Thursday, May 29, 2014

A very important cultural landmark

Well, we had a guest this weekend, and I have pictures and stories, and I haven't finished writing all about Provence, but I have to pause a moment before writing about those wonderful things to share this extremely important and oh so impressive cultural landmark.  The "Weckmilchstein" just outside the town of Moischt.  I don't think your life will be complete without a visit.
The Elisabethbrunne
How did we come to discover this treasure? Well, I went for a run, and after running past the Elisabethbrunne (which every time I see it makes me think of Indiana Jones) decided to go a bit further, and as I was heading home from Moischt, I noticed a sign.  And of course, I had to follow it.
Because following the arrows leads to exciting things.
 And I ran a few hundred meters into the woods on a forest road, around a hunting stand, and down a narrower path, and I saw this big, important sign, allowing me to understand the great significance of this cultural landmark.

 For those of you whose German is, ahem, "rusty", I will translate: "The Roll and Milk-bowl Stone
The people of Moischt say [the same thing but in a hard to understand regional dialect]
Because the bowl-like depressions so look like the bowls out of which our ancestors ate their rolls and milk, this remarkable stone is named after those [bowls].
An important known-for-a-long-time natural landmark on the south side of the prominence the "house mountain" of the Moischt residents. (yes, this sentence really has no verb on the sign)
It was already always a starting and meeting point for nature lovers, hikers, and friends of the forest.
For berry gatherers, it has been also always a sacrificial altar; a few berries laid upon it, and one waits in suspense for the birds to come carry these away.
The homeland and history club of Moischt has endeavored to maintain this natural landmark that is so important for us residents of Moischt."

And, without further ado, here is this "wichtige Naturdenkmal"
I'm sure its majesty has left you speechless.
 Marburg may have a castle and a tower, Schröck may have its fancy fountain, Paris may have its tower and cathedral and churches and....but do not overlook Moischt and its Weckmilchstein.
Sasha, contemplating the wonder.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Paris in springtime

So, perhaps you remember, but we were in Paris for about a day last fall and I worried that Paris didn't have the same magic it had when I was in college.  I am happy to report that that assessment was wrong.  About two weeks ago, Sasha had to be there during the week to meet with a collaborator, and I took Friday off to eat my way across Paris...I mean, join my husband.  Perhaps the difference partly came because last time we were in Paris before heading down to Provence for our bike tour,  and we were preoccupied with dealing with bike trip preparations and stuff.  If you are worried about packing your bike and about the train ride the next day, etc. then that makes it a bit harder to focus on touristing.  Instead, this time, I took the morning train to Paris, got in around lunchtime, and the only thing on the agenda was to enjoy myself.   I'm sure the season also helped.  This time, I took the metro right from the train station, and when I came up above ground, the rought-iron balconies were all covered with flowers, the trees were blooming, there was crazy public art in the squares, and great window-shopping to be had.
Last fall, I hadn't really had a chance to prepare in advance a list of "must eat" foods, but this time I did my research, and we had a bunch of really tasty things, even if most were things that are on every "foodie" tourist's lists (I don't consider myself a foodie; I don't like mushrooms or organ meat or the idea of molecular gastronomy, I just like good food).  We ate bread from a bakery called Poilane that is apparently famous and is also owned by a woman that my sister was friends/acquaintances with in college (who needless to say wasn't there and I don't know; this is a BIG business by bakery standards). Their main bread is this sour-dough bread with rye or whole wheat or something, which actually is very German. 

Lunch next door.
IT was good, but truth be told, while it made for great sandwiches in the cafe next door, I prefer baguettes even if they are less "healthy" what with the white flour.  That crackly crumbly crunch as you break into your baguette, that enticing smell that is so much more than just white bread.  A good french baguette just can't be beat.  Needless to say, we ate a couple of those over the weekend. We also went to a famous ice cream place, Berthillon that I have to admit was really amazing.  It was expensive, but we each got 2 flavors and each one was SO yummy; the flavors were so intense.  I got raspberry and chocolate and Sasha got praline and fresh strawberry.  Yum!  
Sasha trusted me to hold his ice cream long enough for a picture...brave of him!

The most exciting dinner was at a place called Relais de l'entrecote, which was expensive but worth it.  It is a strange restaurant.  The waitresses are all in traditional waitress attire and every one eats the same thing: a small salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, baguette, steak in a delicious, mysterious sauce, and fries. When the waitress comes by the table the first time, you order drinks and then just tell her (or him) rare, medium or well done.  The meat was so tender and the fries were hot and crispy and thin, and then we ordered dessert; Sasha ordered this giant towering thing of meringue and ice creams, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and I got a giant serving of raspberry sorbet, and we had the house red wine, and it went pretty well with the steak. 

Waitresses plating someone else's dinner
Sasha's tower of dessert

On the non-food side, Friday I spent a few hours in the Musee d'Orsay, and there was a nice temporary Van Gogh exhibit, but I failed to find the paintings that were my favorite when I went to the museum in 2002.  I could have asked at the information desk I guess, but that would have taken out some of the suspense of trying to find them.  (or would have led to disappointment earlier; this way I can still think that I just didn't make it into the right room, rather than that the curators didn't find my favorite paintings worth showing). 

The highlight, though, was spending Saturday wandering around Versailles.  We've been to tons of castles in Germany and some in Spain, but while everyone says castles like Sanssouci near Berlin or Nymphenburg near Munich are modeled after Versailles, I don't feel like I really appreciated the scale of Versailles. It is HUGE!  We could have spent a day just in the gardens. Or the minor palaces and their (separate) gardens.  The hall of mirrors and the royal bedrooms in the main palace that have been restored are pretty fancy, but I have to say the gardens were my favorite part, particularly the gardens behind the Trianon (the minor palaces).  It was really amazing to me not just how many gardens there are, but how different they all were, from the neatly manicured gardens right around the main palace and the Trianon with gravel walks and swirls of bushes and flowers, to the "garden rooms" with small open areas and fountains surrounded by tall tree/forest hedges, and the vast fields and forests, and then the trimmed but less strict gardens around the trianon which (it was April afterall) were filled with flowering trees and flowers of all sizes and colors, and with cute gazebos and nooks of all kinds.  We had to wonder as we wandered through the palaces and gardens what the various Louis or Marie Antoinette would have thought of all these "peasants" wandering through their rooms and posing next to their royal beds, and buying postcards and cups of coffee and just generally living modern normal life in what was their very royal home.  I have to think the many 10s of thousands of workers employed during Versailles' construction would have to feel somewhat satisfied knowing that their descendents would have as much a right to visit the place as any king or duke or earl. 

Fountain in one of the "outdoor courtyards"

I bet these are much easier to maintain with gas-powered hedge trimmers!
Hall of mirrors

How would you like one of your sitting rooms to look like this?
The "sun king's" castle sure is impressive!
I can't help but wonder if he's really trying to say "get out of my palace"

Sunday, we went all the way up the Eiffel Tower and then went to the Sacre Cour church/cathedral.  At the Eiffel tower, we took the stairs to the 2nd landing and then the elevator from there to the top (you aren't allowed to walk the whole way up, which is probably just as well; I can imagine people getting half-way between the top and the second landing and having their legs give out and being REALLY stuck).

It's a LONG way down.

I bet you didn't know that the real purpose of the Eiffel tower is as an anti-UFO laser gun.

 The view is pretty amazing.  Paris as a whole is really something.  It is so dense with people, and yet (aside from the touristiest areas) it never feels that crowded, and I really love just wandering, window shopping, stopping at a shop for cheese or a green grocer for some tasty bit of produce, marveling at some of the ridiculous prices or outfits on display, stumbling across some amazing bakery and getting an amazing baguette or delicious cake (we grabbed cake to eat on the train ride home with our various leftover breads and cheese, and it was just from some little bakery by the train station, and the croissant was a reallly good one, and the cakes were so delicious). 
OK, just look at that fabric!?!?

Did my eyes deceive me or was there a marshmallow boutique?

Such hats! I wanted one of each but they were a bit pricy for an impulse purchase.
I bet you don't "just happen across" a cheese shop with a selection like this in your home town!  It was 360 degrees of cheese! (but I only took one picture because I didn't want to be too obnoxious)

I'm not sure Sasha will ever feel the same way about Paris.  Maybe it's because he didn't grow up reading Madeline and watching Molin Rouge and Casablanca and considering Julia Child and French Cuisine as the "ne plus ultra" of cooking and dining.  But I did. I never want to move to Paris, because sooner or later, I think the banal day-to-day things would kill its magic.  Phone bills and laundry are just not romantic. Instead, I'm happy knowing it is there for whenever I next make it back.  We'll always have Paris.