Chartres – Cathedral a 10, Food ??

On Thursday we took the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Chartres. It is a big, modern, and clean city; quite nice. After lunch we went straight to the Cathedral, the city’s main attraction for most visitors thanks to its historical importance. It has some of the best Gothic construction ever, according to those who know such things. We would return multiple times during our stay. One of the most memorable visits was when we went on a tour of the crypt, which is not actually where people are buried but is a series of chapels built under the church. It serves as the foundation for the structures above.

Even in the presence of such a beautiful, as well as spiritual, icon, we soon were searching for food. Our lunch at the first bar/tabac we saw was actually one of the better meals. We sat outside in a lush courtyard accompanied by un petit oiseau with a nest in a decorative sculpture. The server was friendly, easily interpreting our French. The portions were just right, which for Tricia and me means small.

The next day, we tried one of the restaurants near the Cathedral. It was OK but not great. I fear we were the recipients of tourist fatigue, little attempt to speak French to us, just English. As is often the case in tourist areas, the cuisine is just passable since most customers will never return. However, to France’s credit, that is not as common as in some tourist places we have visited over the years – the French are proud of their food.

We ate at the Cafe Blue for both lunch and snacks. Even though it as close to the Cathedral as possible, it had great service and food. Its setting is perfect for gazing at the church and watching the people parade by.

On Sunday, needing some variety, we ate at an Italian place. Sadly, the service did not live up to the ambience of the shop/restaurant. Our French is understood most everyplace we go. Tricia is often complimented on her French, and occasionally even my much less elegant elocution is given positive marks. Yet for some reason it appeared the servers were snickering at us. When I told one man that the meal was délicieux, which was a stretch, but I was being kind, he cocked his head as if he didn’t understand. They must have understood, as they brought us our orders and such without ever a word of English. I could have overlooked the less than stellar food, but the arrogant attitude kind of took the glow off of the meal.

Walking along the river, we spied a couple of cafes and bistros perched above the water. Both of them were away from the Cathedral, which may make them more local oriented. So my conclusion is that the Cathedral is a 10. The food, however, is still inconclusive. We may go back to Chartres one day. If we do, it will be to visit some of the less famous churches and explore the food in more depth. Both of those pursuits are worth a trip.

A Week of Food and Friends

Tricia and I are foodies; we talk about food, we plan our next meals while eating, and we both read food blogs. When we travel, seeking out a good place for lunch is as important to us as visiting some iconic sight. Thankfully, our friends Tim and Lisa enjoy good food as well, so their time with us has included varied venues, both geographically and culinarily. Thank you Tricia for most of these photos.

Not all of our meals were in restaurants. Sandwiches, or paninis, which of course are the same thing, but panini sounds more exotic, were a mainstay. Lisa with her comfortable stalwart of sliced turkey, Tricia with tomatoes and sliced goat cheese. Tim and I had sardine salad with spices, onions, and pickles. One day we had grain bowls, a welcome vegetarian break from meat-heavy French cooking.

Sundays were at home, since open restaurants on Sundays in France are not common in the rural areas. Sunday Lunch is a revered tradition in France which I suppose contributes to the restaurants being closed. We cooked breaded chicken one Sunday, braised lamb and mash the second.

We visited a number of restaurants, Saint Julien’s twice. We went with Tim on his first day here. Last Tuesday all four of us went.

Menu du jour at Saint Julian’s

We had Indian food in Mayanne. We even went to the Buffalo Grill to have American-style hamburgers. One night our neighbors invited us over for the UK version of chili, which is not Tex-mex at all, yet was quite good.

Last Wednesday we went to Au Point Nommé  in Saint-Fraimbault. Tricia and I went there in March of 2020 when we were here to check out La Thebauderie, it was good to go back. We sat in the sun and enjoyed the meal.

On Thursday we took a long drive to Granville, a historic town and the location of one of our favorite restaurants in Normandie, La Citidel. The lunch was a gift to us all from Lisa’s mom who lives in far away Southern California. We enjoyed every moment, sitting outside under an awning that gave some of the photos an orange tint. Thank you so much Anne.

Apéros and oysters for a perfect start to a meal by the sea.

Tricia had scallops, what an amazing presentation. Tim and I had seafood towers.

Friday we took them to our favorite place nearby, which I have written about before, Auberge du la Source – wonderful, c’est normal.

It has been a good time. Thursday we all head for Chartres to visit the famed cathedral. Of course, as iconic and historic as the Gothic church is, Tricia and I will be in search of good food.

Normandie – Or “The French UK”

It is beautiful here in Normandie in the spring. How can you beat a sunset like this one?

For centuries Normandie has attracted foreigners who attempted to make it their own. The earliest residents were pre-historical. They left behind cave paintings and mysterious megalithic monuments. When Julius Cesar invaded in 58 BC there were thriving Celtic tribes. Rome established multiple sites with ruins and names which are still in use.

At the end of the 3rd century AD the Germans came, destroying much of what the Romans had built in what is now Normandie. The Germans were followed by the Viking raids that started in the early 800s. These raids continued for years and eventually the area was called  Normandie, the land of the Normans. Then, a Viking descendent, William the Duke of Normandy, attacked England in 1066, which resulted in Normandy becoming part of England. In 1204 Normandie was freed from English rule and rejoined France. Yet Normandie has never lost its English roots.

These days Normandie is overrun with tourists intent on visiting the D-Day Beaches, Mont Saint Michelle, churches, and sampling the food. Folks from the UK relocate to Normandie in numbers large enough that some villages have more English speaking residents than French speakers. We can go days never speaking French because all of our neighbors speak the British version of English.

The architecture of Normandie, from my non-professional eye, seems more English than French. On our recent trip to La Rochelle the change in architecture was evident as we drove south.

Compare this old cottage in England (left) with the one we see looking out of our window.

The food is one of the few things that remains more French. Cuisine tends to be influenced by the terroir of the land, thus Camembert and cider are icons of this region.

We like Normandie but are enthusiastic about exploring other regions of France, so we travel. Curiosity fuels the urge to wander; thankfully we share that urge.

Printemps en Normandie

Springtime in Normandie – food, a bit of sprucing of chez nous, and kicking-up our French.

Auberge de la Source in Sainte-Cyr-du-Bailleul remains our favorite place to eat in our area. We are regular enough that we share bisous (the French kiss on each cheek greeting) when we arrive and au bientôt when we depart. So it is always a treat to chat with the owners, she handles the front of the house, he, the classically trained chef, does the magic in the kitchen. Back from our trip to La Rochelle where we were spoiled with good food we headed to la Source for a local fix.

During the week the only offering is the menu du jour. Friday’s was of course perfect. It was bar, a common menu fish here, not so common in the US.

Tricia usually does not order the dessert, but she most always steals a bite or two of mine, you can see why.

It is Tuesday 9 May 2023 as I am writing this, we have been busy getting ready for tomorrow, when our dear friend Tim arrives to spend almost three weeks with us, on Friday his wife Lisa, another dear friend, who is conveniently married to Tim, it works out so well, will also arrive. Part of our preparation was redoing our gallery wall to accommodate an original painting we got from the artist named Canard in Ars-en-Ré while on our trip to La Rochelle. Here is his gallery and studio, he has been painting for years and I am sure some of the brushes and such are as old as I am.

He paints boats and people of the sea. We bought this painting as it reminds us of our trip and we also commented that it made us think of La Conner in Washington.

Here is the finished gallery wall, well as it is for now. We find that these walls are never finished and that is part of the pleasure of it all.

One of the reasons we came to France was to enjoy France more as residents than as tourists. Part of that has been the French languasge which we both have studied for years. Our Neighbors however all speak English, well the UK version of said language, so we don’t get to speak as much French as we would like. So we found a tutor. She is a delightful lady with a delightful chien, they all live in a house older than ours. AND … She said Tricia was the most advanced student she has, me, I get to play catch-up.

We so like France, the food, the art, well even the language though it is a challenge. It makes the expat challenges all worth it. Hope wherever you are reading this you take some time to appreciate the beauty around you and the joy of good food and friends.

La Rochelle, Not New Rochelle

La Rochelle is located in Nouvelle-Aquitaine on the Atlantic coast, about a four hour drive southwest of us. Though rich in history and reputation, thanks to the Dick van Dyke Show, my enthusiasm did not match Tricia’s though I never said anything. Every time she would mention going there, reminding me of the city’s frequent mentions in the book “A Bite Size History of France,” which we had both read, the first image that came to my mind was Dick van Dyke who lived in New Rochelle on his old TV show.

Well, we went to La Rochelle and I am so glad we did. It is one of my favorite places in France, hard to make a list of better places, and of course one of the criteria for a great place is the food, La Rochelle has some of the best we have had.

The Pont de I’le de Ré takes you to I’le de Ré. It is 19 miles long and 3 miles wide, with a number of small communities. We ate lunch at La Marine in the village of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. We ate outside next to the harbour and of course had seafood. Tricia had hake, which she said was great, I stole a bite and do agree. I had Cocotte de la Mer, a seafood stew of mussels, shrimp, langoustines, and shellfish, in a cream sauce all baked with a puff pastry crust. (You get just a peek of Tricia’s hake in the distance.)

A wonderful meal for sure, the sauce was so rich and the seafood perfect.

The next day we ate near the old harbour in La Rochelle. We had heard that Andre’s restaurant was the best in the area, but we passed by it as a bit touristy. Just a few yards down the street we stopped in front of Le Bistrot d’la Chaîne, greeted by the delightful owner we took a table, and we are so glad we did. Other bistrots around us and the crêperie across from us had more people, but I know none of them, including the patrons at Andre’s, had a better experience than we did.

We both had one of the best meals ever, the kind that makes it difficult to recall any other meal that was ever more enjoyable. The service was perfect, she helped us with our French, we watched a parade of people walking by, and spent a pleasant couple of hours on a warm but not hot day.

After an entrée of raw oysters our mains came. Tricia had scallops, I had grilled shrimp and risotto.

Thanks to Tricia for the photo

Travel is about learning and of course food. Two lessons from this trip. First off don’t let old blurry mental images prevent you from visiting a place you really have no sharp image of. The second lesson, which I have mentioned before, is to not rely too much on guide books or other bloggers, yep that includes me, for your decisions. You might go to Andre’s and have the meal of your life, or you might go to d’la Chaîne and wonder why we raved. All I know is we loved La Rochelle, and really loved the two meals we had there – we are pretty sure we will return.

So keep trying new places and tastes, you will discover the wonder of the world along the way.