Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend in Luxembourg

So, I've been lazy and haven't blogged in weeks, but I must tell you all about the fantastic weekend I spent with my cousin, Sarah, and her family in Luxembourg. Sarah's husband, Matt, is an engineer for Goodyear, and his work brought the family to Luxembourg last January, where they will live for two more years. Thanksgiving has always been very special for me at home, and I was very grateful to have such kind, wonderful, family members welcome me into their house for my first holiday away from my Oregon family. Oddly enough, this is the closest Sarah and I have ever lived, as I grew up in Oregon, and she grew up in Ohio, and we were able to see each other very rarely. It was also ironic to think that my Thanksgiving dinner in Luxembourg was really the most American Thanksgiving I've ever experienced. Mouthwatering Thanksgiving meals with my French grandparents always include non-traditional meat (such as goose, duck, or quail instead of turkey) or a twist on the traditional Thanksgiving fare (such as chestnut and sausage stuffing instead of bread stuffing, and yams cooked with brandy rather than marshmallows). I really enjoyed having an American Thanksgiving in Europe. Sarah and Matt invited many friends that they'd made, and everyone brought a dish. I think there were two turkeys, two bowls of bread stuffing, two bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, cauliflower, green beans, yams, cranberry sauce, and of course two pies and ice cream for dessert. Delightful!

The next day, Sarah and little Abby took me into town while Matt was at work. Here I am with Abigail and the blue woman in downtown Luxembourg:

Sarah took me to the charming Christmas Market in Luxembourg. I tried some hot white wine (delicious) and Sarah, Abby, and I had pasta for lunch. I don't know what it is about Europeans, but they are masters of fast food pasta. We took a stroll around the booths, buying fudge and scoping out potential Christmas gifts. I thought it was interesting that the market included booths selling everything from nativity scene characters carved out of olive wood, to marzipan penises. I considered buying Jeremy some of the latter as a joke, but decided I didn't want him to be beaten by other soldiers for eating marzipan penises. After the Christmas market, and a chocolat chaud at a café, we returned home for Abby's nap (and mine as well). When Matt came home we went out to a wonderful restaurant where I had ravioli stuffed with foie gras. Nom nom nom. It was a delightful day. Here is a picture of the cousins from that night:

The next day, Matt, Sarah, and Abby took me to Trier, Germany, to visit a very well-know Christmas market. It was amazing. It was like a Christmas wonderland fairy-town dream place. Everyone was walking around with hot wine, and sausages, and potato pancakes, and delicious desserts. Here are Matt, Sarah, and Abby (and Luke is on the way!):

Sausage-themed trash cans: welcome to Germany.

A charming goat scene on the roof of a Christmas booth:

Sarah and Abby eat chocolate covered grapes:

A German einhorn for alex:

Adorable, pregnant Sarah inside the Porta Nigra, Trier's Roman City Gate from the 2nd century A.D.:

View of Trier from the Porta Nigra. The mass of people in the middle is the Christmas market:

Trier was wonderfully, and I was able to add another new country to my list. After Trier, we went home for Abby's nap (and mine, and I think Matt fell asleep too). Then Sarah made us a delightful spaghetti dinner (with real Italian pasta), and then we went out for tea and dessert in the town of Vianden. Vianden has an incredible castle on the hill, and the town was utterly charming. I'm glad we went at night because the town had such a wonderful atmosphere. It was so cold and foggy, and the streets were so empty and quiet, and there were Christmas lights or candles in all of the windows of the homes. It was really lovely. Here is a slightly blurry view of the castle:

My train left the next morning, and I definitely didn't want to leave Sarah and Matt's cosy house where I was thoroughly spoiled. But I'm excited for a return visit to see new parts of Europe, and meet the new addition to the family!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

City of Lights

Two weekends ago, I took the train up to Paris to visit some very dear family friends. Georges is 100 hundred-years-old. He was my grandmother's guardian in France after World War II. He is amazing. He still goes out every morning to go shopping, and helps out with the housework. When I arrived in Paris, Georges, his wonderful wife Andrée, and I talked for a little bit before their granddaughter Sarah came over. Sarah was ten and I was twelve the last time we saw each other in 2000, so we had both changed a lot. This is us now:

Sarah was so sweet and kind. We walked around Paris for hours, and it was so nice to have a real Parisienne as my tour guide. Our first stop was the Galeries Lafayette, a beautiful and famous shopping mall all decorated for Christmas.

I have a thing for enormous, well-decorated Christmas trees, so as you can imagine, the one inside the Galeries Lafayette tickled my fancy:

Here is Sarah with some reindeer in the Galeries Lafayette:

Here is a view of the Eiffel Tower from the terrace at the very top of the Galeries Lafayette. Sarah explained that it is all lit up in blue in honor of Nicolas Sarkozy's current Presidency of the European Union.

We then looked at the utterly charming window displays that the mall creates for the holidays each year. This year's theme was Alice in Wonderland, which delighted me to no end. I was only able to get a picture of one of the many vitrines (and not a very good picture at that) because I had to elbow my way past about a hundred small children and their parents to make it to the front.

After the vitrines, Sarah and I walked up the Champs-Elysées.

It was absolutely packed with people, but Sarah said it's always like that. We ended at the Arc de Triomphe, and then returned back to Georges and Andrée's.

Sarah's parents, Catherine (the daughter of Georges and Andrée) and Patrick came to dinner, and I briefly saw Sarah's brother Maxime before he had to leave. It was wonderful to see everyone again after 8 years. I had such a nice weekend, and next time I will try to get more pictures. I am hoping to visit again in January, to wish Georges a happy 101st birthday!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hello Soldier

For his two week leave from Iraq, Jeremy came to France to visit yours truly. It was so fantastic. When we weren't hanging out at my apartment watching the Colbert Report online, we were wandering around Poitiers, eating the best meals ever, trying new and extraordinary chocolates and pastries, and traveling elsewhere. One of the highlights of Jeremy's visit was our trip to Bordeaux. The first evening we were there we visited the Cathedral of St. André. It was huge and gothic. My favorite. Here is a picutre of the cathedral in the twlight:

We signed up for two tours with Bordeaux's office of tourism. The first was an afternoon trip to a vineyard with wine tasting, followed by a visit to the medieval city of St. Emilion, the town one of France's most famous wines is named for. Here we are standing amongst the grapes at Château Larmande:

Wine tasting in the cellar of Château Larmande:

Serious picture faces on top of the tower over-looking the city of St. Emilion:

Overjoyed picture faces on top of the tower over-looking the city of St. Emilion:

Jeremy being "hilarious" on top of the tower over-looking the city of St. Emilion:

Jeremy climbing on parts of the tower he definitely shouldn't have been climbing on (it was my fault. I told him he wouldn't be able to get up there):

View of St. Emilion and the surrounding vineyards from the top of the tower:

It was wonderful.

The next day we had our wine and cheese class in the late afternoon. Before our class, we wandered around Bordeaux, ate lunch, and made some necessary chocolate purchases. I had a cold (one of us is always sick when we're together) and was feeling pretty bad at this point, so we found a tea salon to hang out in for a couple of hours before our class. Here are the best chocolates we discoverd in Bordeaux:

The mushroom is filled with caramel,and the bogue, or as Jeremy called it the beholder, is filled with different sorts of chocolate, chestnut paste, and almond paste. Nom nom nom. Here we are displaying our chocolates (although I realize you can't see the chocolates because I'm bad at the one-handed picture taking thing. Our beautiful faces should be enough for you):

Then we went to our wine and cheese class. It was awesome. Jeremy and I agreed that the tour from the previous day, and the wine and cheese class complemented each other well. While the tour had tought us about the production of wine, the class taught us about wine-tasting. We learned how to analyze the age of the wine by looking at its color, and how to properly smell and taste it in order to determine all of its flavors. We tasted three wines (and the portions were quite generous), and then we were invited to take what we wanted from the cheese cellar. Heavenly. Here is our wine and cheese class. Jeremy and I are all the way in the back:

In addition to Bordeaux, we also made some little day trips, including a visit to a seventh century fortified abbey in the town of Nouaillé Maupertuis (very close to Poitiers) and the coastal town of La Rochelle. La Rochelle also happens to be the town where Grand-père left for America in 1946, when he was 19. So I thought a lot about how it would feel to be in La Rochelle as a 19-year-old about to permanently leave his country. Very strange. Here is Jeremy on top of one of La Rochelle's towers. He is very confused by the sign telling him he should not be standing on the thing he's standing on:

Now some pics in Poitiers. We like playgrounds:

And overpriced tequila sunrises:

And the mandatory "Jeremy-standing-on-a-tree" shot:

Jeremy went back to Iraq last week, and I miss him so much. My apartment is so lonely without him. I want him to come back. Right now. But hopefully he'll be able to make another visit once he gets out of Iraq in March. And for his next visit, we're doing Paris.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Soon to Come

Picutres from Jeremy's visit! It was the most wonderful two weeks.

Get Ready for a lot of Pictures

The Oregon group traveled to the Loire valley the weekend of October 18th and 19th. It was wonderful to visit some of the beautiful sites outside of Poitiers. Our visit started at the estate of Marc Brédif-a Vouvray cellar none-the-less. Oh, how I love the Vouve.

Here I am wine tasting with Aerika and Liz in the cellar.

I really wanted to sneak one of these 1874 bottles into my purse, but then I thought better of it:

After Marc Brédif, we arrived at the town of Amboise.

Charming, no? After having a pastry or two in town, and taking a look at the cathedral, we then took a tour of the royal lodgings. Charles VIII was born here, and lived here with his queen. Here is the royal bedroom:

The royal drainage system (I love this!):

The royal chapel:

The royal view:

After Amboise, we drove to the place we were staying for the night, a sort of hostel catering specifically to groups like ours. This is what we saw when we woke up the next morning. Beautiful.

Amboise was wonderful, but I thought Chenonceau was spectacular. (Try to imagine it without the scaffolding).

Here is the room of Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II, to whom he gave Chenonceau.

Catherine de Medici's bedroom:

The Gallery. During World War I, the owner of Chenonceau installed a hospital in the gallery at his own expense. During the course of the war, the hospital cared for 2254 wounded soldiers. During World War II, the gallery provided a convenient door into the Free Zone, while Chenonceau's entrance was in the occupied zone.

The gallery is built over a bridge. Here is the view of the Loire river from inside the gallery.

The chamber of Louise de Lorraine is one of the more interesting rooms in the castle. After her husband, King Henri III was assasinated in 1589, Louise went to Chenonceau for prayer and meditation. She was called "the White Queen" because she always wore white in compliance with royal mourning etiquette. Her room is decorated with mourning symbols.

The living room of Louis XIV, named so in memory of the visit he made to Chenonceau in 1650.

Our last stop before heading back to Poitiers was the town of Loches. We took a tour of the donjon, a sort of military fortress and prison complete with a torture chamber.

We then spent some time exploring the town. I particularly liked these strange figures carved into a pillar in the Loches cathedral.

Then, we headed home. Quite a wonderful weekend.