Travels

Lunch at Bürestubel

Bürestubel

Oh what a wonderful feast of a lunch we had yesterday!

Maxence, our friend Baptiste and I drove to Strasbourg for the day, and decided to have lunch at Bürestubel, a small Alsacian inn recommended by the GaultMillau guidebook. It is located in Pfulgriesheim, a village just outside of Strasbourg, in a beautifully renovated farm building. The weather was magnificent and we sat at a table in the cool shade of the semi-covered little courtyard.

We decided to go for the 23-euro menu, a most excellent value, and chose to drink with that a bottle of 2001 Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, from the Théo Cattin vineyard. Served cool, it was very pleasantly fresh and light — both in color and taste — and a wonderful complement to the dishes we were about to enjoy.

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Pick-Your-Own Happiness

Quetsches Tree

One of the things I love about driving around the countryside with Maxence is that we share the same enthusiasm for anything that’s hand-painted on a wooden sign and planted onto the side of the road. Admittedly, it is the signs advertising edibles and drinkables that receive the most attention, but we also like to think that we could very well stop and visit that tree-root museum or drop by that special mattress sale.

Following such roadside signs is often an exercise in speed, reflexes and agility, as you are generally offered but the one chance to read the instructions correctly, understand how they match what roads and crossroads you find before you, recalculate your vehicle’s route based on that navigation information, and be prepared to make a sharp turn onto that teeny dirt road, possibly at a higher speed than altogether reasonable — all of this in a matter of seconds.

A couple of days ago, while driving just outside Colmar, one such sign urgently piqued our interest : it was pointing the direction of a fruit farm named La Pommeraie, where you could either buy some of their crop, or pick your own — blueberries in particular.

This sounded like a lot of fun and both of us had always wanted to do such a thing, so we followed the signs and were led to the pick-your-own blueberry fields. No attendant was there, but we read the instructions on a panel, picked up a bucket each, and started working our way through the alleys of blueberry shrubs.

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Un Week-end à Marseille (Part II)

Un Week-end à Marseille

[Continued from Part I]

Later in the afternoon, we accidently drove to Aix-en-Provence. Accidently? Um, yes. We were in fact headed someplace else, took the wrong highway, and found ourselves driving in the direction of the Capital of Calissons. Unfazed and quick to see the finger of Someone Above in this, we said okay, let’s go! In Aix-en-Provence, I could have bought some Calissons of course, but that was really just too obvious, so I bought myself a pair of sexy shoes instead. Not edible, I know, but pretty.

On our way back to Marseille, we stopped at l’Estaque, a quiet little harbor that sprawls up onto a hillside. We took a walk up the steep meandering streets overlooking the port — me trying hard not to trip in my new shoes — and enjoyed the view out onto the sea in the declining light. On the beachfront were several street vendors in small white vans, selling chichis and panisses. Chichis are long and rectangular donuts, fried in the van, rolled in sugar and handed to you in a paper wrapping, while panisses are fried slices of chickpea flour polenta. We had a dinner reservation a bit later at 10 so chichis were not an option (how to spoil your appetite in one easy step) but wouldn’t the panisses make a great amuse-bouche? We bought a half-dozen and got more like ten, in a little paper cone, with a smile on top of that. We sat on a bench by the beach and munched with delight on our salty disks of softly fried dough.

We then headed towards the restaurant Chez Jeannot, which came recommended by a friend as a great place for seafood. Chez Jeannot is located off the Corniche, that long, winding road which runs along the cliff Marseille is built on. More precisely, it is hidden underneath that road, snugly nested at the bottom of the Vallon-des-Auffes, a crevice-like little valley ending in a tiny harbor. To get to it, one has to park the car anywhere one vaguely can — in an improbable and forbidden spot behind a church in a supposedly two-way street that’s barely wide enough for two donkeys to pass each other — then walk down steep convoluted stairs into the vallon : a dimly-lit jumble of anchored boats, little houses and restaurants, loud with the chatter and clatter of diners, and little kids running everywhere, playing tag in the night. I’d never seen a place quite like this : walking down and taking in the mysterious, warm atmosphere, we both suddenly felt like we were stepping into some kind of hidden pirate’s lair (Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?).

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Un Week-end à Marseille (Part I)

Chocolat aux écorces d'orange

I had long wanted to visit Marseille, so I was very happy for the occasion to spend a week-end there recently with Maxence.

Marseille is a port city in Provence, and it is in fact the second biggest city in France. My grandmother lived there for a couple of years during World War II, and we have a few family pictures from that period. I remember one in particular, black and white with frilled edges, which shows my grandmother at my age, walking with her first two little boys on the Canebière, with her blond hair elegantly pinned up, and her signature bright white smile.

Marseille is also where one of my favorite novels of all times takes place, Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte-Cristo, and I was delighted in a peculiar way to see signs to the infamous Château d’If and even a rue Edmond Dantès, as if I had bumped into a movie star.

Maxence and I spent a lovely week-end there, driving in and around the city, enjoying the sun, the Mediterranean lifestyle, and treating ourselves to the local specialties.

On Saturday afternoon, we strolled around the Vieux Marseille (the historic city center), a maze of narrow cobbled streets built on a hill. When it was time for a little afternoon snack, a boulangerie miraculously happened upon our path, an intriguing phenomenon often observed in any city or village of our beautiful country. The antithesis of the bright and cheery, spick-and-span boulangeries I’m used to, this one was shadowy and eerily quiet, giving off the distinct impression that everyone inside was having a nap, like any sensible Marseillais would do at this time of day and in this heat.

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Gérardmer’s Farmers Market

Myrtille et Groseille, thus will I name my two firstborn daughters

The house my parents own in the Vosges (a mountain range in the East of France, if you haven’t been following this blog as closely as you should) is located outside a small town called La Bresse. When we’re there on vacation, part of the food shopping is conducted in La Bresse itself — at the grocery store for basics, and at a charcuterie and two different bakeries (one makes really excellent bread, the other has delicious cakes and brioches) — but the rest is bought at the food market held on Thursdays and Saturdays in Gérardmer, a slightly larger town in the next valley.

As is usually the case in French food markets, most of the stands sell fruits and vegetables. Last week, they all boasted beautiful crops of various berries — blueberries, raspberries and redcurrants (red or white, the white being, surprisingly, sweeter and milder in taste). The sheer volume of berries on display always amazes and delights me : in Paris, berries are treated like nuggets of gold, sold in teeny tiny little baskets and priced like they’re some sort of luxury item. In Gérardmer, those same berries are so plentiful that they are offered in whole crates or even in buckets. You can buy less of course, but the profusion of those delicate and delicious darlings, plucked fresh from the mother-bush just the day before, does make for an incredibly appetizing sight.

One of the local specialties is the Bonbon des Vosges, a small hard candy which can be made in many different flavors : fruit flavors (berries mostly), but also more woodsy, get-your-sinuses-cleared-up flavors like fir tree, eucalyptus, pine tree, bergamot… the most famous Bonbon des Vosges probably being the “Suc des Vosges” by “La Vosgienne”. Driving around the Vosges, you see many confiseries, small artisanal candy-making factories which you can sometimes visit, a unique opportunity to gaze in awe at huge vats of brightly colored molten sugar. The market in Gérardmer has several stands selling those bonbons, in piles of little bags (one flavor or mixed flavors) stacked along the stand. Each flavor stack has a little cup of broken candy for you to taste, and one of the stand owners — the kindest — always insists you do. “Can’t buy it if you haven’t tasted it, that’s the rule!”

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