short day of classes today to prepare for Christmas! The only sad news is that it was also Margaux’s last day of classes =( We’ll miss you!!

Tonight I was fortunate enough to join Reina and her host family for dinner. One of the French Christmas traditions is Le Réveillon, traditionally a feast held after midnight mass, but now just a Christmas Eve dinner.

Ok, JUST a dinner doesn’t do it justice. We ate for hours! We started with champagne or a Kir Royale for the aperitif and foie gras and other assortments for the hors d'œuvre. We had a delcious salmon and avocado amuse bouche followed by an incredible seafood platter – with oysters, prawns, crab claws and sea snails! (Suprisingly, not all that bad. Here’s my tip – eat them with the mayonnaise that’s offered!)

Following this there was another dish of foie gras, and for the plat principal we had a traditional roast chapon – a fat, castrated chicken. It tastes better than any chicken I’ve ever had, and very very moist. This was served with green beans wrapped in ham, potatoes and hot roasted chestnuts, which I have been waiting to try.  C’était très magnifique!

But wait, there’s more. All this was followed by a cheese platter and green salad, very traditional, but salad is a little strange before dessert! Dessert was a chocolate Buche de Noël, served with champagne rosé.

So incredibly full! It was an amazing experience to be with a family for the Christmas traditions. Unlike in Australia, children don’t put sacks out for Santa’s presents – they leave their shoes under the Christmas tree! The beautiful little girl thought the more shoes, the more gifts, so brought all her shoes downstairs to set out under the tree.  In some families it’s also tradition to leave champagne, not milk, for Père Noël to drink.

They were a lovely family. Very friendly and inclusive and the children were gorgeous. The grandparents even drove me back home! And they had the most beautiful little French home, would love to life in a place like that!

And to top of a wonderful evening, it started snowing! A white Christmas indeed!!


Days 34 -37 (a week of food, but shhhh, it's Christmas time!)

Days 34 – 37

A quick update on the week that’s been…

So after stuffing ourselves for ‘Faux Noël’ the plan was to take it quietly on Monday. Then Margaux and Danielle made sushi and cheesecake. SO GOOD!

Tuesday was a quiet day, lunch and tea at the bakery before an afternoon of study.

Then there was Wednesday – two farewell parties for Lynn and Margaux. For Lynn we went to Olimpia, a little creperie for afternoon tea, followed by some shopping (Christmas gifts for ourselves, I think) and then dinner at Josephine’s for Margaux. They have the most incredible ice creams there, lots of different flavours and it’s all really good!

After dinner we went to a bar for cocktails (once again, alcohol is incredibly cheap!) before heading home.

Today we continued Christmas with the exchanging of our Secret Santa gifts. I got a wonderful little gift from Reina – some delicious chocolates from Jeff de Bruges and an electric blue nail polish!

Some little Buche de Noëls  and macarons for lunch (healthy I know) before starting a new class this afternoon. I love it! Lots of French grammar.

Tonight Wala took us to a Moroccan restaurant for dinner. AMAZING! I had a delicious chicken tajine with dates and walnuts. And I ate couscous and enjoyed it! It’s all about the sauce! After dinner we went with Margaux to the station to meet her boyfriend, before more cocktails. Another very fun evening in Vichy!

Talk soon!


Off enjoying a white Christmas! Promise updates soon!
Merry Christmas to all!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Faux Noël – an early Christmas in Vichy!

Had the most amazing day today. It was our early Christmas party – because Lynn and Margaux will be leaving us next week =(

We started the day with a trip to the Grand Marché for a degustation from one of the bakeries. Divine. The lady who owns it loves us a little (a sign we all maybe spend too much time in the bakery?) We got to try their different types of Bûche de Noël – a French Christmas cake in the shape of a log. We had caramel and chocolate and raspberry and they were divine. Will be buying them during the week for Christmas!

After grabbing the groceries needed for today’s lunch, we headed back to my place to get cooking. Today’s menu:

Appertizers: Fresh bread

Salade de Margaux (Lettuce, carrot, sweet potato and beetroot)

Salade de Reina (Lettuce, carrot, tomato, capsicum, eggs and a divine dressing)

Pâte de Lynn (Farfalle pasta with chicken, broccoli and a cream sauce)

Chocolat and framboise trifle (chocolate and raspberry trifle, with yesterdays whipped cream!)

Côtes du Rhône, 2006

It was amazing! I had such a wonderful time with wonderful friends and wonderful food. We ate for about two hours (stuffed ourselves to the point of not being able to move) and there’s still leftovers!

After all the food we sat back to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Amazing film, a little on the strange side but cant wait to see the sequels/read the books.

All in all, it has been the best weekend in France thus far!

Joyeux (faux) Noël!

Days 31 & 32 and the day when we nearly lost the bus

Gotta love Fridays. Fridays mean weekends, and no classes, and excursions and friends. And to finish off Friday, we played Taboo. In French. And I loved it hahaha.

Today we had an early start for an excursion around our region – Auvergne. It was such a beautiful day – lots of snow on the mountains and the sun shining for most of the day.

We started off in the most beautiful, TINY little village called Orcival, where we saw another cathedral (care to guess the name? That’s right, Notre Dame) and stopped at a little café for hot drinks to warm us up. It was a really small group – just 10 of us for the day.

(this is part of the little Nativity, or creche, in the church. Of the few I've seen, it seems to be tradition to recreate sights from the town and incorporate the stable and baby Jesus into it somehow, but they're very beautiful).

After Orcival we got back on the bus to head to an even smaller town called Les Arnats, for lunch at a restaurant called Auberge de l’âne – literally the inn of the ass (donkey!) and it was decorated with postcards and pictures and figurines of donkeys everywhere! But it was an excellent lunch – salad followed by Truffade (a local speciality, potatoes fried with a LOT of cheese) and for dessert crème anglais and meringue (floating islands!). It was delicious.

Our next stop was Les Mystères de Farges, four little ‘grottos’ which have been around for over 1000 years, used to ripen the cheese of the region – St Nectaire. It was a very strange experience, with projections and light shows showing history that I’m not entirely sure was linked. Then again, my French isn’t THAT good.

This is when the day got fun. We left to get on the bus only to find it was stuck and sliding in the ice. Another reason snow is not so safe. After watching the bus (we had, at this time, abandoned the driver) slide towards the edge of a hill, we decided to head back inside until help could be found. Toes were freezing, but eventually the bus was pulled to safety, and we returned home.

A quick dinner with Margaux at my place, before making dessert for tomorrow. Hand whipping cream, in a small saucepan, with a fork, was not my favourite part of the weekend thus far. I miss having decent kitchen utensils.

Miss you all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Days 26 - 28 & un rendez-vous avec Margaux

Sunday I spent the day inside attempting to fight off the early stages of a cold. Unfortunately, said cold has now set in, but I am attempting to beat it down with medication and the magic Vichy water.

On Monday I finally got around to doing the tour the uni runs for new students every Monday. This is my fourth week, but I’ve finally done it. We learnt all about the magic waters that power this place and is the reason Napoleon III loved it so much. It is also responsible for the spas and little pastilles that Vichy is known for.

Personally, I think it tasted like flat sparkling water, and I don’t really do sparkling water when it’s good. It was freezing last night so much of the tour is quite a blur, but we did see the war memorial and the river and some beautiful buildings.

Returned home for a VERY hot shower to return feeling to my toes and fingers and nose. I have been enjoying the ‘warm’ weather for the last week and was thoroughly unprepared for the return of the cold. There were little snow flurries today though, so hoping for more during the week!

Classes classes classes today. Oh, did I mention, there’s another Aussie. Invasion! Rumour has it there’s more as well.

I had a wonderful night tonight with one of the girls, Margaux. We had dinner in my apartment before heading out for crêpes. Except the crêpe shop was closed so we had ice cream instead. An excellent decision because the ice cream here is delicious! Very rich and full of flavour. Between us there was vanilla, chocolate, apple, strawberry and raspberry.

After the ice-cream we went to the cinema for the new (French) version of Rapunzel – Raiponce. It was a wonderful film (granted, I didn’t understand EVERYTHING) and any fairytale is more romantic in French.

Must go for now. Ice-skating tomorrow after class!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Days 23 - 25


A quiet few days here in Vichy. Lots of homework to do but also lots of new friends and a little bit of shopping!

A quick recap of the end of the week - Thursday night went to a karaoke bar (didn't sing, but it may be on the cards for next week!) and had a few drinks with some locals. A cocktail costs around 4 euro, which is maybe $6. I discovered a wonderful drink with vodka and vanilla syrup and lemonade. I think it's called a Daube. It's was delicious!

Friday I had lunch with one of my fellow Aussies, Margaux. We grabbed some baguettes and salad from Brioche Doree (this is how the French do fast food - a bakery!) and I helped her with her French.

Today was Denisa's last day, so we had a wonderful afternoon shopping in Vichy, before drinks and cheese at my place followed by dinner. It was 9pm by this point so dinner quickly turned into salads and wine and desserts.

My tonsils are hurting tonight. Hoping I'm not getting sick, but I'm dosing up on the Lemsip just in case!

Bonne nuit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 22 - Fête des Lumières

Weather is a little miserable here at the moment. No snow, and some drizzly rain which is honestly rather depressing hahaha. But there is good stories to tell!

Went to the Fête des Lumières in Lyon tonight.  Quite a nice night for it too, wasn’t freezing cold like last week.

As we were getting onto the bus I heard a voice say ‘Is that an Aussie accent I hear?’ Another Aussie! And that makes three hahaha. We spent the bus ride teaching some of the others some Aussie slang – Maccas (known as McDo here, how strange) and bogan, among other things.

We arrived in Lyon around 7:30pm and grabbed a quick bite for dinner before heading out to explore the sights. Fête des Lumières is a celebration of the Virgin Mary and her protection of the city. It started in 1853, when a statue of the Virgin Mary was due to be unveiled on 8 December, but due to bad weather, the official lighting of the city was postponed. The people of Lyon, however, spontaneously began putting candles in their windows to pay homage to the Virgin Mary, and so the ‘festival’ began. Still today, they residents of Lyon light their candles on December 8, and it is a really beautiful sight.

Alongside the candles, each year the city organises many landmarks to be lit up, including the Ferris wheel in Place Bellacour and the churches around the city.

Tonight we spent some time wandering the city, eating Pommes d’amour (Literally apples of love, known to us as toffee apples) and Barbapapa (fairy floss). Many many people turn out each year to see the lights, but despite the crowds it was incredibly beautiful, and in the Cathedral Saint-Jean I lit a candle for Mary. We also discovered a Christmas market (so many stalls, not enough time) where they sold these hot chocolates, you choose your type of chocolate, milk, dark or white, and your flavour, and you get a cube of chocolate on a spoon, and a cup of hot milk, and as the chocolate melts you get to enjoy a DELICIOUS hot chocolate. I had milk chocolate with caramel, and it was amazing!

A late bus ride back home puts it at around 3am now, but it was a really lovely evening with some wonderful new friends.

Bonne nuit!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 19

Day 19

Quiet day at home today. Yesterday one the bus to Lyon discovered there’s another supermarket in this small town! So went there for the grocery shopping this morning. Much bigger, and these guys even have peanut butter!

Came home to clean and study before snuggling up with a lovely scented candle and my first ever episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. I’m in love!


Oh p.s. New layout. Like?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 18 - Lyon

A ridiculously early start this morning to take the bus to Lyon. Worth it though, got to see a beautiful sunrise over the snow, it was quite incredible. Top it off with a short stop at a bakery for fresh croissants, and an early wake up call isn’t so bad.

It turned out to be a lovely day! Still beautiful snow from the past few days but the sun shone all day which was a pleasant change. Not to say it still wasn’t freezing.

We spent the morning doing a guided tour of ‘Vieux Lyon’ (Old Lyon). Which was great, except of course the tour was in French so I only understood about half the history – what I do know: Vieux Lyon is heritage listed, with most of the buildings standing from the Renaissance era. We saw churches (you can’t NOT see churches anyway) and old houses of people I’ve never heard of but are famous in French history.

We had a great lunch at a little restaurant of the ‘new’ Lyon.  I had a Lyonnaise salade (Caesar salad, minus the parmesan) followed by some sort of fish dish (I actually don’t know what it was, we had a set menu and were told to choose ‘Poisson ou boeuf’ so I chose the fish and hoped for the best). They were both delicious! For dessert was Crème Caramel, an all time favourite of mine. Lunch conversation consisted of a hybrid of English, French and Spanish. We got there in the end.

We then had the afternoon to ourselves, so I took some time to explore the rest of Lyon and then we had coffee and cake for afternoon tea (chocolat viennois is now my new favourite drink).

Slow bus ride back home, where, I am sad to report, I had a bowl of cereal for dinner.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 15 - Clermont Ferrand

Woke up to lots of snow this morning! Very very beautiful. Was in love with it until the lunch break, by which point the roads were covered in black ice and the foot paths not much better. Dangerous stuff, but holding my balance thus far.

We have Wednesday afternoons off classes to allow time for study/cultural activities/whatever. This week, after a quick lunch (waffles with banana and nutella) I took the culture option and headed to Clermont Ferrand, the capital of the region and, I believe, home of the Michelin Man (white tyre guy, remember him?)

The bus ride reunited me with the snow. Driving past fields and forests of untouched white was incredible, such amazing views.  One thing that will never seem sane though – going around a roundabout the wrong way. It’s a strange feeling.

Clermont Ferrand is bigger than Vichy, but still a small town by most standards hahaha.

We stopped at a few churches, including Notre Dame (another one, yes) and the city hall, before having some free time to explore either the Christmas market or the shopping centres. It’s been at least two weeks since the opportunity for shopping presented itself so you can guess which one I took (sadly, I came home with nothing). The stores, however, are beautifully decorated for xmas, as was the square outside, with it’s giant Christmas tree and lights that came on as we were leaving. It was very beautiful, especially with the snow.

Just to make things interesting, we lost a student. We were supposed to meet back at 5:30 for the bus, and we did, all but one. We tried calling her, but no contact for half an hour so we had to leave. A few minutes out of town and she finally returned the call, and we returned to pick up a very sheepish young lady.

Returned home to a late dinner of vegemite on toast (we all need some home comforts now and then) before a nice hot shower and hot chocolate to restore circulation to my fingers and toes. The wonderful thing about winter in Europe – it’s a good excuse for a long, hot shower. A rarity at home, and I’m savouring every minute.

P.s. I'm craving Chinese lemon chicken. Not available here. Reckon I could make some?