Bon Fêtes from France!
We celebrated a Joyeaux Noel in the South of France with baked Salmon and plenty of mulled wine. On Christmas morning we ate french toast, or pan pardu in French, which literally means “lost toast.” We stocked up on bread before just so we could lose it to a delicious breakfast, but we need not have worried since the Bakery was open Christmas morning, after all. After breakfast we exchanged gifts, mostly small easily packed items or consumables we could enjoy before the big move.
Our time is running short in France, and we are not ready for our big move to Edinburgh just yet, so in the meantime we are looking forward to ringing in the New Year before heading off to Ireland for the next couple of months. As we are preparing to leave France we are getting a little bit sentimental. Here are a few of our favorite things:
Things We Loved:
Wonderful and Affordable Wine
We had a bottle of wine with dinner almost every night. Out of a hundred or so different labels we probably tried, we only found one or two that weren’t really our speed.
While olive oil soaps (Savon de Marseille) available all over the markets were nice, our favorite was this apricot kernel and Argan oil soap we picked up from a bio-shop with the most delicate scent. It had the softest suds and left our skin feeling just as nice as apricot blossoms.
Speaking of soft, one benefit we noticed leaving California for France was more frequent good hair days. At first Valerie thought it was the new shampoo, but I noticed the effect too with my same old shampoo brought out from the States.
Wrought Iron balustrades and shutters in muted colors like sage and blue-gray. Stonework everywhere, and weathered painted wood. The average home in France is certainly easy on the eyes.
French grocery stores are my happy place. Some of them are a bit smelly (I blame the well-stocked fromage and charcuterie counters), but gourmet ingredients are as everyday in France as Kraft Mac N Cheese in the US. We have kept our budget under control by eating in for most meals, but our occasional meals out at the French restaurants have been outstanding, as well.
Tree Lined Avenues
Thanks to good old Napoleon many streets in France are lined with mature sycamores or other great avenue trees. It is a nice feature when you run across it on stretches of minor highway, and in the cities there are often benches underneath on pedestrian paths.
In California we were used to some really great farmer’s markets, but the offerings were a bit more diverse in France. We still are unsure what to do with black radish, and the bananas were not local, but the cheeses and pots and piles of fascinating foods was worth dragging ourselves out on a Saturday morning.
Christmas Season in France
In Avignon the Christmas Market was bustling, and a vendor was selling roasted chestnuts. We had coffee and dessert looking out on the busy street and picked up some great gifts before meandering back to the car as the christmas lights came on in arches over the roadway. It wasn’t quite the same as the Edinburgh Christmas Market (more on that later), but it was a lovely place to spend the holidays.
We wandered into this museum featuring history of the area from the Cruzy region from the paleolithic to the 1900s. A kind gentleman who volunteers there gave us an in-depth tour in English. It was one of the highlights of our time in the village. He also told us about winemaking (he is also a vintner) and gave us a tip for our New Year’s toast to find Blanquette de Limoux, a regional sparkling wine cheaper and better than Champagne, he said.
While France was lovely and we can’t wait to go back (there is a whole list of other regions we have left unexplored), not everything about France was chocolate and champagne.
We also had a few dislikes…
Things We Didn't Like
Seriously. It is everywhere. It seems so cliche, but so many French have little dogs and they do not clean up after them like we are used to in the States. So, watch your step.
Isis threats have caused us to be more vigilant. We didn’t let it keep us from seeing places, but we were more observant and cautious.
My rudimentary skills speaking in French helped warm people up, but not everyone in our group felt as welcome in France. I chalk some of it up to cultural differences, but as a Frenchman told Scott, “Don’t worry, the French don’t even like themselves.”
A few things in France also left us kind of puzzled and amused:
Things that made us go ... Huh??
The French Cappucino
No foamy milk here, just espresso with whipped cream out of a can on top. Which, when spiked with a shot of Grand Marnier (like Marie Theresa style in Vienna), it is a lovely treat, but still not a cappuccino. Sorry France, it just isn’t it.
Graphic Tees all in English
I guess this isn’t that hard to understand. The graphic tees in America are often in French. But still, so much for finding a cute graphic tee en Francais as a souvenir.
Pizza on Tortillas
Okay, the French are known for their food, but they really need to just leave pizza alone. Some nights it was the quickest option when we were out too late to cook, but it got to a point where I refused to eat any more pizza in France. Just not worth it.
The American Section
In the grocery stores in France there were sections labeled American but full of British foods or things I’ve never even heard of like a strange brand of hot chocolate in a can, complete with attached sterno to heat it. Along the same lines, the Mexican food section was populated entirely of Old El Paso. A less authentic Mexican food may not exist. Missing a bit of the real deal available back in the States.
Overall our time in France was inspiring, though it went by in such a blur. Between sorting out group living and the long acclamation from jet-lag, it went by so quickly. Join as as we start the New Year over in Ireland. Bonne Année and Au Revior for now, Ma Belle Francais!