Strasbourg at Christmastime is truly a city from a fable, or a song. Just so long as that fable is not ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and the song is not White Christmas, as it was neither quiet nor snowing. In fact, according to the Strasbourgeois (the hilarious name for the local people) this Christmas was blessed with near-perfect weather – we even had a few days of blue skies. On our second full day in Strasbourg, we started the day at a slight disadvantage – we were still sore and exhausted from our marathon effort the day before. However, knowing that our time there was limited, we pulled together all our reserves of strength, slathered on a not inconsiderable amount of muscle-relieving cream and set off into the town for some Christmas Eve exploration.
“C’est qui, cette touriste?!” my first words to Alex after a month apart as I approached her, a rose in my hand, in the rain at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Who’s this tourist? And then we embraced, and kissed. Two awkward turtles with our heavy backpacks, laden with all our gear. Our first port of call was the consignes downstairs – baggage lockers. We had a few hours before our train to Strasbourg and I was determined to show Alex what little of Paris I’d discovered my first time around. This basically amounted to a quick walk down to Place de la Bastille, but we stumbled upon a market on our way back towards the station, and were able to buy a sack (300g) of delicious roasted potatoes. These were a thing we had read about while preparing our trip, and for Alex represented a sort of ideal food. The blog in which we’d heard of them described them as follows:
[T]hey are impossibly delicious, heady with rich, succulent chicken fat, and greasy in the best possible way. These potatoes are utter perfection when hot and fresh, but make sure you’ve got a napkin – or, better yet, a sink – handy when you eat them.
My last day at Cavilam is also – fittingly – the end of the world. It’s been a joking topic of conversation in class for the last week or so – La Fin du Monde – and while the prophesied end-time of Sylvain Durif (the Cosmic Christ) would appear to have somehow been miraculously averted, my ‘graduation’ proceeded as planned. I received my attestation and certificate, took my final classes, thanked my teachers and left Cavilam for the last time. Overall, my experience at the school was excellent – the classes were good, but more than anything, living in Vichy with a host family was what sealed the deal for me. It was an amazing experience the like of which I will not soon see again.
The best boulangerie in Vichy, my host family inform me, is the one which is less than five minutes walk from the school I attend. The convenience of this was not lost on me as I enjoyed a delicious – and quite large – chicken salad sandwich and enormous pain au chocolat at a total cost of four euros. That’s about five dollars Australian, for people who are counting. Absurdly, this is less than the cost of a six-inch Subway sandwich back home in Australia. There are a lot of myths about France – both positive and negative, some very silly – but I can say that so far, in my experience, the food here deserves its international reputation. The beauty of the country is also not exaggerated. I’ve been here in Allier a few weeks now and I’m still speechless every time we go for a drive in the country.
“Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry!” – Homer Simpson’s voice was in my head as we regarded – with not undeserved skepticism – the tartelettes that had just come out of the oven. They resembled nothing so much as patty-pans filled with bleached pieces of old tyres. Ours did, anyway – we’d been divided into two teams, and our team had forged these monstrosities, while the other team’s tartelettes looked more like pastry cups of fruit. However, as the Cavilam event co-ordinators reminded us, the taste is what really matters. I’m probably biased, but I thought ours tasted better. This was the first of Cavilam’s events which I attended.