Showing posts from 2010

Carcassonne I

25 August

From Bayonne, we had took a train to Toulouse, and then changed trains to arrive in Carcassonne in the heart of the Languedoc région.  The second train was not air conditioned, and the hour-long ride through the sunny South of France was uncomfortably hot - not the best of my train rides.  It was hot when we arrived in Carcassonne, too, but luckily it was a short, mostly shady walk from the train station to the hotel.  Sadly, the hotel did not have an elevator, but happily it had wifi and was climate controlled, and we took advantage of the cool for a while before deciding it was time for dinner.

Carcassonne is one of the top tourist destinations in France, attracting visitors with its well-preserved (just as Viollet-le-Duc) medieval walled city on a hill, called la Cité (literally, the city).  I'll have more on the history of la Cité in my next post, but for now I'll just say that while la Cité has about 200 residents, most of Carcassonne's inhabitants live in t…

Bayonne III

25 August

Our final morning in Bayonne.  We'll take a moment to appreciate the Adour in the early morning light:

We got so spoiled with that view.  What a perfect start to the day!

We had tickets for a train to Carcassonne later in the day, but first we had a few errands to run around town.  We had been in town three days now and had yet to purchase any chocolate or any ham - a serious oversight requiring an immediate correction.  I've mentioned the significance of chocolate in Bayonne a few times now, but I haven't really explained it.  Bayonne was actually the first city in France to start producing chocolate, way back in the 16th century when Jewish immigrants settled there and set up shop after being expelled from Portugal - but not before learning about the newly-imported New World cacao bean.  Bayonne maintains its reputation as a center of excellent chocolate to this day.

Our first stop was Rue du Port Neuf - literally, it translates as Street of the New Door, but i…


24 August

On the 24th, my mom and I took a train to Saint-Jean-de-Luz for the day.  This touristy town on the Atlantic coast had been host to a sardine festival a week before on the 14th - I would have loved to see that, but I was otherwise occupied in Gruyères staring down cows and eating fondue that day, so coming on the 24th was the next best thing.  Saint-Jean-de-Luz is just a couple of miles from the Spanish border - had I had another day in the region, I would have loved to make the trip down to Spanish Basque country... but that will have to wait for my next visit to the region.

First order of business when we arrived after our 20-minute train ride was to head to Les Halles and check out the fresh produce.

Piments d'espelette are ubiquitous in Basque country, but usually I saw them hanging to dry or powdered in jars - not still growing!  If it weren't so difficult (read: illegal) to bring plants back to the US, I would have loved to buy these.

Check it out - jambons de …

Bayonne II: Cidrerie Ttipia

23 August

A little past 7:00, my mom and I headed out to dinner at the Cidrerie Ttipia for our first big meal together in France.  I had read a number of great reviews for the restaurant, which were backed up by the colorful display of Routard recommendation stickers in the window above the door.

When we got to the restaurant around 7:30, we were told they weren't open until 8:00, so we found a pleasant bench and waited until it was time to eat.  We were already hungry, but I am so, so glad we waited - this was one of the best meals I had.

See the two chalkboards flanking the door?  That's tonight's menu.  I don't mean the specials - I mean the entire menu.  Unlike any other restaurant I visited in France (or, actually, anywhere, for that matter), the Cidrerie (which translates as cider maker or cider house) has one set menu of four items available each night.  You can order the whole menu, or just part of it - but that's all there is on offer for the evening.  So …

Bayonne I

23 August 

Our first morning in Bayonne was slow, checking email and booking hotels for Bordeaux and La Rochelle.  After three and a half weeks with no computer, it was wonderful to have a laptop with me again!  Luckily we had our great view out the hotel window over the Adour to keep us company as we did our planning:

Finally around 11 we headed out to explore Bayonne.  It's a beautiful town.  First on the list were an ATM and a post office, but we got a chance to admire the city as we ran our errands:

Finally it was really time to eat.  We stopped in a Monoprix and a boulangerie to grab some brunch:

An unusual baguette, covered in corn meal, along with a stinky sheep's milk cheese, fruit, and what we thought was a sheep yogurt but what was actually "lait empressé" - "compressed milk," whatever that means.  The texture was more crumbly than yogurt, and the flavor was very dairy with just a little sheepiness, but sweetened and with vanilla.  A strange item.

All of France in under 12 hours!

22 August

I woke up early on the 22nd - it was a huge day of travel.  I had an 8:00 am train from Dijon to Paris, where I would meet my mom, who was arriving to CDG airport around 10:00 am.  Now I know what you're thinking here.  "But Val, you never said anything about your mom coming on this trip!"  How right you are.  When my friend with whom I planned this trip backed out at the last minute, my mom offered the suggestion that she could come out and join me for a couple of weeks.  Now, I should tell you, my mother is not an impulsive person.  Deciding to come spend three weeks in Europe on just a couple of weeks notice was a huge decision.  But it worked out, and I'm so glad that it did!

Even if my mom hadn't been flying into Paris today, I would have passed through the city because I had planned to take the train from Dijon to Bayonne which, if you look at a map of France, happen to be at opposite ends of the country - so the easiest route was to…

Dijon II

21 August 

After a slow morning in the hotel room getting ready, I headed out around 10 am to begin my second and final day in Dijon.  It was Saturday, which means everyone and their brother heads to the markets.  The main market in Dijon is les Halles, and after having visited a number of cities where I hadn't seen any market to speak of (Strasbourg and Colmar, I'm looking at you), I was excited to find the Halles of Dijon were an excellent spot for my favorite French pastime, soaking in the sights and smells and sounds of a market.

Many of the Halles that I visited around France were impressive structures, and the Dijon Halles were no exception.  The building was designed by a man born in Dijon, maybe you've heard of him - Gustav Eiffel?

Within les Halles were rows upon rows of vendors selling fruits and vegetables, breads and pastries, cheeses and dairy products, fish and shellfish, fresh meats and charcuterie, herbs and spices, even prepared dishes: so much to feast yo…