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Published: January 24th 2010
the view from my bedroom window at Christine's house in St. Lupicin
FRIDAY: ST. LUPICIN
There Cyntia and I were, sitting in a tiny parish meeting room, surrounded by French people who had just welcomed us in.
Upon entering the Catholic catechism meeting late with Christine, we introduced ourselves, and went 360 degrees around the table, doing bisous with every single person there. (note: "bisous" is the European and specifically French tradition of kissing both cheeks of someone when you arrive and depart). Everyone there was so welcoming and curious about us. The Jura mountain region of France, and particularly the tiny town of St. Lupicin hardly ever see foreginers. You could say that coming here is a little like going somewhere like Montana or Kansas in the U.S.--they don't see many tourists, and they were curious why the heck we wanted to come here.
Neither Cyntia and I are Catholic, but we were both curious to see how these types of meetings ran here. Plus there was food. As they debated for who knows how long about whether the temperature of the church should be set as 11 degrees (celsious) or 13 degrees, some truly excellent food took place. First there was a pumpkin soup that was out of
this world. Then, the cheese and bread. Our hosts were really insistent that we try the French cheese, so the man next to us cut a big slice each of the five cheese there were. Cyntia and I looked at each other warily--that was a lot of cheese. She soldiered through her 1/8 of a pound serving of cheese, where as I was unable to finish. Two of the cheese were blue, and I just cannot get myself to like that type. After the cheese came the fruit, in the form of orange slices soaked in sugary juice and jarred cherries, served with pound cake. Throughout there were three wines that were all very good. Also throughout was the amusing bickering of the church members seated around the table. Has anyone seen the BBC show "The Vicar of Dibley"? If so, there you go. 😊
SATURDAY: MONT BLANC
I awoke Saturday morning in the room of Christine's daughter (my friend, Anne-Flore). I peeped out the window and got my first real look at St. Lupcin--since we had arrived late the night before. The town is very small, and the mountain range is visible everywhere. There was a little
bit of residual snow.
Christine's house is very old--my guess is that it was built in the 1880's at least. It has mostly been remodeled, but in places like the basement you can still see the original stone. The house is huge, with 3 bedrooms, 2 living areas, and 4 other common rooms. It's a real change from cramped city life. There is a garden and a row of fruit trees that must be very pretty in the spring.
For breakfast we ate croissant and jam with hot cocoa, fruit, and coffee. Not long after that, we started working of lunch. Joachim came over and we had a salad of canned corn, tuna, and avocado. On top was a homemade mayonnaise that Christine showed us how to make (really easy!). And bread, of course. Then we had a bow tie pasta tossed in a cream sauce of shrimp and parsley. Then we had fruit and cafe. Yum! After this delicious feast we were ready to don our snow gear and head into the mountains!
We met some of Christine's friends and took two cars. As we took the hairpin-windy roads up into the mountains, I started to
feel sick. The motion of making so many tight turns as well as the change in elevation was the cause. We were driving past some amazing scenery--white, sparkling hills and mountains passes, fir trees weighed down with powdery snow...but I couldn't concentrate because I was feeling so ill. I switched to the front seat, and it was better (I don't know why, but it helps)!
After a two hour drive upwards, we reached the ski station. Upon getting out of the car, I was able to see beyond two mountains. "@%@%#$%#!!!" I yelled, I was looking at the Alps! For those of you who have never seen them, the Alps are really something that take you by surprise. The Jura mountains themselves are impressive, with steep inclines and all that. But the Alps are jagged and rocky. They're the type of mountains that if they could speak would say "Don't mess with us!" (and they would certainly wear leather jackets, too). I was speechless. And it only got worse after we took the ski lift up to the Jura summit, where the view was REALLY awesome. We were standing of a snowy cliff. Below, in the mist, lay Geneva.
And at eye level, stretching from left to right were the Alps of France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. And right ahead was MONT BLANC, the tallest mountain in Europe. The French like to make known the fact that Mont Blanc is French territory.
We took tons of pictures, and then put on our rackets to go snow-shoeing. Joachim and Christine charged down the side of the mountain and Cyntia and I followed, unsure of what we were getting ourselves into. Walking with racket on your feet is tricky--a little like walking with SCUBA flipper on. I tripped several time and wiped out in the snow. Only one of us had poles, and I was jealous. We walked down 20 degree inclines and then up equally steep climbs. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was breathing like as asthmatic. Finally, we trugged through the snow back to the ski lift, as the light was fading.
After packing up our things, we said good bye to the Alps and headed back down the mountains. In St. Claude, where one of our travel companions lived (also the mom of Regane and Delphine), we stopped and had tea
and talked in their house. This small town, dating from the 5th century, is nestled into the mountainside. Christine told Cyntia and I that after St. Claude (the founder) died his remains were kept in the church, but that during the Revolution, the government ordered the churches destroyed and the burning of relics. The Revolutionaries burned the Saint's shrived corpse, but one man was able to save a hand. Soon after, a terrible fire swept through St. Claude and burned down every single building in the town, except the house of the man who had saved the hand of St. Claude. The towns people decided that they had been cursed by God for having been responsible for the burning of the relics. Christine told me that a lot in the Jura region was destroyed during the French Revolution. That's why there is only ONE castle in the entire region. Because Louis XIV had to fight really hard to get the Franche-Comte, which belonged to the Spanish after the Romans, he ordered all the castles destroyed out of spite. Only one survived. There was a lot of history lost, too, because the Revolutionaries burned all of the Jura documents.
St. Claude, it was already late, and we headed back to Christine's with Joachim and his girlfriend to have dinner. We had more of the salad from lunch, and we made a fondu! We made it from comte (the famous regional cheese--which tastes like a saltier Swiss cheese) and dipped bread and deli meats in. Yum! For desert we ate oranges and a galette--the traditional cake that is eaten here in January to celebrate a Catholic holiday. In the cake, two small porcelain figures are cooked in. The two people that get the figures are the King and Queen for the day. After this we had coffee and then tea. We went to bed early because we were so tired.
We all slept late, and then finally got up to have some bread and fruit. Then we started working on lunch.
We had more of the left over salad with mayonnaise. Then we had quenelles poached in homemade tomato sauce and rice. (*quenelles are a specialty of the region. They are a mixture of dough and finely ground veal. They are soft in texture, and don't taste like they have meat actually). Then we had cheese
and bread. Then we had fromage blanc, another kind of soft dairy product I didn't know. We'd bought it from an artisan the day before, and it came in a set of 6 cups, looking like congealed yogurt. Christine et. al. assured me it was good and showed me how to eat it by dumping it into a bowl, pouring sugar on top and then mashing it up. I did as they did, and took a bite. That's when I realized that I was eating a bowl of sour cream. Straight sour cream. With sugar on top. I tried to eat it all, but it was too much--where was the baked potato? Anyways...after that we had more galette and coffee. One thing I've learned: the French eat a lot! More than most Americans I'd say!
After lunch, we hopped into the car and headed back for the mountains: destination: Geneva. We took to the tight mountain passes again, driving through the snow covered region. After almost 3 hours, we crossed the Swiss border. (That is, after going through the town were Voltaire used to hide out from the French government when he published a pamphlet he knew they wouldn't
like.) We didn't need to stop at the border, and drove on through. It was a few miles until we actual reached Geneva. We drove by the UN headquarters and parked near the Museum of Art and History, where we were going. The museum itself was awesome, with several peices I had studied in my art history classes. We had gotten a late start, and only had an hour before the museum closed. Nonetheless, we saw almost everything.
It wasn't a good day to see Geneva. The sky was grey, we only had two or so hours, it was getting dark, and due to the temperature different between the valley and the mountains, there was a lot of fog. Also it was Sunday evening, so everything was closed. But as Christine said, this was just meant to be a little side trip form her house so that Cyntia and I could get a taste of Geneva. The down town area how lots of large buildings in Swiss and French style, with tram lines running down the streets. However, I much prefered the old city, which we briefly walked through as the darkness fell. It is pedestrian only and there
are cute squares with fountains and lights, cafes with outdoor seating and lots of shops. On one street there was a lone street musician playing some violin solo. The melancholy crispness of his playing floated through the streets and square. I was so touched that I gave him a little money--this was truly a concert hall performance!
We ended by taking a turn about Lake Geneva, as the mist accumulated. I would like to return when its warmer, because I imagine that it's really pleasant then.
We found our car and drove back into France, and then the almost 4 hours back to Besancon. Interestingly enough, the route we took back is the exact route that Napolean took from Paris to Italy in the 19th century when he was the third person in history to cross the Alps with an army (after Charlemagne and Hannibal). There was even a fountain we passed with a plaque that said "Napolean stopped here so his horse could drink water". Hey, it's good to be emperor.
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