Saturday, October 23, 2010

Say Cheese!

Time sure does fly in Europe...I can't believe November is just around the corner. To continue a post theme, I just went on my Bing trip as well. However instead of going somewhere warm and gloriously sunny like the Amalfi coast, I went to the freezing cold French Alps. Our train ride there (a little over three hours) was in first class, thank you French strikes (more on striking later...). Our train was cancelled, so we booked another train but the only seats available were in first. Don't worry, we made up for it on the way back, since there was only one train going from the Alps to Paris. Stanford students were scattered all over the train, some in first, some in the corridors, and I spent my 3.5 hours sitting on a bar stool in the dining car. Not terribly conducive to getting reading done, or sleeping for that matter.

Back to the Bing trip: we stayed in the Haute Savoie region, in a town called Annecy. The views were amazing, and the old part of Annecy was great! The first afternoon we were left to our own devices to wander around and explore. We stumbled upon a great club/bar in the evening and be proud, our little Stanford group got a crazy party going! The second day we had a tour of the old town, including the fortress and Palais de l'Ile, the old prison/"office building"/records hall that is literally a building built in the middle of the canal that runs through the town. After lunch, we headed out on bikes around the edge of the lake to a little bell museum and foundry. That night, we had dinner at a restaurant called "Le Freti", and said restaurant is the reason for the title. Savoyard specials include fondue (melted cheese eaten with bread on fondue forks), raclette (more melted cheese eaten with boiled potatoes and charcuterie) and tartiflette (MORE melted cheese with more potatoes, bacon and onions, all cooked together in a little skillet). While at Le Freti, we were served copious amounts of fondue and raclette, along with delicious white wine, another regional specialty. (Not to worry--I had tartiflette, the third specialty, for lunch the next day.) We all went home very full and very happy. The next day we were on a bus, headed up into the mountains to dine at an amazing restaurant that served us a heavenly squash soup, fish from the lake and a cassis tart with ice cream to finish it off. Once again, filled to bursting. Then off to a farm to learn how Reblochon, the regional cheese, is made, as well as taste some fresh cheese. So delicious. The third and final day, we headed to Aix-les-Bains to go on another guided city tour (rather unexciting), take a quick boat ride around the lake and then hop on the train to come back to Paris. Clearly, the theme of our trip was cheese consumption, but I'm not complaining! It was all amazingly fresh and delicious. Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Bing, the trip was excellent.

A quick note on the Paris strikes (because this post might not be long enough...): They really aren't as bad as the media is making them seem. My daily life has been on the whole, unaffected by them, aside from the trains to and from Annecy. The metro has been functional and there has been very little rioting in Paris proper. Most of the mayhem is in Lyon, Marseilles, and the Paris banlieus (suburbs). There have been some demonstrations near school, but as far as I can tell, people just walk around, block the streets, yell and sing into megaphones, play loud music, throw paper pamphlets around and eat. No wonder they're always on strike. Chances are everything will settle down once vacation starts next week, because heaven forbid the French waste their vacation time protesting, that's what work time is for!


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