Weekdays in Paris

A weekend trip to Paris isn’t so expensive these days, with budget air lines like Wow Air and Transavia flyin for around €100 each way when you’re lucky. A weekday trip is even cheaper, with a one way flight as low as €80, so me and my sister, who has never been to Paris or France, decided to hop over for a couple of nights, Monday to Wednesday.

Me and Kristjana at the Sacre Coeur

We were lucky enough to miss the biggest day of rain in years, just by a few hours, so happily the metros and gutters had just stopped flooding when we landed. It also seemed the sky had been rained out, so for the next couple of days, which had been forecasted for rain, we were lucky enough to have only cloudy skies, with small bits of sun poking thru. It was perfect – never too hot or too wet or cold, and we didn’t get burnt or heat exhaustion. Which we were kind of expecting after spending more than 8 or 10 hours of each day outside walking.

The Louvre

We walked everywhere. And only walked. The only train or metro we took were to get in or out of Paris/Charles de Gaulle airport . In 2 days we walked nearly 55km, and my sister is still slightly limping from a cramped hamstring. But it was all well worth it!

Getting our obligatory Nutella crepes

We saw nearly all of touristic Paris, even thru the battling crowds of other tourists and half evacuated Paris businesses (Parisians start to empty in July for their summer holidays). The Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Champs Élysées, the shopping at St. Michel, Galeries Lafayette, and Chatelet, and the neighbourhoods of Montmarte, St. Germaine and St. Denis. Just walking thru the Louvre took half a day and a few kilometers, and I randomly ran into a solo Indian/American-dwelling female traveler I met a year and a half ago in Somalia. It’s a small world, even in crowded Paris.

 

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French Gastronomy and Bocuse in Lyon

Lyon is an amazing city for gastronomy, with more than 20 Michelin stars given to its local restaurants. Food experts and lovers alike have even come up with a special term to refer to a traditional Lyonnais restaurant, a ´bouchon.´ I ate at Leon de Lyon, but not being a fan of pork, mustard or foie gras, it was hard to choose a traditional plate. My favourite restaurant was Au 14 Fevrier, a Valentine´s day themed restaurant where even the bread and butter are heart shaped.

the French are really good at making cute little coffees

Lyon native Paul Bocuse first became a legend in France with his innovatie nouvelle cuisine, changing traditional French cuisine into something fresher and healthier. He is one of the most awarded and famous chefs in the world, and the Culinary Institute of America named him the Chef of the century. His namesake restaurant, Paul Bocuse, has fully booked reservations each night months in advance. There you can try his famous truffle soup, probably the tastiest but most expensive soup you could ever try. He also established the Paul Bocuse Institute, a prestigious culinary school where 10 other cooperative universities around the world send their most promising chefs to study.

Siggi, 2013 Icelandic candidate, and Þráinn, his coach and 2011 candidate

The Bocuse d’Or is a culinary competition, kind of like the Chef Olympics, held every other year in Lyon since 1987. It gets more and more popular each year, and the competition itself has grown to include chefs from every continent. There is a regional Bocuse comptetition held every opposite year to decide who the qualifying chefs will be (from Europe, Asia, and the Americas)  to compete for the Bocuse d’Or, and specially invited countries participate too (like Australia and Morocco).

sporting a chef hat at Sirha

The competition happens concurrently with the Sirha exhibition, a rendez-vous of all things restaurant related. Local chocolatiers and champagne makers offered free samples at their booths, and patisseries and cheese makers from all over Europe come too. We sampled our way through all the most delicious booths while 24 countries competed for the Bocuse d´or, until finally 2 days later, France was declared the winner.

For the first time ever, Japan won a medal with 3rd place. Iceland placed 8th, which is an incredible feat if you consider the fact that from a country with a population of only 320,000, we have the 8th best chef in the world. In 2011, my friend Þráinn from Iceland placed 7th, so we´re pretty consistent.

Martinique

I was couchsurfing in Fort-de-France, at a collocation of twenty-something metropole males and one French Guyanese girl. Heliott picked me up from the ferry terminal in the city center, which at 7pm on a Sunday was a total ghost town. Even the streets were carless, which was partly due to the gas station trike happening island wide. The few gas stations which were open had dozens of cars waiting patiently in line, some waiting over an hour just to refuel.  

Fort-de-France, looking little different than other island cities

I was back in France, but it just wasn’t the same France. Algae grows on the rear view mirrors of every Peugot and Clio, stainless steel gates are somehow stained, concrete walls and houses crumble, wood rots, and any white paint turns to shades of brown and grey. Martinique is a department of France, but its also a developing, decaying island constantly battling the humid, infectious jungle overtaking all the manmade comforts we’ve tried to establish in a place that screams to stay wild.

I was in Martinique only 5 days, but it was the first island I visited and felt like doing nothing. It was not because of the appeal of the island, but with myself, my tired body,

wildlife on our waterfall trek

 my exhausted mind from weeks of traveling. So many new places, people, sensations, and yet, a big blur of similar experiences, persuaded me to take an entire day to rest, digest. I sat still and relaxed for a day and a half, only seeing the balcony and my bed, and enjoying the people and things which passed by me. I met all the roomates, their boyfriends and girlfriends, tasted their rum, ate dinner with everyone, and talked in French and English about my journey so far.

waterfalls are much prettier than shitty-bat caves

By the second day, I still hadn’t looked at a map, and had no idea where I was except that I was in Martinique, but not even sure what or how big Martinique was. I was in Tivoli, near the middle of the country east of Fort-De-France. There is not much tourism in Martinique, and little infrastructure for a visting tourist. So the rest of my days in Martinique were equally relaxing, doing little else than fraternizing with my new household.

Julien, the other couchsurfer in the group, took me out of the house for a couple nearby hikes. We visited Chute des Didiers, a beautiful waterfall to swim under, so long

chutes du didier

 as you don’t mind freshwater crabs and shrimp scurrying past your toes. And, you have to make it through a 200m, dark, bat-inhabited tunnel, walking along a narrow, slippery, waterpipe, that if you slip off, end up in knee-deep bat shit/mud. Luckily, we managed to stay on the pipe.

Me and his roommate, Jerome, explored another river which wasn’t trail marked, and decided to follow it down to a small waterfall which wasn’t quite deep enough to jump into. But, we were stuck on top of it and had to go downstream to return to the car, so we took turns lowering eachother down and keeping our fingers crossed that no blood baths would result at the bottom.

Another day, I went with their neighbor Alex to the north west part of Martiniqe. We visited his friend in La Carbet, who lived in a house with a beautiful 180 degree view of the ocean from high up on a hill. Together we went on to St. Pierre, the former Petite-Paris and cosmopolitan capital of the French West Indies. It was totally destroyed in 1902 by a volcano, wiping out 28,000 people and all the beautiful architecture, a story similar to the catastrophe of Pompeii, but survived by two who lived to tell the story first-hand.

Gwada, a.k.a. Guadeloupe

I booked a regrettable 7:30 am flight to Guadeloupe which had me leaving Julia’s stable at 5am. A few hours later, I had arrived in France. My Icelandic passport got me waved through immigration as if I was back in the EU, but I requested a stamp from the Police station in the arrivals hall which said “Guadeloupe,” not France. It was St. Patricks day, which apparently everyone in the Caribbean cares about despite there not being any Irish on the islands, so my host Francois had planned an exciting holiday excursion.

spices

the fish market

We were to tour all of Grande-terre, one of the two islands comprising Guadeloupe’s butterfly shape. We started in the capital, Pointe-a-Pitre, at a lively fish market. Nearby were stalls of fruits and vegetables, spices and hotsauces, pin-cushion dolls and home made rum. We tickled our noses through rows of smelly things, and bought some carambola, sting ray, habanero peppers and parsley.

fruits and veggies

Next we drove along the south coast, stopping in Le Gosier for a view of Ilet du Gosier, a tiny island off the coast. We carried on to the Club Med beach, where dozens of palm trees shaded the sandy beach and all the half nude frenchies lazing around. We bought tiny cups of juice for 3 euros each, and once again realized I was no longer in the cheap Caribbean but instead on a European island disguised by sandy beaches and warm weather.

Club Med beach

We arrived on the windy Atlantic side in Point des Chateaux, a narrow peninsula ending in the eastern most part of the island. Here herds of tourists took pictures of La Desirade, another nearby island, and ate hand-made coconut sorbet from a woman with a rusty churner. We finished the circumnavigation after reaching Pointe de la Vigie, the cliffy northern boundary of the island, and driving through Port Louis and Petite-Canal. Then we cut back east to La Moule, where friends’ of Francois had invited us for a bbq and some beachvolleyball.

Pointe des Chevaux

We played games in various teams, 4 on 4, 6 on 6, girls versus guys, and male only teams.  We could never keep track of the score, and played to 15 or 25, depending on what we felt like. The bbq was potluck style, everyone bringing something different to share. We grilled our stingray in peppers, parsley and beer, and cooked some other fish that ended up tasting slightly better. After filling 3 garbage bags of paper plate, plastic cups, and empty bottles, we went sandy-faced to Maho pub, a grungy, hippy-esque shack with the strangest assortment of locals.

Chute du Carbet

I saw a black, 60 year old, toothless prostitute, blonde guy in Aladdin pants and embroidered vest, a beautiful young woman in a flowy, white satin dress, and the two brothers I had met in Antigua through couchsurfing. They were supposed to be in Dominica, but had changed their minds to spend the weekend in Guadaloupe, and of all places to be at that moment, were also at Maho.

We afterpartied at the Marina, and I crashed hard after 23 waking hours in Francois’ bed,  since he’s that stubborn kind of couchsurf host who insists visiting strangers get to sleep in his bed while he surfs his own couch. The next day, we went the whole way around Basse-terre, the bigger but wilder half of Gwada’s butterfly. We stopped at one national park to see the Chutes du Carbet, hiking to the first of three waterfalls. A little further down the road, we hiked along an unmarked trail to a hot river, flowing down between large rocks and forming bathing pools of decreasing temperature. We soaked in one about 35 degrees, a perfect natural bath in the middle of the forest.

cliff jumping at Cascade Acomat

We met some friends in Bananier who had just finished surfing, and then had a picnic lunch on a dock in the city of Basse-Terre on the southwest corner of Basse-Terre. We hiked next to la Cascade Acomat, a beautiful waterfall pool that you could cliff jump into from any side at any height. We ended our day in Grande Anse, what Francois described as the most beautiful beach in Guadaloupe. We watched the sunset there, with a row of other waiting spectators, and as soon as it fell behind the horizon, stayed for the after show – a sky of pink and orange clouds in a darkening sky.

sunset at Grande Anse

That night Francois’ friend Francois (it’s a common name) hosted a pizza party. In true French style, we paired the home made pizza’s with red wine, and finally went home early for an early, good nights rest. The next day I stole some beach time and wifi from the Hotel Fleur D’Epee, to plan my ferry down to Dominica – my next island destination back in the Caribbean.

Lyon: Bocuse d'Or 2011

Bocuse d'or 2011

Every time I go to France, I make it as far as Paris and just stay there, romanticizing about all the wine, baguettes and delicious cheese I can eat without getting fat (well, thats what they say), but making it to Lyon was a special treat, although I have to admit the people do not get nicer. I had the spontaneous opportunity to go to Lyon for the biannual Bocuse d’Or competition last week because of some ties to the Radisson hotel. My flight was booked at 4pm on Sunday for departure at 7 am the next morning, and only with the help and organizational skills of others already going did I actually make it to France. I didn’t book any of my own travel or hotels, have any idea what was going on half the time, but blinldy followed around the others in charge and had such a great time just going with it.

painting the Icelandic flag on everyone's cheek

I didn’t get a chance to sleep til Tuesday, and we spent all day Tuesday cheering for Iceland’s candidate, Thrainn Freyr Vigfusson, and then all day Wednesday patiently waiting for the compeition results. Everything went down at Sirha, a huge exhibition self-proclaimed as the world’s rendez-vous for all restaurant and hoteling needs.

the crowds on day 2

Thrainn’s direct support crew were some of his closest friends, his coach slash former bronze Bocuse medalist Hakon Mar, and his comis chef Bjarni Jakobsson. Behind them they had a couple more kitchen helpers, namely Atli and Tomas, and then about 50 or 60 Icelandic cheerleaders, all friends, family or restaurant industry related people. We were only outnumbered by perhaps the French and Japanese spectators, although 50 Japanese cheering sounded like background noise compared to only 4 or 5 Icelandic men clapping, screaming “Islande!” in bass voices, and blowing off all sorts of noice makers. We had awesome tshirts, face paint, and viking helmets to make sure we didnt go unnoticed.

Mister Sevens, Bjarni & Thrainn

We spent the time outside of Sirha taking in the best wining and dining Lyon had to offer, eating at a bunch of different restaurants since Lyon is the world’s gastronomy capital. We partied at Wallace bar, a joint with over 200 whiskies, overrunning it with the same Icelandic people 4 nights in a row and probably giving them the best mid-week business they’ve ever seen.

We crashed a Norwegian techno dance party the night after the results, celebrating Thrainn’s 7th place finish; he was expecting better, and under a shroud of politics and suspicious dishonesty, he perhaps deserved 3rd or 4th, but 7th is damn good for a country of 300,000, competing with a small fraction of the budget that medal winners Denmark and Norway had (Denmark brought the Prince with him!).

Domaine de Clairefontaine

We had one relaxing day to be tourists, and took the day to drive out to Domaine de Clairefontaine, a beautiful chateau south-west of Vienne, where the famous Philippe Giardon runs a restaurant and catering heaven amidst the surrounding vineyards and countryside. I’ve never really traveled for food tourism before, or in a group of 50 people, but everything turned out so well, and ironically enough, I’ve never felt more like an Icelandic patriot.

Related Links:

Icelandic Newspage for food and wine, and Bocuse d’or reports (in Icelandic): http://www.freisting.is

Bocuse d’or: bocusedor.com or bocusedor.is