Thursday, February 17

Galway Girl

Enjoying tea and cake at
Apple Pie - of course
There is nothing like having good friends visit! One of my best friend's from home, Libby, is currently living in Galway, Ireland and despite us both being in Europe, we have yet to see one another - so last weekend she hopped across the channel and came to Rennes. We had the best time catching up and it was nice, yet again, to show someone all of my favorite spots in Rennes. We had a typical Breton night on Wednesday when she got here, having galettes, cider, and crepes, followed by grabbing a pint with friends in town to watch the France vs. Brazil soccer game (which we won - yay!).

Caely graces us with her talent ... apple tart

I don't work on Thursdays, so I took Libby to the Cathedral, the Parliament building, the opera house and the mayor's office, in addition to all of the tiny side streets trying to still milk the January sales. We got lunch at my favorite tartine place with one of my friends and sat at the same table as some French women who happened to be teachers as well and enjoying a glass of wine before needing to go back to school (a two hour lunch, complete with wine is what teachers should all have in the middle of the day, I wonder when the US will catch on to this ...). Of course when we left it began to rain so we sought refuge in Apple Pie so I could introduce Libby to my favorite restaurant and Lisa (the owner, from Dublin) and Libby could talk Ireland. Turns out Lisa is very familiar with Galway and even met her husband there! We were not disappointed with lemon tart and apple pie.

Great meal with great friends
Friday night Libby came to school with me and helped monitor a debate and later gave a mini presentation on Galway to the students in my afternoon class. They were really well behaved and it was nice to show Libby what my life is like everyday. I think she enjoyed the class, but it was a little hard to keep a straight face when you have someone you know well in the classroom. Friday night I had a dinner party and borrowed a raclette machine from one of the teachers at my school. Raclette is like a big hot stone, and underneath there are places to put mini frying pans of cheese. Once the cheese heats up, you put it on top of veggies, ham/meat, and potatoes ... and repeat (see image below). It was a huge success and so easy when you are entertaining people. Caely spoiled us again with an apple tart ...

Example of raclette machine
Photo from

Perfect tomatoes
Saturday I showed Libby the market - and I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but it literally never fails to amaze me. The weather all weekend was absolutely phenomenal so we were able to have a picnic outside on the Parliament steps in the sun - it was beautiful. After yet another meal, we wandered up towards Parc Thabor where the flowers are starting to come up! There were lots of small kids and babies walking with their families so we sat and people watched for a while as well. We rounded off Libby's stay with a night of dancing which was, as always, fun and cathartic. She left Sunday morning, to my dismay, but all in all we had a wonderful time and it was so nice to just cook and walk around and talk and drink wine - it was a nice little taste of Yarmouth!
Saturday morning book sale

Beautiful weather - perfect for a picnic!
Rediscovering Rennes and it's architecture

Sunday, February 6

Willkommen nach Strasbourg!

"I really want to visit Strasbourg!" was simply a conversation with my friend Sarah a few weeks ago ... two train tickets, three days, and one day off later, I just got back from an amazing visit to Strasbourg! For those of you who are not familiar with the city, it is pretty much a straight line, directly east of Rennes, extremely close to the border of Germany. I essentially went from one side to the other in six not-so-short hours. I have to say, before I go into detail, that Strasbourg has to be one of my all time favorite cities so far - not only in France, but in general. Between the food, the pedestrian-only side streets, the lights, the Cathedral, and the river, it is absolutely beautiful.

Outside of Cathedral

Astrological Clock
We left Friday morning, extremely early, allowing us to have the afternoon to explore the city. We left our stuff at the hotel, grabbed a map, and headed off. First stop, the Cathedral. My friend Helen who I studied abroad with, studied in Strasbourg the semester before Rennes, and spoke very highly of it. I tried to do as much as I could while we there, but I was so happy we took the advice of exploring the Cathedral because it is seriously incredible. It is absolutely massive with beautiful, ornate stained glass windows and impossibly detailed architecture. Saturday at noon, we went back to the Cathedral to watch a short film about the astronomical clock that is inside. This is the third clock that was constructed in the Cathedral (the first one being from the 14th century, the second in the 16th century, and this one from the 19th century), and it essentially includes symbolism of the passing of time as it relates to life, death, the afterlife, and Jesus. It is really amazing and so hard to believe how well constructed it is!

Second stop, the set of Sherlock Holmes 2? As I was approaching the Cathedral I came across a trailer with a sign on it that read: "Sherlock Holmes 2: Hair and Make-Up." The night before I left, we had watched the first Sherlock Holmes because we heard a rumor they were filming in Strasbourg - rumor was true! We stood around with about 100 other people oo-ing and ah-ing at the set, the cameras, and the extras - most importantly the horses. It was really cool to see how Strasbourg is so quaint there was hardly any extra construction to the site apart from two fake store fronts. I learned later neither Jude Law, nor Robert Downey Jr. were there filming, but it was still very cool.

Sherlock Holmes 2 set: No big deal
Cutest extra on set
Third stop, who's thirsty? Kronenbourg anyone? After taking our time on Saturday morning, and seeing the presentation/activity of the clock in the Cathedral, we decided to take a tour of the Kronenbourg brewery just outside the city center. Again, for those of you who don't know Kronenbourg is a French beer, owned by the Carlsburg company. They make beers like 1664, Kronenbourg, and Grimbergen. The tour consisted of a presentation on how the beer is made, a visit to the old factory, a tour through the caves below the building where it was originally made, and of course, a tasting. I was really impressed by the tour, and it was very cool to see the evolution of how the beer is made and also the advertising. The tour was complete in French, so I think we picked up some new vocabulary too ... hops = houblons.

Original 19th century beer barrels
Old school print ads for Kronenbourg

Fourth stop, la petite France. The center of Strasbourg is basically a big island, appropriately called "Grande Ile". One corner of it is a tiny, quaint area called Petite France where there are small windy streets and adorable buildings with architecture that make you feel like you are in Epcot Germany. With the canal surrounding this area, there are small foot bridges and little souvenir shops that run along the quarter making you feel as though you are very much in a mini-Strasbourg, or a mini-France.

flammkuchen yumm
Last, but certainly not least, the food. Don't think I didn't forget. Strasbourg is very French, and very much like Brittany in that the typical cuisine includes potatoes, cheese, ham, and bread - but there is definitely a twist - like adding to that sauerkraut, pretzels, and flammkuchen. The first night we started by going to a wine bar called Terres à Vin. I read about it in Food and Wine and was anxious to try some riesling from that region. It was tucked away off a side street and couldn't have been more welcoming and delicious. We both tried a white wine, I went with riesling which tasted nothing like the impossibly sweet riesling I have had in the past, and we split some organic foie gras - a worthwhile treat. As for dinner, we went to "Au Renard Prêchant" a very traditional Alsace restaurant I found recommended by Lonely Planet. I tried pork with sauerkraut and Sarah stuck with the theme of the night have foie gras ravioli. And yes it was amazing as it sounds. But, no, it wasn't as heavy and rich as you would think (in a good way). Let's just say it was a good thing we were walking for about three hours a day ...
Strasbourg: amazing city, incredible food,
and the best company!
Saturday we went to lunch and tried flammkuchen which is typical and traditional. It is an extremely flat, cracker-like, pizza with créme fraiche (a bit like sour cream), cheese, onions, and bacon pieces. It. Is. Amazing. We got it with mushrooms and potatoes too and it was absolutely delicious. Saturday evening we wandered around and found another place recommended to me called "Au Brasseur Strasbourg". There was a huge wait, it was really crowded, and they made their own beer, perfect. We waited for a bit, took our time staring at what everyone else was getting while enjoying their white beer, and settled on knopfle (which is basically gnocchi) and jammet braisé (which is the hip from pork with sauerkraut). Great decisions. The food in Strasbourg is definitely not light, and they aren't into as much butter and sugar as they are here in Brittany (hence the lack of dessert observations), but the food is perfect after walking around all day at the beginning of February.

I also got to meet up with Alice, who is very good friends with my friend Zac from Bowdoin. When he heard I was going to Rennes, he gave me her name because she is from Rennes, but is actually studying in Strasbourg this year. She was absolutely adorable and so nice. We had a beer with her and her friends after dinner on Saturday and it felt nice to hang out with some Frenchies our age and speak some French.

Overall it was an incredible weekend. I feel like I really saw the city and took advantage of where I was. I could easily spend more time there, and would love to visit more museums or simply just walk around discovering more neighborhoods and learning a bit more about the history. Public transportation was a great plus as well, completely accessible buses, and a beautiful tram system with about five lines that runs above ground throughout the city. Hopefully I will be able to go back the Alsace region again soon because it is truly one of the best parts of France.
View from the bridge in La Petit France
My adventures are far from over ... Libby, one of my best friends from home, is currently living in Galway, Ireland and is making the trek to Rennes on Wednesday for the rest of the week/weekend. I'm so excited to show her around Rennes and play hostess. Stay tuned for more very soon!

à bientôt!