Here goes year number 7

This morning I was thinking about the “what ifs” of my French life—what if I hadn’t decided to come back for a second year? What if I hadn’t met Ju and thus had had to return home after three years in Poitiers? That got me to thinking about what bits of my French daily life I would probably still be romanticizing. Since I live here, I don’t really romanticize it much anymore. But there are things I would definitely miss if I went back home.

So, to mark the beginning of Year 7 in France, I searched through my photo albums to find the ones that represent my French life for me these past six years. (After the jump.)

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Visiting la Vienne

My parents came to Poitiers this past week as a stop between a work trip to Poland and a work trip to Spain. They have been to France many times, but Poitiers only once, when we mostly spent our time in La Rochelle and Saint Emilion.

This time we got around a lot more in the immediate area of Poitiers, whose département is la Vienne.

We picked them up at the station on Saturday morning, and after dropping bags off at the house, we headed to Montmorillon to eat at the Roman des Saveurs.

The best restaurant in Montmorillon in the old town

Montmorillon is known for the Cité de l’Écrit, with lots of little shops related to the art of books (calligraphy, old books, paper, etc.). Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of this little calligraphy shop we wandered into.

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Then we headed to the Abbey at Saint Savin, a UNESCO world heritage site known for its ceiling frescos.

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You can easily make out some of the stories, like Noah’s Ark in the middle here (upside down).

Then we went to Angles-sur-Anglin, a very beautiful little village with an abandoned castle ruin. I wanted to live there. Julien says it’s too small.

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I had a sound check for a concert that night, so after that we went and ate dinner in Chauvigny, at a not very good crêperie, before going back to my concert. Next time we’ll have to eat somewhere else. Our croques monsieur were all soggy.

Sunday we ate dinner with Julien’s family, walked around the suburb where he grew up, and played games.

The rest of the week we managed to still fit in some interesting things, in spite of my spotty work schedule.

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The newly redone Place d’Armes/Leclerc in Poitiers

The Great Hall in the Palais de Justice, with its three huge fireplaces

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The Polychromies at the Eglise Notre Dame

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The abbey and surroundings at Nouaillé

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Azay-le-Rideau (not actually in the Vienne)

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The troglodyte village at Saint-Rémy-sur-Creuse

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The only remaining tower of the fortress at Saint-Rémy-sur-Creuse

We also managed to eat three delicious French meals out, at the Roman des Saveurs, our favorite the Cafe Pop in Poitiers, and the Ricordeau in Loudun. Thanks to my mom for all the pictures. Now they are off to Spain, by the night train Elipsos, to set up to spend spring semester 2014 in Alcala de Henares as part of my mom’s university’s exchange program.

Les Voeux de Ségolene et la Frangipane Géante

As president of the regional committee of the French climbing association, Ju was invited to Ségolène Royale’s “voeux” for 2103. To clarify: “Ségo” is from Poitou-Charentes, and since losing her second bid for president to her ex-husband and then losing her deputy seat to another socialist, she has been elected president of the conseil régional. So she threw a huge party to make a speech about the region in 2013.

It was at the TAP (theater) in Poitiers, where neither I nor Ju (who grew up here) had ever been. First Ségolène gave a speech that last about twenty minutes, where we learned things like that gas is cheaper in Poitou-Charentes than anywhere else because it’s the only region that isn’t taxing it. Then we went into the auditorium to hear a few musicians financed by the region.

Then they released us (about 500 people, I guess) on the six or seven buffet tables of local cuisine. Cheese, pâté, even foie gras (though that disappeared quickly), shrimp of all kinds, fancy veggie sauces, and two boats of oysters:

Close up

Close up

Farther back

Farther back

I’m not kidding, there were two of these things! I took advantage of the opportunity to give oysters another chance—but they still just taste like seawater to me. Tant pis.

There was all kinds of good alcohol too: a cognac cocktail (ginger, lime, and cognac), cognac schwepps (Ju says it’s Ségolène’s favorite cocktail), red and white pineau des charentes, red wine, sweet white wine, and champagne (though obviously that would not have been a regional thing). I stopped before the champagne, which goes to show how much I’d already tasted—I love champagne!

The champagne came out at the same time as this huuuuuge frangipane (almond paste king’s cake):

I will never again in my life see a frangipane this big.

Pretty, right?

So yeah, there was a charm somewhere in there. But considering that probably 100 different people ate that cake, we’ll never know who got it.

At the end of the evening, it was clear there was a lot of food left over, so the servers started giving it away. We walked away with a box of tartelettes, two butternut squashes, and a huge zucchini.

It was “du gros n’imp” as Ju said.

Fitzes in Poitiers

My brother came to visit about ten days ago, since he was spending three weeks working in Italy. He’d met J before, when we met up in the Verdon in the summer of 2011, but this was his first visit to Poitiers, and I was super excited. My life here is finally stable, with no questions about titre de séjour renewal, a permanent job, no house moving in the foreseeable future, and a car to show him around.

He was only here for the weekend but that’s more than enough time to see Poitiers. He arrived Friday afternoon and I took him for a quick tour of the school I work at before coming back home to eat dinner with J. Little did we know, in the year and a half since we last saw him, my brother has become a vegetarian, which came as a big surprise, especially since I now live with a butcher’s son. We easily modified our endives au jambon to just endives au bechamel for him and didn’t give him any of our foie gras.

Saturday we finally had some nice weather so we went into town to see the centre ville.

Wandering in Poitiers

The Saturday book market on the Place Notre Dame (the prettiest spot in Poitiers)

Frere and soeur in front of the Eglise Notre Dame

We saw these boys playing soccer in front of the Cathedral

The Baptistere Saint Jean

Frere had never eaten roasted chestnuts

In the evening

The Hotel de Ville at twilight

Sunday morning we went to the open market at the Couronneries, where there is always the eel guy with his fresh eels ready to be grilled.

Sunday we spent with the in-laws. They have a little rock-climbing room. Voici J making my brother do bouldering.

Besides that we also ate at our favorite restaurant in Poitiers, the Cafe Pop. All in all it was a great weekend. All of these pictures were taken by my brother (except the ones he’s in, obviously)

Restaurants in Poitiers

Ju and I really love going out to eat, and he’s especially critical of any major flaws in service or cooking. He’s the son of a butcher and he is especially ready to knock a restaurant for serving bad quality meat or canned vegetables. But when we find a place we like, we go back, and we try to talk it up to everyone we know. After two years together and three years in Poitiers, I have something of a list in mind whenever anyone asks for a good restaurant.

1) Les Bons Enfants

I went to this restaurant for the first time with my parents in March of 2010 and it’s a favorite of our lecteur crowd. It’s tiny and is known for having local cuisine. The thing that gives Les Bons Enfants character is the fact that, apparently, it used to be a school, and so there are strange pictures of children everywhere in the decor—the placemats, the walls, the windows. It’s a bit weird. There’s a five-course menu option and they have a real cheese menu, as well as really yummy duck confit.

2) The Bistro de l’absynthe

This one used to be an absinthe bar, so all of its walls are decorated with absinthe ads. The menu is 21 euros for very good food. Last time I went, though, during the Expressifs 2012, the waitress spilled my kir all over me and didn’t bother to bring me a new one, so my experience has been just the tiniest bit soured. Still, highly recommend.

3) The Vingélique

Literally across the street is the Vingélique, which, with its fancy name and its fancy decor, is a step up from the Bistro de l’absynthe. It’s still within our budget, but I’m guessing a spilled kir would be handled with finesse here.

4) Le Caribou Cafe

photo from the restaurant website

The Caribou is on the street I used to live on, a pedestrian cobble-stone road smack in the center, and it is a quebecois restaurant. Having never been to Quebec, I don’t know if it’s at all accurate, but it is tasty. They recently renovated the upstairs of the building and built a staircase, so that the bar is now downstairs and the restaurant is upstairs with the stuffed black bear (not kidding). Ju doesn’t like this restaurant because it doesn’t have the traditional French “menu” option. What a French problem. The bar serves different types of alcohol with maple syrup, which can be surprisingly good. This place is swamped though on weekends, so it’s best to reserve and if you want just a drink, it’s best to arrive before 9.

5) La Cuisine du comptoir

Taking a moment to step outside of the centre ville, you can find this restaurant a bit closer to where we live, and still accessible by bus, though I don’t know how late. It is really excellent and I can’t recommend it more. I went there first for Valentine’s Day with Ju a couple of years ago and we were stuffed when we left. The food is really delicious and well-presented. It’s the kind of place where we tell people what we ate afterward. We never worry about what we’ll find when we go here. For lunch you pretty much have to reserve ahead.

6) Le Cafe Pop

Ahhh the Cafe Pop. What can I possibly say to sell this restaurant well enough? I LOVE the Cafe Pop. I didn’t notice it till living in Poitiers from almost two years. It’s tucked next to the Mairie and looks so much like a bar that I didn’t really even bother checking it out. Then one evening Ju and I were looking for a place to eat and decided to try it. It’s a bar-restaurant, so the atmosphere is what you could call “convivial” in French. The menu is only 18 euros for the cheapest option, though it’s hard to stick to that when a 3-euro supplement will get you a fancier starter or main dish. With three courses you have more than enough to eat, and their tiramisu “façon Snickers” will probably stay with me forever. This is, without a doubt, my favorite restaurant in Poitiers and I would recommend it to French people and foreigners alike. (Also open Sundays.)

7) Yakido

For anyone looking for sushi in Poitiers, Yakido is the place I’d recommend. It’s a little further out from the main center, but it’s still within easy walking distance, right next to Parc Blossac. The sushi is simple but very good, and very reasonably priced. They also have massive yakitori menus that will make your stomach explode. Go for the smallest one if you don’t want to die.

8) Chez Ngim (update August 2015)

Chez Ngim serves excellent Cambodian food in thoughtful, very affordable “menus” that include actual spicy dishes, though the considerate owner is very careful to point out these dishes to his mostly French clientele. He also explains every dish on his menu and how to eat it, when needed.

9) Les Archives (update August 2015)

Les Archives is the restaurant part of the Mercure Hotel in Poitiers, which is located in an old, um, archive. It’s a beautiful building but the food is also delicious, AND it’s open on Sundays and Mondays.

So! If any of you ever come to Poitiers, you’ll know where to go now… heh. It’s not that there aren’t other restaurants that are totally fine, it’s just that these are the ones where I’ve consistently had good meals and good experiences. And of course, we haven’t tried everything. There are some to be avoided: the Taverne de Maître Kanter, Au Bureau unless you just want a croque monsieur, and possibly even the 16 Carnot though it’s been redone recently. If I can prevent anyone from going to Maître Kanter and lead them to the Cafe Pop instead, my life will have served an important purpose at least once.

Les Expressifs 2012

Les Expressifs were this weekend in Poitiers! Ju wasn’t here for the first time since he was at his silly climbing competition in the Pyrenees. He claimed this competition always happened during the Expressifs and I had to remind him that in fact it never had, and we’ve always gone to it together.

This year, like last year, I worked Friday morning so I didn’t go to the opening night. But yesterday I headed into town around 5 and saw this show:

“Poilu,” photo credit La Nouvelle République

You can see another great (protected) photo of that show here.

But my favorite was this band that I saw in the Lez’Arts dans la rue bus:

Sorry about the head

Sorry about the blur!

They’re called Tzig n Roots and I can’t find any sort of website for them so unfortunately, those are the best pictures I can find. There’s no need to tell me they’re pretty awful. This little bus only fits around 30 people tops, I would guess, and it hasn’t made an appearance at the festival since the first time I went in 2009. But the ambiance is pretty special because it’s much more intimate than the other venues.

Today I went back into town around 3:30 and saw Maobi, a band who plays with an illustrator and a big screen.

The artist

Two of the musicians

I ended the weekend with a show by La Fausse Compagnie, who were pretty funny, but I didn’t take any pictures. Here’s one on the Expressifs website, though I saw them during the day.

I LOVE the Expressifs. Last year we were a bit disappointed with the amount of shows but this year the festival appeared to be en forme and I especially appreciated the return of the bus.

When I got home, the ponies were back in the yard by our house (the horse has been gone for a little over a month). But these were not the same ponies! This time there is a baby poney!

Okay sorry here you can just see his butt

And he doesn’t have devil eyes either really

Yeah okay so the pictures are pretty crappy. But they took a lot of coaxing to come and eat the apples so the photos weren’t my first concern.

Journées du patrimoine 2012

I’m always aware of the anniversary of my arrival in Poitiers because it was just before the Journées du patrimoine. I didn’t take any pictures last year, but I drove the newly-arrived English lecteurs at the fac (and Dan) to the Saint Savin Abbey in, well, Saint Savin, about an hour from here. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. This year I suggested we go to the Abbey at Nouaillé-Maupertuis, where I went in 2009 just after first arriving in Poitiers, and which is from the 12th century

We were there at the beginning of the afternoon this time, so the light wasn’t quite as enchanting as the evening light in 2009, but the abbey site is still very pretty.

Medieval (or maybe 1700s) drawing of the abbey grounds

Closer up. Look at all the s’s!!

We tried to go see some local farmer’s demonstrations in another town but the lack of signage kept us from finding them. So we ended up back in Chauvigny, where we had also stopped last year.

Chauvigny has five fortresses up on its hill in varying degrees of ruin. It’s a very picturesque place.

The Château de Chauvigny

The Château de Chauvigny houses a falcon show.

We didn’t go in. It cost 11 euros.

Lots of stuff was open in Poitiers (the prefecture, the hôtel de ville, the closed Hypogées des dunes museum) but I didn’t manage to make it to any of it because there was a family baptism today near Niort. Maybe next year!