Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bordeaux, France - Our new city!

Bordeaux - Enjoying our new home

As another vacation is coming to a close, I realize I have not blogged about the city of Bordeaux, where we currently reside.  I've taken time to speak about all kinds of day trips, experiences and other places close by, but never really spoke about Bordeaux.

Since moving here 6 months ago, I find myself enjoying the city more and more.  It's a great place to live.  So much to see and do and really a very beautiful city!  When the kids are in school, I have fun meeting friends for coffee and lunch and just exploring.  We also find ourselves enjoying the city as a family.

I find it so easy and fun to take the tram into the city.  No dealing with parking, city driving or traffic.  It's a clean, relaxing and smooth ride.  We live out of the center city a bit - but the tram line is right in our town - so it's a quick hop to the park & ride and boom - on the tram.  I love that about living here.  I do have to adjust with the time factor (takes longer with all the stops) but it's worth it from the relaxing, non-stress side.  It's also very inexpensive - park & ride is only 3 euros and it doesn't matter how many people are in the car -it's 3 euros!  One has to pay for parking downtown, like in most cities so this is such a great alternative!!

Even the kids have become "citified" learning how to read tram maps, count stops and deal with crowds.  This is a city after all - so there are also all kinds of people.   The city apparently did a huge clean up and renovation within the past 10years.  Cleaned up the darkened stone of the buildings, closed off streets for pedestrians only, and made the waterfront by the Garonne River beautiful.  It is really a pleasure to walk around downtown Bordeaux.  The city now is a wonderful mix of the old and the new.  Old beautiful buildings mixed with modern technology.  Another modern thing about Bordeaux is that they are making the center part WiFi accessible for free.  So great!

There are tons of shops, boutiques, restaurants, movie theaters and everything one needs.  What I also love is that there is a great open space downtown in the center - Place des Quinconces where festivals, carnivals, antique shows are all held various times throughout the year.  Now I have to say, being new here, these are just my initial thoughts and what I've seen in the last 6 months.  I am sure there is more to see than just what I'm describing here.  I'm also sure that as my year continues there will be more and more fun things to observe about different seasons.

Also in center downtown, there is a really cool carousel.  The kids often enjoy rides on it.  It's just beautiful sitting downtown near the Grand Theatre and the Regent Hotel.

It's been fun to have visitors come to see us.  Since it is such a great city to walk around - there is so much to see.  There is also a stunning beautiful cathedral near the center of the city - Cathedrale Saint Andre at Place Pey Berland.  This is considered the Cathedral of Bordeaux and dates back to the late 11th century.  I've been in it several times now and each time I'm amazed by it's architecture, detail and just majesty.  At Christmas time, they set up temporary ice skating rinks next to it.  So fun to be outside skating near such history!

Down by the Garonne river - The Quai (or riverwalk) is beautiful.  Especially during the Spring & Summer with the flowers and the fountain.  I also found it nice to walk along during the winter.  All along the West bank of the river, it's Pedestrian only and you can walk from the Pont de Pierre all the way up to Cap Science.  There are gardens, fountains, and skate parks.  The walk is designed to be wide enough for lots of walkers, bikers and kids on scooters or rip sticks.  Such a great place to be as a family.

Way up the river headed North, past Centre Ville - they have converted old warehouses into an outlet shopping plaza and more restaurants - Les Hangers.  This is also a great place to walk around and shop!

Just past Les Hangers is Cap Science - the city's Science museum - I wrote about our experience there in March - a really fun place!  Fun at Cap Science

I have to say I am having a lot of fun exploring this city.  I love having so much to do and see so close by - but at the same time - it's not a huge city.  I have to say - I have been very spoiled for the last 15 years as I was living in Saratoga Springs, NY - there we had the small town feel with all the offerings of a city.  It's nice to find a medium size city that reminds me of home!!

This is just a small - Part I of information about Bordeaux.  I have just highlighted a few things.  In the another post I will tell more about other parts of the city - old Roman gates, ruins of an roman amphitheater, gardens and some other fun tidbits that I've learned.  It's always fun to explore new areas and also capture the experiences with my camera.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

White Asparagus, Strawberries & La Fete de l'Asperge

In Season Spring Foods...enjoying farm fresh!

If you haven't figured it out yet - I love good food!  I also love to cook!  It's always been a passion for me - trying out new recipes, buying new cookbooks, arriving at a new favorite dish.  However - 3 kids and working full time, I didn't always have the energy to plan and cook new things.  It gets easy to fall into routines and quick meals.  My husband and I would purposely entertain back in Saratoga often to try out new recipes and to just enjoy making a nice meal and sharing it with friends.   I have to say, since moving to France it's been nice to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and farm meats.  As the climate is milder here, the fresh local fruit and vegetable season is longer.  The French also love their food!  It's been a good match for me so far.

I have to say it's so far it's nice to see "What's in season"...This winter was Oyster season.  We enjoyed Fresh Oysters during the holidays.  Nothing like a fresh raw oyster with lemon juice sucked right out of the shell!  It was so interesting to see that for the holidays - all the markets, supermarkets and stands had oysters.  It's a very traditional holiday appetizer or "entree" as they say in France.

So now it's Spring, the lilacs are blooming, the tulips are out - Spring has sprung.  It's also the season now for local favorites of white asparagus and strawberries.  They have been all over the markets for the past couple of weeks.  I have to say white asparagus is delicious!  Especially served with a sauce of creme fraiche mixed with salt, pepper, fresh chives and a touch of vinegar.

I just find it so nice to have so many "in season" local foods.  It's nice to truly change the menu around what is "in season" and it all tastes so fresh!  Now coming from Saratoga Springs, we had  an awesome farmer's market.  But due to the climate, "in season" really doesn't start until May & June.   Here it's just longer.

To further highlight the love of seasonal food here - Next weekend there is The Asparagus Festival of Blayais (or La Fete de l'Asperge).  This festival will have over 50 gourmet exhibitors carefully selected for their products:  asparagus, cured meats, cheeses, strawberries, chocolates, jams, honeys and of course local wines.  There is also a cooking contest open to all.  The aim of this festival is to promote the local asparagus Blayais and to highlight the skills of the participants.  This sounds too good to pass up!  I'm just so amazed that they have an asparagus festival!

So, in honor of the weekly farmer's market in Pessac we cooked white asparagus, sliced tomatoes with a vinaigrette, and farm chicken with oven roasted potatoes.  We ended our meal with awesome strawberries!  Here's to fresh delicious food!

Dordogne & The High Ropes Course

La Foret Des Ecureuils - Sarlat- Perigord region

We decided for Spring vacation to just stay around and enjoy the area.  Also factoring in was the fact that my brother and his wife were visiting us on either end of the break.  We did take a few days to go out to the Dordogne to visit my in-laws.  They live in Le Bugue, about 2 and a half hours East of Bordeaux.  It's always fun to head out there as my mother in law is a fantastic cook!  She always prepares fresh delicious meals.  Most of our time there is spent hanging out with family and of course enjoying the wonderful meals!  Unfortunately the weather this time, was a bit cool and rainy.  We did decide on Friday afternoon to take the kids out to a ropes course in between the showers.  We got lucky and it was dry the whole time we were there.

We had experienced a rope's course almost 3 years ago when we had the 2 older girls (then 5.5 and 8.5 years old) in the Landes region in South Western France.  They enjoyed it so much, they continued to talk about it for a long time afterward.  Knowing my youngest was now old enough to do a small course, we looked on line and found a course about 35 minutes away just past Sarlat - La Foret des Ecureuils.  There were actually 3 courses in the region, but since it's only Spring, we went to one that we knew would be open.
It's funny, the sign says from age 2 - but my youngest at 4 and half was just confident enough to handle her course. (Which was for the youngest kids)  Changing her harness rings took a bit of strength also.  She was excited to join the world of adventure with her sisters.  You can see from the photos that she was a bit nervous and had to concentrate at times but persevered.  It was so nice to watch her go from nervous to more and more confident.  There were even some parts where she stood back and accessed the situation before stepping forward.  I also chuckled as she initially thought she would fall but when she lost her footing in one area and realized the harness was going to catch her - she wasn't going to be stopped after that.
Having the Harness tightened...a bit nervous..

Starting off on the log walk...

Swing steps were a bit nerve-racking...

Stepping on the vertical logs
Face of success at the end of the zip line!
Over 2 stories above the ground, my 8 year old looks toward her next move.

Now the older girls were tall enough and old enough for the advanced courses.  Way up in the trees!  They got harnessed up and given their safety instructions and off they went.  I stayed on the lower course and supervised my youngest.  My husband coached the older girls from below on their courses.  Now for my fearless 11 year old, she just took off.  She got ahead and just kept going - tower by tower.  She completed 2 circuits in the 2 and a half hours we were there.  She especially enjoyed the tower that overlooked the valley road down below.  She said it felt like she was on top of the world!  Now, you have to know here, heights are not my thing.  I very happily allowed my husband to supervise and coach the older girls.  Just watching my oldest daughter finish the last 2 towers at the end was enough for me!

My husband did share that the toughest part of the experience was when my eight year old panicked on one of the towers.  She unfortunately had pinched her finger on one of the pulley lines and was afraid to pinch it again.  She was also at that point, on one of the highest towers and the only way off was to continue.  The course does have "emergency" exit points at several towers but not at this particular one.  She apparently cried for a minute or so, but as he reminded her - he couldn't get to her, she stopped, pulled herself together and continued.  I got to experience the end result of triumph when she came running down the hill to me (where I was with her younger sister) yelling she had gotten scared but did it anyway and it was GREAT!!

It wasn't until later that I actually learned just how scared she really was.  I have to say these course are great confidence builders.  Again, all of the girls talked about their experience the whole way home.  It was so nice to hear them acknowledge and congratulate each other on their success!  I'm sure we will be looking for more of theses parks from time to time.  The other neat thing about these parks is that you can redo the circuits as many times as you wish.  Most of these parks have refreshment stands and picnic areas so you can even bring a lunch and go back and do more rounds.  A great way to spend some family time!!
My oldest daughter way up in the trees!

Coming down the zip line

One of the last lines up before the final descent.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Through the eyes of life in France is different!

As we come up on being in France for 6 months, I'm amazed what I've gotten used to and now seems normal to me.  It's sometimes hard now, to think about not having certain things and the new patterns we've created.    We had visitors from the States this week, and it reminded me again what's really different here versus back home.  Here are a few observations made by my guests:

You will do buy fresh bread daily
hearing the description of our grocery stores...(Similar to a Walmart, or Target but not quite the same..)
Cars are smaller
What's with the roundabouts?
A whole aisle of yogurts?  (as opposed to aisles of dressings in the States)
What exactly is creme fraise?  (Tastes better than sour cream!)
yellow farm chicken
Really - every french house is gated and/or walled for privacy?   Are there such things a neighborhoods?
Decent inexpensive wine for around $4.00...and you can buy it at the grocery store!
Cheese is very reasonable also
Chocolatines ...(Croissants filled with chocolate bits)
The pastry shops are incredible.

This was just a few...but it reminds me how life is different here.  I have to say I do miss some things...chocolate chips, white hot dogs, less bureaucracy, and professional customer service!

Being American and my husband being French, we get to see both sides of things.  Twice my husband has asked for certain items in a hardware store, only to have the employee tell him they don't carry it.  But then, seconds later, we find the item ourselves.  It's somewhat comically to get apologies, but here it seems to be the norm.  If the employee doesn't want to be bother, they won't.  Now, I have to say, I feel sometimes, being American has it's advantages, I ask for something, apologize for my accent, stating French is my second language and end up in conversation about the States.  Then the employees seem to try their hardest to help me find what I'm looking for.  You have to also understand here, that I'm not always sure of the name of what I want - so trying to figure out what I need is a bit like a game of charades!  But I usually succeed.

We also notice that employees in stores often specialize in their certain area or location in the store and can not help beyond that area.  Again, in a hardware store, seeking information about a lawn mower, we were sent to 3 different employees before the "right" employee could help us.  However, he couldn't help us as he was assigned out in front of the store at that moment and couldn't leave his post until an employee returned from lunch..  He suggested that we return in an hour!  Needless to say, we didn't return there, we moved on to the next store.    I have to say we are lucky as we live in a large city, so we have many choices of stores.  But in you were in a smaller town or village, that particular store may be your only choice.  It's just the French way.  Pace and lifestyle are much slower - no hurry.

So as we head further into vacation, I'm enjoying looking back on where we are at - seeing differences, similarities and the pros and cons of each country.  I'm looking forward to other visitors and seeing their perspectives and also seeing how we change our expectations and accept some of the norms.  Who really knows when that will be.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pessac Market, Flowers, Festival & Fun

Weekend fun at the Pessac Market & 
Printemps du Bourgailh
I can't believe this weekend has gone by so quickly.  We definitely enjoyed some fun outdoor time.  It was great to see all the flowers at the weekly Pessac market.  Such a fun place with all the vendors.  This week was especially colorful with so many flowers in bloom, not to mention - also for sale.  I had a lot of fun meeting and talking to many of the vendors.  These vendors seems to enjoy foreigners.  I even had one produce man who once he found out I was from the States, said, "Wait here, I want to show you something".  He went off into his truck and came out with an American magazine, "Budget Traveler".  He opens it up to show me a write up about him selling his produce and says, I have friends from all over now.  He was great!  Another vendor selling Saucisson, dried salami sausage, very poplar over here wanted to practice his English with me, telling me he likes to speak English from to practice. I just love all the fresh foods!

After taking in the market, we headed out to the Printemps du Bourgailh.  This flower, garden & nature festival was great.  First, there were tons of plants and flowers for sale.  So fun to walk through and notice all the different varieties.  This wasn't just you normal patio variety either..also included were exotic plants, fruit trees and catus plants. Some flowers I didn't even recognize from the States.   We happily went home with a small cherry tree.  Although, I would have loved to purchase more!

*Photo source/credit - Ville of Pessac
In addition to all the plants, there were other vendors, selling all kinds of natural things - foods, crafts etc.  The best part for the kids were petting animals, activities and games.  My girls had fun with the old-fashion wooden games.  They also enjoyed making nature bookmarks.  This booth provided the kids will pre-cut paper and gave them glue, beautiful dried flowers and sand and let them work.  After a child was done, they sealed it together with clear contact paper.  So cute!  I was amazed as what my 4 year old and 8 year old created!
Pony rides were also popular.  We just has a nice time walking around and taking it all in.  Finding parking was the biggest challenge as the Site du Bourgailh sits off a narrow road and only has a small parking lot, so most people were parked way down the road on either side, wherever they could find room to park.  I think we ended up parking over one Kilometer away.  This was great as we walked in, but as we returned with our purchases, it seemed long.  Especially when we had a very tired 4 year old with us.  The following pictures show more of our afternoon.  Feeling like the photos capture the joy and relaxation of the afternoon.  I was just excited to be surrounded by natural things.  Like I said to a friend of mine earlier this evening, sometimes I feel like life over here is simpler than back home in the States.  Not that we didn't have these kind of festivals back home, but nothing is too overdone here.  Keeping it simple. The pace is also much more relaxing.

A great time was had by all and it's hard to believe the weekend is over already.  We now get ready for our next round of guests and start the school vacation.  

Who can get all of the the markers on the other side first?
Sampling all natural apple juice.
Deep in concentration trying to balance a ball.

Bonsai Maple tree

Designing a bookmark
Final step in sealing the bookmark

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