What I got at the market:
2 bars of soap (one is goat’s milk, one is verbena)
I would say it was a success.
The second we turned the corner outside of the hotel, a long lively and winding market place came into view. Hundreds of people, tourists and locals, filled the roads, exploring the cobblestone streets. The shopkeepers were selling a wide variety of products, anything from delicious fresh fruits to tiny alpaca figurines. The shopkeepers were unbelievably kind and patient even when my attempts to speak French didn’t go so well.
Probably one of my favorite parts of the market was interacting with the shopkeepers through interviews I am conducting for my project for this trip. My project is to conduct interviews, asking French people what historical event they believe has influenced their country and its people the most and why, and finally compile these interviews into a video. Hopefully after these interviews, I will have a clearer picture of what it means to be French and what has created this rich culture. Before this market place, I did not have too much success with my interviews; either the people couldn’t understand my question or they did not want to be videotaped. I was surprised because out of the five attempted interviews, four of them were successful. So far, the majority of the people responded with the French revolution as the most influential event, and I think this reflects the magnitude of which the French people value their freedom. After all, it’s in France’s motto, “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity).
As I wrote in my earlier post, some specifics of our trip have evaded me. I no longer remember exactly what I ate at each meal (much to my foodie father’s chagrin) and I do not remember every single one of the MANY historical facts that were thrown our way. But here are a few of the many things I will never forget from this trip:
- While Versailles was magnificent, I was particularly fond of the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Much subtler and smaller than Versailles (but definitely not less beautiful), Chenonceau was rich with history that really interested me. The beautiful estate and gardens have been home to many important figures in history (ex. Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers who are both shown on the CW show Reign). Also, the château was used as a hospital for soldiers during WWI. A common thread I noticed at these once-royal chateaus and castles is that while the buildings were once for the elite they are definitely now the people’s. This is actually the main reason why Versailles holds so many ballets, concerts, and firework shows on their grounds because unlike during the time of kings and queens, they want to be open for all of France to utilize.
- Christian, the bus driver of our 53-seater bus, was a gem. Even when we were boarding the bus and seeing him for the first time that day, he would give us a hearty “buh-bye.” His driving skills were incredible though. He lead our bus through the narrowest of streets, the bumpiest of paths, and the highest of mountains. Parents: your children were 100% safe on the road when Christian was behind the wheel.
- La Grotte du Mas d’Azil was naturally quite spectacular. But for some reason, the people who run it decided that the cave would be a prime place for a light show. Well, I’ve got news for you, Ariège’s department of tourism, it is not. The natural splendor and history of the cave does not need a (rather subpar) lightshow with medieval chamber music.
- Similar to many others on the trip my perception of pre-historic people has changed. It’s easy to think of those people like the Geico Caveman ads portray them but they cultivated beauty in their lives. One of the brochures at a Cave asked the question if the paintings in caves should be considered art and my answer is YES! Paleolithic people were so thoughtful and resilient about their creations. Seeing the 2-foot crevices in which they would lay for hours painting really blew my mind. So few people nowadays would be so hard working. One interesting fact is that they would see movement in their paintings because of the flicker of their lamps! Kind of like a really early film!! (also, friendly travel trip to anyone embarking on a cave visit, bring a jacket… you can thank me later)
- Last but definitely not least… Each year in France they celebrate the Fête de la Musique. Everyone across the nation gathers in the streets playing music and generally having a good time. We happened to be in Downtown Sarlat on this night and while eating dinner we heard rock music coming in through the window. It sounded relatively good so after dinner our group ventured out to find the music and found a band of teenagers playing… and not very well even though everyone around us seemed to think they were the next Beatles. Despite this, we ended up enjoying our night because of each other’s company. It was definitely my no. 1 favorite part of the trip.
Lastly, I am so glad to have embarked on this trip for the opportunity to see so many beautiful parts of France and to meet so many kind people. At first I was not looking forward to some of our long bus rides but I soon appreciated them for the views that they provided. I also cherished our free time at sites when I wander by myself, taking in the beauty of our surroundings in silence. Without this trip I never would have been able to see those sights or meet the kind (definitely-not-rude-like-the-stereotype-says) French people who mentored and taught us throughout the trip. I promised myself in the last few days of our trip that I would return to France to experience the beauty and kindness again. Thank you, Piette program, for exposing me to these two things.
I found this short video on my phone and thought I would share because not only does it shows the beauty of where we were in the Ariège but it also shows Christian’s driving skills. In the video we are driving down a mountain after visiting a cave (the same cave with the vampire-lady… the people on the trip will definielty remember her) and the roads were way too windy and narrow for our bus but Christian managed to get us down without a scratch.
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…