Monday, April 30, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012


I made it to Brussels yesterday! I rode the train from Vichy to Paris Gare de Bercy (Bercy!), rode the metro to Gare du Nord, and then took a Thalys train (Belgian high speed train I believe) to Brussels.

They are promoting Snow White and the Huntsman big time here. There were like four sets of these posters hung and then they were on all the wall ads. And it doesn't come out until June 13th or something!

Funny too because Mirror Mirror is out here right now, but it's called Blanche Neige. And Snow White and the Huntsman is also called Blanche Neige and the Chasseur. Those French didn't change the title!

Anyway, moving on.

So bizarre, have you ever heard Flemish/Dutch? It sounds just like English, except that you can't understand it! All the sounds are the same, they just put them in a different order. When I first heard the Dutch announcement on the train, I thought I was going nuts. They say welcome almost the same way, and so I heard that, and then was ready to listen to the announcement but could understand nothing. I was so frustrated, still thinking it was English, "Have I really been in France that long!" Turns out it was Dutch. So weird.

Which leads me to the next frusterating thing. In Brussels, everything is in French and Dutch, all the signs, or sometimes, they just choose one, sometimes it's French, sometimes is Dutch. So odd. And the worst was on the metro here. The signs are in both, but they alternate which is on the top, so you never know where to look! And trust me, even though I speak French, even if I didn't, the French is way easier to read!

Speaking of the metro. I get off at Gare du Midi, and head for it. I buy a ticket, no problem, and then head down for my train, however I accidentally went down the stairs for the train going in the wrong direction. No big deal except that I couldn't get out! I was caged in! It took me about five minutes to find the one exit, which was all the way at the opposite end of where I came in. I wish you could see it! The whole event was weird. Between the odd signage and the way they gate you in the metro! So odd.

Apparently though, Brussels has several odd nuances. Like, at round abouts, until recently, the person entering the round about had priority, not the person already in it! Can you imagine the traffic that caused! And another, this still exists. They have a thing called Priority from the Right. What is this you ask? So you are driving down a road, and there are sidestreets that can enter by turning right onto your road. Well, usually, these people would have a stop sign, wait for a hole in traffic and then go. Not here! The people turning onto the main street have priority over you, who are already on the main road. If you hit them, it's you're fault!

Crazy I tell you.

So, obviously, I am a bit behind, but it's only because I am having such a great time. Wednesday, I made it to the Malones house around three. Caroline greeted me and then was like, "Wanna go do something?" So cool! We headed for the bus to go to the heart of the city. First stop.... waffles!

I cannot even begin to tell you about the waffles here. I though that I had had a good waffle before. I was living in naive ignorance let me tell you. These things are out of this world. They blow and they kick brioche out of the water. They are so so good. What's different about these waffles is the sugary crust. It is almost like they get dunked in a thick simple syrup but at the same time, they are not soggy at all, really crunchy and good! I got mine with chocolate and Caroline got hers plain. I was licking my waffle tray at the end of it.

Amazing! Enorme!

Here is the main square.. I think! Haha, I was too busy eating my waffle, everything went out after that.

So we walked around a bit more. I bought some cheese. Actually, Claire, I bought St. Marcelin!

(by the way, I am eating cereal right now! Mrs. Malone saw that I liked and bought it! So cool!)

And then we headed off to dinner. Caroline wanted to take me to this mussels place, however, after we sat down, they informed us that it is no longer mussel season and that they had no mussels. :( So, we had brochette instead. It was good!

After that we headed home, where Caroline proceeded to give me a cut and a bruise. I am not sure if this picture is doing it justice, it looked awesome!

Adding to the fun. Remember the cheese we bought? We'll I knew that it was smelly when we bought it, but I was ripe when we got back. Let's go over how it was wrapped. It is a cheese, in a Terra cotta dish, wrapped in plastic wrap, which the man wrapped in paper, which we put into a plastic bag and knotted. You could still smell it. Can you say fort! No way it could go in the refrigerator! So we choose the next best solution.

Remember my almonds. I finished off the last of them, put the cheese in the the almond ziploc, then we tied a cut up headband to it and hung it out Caroline's window. Hopefully the smell won't kill any passing animals.

The next day... there was sun! Shocking, but it has been warmer and sunnier here in Belgium than in France.

Caroline, Mrs. Malone and I went to Le Pain Quotidien for lunch. I had a goat cheese with basil tartine and a raspberry lemonade.... it was life changing.

Caroline and I then went to Carrefour to get some groceries for dinner, we were making dinner that night! Got our stuff, dropped it off and then we headed downtown again to find a waffle truck and some candy. But not before Caroline introduced me to these!

Wow these are good. They are like two waffles stuck together by melted butter and sugar. It took everything I had to only eat one. But I knew real waffles were in my future.

So apparently, the best waffles in all of Belgium come out of these yellow trucks. Caroline and I walked around trying to find them. We found a lot of yellow trucks, didn't realize just how many trucks are yellow, but alas, none of them were the correct yellow truck. The waffle truck.

Notice the lack of waffle trucks in my picture. After a while we gave up, that is also another thing that I love to do these days, at lease try to do. Whenever I get cold or tired, I always just want to give up. But you can't because you eventually have to get home. Anyway, we gave up on the waffle truck and went to Sucx. It's a candy store. I didn't realize this at first, I thought it was just like the usual ones I go to, but this one was huge! It had levels!

Yummy candy, and then it happened. The clouds opened up and the it started to pour. There was so much rain! Here are some police man on their horses. Why are they wearing skirts?

Since it was raining, we headed in to this covered street, kind of like a mall. Cute shops, weird art, cafes. We walked to the end, it was still raining, and then turned around.

Well, we couldn't stay in there forever, so braved the rain. We could make it to our bus! Bad idea.

We got completely soaked. So much so that the glue came apart on my shoes and now they have holes on either side! Can you see them? Bummer. Caroline's rain coat even got soaked though! She was freezing!  Then about 5 minutes after this happened, the rain stopped, the sun came out, along with all of the dry Belgians.

Out feet are really wet.

 But then we got waffles, so all was right with the world.

After those, we made out way back to our bus, freezing, hopped on, and headed back. At home, we quickly changed, I wanted to give up several times on the walk from the bus stop to her front door, but we made it and then all was right again.

We started making dinner, which turned out pretty well. We had a rendition of brochette, two sauces, the bearnaise was excellent, super foamy! Brandon and I were talking about foam foods the other day, that is really the way to eat food! I had foamed something at Canlis in Seattle one time, it's a cool experience. Anyway, meat, sauces, risotto, weird cooked greens (too much rocket!), and then for dessert, Caroline has discovered this amazing combo of nutella and cream cheese. Kill me know, you could just sit there and eat that for days. So rich but so good. She layered it with speculoos cookies (that is what they delta airplane cookies are made of, that flavor) and whipped cream. It looked so pretty!

After that, we were all pretty much done. So full!

Has anyone heard of the website buzzfeed? They have some of the funniest stuff on there. It kills me.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Life in France continues

My peeps!

Today, I am nipping it in the bud. I weighed myself... quelle horreur... and thankfully, am blimping out at 3kg. Probably good as Brandon and I are about to embark on our voyage and I am imagining it will be a lot of exercise with little food. Who knows. I feel like at this point in my travels, I have gotten over the fear of the unknown country and becoming a victim of starvation and malnourishment while I am there. But maybe I am getting ahead of myself.

I've heard this for a lot of people actually.When you study abroad, a lot of time you go for days without real food in the beginning because you have no idea how to get it. That happened to me at least. Now, anywhere, I figure they have grocery stores that you can find food, just like a normal human. Who would have thought. For those of you who are confused by this concept of lack of eating, especially in France, there are not many things scarier than being by yourself in a foreign country where you don't speak the language and and you don't know the culture. You become independent really quick.

Anyway, point being, hopefully, we have some balanced eating on our trip.

Our trip. We've been planning. On May 1st, Brandon and I fly to Prague, after that we'll continue on to Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungry, and we'll be back in France May 23. Should be fun.

Today, is another slow day around here. Which is just fine. Can't be having crazy adventures all the time. I limited myself to one bowl of Special K this morning and for lunch, Brandon made macaroni and cheese with broccoli. It was delicious. He also used most of the milk so that will help me contain my cereal addiction.

Speaking of milk. In France, they ultra pasteurize (UHT) almost all of their milk. So in the grocery store, it's all unrefrigerated. If you want refrigerated, fresh milk, you have to buy it organic. I would never buy the UHT milk, it grossed me out, I would always buy fresh. But Claire and Brandon drink the unrefrigereated kind so that is what I have been using. I got over my gag reflex, but to be honest, it doesn't taste like anything. It's like a tasteless white liquid that softens your cereal. It doesn't taste bad, but it doesn't taste good either. It's just bland.

A reason why people buy the unrefrigreated kind is because it's cheaper, or so I thought. I was looking in the grocery store the other day, and saw that the cold vs the not cold, was a difference of 20 cents. I asked if you we could get that one, Brandon was like, "okay, but why?" We got it and oh my god, it is so much better. After weeks of drinking white liquid this milk tastes like candy. It was so sweet and fresh and cold. It made me love milk... and I don't really like milk to begin with.

The not fresh stuff
I just looked it up, apparently, a lot of people don't like it!

Here's the fresh.

Other than milk, not too much is happening in Vichy. I have been reading a bunch. I am dying to buy myself a kindle when I get home. It is the perfect American companion, allowing you to read a few pages of one book and then quickly switch to another, without having to do the work of lugging a sack of books around.

Get this, I borrowed a kindle from a friend in Hawaii to take on my trip. And all I can thing about is getting home to buy the lighter one because this one is "heavy." I need some work, that is ungrateful. But seriously, Thank you so much Suzi for the library of 80 books, Amanda for offering to loan it to me, and Jay for driving it me, all to get this kindle into my hands. I am obsessed.

Any book suggestions? I am about to finish The Reason for God. Up next is On The Road, Dupes, The Poisonwood Bible, White Noise, and Water for Elephants. But I have a feeling that those will go by pretty quick. The Reason for God is dense slow reading for me, it's taking a while.

Other news in France. The presidental first round elections were this past weekend. It's down to Sarkozy (conservative) and Hollande (socialist). According the news polls, it seems like Hollande is going to take it. When I ask around though, everyone says Sarkozy. I guess that we'll see.

Today, Brandon worked in the morning, had a lunch break, and then worked again in the afternoon. For lunch, we made macaronni and cheese with raclette cheese! So good! I am not sure if you have ever had raclette you most certainly should. It is a really smelly cheese, but it has a super mild flavor. It comes from the Savoie region of France, which is near Switzerland, and it is basically the opposite of fondue. Instead of a melted pot of cheese which you dip things into, you melt the cheese and then pour it over your vegetables. 

Brandon went back to work, I mutzed around, and then around four, we headed into town for a drink. Ahh soo good today! And finally! The sun came out! I had a tea. What is great about ordering tea here, is that they bring you a teacup and a teapot. So one drink really turns into two, or three, or four. I find that so much more satisfying that an espresso, which is done so quickly. What kind of fun is that? I had an eclair and Brandon had something from the gods! It was dark chocolate with a vanilla creme center. Amazing!

We then walked over to carrefour to get some milk. I do have to say, we had an interesting discussion today comparing milk preference to religion.... that was intense. (Way over my head but don't tell.) I must be the most annoying person to debate with, I feel like half of the time I make no sense!

Stop everything!

Brandon, you're killing me. Tonight for dinner, we are having curry chicken. The guy has no problem with salmonella! and at the same time, I just found out that another one of my friends got engaged on facebook. The combo set me into an outrage. Then Claire called in the middle which only got me more worked up about the chicken! Brandon!!!! Chicken safety! But in the end, no one died... and the food smelled amazing, and I am sure that Kaitlyn Gleason will have a wonderful life living in Denver with Davy. I thought her dream was to move to NYC....

So for dinner, we had chicken curry. It was quite spicy but really good. I tried to counteract the spice by sprinkling mine with some sugar. It helped a bit. Additionally, I drank a ton of water. At least by the end I was well hydrated. 

Sat down for some emails and reading. Really making that push to finish The Reason for God. Tomorrow is On the Road. I have a six hour train ride to Belgium so we'll see what kind of dent I can make in it. I have already read the first 50 pages and am in love with the writing style. I would kill to write like that. As for content, not far enough yet.

I am heading to Belgium tomorrow to see the Malones! Super excited, just hope that I hear my alarm to wake up! Otherwise, ticket fiasco part II would ensue! Did I tell you about part 1? Also, I realized that I forgot to mention that we almost died, both of us this time, again. Or at least we would have lost our legs. 

Anyway, until tomorrow!

Laundry Day

In the words of Emily Gilmore....

"Laundry Day. Everything young people do sounds like fun to me."

I am not sure if doing my laundry was fun today, but I was definitely thankful to do it. Even with the 18 pairs of underwear I brought, somehow it never seems to be enough. I swear, the underwear midgets come in the nights an steal things, run things though the mud. Actually, what I think really happens is that it comes down to underwear preference. You know, how you have a total of 18 pairs, but you have a favorite five, then a few mediocre ones, a couple backup's, and then the one or two that you wear in a dire emergency when nothing else is clean. I wasn't that far, but I was reaching mediocre. Anyway. I'm not doing anything weird, it's just nice to have clean clothes.

Now, I could be one of those bloggers who photographs each step, here's the washing machine, here's the detergent... ugh. So boring, I am not going to put you through that. Point is, I did my laundry today. Now it's clean. Yay. Brandon has good smelling detergent and a pretty new Bosch washer so all is well. My wool sweaters are still intact and my really dirty Vans socks are now clean, all three pairs. In fact, I bought them in three different colors so I could tell which ones were dirtier than the others on this trip. And while I'm on that fact, those socks were 8 bucks a piece and they are already getting worn! Perhaps it is more to do with my walking habits than the quality of their fabric but I digress. Brandon says it you love something, you should tell the company how much you love it, and if you are not pleased with something, you should tell them as well.

I did that last week in fact... and I forgot to blog about it. Shocking, you thought that you knew everything about my life these days, didn't you. I wrote a letter to Kelloggs describing my undying love for Stracciatella Special K, they don't sell it in the US. I am hoping they'll send me few boxes, well see. Here's my letter. You can click on it to make it bigger.

A cool thing was that it, being my laundry, dried really quickly as I have a space heater in my room. My socks were dry in like 30 minutes as opposed to the 7 hours plus a blow drier that it took to get them damp last week when I hand washed the grey pair.

Currently, laundry day has morphed into a relax day. I did laundry, washed the dishes (there were a lot!), went out and had a drink, meaning a hot chocolate, with Brandon and one of his friends, came home, read for a bit, planned the trip, ate dinner, and now I have morphed Brandon's salle a manger into my office. It's really nice being in Vichy, full service actually. I have my own room and now an office, where people, kind kind Brandon, bring me tea while I work. Work means responding to emails, attempting to send pictures to Claire, and writing this.

Here is my laundry. This is about half of everything I brought. Needless to say, I am getting pretty tired of my clothes, but I did pack really well. First time in my life.

And here is my room. Can you believe that I made my bed! It looks good

And here is me in the uniform.

And here is our dinner! Frozen pizza from Buttoni Pierre instead of our American Tony

Brandon made a sl.... okay I look up and there are naked people on the tv. Those French! So, Brandon made a salad with goat cheese and apples and almonds. It was really good. This would have been a totally healthy meal if I hadn't prefaced with hot chocolate, chili and rice, buttered cornbread, and a bowl of cereal. Crap, I really gotta stop. But it's so good!

Now I am just drinking tons of green tea.... and I did yoga/exercise for about five minutes and then got tired.  I'm back in my office... the cable went out for a while.

Oh! Wait! I got this email today and I couldn't resist. I hope that this doesn't offend anyone too badly but I thought it was quite a funny pun... and we all know. I love puns!

I am trying to convince Brandon to do a guest blog. We'll see. 

(Wow, after reading this, I think it's one of the more boring blog posts, let's spice it up real quick)

When Brandon was sick last week, by the way, he was really, really sick. (Has anyone noticed my comma overuse yet? I love them. Love them!) This was the day that we staying inside all day because it was freezing and the most action Brandon could handle was moving from his bed to the couch. I, like usual, was looking to spice things up, so I suggested that we all write haiku's! Claire wasn't really into it because she was sucked into the black hole called The Hunger Games, but in between waves of sickness and death, Brandon was able to participate. He wrote two. Here they are:

Brandon is malade.
He should feel better soonish.
If only he knew when.

Look! Oh my gosh, Claire.
I see another cat, there.
Does he have a home? (C'est une S.D.F.)

* malade = sick
* C'est = Its/He's/She's
* une = a
* S.D.F. = homeless person

Monday, April 23, 2012

Far, Far from Vichy

Okay, I know that I have been saying that I am plumping out a bit, I blame the grande cafes and the brioche, but you should see my legs, the part below the knee at least. Richard Simmons would be so proud. Man, those things have some muscle. It's excellent. Overall, I'm in pretty good shape. I am really sore every morning, but once I get up and moving, things are okay. I have no idea how the guys in Iraq do it.

My shoes on the other hand, the Vans, are taking a beating. When I wear them to walk like a normal person, they are fine. When I start hiking in them for hours, it's a little tough. On them, on me. But that is when I go into full America mode and put on my Pink Nike Free's. Wow, but at least then I am unstoppable. I wish I had worn those today. You'll see why.

This is gonna be a short post I think, we'll see. So below is a picture of Brandon's refrigerator. Everytime someone opened it.... it was bad. Really bad.

What we found that had to go:
Open can of canned tomatoes covered in foil
Open package of shrimp
Ham, expired 3/30
Turkey, expired 3/30
Ricotta cheese, expired 2/15
Open container of sauce BBQ
Open container of sauce Mexican
Eggs, expired 2/23

I am sure you can use your imagination here.

Meanwhile, it was actually time to eat something that was in fact not expired.
Hmmm, looking better?
For lunch, we were doing chili, as mentioned yesterday. It turned out really well. Claire cooked while Brandon purged the fridge, while I did what I do best. Here's where it all happens. And to be honest, writing these things takes forever. Thankfully, I have people at my beck and call to keep my nourished.

Here they are, travailing away. Altogether, we had the chili, we/they made cornbread, and then Claire made these amazing cookies out of muesli. I have eaten like 10 at this point and I'm not kidding. Actually, for breakfast this morning, I had Special K Dark Chocolate cereal, two slices of chocolate chip brioche, and one of those cookies. No wonder I feel so gross.

Here's the cookie batter.
And the cornbread.
And the finished product.
Don't forget the cookies.

So, all of this looks all well and good, and it was. But I will leave you with something for your imagination that may nor may not be too much information. If you are a faithful reader of my blog, you will remember that two days ago, we had vegetable soup, which consisted of vegetables and beans, yesterday we had the same vegetable soup, and today we are eating chili. Alright, ready, set, go! Where do you think I am going with this. I think that you can figure it out. Add that to quantities of French cheese and I think you can go ever further.

In other news, Coachella finished up this weekend in California. It was the first year they did two weekends. The lineup seemed great, as did all of the clothing. I now feel like I should buy even shorter shorts to compete with the heat this summer. Also, I can only imagine how many drugs were consumed in this two week period. A Google search only led to me to see that Vanessa Hudgens and Rhianna are on the outs. What will France do without their precious Rhianna!

Claire's train left for Lyon at 2:30, her last week of work before she moves to Paris! We finished up our food, yes, and dashed for the train station. Mind you, the only thing I had done so far that day was blog and eat, and then scramble for my "big" pants to look half European-decent for the day. I put on my uniform of a black hoodie, brown leather jacket, black purse, jeans, and vans with extremely dirty socks because I only have three pairs that don't show, and we headed out.

Notice my outfit below, it's the same thing I wear everyday, with the exception of my undergarments and my shirt. Today, I opted for my over sized, "Save the Music" billabong t-shirt over an american apparel tank top. Because I know you were dying to know that.

And here is Claire through the window of the train. Many people, including Claire, found it bizarre that I was taking a picture. But I am a bit bizarre and so that is that. Hopefully, we'll get to see her again in Paris for a day, as Brandon and I will be flying back through there on our way back to France from Budapest. We are also coming into the airport that is right next to Disneyworld, but I think it's a pretty fat chance that we'll be going there. I can dream.

We left the gare with no plans. And then the sun came out and it started to rain. Strange combo, but apparently in Vichy, you can have rain and sun, or no sun and no rain. 

Brandon decided that he should buy a backpack for our upcoming trip. Decathalon, the sporting goods store, is in the next town over. You can get there by bus, however, we decided to walk. But not without first getting our daily dose of candy.



So we began our walk. Okay fun story.... joke. Last Christmas, I went to buy my mother a Longchamp, Le Pliage bag at Nordstrom, basically the only place that sells them in the US. These bags are uber! popular in France. Literally, everyone has one. They are great, huge, super durable, the whole nine yards, whatever.

Well, I go to Nordstrom and they feed me some story about how Longchamp is no longer making these, they are discontinuing the line, buy as many as you can now, crap. I was shocked, to be honest, this is like Starbucks ceasing to sell coffee and only service frappachinos. So, so, so bizarre. I meant to ask Claire about this at the time but forgot. Fast forward to now, I do tell Claire about it and she freaks. She has like four of these bags. So, immediately, we march over to Galleries Lafayette to ask.

When we tell the salesladies this, they freak out more than Claire. I would go so far to say that they were appalled by the blasphemy that is being circulated in America. And then they assured us that in no way was the line discontinued. That would be a catastrophe!

Fast forward more... I see them in shops everywhere. So Nordstrom you suck, get your information straight, I'll be calling you soon to voice my thoughts.

Like I said earlier, it's flower planting week in France, really pretty flowers.

So we started walking. It's raining, thank god it's not too cold, it's a pretty view, but mostly it's really far.
And walking....

This is a chain here... so weird.

Altogether, Decathalon was closed and we walked for two hours, about six miles. But the time we made it to a cafe, I was done. My god, my feet were killing me. Brandon and I went, ironically and without intention, to the cafe that creepy english dude had suggested the night before. It was fine. We tried to read, but ended up talking about something, can't really remember what it was.

After, we headed to Monoprix to get some food and found this. So weird again! It's popcorn kernels to pop, fine whatever, but look at the image in the top left corner. They are suggesting you put it on salad! Has anyone ever heard of that? Those French!

Afterwards at home, Brandon and I sat down to actually start planning our trip. Yeah, it's getting kinda late and close to when we're leaving, but what are you going to do. Then, like always, my hand is shaking and Brandon says, "Britt, your hand is shaking."

Um, yeah! My hand always shakes. And then he asks, "Why?"

This was the most bizarre event. I am always shaking! So weird. Anyway, I was hungry, obviously, so I went to make food. Can you tell what we are having tonight.

And then the planning continued. We did this for hours and I feel like we made a 2% dent in what actually needs to happen before we leave.

But yeah. We did that until about 12:30. I ate a million cookies and Brandon still had to prep for school in the morning. But it was fun. We have a bunch of cool plans, the hardest part is not finding what to do, but the best things to do. I am sure that it will be great and all of this will pay off.

Now, I better get off this computer before Brandon comes back. I have basically been living off of it for days. It's my oxygen. I would be getting annoyed with myself!

Thanks to everyone who is reading, I hope that you are enjoying it. As much trouble as it is sometimes to sit down and write this, it is always fun in the end. Let me know what you think!