dimanche 12 mai 2013

Glass-drop man

There is a litany of conspiracy theories and monster quests in the world: Bigfoot, Slender Man, Aliens.... I propose to you now that there is a man who drives around France and walks into restaurants to throw one glass on the ground. 

I developed this theory because I cannot go to any city for more than 24 hours without hearing a glass fall and break. It adds a kind of trademark to French restaurants, and has become a running joke between Anna and I. I do not know whether it's only one man or an entire glass slinging syndicate, but he/they are everywhere.

From now on, know that if you walk past a French restaurant and you hear the shattering of a glass, that the Glass Breaking culprit is hard at work.

samedi 11 mai 2013

Strasbourg, terra non patria

In the département of Alsace is the fascinating city of Strasbourg, a city without two countries. All of the signs are in French and German, and everyone there speaks at minimum those two languages, usually in addition to English. The city is most famous for the island of "Petite France," a UNESCO-protected site in the Ill River. Petite France is a conglomeration of medieval-style houses in Strasbourg where you can find the best Alsacien and French food in the city. 

In our time in the city we took two trips to the massive cathédrale made out of pink sandstone. The object of my quest in the cathedral was a huge solar clock that has been in more or less continuous function since the 16th century. It is a huge clock that keeps track of the trajectory of the planets along with the time and date. 

Strasbourgeoise culture is often said to be a mixture of French and German, but I saw a lot of pieces indicative of Swiss culture, as well. For example, Alsace is the département that exports the most chocolate in France, and the traditional garb of Alsace is very German-Swiss.

The biggest time to go to Strasbourg is during Christmas/Nöel/Weihnacht. There is a huge festival celebrating the holiday, and it has the added advantage of being very near the best slopes in France for snow sports.

As far as cuisine, Strasbourg has a taste all its own. Alsace is the production center for a few different kinds of wine, mainly Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Edelswicker. These are all white wines, and none are a blended variety as we had come to know them from Bordeaux. 

Riesling is one of the sweetest white wines you can find, which makes it perfect for a specialty of the region, Coq au Riesling, or cooked rooster in Riesling gravy. The other major dish to try in Strasbourg is Choucroute alsacienne, or Alsace Sauerkraut. It includes traditionally three or four types of sausage.

A few other types of dishes are native to Alsace. In true Strasbourg fashion, one is know by both its French and German name, and you'll see it advertised as one or the other depending on the part of town you are in: flammeküche or tarte flambée. The easiest way to explain this dish is a sort of pizza without marinara, and usually a very specific selection of one or two specific traditional toppings including lardons, or chopped up, fatty bacon. Baeckeoffe is a kind of roast stew with carrots, potatoes, and white wine. 

In all, Strasbourg is a fascinating city with a melangée culture and Franco-German styling. We had a lot of fun, and the Strasbourgeoise were very nice.

Bier, Wurst, und Sauerkraut!

Last night, we ate at a beer hall in Frankfurt. The most impressive meal I have ever eaten in Germany was also one of the least expensive. I had house beer and Anna had the house Reisling. We split a plate of ox sausage, house-made sauerkraut, and beer bread. In total, our meal cost 17€, which
Is what our lunch cost each.

On Thursday when we arrived, we happened upon a festival in the old town center. They sold brats on buns with Dijon and beer. Twice this week, we have eaten meals that cost less than 5€, and they have been outstanding both times.

That's not to say that when we did shell out for food that it wasn't great. Here, we had lunch at a restaurant near the old town center. I had frankfurter schnitzel, which is scalloped veal with Grüne Soße, a Frankfurt specialty that consists of a mixture of seven herbs with yogurt and butter. Anna had a dish that consisted of four eggs and some potatoes with Grüne Sauce. Both were exemplary, and Grüne Soße is very good.

Sorry for the late blog post updates, but we have finally finished our classes, so maybe we can get back on track. We have to catch you up on Berlin, London, Verdun, Bordeaux, Provence... We have a lot, actually. Anyway, I'll catch you next time! 

jeudi 14 mars 2013

Un histoire de Londres

First of all, yes. London is everything you've heard about it. It's expensive. It's very expensive. It's hideously expensive. It's [adverb here] expensive.

The "Tube" or subway on the first day cost us 6£ for a one-way trip. (For the uninitiated, 6£ is roughly equivalent to $9.) Westminster Abbey (which is a church, by the way, which we have never before been charged to go into) was 15£ (as a student). The Tower of London? Also 15£.

That being said, I can't say that I had the worst time ever in London. We got to stay with a friend of ours, and we did get to see and do a few fun things. My favorite thing that we did in London was the Jack the Ripper walking tour (see the earlier post). Anna really enjoyed going to the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221 Baker Street.

Frankly, the period that we are interested in came much, MUCH later than the history we were presented with in London. My one caveat to this would be from the Jack the Ripper tour. We stood at a wall near the old city center that was built in 800 AD/CE/Year of our Lord/Year before L. Ron Hubbard/whatever. C'est-a-dire, it's really old.

We also went to see a Wicked in the West End. If you like the Wizard of Oz and you're able to see it, do. If you like "The Wonderful World of Oz," go see it. If you don't like either one... Still go see it. Anna is not a fan of either, and she loved the show.

After Wicked, we went to a bar called "The Elusive Camel." It was rather empty and it was being ran that night by a nice young bartender. We were sitting around having drinks when suddenly, Anna sees a mouse. We informed the manager, and he said, in essence, “What can you do about them? Name it, I suppose.” Our choice at this point was either to scream and run away or stay, have another drink, and name the mouse. We named him Harry. (Yes, after Prince Harry. We figured, ya know, the one that hangs out in bars.)

There were several more things that we did in London, though we found Berlin to be much more college-student-traveller friendly, but that is another story for another time.

But soft! The food is the subject at hand. Food in London is famously... Uh... Food. Kind of, you know, the laughingstock of Europe. Boiled beef and such.

I find this analysis to be oversimplifying matters. Breakfast in London is wonderful. Scones are fantastic things, especially with clotted cream and some jam. If you don't know what clotted cream is, don't look it up. You won't like what you see, especially concerning the fat content. All you need to know is that it's delicious.

Pies. Can't really speak very well on this one, because I didn't actually have the famous English pie. (Anna ordered a steak and ale pie. She says it was dry.) I had famous English roast instead. Neither were as good as we had envisioned, but then again, pub food is pub food.

Tea time happened at a ritzy hotel called the Grosvenor. It was wonderful. That is all.

Burgers... Yeah, I said burgers. We had really good yuppie kind of burgers that we had in the first floor of the Doubletree near Tower Hill. They were very artistic, in that they had a multicultural, imperial feel about them. There were all kinds of different flavors on them. They were also delicious.

At the end of the day, London was a long trip with a few expenses and a lot of fun. However, for a traveller on a budget, I would suggest steering clear of the touristy places.

mercredi 6 mars 2013

La Moulin Rouge

In case anyone hasn't noticed....we're horrendously behind in our blogging. Sorry everyone! Life intervenes, ya know?

We're going to begin our posts about our travels, and I'm kicking it off with Paris (because Paris is always a good idea). Specifically, the Moulin Rouge.

omgomgomgomg! The Moulin Rouge! It's one of my favorite movies of all time. I felt like it was absolutely necessary that I see a show there. The little Red Windmill? Every bit as glamorous as you could imagine. It's just remarkable when lit up at night.

Our attire was evening wear, and our story starts with an accident...

I got our tickets for the evening because the tickets were very expensive (it's one of the greatest shows on Earth, and you're going to pay for it). Justin reimbursed me for the tickets by paying for lodging during most of our trip. My original intention with the tickets was that we would share half a bottle of champagne. So obviously I got my ticket and Justin's ticket with half a bottle (blah blah everyone laugh now). So...yes...we ended up with a whole bottle of champagne for the evening (well, this was for Valentine's Day).

So...on with the show! We sat at a table with a swedish fellow and his japanese girlfriend, and, I suspect, an Italian couple who spoke very good English.

For anyone who doesn't know, the Moulin Rouge is a caberet show. It's a mix of entertainment with singing, dancing, comedians, gymnists, and so much in between. It's what the vegas shows aspire to be.

hey...hey...you in the back. I see you giggling. Yes, the female dancers are topless. Everyone giggle and snort now. k? out of your system? good! It is VERY tastefully done, and, in all honesty, several of my teachers here in France have shown commercials, music videos, clips from television shows, all with women nude from the waist up, casually in class. It's France. Boobs are nothing special here. So, if this bothers you, please keep your prudishness to yourself.

Now, we've cleared the air (or made it more awkward, whatever floats your boat). The Moulin Rouge is most famous for being the home of the Can-Can. Yes, THE Can-Can dance was born in the Moulin Rouge, and no one can dance it as well as the dancers there.

The show opened with dance numbers, and moved on to a male gymnist exhibiting the most amazing feats of strength and balance that I have ever seen. It was mindblowing!

The comedian was last, and probably because the crowd needed the champagne to appreciate his humor. Lol, he actually was very funny.

The show was wonderful, intimate, and everything I dreamed it would be. I think my jaw remained permanently dropped the whole time. After the show, we totally crashed. We didn't get out of the show until 2am.

The Moulin Rouge was on my list of things I MUST do in Paris, and I was not let down at all, and I think it was worth every dime. I will say, you must have an appreciation for what the Moulin Rouge is in order to truly get your money's worth. Curious spectators, stay away. Hardcare fans, definitely catch the show!

mercredi 27 février 2013

In defense of Starbucks

I sit writing this in Starbucks as we wait for our tour to begin. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a coffee snob. A big coffee snob. I debate the virtues of drip coffee verses a French press and the myriad of other coffee brewing options. I have been known to spend the same amount as my weekly grocery bill on the best quality coffee I can find. I really love coffee.

Also, you know that I hate Starbucks. I hate them for driving smaller, better, local coffee shops out of business. People flock to Starbucks because they know Starbucks, and I'm sorry Starbucks, but your coffee sucks. Like, a lot. It's pretty bad.

But Starbucks deserves a defense...why am I sitting in Starbucks in Germany?

Free wifi

Clean bathrooms

As a traveler, I have discovered that Starbucks is incredibly useful. In large cities, there's always one on nearly every corner. If we get lost, we pop in the nearest Starbucks, get a little wifi, find where we're going, and regroup. I usually am able to use a clean bathroom as well. I'm also terrified of public restrooms. Eww. They just gross me out.

I have rarely found a gross bathroom in a Starbucks.

As a traveler, I have found Starbucks to be a lifesaver several times. Do I still judge people for making Starbucks their go to coffee shop in their hometowns? Yea, a little. Starbucks should exist for the person passing through, who isn't familiar with the area. If you live in a town, do a little work and find a local coffee shop. Leave Starbucks for the travelers.

Do I buy things here? Yes, but rarely coffee. In London, I had a raging chai latte habit. In Berlin, it's hazelnut hot chocolate. I never buy things in Paris. Yes, I blatantly go in and steal wifi (they're stealing business from the numerous cafes, so all's fair).

Also, Starbucks makes an attempt to be culturally relevant. In France, their menu is heavy with traditional French food and drinks. The same applies to London (porridge anyone?) and Berlin. Some things are standard (cheesecake), but there is always a nod towards the culture.

My recommendation: Actively seek out another option, but I know how difficult it is to find free wifi in Europe. Starbucks should never be your go to coffee shop for your hometown. MS people, actively seek out another option. In Hattiesburg, there's The Depot and T-Bones. Jackson? I know for fact that Cups is all over the Jackson area.

Leave Starbucks for the tourists.

mardi 26 février 2013

En Avance des Photos - IMPORTANT

Ok, so I'm about to post some pictures. You should REALLY appreciate these pictures. They're from the top of the Berliner Dom. Why should you appreciate these pictures with every ounce of love in your heart? Because it was expensive to take them? No. Because I did something illegal to get them? Not as far as I know.

Here's why:

For the uninitiated, the Berliner Dom is a huge Cathedral right on the River Spree in Berlin. The top of said cathedral provides a panoramic view of the entire city from more or less the city center. Therefore, a wonderful place to take pictures from vis-à-vis Sacré-Cœur in Paris.

To reach the top of the dome, you must climb stairs. Unlike Sacré-Cœur, however, these stairs are not stone steps. They are grated metal steps... On the way up. The way down is another story, which I will cover later. You can see exactly how thin the stairs are because they are not built in a spiral formation like the cathedrals in France. Moreover, the grates allow you to see allllllllll the way down.

When you get to the top of said stairs, it is rather disappointing. You can only look out windows, and you can't get a good panorama of the city. However, after about 15 minutes of walking, you reach the "walkway on the dome." I'm thinking solid, stone or concrete footing. Instead, creaky, frightening, bone creaking metal grating. It's cold, and I held on to the rail a lot. I only went to the edge to take pictures and take in the scenery.

The way down started with wooden stairs. This solved the "I can see how far I will tumble to my death" problem, but it created a mind-bogglingly frightening creak if you stepped on them too hard. Eventually we reached the bottom, and I was never more satisfied to be down from a place than this afternoon.

THIS is why you should appreciate the pictures I'm about to post.