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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm Californian French! (Bus Adventures)

Est-ce que c'est bien le bus pour Bellecour? The little old lady asked me, curiousity on her face.  I tried to explain back that yes, it would go to the center which was indeed Bellecour.

She stared at me behind her large black sunglasses and said, "Anglaise?" I smiled, used to this question and shook my head, "Non, Américaine!".

She paused, I thought perhaps I used too much gusto in the American statement and waited for her to respond. She threw her hands up smiling, "I'm American!... well French Californian!" as if California were it's own country.  Her strong French accent led me to believe she was instead a crazy old French lady who was mocking me.

I nodded and said, "that's nice" and was ready to turn to stare at the seat in front of me... except she continued.

Not only did she continue, she talked all the way to Bellecour.

"I moved to California in 1959, can you imagine?  I lived there 50 years and had this... how do you say... urge to move back and see Lyon.  I am so disappointed with Lyon, it was nothing as I remember.  The city has gotten dirty, the people are mean.  I love Americans!  I think younger French want to go to America... and I understand why."

I nodded and agreed, it was true, French culture was a shock to me... but I love Lyon equally as I do my own city in Oregon.  I asked her where she lived in California;

"Well, I don't want to BRAG or anything, but I lived in Beverly Hills... I'm no millionaire but I do have money for an old woman.  I had a great life there, Beverly Hills was so wonderful... you know I never took the bus in LA, I drove everywhere... I had this lovely big car.  I married a man from IOWA, can you believe it, an Iowan.  It was fabulous my life in California... my family.  Now be honest, you hate France don't you?  I can see it in your eyes!  It's okay to admit it, I hate it here too.  See?  Now Americans are all afraid to say what they think until they realize I understand!"

I just nodded, in a way I didn't like Lyon but in a huge way I did. Our bus got to our stop and she stopped talking, looked over and said, "Well dear, that's our stop.. nice talking to you," and she blows an air kiss and steps off the bus.  No exchange

She was probably around 70 years old, visiting her home town... disappointed and feeling betrayed as if she left a dream and came back to nothing.

Adventures in public transportation are so interesting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Culture Shock: The Dreaded Prefecture

It's 5:30 in the morning, I glance at my iPhone clock not registering that I'm supposed to be up in a matter of minutes. I decide to quiet the alarm, just to close my eyes for a few more minutes. Silence. The alarm blasts, 6:15 in the morning. I'm exhausted and there's a pit in my stomach I know I have to head down to the prefecture in 20 or so minutes. Last time I was too late, I arrived only 1 hour early and the line was shocking. I cried because they turned me down at the door, telling me il n'y a plus des tickets pour les étudiants.

This time I was prepared, I packed a book, a sitting towel, if needed some water and pims. I thought about the 2 hour wait as I gulped down my cereal without tasting it- stones in milk really. Sustenance.  I kept thinking about all the times I've had to wait, at airports, in line, hoping it won't be too horrendous.

I decide to avoid the bus. I grab, magically, the only bike available on my street. As if something, somewhere was giving me a karmic break. As I bike I feel the stone grow heavy, doubts creep into my mind: what if there are even more people waiting? What if I'm too late again? What if i'm aggressed while waiting? What if I have to pee?

I park my bike and stride to my destination, there are already 20 or so people lined up, either sitting or pressed against the wall. I pull into the line, spread my blue towel on the dirt ground and take my place.  I look curiously around at the crowd, mostly a mix of Chinese students prolonging their visas and asile or 'asylum' internationals looking to stay under the safety of France.  We are all miserable, exhausted and bored.

Tell me, how is it such an organized country like France can be so underdeveloped in regards to their visa visitors.  No reservations ahead of time, wait in line and fight for a place. Those that come in late somehow get a place in the front, most likely greasing some people who camp out over night. It's truly a gamble- how late can I be until ts too late? One time I was able to get there at 8am and served by 12... It's a variable situation with no alternative. Students, victims of other countries and other such issues are dealt with in one understaffed building in the 3ème arrondissement in Lyon. If the tickets run out you won't be served that day no matter how long you wait.
It's already 28 degrees, I'm thankful they open at 9am. I literally feel the humanity peeling off as I tense up and glare at those passing in front of me.

Finally 9am rolls around, I stand, stretching the stifness out of my legs.  The door is having issues, we are blocked outside for antoher 20 minutes.

Inside, I don't get served until 11:00 am.  Bri brings me a chilled mocha, I drink at it dazed, exhausted.  By the time I leave it has been 4.5 hours since I arrived in the line.

It was one of the worst experiences. Ever.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

World Different part 2: The Real Gastronomy Capital

I didn't believe the waiter when he told us the list of food that was available on the menu, and moreso the fact that it was only 15€ for the appetizer, main dish and dessert as well as wine (unlimited), entrance salad and toast combo with fresh charcuterie.

I remember coming home last Friday and dreading the reading on the scale.  The 128.5 flashed and burned into my brain and I thought, where did I gain 3 lbs from in 2 weeks? Looking back at this restaurant the answer became depressingly clear.

He listed off the names of the items in rolling Spanish, myself only listening for the things I really wanted to order. Rrsshh blaah blaahhh, rlshshh, blah, Gazpacho, sshhh.

"Gazpacho por favor".

Now onto main dish,

Psshh, rrrssiii, possifh, bacalao con all i oli...

"Bacalao para mi".


One thinks that because a menu is a mere 15€, the quality would be moderate.  The gazpacho arrived, a giant bowl, placed at my fingers.  I took one bite and was in heaven.  How could this little local spot have such amazing food for so cheap?  Well, it wasn't on the sea, it was mostly a spot for locals of Alcossebre and they reflected the prices that local people could pay.

With every course I ate, every fresh seafood product, each paella I chowed down and tapas that I exploded in my belly... I decided that Spain, especially the Catalunyan Region, should be the gastronomic capital of the world.  How could it not?

There are pork legs dried and strung everywhere in every corner of the streets, the paella has this soft subtly and a hint of saffron.

Seafood is captured fresh each day by local fisherman and delivered, hand delivered to the local restaurants.

There are scams, don't get me wrong, there were restaurants we visited where we were disgusted at the price... but when the delights were found it was 10x better than my favorite Lyonnaise restaurants.

The tapas.. how can something as simple as a grilled piece of toast with some smeared on tomatoes and garlic taste as fabulous as it did?

They don't do cheese well, but the one cheese they have mastered is by far the best- Queso Manchego.  Creamy in texture, deep in flavor, it melts in the mouth and offers a beautiful taste of a local product.

I remember that although the Paella Marisco was to die for, I was perfectly happy eating toasts with local charcuterie, queso manchego and chilled rosado wines.

This sparkly bubbly wine was a treat at the Con Paixano, pictured left, where we gorged on sandwiches, bubbly and queso manchego.  I think that was 1 lb there.

How is it all so amazing and yet so un 'haute cuisine' like in France? Simply put, the products.  Spain has the most incredible products, you can't drink the water from the faucet, granted, but those tomatoes made me drool.  They had chips that were fried in Olive Oil giving them this taste that I'd never had before- so much I smuggled a bag in my backpack to France.

I think next time I'll shoot to gain 5 lbs.  We only live once- right?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

World Different part 1: Barcelona (Can Paixano)

My trip to Spain was a selection of different experiences that would take too many words to detail; instead I will be writing a series of my favorite memories in order to high light the adventure in Spain, now, first of Can Paixano:

It was a warm day when Bri and I packed our bags to head to Barcelona.  Not a typical vacation, we left to partake on a shared apartment with his parents and brother.  The first stop, however, in order to avoid traffic and given there was no place in the car, was to go to Barcelona via EasyJet (for only 80 round trip!).

It was surprisingly simple, we packed our bags a week in advance, we boarded with no problems and we landed in sunny Barcelona at about 12pm the 6th.  Strapped with just our overnight clothes we made our way to the center using their AeroBus system and popped off to purchase some metro passes.

We already knew what we wanted to see, it wasn't the hovering tower nor the fantastic church.  A friend of mine once gave me the name and address to a secretive local tapas bar, supposedly known to have the cheapest cava and the best tapas.  Of course, true gastronomes, we decided that to be our first destination.

The city is not easy to figure out, even lined with a GPS we got lost several times, we finally walked the 2 miles to get to the sea and hung a left straight to the tapas bar.  Can Paixano is a hidden spot located off a dingy street near the port.  The bar is stand up only, and elbows are needed in order to get something to eat.  The air conditioning rambles away in the background as the local clientale (mostly construction workers) are screaming out, "HOLA! EY HOLA!" to get the attention of the bar guy.  We got lucky and found ourselves a spot at the bar, and quickly ordered a bottle of the Cava Rosat for 5€, and an array of charcuteries and sandwiches.  If you are faint of the heart or slightly OCD, this place is not for you.  The trash can is the floor, once a sandwich is finished the thin paper gets tossed to the ground.  The kitchen is open plan, so the workers are constantly trudging around in old leftovers, the sandwiches made with no gloves.  Who said hygiene equals good food any way?

Halfway through our Rosat, we snapped a picture trying to eternalize the emotion or the sentiment surrounding the bar.  Our little glass of Rosat, our cheap bottle, the action... unfortunately we were too involved in enjoying to even snap the photo.

Bri waves over the barman, another cava, on our second bottle we are feeling Spanish.  The people surrounding us are only speaking in that beautiful lispy language, cheering each other, demanding more food.  Bri turns to a group of local construction workers and begins a conversation in his Fringspanol.  They cheer, pour more cava into our cups, order the local specialty in charcuterie and invite us to go dancing.  They smile and introduce themselves, call me muy guapa and continue the festivities.

It's finally 4pm when we wander out of the Can Paixano.  Where were we?  Suddenly we are feeling the heat of Barcelona and the effects of 2 bottles of Cava wine.  We decide best action is to go to the sea, in our underwear.

Which is exactly what Bri does, wandering off into the sea, smiling and overjoyed at the previous 2 hours we just spend gorging ourselves and welcoming ourselves to Spain.  The sea was warm, that gentle mediterranean sea that floats around you.  No one took notice that Bri was in underwear, nor that we were intoxicated and full.

It's decided, we will come back tonight and show his parents the magic.  Except, hours later, when we return it's a different world.  Suddenly all the locals are gone and are replaced with a myriad of tourists getting drunk and not eating.  The air conditioner has started leaking and the parents are extremely disappointed.  We realized that the Can Paixano, like a manic depressive relative, has decided to show a darker and unpleasant side.  At day, a local eatery known for high quality and good company, at night, tourists taking advantage of pricing and getting drunk before 10pm.

We head off to our hotel, deflated but yet satiated from the whole day and prepare for our next departure.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back from Barcelona

Nothing makes you appreciate home more than being away for two weeks in a foreign land.  Of course, that foreign land made it easier with a fountain of mojitos, a sunny sea side apartment and mountains of Paella.

Tomorrow:  A full wrap up of the adventure.

Suffice to say I am sure I'm 3 shades darker, 5 lbs heavier and relaxed beyond belief.

Now I come back to the buzz, it's la rentrée and in one week life will be pounding with life in Lyon.

Tomorrow I will detail, for now I must refill my empty fridge, air out my stuffy apartment and digest 2 weeks of vacation.

A demain!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Marché des Animaux: Place Carnot

Oh my goodness, by surfing about the net I came across some information that absolutely tickles my fancy- a live animal market in the center of the city!!

Place Carnot hosts a weekly market specialized in domestic pets every Sunday from 8h to 12h.  This is going to have to be a place I must visit.  Marchés in France are often streeets lined with cars or table tops and covered in product, I can only imagine a city block filled with cute kittens (why must you be allergic Bri, why!?) and puppies.  A Google Search of marché des chiens turned up photos of cooked up dogs in public markets in the East- somehow not exactly what I was looking for.

I just had no idea that there was a special marché dedicated to the cute baby animals that I haven't seen in ages!  I don't even know where to find a Pet Store in Lyon!

A search on the Bibliothèque de Lyon however turned up some photos from the turn of the century, where the marché was still active!

*note: there are also several more old photos of interest on this site. If you ever have a minute to scan through.

I've thought about getting a bunny, but I actually like rabbit meat so I think it's be strange to keep an animal I tend to eat.  Hamsters and rats are overdone, I've had like 5 in my life, plus Bri thinks keeping small rodent type animals is just plain wrong.

I guess it's just gonna have to wait a few years until we have a big enough house for a dog!

All the same.  Place Carnot, Sundays from 8am to 12pm?  I am so there.

Keep posted for one final post before I head off for vacation- then I'll be trying to post while in Spain... although that tends to be a feat in it's own.  Tapas, sangria, cava... ohh yeah.

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