last day in france…

31/3/2008

today was our last full day in france and we decided to take a day trip to marseille… too bad the beautiful weather went on vacation and left us with downpour. the metro from the train station came out right in front of the water. we just missed the fresh seafood market so we walked along the old port. the boats were incredible! there were hundreds of them!

we ate lunch at a cafe right on the water, starting with an assortment of fresh oysters, clams, shrimp, and muscles. i had grilled dorade and dad had a seafood pasta. both were outstanding! we did a little “shopping” then headed back for the train station.

everything worked out perfectly. we packed up our bags back at the hotel and then went on a search for dinner around 8:30. we found the opera cafe which was coincedentally enough, right across the street from the theater.

dinner was unbelievable. first they had more servers than all of the paris cafes combined, which means service was pretty good. we started out with aperatifs – dad had whisky and i had a kir. of course when the meal came dad and i did sharesies. i ordered duck which also came with a great side of squash and a delicious risotto. dad had a ground lamb with herbs that was wrapped like an eggroll. we decided these two dishes were in our top three, along with the beef bourguignon we had in beaune – for me this is a big deal because between lunch and dinner everyday for a month, i ate a lot of different meals. for dessert i ordered the opera cup which had ice cream, coffee flavored rum, nutella, nougat, and whipped cream. it was pretty intense!

tomorrow we have an early train to paris and we’ll be cutting it close to get to the airport!

passport weekend in avignon…

30/3/2008

today was one of my favorite days this entire trip! we went to the rhone exaltation which is like passport weekend in avignon but better! imagine hundreds of wineries in one central location – the popes palace! to guide us through the lists of whites, roses, and reds were the vintners themselves along with some of the world’s greatest sommeliers. even better was the fact that most of them spoke english and the tickets were only 20 euros!

dad went to church in the morning then we headed to the wine spectacular where we tasted wine after wine for over 2 hours. in the afternoon we watched chef demonstrations and were able to taste the delicious dishes when they were done, which was good because at the point i needed some food! we had little meatballs, a tomato and eggplant puree topped with cream, a cheese biscuit on a stick, and then a cone stuffed with a guacamole sauce and topped with baby shrimp.

after the demonstration we had more wine… chocolate… shortbread cookies… then we had a 12 person private seating with a local chef who had paired 4 wines and 4 dishes. he was trying to emphasize the way the wines could complement the spices in his dishes: foie gras with pepper, curry lamb, a spicy tomato sauce, and tuna laid on a piece of bread with a red pepper spread. since he explained everything in french i asked him to talk to dad in english afterwards.

we went back to the wine bar – notice a trend? and when we got there two of the people pouring say “oh it’s you again… which one do you want to try now?” and dad says “when they know you at the wine bar in a foreign country that’s gotta mean something!” if dad is saying that to me then it’s really gotta mean something!

for dinner we ate at the place recommended by another guy at the hotel, who is coincedentally from bastrop! he answered a lot of dads questions about france’s tax system – which is very strange by the way.

i ate an entree that was a crumble with chevre and zucchini, and dad had some kind of pig’s pie. then for our main courses i had an eggplant/beef dish with tomato sauce and cheese, which was delicious. dad had lamb with a side of potatoes au gratin. i thought about getting a crepe on the way home, but this was the first day this past week i haven’t been stuffed since we just snacked all afternoon instead of having a real meal. tomorrow we’ll take a day trip to marseille then it’s back to the states!

not everything is a tortilla…

29/3/2008

dad and i ate breakfast this morning at the hotel, which was your typical french breakfast, but probably the best one i’ve had. the morning was spent at les halles market. this place is like central market, fiesta in its prime, and 6th street rolled into one… and on crack. there were meat sections galore, seafood that i had never heard of, fruits, veggies, every possible kind of pre-made side salad – pasta, potato varieties, and other things i wasn’t sure of – and then of course there were pastries, desserts, chocolates, and we can not forget the little bars and cafe stands throughout where you could get your normal coffees and teas, but they were also better stocked than specs!

we watched a demonstration by a local chef who prepared lamb and stuffed tomatoes. it was really interesting to watch and we even got to taste it at the end! they gave us the recipes and this really cute old lady tried to make sure i understood it, of course she was explaining in french and i had to have her write the words down that i didn’t understand because i’ve never studied cooking vocab in depth!

we wanted to have lunch at uncle ron’s suggested restaurant but realized it wasn’t actually in avignon, we had no car rental, and therefore no way to actually get there other than a taxi, which dad is not very fond of. so we headed to the office of tourism to buy tickets we decided to go to the rhone exaltation which is like a wine fair going on this weekend at the palais des papes and l’espace jeanne laurent nearby.

after a picnic lunch in the park, and almost being attacked numerous times by pigeons, we took a rest in the hotel room. michael told us we could have our room for two more nights and we decided to stay here until we go back to the states.

we spent the afternoon following rick’s guided walk through the old city – place d’horloge, palais des papes, petite palais, jardin des doms, and pont st-benezit. the view from the garden was gorgeous and we saw the riverfront restaurant across the way that we had chosen for dinner.

making our way down the hill, we got “lucky” to make the last ferryboat across the river. when we actually got to the restaurant we realized they weren’t open until april. we decided not to wait 3 days and made the 25 minute walk back into town, stopping for a drink in place d’horloge before eating at a seafood/steakhouse suggested by michael. it was good, not great, but the 2nd rick steves’ recommendation was booked until later in the night and we were hungry after our hike.

dad still hadn’t had a crepe yet so after dinner it of course became our mission to find a crepe stand still open. we also stopped at a late-night (it was about 8:45) grocery store and had 15 minutes to get some wine before they closed.

dad was amazed that they make the crepes fresh. he thought that is was like a tortilla that they warmed up! he seems to think everything is a tortilla actually… back at the hotel we watched cnn world while i caught up on postcards. tonight is daylight savings time so we spring forward. i’m actually ready to come home now. if i wasn’t moving around every few days maybe i’d want to stay longer, but one month has been the perfect amount of time!