Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I see London, I see France, I see…Halbury’s underpants?

Its time for me to report on my amazing weekend in Lille, France.
First I will explain “why Lille?” Colin, my fellow coug student teacher traveled to London this weekend to see his brother and his sister in law. I did not have anything planned for the 3-day weekend and did not want to spend it alone on a USAF base. I jumped on the bandwagon of some of the other student teachers from Oklahoma State University, who were going by train to France.
Let me tell you a little bit about Lille. Lille (pronounced leel) is a large CITY in the northern “Nord” region of France. I imagine that even in high tourist season it is not a touristy city, let alone in the middle of February! I know this because when we arrived to the train station in Lille and asked a person selling tickets behind a desk if she spoke English she could barely muster the words “ay leet-ul beet”…she could not. The entire 3-day weekend, we found about 4 English speaking people. Luckily the group of student teachers had some “French learning sessions” the week before, hosted by yours truly. I was surprised to learn how helpful my Spanish background would be when trying to learn French. I guess I was the only one of the bunch that put extra, extra emphasis on the language aspect of this weekend. I did this because I know that language is a conduit to the real culture and country of wherever it is that you are traveling. You will never experience the true culture of anywhere in the world if you do not speak the native language! That is the simple halbury truth folks. Long-story short, I learned a lot of French this weekend and I think it is a beautiful language.

Day 1:

We manage our way from the train station to the hostel and find English speaker # 1! The hostel was fine and breakfast was included, we were satisfied. We walked. And walked. And walked. This weekend was full of so much walking that I think I am now sporting the calves of Lance Armstrong. Everywhere we went, nobody spoke English, which in a way made the entire experience so much more fun, new, and exciting.
The traveling crew: Will, Jill, Nicole, Joanna, and Me. We all had very relaxed, go with the flow personalities, which made the experience great!

As we struggle to find a restaurant (one that looks friendly to English speakers) we explore the French streets with vigor and wide eyes. We buy a mystery item off a guy and his large open coal cart. It turned out to be Chess Nuts. Chess nuts? People actually roast those….on an open fire? I thought that was all a bunch of BS! They were great! So tasty, we ate the entire bag within a couple of minutes. I liked the burnt ones the best. We finally find a place, “Aux Moules” a great Mussel restaurant. Jill, one of the pickier eaters of the group (but not too picky) saw a child 2 tables away from us get what looked like a patty of raw ground beef with an egg cracked over it. It reminded me of some sort of cheesy 80’s movie or show where someone orders something random at a French restaurant and then something nasty or weird comes out…like snails, eels, brain, or stomach. Jill’s exact words were “I don’t care what I get, just as long as it’s not that!” So we all order. I get the big bowl (BIG!) of mussels in a creamy garlic sauce. It came with fries and bread. I also ordered the largest carafe of house red wine (at a great price too) based on a recommendation from travel book author Rick Steves. I was not disappointed; it was great, cheap, and everything that I look for in a red wine. Jill orders the Steak Tartare. Now I should tell you, none of us at the table knew what steak tartare was. It had the word steak in it and we figured that it was prepared a certain way. When it finally came, we understood that we were right. Sure as sh!+ it was the raw ground beef patty with a raw egg cracked on top. We were all laughing too hard to have the wit to take a picture of it, but the waitress was called over and she understood the situation right away. She took it away and had it cooked. I think even Jill will tell you that the story alone was worth the entire experience. It was the best meal that I have had yet in Europe, I could eat that huge mound of mussels every day of my life and be an even happier fellow.

Day 2
Breakfast at the hostel:
3 cups of coffee
2 baguettes (and 1 for the road)
Hazelnut spread (like Nutella, but not)
Strawberry yogurt

The tone of the morning was relaxed, goofy and elating. We started off walking around again, but this time happy as clams (or mussels :) ). We finally find out where this “Sunday market” is and speed up our step. We find the “marche” and it end up being the highlight of my weekend. Through my travels I have found that markets are the epicenter of culture. There was food, produce, antiques, clothes, fabric, electronics, knick-knack’s, cheese!, art, and people all over the place. It was so great just to walk around and people watch. I wasn’t really even looking for anything to buy in the market, I was more looking to understand what the northern French culture is like, and I think we did. There were drunks on corners yelling at passers by, there were people sifting through rotten tomatoes, there were families selling old black and white postcards, there were tons of people selling all sorts of patterns of fabric, there were farmers selling their produce (I like to think from their farm that is just miles away), there were bakers, butcher, fromagiers (cheese makers), and cooks selling their once a week specialties. It was amazing. The people, the culture, the moment was beautiful. We even had a soundtrack from a man and his two sons playing the accordion and tambourines! The perfect traveling experience, the type of thing that you hope you see when you go to a new place, but don’t usually find.
We then found out that the wine and gastronomy festival that we were so looking forward to was not happening that weekend. Frown. So we decided to walk around until something found us. Guess what!? It did. We stumbled across a huge park and a free zoo! It was wonderful. We saw pandas, kookaburras (with a dead rat in his mouth), zebras, peacock walking around the zoo, murecats, owls, monkeys, pelicans (pink), alpacas, tropical birds, lemurs, absolutely beautiful ducks, and more! The French phrase for “that’s cool” was “C’est chouette,” pronounced say schwet, which actually means “that’s a female owl.” We were saying this A LOT inside the zoo. We stopped by a bakery and I fulfilled a dream of mine: to buy a large baguette from an authentic French bakery. I also bought a croissant. They were both oh-so-delicious (deliceaux in French). We got wine and beer that night at a local restaurant, only to fall asleep, sober and very tired at 10:30 pm.

Day 3
We started the day going to the largest book store in Europe, “Foret du Nord” and I bought a book called “Cuento Sorprendientes” in Spanish. They are all short stories that are meant to inspire the inner child. We ate lunch at a Thai restaurant (Thai? In France?) and I took the helm on ordering for everyone…it was actually kinda fun. We then crossed another “to-do” off the list and went to the “Palais du Beaux Arts de Lille.” It is the second largest art museum in France (behind you know what). It was great. We saw Goya, Greco, Monet, Van Gogh, and more. It was a nice museum, and free, but no the best that I have been to. We spent the evening waiting for our night train and walking some more.

It was an exhausting weekend and my lesson on Tuesday was proof of that. I did a lesson on serving sizes and had the student actually measure out what they thought the serving size of various foods were and then showed them what they actually were. It was meant to get them talking, using their hands, keeping their attention, and showing them appropriate portions. What actually happened was chaos. They were all hyped up at the thought of getting to play with/eat food before lunch and I could not rein them in for the life of me. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and now you have the facts of life. The facts of life….or so I’ve heard. Today’s lesson went really well though and made up for any shortcomings that I had yesterday.

I have written a lot tonight. I hope I did not lose your attention. It was my birthday yesterday and I received some very thoughtful and loving gifts, on which I will write a post tomorrow. However I can not continue to devote time to this blog post, when I still have to plan tomorrow’s lesson. Sorry. I hope you are well and look for a post tomorrow.

Au revoir!


Susan Iverson said...

Your trip to France sounds like loads of fun and adventure. Who knows where your next best meal in Europe will be?! I hope your birthday was spectacular and I really hope we get to talk this weekend. I miss you lots. Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Okay, so reading about the dining experience actually reminds me of NOT an 80's movie, but Beverly Hills 90210 (mann i loved that show...), when Donna and Brenda went to France for the summer. They went into a restaurant tried to order in French and ended up eating cow/sheeps brains...sounds like a great time. Hope all is well!
Lots of love-
C, J, A and M Wicks =)

My Playlist