So it has been four weeks since our trip ended. The trip exceeded what I expected in almost every way. I didn’t really know what the trip would be like before we left. I wasn’t that interested in history/archaeology/foreign language before, but I saw the trip as a great interdisciplinary opportunity to try out these fields in a way that I learn best: experiencing it hands-on. I’m very glad I did this because I now know more about French history than I would have learned otherwise. I think it is harder to think about European history where we live across the Atlantic in a nation whose beginning was all about gaining freedom from European rule. Napoleon never walked on American soil. Being in France and seeing the places where historical figures lived, like Versailles, and died, like Place de la Concorde, made the history much more relatable. In the words of Professor Lancombe who lead the archaeology site, “Context!”
And being on a real archaeology dig? That was amazing. Where would I ever get that experience except on the Piette trip? I’ll admit it, the dig was uncomfortable and slow, but it wasn’t boring. It was great to see how the site operated and to actually work in the units.
I had never had French cuisine before, so eating in France was great. I was excited to try out a different type of food. In Paris, the dishes weren’t anything too unusual, although I hadn’t had those particular recipes before. They included meals such as veal, perch in white sauce, and turkey in wine sauce. When we got down to Sarlat though, the food changed drastically to goose and duck products, such as fois gras, duck confit, goose gizzard salad, and pâté. I was happy that I tried a few of these dishes, but I didn’t really care for them.
One thing I wish we did more of was speaking French. Mostly, we just ordered food in French. In Paris on a few occasions, when I ordered in French, the cashier would reply in English. I would keep talking French and they would keep talking English. It was somewhat humorous, but I imagine them all thinking “hey kid, it’s gonna be better for both of us if we just speak in English.” All of our tour guides spoke English to us, which was necessary because not all of the students on the trip take French. When we went to the cave at Mas D’Azil, the guide spoke in French. I was surprised how much I understood of what the guide said, and was very happy about it.
In my mind, the trip was very successful and I had a great time. Special thank you to the teachers and the friends I made on the trip!
Last night we ate at a fabulous little restaurant in downtown Sarlat. When we got there we had the choice of sitting outside at separate tables or upstairs and have a table together. Obviously we chose the latter. When we got upstairs we sat down and began reading through the menu. This menu was quite similar to the menu we had the night before, lots of duck and froie gras, and then other down home french classics. Considering the night before I had coq au vin I knew I wanted to have a classic sarlat style meal. Since sarlat is in the region known as Dordogne, duck country, I decided to go for the crispy duck confit.
While my appetizer, goose gizzard salad, was delicious all I could think about was my crispy duck confit. Traditional duck confit is a duck leg cured with salt, garlic, and thyme for ~2 days, after which the salt cure is washed off. Then the duck leg goes into a deep baking dish, with it’s own rendered fat and then it is baked for hours. Typically this is then plated with a salad and sent out to the customer. This is where my dish takes a left turn.
The chef at this restaurant decided to take this slow cooked duck, wrapped it in a phyllo-es que dough and pan fried it. What they brought out was the best thing I have ever eaten.
This photo I took of it only captures the beauty of the dish. It does not show you however how the meat falls off the bone, or how the crispy outer crust contrasts the smooth texture of the duck along with the sticky texture of the onion jam. Or how I did not need to use a knife to cut any part of it. This main course was pure perfection!! Once I had finished eating the complete meal I sat at the table in a food coma replaying the meal in my head. This was probably the best meal I have ever had.
I wish I could eat here all the time…
The first three days of our trip have been a whirlwind. Immediately after landing in France, we whizzed over to Notre Dame and visited their archaeological crypt. I learned about the founding of Paris and it set an educational and informative tone for this expedition. The next day we went to the Musee d’Archéologie Nationale where we returned the famous Piette pebble. In that museum we viewed artifact after artifact, the oldest of which were about 400,000 years ago.
Today we took a bus tour of monuments in Paris and went to Versailles. With this being my second trip to Paris I was not as astounded by all the monuments except for the Eiffel Tower, which managed to still amaze me. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic image of Paris and I saw it used to represent France in various medias throughout my childhood so standing on it and driving around it in person is so surreal. After our van tour we left the heart of the city and headed to Versailles. I LOVE Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette and so I had a very-Hollywood moment while strolling through the VAST, VAST, VAST gardens of Versailles.
Also, our Parisian hotel is located in the 9th Arrondisement and is on the same block as Amorino, a charming gelato shop. Michaela and I decided to take a trip over on our second evening here and I ordered a focaccine. I thought I was ordering a cream puff but it turned out to be two pieces of brioche bread with strawberry and vanilla gelato stuffed inside. The bread was lightly toasted and drizzled with powdered sugar and chocolate. Needless to say, it was a near-religious experience and I went back tonight for another.