Sunday, August 24, 2008

Farewell to Châteauneuf

Saturday morning was the day we were not looking forward to: checkout day at La Magnanerie. We woke up about 8:00AM and finished the packing we'd started the day before.

After bidding farewell to Ulrike and Châteauneuf-de-Mazenc we headed out of town to Cleon to their post office where we were able to ship our two tiny, expensive packages back to the United States. We then drove back to La Bégude-de-Mazenc and purchased one more exorbitantly priced prepaid package and squeezed two olive oil bottles, a container of lotion and some jelly into it. Then, because of the lousy construction of the package it sealed itself while not being entirely closed. The woman at La Poste was a little miffed about the fact that the package was still open on the sides, something that perhaps she should take up with the designers of said package. However, she still allowed us to send it even though it weighed more than it was technically allowed to.

After our morning tour of post offices in La Drôme we headed out early to Valence for a scenic drive that saved us the 5€ we would have had to pay otherwise. By the time we got to Valence we needed to get some lunch. After driving by one sketchy looking brasserie and an aborted attempt to find a Flunch we decided simply to have lunch at the train station.

We had lunch at the Pain de Soleil at the train station. It was okay but leagues beyond train station food we've had in our native country.

One complaint I would lodge is with the quantity of jambon cru in my jambon cru sandwich. I was not expecting a sandwich of the overstuffed American variety but if you take all the slices of meat in a sandwich and lay them flat, one high, they should, in theory, stretch for a greater distance than the size of the bread used in making the sandwich. Another complaint about my sandwich is that they seem to have put two tiny slices of jambon cru in the sandwich, run out of jambon then filled the rest of the sandwich with butter, thinking I wouldn't notice. I did notice. I was not impressed. Jen's sandwich seemed to be loaded with ham, cheese and butter and the Suisse chocolat was great. This was a far cry from the jambon cru on poppy seed baguette I'd gotten from Paul in Paris.

After our lunch we brought back the rental car. This was also a very different experience from returning a rental car in America. Here you wait in line for about thirty seconds, give them the key, they say thank you and then you leave. No checking of the gas or the condition of the car. No one tries to nail you with extra gasoline charges. No one tries to convince you preexisting damage was your fault. No one even just makes you stand there while they enter endless data into a computer. I'm not so sure all of that is in their best interests but it sure makes it a great experience as a customer!

After that we boarded the TGV and zipped along to Paris at 150 kilometers an hour. There was child behind us that was traveling with his father. Note the white thing in the space between our seats. That was the child sleeping, completely unconscious, when we boarded the train. He stayed like that for about one hour. Then he woke up and didn't stop making noise for the rest of the trip. Jen was amused by how often he said, "Oh là là!" I was not amused by how often he kicked our seats, slammed the trash can lid, shouted something in French and stuck his matchbox car between our seats.

We traveled in first class which meant that, again, walking to the train we had to walk to the furthest possible car from the station. Arriving in Gare de Lyon we also had the longest possible walk back to the station. This was compounded by 87% of the people on the platform smoking and traffic drawing to a stand still every twenty or thirty paces, possibly because the train was also seemingly filled with young teenage girls on many camping trips. There was also an ill-behaved child who was trying repeatedly to ride his father's rolling suitcase as his father pulled it. Eventually this lead to his mother saying something in French that translated as: "It is impossible that you should act this way." And: "It is insupportable that you should act this way." When she gave the child a light swat he returned the favor, and that went over about as well as could be expected.

Being the last people out of Gare de Lyon, we were the last people in the line for the taxis. We managed to make it through in about 15 minutes while some drunk Frenchman holding a nearly empty bottle of some unspecified hard liquor shouted things at everyone around him, mostly directed at the diners at a nearby cafe.

Back at the Hotel Varenne we checked into our new room which had a halfway point between the Gollum-style arrangement of our previous room in Paris and a standard shower. My take: It was about halfway as good as the median between those two points. Once they discover the art of attaching that sprayer thing to a wall we'll be in good shape.

For dinner we wandered down Rue St. Dominique and found a place called La Fontaine de Mars. It looked extremely busy so we figured all those people couldn't be too wrong. It was so busy, in fact, that while we sat and waited to be served they were bringing out little plates of sausage and glasses of wine and serving them to the waiting customers on the back of people's scooters that were parked in the street. This made me a little nervous until I realized that the stereotypical French scooter rider was probably not as physically imposing as the stereotypical American Harley rider. I think our waiter could have taken them.

We started by splitting the Battu de Chevre Frais aux Artichauts et Tomate which the waiter was nice enough to serve to us on two beautifully presented plates.

Jen had the Gigot D'Agneau de Lait as her main course. She wanted to know the difference between the scalloped potatoes on her plate and the ones we normally make. The only difference I could detect is that we generally use skim milk and they were using heavy cream. About 600 calories worth of fat does make a pretty big difference.

I had the Filet de Boeuf Grille Bearnaise, Frites Maison for my main course.

Jen was delighted to have crème brûlée once again.

I had the Croustifondant de Chocolate Noir because it was fun to say croustifondant. It was some sort of chocolaty pudding or custard with a walnut crust and a scoop of extremely dense, extremely dark chocolate ice cream on top. Unfortunately the ice cream was so dense it was impossible to take a scoop out of it to eat. As you pushed it down it sank into the warm custardy bit and melted. Eventually Jen got off a piece after causing a minor chocolate volcanic eruption on the plate.

After dinner we walked back to the Hotel Varenne and watched TV for the first time in over a week. Luckily it was our favorite, the German Olympic coverage segment called Zapping where they just show a bunch of interesting, strange or funny clips from that day's Olympic events.

Oh, Zapping. To think, that is the last time we will be able to enjoy your humorous takes on the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Oh, yeah, and we'll miss Paris too.


uberlours said...

Speaking of rants, I could go on at length about trying to publish comments to this blog.

Dispite the travails that seem to have dogged your every moment, I hope you enjoyed what look to be 2 glorious weeks in France

Unknown said...

Is it really difficult to post comments? I thought I even saw Pete posting earlier! Surely you're not going to be bested by a dog if you're a mighty bear!

We have enjoyed every second of the vacation. Well, almost every second. But I'll get to that in the next post.