Read on below for an update of the harvest season! In other news, Dad and Grandma Trudy were just here last week for a visit and I have also moved to the northern city of Angers for three weeks to take classes. In lieu of writing all about October now (don’t worry it will come eventually) I’m giving you a preview in pictures. Which might be more eloquent than anything I can write for you anyway.
Archive for the 'The back doors' Category
Now that two months have passed since my last update, I think it’s safe to say I have more than could ever be written to tell you all about. In order to break it down manageably, I’ll give you updates in pieces. I always liked suspense.
For all of August and September I was living at Chateau La Garde and interning there in the vineyard and cellar. I survived the four-day harvest for white grapes and the two-week harvest for reds (and I mean two full weeks, weekends included). Maybe without my sanity or any sleep, but harvest makes one big family out of people who normally just work nine to five hours. More on harvest later, it takes a lot of concentration to dig that far back in my memory and at the moment I’m distracted by the smell of my homemade, simmering spaghetti sauce on the stove.
The homemade spaghetti sauce is key to where I am currently. In my little apartment on the fourth floor of a building in the big city; Lyon, France. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday mornings there is a fresh produce market on my street where farmers from the countryside around Lyon bring their veggies and fruits at pretty good prices. One of my favorite farmers (who I always buy my apples from for my apple pies) gave me a discount on tomatoes yesterday morning and I couldn’t say no. Hence, the homemade spaghetti sauce currently simmering on my stove. And then, of course, I had to get some fresh parsley, cinnamon, potatoes, yesterday’s bread from the baker, and ground beef for the meatballs. My French roommates are never sure what I am making, or what they are eating for that matter, but I think they are just happy that they won’t have to cook again for the foreseeable future with me around.
I have been in Lyon for almost two weeks now, taking classes about viticulture and marketing in the wine industry and touring some of the wine regions of eastern France. Burgundy is hilly with more dairy farms than I expected to see, Beaujolais has vast, sweeping valleys of vineyards, and Cotes-du-Rhone has some of the steepest, most interesting terrace work I have seen. All of the wines are as different as night and day. The Beaujolais Nouveau is young, fresh, and exotic but they also have some outstanding Crus that I was not expecting. Burgundy never disappoints in the variety and uniqueness of reds or whites and Cotes-du-Rhone remains my favorite for an aged, toasted, oaky red. The city of Lyon is an adventure in itself. It is the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseille and has a beautiful old section with a network of pedestrian streets and small shops that I don’t mind losing myself in. The city is split into three sections because of two rivers, the Saone and the Rhone, running through it. There is a large park in the northern end of my side of the city called the Parc de la Tete d’Or. This has quickly become my favorite spot in the city, possibly because of the existence of a small zoo within its borders. On chilly October afternoons the park is quiet and I enjoy sitting on a bench next to the reindeer field and reading a book. I have yet to explore all of it so a full description will have to wait.
Paris is only two hours away by train and last weekend I met up with my good friend Kristen, from Cornell, for a whirlwind twenty-four hours of site seeing. She is currently studying in Rome and will be my travel partner for our three week European adventure after we both finish our programs in the middle of December. We stopped in at the Luxembourg Gardens, Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower. And, of course, tasted a bit of French cuisine throughout the day, finishing with crepes after the 700 stair climb at the Tower.
Going back to the end of August, I had another reunion with two very special people. Mom and Grandpa Dave came to visit for one week in between harvests and got an idea of life in France. We spent the last weekend in Normandy visiting the D-Day beaches and stayed in a lovely old stone house with an English couple who have a never-ending supply of hilarious stories about the British military. We spent our last day in the Loire Valley visiting Chateau de Cheverny and picnicking French style with goat cheese, duck pate, and baguettes.
My spaghetti sauce is almost done and the meatballs are practically jumping out of the pan so I’ll save all of the details from harvest, Lyon explorations, quiet days in the park, and visits with friends and family for another time. Oh and just so you all know, I chopped my hair off yesterday. A good eight inches. Why? The window of the hairdresser looked inviting and it said no reservations required.
Another long overdue update; this is becoming a trend that I will try to fix… but France keeps getting in the way so I can’t make any promises.
Every morning my alarm blares in my ear at 5:45 am. And every morning I am excited to start the day. I make my coffee, black, and toast a piece of fresh baguette from the night before. I touch up on some survival French sentences, make a quick sandwich for lunch, and head for the door. Walking out of my front door in the morning might be my favorite part of the day. At six thirty the sun is just breaking the horizon and I have a half-mile walk to the garage of the vineyard where I get my assignments for the day. It’s rarely rainy here so I can always see the last traces of stars in the dusty blue sky and watch as it blends with sherbet shades of pink and orange where the sun meets the rise of vineyards. The air is cool and crisp and the dew on the grass splashes my legs as I jog lightly across the lawn to the dirt road ahead. I cross over it in favor of the grassy lanes between rows of grapes and take the back way to work, winding through vines. It’s a glorious start to the day.
Work at Chateau La Garde, located in the Pessac-Leognon region of Bordeaux, is halfway through the third week. I can now drive a tractor and mower successfully through rows of vineyard with merely inches to spare. I can hoe weeds underneath the vines until the clay and stone see the sun again. I am well on my way to speaking a full sentence in French with the other workers. And I can whip up a homemade apple pie with Roquefort cheese in my mini toaster oven in under an hour after finishing work.
I am living in a three-bedroom apartment off the southeastern end of the Chateau with a French intern. We have a small kitchen where I enjoy being creative with our minimal cooking appliances. Having a washer and dryer also makes up for learning to cook gourmet with a hot plate and a microwave. We have a living room with a television that doesn’t work, but with the huge window that opens up to a view of sunny vineyards, you don’t need the channels. Internet only works in the kitchen and because my life revolves around doing laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, it works out quite well. Currently, I am trying to make an egg and wine sauce on the hot plate and bake a duck with mushrooms in the mini toaster oven. If it works, you will be the first to know.
The chateau is located about a ten-minute walk and two-minute car ride away from the nearest town, Martillac. It’s a walk I make frequently, down the crumbling paved road that will soon be reclaimed by dirt, past vineyards, and through one last shady lane in front of an old castle before reaching the town center. Martillac is a sleepy village with about 200 inhabitants, a pizza place, a boulangerie, a post office and, of course, an old gothic church in the center. On Saturdays there is a bus to Bordeaux at 12:42 in the afternoon. It stops at the stone bench in front of the church but you have to stand up and wave if you want the bus driver to stop. The past two Saturdays, I’ve been the only person on the bus.
My weekends have also been busy with trips to Bordeaux city, visiting friends, exploring the coastline in the seaside town of Arcachon, and experiencing the summer “ferias” held in the southwestern towns like Dax. The people I keep meeting in France exceed all expectations of friendliness. They love hearing about American culture, exchanging opinions on music and politics, and arguing about the price of a decent red wine.
Nine to five class days and weekend trips hiking in the Pyrenees and wandering the streets of Barcelona don’t leave much time for blogging or updating, so I’m sorry the newest updates are so late! Also distracting me this week was news that my study tour of wineries for the next three weeks was changed from Spain and Portugal to Italy, Romania, and Greece… woah. So instead of posting pictures and detailed descriptions of breathtaking mountains, I’ve been googling Romanian wines.
In any case, two weekends ago now I was in the Pyrenees mountains. The Pyrenees are a range of mountains in the south of France, on the border with Spain. The Pyrenees are stunning. Stretching for somewhere around 300 miles, the range contains so many back door, hilly towns and interesting people; I could probably spend all seven months hiking there. The entire group from school went and we spent Sunday hiking to the Cirque de Gavarnie. This is a huge bowl in the side of the one of the mountains. Formed by glaciers, the cirque is at a high enough elevation to maintain snow all year and has amazing views of the surrounding valleys.
The hike was easy and flat until right at the end when you had a steep ascent to the bottom of the falls; ten minutes of taking one step forward and three backward finally got us up the rocky slope. If I had a week in the Pyrenees it would definitely be a great place to backpack and get in some serious climbing.
Sunday night we stayed at one of the Alpine Club’s (similar to the Adirondack 46ers Club) hostels in the mountains and enjoyed a three course, home cooked dinner. After, a few of us went for a short hike to the top of a nearby hill that overlooks the town of Gavernie. On the top of the hill you get a beautiful look at the town below and the peaks above. There is also a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus, keeping watch on the sleepy farms in the surrounding mountains. The sight from the top of that hill has been one of my favorites so far on this trip. So much so that I woke up at 5:30 the next morning and hiked back up to get pictures as the sun rose and cut colors across the valley.
Unfortunately, we did have to leave the Pyrenees and head back to reality. Before we got back to school, however, we stopped at a small dairy farm in the foothills. The farm is run by a man, Pierre (who speaks not a lick of English), and his wife who are regionally famous for the incredibly smooth and creamy yogurt made from their cows. Farms in France are much smaller than in the US and production is always done on a much smaller scale. Pierre has about 40 cows and 20 heifers; along with yogurt, he produces cheese and raw milk commercially. It was the first farm visit I’ve had in France so far and it was amazing to see how efficient and yet very natural the agriculture is here.
After my weekend of back door experiences in the Pyrenees, we had a week of intensive classes and a few more farm visits, including a trip to the Roquefort cheese caves. Roquefort is a famous blue cheese in France that has been produced for a few hundred years. Also, last weekend, we went to Barcelona and had free time to spend in the city. It was a relaxing three days and I am in love with Barcelona’s carefree attitude. More on those trips soon!
First, let me tell you my goal for this blog. The title, if you missed it, is Through the back door. Borrowed from the philosophy of euro traveler Rick Steves, “through the back door” is meant to be an inside look at foreign cultures and travel. It means staying in hostels or camping on train floors, it means trying to live on five euros a day in Paris, and it means having a beer in the local pub rather than a fine glass of wine in the lobby of a five star hotel. I want my time in France and the rest of Europe to be “through the back door”, living with locals and diving into the culture head first. Living frugally in a country where gas is five to seven euros a gallon is difficult unless you attempt to leave your American tourist ways behind… heavy luggage included. So leave your comments and let me know what you think as the blog progresses. If you have questions, ask! Because this is really for you.