Thursday, November 25

Ode to Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a wonderful day full of family, friends and of course, food. While my Thanksgiving was on the lamer end of things (laundry, rain, and leftovers), I did happen to have the best piece of pumpkin pie ... ever (sorry Dad!). Remember that café I told you about Apple Pie? Where I had an incredible organic Welsh Rarebit? Well my friend Caely (a fellow foodie) and I decided to grab a cup of coffee there today in order to chat it up with the owner about Caely's hope to break into some kind of food-writing-blogging-experience while in France (à la Julie and Julia, her most recent success was boeuf bourguignon, not an easy feat). Coffee turned into coffee and pie, because after seeing the pies "no" was not a valid answer to the question "Would you like a piece of pie as well?" So cheers to Lisa at Apple Pie for making the best pumpkin pie and bringing some American Thanksgiving to France.

Not to make you jealous or anything ...

On that note, I am thankful for living in France, for my family, for my friends, for my students, and for pumpkin pie.

Sunday, November 21

New in November

Trying new things (and yes, most of it involves food).

So much has been going on since the departure of my mama. It has definitely been a month of firsts! So here is a list of things I have done for the first time in November …

1. Tried Tibetan food: at this place called Dolma, we had vegetable curry with rice, which was incredible, and afterwards instead of mints, the woman gave us this interesting bowl of mixed spices almost. It had bits of mint and licorice and many other flavors, which I imagine is some sort of palate cleanser? Who knows, but it was good!

Mysterious post-dinner mints from Tibet
2. French film: First French film of the year, no subtitles and very hard to understand, but nonetheless WONDERFUL. If you get a chance to see “Les Petits Mouchoirs”, do yourself a favor and go. And bring lots of tissues.

3.     3. Karoke: Ok, not me, but my students. A teacher approached me about doing it with the students with English songs, as sort of a voluntary thing for the kids to do during study breaks. I thought it would bomb considering we have tried to have an “American Cinema” hour that hasn’t had anyone show up. But I was wrong – the kids loved it! They sang ABBA, Jason Mraz, and The Kinks for an hour and were quite happy. Currently doing some research for next week …

4.     4. Prom: After learning I had helped plan proms in high school, I was recruited to help the students plan their prom. They are so interested to know what a prom is and how to get dressed for it and who will be the king and queen. We have our second meeting next week to discuss music because we’ve already settled on our masquerade theme – Gossip Girl fans would be proud.

1.     5. Degustation: Holy merde. This was incredible. Two friends and I, Seth and Julia, heard about a tasting where the market is and decided to check it out. It was a lot like the market, but essentially you pay 3 euros to get in, and you can sample champagne, wine, cider, cheese, bread, sausage, honey, chocolates, cookies, macaroons, whiskey, apple juice, mushrooms, oysters, foie gras, paté … you get the picture. We went around and tried to taste as much as we can before buying goat cheese, bread, and smoked salmon for a little lunch. They set up tables and chairs and gave out paper/plastic plates and utensils, and wine glasses (of course) for everyone to enjoy what they had purchased. It was lovely and I really hope they do it again very soon!

Julia enjoying Breton Cider at the Degustation
Trying goodies at the Degustation

Welsh Rarebit: my friend Julia introduced me to an incredible little café called Apple Pie in the center of town. It opened about a year ago by a lovely Irish woman named Lisa. She lives next to a farm and therefore posts the menu every Monday depending on what was good from the farm that week. She also makes her own flour and has specialty desserts every week. Saturday she has special brunches so after the market, a few of us checked it out. This Saturday was a Welsh special called “Welsh Rarebit” – first of all I learned that it isn’t “Welsh Rabbit” as I had thought, and second of all, it’s amazing. If you’ve never heard of it, it sounds odd, but it’s basically bread soaked in a sort of chedder cheese and beer sauce. Take my word for it, it’s amazing. She is planning on having some sort of American Thanksiving special on Thursday so perhaps I will have to check it out. In addition to her incredible plats du jour, apple pie, scones and cheesecake, the space is adorable. If Anthropologie was going to have a cute French brunch place, this is what it would look like …

Tea and Date/Apple Crumble

Welsh Rarebit

Adorable Setting in Apple Pie
Art Walk: much like First Friday in Portland, Rennes had a huge art walk this past week. A bunch of us met up and trekked across the old city seeing art and stealing hors d’oeuvres. Most of the art was a bit bizarre, but below is a photograph from one of the galleries I really enjoyed …

Favorite Paintings from Rennes Art Walk

1.     Derby: not a derby like you are thinking, but a derby Breton, meaning two teams from Brittany playing each other in soccer. I went to the Brest vs. Rennes match on Saturday night, which was great. Because Brest is so close, it is a huge rival and there were so many people there – the most I’ve ever seen at a game. Rennes ended up winning 2-1, and had 2 incredible goals (Brest scored off a penalty kick, boring). Anyways, it was very exciting and I’m anxious to see the next game against Monaco!

Corner kick from one of Rennes' star players: #8 Sylvain MARVEAUX
1.     Parc Gayeulles: very much like Smiling Hill Farm (for those of you who know Maine), but it is a wonderful park that has animals and big fields and running paths. It is enormous. Fabienne, the German assistant and I, went for a long 2 hour walk post-lunch last Sunday and it was really nice. As you can see we had a bit of an obsession with the miniature horses …

Fabienne and the mini horses at the Park

Duck Pond at the Park

Autumn at the Park

Mar (from Madrid), Marisa (from Italy), Raquel (from Spain) and Fabienne (from Germany)
Enjoying hot chocolate!

Monday, November 8

Mère à la Mer

Me and Mom in Saint Malo

After traveling and having guests for almost 10 days, I had one day of rest until Mom arrived in Rennes! I picked her up at the train station – with lots of goodies of course – and we refreshed back at the hotel before walking around Rennes. I first took her to my “apartment” and we did a bit of grocery shopping (aka wine and cheese) before heading back into the city. That night I took her to a traditional creperie where we had galettes and crepes. She was exhausted so I dropped her off at the hotel and stayed in town to meet some friends for a drink.
View of a fort from main land
in Saint Malo

 Friday morning we both woke up late and I joined her in town. We grabbed croissants and walked around before meeting Staci and Daniel, my program directors for CIEE when I studied abroad. They are SO nice and we had a lovely café with them before my class at 1. Mom came to school with me on Friday and watched me help some of the advanced students with a debate on whether or not prostitution should be legal. The kids did an excellent job and I think Mom was impressed. We then headed back into town and walked, walked, walked and shopped a bit. We had some wine and cheese before dinner then began our search for some traditional French food. First stop was one of my favorite bars/cafés called “Le Chat qui Peche” (tha cat who fishes). We met some of the other English assistants there for an aperitif, which was very nice. Sans reservation was a little tricky, so we ended up eating at a fondue place. 
The waiter told us the plates weren’t for sharing, but he was misinformed. Literally the biggest plates of food I have ever seen. I’ve had my share of potatoes, ham and cheese for the rest of my life. We laughed throughout the whole meal – unfortunately she has the pictures so I will post them as soon as she sends them to me. But really – it was the most enormous meal I’ve ever seen.

Saturday morning we went to the market. Of course it was raining, but nonetheless it was still really fun and Mom was amazed by all the colors and food and vendors. We got sausage, fresh tomatoes, fresh goat cheese, and some organic bread and headed for a café at Saint Anne to enjoy our picnic. We also bought some Kouing-man and chocolates for dessert. Kouing man is a typical Breton dessert that is basically like a cinnamon bun, but with butter, sugar, and caramel. It’s incredible. We sat and had our café and ate our meal under a tent in the rain. On Saturdays you are more then welcome to eat what you have bought at the market at any café as long as you order beer, wine, coffee – some sort of beverage. 
Mussels in Saint Malo YUM!
They will also give you a plate and a knife and are always very nice. We met up with Jeanne (Sarah’s old host sister who is now studying in Rennes) and her sister briefly to say hello – they are absolutely adorable. We decided to head home and dry off and lay down for a minute as we digested our French brunch. It was a crappy day so we went into town to get our haircut from someone Staci had recommended on Friday. She did a wonderful job and we were both very satisfied. (She asked me if I died my hair, and she was very impressed I did it “myself” so thanks Linds). By the time we were done with all of that it was time for showers and to think about dinner. Saturday night we had a MUCH better meal at an Italian place with fresh pasta, good wine, and delicious thin crust pizza. We were very satisfied and rolled home to get some serious REM before our big day on Sunday.

Rennes is a beautiful city and there is a lot to do! But it is also nice to explore Brittany as much as possible to really get the full experience. I took Mom to Saint Malo on Sunday for the day (I’ve been twice before and it is the perfect place to see the ocean and eat some good food). There is NOTHING to do on Sundays and everything is closed so it was the perfect day for a getaway. First we met Lise, my contact at my school, for coffee and croissants. She is SO nice and she and Mom had a nice conversation about both of their involvement in horseback riding as a form of rehabilitation. Hopefully Lise is going to take me to the stables close to Rennes in the coming weeks before Christmas! We got a train to Saint Malo around 11:30 and arrived in the rain – but of course – thank god the sun came out just as we approached the walls. Saint Malo has an older part of the city that is completely surrounded by water and walls – much like a fort. There are tons of restaurants and pastry shops and touristy shops inside the walls that make for a perfect afternoon. Not to mention the view. It was low tied so she was able to see the beach and the forts on the surrounding islands. We even found a ramp up to the top and we were able to walk on top of the walls, which was so beautiful. Late in the afternoon we sought refuge from more rain and had moule frites (mussels and French fries) along with some typical Breton cider. On our way back to the train station we discovered a bakery with SIX LAYER cake – it was incredible and overwhelming – so of course we got some. We got back around 6 in time for us both to pack up, have some tea, and enjoy our cake. Best dinner I’ve had all semester.
6 layer cake!!

It was sad seeing Mom go, but we had such a good time and I was really glad she got to see “a weekend in the life of Emma.” She met pretty much everyone I see on a regular basis, saw my apartment, saw my school, met my co-workers, explored Rennes – it was really nice. It also made me realize I’m LIVING in France. Everyone who has visited so far speaks the language and it was so interesting to be the translator (and definitely frustrating at times).  It also made me realize how fast this year is flying. While there are so many frustrating things about living here, it really is a wonderful place and it is a challenge every day. Only about a month and a half until I go home – crazy!!

Back to the full grind this week. I’m currently writing this entry from the CMP, which is the high school I teach at on Mondays for students with mental/physical/psychological disabilities. Doing a conversation lesson on fashion today – oh la la. Thursday is a holiday, like in the US, so I’m hoping things will be open in town so I can spend some time with friends.

I’m sure I will have more to report as Thankgiving approaches so stay tuned!

Sunday, November 7

This just in ...

Two things.

One. Based on an impulse buy at the local grocery store, my hair is now purple/red/dark brown. Pictures to come. (Thank you Lindsay ...)

Two. Best phone call I've received all semester? MY MOM IS VISITING. She claims it's to check in, but I think it's an excuse to eat bread, cheese, croissants and drink wine for 4 days (can anyone blame her?). Either way I can't wait to share the details of her visit!!

Aaaand We're Back

Home Sweet Home.

Rennes in Fall!!
After a 6 hour train ride Lindsay and I arrived back to Rennes. Starving we headed right to the grocery store to pick up some provisions for the week (cough cheese and wine cough) and got ready to head into Rennes for the night. We went to La Phoenician, a Lebonese restaurant in the city (where the owner knows me, if that doesn't say something about what I've been doing since I've been here (eating) I don't know what does ...). We had an incredible meal of different mezze plates and finished it off with delicious honey desserts. We headed to our favorite bar Le Saint Michel, that we use to go to when we studied here. It was the same bartender who remembered us and he was really sweet and bought us drinks as we waited for him to get off work. Our original plan of heading home or going somewhere else failed when he invited us to a party he knew of down the road - and thought "when in Rennes." It ended up being incredible - some underground battle of the DJs. Strobe lights, bouncers, huge speakers and all the three of us danced with tons of other Frenchies to original beats by a male and female DJ until the wee hours of the morning. It was so so much fun and very surreal. The next day we slept in, made a nice brunch, and headed into town for a conference that was taking place in town on Feminism. There is a group in Rennes called "Mix Cité" and they have counterparts in Nantes, Paris, and Toulouse. Sunday there was lunch/discussion that we sat in on and while I barely participated it was so interesting to hear their interests and topics of discussion. I have been back to the regular meetings since and I'm very interested in continuing to learn about what they are doing in the community and in France. (In case anyone is interested, you can learn more here  Sunday night we celebrated Halloween - yay American holidays ... - at one of the American assistants apartments, very fun - lots of costumes and too much candy - Halloween à la francais. (For lack of creativity, I went as Jackie O and Linds went as a French man ... très original).

Monday was Toussaint, "All Saints Day" in France, a huge holiday. We headed to Lindsay's old host family's house for lunch around noon and left at 7 pm ... talk about an epic lunch. It was so great to see them and her host mom is SO nice and an incredible cook. Tuesday we walked around Rennes, met some English assistants for galettes in town, met Fabienne (the German assistant I work with) for hot chocolate at Haricot Rouge (no joke, best hot chocolate I've ever had) and they played tourist as we wandered inside the Cathedral and visited some of the oldest parts of Rennes. Lindsay had to leave pretty early the next morning so we made dinner at home and met the assistants in town again for some Breton beer on tap before returning home for a good night's sleep.

It was so nice to have Lindsay here! It was almost like she never left Rennes and I am going to see her at the metro station in the morning for school. Both playing hostess worked out great and was so easy. We will see each other for New Years in Paris - I can't wait!!

Bienvenue Novembre!

Disclosure: I have so much to say so this will either be a very long blog post, or I will do it in multiple installments to avoid complete boredom ...

Notre Dame de la Garde
On top of the hill in Marseille

To begin, France loves vacation and any excuse not to work, so I worked for two weeks before I had a break for Toussaint (All Saint's Day). I got basically two weeks for one holiday, not too shabby. My friends Abbie and Sarah (roomies sophomore year at Bowdoin) and I decided to go to Marseille and Toulouse for break. Abbie is in Scotland and Sarah is in Brest, so we all had some time off and we are all (relatively) close. Sarah studied abroad in Toulouse, and my friend Lindsay who studied in Rennes with me is doing the teaching program, so lots of reasons to head south!

Abbie and Sarah on top of the hill
Trash ... I'll spare you the other pictures
Abbie, Sarah and I started in Marseille on Monday. I arrived at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the girls forewarned me about the trash situation. See, the trash pick-up is on strike in Marseille. The trash was absolutely everywhere. You had to walk in the street because the piles were so huge they had spread all over the sidewalk. To add to it, the wind in the south is very well known and strong, so the smell wasn't exactly pleasant. Don't get me wrong, the port was beautiful and we went to the top of the Notre Dame de la Garde and the view was absolutely incredible, but due to the trash situation Marseille isn't exactly my favorite city ... We made the most of it, found a great restaurant for dinner and walked around a bit. It was cool to hear the southern accent too. For instance if you say "demain" (tomorrow) in French is sounds like "de-meh" but in the south they would say "de-mane". Or "matin" (morning) is usually "mah-teh" but they would say "mah-tane" with a huge emphasis on the N. We could barely understand our cab driver the first day. The next morning we decided to spend the afternoon in Aix en Provence which is a cheap and short train ride away. Aix is where Cézanne painted and lived. It is filled with history and reminds me so much of Italy with its tiny, winding streets that you could walk around in for hours. Not to mention we really lucked out with the weather. We stayed through dinner and got home close to 10:30.

Funny sidenote: We attempted to sleep early because of our early train, but, of course, there is a discotheque above the hostel and they had an un-announced party from 1 am - 5 am. So instead of sleeping I listened to drunk people shouting the words to house music. The hostel was nice enough to reimburse us for the night - I'm not sure what's better, no sleep and a free night, or lots of sleep and spending extra money? I like house music, so I guess everything worked out.

Off to Toulouse!!
Boardwalk along river in Toulouse

Toulouse "la ville rose" was incredible! The architecture is really beautiful, all made of brick (hence the nickname "the pink city"). There are small streets reminding me very much of Nice and lots of great shopping. We absolutely lucked out with the weather, one day it was 70! It was so nice to sit outside and get some sun. I stayed with Lindsay, my friend from abroad, and she has an adorable house. She lives with a woman who rents out two of her bedrooms in her house to foreign students, so it is Linds and Gabby, a really nice girl from Venezuela. Because Sarah had studied abroad in Toulouse we met up with some of her friends from when she was there and had a blast. Some highlights were:

- going to a house warming party for two of her friends, it was so fun, we met really nice French people and it was so nice to go to a low key party have a bit of a US/France mix.
- eating incredible gelato in town O'Sorbet is where its at. Just to make you drool, I had mascarpone fig and creme brulée. Enough said.
- COOKING. Lindsay has a full kitchen and it was so nice to use an oven and make goodies like quiche and homemade pizza.
- walking across all the bridges that run from one side of Toulouse to the other, reminded me a bit of Paris, and was absolutely beautiful at night.
- eating tapas with Sarah's French friends and another fellow Bowdoin grad, Marissa Moore, who came in for the night (she is teaching outside of Toulouse in the country) and we all ate at a small small restaurant with only about 15 places on high stools, it was SO good and had so much personality.

Toulouse is such a beautiful city, and I would definitely go back. The weather was great, I had wonderful company and the people there were incredibly nice.

Very early the morning of Saturday, October 30th Lindsay and I headed back to Rennes ...