Sunday, September 30, 2012

Flights of Fancy

After a week of driving through southern France, my creative juices don't seem to be flowing tremendously well. So, even though I'm bursting at the seams with good photos and awesome stories, I'm going to have to confine my followers to a small taste of this week's adventures! On Friday night, we stayed inside the 1000+ year-old city of Carcassonne--one of the rare, fully intact medieval cities in western Europe. In a merely 100-year-old hotel nestled against an ancient cathedral, we spent a lovely evening in very comfortable accommodations--I think that after a week of staying in modest hotels, no expense was spared for our weekend! I think I'll let the pictures do some talking just to underscore that last point...
My fancy room
And my fancy castle chocolates and mineral water

The fancy view from my window









And the fancy view from the other window



The fancy stone staircase to our hotel wing
And the fancy wooden staircases leading to the lobby
And the fancy lobby itself!
In case you didn't notice, there was a bit of fanciness going around! Of course, just being in the city itself lead to some "fancy" of a different sort. After spending nearly an hour in a medieval weapons store (what do you expect from three boys?), we went to a place where I nearly lost my mind and bought ridiculously expensive things. What, you may ask, could possibly possess me to loosen my typically tight purse strings? Well...how about some quill pens, wax seals, and handmade journals?! Or a silly dress that I'd never wear...


Seriously...the things we do when we're wandering within castle walls... You just never know when the fancy will seize you next! Well, my friends and loyal followers, until next time! (And yes, there will be food.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Enchantée, M. Bocuse

The past several days, we've all been in a mad rush to prepare things for a two-week adventure throughout Southern France and French-speaking Switzerland. As the Roneys have been gearing up for presentations and missionary interviews, I've been madly rushing around to make sure that we have all our school supplies in as compact a form as possible (I probably broke multiple copyright laws by copying several book chapters in their entirety...). And so it was that in a frazzled state of exhaustion, we happened upon a gastronomic gem on Saturday evening.

Remember Paul Bocuse? The chef of French culinary stardom and potentially the character that Ratatouille's Gousteau was based off of? Well, he not only has a cooking school down the street from mission headquarters, but he also has several restaurants throughout Lyon--the most celebrated of which charges 230 euros a plate (and no, I didn't forget to put a comma in between the two and three). The other restaurants, fortunately, are much more reasonably priced. Since their arrival in France, the Roneys have been trying out the cuisine at L'Ouest, L'Est, and Le Sud (named after the cardinal directions), and I had actually gone with them on two occasions. But in spite of having high expectations and imagining thoroughly enjoying fine cuisine, I'd actually been fairly disappointed and started thinking that Paul Bocuse simply wasn't all he was cracked up to be. And then...we stumbled across Le Nord.

Nestled in the heart of downtown Lyon where the buildings all have more history than the entire U.S., this charming little restaurant is exactly what you'd expect French dining to be like. They seated us on a glass-covered terrace where we could see people bustling down the narrow street and where we were bathed in a golden light reflecting off the surrounding amber-colored buildings. As if the setting weren't perfect enough, the best part was yet to come!

I'm not used to ordering appetizers (called entrées in French), so I didn't even look at that part of the menu. But when I saw the waiter bring out two beautiful bowls of French onion soup for President and Sister Roney, I nearly fell off my chair with wide-eyed envy. It was beautiful! And something that I always forget to account for in France is that they don't bring out anyone's main dish until the appetizers are completely finished...I almost ate my arm in the meantime, because I was so hungry from watching them enjoy the soup. At least they let me try some of the cheese-covered amazingness!

Even though my appetite was at a fever pitch by the time my main dish arrived, it was so beautiful that I of course had to pose with it! The little tree sticking out of the top is actually a sprig of rosemary, but the rest was more than just lovely--tender, roasted pork slices nestled on a bed of caramelized vegetables. It was quite possibly the tastiest thing I've ever had in my entire life! I don't know anything about the sauce, but it could have been ambrosia for how wonderful it was! The pork was remarkably tender and the vegetables were an exquisitely flavorful accompaniment. As we drove home later, I felt like I was still floating somewhere in the ninth level of foodie paradise. Turns out Paul Bocuse really IS all that...

Let it be known that if anyone ever comes to visit me here, we will most definitely be eating at Le Nord. Unfortunately, my little bit of pork heaven is on the seasonal menu...so I guess you'd better come and visit me soon! :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Simple Pleasures

France has so many of the things I love, and today, I finally had the chance to go in search of some of my favorite simple pleasures:

Nature


Old Stuff


Nature AND Old Stuff

















Serendipitously Awesome Photos

Churches

Color




Color inside Churches













And did I mention... 
Old Stuff?





On a beautifully crisp, early fall day, I don't think I could have asked for a better birthday present! And for anyone who is wondering, I also bought myself a nice, fat pastry. :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Give Me This Mountain

 We took a weekend trip to Chamonix--the closest thing that France comes to the true paradise (i.e. Switzerland), and it occurred to me that I will forever be a mountain girl! There is something infinitely comforting to me about being near mountains, and I feel more recharged after a day and a half in the mountain air than 5 nights of good rest could possibly have done! Since I'm full of fun pictures, I'll let them do the talking this time around and keep my ramblings for another day and another topic... Enjoy!

Perfect Little Chalet
We spent the night at a large yet cozy cabin that we had all to ourselves! The running joke--related to my current quarters in the dungeon room--is that I'm always stuffed in a cabinet somewhere. Fortunately, this "cabinet" was actually really nice!

Awesomely comfy wooden chairs
Now presenting: the crazy Roney brothers!

Charming dining room!
Not ours, but it was too picturesque to miss
My "cabinet" bed
And my cupboard-under-the-stairs bathroom
















Exploring the Village

Yay for village churches!
And glacier-fed, milky rivers!
Soon-to-be-discovered cheese heaven
Feeling a bit hungry after our drive, we set out to find a good local restaurant (which isn't actually that hard in a resort city like Chamonix). As soon as I saw the word "raclette," I was sold and quickly convinced everyone that this restaurant was a must. Raclette is a cheese indigenous to Switzerland and the Haute Savoie region of France (code: we were in its birthplace). It's served melted over potatoes and dressed up with meat and baby pickles and onions! I've been dreaming about it for months...and we weren't disappointed! We also had some tasty fondue to share around--cheese heaven!
Everyone was happy to meet my favorite meal!

Mountain of Mountains

Back at the chalet, we had a small deck that afforded some amazing views of Chamonix's biggest attraction: Mont Blanc. It's name literally means "white mountain," and with the gigantic glacier creeping down its side and its perpetually snowy summit, it's not hard to imagine why! Amazingly enough, though, people have been climbing this snowy beast since 1786. For myself, I just like to look at it...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Breakthrough

Remember how I said I've had a fair amount of ups and downs since coming here? Well, it turns out that getting a master's in French teaching is a great way to prepare for teaching French, but it doesn't exactly translate (oh yes, I'm just that punny) to teaching other subjects... End result: I've got the French classes going really well, but I'm struggling to get other things off the ground. Surprisingly, though, the second easiest class to teach is actually math--a weird thing for an erstwhile English major to say!

Anyway, the hardest part about being thrown into the world of governessing is that establishing a rapport with two "tweenage" boys is not an easy task. But the other day, I had a breakthrough...

Thinking that we all needed a little more adventure in our lives, I decided that we would go for a little walk after finishing our science lesson. During my own rambles a few days before, I'd come across an interesting old house that looked abandoned and yet safe enough to explore. I hadn't been gutsy enough to get close to it by myself, though, so I decided this would be a perfect location to enlist some curious boys!

It was a beautifully overcast day, and the path around the side of the recently dubbed "haunted" house was covered in giant slugs. On a side note, I have to say that if you've only ever seen the little goobers that hang out in Utah, you have never truly seen a slug! Tiptoeing around their fat, orange bodies is an adventure in itself since most of them are as long as my hand.

As we passed an incredibly vine-covered car (which you can see peeking out of the bushes in the photo) and glanced up towards cobweb-coated windows, I started feeling increasingly tense. Here I was, just over a week out in my new job, already leading the kids astray on some potentially dangerous exploit... As we rounded the corner of the L-shaped building, we realized that the lawn had been recently mowed--perhaps even that day. Near one of the side entrances, we also saw a few pots of well-tended flowers and spotted a satellite dish jutting out of the side of the wall. That was when I really felt bad--obviously, someone actually lived in this insanely rundown place!

I suggested to the boys that we'd better head out--not wanting to be caught trespassing on someone's property--but they weren't easy to pull away. It was honestly too strange that the house was so completely dilapidated and yet still had small signs of current residents. Then, half hidden by an enormous chestnut tree, I saw a pair of legs! Being already tense and wanting to leave, I was suddenly transformed into a 12-year-old version of myself and I took off running, with the boys following close behind. When we thought we were safely away from whoever was in the yard, we suddenly heard a door opening to our left. Without even thinking, we made a mad dash away from the house and down the gravel pathway, not looking back until we were about a quarter mile away.

And that was when my adult brain returned... I was so embarrassed! It wasn't as though we were punk kids out to vandalize the place. All I had to do was apologize to whoever came out of that door and explain that we were just curious--we probably would have received some sort of explanation that would have shed light on the uninhabitable condition of the house! Fortunately, though, the boys LOVED it! They were genuinely scared and thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Three days later, they still talk about my reaction and laugh about it. And the best part of all? They were nearly angelic during their lessons today. As for me, I guess I'm starting to figure out how to gain respect from pre-teens...

France 101


Last Saturday, I woke up with the realization that I was going somewhat insane. Not having my own computer (my trusty Toshiba up and died on me on my second day here...this was, of course, after I spent two hours trying to rig up the battery charger so that it'd work...bleh), cell phone,  or decent mode of transportation, I couldn't quite handle feeling like I was on an island.  So I decided to put my legs to good use and connect myself to my surroundings!

After strolling down a lovely wooded path (and anyone who knows me well knows that I adore that sort of thing), and pondering on how much I love being in a climate that actually allows a huge variety of plants to grow wildly, I randomly stumbled across an honest-to-goodness castle!
Now, before anyone gets any ideas of princesses and gallant knights on white steeds, let's have an impromptu lesson on one of the many quirks of France and Europe in general: 

castles are often not what they seem... 

Rather than being historical shrines or royal fortifications, they can be anything from reception centers to insurance offices. I hate to kill the romance of it, but, thus it is. Be that as it may, this castle actually did prove to be a bastion of French culture in its own right! It's none other than the world renowned...Paul Bocuse cooking school! (For those who are interested, Paul Bocuse is France's most famous chef--and for a country known for its classy cooking, that is saying something!) I have to admit, I was a little disappointed to realize that it was just a cooking castle...but at least it's just around the corner from the mission home and lends a little intrigue to my life! I kinda want to go inside and plead American ignorance...

Following a walk around the castle in which I got as close as I dared (I didn't relish the thought of chef-hat toting students chasing after me with frying pans), I ventured further into the "downtown" area of our suburbanesque village. After being disappointed in finding that the village church wasn't open for visitors, I received some of my own schooling in French culture... A 20-something, embarrassingly shirtless young man spotted me and struck up a conversation from across the street. Now, for any young women who are considering travelling to France in the near future, allow me to pass along some wisdom that I momentarily forgot:

DON'T TALK TO STRANGE MEN! 

Ahem... Not to worry, though--all this creepy shirtless man wanted was to try to convince me to sit and chat with him. All the same, my over-active flight response won the day, and I ran away! (I actually have another story related to said flight response...but it's going to wait for another day.)

Although my encounter with said creepy man put a damper on my walk, I'm proud to announce that I am no longer slipping into insanity! And my sense of adventure has definitely been awakened... :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ups and Downs

At last! A new post from the other side of the Atlantic! Between jet-lagging and trying to figure out how to be a 6/7th grade teacher, things have been a bit rough. But, not to worry--the stories are already plentiful and they will be flowing regularly to your screens forthwith!

To begin with, I'd like to introduce you to my once-upon-a-time existence at the Chateau des Hautes Bruyères. Imagine a wrought-iron gate swinging back to reveal a lovely little country house nestled inside an odd collection of bamboo and sycamore trees. Plump little chickens wander around the grounds while a gigantic St. Bernard keeps half-hearted watch at the door. Up three flights of stairs is a charming, slope-ceilinged attic room, complete with sink and shower. Is this really my life? Well, yes--at least it was for my first three days! When I stumbled out of the train, bleary-eyed and exhausted from lugging around three suitcases, the Roneys whisked me away to this little bed and breakfast, situated a stone's-throw away from their home (aka the mission home). They were trying to find me an apartment, but after being told by some snooty landlord that he didn't rent to "foreigners," they opted to put me up somewhere else until they could figure out a more permanent solution. What they didn't know is that this fabulous little room was the stuff of my little-girl dreams! I always wanted an attic like this one... Unfortunately, the closets didn't contain anything more exciting than a bunch of bathrobes!

Anyway, the Roneys finally decided to situate me in a basement room at the mission home until they could convince someone that I'd be a good tenant. And so it is that I descended from the attic to the affectionately-named "dungeon room." It was something like stepping out of my dream and back into reality! Not to worry, though--aside from being rather dim and often smelling like musty water, this room isn't really so bad. I still have my own little bathroom and an army of strangely ubiquitous green chairs. (I've been attempting to put them to good use as shelves.) So, all is well! And believe me, the journey from chateau to dungeon is the least of my ups and downs from the last week... I suppose you'll have to tune in next time to find out the rest of the story! But, as a teaser, there will be a castle...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

France ≠ Paris

As I've been prepping to make my epic (in the true sense of the wordjourney to France, I've discovered that an alarming number of friends, family, and perfect strangers have the strange habit of assuming I'll be living in Paris. In fact, I can't tell you how many people have asked something along the lines of "when are you leaving for Paris?" after I've told them about my prospective adventure. Ahem...I consider it, therefore, my duty to inform you all that I will not, in fact, be living in Paris. I know what some of you may be thinking:


GASP! But I thought you said you were going to France?!

Why, yes--yes I am. However, I'm actually going to be living in Lyon. It's located in the south(ish) east of France, about two hours outside of Geneva, Switzerland. It's the second largest city in the country (although some would say that Marseille is larger) and is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. I have to mention that last part because, frankly, I'm pretty excited... :) 

The funniest thing about people thinking I'm going to Paris, however, is that the idea persists even after I tell them what city I'll be in. I'm left with the unfortunate conclusion that a sad number of Americans don't know that Paris doesn't take up the whole of  France... However, in the event that this post be construed as a "stupid American" bashing session, I have to point out that when I attempted in the past to explain to some Europeans where Utah is, I often just opted to say that it was sort-of close to California... (After which some people really did ask if I often saw movie stars in Hollywood.) Sigh. 

At any rate, I just want to let you all know that I will not, in fact, have a regular view of the Eiffel Tower. (Although its iconic nature does figure into my blog header.) Inasmuch as Paris is great and certainly is the capital of France, there are many more wonderful places to visit, and even to live, than the city of light.