Monday, February 27, 2017

Ten things I learned in Alsace and Burgundy...

Every time I take a trip, I like to take a moment and reflect on the things I learned during my travels.  No matter where I go, I always learn something new.  On this particular trip, I learned more about French food!  But I also learned some other things that I want to share with those who read this blog. So here goes...

10.  Ribeauville is pronounced "Ribeauvillay".

I was curious about how to pronounce Ribeauville because I noticed that all the signs showed an accent over the second e in the name.  I asked Yannick, our host at our first gite, how to pronounce Ribeauville and he helped me out.  Here's a link to where you can hear French speakers say it.

By the same token, Alsace is pronounced "Al-zahss" (not Al-sayce).

9.  There's an art to ordering steak in France.  

I was under the impression that in France, most people like their meat bloody.  It's also been my impression that the French know Americans don't always like really rare meat.  If you want to be in the know for enjoying beef in France, here's a guide to how to order it.  I asked for medium steak twice and ended up with well-done the second time.  If I had known the French terms, maybe it would have turned out differently.

8.  The word for turkey in French is "dinge".  Storks are a big deal in Alsace.  

And I like turkey, so that's good to know for next time!  I never knew there were so many storks in that part of France and had not noticed them prior trips.  

7.  Escargot isn't half bad...

It's not all bad, either.  I was pleasantly surprised by the escargot Bill and I tried in Burgundy, although I think all the garlic helped.  It reminded me somewhat of eating haggis, though, and will probably be an experience saved for special occasions.  I will say that every time I have smelled escargots being prepared, I have been intoxicated by the aroma.  They always smell delicious to me, even if the idea of eating something slimy is a bit off putting.  But, in fairness to snails, they aren't slimy when they've been cooked.

6.  Kugelhopf is a tasty breakfast bread.

It's available in Germany, too, especially close to the French border.  I'd probably still prefer croissants, but there aren't really any bad French breads, are there?

5.  You can have a great time in a no name destination.

I say "no name", but what I really mean is a place that isn't on the tourist map.  Ribeauville is definitely more touristy than Saint Marcelin-de-Cray is, but I think Bill and I enjoyed the less touristy side of our trip more.  It was fun just to be in a place where we were aliens and could just soak up the atmosphere.  It was great being in what the wine seller described as "the real France".

4. Going off the beaten path is good for the soul as well as the brain.

All week, we were challenged to learn a little bit of French.  We ran into only one group of Americans and that was on the first night of our seven night trip.  Although a few people we ran into spoke English, we had to live a bit more by our wits.  And if you read my series, you now know that can sometimes lead to eating chitterlings.

3.  Andouillette in France is NOT the same as American Andouille sausage. 

Moreover, the French also do Andouille sausage differently than the Cajun folks do.  If you are an adventurous eater who enjoys offal, it may be a thrill to try it in France.  If you're not, you may want to be aware.  That being said, I read that Andouillette is a delicacy in Burgundy.  It's also very popular in Lyon, which is considered France's food city.  There's even a club for connoisseurs.

2.  In Burgundy, if you are offered "coffee" at four o'clock, don't be surprised if you end up with wine.

Of course, you may also get coffee.

1.  If you haven't tried staying in a self-catering "gite" (pronounced zheet), you should give it a go.  

When Bill and I lived in Germany the first time, we pretty much always stayed in B&Bs and hotels when we traveled.  This time, because it's not as easy to book our dogs at their favorite place, we have been taking them with us.  Our dogs are not the most polite hounds on the block, so we like to find places to stay where they won't be disruptive to others.  Gites are great for that purpose.  I have found that France is especially dog friendly, too.  We spend a lot less money for larger accommodations where we can cook our own meals and not have to worry about disrupting housekeepers.  It's a win/win all the way around.  I still love going to really nice hotels and being pampered, but when we bring our dogs, gites are the best alternative.  And we have met some great people that way, too.

And also great donkeys...

Alsace and Burgundy... Another trip to Cluny and having "coffee" in a wine store. pt. 8

On Saturday afternoon, we decided to go back to Cluny and try another restaurant.  Sophie, the gite hostess, had recommended a place, but we had trouble finding it.  We stopped at a different restaurant instead.  Again, I chose it after following my nose.

Au Bon Point is obviously very much a local dive.  The dining room was full when we got there and everyone looked like they knew the place and its owners.

The menu is on the wall.  This time, I was the adventurous one and Bill had a steak and fries.

We meat to have a bigger bottle of wine than this.  We did rectify the situation with a great bottle from the South of France.

Bill enjoys his "faux filet".  The frites on his dish were outstanding... probably the best out of the entire trip.

I had shrimp in creamy risotto, with peas, carrots, and tiny pieces of jambon blanc (boiled ham).  This was a very tasty dish, but it was also super messy!  Bill laughed at me as I peeled the shrimp and got creamy risotto everywhere.

This was a delightful red from southern France, with lots of berries.  I hope we can find it in these parts.

Bill had the cake of the day for dessert.  It was apple, of course.

And I had a chocolate macaron, which basically ended up being a glorified lava cake.  I'm not a big fan of lava cakes, but I suppose I have to have one on every trip.  I think the chocolate sauce might have been Hershey's syrup!

Because of all the wine, we capped off lunch with espresso.

Again, no one spoke English and we got a fine meal at a good price.  I think we spent about seventy euros on this lunch and left fairly satisfied.  I would go back again, although it wasn't my favorite of all the places we tried.  I think that honor goes to Caveau Heuhaus. 

After lunch, we stopped into a winestore because Bill wanted to buy a bottle of locally produced "grappa".  Au Plaisir Dit Vin was an interesting stop, if only because the guy working there was definitely a salesman.  We picked up a couple of packs of beer from Burgundy and Bill asked about the digestive he wanted.  The man spoke English and helped him pick a bottle.  As we were paying with a credit card, I spotted a bottle of wine I wanted, so we bought that in a separate transaction in cash.  

A good liquor store.

The guy then asked us if we had time for a cup of coffee.  Bill seemed reluctant, but I said yes.  So the sales dude brought out two glasses of white wine.  He explained that in France, if it's four o'clock, a host will sometimes offer coffee and bring out wine.  That way, it's more socially acceptable to drink before five o'clock, I guess. 

As we were trying the wine, I said I tasted lime and, of all things, shortbread.  The sales guy asked me if I was Scottish.  I laughed and said, "No, I am American, but many of my ancestors were Scots."  

The salesman then asked what we were doing in the area.  He guessed maybe we were skiers, but he clearly didn't get a good look at my ample physique.   I haven't been on skis since I was a teenager.  We told him we'd just decided to see the area on a lark.  When we said we were staying in Saint Marcelin-de-Cray, he said, "Ah... that is the REAL France!"  Having been to a lot of France's best known cities, I have to agree.

I am sure that if we hadn't been interrupted by the next customers, an enthusiastic Russian couple who spoke English, we probably would have left that store with a lot more booze.  I could tell the sales guy was looking to make some money.

After walking around a bit more so Bill's head could clear, we went back to the farm, where I took more pictures and drank more wine.

The sky was ever changing and ever beautiful.

We climbed up the tower one more time so Bill could take a look at the sunset.

Our very gracious hostess told us that she didn't have any bookings yesterday, so we could stay as late as we wanted to.  I would have liked to have stayed longer yesterday, but we knew we had a six hour drive ahead of us.  So after a good breakfast, we packed up and cleared out by 10:00am.  We left our gite in fine spirits, as Sophie told us we'd be welcome back any time.  I promised her I'd spread the word about her lovely accommodations to all of my friends.  So I am doing that with these posts and I hope I can convince a couple of readers to take a journey into rural Burgundy and see "the real France".  

Not only is Burgundy beautiful and brimming with wonderful wines, it's also a place where there is great hospitality.  Once again, as we said goodbye to Sophie yesterday, we felt like we'd made new friends.  That is the best part of a good trip.   

Alsace and Burgundy... WTF is Bill eating, part deux! pt. 7

After Thursday's experience with entrails, Bill and I decided to be cautious on Friday.  We spent a languid afternoon hanging out with the animals and taking in the views.  I finished a book I'd been reading (and just reviewed on my main blog).  When it got to be lunchtime, we decided to try a local restaurant I'd read about on Trip Advisor.

The outside of the restaurant.  It's very unassuming looking, but the food is outstanding.

L'Etape Charollaise is not even a five minute drive from where we were staying.  It's a small, family owned restaurant that puts out great food at reasonable prices.  But we were still a little gun shy after Bill's chitterling experience, so we approached the restaurant with caution.  Our waitress did not speak English, but was good enough to speak French slowly.  Bill went with the menu du jour, which was 13 euros and came with a Lyonnaise salad, a main course, cheese, and a dessert.  I went with the savory menu, which was 18 euros without cheese and, I think, 23 euros with it.  I don't eat cold cheese, so I went with the sans fromage option.

We were a little sketchy on what Bill's main course would consist of, as we didn't have it written down for us (a sign was posted on the door).  My menu offered a choice of beef or fish.  I went with the fish, which was a good choice.

Bill checks out the menu.

While we were eating, a bunch of local folks came in.  There was a couple who looked like they knew the restaurant well.  They sat in the corner near us.  A couple of guys, obviously working class blokes, sat at the table next to us and shared a nice bottle of wine.  A couple of elderly men who appeared to be regulars were scattered around.  All was going normally until the couple heard us speaking English.  The male half turned and stared at us quizzically.  It was as if they wondered what the hell we were doing in rural France!  Again, it was probably not unlike the reaction people in my hometown would have if French people suddenly dropped in to have dinner at one of the local eateries.

Anyway, out came the food and it was all very good... 

We enjoyed a bottle of vino and some still water, which the restaurant provided freely and without our having to ask for it.

I'm not totally sure what this was.  It was my amuse and it tasted like sun dried tomatoes with olives and bacon on top of some type of cream.  I am a little weird about creamy stuff, but I did taste it and it was interesting.  Bill liked it better than I did.  

On the other hand, I loved Bill's Lyonnaise salad, which was greens, a perfectly poached egg, bacon, and croutons.  That's my kind of salad.  Breakfast in a bowl!

I had a lovely filet of sole on top of pureed lentils and vegetables.  I was delighted by how colorful this dish was and that, for once, it was pretty healthy.

And this was Bill's mystery dish...

WTF is Bill eating?  It's rice, mushrooms, and some kind of meat...

Followed up with some very good local cheeses.  I love watching Bill eat cheese, even if I never eat it myself.

The expression on his face is why I like watching him.  He does the same when he drinks a very good wine or interesting beer.

Next came dessert.  Bill's was basically meringue in creme anglaise and topped with caramel.  It was not too big and he liked it a lot for that reason.

My dessert was excellent!  It was a poached pear on a cookie with little mounds of chocolate mousse, a scoop of pear sorbet, and an almond cookie.  It was a great cap to a fine meal. 

Bill eats his cheese course and tries to figure out what each of the cheeses were.  He says, "This one might be Epoisses."  Epoisses is a locally produced cheese we discovered on our last trip to Burgundy.  He later did some checking and identified the cheeses.  When I see him later, I'll get him to tell me what he thinks they were so I can update.

We got all of this fine food for about fifty euros.  And, on the way out of the restaurant, I took note of the sign that listed the plate of the day.  Bill was eating "dinge".  Looking up the word, I see that dinge in French is turkey.  The more you know!  If we go back to Saint Marcelin-de-Cray, we will for sure try to visit L'Etape Charollaise again.

Part 8.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Alsace and Burgundy... Animal farm and animal parts! pt. 6

I think my favorite part about our stay in Saint Marcelin-de-Cray were the animals on the farm.  I could tell they were all happy and well cared for.  I grew up riding and showing horses, so it was a particular treat to get to hang out with the donkey and horses that live on the property.  The donkey and the nanny goat both stole my heart, but I was especially fond of the donkey (whose name I think was Anton).  If you check the video below, you'll see why.  I went around and took footage of most of the animals, but the first part of the video is probably the most entertaining.

The sights and sounds were at the farm, while the music is by a wonderful harp guitar player named Stephen Bennett, who used to play during my many dinner shifts at the Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I will post a link to the albums the music came from, for those who want to check them out.

This donkey was my best friend!

These two were good sports when Zane and Arran came over to meet them.

Llama parents.

My dogs are not used to seeing livestock, so they barked a lot at the donkey and his Friesian horse friend.  Much to my delight, the donkey cut loose with a sassy response, which I managed to catch.

I loved this friendly goat!

Mama and baby!

Rabbits everywhere!

On our first morning at the farm, we had yet another collision with French culture.  Jean Pierre told us we could leave Zane and Arran alone in the gite if we wanted to, so we took the opportunity to go to the nearby town of Cluny.  Cluny is a very charming place, but we were there for lunch.  We made the mistake of stopping at the very first restaurant we came to that was open.  It was called Brasserie du Nord.

I shouldn't say it was a bad place, per se.  It really wasn't.  I did see one person leave a comment on a review in English that only the French could mess up French food.  Things got off to a shaky start when Bill misunderstood the waitress and we ended up ordering two half liters of wine.  An English speaking waiter came over to clarify and we only kept one bottle.  In retrospect, we should have definitely kept them both.

I had entrecote and frites there and they weren't horrible, although the steak was a bit grisly and fatty.  It was also cooked well-done when I asked for medium.  But at least I wasn't grossed out by it, which is more than I can say for Bill and his meal.  I hasten to add that it's not the restaurant's fault that Bill got grossed out.  You see, he fell victim to not knowing what he ordered.

Bill is a fan of spicy, smoked, cajun style Andouille sausage, which is found in Louisiana and was brought there by French people.  He thought he saw a dish with that sausage in it and was psyched that he'd be getting a treat.  He was a bit puzzled when his lunch came out and it had a very distinctive odor.  Although Bill's people come from Arkansas and have eaten their share of exotic meats, he had never been faced with what he ordered in France... andouillette.  Andouillette is also sausage, but it's made of chitterlings.  I should mention that in France, Andouille is also made of chitterlings.  In the USA, it's made of pork shoulder roast.

I was pretty proud of Bill, though, because he gamely ate most of it.  And he didn't complain too much, either.  He also ate dessert!

Cluny has a very impressive abbey.

We should have ordered more wine in light of Bill's lunch.

Andouille... otherwise known as chitterlings.

My steak was not as scary.

Bill's expression when he realizes what he's eating.

I think he needed to recover.  Over Bill's shoulder, you can see a guy wearing a hat.  We saw the same guy two days later eating at the same restaurant.  He's obviously a very colorful regular.

I had tiramisu for dessert.

Bill had the apple tart of the day.  I think it came with butterscotch ice cream.

If you see this sign in France, take heed before you take the plunge.

Cluny offers a nice diversion.

After lunch, I think we needed to go back to the gite and process things.  So we went back and rested for awhile... and Bill digested his pig intestines along with lots more wine.

Part 7.

Alsace and Burgundy... Snips and snails and puppy dog tails! pt. 5

Last October, Bill and I spent Columbus Day weekend in a cute little Hexagonal Tower in a town called Semur-en-Auxois.  While I was searching for that property, I saw another gite located further south that interested me.  The place is called Gite de la Maison Bleue and it's located in a tiny little town called Saint Marcelin-de-Cray.  Now, before we visited this charming area, we had no idea of what was in Saint Marcelin-de-Cray.  In fact, having grown up in Gloucester, Virginia, I could almost say that our visit was kind of the equivalent of a French person vacationing in my hometown.  It's what one might call "The real France".

Anyway, I chose this particular property because it got amazing reviews on and the pictures of it were awesome.  Also, it's very dog friendly, which we needed because we brought Zane and Arran with us.  When I booked the property, it was going for just 90 euros a night.  There was supposed to be a 90 euro "security deposit", but I don't think our hosts ever collected it from us.

To get to Saint Marcelin-de-Cray, we had to drive about four hours south of Alsace, mostly on high speed roads.  Then, we drove for another hour or so on a smaller road through many quaint towns on Burgundy's wine route.  I would have loved to have stopped for a couple of tastings.  Maybe next time, if we don't have the dogs with us.  Or maybe even if we do.  Sophie and Jean Pierre, the people who own the gite where we stayed, were fine with us leaving the boys alone while we went out for lunch.

We did have problems actually getting to the gite.  Our GPS was not finding the property.  We had to call Sophie, whose heavily accented English is a bit rusty.  Jean Pierre speaks no English whatsoever. Fortunately, our years of living in Germany and visiting France have made us pretty good at figuring things out.  After driving around for awhile, we finally found our accommodations at the top of a serene hill.

There's no need to worry about parking or poop bags.  Gite de la Maison Bleue is a working farm, so there's poop everywhere.  Animal lovers will delight in the three horses, three llamas, nanny goat, donkey, rabbits, two dogs, cat, two sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, and a pig who currently has seven little piglets.  This place is also a snail farm and in the summer, you can go and get your fill of escargot.  As a matter of fact, we had occasion to try snails during our visit.  Much to my surprise, they didn't gross me out.  In fact, I even enjoyed them.

This was one of the two bedrooms.  We slept on this bed in the beautifully decorated room.  I'm happy to report that both beds are king sized and comfortable.  A local artist has placed a number of his pieces throughout the gite.  You can purchase them and they are reasonably priced.  I spotted a couple I wanted to buy and I will be hitting up the artist's email and making the request.

The other bedroom, which we didn't use.  There was a flatscreen TV in there and down in the kitchen. WiFi is free, but rather spotty.  Also, the password is the longest I have ever seen!  

The kitchen was outfitted with all you'd need, except a freezer.  I'm sure if you needed to freeze something, the hosts would oblige.  Right off of the kitchen is a terrace, where you can sit and gaze at the beautiful view pictured below.  There is also a wood chip heater, which came in handy.

A view of the super cool "tower", which you can climb to the top of for even better views of the valley and mountains.  The shower in this place is great, too.  It has a rainfall head, as well as three jets and a handheld nozzle.

Some of the animals we shared quarters with...

This morning's sunrise was lovely.

We had a bit of a mishap during our first night.  Jean Pierre brought over some snails for us and came into the gite to help us prepare them.  On his way out, he wasn't quick to close the door.  Our little rascal, Zane, managed to escape.  It was getting dark out and the air was thick with new smells.  We spent about twenty scary minutes trying to round up our wayward dog.  Fortunately, Zane got distracted by a light and a big hunk of French bread.  He had it in his mouth when Bill brought him inside.  I swear Zane was smiling, too.  As much as it scares me when he gets loose, I was actually glad to see it on one level.  A few months ago, he didn't have nearly the energy level he's had lately.  A change of diet and some medicines have given him new life.

So these were the snails we had.  They had lots of garlic butter in them and reminded me a bit of haggis.  I probably wouldn't order them as a matter of course, but they weren't bad at all.

I kept taking pictures of the valley, but I don't think I quite captured how beautiful it really is.

The boys loved the terrace, where they could hang out.  There is no extra charge for pets.  In fact, they are warmly welcomed, even if they're loud and try to escape.  

Our hosts gave us fresh eggs from their chickens.  

I had to get a picture of the sound system.  It had a turntable and a CD player.  

This is not a great picture of the top of the tower, but it's a super cool feature of this property.  You can look at the splendor of the countryside from every direction.

Our first breakfast.  Bill went to the next town for the croissants and clementine juice.

A picture of the house from the pasture.  The gite is attached to Sophie's and Jean Pierre's home, but that's not a problem at all.  

I have much more to write about our experience in the next post.  If you're an animal lover, stay tuned!

Part 6.