So after a 2 week whirlwind tour of southwestern France and northern Spain, I finally made it back to Forbach to spend the last weekend of my break catching up on laundry and lesson plans! While I'm sad my vacation's almost over, I've pretty much had my fill of train travel and living out of a suitcase for now and was very happy to be able to finally sleep in my own bed last night. Here's a peek at what I've been up to over the last quinze jours (literally "15 days" in French, but it means "2 weeks"...) - check out this Google Map I created to help you visualize where I've traveled!
Leg 1: Forbach to Paris
After finishing up work on Friday, October 18, I caught an evening train (train #1) up to Paris and spent the night at Kasey's apartment so we'd be ready to leave early the next morning on a train to Toulouse.
Leg 2: Paris to Toulouse (with a day trip to Bordeaux & Saint-Emilion!)
Leaving early Saturday morning from Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris, Kasey and I hopped on a train (#2) for a rather long 6 hour trek down to Toulouse (nicknamed La Ville Rose, "the pink city", due to the vast amount of brickwork found here), where we'd spend 3 nights. We arrived around 2:30 pm and met up with Eric in the train station there.
We grabbed some quick crêpes for lunch and then set out to explore the city. As the fourth largest metropolitan area in France (after Paris, Lyon and Marseille), the city was very lively and had lots of shopping, restaurants, bars, and cultural attractions to offer. There's a big student population there, so it was nice to be in a city which caters to younger clientele. I was excited to check out the basilica of St-Sernin, a Romanesque church dating from the 12th century which was a popular stop along the famous Catholic pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. A church that I had studied in my Medieval Art & Architecture class during college, St-Sernin is an incredibly large church featuring numerous barrel arches and the thick, heavy walls and pillars so characteristic of Romanesque architecture.
|The Basilica of St-Sernin|
|Looking down the vaulted nave at St-Sernin|
|Stylized Romanesque frescoes cover the church's walls|
Strolling through Place du Capitole, we bumped into our friend and former Sweet Briar in Paris classmate Yahaira, who is working as an English teaching assistant in Albi (not far from Toulouse) - she had planned to be in the city while we were there so we could all catch up! It was great to see yet another familiar face in our faraway land. The four of us headed over to the Galeries Lafayette, a large department store, to see the city from the rooftop observation deck - what a beautiful sight.
|At Place du Capitole|
|On the roof of Galeries Lafayette|
|Rooftop view of Toulouse|
The inner children in us couldn't resist a quick ride on the 18th century merry-go-round in the middle of a little park we saw while roaming the city, so we had a good laugh as we did a couple laps on our horses!
|Patiently waiting our turn!|
And as Toulouse is a vibrant student center, we had to check out the nightlife! One of Kasey's friends from college, Pat, is living in Toulouse and training to be an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, so we met up with him for Happy Hour and a delicious Italian dinner (I had duck confit ravioli in a marsala wine sauce - mmm!) before hitting the town for the night.
|Happy Hour! 1,90€ for a glass of wine - I'll take it!|
|Kasey and her friend Pat|
|Yahaira, Kasey, Eric and I enjoying the nightlife at Place St-Pierre|
Early the next morning, Eric, Yahaira, Kasey and I boarded yet another train (#3) for the city of Bordeaux. A little over 2 hours from Toulouse, Bordeaux is in a region lauded for its exceptional wine production - what better way to experience a place than to taste it? We booked a 5 hour wine tour through the Office de Tourisme in Bordeaux for 33€ which included coach bus transportation to and from the medieval village of St-Emilion, a tour of the town's underground monuments (a monolithic church and its catacombs), and a visit to the winery of Château Laniote.
With a little time to kill before our tour started, we did some exploring in Bordeaux, wandering its grand marble-paved streets and admiring its many monuments, including Place des Quinconces, the largest square in Europe.
|Porte d'Aquitaine, the ancient toll booth at the entrance to the city center, dating from the 18th century|
|Place de la Comédie|
|Fragrant flower markets line the streets|
|As in the US, carnivals are popular during the Fall throughout France|
|Place des Quinconces|
|Snack time! Sharing a sugar-coated beignet (donut), hot out of the frier|
|Perfectly spaced trees make for a picturesque walk through Place des Quinconces|
|Quai Louis XVIII along the Garonne river, overlooking the Port of Bordeaux|
|The official Office de Tourisme wine bus|
|Overlooking the old city|
|Vineyards, vineyards, everywhere!|
Before the actual wine part of the tour, we got an inside look at the famous underground monuments at St-Emilion, namely a monolithic church (hewn from a single block of stone) and its surrounding catacombs. Constructed in the early 12th century, the cave-like church is completely carved out from a rocky hillside. Saint-Emilion and its church are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and in an effort to help preserve the structures, visitors aren't allowed to take pictures inside (the flash damages fragile pigments in wall paintings). Thus here are a few pictures I found on the internet to give you an idea of what the whole place looks like...
|Inside the monolithic church|
|The church's catacombs|
|The bell tower, situated directly above the underground church|
Next stop: Château Laniote! Our bus drove us over to a vineyard just outside the center of St-Emilion where we got to meet the property's convivial owner Arnaud and learn more about the wine-making process, from vine to bottle. The vineyards of Château Laniote date back to 1816 and have always belonged to the same family, with today's owners marking the 7th generation of winemakers.
|Travel buddies at the vineyard!|
We got to taste red wines (white and rosé are also produced in Bordeaux, but in much smaller quantities) from 2 different millésimes (the fancy term for 'vintages'), first 2011 and then 2010. Thanks to our expert narration, we were able to distinguish the subtle differences in tast, noting more complexities in the older, more mature wine. All in all, I had a great time checking out both the local wines and the breathtaking scenery of the vineyards.
|Sun-kissed and ready for some wine|
|Wine aging in toasted oak barrels|
|So many bottles, so little time!|
|Sizing up my glass|
Our tour bus brought us back to Bordeaux and we spent the evening admiring the city by night before taking yet another train (number 4) back to Toulouse. We did some leisurely shopping and people-watching on Monday the 21st and ate a delicious traditional French meal at Restaurant Le May (possible the world's cutest place to eat?) to round out our last day in the city - and the country, for that matter. The next morning, we were headed off to Spain...
|My lunch at Restaurant Le May: pork cheek confit with a shallot cream sauce, served with au gratin potatoes and seasonal vegetable purée - délicieux!|
*Thanks to our expert photographer Yahaira for some awesome shots of our trip - you rock!