From Metz to Mansaf

From Lyon to Metz, we whizzed past l’opération escargot going down in the lane opposite the direction we were traveling; French truck drivers were stopping traffic, driving only a few kilometers per hour, doing their part to protest the government’s increase of the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 (ohhh la, la).  Luckily, the road to Metz was clear, and in a little over 4.5 hours we were dropped off at the train station.

Again, Rick and I weren’t exactly sure where we would be able to stay that night; another guy named Julien had responded to our CS request, but could only meet up with us after 22:00, so we decided to camp out in the first place with free WiFi we could find: McDonalds.  After a couple hours of checking out CS possibilities and (as a backup plan, hostels in the area), Julien confirmed that we could surf at his place and our two remaining days in France were set.  We chilled with Julien at his extremely nice flat that night, exchanging travel stories and learning about his software job in Luxembourg.

After a wonderful night’s sleep on a very orange couch, Rick and I enjoyed the following day by frolicking (quite literally at times) around the quaint, picturesque streets of Metz.  We honestly hadn’t originally planned on going there, and weren’t expecting it to be as beautiful as it turned out to be!  For my photos, you may delight your eyes here.

We each had quiche lorraine for lunch and continued walking around the city until it was time to have yet another adventure in a French supermarket, searching for chicken andouille, okra, and other fun ingredients for dinner…this time, we had promised to make our CS host gumbo, another southern dish.  Julien really enjoyed what Rick cooked up (I’m simply the sous chef)!

Another good night’s sleep later and Rick and I were off again, but not before being good little CouchSurfers, making sure to leave Julien’s flat spotless in our wake.  We were lucky to find a 16 Euro covoiturage ride from Metz directly to Frankfurt, and left the French-speaking realm the moment we got into our German driver’s car.  It was sort of sad and comforting at the same time to not be speaking French anymore…at least now I’m confident in my conversational French abilities, both in person and on the telephone.  The whole two weeks definitely solidified the idea of Germany as “home”, since France is a very nice place, but not a place I’m completely comfortable in quite yet.

We spent the homestretch from Frankfurt to Gießen in the company of our final rideshare driver, Mahmoud, a Palestinian guy who has been living in Germany for more than ten years.  Rick and I thought we were going to be heading directly home, but after a few minutes of talking about our lives, Islam, and our travels, Mahmoud had invited us to dinner at his Jordanian friend’s apartment and we were off on another culinary adventure…

Apparently mansaf was on the menu for dinner that night, which is as delicious as it is easy to make!  I had had similar yogurt/rice-based dishes before, but never as wonderfully spiced as this.  Mahmoud and his friend (whose name I can’t seem to remember, apologies) showed us every courtesy and engaged us in hours of conversation.  Topics ranged from life in Germany from a foreigner’s standpoint (obviously resulting in very different experiences when you consider our various backgrounds), our perspectives on the “stoic German” stereotype and difficulty in integrating into German society, male-female familial/sexual relations in modern Islamic society, and how silly it is that English tea is called English tea when it is obviously not grown in England.

It was, I suppose, a fittingly interesting and spontaneous ending to an equally interesting and spontaneous trip.  Mahmoud drove us back to Rick’s apartment, we said our good-byes, and planned to invite the two of them for some American cooking in a few weeks.

I’m not really sure how to end this train of Frenchyblogpostings, but I hope they’ve been entertaining to read!  I guess I’ll just have to think of some other new trip to plan since I certainly don’t want my ratings to go down 😉

Thanks to all of our CouchSurfing hosts: Gabriel, Fred/Flore/Pomme, Eléonore/Julien, Erika & roommates, Clément, Cayce, and Julien, as well as to all of the drivers who safely transported us 2.700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and shared their life stories, jokes, food, travel tips, and good vibes with us.  The road trip wouldn’t have been as rich of an experience without you!

À la prochaine!

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CS Adventures Continue in Lyon

After Strasbourg, Rick and I hopped a ride with a nice French man named David to Lyon, where we stayed for three days with a new CS host, Fred.  His apartment was perfectly cozy, with a garden courtyard that had a cute little two-room house on the other side specifically meant for CSers and the occasional party.

We got in at night, went to sleep early and explored Lyon the next day.  It’s a very different vibe from Strasbourg, and definitely larger/not as clean, but there are many more students.  After seeing the Cathédrale Saint-Jean, we hadn’t gotten enough Catholicism for the day so we took a half-hour walk up the side of a very large hill.  It was worth it; the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière that overlooks the city at the top is absolutely impressive; the detail and decoration of the architecture itself, the frescoes and mosaics inside, and the view it offers are reasons enough to take a hike.

That afternoon, we wandered through le Vieux Lyon, the ‘old’ part of the city, explored a bit more of the ‘main’ part of Lyon, and headed back to Fred’s.  That night, he had several of his and his roommates’ friends over for a fête which started with aperitifs, cold cuts, vegetables and regional cheeses at 8 pm, and, after couscous, pork tenderloins, and sausages were served, and many bottles of wine (and one bottle of rum) later, ended around 2 am. The quality and quantity of French and English (and German, Spanish, Russian? etc. etc.) spoken by all of us throughout the night varied as much as the quality and quantity of beverages consumed…need I say more?

We took it easy the next morning after the festivities of the previous night, but Rick and I were still fit enough to walk from the apartment up to the Parc de la Tête d’Or, where we had planned to be productive in attempting to write postcards, but actually just ended up lying on crunchy leaves, people-watching, and talking for a few hours.  Actually, we talked so much that we completely forgot to visit the free public zoo in the park until we realized that it was almost time for dinner.

Fred taught us to make tartiflette, a regional specialty from his hometown of Annecy, which turned out to be both delicious and incredibly easy to prepare.  The downside?  Depends on your diet, but it’s extremely heavy, being as it’s simply baked potatoes, a mixture of onions and fried pieces of ham (lardons), with baked reblochon cheese on top.  Good food to prep for winter hibernation.  That night, France beat Luxembourg in football, so everyone was in a happy mood.

Our last day in Lyon was another relaxing one, as Rick and I spent most of the day wandering around the free zoo in the Parc de la Tête d’Or and sampling all of the various smells the different roses in the Roseraie had to offer.  This was the part where I really started wishing I had a better camera, so if any of you have any suggestions of where to find a decently good one for a reasonable price, please let me know.  For now, you’ll have to content yourselves with my lower-than-preferable resolution pictures, which can be seen here

We left Fred’s place that evening, and after having a small issue in contacting our next Covoiturage driver, met up with him and a very nice Belgian man named Julien, who were extremely amusing throughout the 4.5 hour drive to Toulouse.  More on that in my next post…till then, be well!

You’re a right lairy bastard, Strasbourg.

This word, “lairy”, I happened to learn on our first night in Strasbourg, France in a pub, shortly after a Welshman managed to tip an entire table of beer onto my lap.  Said Welshman then informed me of this extremely useful word (which vaguely rhymes with “dairy” or “hairy”), which is employed in situations when a person is enjoying themselves while drinking, carousing, being loud and/or bothersome, etc.  So really, I don’t mean to say that Strasbourg is a right lairy bastard, it’s just that the phrase is sticking in my mind when I think of the city.

In fact, the city itself is quite beautiful, and Rick and I had a lot of fun exploring it with a fellow CouchSurfer staying at the same house, a Canadian named Jacqueline who is teaching English outside of Strasbourg.  She’s lucky in that she’s the Francophone kind of Canadian, so it was helpful to have her along to get back into the swing of speaking/hearing French.  We all stayed in the attic of a guy named Gabriel, which was set up with three relatively comfortable beds.  Throughout the upcoming series of France-related posts, you’ll see a common theme of CouchSurfing and Covoiturage, so to make sure you have a good idea of what I’m talking about, read below:

CouchSurfing: official website here.
CouchSurfing (CS) is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit.  It’s a way of meeting natives of a city, getting a perspective you can’t attain by staying in a hostel or hotel, and it opens you up to countless other opportunities on the way (as you’ll see in the Lyon blogpost to come).  The added benefit is that you don’t pay for a place to sleep, but to be quite honest, that is secondary to the benefit of meeting awesome people.  Although it’s not suited for the unadventurous, CS is extremely safe overall.  Check out the website, have an open mind, and try it yourself.  I’ve surfed in New Orleans, Germany, Holland, and now in multiple cities in France, and each time I’ve had a uniquely positive experience.

Covoiturage: official website (in French, English and Spanish) here.
Also known as Mitfahrgelegenheit (two German websites, here and here), covoiturage is the French equivalent of ridesharing/carpooling.  Pros: great way to travel inexpensively between cities, meet cool people, practice your language skills.  Cons: can be extremely difficult to arrange if you don’t speak the language of your driver, scheduling pick-up time/place can be tricky, potential of smelly driver.

Right, so back to the roadtrip:
We Mitfahrgelegenheited from Gießen to Frankfurt (45 min) for 4 Euro.  A train would have cost 17.  Chillaxed in Frankfurt for a couple hours, watched Glee on my laptop in a Starbucks (Don’t judge — we were bored and didn’t want to carry our backpacks around the city.  Ugh, I know, “how American of us, honestly”).  Mitfahrgelegenheited from Frankfurt to Strasbourg (2.5 hrs) for 10 Euro.  The train would have cost about 50 Euro.  Not as cheap as hitchhiking, but you get the idea…

We met Gabriel in Strasbourg, where he greeted us (well, me) with kisses (ah, the French), and immediately said (in a very Frenchy accent), “ok, now we make party!?” and off we went to the bar.  There, we met Jacqueline, the Welshman, and a few other internationals/CSers, and despite my soaking wet shirt (seriously, it was a stroke of luck that I wasn’t wearing a white shirt), it turned out to be a very good night.

The next day was full of exploring.  Gabriel is extremely proud of his city, and was an excellent host; after splitting up for a couple hours while he ran errands and Rick, Jacqueline and I took an hour-long boat tour through the canals, he showed us his favorite places in Strasbourg (pictures are all here) and taught us how to make Flammekueche/tarte flambée for dinner.  Besides having a great CS host, I really enjoyed the mélange of French and German cultures, architecture, and food that Strasbourg offers.  It’s a city that’s easy to feel comfortable in quickly, and I think I would like living there if for no other reason than for the opportunity to speak French and German (well, at least to all the German tourists) in the same place.

The next day, Jacqueline invited the two of us to meet up for a picnic with some of the other foreign language teaching assistants in the orangerie by the Conseil de l’Europe.  It was a beautiful day for exploring another part of Strasbourg, we got asked for directions by a French man (yay for looking like natives?), met a two guys from Cameroon and Taiwan, a girl from Jordan and walked through the free zoo in the park, learning French animal names in a very hands-on way.

That afternoon, we said good-bye to Gab and Jacqueline, left Strasbourg via Covoiturage and drove 4.5 hours to Lyon for 28 Euros.  Our driver was superbly nice and drove us all the way the door of our next CS host, Fred.  And that, I’m afraid, is where I’ll have to leave you, for there is duck roasting in the oven and it needs to be eaten!