Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tromping Through Traboules

I also got excited about this
seriously awesome pic...

For anyone who might be wondering, I most definitely did not mean to say "troubles" in my title...just thought I'd clear up the mere idea that I would allow a spelling error to creep into my beloved blog!! Perish the thought... ;)  However, I most definitely did get excited about the unintended pun... But...I digress without even having begun!

Each traboule had a lovely courtyard
hidden in its center
I decided to mix things up a bit today and take the boys on a morning field trip to the old city. I recently learned that there are hundreds of small passageways (known as "traboules") that pass through apartment buildings, connecting the narrow streets together. When I further learned that some of these passageways are said to have been constructed as early as the 4th century, visiting them was a done deal! Who doesn't like a little ancient history mixed with mystery?! So, here are some pics of our morning adventure in which we navigated narrow openings, crept behind 500 year-old doors, and even clambered our way up a medieval sewage system...
Remember how I love staircases?!
Medieval sewage = open sewage...and it
oddly still smelled that way...
Oh...the color!!!
Can't you tell how much fun we all had?! :)

I guess this all just makes reason number 759 of why I love being in France...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Once Upon a Week

You know that uncanny feeling that time either flies away or drags on relentlessly? Well, I'm not really a fan--and this week was one of those weeks where time would either skip around or stand still. In the end, however, I find myself staring back at a full week in which I didn't write a blessed thing! GASP!! Ultimately, it was a week full of both normalcy and odd emotional roller coasters--which is to say, life went on as usual! Nonetheless, here are some highlights:

Circus à la française
Would you believe that in all my 28 years I've never been to the circus?! Shocking, I know--but the problem was nicely remedied last Monday night! You may be thinking that all French circuses are reminiscent of the Cirque du Soleil, but not only is that "cirque" Canadian, but it also turns out that French circuses are exactly what you'd expect from the real mccoy: a devilishly handsome MC introduced us to smelly elephants, sleepy tigers, death-defying acrobats, adorable dogs, and...English-speaking clowns... Well...maybe that last one is different from what you'd look for--we couldn't decide if they were making a comment on English speakers or not... Either way, it was a fantastic experience! Oh--and they even had insane motorcyclists riding around in a huge metal sphere! Definitely a night to remember...especially that MC...who couldn't have been over 30...hmmm...

Missionary Work
It's been over 5 years since I got back from my own missionary service in this very same part of the world--but you know what? It turns out that I still love street contacting and tracting... :) I had the chance to go out twice with the sister missionaries this week, and in addition to the much-needed girl talk they provided, I had a fantastic time! I honestly felt like I was playing too much and started to feel a little guilty...HA!

You may be thinking to yourself, "but was there good food this week?" Why yes...yes there was! We stopped in at the amazingly classic Entrecôte where they serve only one thing: rib steak with fries and a mysteriously wonderful sauce... And what could be so wonderful about mystery sauce? Hmmm...butter, dill, and a little bit of amazingness! This place always has a line of people waiting to get in when the doors swing open at 7:15--and after tasting the solitary dish for myself, I don't wonder why.

In addition to these fun little tidbits, I also started a cooking class with the boys and got to play with their adorable little nieces who were here visiting this week! Sigh...I hope I have a house full of girls someday... It was nice to have Sleeping Beauty playing in the background rather than dodging the usual shenanigans... But...more on all of that next time! :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Field Trippin' Revisited

I'm discovering that one of the hardest things about maintaining a regular blog is that I often have more stories and photos than time to compile them. As a result, I find myself getting around to putting up some things over a week after they happened--at least that's how it is in this case. Sadly, this leads to distinctly less-appealing stories--something like eating a baguette the day after you buy it: all you do is crack your teeth on its crusty sides and wish that you'd finished it off the day before. So I'm going to do my best to revive these stale-bread stories with some lovely pictures and pinch of lively wit! (Would you expect anything less...?!)

Adventures in Aix
To make up for a surplus of fun the previous week, I had intended to spend the entire morning and afternoon in Aix (pronounced like the letter "x") hitting the books and catching up on missed school assignments. Unfortunately, we are somewhat dependent on the internet and it just so happened to not be working at the Aix chapel. But, not to worry--Poppins to the rescue! I was fortunate enough to happen upon a local who told me we could access the internet at the office of tourism--we simply had to figure out how to get there! So, a few bus passes and quick "please-don't-let-us-get-lost" prayers later, we found ourselves holding school in the middle of the city! This of course necessitated a little post-study exploration...and being at the tourism office was a great place to figure out what Aix-en-Provence had to offer! Apparently, it's quite famous for its fountains. Take a look at the following for proof:
Pretty impressive, eh? Well, this beautiful creature was located squarely (roundly?) in the middle of a busy roundabout, but we nonetheless wanted to get closer to inspect it thoroughly! Oddly, the instant we stepped near it after risking life and limb to cross the street, it shut off and left us with a mere trickle as opposed to its previous splendor...
And would you believe that it immediately turned back on again as soon as we dodged another stream of cars to regain the main pedestrian path?! Unbelievable...But, not to be deterred, we pulled out our recently acquired tourist map to locate the next fountain in our brief tour! However...the other "fountains" ranged from 1-foot water gurgles to moss-covered rocks with slight trickles. failed us... But at least I got one of my signature narrow street pics at the end! The bells in the Spanish-looking tower were even ringing at the time. If only pictures had sound attached to those crazy moving pictures you sometimes see... ;)

At Home in Geneva
For those of you who don't yet know it, I'm absolutely obsessed with Switzerland. The instant we drive across the border between France and my home-away-from-home, I can honestly feel the difference--it's almost like I get a sort of life force from being there! So, spending a day running around one of my favorite Swiss cities was a definite treat! (Not to mention the fact that one of my best friends, Nathalie Tschumi, came with!) The academic portion of our field trip involved locating as many coats of arms as possible (related to a lesson from that day) and alerting each other slug-bug style. Geneva has more coats of arms throughout the city than the U.S. has flags on the fourth of July, I quickly decided to abolish the game to avoid having bruises all over my upper arms... And the boys just amused themselves by playing chess instead!

We then headed over to the lake to enjoy the incomparable Jet d'Eau. It's actually just a spurt of water that constantly shoots 450 feet into the air, but somehow, it's still extremely cool--especially since you can walk all the way down its jetty and get absolutely drenched in the process... Yup--it was an awesome day for all of us! (And check out that blue sky! Must have been because Switzerland is another name for paradise...)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Imagine an island where each town is separated from the other by enormous mountains and where the largest cities are bordered by the Mediterranean on one side and steep cliffs on the other. After driving up and then down a narrow mountain road after sunset, all the while wondering how large the drop-off must be on either side of the car, we finally snaked our way down towards a small cluster of lights which we hoped was our intended destination: Saint Florent. The road signs all posted city names in French and Corsican, but years of cultural repression prompted locals to black out some of the French on the signs. Result: in a car full of people who don't know a word of Corsican--a language much more reminiscent of Italian than anything else--we weren't exactly sure where we were going!

After a few phone calls, we fortunately found ourselves at our hotel and officially stepped across the boundary between normal life and an old-world paradise. I started to feel like I was on a honeymoon without a honey... :) In case you haven't noticed, I thoroughly enjoy showing off our hotel accommodations, so here's a peek at my rooms (yes, the word is intentionally plural).
The most important part
of the bathroom
Living Room
That night, I couldn't see beyond the inky blackness of my own balcony, but I had a feeling that an incredible view would show itself after sunrise. After enjoying a warm bath in my jetted tub, I slipped outside and listened to the sea softly splashing against what I assumed were rocky shores. The pool below was lit with alternating colors; turquoise, purple, pale green. It was mesmerizing. unfortunately wound me up so much that I could hardly sleep!

The next morning, I wasn't disappointed--refer to the following for clarification...

It's not much in terms of a panoramic photo, but I think you get the idea. This was my view as I ate breakfast which they delivered at a pre-determined hour to my balcony.
I think that in order to fully appreciate what this was like for me, you have to understand that I've generally been accustomed to a rather modest lifestyle. Decadently munching on French pastries while I watch the sun rise over the Mediterranean is not something that happens to me on a regular basis! While I definitely can't compare my life to that of Jane Eyre while at Lowood School, I still couldn't help thinking that she might have experienced similar feelings to mine if Rochester had finally taken her to that white-washed villa...

But, tranquilly eating breakfast is not the only lot in a school teacher's life! After a hurried morning lesson, we set off to re-conquer the mountain roads (and the view during the daytime was every bit as dizzying as I thought it might be) in order to get to the main city of Bastia. Unfortunately, that's when I realized that my camera battery was rapidly approaching its demise... So, I had to content myself with a few hasty photos of narrow roads and interesting staircases (which I admittedly am a little obsessed with). Just another incredibly awesome day in my super crazy life!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Field Trippin' Part 1

I confess: I'm tired today. We're heading to Corsica tomorrow (definitely the topic of a forthcoming post!), so I kept school going until 4:00 in order to make up for the prospective lost time the next few days. End result? This post is going to be carried by the pictures rather than the stories! But, as promised, I wanted to give you a taste of our field trip adventures the last two weeks.

Bordeaux the Beautiful
For our first travelling day, I went for a more educational route and took the boys to a history museum--they amused themselves by snapping pictures for a scavenger hunt while I just marveled at how awesome the museum design was!

Fabulous ancient statues
Rose Window Frame from Abbey Ruins

Even the boys were pretty impressed by the rose window--it was hidden around a corner, so when we came around, there it stood--at least 50 feet tall and all lit up. It made for a great precursor to our next visit at a nearby cathedral!
Free-standing Bell Tower
The Nave and Organ

I of course snapped a picture of the organ--a tribute to my dear friend Becca and a distinct reminder of the Salt Lake Tabernacle! But the best part about this cathedral was the creepy, slightly possessed-looking statues outside the front door...

I don't believe I've ever seen such alien-like personages attached to a cathedral...but it made for a fun teaching moment! :) 

Fun in Toulouse
The next day, I decided to take the boys for an adventure they still talk about! It had nothing to do with local history or old buildings (more's the pity...), therefore--they loved it! ;) What, you may ask, could it possibly have been?! Well, none other than the local SPACE CITY!!
They were mostly ecstatic to see NASA
But life-size rockets are also fantastic!
And of course there was moonwalking...
Which I also enjoyed!
They even had fun with the kiddie playground!
And we wound up with a new addition
to the family... :)

But personally, I think the best part was watching them be weathermen
and playing with the super awesome vortex dealio...

Relaxing in Montpellier
The next day in Montpellier, we just hung out and had school. I found a nifty roundabout during lunch break that was more like a park than a center of circulating cars, so we transferred the classroom post haste! Chilling in the trees is always a good idea following a week of travel...

And what happened next? Well...we drove to a weekend adventure in castleland! (Please refer to Flights of Fancy for all fascinating details...) As for week 2, patience will prove to be a virtue...tune in next time! :)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Grindstone

The picture for this post has nothing to do with anything, but...this is going to be a bit matter-of-fact and therefore needed some loveliness! Having almost fully recovered from our travelling spree, I again take up my enlighten you all on the wonderful world of governessing! There seems to be an idea that I've been playing more than working, so, just to clear things up a bit, I thought I'd give you a basic rundown of our Tuesday through Friday schedule during travel time:

5:30--I get my friendly wake-up call from the reception desk (I still don't have a phone)
5:45-6:30--I begin prepping lessons for the day
6:30-7:15--I prep myself for the day and re-pack my suitcase
7:15-7:50-ish--I finish prepping lessons for the day
8:00-8:30--breakfast at the hotel (in which I always eat lots of cheese and croissants)
8:30--we all drive to the church
9:00-10:00--I set up everything for school in whatever classroom I can find, hunt for chalk, make sure I can connect to the internet (which isn't always the case), and double check my lesson plans
10:00-12:30--school time!
12:30-1:30--lunch time!
1:30-4:30--either more school or a field trip
4:30-5:30--I get some peace and quiet in a secluded corner somewhere
6:00-8:00--we head on the road again to the next city in the tour
8:00-10:00--dinner in the new city
10:30-hotel check-in

And then I do the same thing the next day, starting out in one city and ending in another one. Yes, that does only equal six hours of sleep each night. BUT--I usually make it pretty well! The evening schedule varies a bit, depending on how long President Roney takes with interviews and how far away the next city is. Sometimes, we eat dinner before leaving--although that just means we get to our hotel even later. Our record for late check-in was 12:30. Sigh... Of course, I couldn't possibly overlook the magical hours between 1:30 and 4:30 in which the fun really does occur! Field trips = the best part of my job. :) More on that next time!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Garden of Gastronomic Delights

No blog about France would be complete without regular posts related to the wonderful world of food, and as we've been travelling throughout France and Switzerland the past couple of weeks, we've had our fair share of interesting edible adventures! First, after a long day of interviewing in beautiful Bordeaux, President Roney decided that he wanted to treat us all to something a little fancier and promptly took us to one of the classiest hotels in the city. It was a rainy evening, and the valet greeted us with two umbrellas--just enough for the ladies. I felt a little like royalty as Sister Roney and I were shielded during our dash into the building. This was only a small precursor to the fanciest dining experience I've ever had! Unfortunately, I carelessly left my camera sitting in the car, so I wasn't able to capture the work of art that was my food: magret de canard with a carrot and mustard purée swooping around it. And the taste?! Oh là là...don't even get me started! If you've never had duck, let's just say I'd highly recommend trying it at the Brasserie l'Europe.

The next evening, we found ourselves in ultra-modern Montpellier and decided to step in to a chain restaurant: Hippopotamus. They serve burgers (made with cow meat--not hippopotamus) and some standard French food, but I just ordered a simple chicken caesar salad. The real adventure of the evening, however, began when London--my youngest pupil--challenged one of the missionaries to order the weirdest thing on the menu. And of course, nothing is quite as strange as tartare... For those of you who have never heard of tartare before, please refer to the picture on the right...

Yes--that IS raw ground beef topped with a raw egg yolk! They brought it to him on a cutting board along with pickles and a white sauce--the origin of tartar sauce--with the idea that you're supposed to mix the whole thing together before eating it.  Of course, London was only too happy to watch poor Elder Gubbay mix up his poison but was definitely not willing to try any of it! When the meat surgery was complete, we all held our breath as the elder took the first bite...and he didn't die!! :) He generously offered some to the rest of us, and after his companion took some and also lived through it, I actually decided to give it a whirl myself... Well, friends, I have to say--it wasn't horrible...but it definitely wasn't good! It tasted like...pickles...and the sauce he'd mixed in... But the kicker was the texture: mushy, cold, and pretty much exactly like you'd expect raw meatloaf to feel in your mouth. Bleh. Much like eating escargot, I'd say only eat that one if you want to brag to your friends that you did it!

I was much more fortunate in the next city: Carcassonne. I'm a big fan of trying regional dishes, and the specialty of the area was a piping hot bowl of cassoulet. It's basically a homey stew with white beans, duck, and sausage. They brought it out in a lovely terra cotta bowl that kept it blazing hot through the whole evening and they proudly dished it out for me onto a plate, explaining each aspect of the stew. The French are extremely proud of their regional meals, and this one sincerely got a general stamp of approval! Besides, after forays into raw meat, we were all happy to see something a bit more normal.

And how have we finished our two weeks of touring? In terms of food, we somehow wound up back in the states by stopping in at Buffalo Grill--a ridiculously barnlike restaurant topped with gigantic, white buffalo horns. Our placemats were covered with pictures of cowboys and random redrocks from Southern Utah, and as for the menu...well, let's just say it was a fun visit to the European idea of American West cooking! (The chili was...bland...but the ribs were at least pretty good!) In the end, however, the food was not as fun as seeing all the boys act like...well...boys. (For anyone who wonders, these were their best mean indian chief faces...) Definitely a sign that we've all been having a ridiculous amount of fun!