A Travellerspoint blog

Victory is a delicious thing!!!

Winding down a semester, and getting ready for an awesome Christmas!

semi-overcast 8 °C

A big part of the Christmas tradition in France, and throughout Europe, is local Christmas Markets (I’ve already posted a little bit about the one here in Besançon). Last weekend, the international group organized a trip to Lyon to see the market and famous Christmas light display. Nicolle and I both really wanted to go, but managed to both miss the sign-up deadline. Then we discovered that train tickets were ridiculously cheap over the weekend (16€), so we were going to try to do it on our own. Luckily, we searched for lodging ahead of time, because we found that there was literally NOTHING available that wasn’t a luxury hotel! So then we thought we’d try something else – remember La Petite Adresse? (If not, see Post 13 – French Down, German to Go! before continuing...)

It wasn’t but Friday, and we had no real plans for the weekend, so Nicolle (very bravely) called to see about a reservation. Because, as we all know, those are very important… After an interesting one-sided phone call from my perspective (the answer to the question “Do you have any open tables over the weekend?” apparently warranted a really long and convoluted answer, and the proprietor of this restaurant speaks with a very strong regional accent that can be difficult to understand…), we had a reservation for lunch the next day! The reservation had been made for three, because the initial attempt had been with our friend Jie. Luckily she was able to join us, so it worked out perfectly!

Apparently lunch is a bit less intense, because only four of the six tables were full… We had the choice between a couple of different menus (a very typical dining option here, consisting of a light appetizer (called the entrée, which kind of threw me off the first time…and which is often salad and bread), followed by the plat (the American "entrée"…), and finished off by a dessert. Generally, if you order a menu, the entrée is fixed, and you have the choice between a few different plats and desserts, and it’s cheaper than if you were to order all three individually. There was a special menu of the day and a few fixed ones. There were also a few individual specialty plats that came alone. But who would do that?!

We all ordered menus, so we were soon presented with a giant salad, a whole baguette, and a huge terrine, which is a pâté baked in a casserole dish and rechilled. It wasn’t too appetizing looking, but my, was it good with the baguette! Rich, a little salty, and with a hint of something great that I don’t know how to describe – way more interesting than the lump of crusty brown mush appeared at first glance! Next came the plats; I had ordered the Morbiflette (a very regional specialty that features morteau (more-toe, Ben) sausage and morbier (more-bee-ay) cheese, baked in with potatoes, onions, crème fraiche, and white wine). It came in an enormous individual casserole dish that was obviously straight out of the oven and it was oh, so so incredible. I have found that a lot of the regional foods here are quite basic (many are essentially different variations of potatoes, cheese, and meat), but the flavors of the different unique meats and cheeses are just so powerful and unique that everything is interesting and delicious. After knocking that dish back, I was already ready to not eat for three whole days, but we still had dessert to come! Luckily the dessert du jour was a small and simple (but awesome) crème brûlée. The perfect touch to finish off a fantastic meal. Final verdict: Definitely worth the awkward first attempt and following anticipation, and probably better than anything we would have seen/done/eaten in Lyon!


Getting back to Christmas, I have been surprised (and pleased) to discover that, despite the fact that Christmas decorations get busted out in November, the Christmas music does not. But now that we’re less than two weeks out, I’m starting to wonder…and hope that it happens soon! The closest thing to “Christmas music” I have heard was WHAM’s “Last Christmas” in the grocery store. Sorry Eva, but I refuse to count that. Also, this “winter” weather is messing with me a bit – there hasn’t been even a hint of snow, and I’ve only woken up to one morning of frost. In general, it feels like early April in Nebraska; often not freezing but chilly enough to warrant a coat and scarf, and a fairly regular cold rain.

A few days last week, I had the time to walk to class (it takes about an hour). Every time, I have – intentionally – taken at least one different turn. It’s unbelievable, but I have still managed to find multiple streets between campus and downtown that I had not seen before. I have discovered a Portuguese grocery store, a pet shop, a thrift store, some really interesting houses, and one incredible little passageway of apartment building entrances where every wall surface is covered with different artwork. (Luckily, I was early that day, so I had plenty of time to stop and admire!) Besançon has an impressive collection of street art, and I have found multiple works that are obviously by the same artist (I’ve discovered that she’s a Spanish artist called Hyuro, who apparently has murals all over the world), which I find super interesting.

Here is the muraled passageway:

And the Hyuro works (the stairs and landscape are both a few blocks from the alley pictured above, and I pass the wolves and women every day on the bus to downtown :

Yesterday, I hunted down my first French éclair. As many of you know, I am a sucker for anything coffee, so when I saw the words “éclair” and “café” on the same label, my decision was made quite easily. I had heard, but forgotten, that French éclairs tend to also be filled with whatever the exterior flavor is. So I was expecting coffee flavored icing and vanilla crème, but was pleasantly surprised to discover thick, rich espresso-y custard inside, which created a sweet, flaky little coffee-bomb!


I have one more week of classes to go – this semester has gone by so quickly, but looking back, I cannot believe all that has happened in the past three and a half months! I have a little bit more end-of-the-semester work; one more exam and a solo presentation for my oral expression class (ten whole minutes of talking about a controversial subject of choice…). At the beginning of the semester, this would have been pretty close to impossible. Even though the idea still makes me a little panicky (I hate delivering any kind of presentation, regardless of the language) it does feel kind of awesome to know that, in principle, it is something that I am capable of.

In other news, I will be meeting up with Eva (and probably squealing like a toddler) in 11 days!

Posted by NKammerer 02:52 Archived in France Tagged art food restaurant school christmas mural pastry kammerer_sisters_unite la_petite_adresse morbiflette éclair Comments (8)

International Thanksgiving and more!

This was a pretty darn unforgettable weekend…

overcast 3 °C

Obviously, last week was Thanksgiving in the US (I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend and was able to spend some time with family!). I have always loved Thanksgiving for precisely that reason – it’s a day where time seems to stop and you can just relax in the company of family that you don’t get to see nearly often enough. And then there’s the food, too…

Needless to say, the idea of not being in Sioux City for the Thanksgiving gathering this year made me a little sad. Nicolle felt the same way, so we invited our core class at the CLA, along with Gabrielle and Claudia, over to campus for a little soirée. In Nicolle’s building, there is this nice little kitchen with a social space and a big table (one of the incredibly few gathering places on campus – it’s a little strange). So Nicolle checked out the key for Thursday night. (After visiting three different buildings and always getting sent to another office.)

So, right after class, we rushed back to campus and got to work. I also had to do laundry, because I had had one of those panic moments that morning when you realize just how few clean clothes you have left… So I threw in a load, packed up the toaster oven (that little guy has paid for himself tenfold!) and ran over to Nicolle’s building on the other side of campus. We also needed a big knife (which neither of us had) for some heavy duty chopping, so we walked over to Gabrielle’s. Then walked back in the twilight with a huge chopping knife in my hand (She had prudently wrapped the blade in a paper towel, but it still felt a little bizarre…). Nicolle got started on her family’s stuffing recipe while I ran back for the laundry, then back to keep cooking. I made some corn seasoned with pepper and thyme and spinach-garlic mashed potatoes. And we totally had a Kammerer moment when, at the last minute, Nicolle realized that we had forgotten the gravy! So that got whipped up quickly… Between running between our buildings, up and down the four flights of stairs between Nicolle’s room and the kitchen, and to the other side of campus a couple of times to meet people at a bus stop, we were pretty hungry. Luckily, there was plenty of food.

We had asked everyone to try to bring a little something to contribute to the meal, and we ended up with a fantastic mix of absolutely delicious foods from each country represented (the US, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Chile). Along with our stuffing, corn, potatoes, cold turkey sandwiches, and raw fennel (a palate-cleansing tradition in Nicolle’s family), we had Korean chop suey, Taiwanese egg and tomato rice, Chinese vermicelli, rice dumplings, and a couple of chicken dishes. We also had a (Canadian) apple pie and tiramisu (both homemade), and some wine. And a keg.

It ended up being a four-hour gathering, and it was so fun to share such a familiar tradition with a new group (only four of us – the Americans and Canadian – had had Thanksgiving before). It might not have been like any other Thanksgiving I’ve ever enjoyed, but in its own way, I think it was perhaps the most authentic. I am so incredibly grateful for my experiences these past months, but I am far more grateful for all of the friends that I have made, who have made it all the more fun, educational, and interesting.


Then, in true Natalie fashion, I was able to get a precious few hours of sleep before I was up at 5am to catch a train! This time, the destination was Thonon-les-Bains, a beautiful little spa town on the other side of Lake Léman. (It’s really close to Geneva, as well as another little town called Evian-les-Bains, which is where Evian bottled water comes from.) I got there at about noon, after two train switches.

Train side notes: The last train I took was to Paris, almost a month and a half ago. This time, I understood every word that was announced over the intercoms. It’s much less scary that way – I remember the panicky feeling I had after every incomprehensible announcement on that first ride from Paris to Besançon. Victory! Also, a bizarre thing that I have noticed: I have now taken 9 trains in France, and been asked for my ticket only four of those times. It almost makes me wonder how many of the people sitting around me actually bought tickets! But I understand that the fine for getting caught ticketless is pretty substantial…

Anyways, I spent a of couple hours exploring the charming downtown area of Thonon, where I found the typical tons of restaurants, bakeries, and tourist shops, but also a few interesting little specialty shops, including the first real vintage thrift store I have found in France (one of my weaknesses)! The architecture throughout the neighborhood was beautiful and very French.


I also found a little church – La Basilique Saint-François-de-Sales (Basilica of Saint Francis of the Dirty…), which was very interesting! It was built in the late 19th century in the Neogothic style. I assume that it has just undergone some renovations, because the interior was absolutely spotless, and there were construction nets throughout the entire space. It was bizarre, though, because the walls were decorated with murals by a painter named Maurice Denis, and the whole thing reminded me of a cross between the Neogothic church that it was and a 1930s WPA project…


But the real reason for my trip to Thonon came later in the afternoon. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a friend informing me that Expanded Eye, a British couple/design team who makes some of the most incredible tattoos I have ever seen, were closing their French doors at the end of November. (http://expanded-eye.blogspot.fr/) They have a really cool business model: potential clients send in a personal statement, story, or inspiration and desired body placement. If your story is interesting/inspiring, you get an appointment. If it’s not, you don’t. Then they spend a few days working on the design together, you show up, they walk you through the design and the ideas behind it, and you get tattooed! It is very much of the school of thought that a tattoo is a piece of unique artwork executed by an artist using the skin as a canvas. It’s an interesting merging of the very personal experiences of the wearer and its visual interpretation by someone else.

So, on a whim I sort word-barfed out the background of my year in France and what it has meant to me so far, as well as some of my feelings about art/expression and sent it off. Later that same day, I got a response that they were “very intrigued by my story and would be happy to illustrate it”…
So that’s why I was in Thonon. The shop, called Needles Side, was actually owned by Xoïl (Loïc Lavenu - http://blog.tattoodo.com/2014/05/30-abstract-photoshop-tattoos-by-xoil/ ), one of the most prominent tattoo artists in the industry, and Expanded Eye guests there a few months out of the year. So I got to meet a bunch of really cool people: Loïc, his two apprentices, two other guys who were working out of the shop, and of course, Expanded Eye (Jade and Kev). The shop closed permanently on Saturday, the next day, (I was Expanded Eye’s last Thonon appointment!) so everybody was kind of in party mode.

First, they walked me through the design, which I was instantly in love with. Then we went into the back so they could figure out the exact placement. I don’t think that I will ever forget the sound of Kev’s really high-pitched London accent saying, “Alright, you’re gonna have to drop your trousers.” The tattoo was designed for a leg, but they found that it worked really well in two different places, and they spent at least ten minutes going back and forth between the two, while I stood there pantsless and other guys came in and out of the room to carry out their own business. But they just couldn’t decide. So they took me out into the front desk area, where their five colleagues could all evaluate the options together! Fortunately, they had really good input, and everyone was happy with the final decision.

After that, all that was left was to get tattooed! It was a bit doctor’s office-y; lying on an adjustable table covered in paper and all. The whole process took about four hours, with a short break halfway through to “grab a fizzy drink” (apparently it’s important to keep sugar levels up) and waddle – still pantsless (but this time with my leg wrapped in Saran wrap) – through the shop to find the bathroom. Luckily, with the way that the room was laid out and the leg that was chosen, I was able to lie on my side and see what was going on in the shop around me. (Loïc is doing this thing right now where he does any animal in seven minutes or any portrait in fifteen minutes. So I got to see a couple of those happen – crowd, stopwatch, countdown, and all – as well as a couple of other general tattoos. And there was a steady stream of people in and out who would just pop in to say hi and see what people were up to.)

It was about 7pm by the time it was finished, and the shop had shut down around us, but everyone was still there hanging out. So we just started chatting around some beers and chips, then some pizzas got ordered. After that, they started talking about going to a bar (really the bar; there is only one that stays open late in Thonon), and I figured I’d soon be heading over to the hotel across the street. But no – they had every intention of showing me the Thonon “nightlife” (seriously, there is one bar open until 1am, then another one opens from 1-6am…). So, very long story short, we just hung out and had a great time all night until my train left at five the next morning!

I don’t know if I have ever met such personable people or such impassioned artists, and I’m so happy I got the chance to spend so much time with them. They live their art and take their jobs very seriously (and are, as a result, incredible). But at the same time, they know how to have a great time while doing it.

(Unfortunately it is a bit of an awkward angle...)

Posted by NKammerer 14:13 Archived in France Tagged food church train friends dinner cooking tattoo thanksgiving thonon-les-bains expanded_eye needles_side Comments (5)

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

Now we just need some snow and the month of December to actually start!

sunny 9 °C

Well, the Christmas season is officially in full swing here! At the beginning of November, they started setting up the Christmas market in the biggest square downtown, the Place de la Révolution. It opened this week, so of course ¬Nicolle and I had to go check it out. On Friday, we went downtown at about 6pm, which is already well past sunset (it feels like it starts getting dark around 4:30 right now, which is super bizarre on the days that I get out of class at 6:00…). The entire downtown area was lit up, with lights on trees and hanging decorations in all of the streets. I hadn’t really noticed it during the day, but each street has a different design traversing the buildings at intervals. Also, last weekend, someone went through and painted most of the shop windows with cute little winter scenes. Seriously, all that is missing is a good snow, and the centre-ville will become a place of wintery/Christmasy magic!


And the market was awesome – some booths are dedicated to generic wintery things, like hats, scarves, and sweaters. Others have decorations – tree ornaments, wreaths, etc. There are a lot of gift-oriented booths, too, with jewelry, expensive jellies, champagnes, an entire booth dedicated to foie gras in a variety of shapes, sizes, and seasonings, etc. At the back are more “concession”-style booths making paninis, sandwiches, crêpes, vats of poêlée (literally “frying pan of…” but in this case it is a very Franc-Comtois mixture of potatoes, onions, sausage, cheese, and probably some other yummy stuff all continually sautéed together in a giant “frying pan” that really looks more like a shallow horse trough, apple cider (here it has alcohol…I’m intrigued!), churros (that made me laugh), poirée (apparently a cousin of apple cider made with pears – definitely gonna have to try that, too!). But what caught our attention was the giant stand selling vin chaud (hot wine) which we had heard is a fall thing here, not unlike our cider/eggnog obsession in the US. So, of course, we both got some – Nicolle, the white “with spices”, and I the red, spiced with cinnamon. It smelled great, but was wicked hot, so we danced around blowing into our cups for a few minutes, watching all of the kids running around and being adorable (they moved a big carousel from one of the other squares into the market, as well as having some other kid-oriented booths and a man dressed up as Père Noël). Finally, it was cool enough to take a sip, and it tasted vaguely of the acid that clings in your throat after puking. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. Nicolle had a similarly negative reaction, so we exchanged sips. I’m almost sure that the white wine actually was puke-acid. It was ten times worse! But mine became delicious by comparison, so I was able to finish it with no problem…I was also helped by a shrieking child who ran into me, causing some to splash out on the street…

After the market, we headed to the other end of the centre-ville (our real motivation for going downtown was to go to a crêpe restaurant – something that had managed to escape us both over the first three months here – aside from the surprisingly delicious church basement crêpes of September, however tainted with awkward it was. See Post #9 – « Food, Churches, and Food in Churches! »). On our way, we passed by the School of Letters right as Claudia was leaving. So we sucked her in, too! The restaurant “La Boîte à Crêpes” was a cute little place that only served crêpes, but had an immense selection. I think we took about fifteen minutes to decide. I decided on the “ratatouille”, which came with cheese, bits of ratatouille (roasted veggies in a tomatoey sauce), and a fried egg on top.


For dessert – of course we ordered dessert – I got a crêpe filled with Nutella and topped with coconut shavings and a scoop of coconut ice cream. Both were wonderful!


This last week was also “Beaujolais Nouveau Day”, an interesting phenomenon that I still don’t think that I quite understand fully. Apparently, Beaujolais nouveau is a very young wine that is only fermented for a few weeks, and it is only produced once a year and all released onto the market on the same day – the third Thursday of November. So the CLA held a tasting, with the wine, some cheese, and bread. A little bizarre to go up to the cafeteria in between classes to grab a glass of wine, but I’m not going to complain! It was actually probably one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted, with a very deep fruity flavor.

My weekend was made when I received a package slip in my mailbox late on Friday afternoon. I hurried to grab a bus to the post office before they closed for the weekend, and spent the ride back to campus daydreaming about what could be in this hefty box from Sioux City, Iowa (from my grandparents). I soon discovered that it contained, along with a note saying “Here’s your Thanksgiving turkey!”, a box of Twin Bings. For those of you for whom this means nothing, Sioux City is the home of a company called Palmer Candy who, in the 1920s, invented a candy bar that is made of two balls of cherry nougat covered in a mixture of broken-up peanut pieces and chocolate.


You either love them or hate them – there really is no middle ground. I have given a few of them out to friends (partly just to see their reactions) and the general consensus is “Oh wow, the outside is delicious!” (I think that the peanut-chocolate combination is a relatively American phenomenon.) But then it quickly turns into “What the hell is this fluorescent pink stuff?! How can you call this ‘cherry’, and why would you ruin the good thing that you had going with the exterior?” More for me, I guess! (Thanks again, Muti and Pa!)

In school news, I have all of a sudden left super-chill, hardly-any-homework land. This weekend, I wrote my first legit, five-page paper in French! It definitely sucked up my whole weekend, but it feels like a pretty significant accomplishment (only slightly hampered by the fact that I know it is going to get torn apart by my professor for grammatical errors…)

Also, the other night I watched a movie called OSS 117, a spy-spoof starring Jean Dujardin (the star of The Artist and a pretty popular actor in France). It was absolutely hilarious, and I highly recommend it!

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everybody!!!

Posted by NKammerer 12:50 Archived in France Tagged thanksgiving crêpes papers marché_de_noel vin_chaud christmas_decorations beaujolais twin_bings oss_117 Comments (3)

Another good week made even better by the food that I ate...

semi-overcast 8 °C

I have had a relatively calm week (that really only means that I haven’t left Besançon – but there has been plenty to do here, too). I spent an inordinate amount of time last weekend pulling together my plans for Christmas break. Between trains, planes, and hostel reservations, there was a lot of going back and forth. But when it was done, I had coordinated a two week speed-tour of the UK and Ireland (specific destinations to be revealed at a later date…)! So, of course, that was big news during my weekly Skype date with Mom, Dad, and Eva. Then a couple of days later, I got a call from Eva, pretty much to the effect of “So, what would you think if I came over and met you in the UK, and we spent break together…?” Needless to say, we spent the next two hours giddily searching for transatlantic plane tickets on our respective computers with Skype up in the background. So in just over a month, the Kammerer sisters will be reunited, and Lucy and Ethel-type (mis)adventures will undoubtedly ensue!!!

Last week, I also started an English tutoring job that was advertised at the CLA. It turned out that my “student” is a young (but already established and quite successful) musician from the area who wants to improve his English for travel, interviews, and collaboration. The group is called Carbon Airways, and it is a brother-sister electronic duo worth checking out! They are on Youtube, iTunes, and Spotify!

Friday night, Nicolle and I went downtown for an international music/dance concert. But first, we went to check out the restaurant that had been recommended to us by the man at La Petite Adresse. This restaurant (only slightly bigger, but equally charming – a very friendly owner/maître d’/chef, and perhaps seven or eight tables) was called Le 100 Patates and serves only enormous gourmet baked potatoes. Deciding which one to get was an incredibly hard decision, and I will most definitely be going back to check out some of the other choices. I ordered La Tartiflette (based on a traditional dish with the same name from the Savoie region), which had lardons (bacon in little thin strips), onion, Reblochon cheese (Ben, that's "re-blow-shon"), and crème fraiche. It was so delicious, and SO much food!!!


After dinner, we waddled down the street to the university café where the concert was held. We got to watch traditional and pop performers from Taiwan, Russia, Ukraine, Algeria, France, Spain, Italy, and some other countries that I have forgotten… It was very cool – all of the performances were fun and interesting, but a couple were really incredible. A girl (I think that she was from Ukraine) sang three a cappella folk songs (in Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian) which were just breathtaking. There was also a duo (a guitarist from Algeria and a guy (I missed what country he was from) who played a kora that he had made himself) that was also pretty impressive.

This past Saturday was an ESN field trip to a local chocolaterie called Le Criollo. We got to watch a little bit of their fabrication process, and then taste some really delicious and unique chocolates. One, called “La Croquine Comtoise” (my favorite) was a little ball with a thin shell of dark chocolate and a liquidy center of praline magic. The only bad part is that you had to pop it all in your mouth at once because the center would pour out all over you if you tried to savor it and take small bites. Another, “Le Doubs Frisson” (The Doubs Shiver), was also dark chocolate on the outside with a thicker praline center, and the addition of cardamom, pepper, and ginger for a super fresh, almost spicy taste. The last one “La Faïencine” had the same spiced praline center, but a white chocolate exterior topped with an edible decoration giving it the appearance of a faience glaze. Not my favorite, but still pretty yummy!

From: http://www.lecriollo.com/

After those chocolate samples, our appetites had been awakened, so we went over to Gabrielle’s room, where we made some traditional ramen that her parents had sent over recently. It also came in a pouch like the ramen in the US, but the noodles were a bit different, and the flavor was entirely different – the one we made was a just red chili base, and she added garlic, onion, and mushrooms. The perfect way to warm up (and clear out the nasal passages) on a chilly day!


Later that night, the four of us went to the art cinema because it is currently showing a Korean film called A Girl at my Door. It was a very interesting (and sometimes pretty heavy) modern story about all kinds of social and personal issues (physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, alcoholism, homophobia, etc.). But I think that it was well done and worth a watch!


In other news, I am continuing on my confiture and cheese exploratory mission. I recently bought a confiture de châtaignes (chestnut!), which is all right, but generally just a sugary spread with a bit of nut flavor. It’s pretty good on a toasted baguette dipped in coffee… Also delicious on a baguette – or a little slice by itself – is Coulommiers (again, Ben, "coo-low-mee-air"), a soft aged cheese very similar to brie, but with a slightly nuttier flavor.


For those of you in the Omaha area, happy first snow!!! I am a little jealous (but really only a little)…

Posted by NKammerer 11:59 Archived in France Tagged chocolate concert cinema cheese ramen tutoring christmas_break kammerer_sisters_unite carbon_airways le_100_patates tartiflette le_criollo confiture Comments (3)

French Down, German to Go!

I may be getting the hang of the French thing, but there is no denying the fact that I would not fare well on my own in Germany...

rain 10 °C

Ooof ! Brace yourselves – this is gonna be a long one! I apologize that it has been so long since my last post, but I’ve been really busy over the past two weeks searching desperately for something exciting enough to write about…

Starting back where my last post left off – the week after Fall Break, we had our first serious presentations in my oral expression class. I worked in a group with Nicolle (my American friend) and Jie, a friend from China who is in a few of my classes, and, as per the assignment, we researched the developing issue of environmental refugees and the problems that this poses for urban housing in the future. It was a fairly long presentation – about ten minutes – and it went really well. We had minimal critiques on vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, and the Q & A section was a really good exchange! So of course this merited a celebration – we decided to go out for dinner together the next night.

After checking out some online sources, we decided on a place called “La Petite Adresse”, which was reported to be a charming little place specializing in Franc-Comtois cuisine. Multiple reviews made it clear that reservations are crucial, so Nicolle and I figured we’d drop by earlier in the day to see if we could still get a table for that night. We walked in to find a TINY little place with six tables, the largest of which sat four. It was super charming (and smelled absolutely incredible). Nicolle asked the man behind the teeny bar (I think he was the maître d’, owner, and chef) if we could make a reservation, and he said (we remain relatively certain that this is a faithful translation) : “No reservations, I only do ‘première-deuxième service’.” We were a little surprised, but we thanked him and left. In the street, we turned to each other and asked at the same time, “What’s ‘première-deuxième service’?!” We tried to look it up, but couldn’t find anything. So that afternoon I asked a French friend if he could shed some light. He explained to me that, in tiny restaurants like this, it is not uncommon for the meals to be scheduled into time slots (“services”) that allow for the entire clientele to turn over at the same time once or twice in a night.

Having seen (and smelled) this place, we wanted to eat there more than ever, so we decided to show up right when the doors opened in the chance that perhaps there would be an opening or cancellation or something. We got to the door and the same man was standing just inside. He looked at us and said, “Do you have a reservation? If you don’t have a reservation, you can’t eat here.” When he saw how completely confused we were at this point, he became a little friendlier and recommended another restaurant nearby. In the days following, we spent a good deal of time revisiting these two exchanges and trying to figure out what might have happened, and all that we can figure is that, on our first trip, he thought that we wanted a table right then, for lunch. (We were there at the end of the lunch hour…) But all of this has only increased our resolve to one day eat at “La Petite Adresse”!

So we went off in search of another restaurant (the one that the man had recommended didn’t sound quite like what we were looking for). We settled on another larger café in the centre-ville. My heart having been set on some Franc-Comtoisienne (that’s probably not a real word…) cuisine, I ordered the creatively named “Assiette Franc-Comtoise” (Franc-Comtois Plate), which consisted of a really good sausage made exclusively in a town near Besançon, cancoillote (one of the region’s cheeses), some yummy roasted potatoes, and a salad. For dessert, I ordered a baked apple with ice cream (it was an incredibly difficult decision!), which was melt-in-your-mouth perfectly fruity and cinnamony. And we had a lovely evening – it was a 3+ hour dinner. We laughed incredibly hard and exchanged some interesting cultural differences – mostly pop culture. The best exchange was Nicolle’s noble attempt to recount the story of The Wizard of Oz to Jie. Of course, I always knew how ridiculously bizarre the story is, but listening to it be told to someone who didn’t already know the story, it took on an all new trippiness!

Last week, I also attended my first karaoke party; it was organized by the international group and held downtown at the University bar. It was really fun, because after a few songs, it degenerated to the whole room standing in front of the screen projecting the lyrics and singing along as a group. There were French songs (some of which I knew, most of which I didn’t), but also Romanian, Spanish, Italian, and, of course, lots of English. In addition to multiple ABBA songs, our ears were also graced by “Candy Shop” and “…Baby One More Time”…

Over the weekend, a classmate invited everybody to his house for a French movie night and dinner. Nicolle and I decided to experiment with a German half-prepared cake thing that is available at our neighborhood supermarket. It’s basically a store-bought spongecake shell that you fill with a homemade cream and top with fruit. It is not really a good time of year for cakeworthy fruit here, so Nicolle found some canned cherries, and we figured we’d just make an American cherry pie filling and dump that on top. We decided to taste the berries first, in order to gauge how much sugar would be needed, and we discovered that the pits were still in… So we spent the next (at least) half an hour standing in her room cutting out cherry pits. And the cream recipe was really interesting – boil some milk and a split vanilla pod, then add in two egg yolks and a bit of sugar and cornstarch (and take out the pod) and whisk for ever and ever, then you end up with a not too sweet, not too rich, but still substantial vanilla cream spread!

At our classmate’s house, we deepened our French cinema culture by watching an old classic comedy starring one of France’s most iconic film comedians, Louis de Funès. The film, Le Grand Vadrouille (The Big Runaround), was hilarious. If you enjoy ridiculous situational and political humor, I highly recommend it! There is also a fair amount of English, as well as made up German (it is the story of a group of British paratroopers who land in Nazi-occupied Paris, and their attempts to regroup and escape).

Recently, I (sort of) hit a language milestone that a lot of bilingual people I know reference as the first sign of their success in their second language – the foreign-language dream. I say “sort of” because it went down like this: in the dream, I was hanging out with some actual friends of mine (not all of them are French, but I always speak to them in French, because it is our common language). I was telling them a story, and in the middle, I realized that I was speaking English. So then I switched to French and then the rest of the dream – as far as I can remember – was in French. I don’t count this as a “French dream” because it was pretty much just me speaking, and I have no idea if it was correct! I didn’t actively comprehend events that were happening in French – but I feel like it is definitely a step in the right direction!

Yesterday was Armistice Day here in France, so we didn’t have class. The CLA organized a day-trip to Freiburg, Germany, one of the closest German cities to Besançon. It was about a two and a half hour bus ride, and we were able to spend most of the day there. The first thing that we did was take a guided tour of the city, which is absolutely charming. We spent the whole time in the city center, which is almost entirely closed off from car traffic. The sidewalks are paved with little dark gray stones from the Rhine and each of the stores has a little mosaic of white stones of a symbol that represents the business. All of the streets have little canals that run along the sidewalks, bringing fresh water down from the mountains. Because yeah – we were RIGHT on the edge of the Black Forest – when we got there in the morning, there was a heavy mist over the mountains right next to us. I figured it would dissipate over the course of the day, but it was still there when we left in the late afternoon.


During the tour, we learned a bit about the town’s history (established in the 12th century, it is one of the oldest “university towns” in Germany, and has a more recent reputation as the first “green city” – the city center has been car-free since the sixties). We also got a cursory look at most of the downtown area.


One of the most notable sites in Freiburg is the Cathedral, which, unlike most churches, remained virtually unscathed through WWII. According to our tour guide, as the conflict approached the town, the citizens removed the stained glass windows and some of the sculptures, and hid them in a safe place for the remainder of the war. So it is one of the few major churches in Germany to have all of its original stained glass. Also, the main entrance has a really incredible wooden sculptural program that is remains in great condition because it is set inside the steeple under a porch. There was also a little market in the church square while we were there.


After the tour, we were turned loose to explore for about four hours. Nicolle and I wandered around the streets we saw on the tour, and also found a few new ones. One thing that I am finding really strange right now is the fact that Christmas is already everywhere. For me, November is pretty much just an anticipation of Thanksgiving and a boycott of the stores that jump into Christmas too early. I’m one of those people who won’t listen to Christmas music voluntarily until December 1st. I adore the Christmas season; I just don’t like how it seems to start earlier and earlier every year. But here, there is no Thanksgiving to stave off Christmas! So most stores already have their holiday windows up. Nicolle and I found a few cool little shops – a papercrafts store, a super designery wood shop, and a tea store, where I bought some looseleaf “Winterpunsch” – I haven’t gotten to try it yet, but it smells great in a cinnamony gingery apply wintery way. I don’t know how German people buy their tea, but I got the feeling that I weirded some people out by my habit of smelling a bunch of different pouches… But I was pretty happy with the fact that I managed a business transaction in a language of which I know less than twenty words!


That was one thing that was pretty surreal – it was a bit of a culture shock to be in France for the first few days, even though I spoke enough of the language to get by. But it was really bizarre to walk down the street and not understand a single overheard word or even remember how to say “excuse me” when I got in someone’s way. Fortunately, because France is so close, there were a lot of French tourists and I think that a lot of the citizens have a pretty decent knowledge of French.

Finally, because 1) it was pretty cold, 2) we are hardcore foodlovers, and 3) we were in Germany, we decided that it was necessary to go to a restaurant and eat some soup. The first café we found was serving Kartuffel-suppe (potato soup) for the day, so we headed inside. Luckily, Nicolle has a pretty decent basic understanding of German (her grandparents immigrated to the US from Germany and she had already been to Germany to visit family) so she got to order for both of us. And I very awkwardly contributed a bit of French with the occasional instinctual “oui” and “merci”. After our wonderful soups, we really wanted some dessert, so Nicolle called her dad to have him translate the dessert menu of the day. But the waiter had already delivered the check along with the soup. So we spent a few minutes brainstorming how to convey, “We’re sorry, Sir, but we would like to order dessert in addition to our meals!” I think what ended up being said was something like, “Pardon, first two cake…” Because we were literally at the foot of the Black Forest, and because I am a devoted fan of the movie Young Frankenstein, I had to go for the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte… (and for those of you who are wondering, yes, I made a “yummy sound”…)


It was a great adventure, and I look forward to more interesting times in places where I don’t speak the language (Italy, the Czech Republic, and Greece are all really high up on my list of places I need to see this year…).

Thanks for continuing to read, and I promise that the next post won’t be two weeks in the making!


Posted by NKammerer 13:54 Archived in France Tagged food restaurant church germany cake soup film freiburg black_forest baking schwarzwälder_kirschtorte Comments (8)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 37) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 »