Category Archives: Visits & Trips with Visitors
Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List
This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO. I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva. However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels. UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally. There are currently 962 places in the world on the list. Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.
How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites? While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?
And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats. This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span. While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.
So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker. I’ll keep this up in the future as well.
Bon weekend, everyone!
The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public
Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe. We are constantly reminded of this with our guests. We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”. The answer is yes. Europeans are far more lax about things like this. As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo. In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16. It’s 18 for hard liquor. And, we have never seen drunk teens.
Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:
Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair. They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”. This has become my favorite new accessory.
They put reminders up about the legal drinking age:
However, some don’t pay attention.
Sorry little guy. You have to wait a few years.
And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.
People drink in random places. It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work. I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop. There is no time like the present.
Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!
The crooked little town of Troyes
As I mentioned last week, if we are on a road trip, we love to discover interesting places to stop on the way home.
As we left Champagne around 11am, our lunchtime fell in the town of Troyes, France. We parked and while exploring a place to grab some food, soon designated this as the most crooked town we’d ever seen. No, not because of any shady deals that took place. Literally, the architecture:
Lonely Planet highlighted an alley way called the “tiny street of the cats”, and it was crooked as well.
Even me, who hangs up the most crooked of photos and pictures and can’t draw a straight line to save my life found it uncomfortable!
While you might not be able to live this way permanently, Troyes was still pretty cute.
By the way, in French, Troyes isn’t pronounced Troys or Troy but Twaaaah. Before I mastered this knowledge, the French would have considered my speech a little crooked as well!
Reims: Not just a Champagne town
Champagne: Lessons behind the Bubbly
“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Alleged quote by Dom Pérignon, instrumental wine maker of from Abbey St. Vanne, later found to be created by the ad industry
Did you even know Dom Pérignon was a 17th Century monk? I sure didn’t know this before we visited the infamous wine region in France. Below we have 12 other lessons learned on our tour:
Champagne Lesson #1 – Champagne can only come from Champagne, France. All other must be called sparkling wine. There are strict regulations around production and the wine cops come do checks to ensure the product is 100% Champagne AOC. This, however, is not an indication of quality.
Champagne Lesson #2 – The land in the Champagne region has a chalk base, much like England’s White Cliffs of Dover. The chalk not only retains heat but moisture. We’ve seen similar theories of superior wine due to the unique ground: Switzerland Lavaux has the terraced walls that use the sun off Lake Geneva to heat the soil, as well as Chateauneuf-du-Pape claims its rocky basin of the former Rhône river.
Champagne Lesson # 3 – Champagne is just as confusing with designations as many other French wines are: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and village level. Again, this isn’t a guarantee of quality, just the designation of the land is supposed to be higher in Grand Cru.
Gratitude Friday: Our Veterans
If it wasn’t for the pink color, would a Rosé smell as sweet?
Living in Geneva in the summer, most picnic blankets hold at least one bottle of rosé.
Being Americans, to us, pink generally = boxed wine. So, this prevalence of pink wine was a surprise to us our first summer. However, it didn’t take long to adapt to the European phenomenon of rosé.
Far different from its cheap boxed distant cousin, the rosés of France are complex and a national treasure. We got more of an education during our trips to Southern France, both in les Alpilles and the Tavel region.
In fact, Fabrice of Domaine de la Mordorée, in Tavel, told us when wine critic Bob Parker rated their rosé ‘the best in the world,’ he was insulted as it is in his opinion ‘the best in the Universe’.
Rosés are made with red grapes. There are a few methods of making rosé:
- Saignée, or bleeding, is achieved when the weight of the grapes do the pressing. The skins are left in only for a brief time. Because the juices don’t have a lengthy contact with the skins, the result is a light and juicy flavored rosé.
- Skin contact methods are used when the red skins are used to achieve ideal color, after which, they are removed and the rosé continues to ferment without the skins
- Blending methods (or run-offs) is when the juice from the red is used, along with the white juice, making a more opaque rosé. This shortcut technique is practically illegal in France.
The rosés are a French favorite. Reading Of Wine And War, when I got to the chapter about the Americans and French taking back the French countryside, I couldn’t help but chuckle at this part:
“Their job was vital, said Monsabert of his American allies, “but the vinously minded historian will note that it did not take them near a single vineyard of quality. Now follow the advance of the French army. Swiftly they possessed themselves of Tavel, and after making sure all was well with one of the finest vin rosés in France, struck fiercly for Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
While rosé hasn’t become my favorite French wine, I certainly am glad for getting more exposure to it during our time in Europe.
A picnic at St. Cosme
When I went to the South of France most recently, the group was led by an incredible guide. Having lived in Paris and Southern France, K knows a ton about the food, wine and landscape of France.
One of K’s favorite spots in the South of France is the chapel of Saint Cosme in Gigondas, in the heart of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape country.
She had the idea that it would be nice for our group to see the chapel. That morning, we stopped in Bonnieux for the morning market to stock up on more French cheeses, breads, olives, and tapenades. We all shared our purchases in the form of a picnic to enjoy and experience the beauty.
This chapel is partly ruined. In fact, we camped out in the nave with our picnic because of the intense wind that swirled around the chapel. Luckily, there was a small bench that was useful as a “table”.
Luckily, we had a nice ‘community’ supply of wine from our stops at the L’Auchan grocery, Château Beaucastel, and Château de Ségriès.
After tasting a few delicacies, I wandered around the stone path that led above the chapel.
The chapel is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards above. It makes such a beautiful panorama in the Provençal sky. Our group is grateful to K for taking us to this special place.
Thursday market day in Isle sur la Sorgue
While in Provence we visited the sweet town of Isle sur la Sorgue. The town literally translates to island on the Sorgue (river), and this riverside ambience plus cute French architecture is what makes the appeal. It happened to be market day, full of fresh produce & foods as well as Provençal artisans.
I got a few gifts in the form of soaps, tapenades, and herbes de Provence. Later, I walked the banks of the Sorgue river, enjoying the loveliness of this precious village.