Shenanigans in Angers

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February 20th 2010
Published: February 20th 2010
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Last Friday, we arrived in Angers after flying from Dublin to Nantes and then taking a train from Nantes to Angers. This would be a special week, because we were reuniting with friends that moved to France for school 6 months ago (Soup and Mike). Soup lives in Angers, and Mike is living in Toulouse, which is about a 6 hour train ride from Angers.

Upon arriving in France, we found ourselves in a different world - a different language world. I was pretty excited because that meant that I would get to start exercising my French, but I was also intimidated. French French is different than Quebec French, and my grammar is not fabulous. But it's fun - I really like trying to have conversations here in France, even though I struggle. I am usually asked if I am English within the first 60 seconds, and when I say I am Canadian it's like things make more sense - the understanding head-nod, the 'oh that's why you say words that don't exist' kind of look. Sometimes people actually want to practice their English and will switch over, which is nice of them, but it also takes the opportunity away from me to practice my French. I am sure Tim is quite grateful though 😊

In London and Dublin, we were cooking for ourselves and eating quite well - very healthy-like. In Angers, this was not the case. We ate everything typical of French cuisine - lots of cheese, bread, butter, cream, and wine. On our first night, Soup pulled out Champagne and made a delicious chicken recipe out of Julia Child's “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which involved a port/cream/mushroom sauce that was to die for. We also tried some very scary looking and smelling cheeses. Soup had warned me about them, saying that she couldn't wait to get us to try some very, very different cheeses and meats. I had no reservations, even though the Camembert smelled like rotten garbage, and ate everything - including fresh oysters from the market on Saturday. I don't think I will be quick to try oysters again, but I can tell you that they taste like the sea. You have to open them and eat them immediately, because if they are dead when you eat them, things will not go well for your stomach. Yup, I ate a live oyster. You only live once...

Food is definitely different in France, as well as all over Europe. A few examples: eggs aren't refrigerated. They don't need to be. We have found eggs on shelves everywhere, but still kept them in our fridges. Soup informed us that they really don't need to stay in the fridge - you just have to keep a close eye on the expiration date. The yolks are actually orange/yellow, versus the yellow/white you'll find in your typical carton in Canada. In France specifically, many sausages and cheeses are also kept outside the fridge. Bread doesn't last for more than a day or two, so you usually buy daily from a nearby bakery. Someone here came up with the brilliant idea of creating something called “Pain au Chocolat”, which is as yummy as it sounds. It's a croissant-like pasty in the shape of a square, but a bit more airy, with two lines of chocolate running through it. Next time you're in France, go out for a galette - a crepe made with black flour. We had them for lunch one day. Yum. And the wine... you can get French wine for 5 euros here, which translates into about $8 or so... and it's better than the $20-$25 bottles you buy in Canada.

Being in Angers certainly felt more 'normal', like we are 'living'... likely because we are staying with friends. Days usually started with us sleeping in, taking turns in the shower, getting around to cooking something eventually... and doing something productive. We cooked a lot - including an experimental meal on the Saturday night with foods we had selected from an outdoor market. We picked a fish we had never heard of (a merlon, if my spelling is correct), a vegetable that is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli, and some more strange cheeses. Our fish was whole... gutted of course, but the head, skin, and tail were all in tact. We had our pick from everything imaginable at the market... from pheasant, to rabbit, to liver, to brains. People aren't as scared to know where their food is coming from here, and don't shy away from picking up whole chickens with some feathers still attached. It's a different way of eating. The French diet has more fat in it than almost any other, and yet obesity is extremely uncommon. I think the point is not eating like a North American... that is, not eating like we ate all week... with the kinds of foods the French eat. Pain au chocolat isn't an everyday thing. Otherwise, you might pay for it.

And pay is exactly what I did. On Monday, I learned that either my stomach doesn't like unpasteurized cheese (which is, by the way, illegal in Canada), or it doesn't like the cream here (the creamiest cream you can imagine), or it didn't the sheer number of calories I had consumed... or all of the above. I was sick the entire day. Not fun, but also not surprising. If anyone is going to get sick because of food, it will be me.

We went to two movies this past week, for the price of one. On Sunday night, the night before Soup's boyfriend Mike arrived from Toulous, the three of us decided to celebrate Valentine's Day with a romantic-themed movie: Up in the Air. Soup and I thought that spending V Day with George Clooney was the best way to do it. We got to the theatre in French fashion - late - to find out the movie was sold out. The only movie left was “I Love You, Philip Morris.” Not knowing anything about it, we bought our tickets and settled in to watch a good 25 minutes of previews. As per usual, the movie followed the previews. I don't know whether it was the Russian music, the war setting, or the caption reading “The execution” that made us doubt that we were in the right theatre, but after a quick review of our tickets, we found out that we had been sold tickets to “Une Execution” which was definitely not Philip Morris. So, we walked out of the theatre, showed the staff our tickets, and were given the right ones along with three complimentary tickets, which we used when Mike was in Angers. We again went to see Up in the Air, successfully got our tickets in the right theater, and the wrong movie started playing. Sigh. Only in France. The correct movie did begin eventually...

Another 'Only in France' thing: Having to practically beg for service. It's like you have to negotiate and convince them to let you pay for things. I just actually read some information in our apartment about French etiquette, and it mentioned that “The customer is always right” is not the standard here. Here, it's be polite and respect, and maybe we'll let you buy our stuff. Strange. Oh, I also went to the bank to buy smaller bills, and they said they don't have money. I don't get it.

We had planned to escape to the country of Northern France for one night, and Wednesday was that night. We reserved a gite in Guimaurais. Again, begging for service: we called on the Monday and even though there were no reservations for Wednesday, we had to negotiate to make our reservation. Our rental car was one of the smallest cars I had ever seen, and Tim drove! We got lost getting out of Angers, but the rest of the drive was quite nice. There are two kinds of highways - the ones that start with the letter A and the other ones that I believe start with the letter D. The A highways are the new, fast highways with the speed limit at 130km/h, but they also come with tolls. We were on an A highway for about 20km and had to pay 2 euros 20! Avoiding the A highways comes with a cost, and that's going through a round-about every 3 minutes... Tim is now an expert round-about navigator.

We got to Saint-Malo, the city close to our gite, and then got lost again, driving down beautiful and narrow French roads, asking 2 old women walking along for directions, and then finally got to our apartment. Upon arriving in Guimorais, we met the woman who runs the gite, and she tried telling us that we were getting an upgrade to what we thought we had booked in the first place. It was strange, but worked out - because what she said we were paying for was two rooms (one with twin beds). We dropped off our stuff and started driving towards Saint-Malo, with plans to walk around.

Now, we knew a couple of things about where we were staying. We knew that we were by the coast, and we knew that Saint-Malo was supposed to be an awesome place to go. But it was actually AMAZING. I can't even find words to describe the experience of driving into Saint-Malo, looking out my window, and seeing the most beautiful ocean I have ever seen. We weren't even in the main part of the town, where we were planning on walking around, but we pulled over and went to the ocean. The tide was out, and the beach was so long. The weather was beautiful, the sun shining, and the views were absolutely breathtaking. I love, love, love the ocean. I kid you not; people were actually riding horses along the water. It was like out of a movie.

I think it was at that moment, when the sun was setting and the horses were passing by along the water that we all looked at each other and said, practically in unison, “I don't want to leave tomorrow.” Ok that's an exaggeration, but we did all agree to stay an extra night, hoping to get a cheaper rate. We got to watch the Olympics in our gite, but no Canadian hockey yet. It will happen, someday.

On Thursday morning, we had breakfast prepared by our gite host. After failed negotiations for a cheaper rate, we agreed to stay an extra night and then started driving towards Mont Saint-Michel, which is the 2nd most visited spot in France next to the Eiffel tower. I can see why this region is so well visited... because it's beautiful! We decided to take the slightly longer scenic route along the coast, stopping twice for photos along the beach, including this gorgeous house which we have decided must be Oprah's summer home. Mt St Michel is an old abbey at the end of a long peninsula, and we could see if from a distance, surrounded by fog, but it took us forever to get there because you have to drive through a whole bunch of little towns. Driving up to it was quite breathtaking - Tim referred to it as an 'enchanted castle'. The tide was out, so we were surrounded by sand, and we took notes of the warnings saying “If you don't remove your car by 7pm, it will be covered in water when the tide comes in.” Mt St Michel winds around and up a hill, with plenty of restaurants and stores, with the abbey on top. Soup and Mike got in for free because they are EU citizens, and Tim and I decided to pass on the abbey tour and instead just walk around and take in the views. The view included this massive storm cloud coming in, and sure enough, as we were leaving, we got soaked. Sheets and sheets of rain. Edmonton doesn't get that kind of rain.

Well, Chapter 3 (Angers) is over and Chapter 4 (Paris) is just beginning. I can tell you that the TGV train is freaking fast, that is a really good company if you want to travel to Paris, and that it's BUSY here. I'm enjoying my free bottle of French wine-upon-arrival right now.



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I love this picture because it looks like it could be in Alberta, but really, the ocean starts at the back of the photo.

21st February 2010

Loire / Angers
Your trip sounds wonderful - I recall this area well, and especially Mont St. Michel rising out of the fog .... haunting, and amazingly spiritual! I enjoyed walking up to the monastery and being encouraged by the restauranteurs along the way, to come in and sample their food. I recall settling on a restaurant that served mussels, swimming in a wine sauce .... heaven! Sorry you missed by monastery - I found that to be a hilight of my trip to France .... Enjoy Paris!

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