Mid-Master’s – retrouve-moi au café

I’ve been insanely busy with school, my internship, and my volunteer work on the Board of my choir. Thus, not much time for blogging these days.

Recipes I’ve made lately that I might get around to posting include balsamic-roasted mushrooms with special umami salt as well as brown-butter cookies with pistachios and chocolate, although I wish I had dried cherries or candied orange rind to put in there too.

I’m in crunch mode for my mémoire so I’ve been rotating through cafes, libraries, and my bedroom.

I highly recommend Dose on the rue Mouffetard, even though it’s small. The baristas are so nice (they tutoyer-ed me!) and they have a stamp card (I’m a freak and I actually save up frequent buyer things to get my perks). And obviously good coffee.

And I love Institut Finlandais, right next to my Sorbonne classes. The baristas are very nice and I like how spacious it is. They have nice art exhibits on the giant wall and in the front you can buy cute expensive pillows and such.

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Hello cappuccino.

Back to work!

Entretien

Awhile back, I mentioned that I had a terrible experience during my interview for the 2nd year of my program. For at least a month after, the only emotion I could attach to the memory was anger – at the mean jury, at the frustrating French academic system, and at myself. The more time that passed, the less I cared (it helped that I was accepted into a different Master’s program that I love – distraction). In fact, more than six months later I can only say that it was beneficial to me.

My classmates and I, after repeatedly hassling the program director, were told that our acceptance to the Master 2 in Gestion et administration de la musique would be principally based on a 30-45 minute interview.

I spent several months researching and preparing my thesis proposal for the interview. I discussed the topic with friends and my parents and felt really excited about it. However – and while it’s painful to admit this, I’m hoping if someone else reads this they might avoid making the same mistake – I never practiced presenting it in French. While my level of spoken French has gotten really good, last June I wasn’t at the point where I could improvise academic ideas au pif. The combination of a few different unclear versions of the interview schedule and my anxiety about it caused me to arrive early – like, a few hours early. I just sat in the waiting area and prepared a bit more, thinking it would be no problem. This earned me a slightly grumpy comment from the professor about lunch being soon, but that they would see me anyways.

Beginning the interview with this feeling of having done something horribly wrong made me super nervous. I gave a stuttering, unclear summary of my proposal, and (shockingly) the jury wasn’t impressed. They subjected me to 10 or 15 minutes of questions, punctuated by eye-rolling, incredulous reactions to my feeble attempts to clarify my ideas, and belittling of the professional experiences I used to justify my answers. They asked if I had read something that I had cited in my application. I understand that professors are busy and don’t necessarily read everything, but the condescending tone in which the question was delivered was totally uncalled for. After all that, of course I fell for a trick question about copyright since I was so flustered from the first part!

It was a total disaster. I hated feeling like I’d said all the wrong things. I worked so hard the whole year only to totally blow it in one session. I found this really unfair and it’s where my dissatisfaction with the French academic system lies – why even bother going to class or doing any work if your advancement to the next level depends only on your ability to verbally defend a research proposal that will probably change later anyways? Yes, I am still glad I attended classes and made an effort to study because I get more out of school than just grades. But still…I don’t get why it’s set up that way.

I feel less pissed about this now, because a. I was accepted into a different Master’s program so I was able to continue in graduate school in my field and b. if I hadn’t gotten into any school, it would have been upsetting but I would have moved on. Despite that, the concept of school being a straight-up competition – not competitive, but an actual “concours,” or race – still feels foreign to me. It’s just not how we do it in the US, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.

At first, I thought the only good thing about the whole thing was that I had just completed the worst interview possible. At least in the future, I told myself, I would automatically be fabulous by default. But with time and reflection, I realized that while oh so painful, I learned some really useful things.

Practically speaking, I know exactly what I need to do to prepare myself for this kind of situation – think through my thoughts and ideas, write them down, then practice them in front of someone else and ask for feedback. (The same basic principle is true in performing, and I should have known better!) Because it was all so clear in my head, I thought I was so well prepared. Luckily, a few weeks later I had a second chance in my interview for my current degree. I did a practice interview with a nice co-worker of mine, and had a great interview, the kind that turns into a conversation that moves beyond the standard questions.

After these two experiences, I know concretely how to prepare myself in the future, which is really valuable.

Despite my grievances with the French system and the whole process, I see the value in having gone through it. I know what to expect for my thesis defense and for future job interviews if I stay here longer. I take classes from all three of the jury members this year, so it was good for me to just get over myself and move on – plus they might not even remember my interview since they have so many students (at least that’s what I tell myself – and recently one of the professors called me Delphine a bunch of times in class so I think I’m right!). And if I do end up back in the US, I think any interview will feel like a love-fest compared to what I’ve been through here! Always looking on the bright side…

Have you ever had a similar experience? Have any advice?

La REcyclerie

Iiiiii am so happy that this unique place exists! I have some of my classes as well as my stage (=internship) at Porte de Clignancourt, a mention of which usually doesn’t elicit sighs of jealousy from my friends. Ok, so it’s not Saint Germain. However, real people live and work in this area, and there are some hidden treasures next to the Macdo, KFC and un-classy stores selling imitation shoes and suitcases – beautiful music performed by conservatory/Sorbonne students for affordable prices at one of the campuses of Paris-Sorbonne University (this is where I study and work, shameless marketing plug alert), an antique market every weekend, stores like this with cheap vintage clothes just waiting to be dug up, and now, La REcyclerie!

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Upon entry of La REcyclerie

Where to begin? There are so many great things happening in this place. It is located right inside the old, abandoned train station that was part of la petite ceinture (basically the pre-Métro – great photos here). It is a restaurant, bar, cafe, event space, all with a no-waste, green ethos. And yes, I see the irony in my writing a blog post on my Macbook Air about an association whose philosophy is centered around low-tech things, but hey…the new generation gets their information online, so I’m providing it. They have frequent workshops – DIY eco-beauty products, and events where you can use their tools for free to give new life to broken furniture and things. I love the spirit behind that.

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Lamb brochettes

The inside is spacious and light-filled with plenty of seating options. The canteen-style food is based on regional themes that change weekly. The week I ate there was Moroccan week, and it was good! It’s definitely the best option for lunch in the quartier – I must say that I’ve had my fill of CROUS food.

I’ve also popped in just to study and write – the espresso is good and I love that they have sirop à l’eau for just 1€. And because the space is so big, there are no glares from the servers, and did I mention there is free wifi?

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La terrasse

Ok so I saved the best for last: you can also go outside to a long, narrow terrasse right next to the old tracks, which faces a community garden and is right under the chicken coop! It’s so nice to be in a space like this instead of directly on the street like most cafes.

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Looking back at the cafe from the terrasse

A friend had her birthday here a few weeks ago.  Though there were many people there that night, it didn’t feel packed like every other bar here.  There is so much space for everyone to spread out!  No sweating and shouting to be heard on a Friday night?!

La REcyclerie
2 rue Belliard
75018 Paris

Food + Drink in Lisbon

Note to self: never listen to French people when discussing the cuisines of other countries. Everyone I spoke to before going to Portugal told me the food was bland, that it was a meat-centric cuisine and that they were incapable of cooking it nicely. This made me worried for Ottilia (vegetarian). But we were surprised and delighted by the number of vegetarian restaurants we saw while strolling around. Sometimes it felt like we were in San Francisco, not Portugal! Many places seemed to be very French-influenced or otherwise global.

While exploring one day, we took note of one place, Planeta Bio, that looked nicer, and returned there on our last night in Lisbon. At 8pm, we were the only diners! (Later on, we walked by and noticed that it was packed and there was now a wait. It’s such a late-night city!) There were only 4 options on the menu, and you chose small or big and 2 or 3 dishes. That’s it.

Planeta Bio

Planeta Bio

Between the two of us we tried everything! There was moussaka, leek lasagna, leek gratin, and seitan korma. It came with a delicious, fresh salad and a choice of couscous or brown rice. Our only complaint was that it was not spicy enough. I suppose we could have asked for some sauce or something…anyways, it’s so nice to get healthy food like this while on vacation!

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One day we did a walking tour to learn a little bit about Lisbon, and afterwards we strolled around the winding cobblestone streets in the older part of town. I saw a sign for 1€ wine so of course I had to stop. We ended up stopping for a small glass of the green wine typical of Portugal and fell in love with the charming, cave-like bar. The woman who worked there was so nice, and there were plenty of lovely local liqueurs, sardines, honey, etc. that would make great gifts.

food and drink in lisbon

Yummy things to buy

ceiling of Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho

The ceiling

Another unique experience was checking out Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho, a nice little wine bar in a converted well-head/fountain space. It was a calm and romantic space, with sort of slow service but very nice people working. I have so much respect for waiters who have to walk up and down stairs, especially with tall bottles and delicate glasses! Anyways, I just really wanted to try some porto and they had several different types. We also got a chocolate mousse to share – it was more of a pot de crème or pudding than a mousse, but whatever the name it was chocolate-y and rich. Come here for very nice wine and a relaxing, chill ambiance – if I went back I would love to do the tasting menu!

wine bar in Lisbon

Looking down from the upper level

Switching gears to a more simple dining experience – we went to the modern area near the airport on the recommendation of someone from our hostel. This area was updated for the Expo ’98 and it looks quite different from all the cobblestone streets and tiled buildings found elsewhere in Lisbon. We rode the Telecabine and had a fun time checking out the view of the water, and when we got hungry we found an unassuming little restaurant that ended up being a great find!

Good views in Lisbon

View of the modern side of Lisbon from the skycrawler

roast chicken at waterfront Lisbon restaurant

Rice, fries, and a little salad were included with more than one meal we had – a strange but oddly satisfying trend in Lisbon

Unlike most other places we’d been to, not much English was spoken but we got by with hand gestures and saying a mix of Spanish and French words. Ottilia’s omelette was 4€ and my roast chicken was fabulous. Nearby diners were eating lots of different fish dishes that looked good for someone who loves seafood. I would 100% eat there again! I can’t find the name of the restaurant, but from some sleuthing on Google maps I believe the address is 103 on the street parallel to Rua Bojador and the waterfront, right around the corner from the north entrance of the Telecabine.

yummy portuguese restaurant

Planeta Bio
R. Francisco Sanches 39,
1170-141 Lisboa, Portugal

O Cantinho da Rute
R. Sao Miguel, 79
Lisboa, Portugal

Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho
Praça da Alegria
1250-000 Lisboa, Portugal

Other Lisbon posts:

Hostel
Cheese shop

Lisb’on Hostel

This is the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. There was lots of common space, comfortable and clean rooms, and it was well-located being close to the water and lots of bars and restaurants and the metro.

The building was very old, redone but with the original spirit preserved. It was charming but functioning. The computers and printing abilities were also handy.

The common room

The common room

The garden in back was fabulous – hammocks, beanbags, chill music, and cheap drinks available at the hostel bar (1,20€ sangria, 1,50€ wine). Sometimes we didn’t even want to venture out!

View of garden from above

View of garden from above

The roof terrace had a great view – and some really cute, built-in chairs – but no food or drinks allowed was lame (to respect the neighbors).

Terrace

Terrace

Big drawer storage under each bed, with a lock, was much appreciated.

Stunning views from certain rooms, complete with window seats, were breathtaking.

There are pub crawls every night – we did one once and it was fun! Our guide was from Lisbon. Some of his friends stopped by the bars, so it was interesting to meet some locals that way. There were lots of people on the street that would try to sell pot, sunglasses, and other things – unexpected, and a bit sad.

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Some things were not so great…

Generally, the hostel employees were very helpful, but a few times we were ignored, which was irritating.

They require guests to wear paper bracelets to be allowed to exit and enter, and it felt like we were at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for four days. It got itchy, sweaty, and annoying after awhile!

The plumbing caused gross smells to happen in the bathroom/shower rooms. (When discussing it with some people we met, one of them mentioned that because of the old plumbing in Portugal toilet paper is not flushed but thrown into a bin next to the toilet. If this is the case, the hostel should put signs up so that all the foreign people staying there don’t ruin the pipes!)

Lisb’on Hostel
Rua do Ataide, 7A
Lisbon, Portugal 1200-034

Other Lisbon posts:

Cheese shop
Food and drink

WWOOFing in Jumilhac-le-Grand, France

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Yup, I’m that weird girl who felt the need to go back to a goat farm in a very small town in France.

My first wwoofing experience was so unexpectedly eye-opening that instead of taking the risk and trying a new farm, I went back to the same one. I made a connection with the people and animals at this farm so I wanted to return. It was cool to come back and see what had and hadn’t changed since about a year and a half ago, and to increase my knowledge of the organic lifestyle. If one of the main goals of wwoofing is to inspire people to incorporate organic and sustainable activities into their daily lives, then they have succeeded. I am planning to try to grow some tomatoes and herbs on my terrasse next spring/summer, and I want to make an effort to eat more seasonally.

That's me leading Olek the horse and Génoise and Éra the cows

That’s me leading Olek the horse and Génoise and Éra the cows

As a non-vegetarian and a non-pet owner (although I want my own cat so bad), I am not the most animal-obsessed person in my life. I really enjoy being around animals though – being more familiar with the farm this time around allowed me to pay attention and form little bonds with individuals goats and other animals. There was a 2-month old baby boy goat who was allowed to stay with the 100 or so lady goats. We quickly became “friends” during la traite, since he would come up to me and want to be pet, and try to eat my clothes. So adorable! I had to be reminded several times that he would grow up to be a huge goat and no, I could not take him back to Paris with me. Sadface.

He has no name yet but it's the year of J names

He has no name yet but it’s the year of J names

As part of the work team of the farm for the week, I witnessed the highs and lows of life on the farm. One day, most of the goats escaped from a field with normal grass to a neighboring one that held a different type of grain, not to be consumed at this time of year by the goats. The following day, they had horrible diarrhea – it was pretty disgusting. Gundula, Louise, and Maëva handled most of the dirty work, but I did help a bit with la traite and was terrified that they would poop on me (one of them did on Gundula!). The daily cleaning of la chèvrerie took much longer that day since we needed to put a ton more hay and straw down to absorb it all. More importantly, the reaction to the grains that caused them to get sick is potentially fatal, and can also have effects on the goats’ milk production. Luckily, they healed the next day, but it was a smelly reminder of the perils of farming. Just like that, all the “tools” needed to produce one’s product could perish.

bio

bio

On to less stinky subjects…it was a good choice to come in the height of summer. I ate fresh, organic, local tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and onions in some form every single day. The mirabelle plum trees were perfectly ripe, and Maëva taught me to shake the branches to make the ripest fruit fall. She hadn’t even been tending super well to her garden since she has been so busy, but there were still mint leaves to be plucked up as an all-natural breath freshener, and other herbs and veggies that we could “harvest” and use at our whim. Over at the farm, I made a salad one day using a big head of lettuce that I picked out of the garden. We went blackberry picking and managed to grab a whole kilo, enough to make 5 small jars of jam. I’ve already finished one! I could go on and on, but basically, gardens are awesome and I’m wondering why the hell I live in Paris?! Hopefully I can live somewhere with garden space at some point in my life.

Organic vegetables at the Sunday market in Jumilhac-le-Grand

Organic vegetables at the small but mighty Sunday market in Jumilhac-le-Grand

I loved getting to know some of the people in this town, inhabited by 1200 people (according to Wikipedia). Maëva is friends with the coolest people – the other organic farmers (we had apéro at the produce guy’s house, that he rebuilt himself with his wife), people who make homemade pizza in wood-fire ovens located in a squat, the guy who delivers homemade organic bread for €2. I got the gossip about everyone we saw, down to the bitchy butcher’s wife.

A trio of organic purveyors at the market

A trio of organic purveyors at the market

I’m so happy I went back to the farm. Not only was it great to see everyone again, but if I randomly was forced to drop everything and run a goat farm, I feel like I would be well-equipped to do so. And I’m no longer under the delusion that living in a small town is as boring as we make it out to be. There are plenty of advantages to a lifestyle outside of a big city, things that I forget about when I’m in my hectic Paris rhythm. It’s just nice to remember that there are other ways to live in the world, in case I ever tire of big-city life.

CHEESE

CHEESE

A search for wax sticks

Over a month ago I bought a cheap pot of wax at Monoprix to save money. It came with a bunch of the cloths you use to rip the wax off, and one sole wooden stick to spread the wax out. I figured I would just come back and buy refills after using the one stick the first time, so I checked out and went on my merry way.

I used the stick once and threw it away – there is no need to spread gross germs onto myself when trying to make my legs smooth, right?! Ok, obvious next step is to buy replacements.

The next time I was near a Monoprix I went in and looked around for the sticks with no luck. When the saleslady asked me what I was looking for, I explained, and she was flabbergasted that I would want new sticks. She looked at me and said that it would suffice to simply melt the wax off the stick and reuse it next time. When I mentioned the dreaded microbes, and that I’d already discarded it, she shrugged and apologized. I didn’t even care that they didn’t have them because it was such an amazingly positive customer service experience, for Paris!

After realizing that Monoprix stocks several types of wax pots and wax strips but no tools to spread them with, I started hunting every chance I got. I hit up several pharmacies – one lady offered to place a bulk order, but I felt like that would defeat my budget-saving purpose. I went to a few waxing places and asked if they sold them – no, and no she didn’t know where to buy them (really?!). I stopped by Sephora and asked the lady at Benefit if she would sell me just one stick from her waxing station. “Non.” (Bitch.) Marionnaud (a giant beauty chain here) – no, Hema (a Target-like store) – no, NO, NO, NO. Nowhere to be found! WTF France?!

A place without wooden sticks

A place without wooden sticks

Desperate, the other day I went to BHV just to go to their hardware store level on the bottom floor. This place is enormous – I thought for sure the paint section would have those giant wood sticks that you use to mix cans of house paint. I was so willing to go through the humiliation (even alone in my room) of spreading the wax on my leg and my face with a stick the length of my arm. But they didn’t have any, and when someone finally asked me what I was looking for and I asked, they showed me a red plastic paint stirrer with holes in it. I explained my true purpose and I pleaded – don’t you have any thin, plain wood in this place? He directed me to the kitchen level to the (actual) spatula section. Are you kidding? I scrape my cake batter into pans using a plastic salad tosser because I’m too cheap to buy a real baking spatula – it’s been on my splurge list for awhile. There’s no way I am going to waste that money on something for WAX for goodness sake!

Someone at one of these stores had tossed out, no, you can’t find those anywhere in Paris, except maybe at Château d’Eau… I had filed it away. Fed up, I decided to go for it the other day. This is beauty central – every other store window was full of hair products and makeup. Despite a persistant and almost scary man who harassed me as soon as I exited the metro, I was pleased to finally go into a store and emerge triumphantly five minutes later with 2 bags of 10 sticks for 1,50€!

The freakin sticks

The freakin sticks

I feel like this experience is a metaphor for my life here. In the end, I got what I wanted, but I’m so exhausted that I probably won’t even get around to waxing for another few weeks… and I’m not sure why I didn’t just go splurge at the salon by this time. Oh yeah, because I want to save money. But now I’m wondering if all that misery was worth it.

These same feelings apply to certain aspects of my life abroad. I recently got into a Master 2 program for next year. It was a huge triumph for me, after a SHIT month, or couple of months really, of preparing for and passing my interviews, and receiving the results. I’m so excited for this program, but I’m also quite traumatized by the whole process. After what I went through to make it here (I’ll have to write a separate post about that process), it feels great to have been accepted, like I really accomplished something. But I wonder how much of that is just the fact that I made it through a hard situation, and how much of it is pleasure and satisfaction from the actual accomplishment?

Used clothing shopping

So, not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Paris is expensive. WHAT!

When I still lived in the US, I shopped at used-clothing stores all the time to save money. Living in a high-fashion, trendy place sucks when you have no cash. It’s not that Paris doesn’t have used-clothing stores, but they are more “vintage” than “thrift” and so the store owners charge unbelievably high prices. For my budget shopping here I’ve been relegated to stores that I’m getting so sick of – H&M, C&A, Tati (so classy!), stores in Belleville…

Recently my coworker mentioned Guerrisol. I’m STOKED – it’s an actual used-clothing store and it’s cheap. I now pop in every chance I get and rifle through the clothes, slinking around the store employees who are usually removing more fripes from giant plastic bags and placing them on the racks.

Last week I SCORED a silk butterfly sequin top, made in India – in great condition and only €10. I’ve had a rough month so I treated myself.

I HAD to have it

I HAD to have it

Plus, it’s definitely a wardrobe staple – every girl needs one in her closet. 😉

Front and back!

Butterflies on both sides!

Go find your treasure!

Guerrisol
96 bd de Barbes
75018 Paris
(This location had a lot of Indian items, the one in the 13th has smaller sizes)

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Sparkle motion!

Concert : Paris Choral Society Choral Masterpieces

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I will be singing in a 20th anniversary choir concert with the Paris Choral Society and I want to tell you about it!

The concert will be a selection of great Choral Masterpieces. The program includes some well-known, all-time favorite choral pieces, most of which the choir has sung over its 20 years. This concert is a great opportunity for those who are too antsy to sit through a whole mass or requiem – I guarantee you that your attention won’t wander, and I bet you’ll even recognize many of the pieces!

The program will feature, amongst others, short extracts from the Mozart, Fauré, Brahms and Duruflé requiems, as well as rousing works from Vivaldi, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn and Parry. We are also singing the lovely Rachmaninov Bogoroditse Devo.

Here’s a selection of YouTube clips of my favorites:

Vivaldi “Gloria” – 1st 2 minutes of the clip below. I love YouTube. Damn, Armenian orchestra, you are hella good!

Bach “Gloria” from Magnificat – you’re welcome for these awesome facial expressions! 😉 I love conductors like this, although I’d be cracking up while singing.

Mendelssohn “Lift Thine Eyes” from Elijah – here’s my childhood choir, Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, performing it in Slovakia last year. I remember singing this in airports, salt mines in Austria, and other weird places throughout my youth. I want to cry every time I hear it, I have such good memories. And it’s so beautiful!

Barber “Agnus Dei” – I don’t know if I’ve ever heard or sung an Agnus Dei that I don’t like. Something about the text must bring the best out of composers. I envision this one set over a scene in an action movie where people are having gun fights and car chases. Yup, I’m weird like that.

Ok, just one more! Mozart “Lacrymosa” from the requiem – One of my favorite composers, Mozart writes so well for the voice. This piece has so much drama and gorgeous tension and resolution. It’s short and sweet.

Per usual, we’ll be performing in the magnificent American Cathedral, accompanied by Andrew Dewar on organ. No orchestra this time, but the organ is truly amazing. It makes me feel like I’m in a video game (mostly Zelda), running through magic forests and whatnot. Organ can sometimes feel really intense, but it’s nice to hear music down to your bones every once in awhile, no? Also, I love certain details that composers put in – listen to the organ especially during Vierne’s Gloria from the Messe Solemne.

I hope to see you there – email me if you would like a €2 discount on your ticket!

Friday June 13 20h
Saturday June 14 18h
General €22 | Student €10
Tickets available at the door or for purchase online via Paypal or credit card.

Backpacking in the south of France

In August, I was invited on a backpacking trip in the south of France.  This was the perfect low-budget escape from my apartment, which in the summer was about as comfortable as the inside of a volcano.  I was told we’d be hiking through the Gorges du Verdon – touted as the “Grand Canyon of Europe.”  Ha!  The plan was to hike 4-5 hours every day, and eat in local restaurants each night.  My first and only backpacking experience was in Yosemite, and this sounded very easy in comparison.

The group at the start of our hike

The group at the start of our hike

“Easy” is the last word I’d use to describe our trip.  Our first night, we slept in an almost-empty lot after 9 hours of driving.  Needless to say, we weren’t in top form the next day.  Within the first half hour of hiking, I realized this was going to be more than just some light hiking.  It was boiling hot and what felt like an instant steep ascent.  However, the beauty of the trail more than made up for it’s difficulties.  I quite enjoyed the varied views we were treated to the whole time.  It was always a surprise when we’d round a bend and come upon a huge plateau, or a deep canyon, or a thick forest.  The trails were littered with wild thyme, lavender, and other herbs.  I became addicted to reaching down and grabbing a few sprigs to place in my pack straps or crumble on top of myself to combat some of my hiking stink.

Photo by Frédy

Photo by Frédy


Photo by Frédy

Photo by Frédy


The group in front of some striations

The group in front of some striations

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Lavender!

Lavender!

Backpacking with French people is the same as it is with Americans – you walk, sweat, chat, and sing.  You admire the scenery, you complain, you give each other massages and share snacks and water.  However, there is one notable and awesome difference.  French people, at least the ones I know, seem to have an inability to go anywhere without wine.  Despite the full and heavy packs we all carried, somehow at each lunch break a bottle of something would magically emerge.  We used the various bodies of water we encountered as natural refrigerators.  Hiking in the heat was made bearable by all the chilled rosé we had!

Photo by Kat

Photo by Kat

Our first night, we had a glamping experience and stayed in a really nice gîte (hostel/hotel sort of thing).  For just €40 each we had a whole house with several rooms to ourselves for the night, as well as dinner at the adjoining crêperie and breakfast (complete with local honey).  It also happened to be the annual music festival in the tiny town, so after dinner, we walked about ten steps to the tent set up in the town square and checked out the music.  We first saw an interesting act of a woman singing karaoke-style to some 80s hit, followed by a talented husband and wife duo.

Our honey selection - Châtaigne was our fave

Our honey selection – Châtaigne was our fave

On the second day, we reached our planned campsite around dusk only to discover that it was dirty and too close to the edge.  Even though we were running low on water, we decided to keep hiking and find another place to do camping sauvage (real camping, outdoors in tents).  Though we were exhausted from over 12 hours of hiking, we pressed on, knowing that in the morning we’d be closer to the little town where we could restock our water and food supplies.

We finally found a suitable (ish) place to camp.  There was just enough space among a mini forest of trees for our three tents, which we pitched for the first time in the dark!  Our makeshift campsite was next to a cow patch, so all night long we had a soundtrack of clanging cowbells and the occasional moo.  5 out of 6 of us agreed that the trees were too thick and there was too much combustible material around to build a fire to cook our sausages for dinner.  We had about 1/2 liter of water for all six of us.

It was not the best situation to be in – but remember that I was with French people!  So, we busted out our bottle of red wine, and we even had some whiskey and vodka.  Best of all, I remembered that I had brought a bag of marshmallows, and one of the boys had brought a little bunsen burner.  So our dinner was alcohol and toasted marshmallows.  Dinner of champions, I tell you!  We gave each other foot massages with some healing essential oils and looked at the stars through the trees, listening to the cows.  Even though this was the roughest and scariest night (if I really stopped to think about our situation), it was my favorite one.  From then on, our little group had a nice bond and lots of inside jokes to laugh about for the rest of our trip.

After a rough night’s sleep on top of a few tree roots and many rocks – this is why I don’t recommend pitching a tent in the dark – we hiked a short way to the village and refueled.  Then we commenced another insanely hard day of an instant climb to the top of a peak in high heat.  We drank all of our water and finally reached the next spring, only to discover that it had dried up!  So again, we problem-solved by drinking a box of rosé and taking a long break to enjoy the view at the top of the mountain and wave to people paragliding above us and into the clouds.  Paragliding is definitely on my wish list of activities to do – it looked so cool!

The lake we finally reached a few days later

The lake we finally reached a few days later is behind us

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The rosé helped me fearlessly descend for an hour or so on steep, winding paths littered with jagged and loose rocks.  I was carrying the tent this day and the extra weight as well as the dehydration from the wine really wore me out.  But, we finally made it down the mountain to the road.  We decided to hitchhike the rest of the way to the campsite, where we pitched our tents in daylight, had showers, and a great pizza recovery meal.

The following morning I woke up with insect bites all over my hands and feet, a few on my arms, and worst of all, my face!  I applied lots of the anti-itch cream I had brought with me (I ALWAYS get bitten by mosquitos, why meeeee) as we ate breakfast, but I knew I was going to break down.  I tried to hold it together but I started crying just imagining trying to manage the itching with the heat, the heavy pack, and the difficult mileage ahead that day.  Everyone was really nice to me and didn’t make me feel like a brat.  We decided to do a really light day and then hitchhike the rest of the way.  Luckily I wasn’t alone in my complaints – the two girls were suffering from bad sunburns and bursitis, and the boys were really tired and sore as well.

We packed up and went for lunch at a restaurant in the town up the hill and tried to rally. After a trip to a pharmacie for help with our various ailments, we still weren’t getting a move on.  The boys ordered some digestifs – another part of French dining that I love!  We got some génépi – a delicious liqueur that reminds me a bit of chartreuse.  It’s herbal and a little bit sweet, but bitter at the same time.  Anyways, I loved it, and apparently everyone else did too because we all wanted a second shot.  It made more sense price-wise to get a bottle, and then after that bottle we all wanted another because it was so good.

Just kiddinggg

Just kiddinggg

Then we got hungry again and grabbed some amazing pâté and baguette from the nearby butcher and boulanger, and then all the French people were like “Non non non, ça va pas, il faut pas manger du pâté avec du génépi, on doit boire du vin rouge avec” so we got a pitcher of red wine…and thus our 4th day of hiking turned into la folie.  You only live once, right?!  Plus the drinking numbed my bug bites.

Yummmmyyyyy

Yummmmyyyyy

After that lovely day, we made it to our next campsite by way of the generous people who live in the south of France.  Seriously, everyone there is SO NICE.  I want to move down there!  This was a nice campsite, and we spent the evening chatting with our nice neighbors and then walking into town for some dinner.  At the restaurant we received free digestifs  and I fell in love with another kind of liqueur – thyme liqueur, a specialty of the region!  Herby and refreshing.

relaxing after a hard day of drinking, eating, and hitchhiking

relaxing after a hard day of drinking, eating, and hitchhiking

The next day, we hitchhiked to Lake St Croix – we were working towards this the whole trip.  Even though we cheated on the last two days, we did hike about 100km total and we were really proud when we got our first view of the lake.   We had a mini bbq, so we grabbed some food at the market up the hill and spent the afternoon on the shore drinking – you guessed it – more rosé and eating kebabs and grilled zucchini.  Oh, and swimming in the lake!  It was so beautiful and crisp and perfect lake weather.  I only saw a few tiny fish that didn’t come anywhere near me so I was happily floating for hours.  We finished the night toasting champagne over an overpriced meal at a restaurant up the hill.  Good times!

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