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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Cornbread & Butterbeans, Turkish Rugs & Pepper Spray

^ You may be wondering why this post is entitled as such.  For a visual explanation (and plug for my friend Erika’s video blog about her stay in Rodez, France), take a moment and watch the following clip starting at minute 5:15.

Seriously, cornbread is amazing.  Do yourself a favor and listen to the Carolina Chocolate Drops for a minute or two and see if you can restrain yourself from nodding your head to the banjo and spoons…

The weekend was a refreshing taste of home (read: Madison), mostly in that Erika and I went salsa dancing, spent hours in a tea house, and were generally silly in our regular fashion.  Travel-buddy Rick bonded with Erika’s roommate and fellow Kentuckian, Laura Beth, who was actually the inspiration for the spectacularly delicious meal of buffalo chicken wings with bleu cheese sauce with the side of cornbread.  We were both sad to go, but had to continue on our way back to Germany.

The chilly weather (45°F) followed us north to Clermont-Ferrand, where we had found Clément, a very accommodating last-minute CS host who happened to be one of the city’s CS ambassadors.  Rick and I had originally wanted to drive straight to Saint-Etienne to visit an acquaintance of his, but the trouble with relatively small towns is that not as many people drive between them, naturally.  It turned out to be a comfortable, relaxing night filled with tea time and talks of Turkish rug dealing tactics, as our host had worked in Istanbul for a few months doing just that.  Selling a carpet is a science: cleverly crafted small talk helps the dealer categorize you so he can most efficiently sell you a rug.  If you are American, according to Clément, the dealer automatically assumes you have money coming out of your ears and will likely charge you a higher price (just as you are unlikely to buy it at a price you deem ‘cheap’, coming from your cultural standpoint).  Timing is also important; reveal that you’re only visiting for a few days and you’ll be hit with hard and fast selling tactics.  Say you’ll be staying for a week or two and the dealer will encourage you to think about your purchase and come back a second time.  Clément’s advice for Rick and for me was to speak German amongst ourselves and English with the dealer, so perhaps if we get the chance to venture eastward, I’ll be able to test his theories.  The whole conversation was made more interesting due to the fact that it 1) made me think back on my Aflac sales internship and 2) was conducted entirely in French.

Rick and I left Clermont-Ferrand early the next morning with our next covoiturage driver, a young student.  She drove us to Saint-Etienne, where we met up with another Kentuckian, Cayce (pronounced Casey), who let us stay overnight in her dorm room while we planned our next leg of the trip.  At this point the travel was beginning to wear on us, with the unpleasant weather and relative lack of covoiturage opportunities, but we were able to figure out a way from Lyon back up north to Metz, our next and final French destination.

Apparently when two Kentuckians get together some cosmic rule dictates that fried food must be involved, so Rick and Cayce made fried chicken with sweet potato fries (and a salad) for dinner that night.  “Dessert” turned out to be a nice light dusting of pepper spray, as Rick got curious about a small black tube on Cayce’s key chain.  He failed to notice the label “Spitfire” on the other side, pressed a button, and by a stroke of luck, escaped spraying himself directly in the eye.  The dorm room was a prickly-cough-inducing zone for the next twenty minutes (I was in the shower at the time, but escaped to the dorm room of yet another two Kentuckians who lived down the hall).  I’m still not sure why Cayce had pepper spray in the first place…I often feel safer in European cities than I did/do in American ones…

Without trains due to the tendency of the French to strike whenever possible, and no prearranged ride from Saint-Etienne to our next covoiturage rendezvous in Lyon, Rick and I resorted to hitchhiking the next morning.  We trekked over to a roundabout leading to the highway, held up our two “Lyon” “SVP” (s’il vous plaît) signs and smiled.  Fifty minutes later, after being offered a ride halfway by a businessman and being warned by a cute old French grandmother to not get in a car “with just anyone” because she had a petite fille just like moi, a woman named Isabelle picked us up just in the nick of time.  We got to Lyon with time to spare, had espressos, did a bit of grocery shopping, and met our next driver.

The following ride was comfy yet squished, as I was sandwiched between an older Algerian gentleman and Rick, with our French driver and a Syrian cellist (with the cello on his lap) in the front.  Four and a half hours later we had escaped the dreary weather and were in Metz, whose accompanying stories shall have to wait until the next blogpost…