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Une brève excursion au nord de la France

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Thank you everyone for your help in my photoshop post. My father called me and helped me over the phone and we fixed the problem. Yes, it was the colour profiles. I've spent the past few weeks catching up on my photo editing. Many of the photos still don't look right to me, still too dark or wrong colours. Perhaps it was the lighting conditions, the camera settings, or photoshop. I do not know. I'm not sure these France photos were worth the trouble as I consider them only snapshots, but I have other photos I will be sharing soon.

Macsen and I caught the ferry down to France to spend Christmas and New Year at his parent's new house in Luçon, Vendée which is in the Pays-de-la-Loire département (I swear every town in France has it's own website, no matter how small). The house was built over the past year and Philip and Jackie have been working hard to finish it. The result is a cozy modern home with a Scandanavian wood burning stove which heats the place up in 10 mins flat. I admit to missing the "Frenchness" of their last house which was over 400 years old and set in the tiny village of Saint-Juire, but I understand the upkeep was becoming too constant and difficult for them. Before we went to Luçon Macsen and I took two days for ourselves to go to cities in France that I had never seen before. The first night we stayed in Rheims in the Champagne-Ardenne region and the next day was Tours in Centre.

I ended up hardly touching my Nikon D70 during the entire trip which I partly regret now. I made up all kinds of excuses for myself such as the weather being too bitter cold to be fussing with dials and switches, but I believe in the end I just didn't want to. Sometimes there's something to be said about not experiencing a new place through a viewfinder. I took snapshots with the little point-and-shoot Canon, so there's still some documentation of the trip.


We managed to get a hotel in centre of the city, above the market selling various gifts and food. The smell of hot mulled wine permeated the air and I enjoyed sitting at our window watching the world go past (reminded me of our old apartment in the heart of Antwerp). Rheims is in champagne country so unsurprisingly there were shops selling it on nearly ever corner of the city (we bought one that we were told was similar to my favorite, Veuve Clicquot. I think it was better!)

restaurant façade

After some wandering we came to Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims.

I knew that I had heard of it before, but couldn't recall where. I didn't realize why until we walked inside and to the back where I was met with a massive 3-panel stained glass window done by Chagall! My intake of breath was so loud it echoed.

This was one of the few times I wish I had my d70, but I doubt I would have been able to get away with pulling out that monster anyway.

I entitled the left photo "Stomping on Taurens" (sorry, geek joke. ;)

We came across these paper cut-outs not far from the cathedral. I love the texture and ridges where the paper clings to the concrete. I also like its non-destructive nature, being able to pull it off easily to make the canvas blank once again.

the view from our hotel room

There were many restaurants to choose from in Rheims, but we settled on Au Congres after looking over their menu. Their seasonal "menu chasse" (hunting menu) was only 26 euros and sounded good. Turned out to be one of the best meals I've had for only £17. The most interesting part was the quince compote that accompanied the wild boar, the compote was mixed in with what seemed like semolina which was very light and refreshing, not nearly as heavy as potato pureé. I wasn't that keen on the dessert, but I'm not a fan of overly sweet chocolate desserts.

left: pheasant with spices wrapped in dry cure ham with cream ... right: wild boar with quince compote and red wine reduction

left: chilled brie with nuts and green salad ... right: chocolate and orange dome with sorbet

Watched sumo wrestling in French back at the hotel.


Tours was much bigger than Rheims and had a very different feel. It was the day before Christmas so we spent 30 minutes driving around the city searching for a parking space. When we finally found one we almost wished we hadn't as it was so busy and toe-numbingly cold out.

Tours seemed to lack a heart. The city is made up of many boulevards that fan outwards from the centre, these boulevards are filled with boutiques and designer shops, but surprisingly very little by way of restaurants. I'm sure the locals know the secret spots where restaurants are hidden away, but for wandering tourists in freezing rain searching for these wasn't an appealing option. Instead we went to a brasserie chain called Maître Kanter and as far as brasserie chains go it was pretty decent! Macsen tried the choucroute which is a dish from the Alsace region and consists of various pork products on a massive bed of saurkraut (not my thing :P ) and I had cheese salad with fig dressing and a venison with celeriac pureé main course. The service was jovial as were the French regulars next to us who could put away the saurkraut (with extra potatoes!) like nobody's business.

Every village and city have winter lights in France.

Macsen surprised me that night with a stay in a château outside of Tours called Domaines de Beauvois. It was a beautiful place with dark winding corridors and our room had the most massive bed I've ever seen.

view from the château


The new house isn't far from the centre of Luçon with it's unique cathedral, boutiques, cafés, restaurants, pâtisseries, boulangeries, charcuterie, fishmonger, covered farmer's market and more. It has about everything you could ask for, but it isn't too large, expensive, or overrun with tourists in the summer. I can see why Philip and Jackie chose the city.

Their house is in an area of new builds so most of their neighbors haven't even moved in yet. To the back of their property is a group of about 5 caravans occupied by a group of what in Britain would usually be called, in an often derogatory manner, "gypsies". In France they call them the more gentle name of "manoush" and this particular band of Romany travellers are well liked by the locals of Luçon. Whenever Philip or Jackie ask for something to be delivered or tell people where they live, the locals always respond with, "Oh, that's where the manoush live, they're lovely!" The manoush are allowed to live in the empty lot by the city until building work begins. They, with their dogs, help protect the back of Philip and Jackie's house and in return they don't complain about them living there (despite pressure from other property owners), it's a win-win situation for both parties concerned. One dark night Macsen and I inadvertently walked through part of the camp and we heard one of the manoush children call out to us, "Monsieur et Madame, attention! Le chien n'est pas attaché!", she was warning us that their large rottweiler mix dog wasn't tied up and might attack us as intruders. Fortunately the adults came out and let the dog know that we were friends.

Most of our time there was spent relaxing by the fire or taking strolls out to their favorite smoky café where all the locals turn and stare when we walk in. I would sip my espresso and eavesdrop on conversations about us that they thought we couldn't understand.

For Christmas Eve dinner Philip and Jackie took us to an excellent local restaurant called La Mirabelle.

left: warm baby pumpkin with cockles ... right: salad of scallops and marinated vegetables with chive and tarragon oil

left: lobster with mushrooms and soy sauce with a pumpkin pureé ... right: pigeon with a ballotine of kale and truffle jus

left: monkfish with mushroom cream sauce and chestnut pureé ... right: cheese plate

left: chocolate meringue fondant with praline and vanilla sauce ... right: blood orange parfait with dark chocolate and citrus

Not pictured: Pineapple and basil sorbet!

petit fours

Most nights Jackie and Philip cooked wonderful meals, especially for Christmas and New Year's Eve. Other nights Macsen and I cooked or we went out to restaurants.

Jackie and Philip

left: roast duck with celeriac mash and chestnut pureé ... right: roast fennel, potatoes, and stuffing

super ripe and melty goats cheese

Luçon cathedral

langoustine and lobster

left: crab tart ... right: that cheese knife means business

left: roast acorn squash with honey and thyme, veal stuffed with local cheese and ham (a special from the butcher), braised fennel and wilted spinach ... right: fish pie with Lieu Noir (called Coley in England)

Even petrol stations use a cursive font.

boeuf bourguignon (made by Macsen)

left: smoked duck salad with apple and pinenuts ... right: pizza with goats cheese and ham (after I broke the egg yolk)

scallops wiith herbed breadcrumbs and butter

left: Loup de Mer (wolf of the sea) with a butter mussel sauce

left: roast Sunday lunch (a British ex-pat friend of theirs said it was "impossible" to make yorkshire puddings rise with French flour, Jackie proved her wrong! ... right: cake from the local pâtisserie, it was hardly sweet at all.. so light I could have eaten it all myself (if they had let me!)

La Rochelle

I felt sorry this tied up goat, maybe it got a bit too "frisky" with the children

les enfants du paradis

Chartres cathedral

On our drive back to the ferry I got to play navigator through the streets of northern Paris.

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On March 9th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC), asphalteden commented:
I love it when you jam up my friends page.
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On March 9th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC), vulgarlad commented:
Looks like an excellent trip.

As always after looking at one of your photo-posts, I am now starving.

~the lad
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On March 9th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC), ogonzoo commented:
i will be in italy for a couple of weeks late october early november... if you find yourself near roma, venice, napples or florence during that time you should let me know. ;)
love your photos
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On March 14th, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
well I have been wanting to visit Italy again soon.. ;) I will let you know!

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On March 9th, 2006 06:01 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
still very nice shots!! : )

wow that's bizarre about chagall - I never heard of his stain glass work for catholic churchs before, considering how religious some of his paintings got, i'm not sure whether it's stranger that he was offered the commission or that he accepted it. either way i'd love to see it one day, he's one of my favourite artists...
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On March 9th, 2006 06:02 pm (UTC), lil_octopie replied:
oops - that anon waas me... :o)
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On March 9th, 2006 06:02 pm (UTC), sallysimpleton commented:

And I'm really hungry now, too.
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On March 9th, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC), opalfruit commented:
Hurrah! Have missed your entries.
It all looks beautiful.
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On March 9th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC), troyworks commented:
how come I have the overwhelming urge to get my passport, visa and suit suitable for fine on ? I was happy with lounging in my nuthins and tea:)
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On March 10th, 2006 12:07 am (UTC), nomi replied:
how about travelling in your nuthins? (makes airport security a breeze! ;)
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On March 9th, 2006 08:02 pm (UTC), orb8 commented:
i love love love your posts:)
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On March 9th, 2006 08:32 pm (UTC), workroom commented:
yaaaay a nomi post!
merci beaucoup!

c'est magnifique!
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On March 9th, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC), savonarola commented:
it is good to see what your eyes have seen,
have missed those images as of late.
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On March 9th, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC), ronaldraygun commented:
The food! The architecture!
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On March 9th, 2006 10:25 pm (UTC), m00t commented:
WoW, you are a geek.

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On March 10th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC), nomi replied:
A lvl 60 Night Elf Druid geek! ;)

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On March 9th, 2006 10:28 pm (UTC), crossvector commented:
I love these posts and enjoy spending a couple minutes looking at all the great pictures, but I would recommend being a little more ruthless with the lj-cut tag and keep the on-page photos to, say, less than 10, rather than up near 40?
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On March 9th, 2006 10:34 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Give me a break, I've hardly posted for months!
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On March 10th, 2006 12:30 am (UTC), dawaioser commented:
I'm starving now....delicious food and wine entry and glorious stained glass...all the stuff a wonderful life is made up of.
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On March 10th, 2006 01:07 am (UTC), joby commented:
A gourmet feast of a post!

It sounds like you had a great trip. It makes me smile to see a lot of familiar sights in there - Rheims is my matriarchal hometown and I have fond memories of the cathedral, champagne caves (Pommery for me :P)..and chaotic road systems. My great-great-grandparents owned a converted monastery in Saint-Thierry overlooking Rheims to the West. It's quite visible from a clear spot in the town - no surprises that it became a fortress to defend against the Germans in WWI. Anyway, something to look out for if you pass through again.

The Chagall windows look beautiful, even in a snapshot! :) For all the destruction that France's historic buildings endured during the wars, they did seize the opportunity to create some treasures in their place. But then, the French have never been averse to giving ancient bodies a modern heart!

Speaking of ancient bodies, out of interest how did you find the atmosphere inside Chartres? The relative darkness and well-worn cobble floor can give it a different feeling to other cathedrals - quite profound.

Thanks for sharing your journey! :) I must go find some boar...
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