Moules Frites

We’ve done a few things that are worthy of documentation, but Joel’s busy with a final project in one of his classes and I’ve got a ton of grading to do, so for now I’m just going to put up a picture of us so that our parents know we are still alive and well, and we’ll catch up later. A few weeks ago we tried moules frites for the first time. It was great. We try not to go out a lot, but a friend’s brother was in town, so we decided to splurge and actually let other people cook for us. It was great, it was French (more like Belgian, but whatever…), and it was something we couldn’t have made for ourselves (or at least something we wouldn’t try to make for ourselves because we’re too cheap to risk wasting ingredients when we have no idea what we’re doing with them). IMG_0338 I think we look cute here. I’ll try to post this weekend about what we’ve been up to.

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Les vacances de la Toussaint

I had all of this week off for the French holiday of Toussaint.

Toussaint (All Saint’s Day) is actually Nov. 1st, but I got the whole week for vacation, and most primary and secondary schools got off this past week and the week before. It sounds like people really don’t do all that much to celebrate it, but just get the time off of work. So I guess it would kind of be like getting two weeks off for Presidents’ Day.

Joel and I decided to go traveling, since we completed the visa process a couple of weeks ago (this means that we can legally leave the country and re-enter). They didn’t check our passports, and I’ve heard of people traveling before their visas were complete and being fine, but it was good not to have to worry.

We spent a couple days in Munich, which was lovely. It makes me want to go to Berlin next. On our way home we spent half a day in Innsbruck, Austria, and then about a day in Zurich, Switzerland. Our train between Innsbruck and Zurich briefly passed through Lichtenstein, and even though we didn’t stop, we’re counting that too 🙂

I’m not really taking time to sort through our pictures now, since I need to get ready for next week, but here are a few winners:

Our favorite things about Munich:

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We did do more than just eat, though. Munich has a pretty city center, we toured the palace, and we also visited Dachau but didn’t take pictures (the thought of taking pictures there just felt kind of awkward).

Innsbruck is a very pretty town. We mainly just spent half a day enjoying the pretty views of the mountains, the pretty river, and the pretty buildings. The Olympics were held there twice, so we got to see some of that as well.

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Here we are at the top of the tower in the old part of the city. If we took a good picture of ourselves, the mountains washed out. If we took a good picture of the mountains, we had horrible glares on our faces. Since the mountains are prettier than we are, we’ll show them off:

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This was the best picture of Liechtenstein we could get as we passed through. Another bad picture of us, but only one in which you could actually see Liechtenstein:

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Zürich was cool as well. Joel loves Switzerland, and we had fun soaking in some Swiss culture, hanging out by the lake, seeing the national museum, and seeing the various important cathedrals. Zürich’s cathedrals have some impressively unique and cool windows (no pictures allowed inside, though). Some are made out of the insides of crystal rocks, others were designed by Chagall. They were just plain cool.

Part of the river walk in Zürich leading to the lake:

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Us in front of the lake:

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We had some of the best food in Zürich. We split fondue and raclette for dinner the one night that we were there. It was pricy, but Zürich is known to be expensive. The fondue was absolutely amazing, some of the best cheese I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten a lot of cheese. The raclette was really good as well.

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Can someone please tell Joel that it is NOT ridiculous and mortifyingly embarrassing to ask the waiter to take a picture of us together?

We bought the same little candle-powered raclette set that Catherine has (very cheap and does a good job). We also brought back raclette cheese, but we might have to give Claudio money to import more Swiss raclette cheese for us when he visits Catherine, since he says the French version isn’t as good (we’ll still try it though. I have faith in French cheese).

In the morning before we left we went to the Swiss National Museum. It was a really cool place. I learned quite a bit about Swiss history, and we got to see some pretty cool artifacts. Plus it’s in the coolest-looking building that you could almost see behind all the scaffolding and nets (they’re doing some major renovations). We spent a few hours there, but had to leave quickly to buy our cheese and jump on the train home.

Five days of travel wore me out, even though we kept a slow pace and relaxed quite a bit. I’m glad to be back in France.

Canadian Thanksgiving in France (and other happenings)

Sorry I took so long to update – we have been having a busy last few weeks. So, to catch up:

A couple of weeks ago was Canadian Thanksgiving. Tyler and Kirsten are our friends from Calgary. Tyler does my job, and Kirsten is his wife and speaks about as much French as Joel. They’re pretty cool. So all of us English lecturers decided to celebrate, but wait until the weekend so that we could have enough time to cook everything. We went to Katryn’s house, since she actually has an oven, and made some pretty good food. Our British/Scottish/French/Swiss attendees had never had Thanksgiving before, but I think we all got into it. We’re planning on celebrating American Thanksgiving as well next month.

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Our Canadian Thanksgiving group: Toby (from the UK), Kirsten and Tyler (Canada), Thibaut (Katryn’s French roommate), Katryn (Scotland), me, Joel, Astrid (UK), Catherine (Washington D.C.), Claudio (Catherine’s boyfriend from Zurich). Sarah (from Chicago) was taking the picture, so here is a picture of her:

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We made good food:

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We made chicken instead of Turkey, since a big Turkey was not available. Joel and I were in charge of stuffing and apple pie. It went well. Most people had never had stuffing before, and I had never made it before, but it turned out really well, if I do say so myself. The absence of brown sugar in France made the apple pie not as good. The French have something similar, but it’s not quite the same. Also, we could not find cranberries.

I have the coming week off for Toussaint, so we are traveling a little bit and leaving today. I’m not sure how much wifi we will get while abroad, so we probably will not update till Friday at earliest.

Pastry Friday: Our New Tradition

A tradition that we started a few weeks after our arrival: Pastry Friday.

Basically, on Fridays I go out and pick out a really pretty French pastry, which we then share for Friday night dessert. Joel has been kind enough to let me choose the pastry. We’ve forgotten a couple of times when we’ve had Friday night plans, but we’re getting more in the habit and remembered this week and last week, even though we’ve had plans both Fridays. Go us!

I get really exited to go out to a pâtisserie and choosing something fancy and amazing-looking. It’s fun. It usually runs us between 2-4 euros and is pretty small. However, you only live once and I might only live in France twice, and I am determined to try all of the good-looking pastries I can without being insanely unhealthy or going broke. Joel indulges me 🙂

So the first couple of times we went for something regional, which basically means anything with blackcurrant (which is grown around here).

Week 1 of Pastry Friday: a little oatmeal cake with blackcurrant inside and on top

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I wasn’t as careful carrying this home as I should have been. Oops.

Week 4 (we forgot about Pastry Friday on weeks 2 and 3):

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The lady at the pâtisserie called this a dijonnais. It had blackcurrant, marscapone, pear, and a couple of cakey layers. Yum.

Week 5: I have no idea what this is called, but it was good.

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Doesn’t the bread look good? It’s for a party we’re going to tonight.

It also disproves the myth that France has no chocolate chips. They do exist here, they’re just extremely expensive compared to buying a chocolate bar and crushing it. The cake was wrapped around the exterior; the inside was chocolate mousse and cream:

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I’m proud of us that we remembered to do it today, even though we are celebrating a friend’s birthday tonight (maybe not the healthiest day for us, but oh well). Settling into routine is good. If only my school schedule would stay the same and not change again. One can only dream.

Doctor’s Visits and Les Vendanges

So I’ve been slow to take pictures, but will do my best to get some posts about our day-to-day life soon with photographic evidence that we are, in fact, still alive and healthy.

Speaking of health – going to the doctor is quite interesting. We have gone twice since we’ve been here. Once to get a form signed by the doctor we chose as our primary care physician to turn in for our health insurance cards, and once to get doctor’s permission notes to use the school gym (required). They have tons of cool classes in which I will probably embarrass myself, but hey – I need to learn fitboxing, yoga, circus gymnastics and water aerobics vocabulary just like every other foreign language student, right? I am trying to get outside my box in the name of language enrichment, and I’m enjoying it.

Anyways – the doctor’s office. It seems like most general doctors just have their own private practices with a little office on the ground floor of an apartment building. It’s pretty casual. There are open hours, so no need for an appointment. You can just walk in, wait in the waiting room, and she takes people in the order they arrive. I think she’s really into medicinal herbs because the place has a very, very strong herb-y smell. Both times we’ve been, she’s wearing jeans and a sweatshirt (possibly one of the most casually dressed people I’ve seen in France). She also has to kick her dog off of her chair to sit down and talk with us. Yes, her dog. In her doctor’s office. We were very amused. Both times we went, we got minimal questions. She asked me if my vaccinations were up-to-date (I think they are…?) for the health insurance card, and she took both of our blood pressures for the gym notes. Literally, I think that was it.

It’s really cheap to see the doctor as well, although if you are a young child she charges more. We get reimbursed 70% through health insurance anyways, so our doctor’s bills so far come to around 13.80 euro. Not bad for two people making two visits.

Although speaking of money – still no ATM card. We might be drafting letters to our congressmen this week…

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So a couple of weekends ago, since we are residents of Bourgogne (Burgundy), we took part in the grape harvest. Apparently the thing to do around here this time of year is to go to your friend’s vineyard, help pick grapes, and then sit around the rest of the day eating massive amounts of very good food provided by the vineyard owner. We have a friend who has a friend who owns a small vineyard, so we got an invite to share in the festivities. Good times.

The big debate for me was – what do you wear to harvest grapes? Tacky, I know, but I walk by a middle school most days on the way to the university and think « All these 12-year-old girls are very noticeably better dressed than I am. This is embarrassing. » No exaggeration, their middle schoolers are more stylish than the vast majority of adult American women, myself included. And this isn’t even Paris! It’s scary and intimidating. So I would think that they all wear super-cute clothes even to do work where you get dirty. And as Americans, we have a reputation of dressing poorly. I think we blended in well, though.

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I really like this picture of us.

It was a little grosser than I would have expected, since they have this new fly infestation that soured a lot of their grapes. But It was fun to get out, not that hard of work, and the food was spectacular.

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The first row I worked on.

After the first row, my hands were too slimy and sticky to take any more pictures. I also made the mistake of taking out my hairtie to put my hair back up. Bad idea. My hair was a sticky mess that had to stay down for the rest of the day. The only downside.

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The bucket I was working on filling.

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Grapes!

We took a mid-morning break and had lots and lots of bread, parsley pickled ham (regional and so good!), fois gras (some of the best I’ve ever eaten), saucisson, chocolate and wine. All the major food groups. We ate a lot, then worked for a couple more hours.

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You can see the city of Dijon in the background.

Then we packed up, and went to go eat lunch (which lasted 5-6 hours or so). They had sausages and kebabs and salad and bread and wonderful cheese and amazing dessert. It was so, so good. I think it’s some of the best cheese I’ve ever eaten, and Joel said the apricot tart was possibly the best dessert he’s ever had.

Here is a picture of some of our friends who we went with:

IMG_0164The girl in the middle is Sarah, the lecturer from Amherst, and on the end are Tyler (lecturer from Calgary) and his wife Kirsten. We were with a group of French middle school teachers, who we got hooked up with through a friend, Laure, who teaches English at a middle school in town. She did a lecturer exchange to Brown while she was at the university, and has been hanging out with the lecturers here ever since.

So that’s a little of what we’ve been up to lately. Today we need to fill out our absentee ballots for the November elections so that we can get them in the mail tomorrow. Exciting.

Life in Dijon

Our family has informed us multiple times that it is time for us to start a blog – so here goes. This is also the 1-month anniversary of our arrival in France. I went to the next town over for a barbecue with friends, which Joel had to stay home from due to a few tests he had to take.

I started teaching this week, which went well overall. It was interesting to figure out what all of my classes were supposed to be. There is so much to say about the French educational system that I’m not really sure where to start, so I’m going to back-burner that for a bit.

Joel has been doing well in his classes, and has a very organized calendar of all his due dates. It keeps him busy. Some of the classes are interesting, some are not, but he’ll graduate in December no problem, and that’s what matters.

All of our important things are now set up. We have a bank account, which is insanely difficult to get. There are so many things to give proof of, and each bank wants different things from you (« No, you need a passport with your city of birth on it » « You need a notarized birth certificate » « Your lease is not official enough because your landlord is an individual and not an agency, » etc.). On our fourth try, we found a bank that was satisfied with what we could give them, but we’re still waiting on US government approval before we can get debit cards/checkbooks for the bank account (apparently as of July the US government requires citizens to sign forms to let them spy on their foreign bank accounts, then the form/application has to be approved by the IRS before you can withdraw money). We hope they take pity on us poor, law-abiding students/lecturer and let us have our money soon… we can still receive my paychecks and set up automatic payments for rent, utilities, phone/internet, so we’re not in any major trouble – yet. Thankfully Joel’s American ATM card only has a $5 flat-rate charge for an ATM withdrawal here, so we can withdraw large amounts at one time and live off of that for groceries, etc. for the time being. We’re considering writing our congressmen if this goes on too long, though.

We have electricity, which was easy to get once you have a bank account. We have renter’s insurance (required by law here), which pretty much comes with setting up a bank account. We now have internet and phones, which in France takes a standard 2-3 weeks to set up. We submitted our health insurance forms, which was a stressful experience due to the formatting of our birth certificates. We’re glad that’s over.

It hasn’t been too hard to keep active and social, and we’ll post soon on some of the stuff we have been up to. Bourgogne is a pretty awesome region, and Dijon is a wonderful town. I have been walking around taking pictures, and will do a post on Dijon too. There is so much culture here, the scenery is great, and the food is delicious. Our apartment is nice, but bare considering we don’t really have much to fill it with. Most people size down when they come to Europe, but our gopher hole in Urbana was pretty small, and we actually sized up (by 3m2, roughly, so not by a ton). Here’s the view from our bedroom window:

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Nothing special. We live just south of all the interesting stuff.

More boring updates to come soon, maybe with some photos.