Wednesday, July 18, 2012

First day in France

June 17, 2012

The day has finally come! At 4:45am, we woke to catch a 6am train from Konstanz to Zurich airport. This was the first time I would be in a foreign airport by myself and flying alone. Around 8:40, I boarded the plane which took off at 9:05am. The flight attendants came around with drinks (coffee, please!) and distributed croissants--my french experience was already beginning. The flight was very quick, only just over an hour, and ended with a final distribution of tiny Swiss chocolate bars. After gathering my luggage, I was able to find the bus from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the Gare de Lyon in Paris despite the culture shock. Everytime I would go to say something, I could think of it in English and Spanish, and most recently German, but not French. Wifi was inaccessible for even looking up simple terms.

After an excruciatingly hot busride into Paris during which I was entirely distracted by two talkative Spanish men sitting in the seats in front of me, I managed a brief glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance before arriving at the Gare de Lyon. It was only 12pm and the group wasn't set to meet until 4:15pm. I knew several others were in the city, but I wasn't sure where. Nonetheless, I wasn't about to sit in the train station all day. So, with some effort, a lot of walking in circles, and help from a select few attendants at the train station, I found lockers where I could check my luggage. I then secured a map and a steaming cup of coffee to guide me through the city to some sights: the Bastille and Notre Dame.

Me and Notre Dame: amazing!
As I made my way through the station, I stumbled upon two other students from the program who were just sitting down to lunch. I decided it was a better idea to stick together. They finished eating and we checked their luggage and headed out; we had just over two hours to make our way across the city and back--thankfully, the weather was perfect.

The Bastille was bustling! We snapped some photos and hurried over to Notre Dame. The immense church rose rapidly before us as we approached--it was breathtaking. I could tell the inside would be gorgeous, but the line stretch across the plaza, and we only had thirty minutes until we needed to be back. There wasn't enough time.

Quickly, we walked back, gathered our luggage from the storage lockers, and met up with the group outside under the clock tower. Together, we boarded a TGV at 5pm to bring us to Macon-Loche. A brief, much cooler busride delivered us just outside Cluny Sejour, where we would be staying: a building which had been part of the old monastary of Cluny where candles were made to supply the town. We were introduced to Madame who owns Cluny Sejour and provided us with our keys to our rooms where we dropped off our luggage.

Cluny is a beautiful, historic town. In 1250 AD, Cluny was the head and center of all of Christiandom and housed one of the largest churches in Europe. However, in the 17th century  during the French revolution, a Republic was instilled which was to be dissociated from the church. Thus, there was no need for a massive church, and resulted in blastings of the church and steady deconstruction of the abbey and monastary. Hints of Romanesque and Gothic architecture can be seen throughout the town. Excavations and renovations are still occurring to piece together and preserve the history of this once integral city.

As a group we walked to le Cellier de l'Abbaye for a welcome dinner and intro to wine and cheese of the region. We met the Rutgers faculty and the owners of the wine cellar with whom wwe would be working closely for the next two weeks.

We began our meal with apertifs: warm, delectable cheese popovers and small glass of 2010 St. Veran, a Chardonnay characteristic to the region of Burgundy. This wine was unlike any other Chardonnay I'd ever tasted--it was light, fruity, crisp, and minerally--a far leap from the heavily oaked California chardonnays more commonly found in the US.

Next brought out were some starters, ham with cassis, ham with parsley, and pate, served with fresh bread. For a main course we enjoyed a lightly spiced carrot salad, a lentil salad seasoned with shallots and parsely, and a traditional dish of a chicken "meatloaf" framed by pastry which we enjoyed with 2008 Clos de Mez Gamay from Rhone. The wine was filled with backberry notes and backed by tannins which indicated that it could be aged further.

Next we had our cheese course: a young, soft, goat cheese, a sweet cheese with a rum-soaked raisin exterior (soleil), a fresh goat cheese rolled in garlic and herbs, and a complex Soumaintrain with a washed rind, and interior texture that alternated between dense/creamy and smooth/melted. With the cheese course, we tasted a 2009 Saint Aubin Pinot Noir of Bourgogne. We ended our dinner with dessert which consisted of a bioche cake laden with pink praline. 

Sufficiently stuffed, we made our way back to Cluny Sejour to finish unpacking and get some much needed rest. After 2.5 hours of sleep the night before, I embraced the night to rest, excited for our first day of class in the morning!

- Adrianne Speranza

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