A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Walking on Sunshine in Aix en Provence

sunny 25 °C

"Hey, who turned on the sun?" - Lisa

Foodie moment

Hardly culinary genius but we love the soup machines found at service stations throughout France! 1.50 Euros and out pops a cup of hot, yummy soup; tomato, chicken noodle, curry, leek ... A business idea for Australian railway platforms - we think so!


One Euro beers with compulsory (1 Euro) tapas purchase meant cheese, salami, Croque Monsieur... not complaining!


Cultural moment

As soon as the sun goes down (9pm), suddenly the cafes and bars are empty. We assume they have all gone to dinner but have no idea where. As we wandered around looking for a fun place after our dinner (at a sensible 8pm) it was suddenly like a ghost town - well apart from all the other American and English tourists looking as confused as us!!


Wow moment

A three hour drive from the Alps to the Riviera, and we finally find her - Madame Sunshine! As we passed through the toll booth to enter the peninsular, it was as if a light bulb had been switched on. Hot sun, pristine blue skies and smiles on our faces!


Place des Cardeurs - we stumbled across this square late in the afternoon. A laid back vibe, cheap drinks, everyone soaking up the last of the days sun (don't worry, its the south of France -there's more tomorrow!) and tunes blasting...... Heaven! And we camped out here till the sun made its leisurely retreat!


What we learnt today

Aix en Provence is a hay fever nightmare - Spring plus wind plus beautiful blossom trees has everyone sneezing and itching their eyes. Bring your Telfast!

Posted by travellinglise 12:24 Archived in France Comments (1)

Swiss Dreams are Made of Cheese! (who am I to disagree)

overcast 23 °C

"Can we live here?!" - Mark

Foodie moment

Gallettes are buckwheat pancakes which are cooked and served in a similar fashion to crepes. We found a place which specialised in them, and had an amazing dinner. Mark ordered a cheese, beef, onions, tomatoes and egg one. I decided to be adventurous and ordered goats cheese, tomato, egg, honey and herbs, although the savoury and sweet was different, it worked!! Yum!


I had been eyeing off the people enjoying Fondue at each restaurant, but was avoiding it due to the price. Finally Mark convinced me to take the plunge, as there was no better place to have it than on the Swiss border. It was a mix of three cheeses, bubbling away in a saucepan. We have NEVER eaten so much cheese in one sitting, but we just couldn't stop (particularly Mark), the salad was a necessity to slightly neutralise the cheese, CHEESE, CHEESE! Bring on the cheese dreams!


Cultural moment

The French traditionally have their dinner very late in the evening. They will often have an aperitif around 5/6 pm - which is a drink and a small snack, to keep themselves going, then out to dinner later. It is strange to see families eating their big meal for the night around 9/10pm. I'm surprised the children aren't falling asleep in their pizzas!

Wow moment

Lisa had raved about Annecy from the get go, because she had been there before when she was on exchange at 16. So I had high expectations, and she was nervous it wouldn't live up to them. But wow did it ever! First time in France since the Eiffel Tower that I was blown away by what I saw. The old town (where the best areas are) is set around a glacial lake a few kilometres across. Setting the backdrop to the lake are the French and Swiss Alps. Amazingly stunning, with snow on the highest peaks, even in spring. The architecture of the buildings are all traditional and a beautiful. A river from the lake runs through the middle of the town as canals, with restaurants and shops lining its banks. The most amazingly beautiful town so far!


What we learnt today

The drive into Annecy was an unexpected surprise for sure. It took us through the Alps along bridges that spanned valleys 100m plus in the air, through mountains by the way of long tunnels and around valleys that took your breath away. It was a great drive, but it didn't come for free. The motorways in France all have tolls, but this was the biggest by far, 44 euro to be precise, ouch! Yet when you think about the amount of work involved in creating the roads we took and the time saved, it was worth it, even for just the views alone.


Posted by travellinglise 11:43 Archived in France Comments (1)

Tasting Stars at Moet & Chandon

overcast 16 °C

"Come quickly! I am tasting the stars" - Dom Perignon


Foodie moment

Our first foody moment is a bit of a sneaky one as it is fast food, but it was so good it can't be ignored. A butcher in Epernay creates these amazing gourmet burgers with mozerella, salad, herbs and sauces in a Turkish bread roll. Delicious! (and cheap)


Today I thought we would give our bodies a small rest from cheese for our aperitif and instead we bought some Pate (or terrines). We got a gourmet pack of three flavours - terrine de canarde aux figues (Duck with figs) , Terrine de canard au piment d'espelette (Duck with chilli)and Confit de foie de porc aux poivrons rouge and olives (Pork with red capsicum and olives). Even Mark enjoyed them!


Wow moment

Today we toured the famous cellars of Moet & Chandon. Hidden in 28km of underground passages are countless numbers of bottles of champagne in their various stages of maturity. The sheer number of bottles is overwhelming, but apparently there is still not enough to match demand! Our guide said there is a bottle of Moet & Chandon popped somewhere in the world every two seconds - and at 40 Euro a bottle that is basically a licence to print money


Today we finally got to hire some bikes and go for a bike ride. The bikes were really cool, and it was fun zooming between the different Champagne houses. It was also a whole lot easier than walking, and our feet are thanking us now.


What we learnt today

The tour of Moet & Chandon Champagne house taught us some amazing facts.

The Champagne bottle holds up to 6kg of pressure. In the olden days, 50% of bottles used to shatter and explode whilst sitting in the cellar - not a same place to be! Now its more like 1 in 10,000 bottles.

Dom Perignon perfected the art of making Champagne. He was a monk in town near Epernay and he was looking to discover how to turn ordinary white wine into something special!

There are a group of wine makers who test and taste the grapes, juice and wine at all stages. They decide the proportions of wines to use to make their imperial brand. They may include up to 100 different wines in a batch. Now you can see why it is so hard to replicate!

One of the stages of wine making is that the bottle is kept upside down on an angle, and worker needs to turn each bottle a quarter turn each day and increase the angle the bottle is on until it is eventually completely upside down. This is called riddling. This process is to collect up all the sediment in the champagne and move it into the neck of the bottle to remove it. The workers in Moet & Chandon turn at least 50,000 bottles each, each day!

Epernay is the perfect place for growing Champagne as it rains 200 days of the year - didn't really surprise us as it has rained SO much since we've been here, although the sun HAS just come through now at 6pm on our last night!

Posted by travellinglise 02:07 Archived in France Comments (1)

Sante! To Champagne!

rain 14 °C

Beneath the streets in some 100km of subterranean cellars, 200 million bottles of champagne, just waiting to be popped open for some sparkling celebration, are being aged.


Foodie moment

So for our time in Epernay we have come to a realisation that there is a high chance that our 'foodie' moment will not be about food... This is because we are eating cheap here so we can afford to visit the Champagne houses and enjoy the bubbles! So it may turn into a bit of a Champagne appreciation area :)

'Contesse Lafond' was our first Champagne house we visted in the Champagne region of France. Served only in restaurants in France, we tasted 4 of their champagne varieties, Extra Brut, Brut, Necteur and Rose. The Brut was the most traditional and our favourite, but all were delicious. Yet with bottles starting at 30 Euros we were expecting it to be pretty amazing!


Still budget conscious we didn't buy any 'Contesse Lafond' but instead 'splashed out' on a bottle of Medot Champagne for 14 Euro. It was great for the price.


Cultural moment

The alcohol in France is incredibly cheap. A six pack of beer costs only 4 euro ($5) and you can buy wine for as low as 2 Euro. This might be because of their proximity to the source, therefore cutting down on importing costs, but it sure is cheaper than Australia!


France does not sell Baked Beans in a can, without little sausages in it, strange.....

Wow moment

Although the weather was wet today, the drive into Champagne was still quite stunning. A patchwork of fields filled with bright yellow flowers, green grass and rows of orderly vines. Tiny little villages with stone houses, small windy roads and cobbled streets. Hopefully the sun comes out tomorrow, to show more of its beauty (and so we can get some pictures)


What we learnt today

Champagne is made out of one or a combination of three grape varieties; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The differences in taste are due to the grape used and the amount of sugar added. The demi Sec (half sweet) champagne can have over 40g of sugar per litre! Obviously the Sec (sweet) has even more! Wines produced in the region of Champagne with the Champagne grape are the only ones which are entitled to call their product 'Champagne' on the bottle. Due to popular demand for 'real' champagne all over the world, the government has decided to expend the boundaries of the province to include more wineries. This will mean a 30,000% increase in the value of those wineries so they will sbe worth 1 million Euro per hectare.

Posted by travellinglise 02:01 Archived in France Comments (0)

Dying to see the Catacombs

sunny 23 °C
View Euro trip 2013 on travellinglise's travel map.

Arrete! C'est ici l'empire de la mort! - Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death!


Foodie moment

When I pictured our time camping in France I always imagined us sitting in the sun having wine and cheese. Today it happened - heaven! Sorry no photos as we were too comfortable and content to get up and find the camera!

Cultural moment

The public toilets (like many things in Paris - eg forming queues) are a prime example of inefficiency. They are the automatic type, but after each person they do a full clean meaning the time waiting can be 7 minutes per person! More queues!

Wow moment

As part of my Christmas present from Lisa, I got 2 tickets to go and see the catacombs of Paris. I had heard of them before and had always wanted to see them. So after a little wait in line, we descended into the underground of Paris. The catacombs were originally tunnels dug as a quarry for limestone used to build most of the buildings in the city. In the 1700's, because of over saturation of Paris's cemeteries and risk of infection, all of Paris dead were exhumed from their graves and manually transported into the mines. There are now over 6 million peoples remains in the catacombs! It took over 3 years of transporting the bones of the dead every night to complete the task. The amount of bones we witnessed was staggering, and you can only see what's at the front of the piles. There are millions stacked underground in the catacombs. It was a very eerie and surreal experience and the audio tour was creepy and excellent. I loved it!


What we learnt today

You will always line up in Paris. When we visited the Eiffel tower a couple of days ago the lines were over 2 hours long. We asked the girl at information, what times there are less of a line at the tower, and she replied 'In January' (Parisian winter). We thought this was funny, but as the days have passed we have realised more and more how serious she really was. Everywhere has a massive line, you would think with the volume of people at Versailles or the tower that it would be quiet at other places, but it never is! Today was a key example of this as we visited the less popular catacombs (on a day that all other museums were free admission). We arrived 15 minutes before opening and joined a line of 150 people! You can't win!


Europeans travel with their pets. Since being at this camp-site we have seen one camper with her two Siamese cats in her camper van and another with two full grown Dalmatians with their own tent!

Posted by travellinglise 08:24 Archived in France Comments (1)

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