mardi 1 janvier 2013

week 17 and 18 - Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee

Wow, lots of ground to cover in the last two fun filled weeks of visitors, travel, holidays and merriment.
It was amazing to have Bobbi - friends since 5 years old, and haven't seen each other in 18 (!!) years - come to stay with us and introduce us to her husband Marcello and her 7 year old son (I know, Dylan, almost 8!). They arrived on Thurs Dec 20, the day before final school day for all. While Marco and the girls finished their Friday off, Bobbi and gang visited Cite d'Espace and walked a bit of Toulouse in all its pre-Noel glory.
Saturday was meant to be an Airbus tour but this was not to be - seems a bit of a conspiracy at play as Marcello's Brazilian nationality was worrisome for the company operating the tour - as if he was some spy from Embraer - please!! We Canadians couldn't all go on without him and tried several angles to work around but for naught. So instead we had a walk about in our local Carmes market then brunch at Marco's parents' apartment.
Sunday brought prep day with a visit back to our market to gather the Christmas Eve feast supplies. Was a bit different than our usual shop at St. Lawrence but we managed. Bobbi stayed with the kids to reign supreme as patisiere chef on the Christmas cookie line - Dylan counted 80 in total at the finish, decorated and all.
Mom and I spent the afternoon prepping while the rest of the gang headed to the park in the glorious sunshine - think it was 16 that day - and then we feasted well at our apartment that night on pre-purchased roast chicken stuffed with olives and accompanying goodies. We all had our share of the delicious Lindt chocolates and other treats, including fantastic German beer, which Bobbi thoughtfully shared.
The morning of the 24th was an organized chaos as we manouvered rental car pick ups, two location packing and the highlight of picking up Helen and Leelah at the airport, our final Canadian crew joining the fun. We made it out of the city by 2:30 ish and on the road for the first leg of our Christmas adventure - our rental holiday house in the Languedoc. Same house Marco and I rented this summer.
We arrived to find everything set - except the boiler which was not working which meant no heat in the country house except for the fireplaces in the kitchen and in the living room. Thank goodness it was 17 degrees and only dropping down to 9. Thank goodness I bought everyone hot water bottles. Thank goodness everyone was up for the adventure, the chilly going to bed, the starting the fires in the morning to keep them going all day, the smelling like a campfire for 3 days. We managed - became part of the stories.
Our Irish/Spanish friends also joined as they live 5 km away so we were 15 for Christmas Eve dinner. Eimer brought along the delicious starters of home made foie gras on spice bread and Irish smoked salmon with lemon mayo on baguette, accompanied by local St Jean de Minervois Muscat.
We then continued the feast with traditional Mariotti seafood fare - first course: fresh spaghetti (thanks to our local Italian shop in Toulouse) with tomato tuna sauce - second course: shrimp, clams (3 kinds), scallops and squid both breaded and butter/garlic accompanied by green beans - third course: white fish (we can't remember which kind we got but something delicious from the north Atlantic) en papiotte and salad to finish. Our desserts were an overload of Eimer's homemade chocolate truffles along with other assorted goodies. Nous avons manger tellement bien!
Santa also found us in rural south of France - merci, Pere Noel - so all kids were happy.
Following our morning croissants and pannetone, and after the turkey made it into the oven, Bobbi, Helen and I took a long enjoyed walk which became longer as we took the "scenic route" - we definitely benefitted from the extra moving around to make room for the coming meal.
Traditional turkey, potatoes two ways, Jamie O's Empire gravy, broccoli and cauliflower and great mixed salad ended with a more local tradition - gateau de Basque avec confiture. This cake from the Basque region, south and west of Toulouse, at the Spanish border, is a vanilla almond dense cake which almost becomes a custard consistency in the middle - very yummy. I broke the Basque tradition by serving jam over top (was told by the baker that I should just have the one with the cherry jam already in the middle but I prefer the almond vanilla one).
And yes, both meals were paired with wines - of course, it's me - lots of Prosecco with seafood eve and lots of Pinot with Christmas turkey.
As we could still roll ourselves down the stairs on the 26th, we added some crepes and seafood omelets to start our day before heading for a bit of local sightseeing in the stunning town of Minerve - Dee, thought of you and our time there in the summer - which was a lovely outing and nice end to our time in the Languedoc.
Morning of the 27th had us up and packing to head for the border. Following some impressive packing prowess from the engineer types, we were enroute to Barcelona, with one stop in Perpignan, the last city before the Spanish boarder, to drop 1 of our 3 rental cars as we wouldn't need it for the drive back to France.
Drive was sunny, smooth, with beautiful sights of the Mediterranean as we skirted our way into Spain. We were all amazed at no border control to be had - drive on in and Benevenuto en Espagne. That's the EU, clearly. Through the Pyrenees we drove and were doing fine until we entered Barcelona to find our way to our rented apartments.
We were a bit later in the afternoon than planned so with the sun setting, we struggled to read the absolutely miniscule street signs and in growing darkness, couldn't find our turn. Everyone kept their cool and we gathered our resources. Bobbi's smart idea to hail a cab to lead us there prevailed and we soldiered on.
Can I say I was thrilled that we made this move and even more pleased that I would not have to drive the streets of Barcelona after parking for the night?! Not an easy city to navigate by car once you get off the main thoroughfares.
Finally arrived at our apartments and after losing Marco's car en route to find the underground parking, Dad and I were proud that we were able to track our way back to the apartment - not a simple task. Needless to say, I was relieved to turn the key off and step out.
The three hour drive plus arrival stress had us looking for local options in our Gracia neighbourhood/Verdi street for dinner. Luckily, our Irish/Spanish friends had provided loads of recommendations from their 12 years of living in the same Barcelona neighbourhood.
And though we hadn't anticipated eating Syrian food on our first night, hunger + fatigue overtook adventure - plus the food was tasty.
Our three days in Barcelona were filled with warm sun, stunning Gaudi sights and marvelling at what a fantastic, vibrant, diverse and beautiful city Barcelona is. I'd put aside the hussle and bustle of a big city for my slower French life - it was fun to be back in the action.
We walked up the hill to Park Guell on the first morning to look down on the city and got our first full faced Gaudi explosion. Amazing! Then metroed to Sagrada Familia for an outside walk around. Breathtaking, awe inspiring, stunning and a jumbled mess of beauty.
Bit of shopping thanks to Mom's keen eyes for a great local shop and good bargins gave each of the ladies something new to sport.
We topped the night off by heading down to the Barcelonetta beach at night for an Eimer and David recommended paella stop.
Morning sunshine brought more sights as we headed to Passieg de Gracia and on to La Rambla then to the Gothic Quarter and on to the Cathedral. Views from inside the Cathedral were fantastic and then up onto the rooftop to look up to the hills and down to the seaside were spectacular.
As hunger set in, we made our way on the metro to the Port and marina at the Mediterranean in search of afternoon lunch - not the right direction for food which meant a long though sightfilled walk along the seafront.
Finally crossing back to the street side, we settled on a lunch spot in the sun though it was setting so we all ordered as warmly as we could.
Helen and I had real shopping in our sights so we kindly sent the rest back to the apartments while we got down to some serious business. Through El Born and the Gothic Quarter, we met amazing winding streets with lovely shops.
Our final evening was definitely meant for tapas and after wandering the full block to come back to our starting point in Rambla Catalunya, we found Dee's recommended tapas spot where we scored a table on the patio under the heaters and ate well. And ate like Barcelonians as we started at 10:30 - bully for us!
The morning of the 30th - our last bit of Barcelona - and we aimed to see Sagrada Familia inside. Divide and conquer was the way. Was not to be. Clearly more advance planning needed for ticket purchases. As the sun shone brightly, we made the best of it and added a few more Gaudi spottings to our list as we wandered back up Passeig de Gracia towards our apartment.
A turn down a fun looking street just before our apartment lead us to the once-a-month Lindy dance party in the square outside the Saint Joan church - what a lucky moment/find! We raced back to the apartment to grab the whole gang to see however did miss the end of it. But did manage to find a lovely little Mexican restaurant which we had our last late lunch before departures - mmmm, tamales.
And on we were in our rental cars - having said goodbye to Bobbi, Marcello and Dylan who were flying back to Munich from Barcelona.
As we glided into France, we realized Sunday night would be tough to arrive back in Toulouse with no dinner in sight so decided to try stopping in Carcassone to see what we could round up for eats.
With the lit medieval village on hill in the background, we headed for the square to see if we could find a restaurant open and willing. Not so much. Though there was a very lively little party going on in the square with the wooden huts and vin chaud and market eats to be had. Not our style with a group of 8 so we soldiered on back to Toulouse and landed ourselves home, following my early exit off the highway to give us a different drive in that we were accustomed to.
Morning of New Years Eve got us back to sunshine in France and fresh chocolatines (pain au chocolats in the north) and crepes and plans for the day. When we realized that the local market would be open and the only option to prep for New Year's day meals, Helen and I hussled our slow morning butts out the door for supplies. We met up with Marco's parents at the market with the same idea. And so the Mariotti tradition will continue with crab legs for New Years day. And of course, with a French twist, we'll do surf + turf - adding magret de canard to the list.
But that's all to come.
Our afternoon wandering and seeing Toulouse lead to a late afternoon stop for drinks and sustinence. More French learning - cinq a sept really means drinks so when the "Americans" want something to eat to go with it, it kind of sets the balance of order off. Thank goodness they acquiesed.
Our New Year's eve meal at one of my local favourites - La Brasiere - was FANTASTIQUE! - champagne, oysters and smoked salmon followed by lamb or bavette in wonderful poivre vert sauce and - wait for it - potatoes cooked in duck fat (aaaiiieeee!) and a Croze-Hermitage to boot. Ahhhh. Yes dessert and coffees, all good. Then we walked it off to the Capitole with only minutes to spare to see what we could find in terms of countdown celebration. Kind of anti-climatic as no real marker other than the crowd, the cheering, some Japanese laterns released and personal fire crackers set off.
As Marco said on our wander home, I don't think we could have anticipated how we would ring in this new year. Man do we feel lucky at how it's turning out.
So, I say on this first day of a year filled again with promise - thank you to all our friends and family for sharing 2012 with us. We look forward to more time spent with you and in our lovely new adopted country for what will come of this new year.
Bonne Annee - Buon Anno - Felice Nuovo Anno - Happy New Year - Auld Lang Syne, my dears.
A la prochaine,

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