P.S. France, Nov. 10, 2017

The last day we were in Saint-Chinian and had lunch at the Auberge de la Croisade, we again enjoyed it a lot. When we arrived at 12:00, the staff was just finishing their lunch—the custom here. (Well-fed staff make happy staff!) Some patrons were arriving with their dog—we Americans are always surprised when Europeans bring their dogs into restaurants, but they are always so well behaved!

Again we had a lovely lunch with Burt’s main course being venison chop and sausage, which was really good. We also enjoyed seeing all the local people who patronize that Auberge. The Maitre’d was taking orders, as always, and when we told him that this was our third time at the Auberge on this trip and that this was our last lunch as we were going home the next day, he said that they were very honored!

When we were ready to leave the Maitre’d stopped us—-said we should come to the kitchen with him and meet the whole staff. We met the chef and the others and then the maitre’d, who had been seeing me take pictures, offered to take pictures of us with the staff. What a lovely moment!

From the Auberge, we drove the 2 1/2 hour trip to the Toulouse airport. Toward the end we got into rush hour traffic, which was a fright! We finally made it to our hotel near the airport, checked in, and then returned the rental car to the airport. By this time it was dark, and after a few errors, we managed to do that.

Having taken the shuttle back to the hotel, we were now ready to have a martini! When we had been at this hotel a month ago, we had instructed the bartender how to make a
martini, the way we liked them. We now approached the bartender, suggesting he get down the Gordon’s gin—well, he interrupted us and asked if we would like Martinis made the same way as before. He remembered us (and the Martinis) from a whole month earlier! Wow!

The next day we took our three flights home, —a long day! We loved France!

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#5, France, (final) Nov. 8, 2017

Montpellier is a beautiful city near the Mediterranean. It was an hour and a half drive, mostly on freeway. They have a wonderful Fabre Art Museum there, named after Fabre, a local artist. They
were also showing a special exhibit of Francis Bacon. They had a small collection of French Impressionists, which were fun to see.

The art museum was situated next to the Place de la Comèdie with its beautiful 19th century buildings.

There is now a chain of restaurants all over France called L’entrecote. They serve only steak, pomme frites and salad. There is a special butter sauce on the entrecôte, which has been the talk of French-foodies for quite some time, as it is a secret recipe and people are forever speculating on what is in it.

The restaurants don’t take reservations so we had to stand in line for 25 minutes to get in. It was worth it—-a luscious, simple meal that was more than satisfying, in a pretty restaurant with good service. While we couldn’t finish what we were served, it became clear that one could have additional helpings of the steak and the fries.

Next Burt visited a huge bookstore that he had learned about on a previous visit (along with L’entrecote), in which he wanted to look for English books about the area. Well, there was not one English book in the entire store—-not many tourists here, I gather.

Next we made a foray to Ikea on the outskirts of town to try to find some kitchen ware used by the French that Burt wanted. What a madhouse! The parking was full, the store was full to bursting with shoppers, and after we finally found the kitchen ware, Burt was not able to find the things he was looking for. But the GPS got us efficiently out and back to Saint-Chinian with no trouble.

Our ‘rest’ day following was highlighted by another trip to the Auberge de la Croisade. It was packed with locals, as it always is.

 

I had a starter of Boudin Noir (blood sausage) in a wrapper; Burt’s starter was pumpkin soup and Cantal cheese on Toast. My main course was wild boar chop and sausage; Burt’s was whitefish with veggies—-all with a nice bottle of red Saint-Chinian wine.

The next day we had rainy weather—-rare for here, I think. That night we had a big thunderstorm and it poured. Burt cooked mussels in curry sauce, and a salad, with an amuse buche of a small amount of foi gras fried quickly in a pan, and then served on bread. For dessert we had baked apples with creme fraische and then some lovely cheese. He LOVES to cook—-eat your heart out!

Sunday we started our excursion by going to the Saint-Chinian Market where we held our buying to just a few things, including a pyramid-shaped goat cheese that Burt had
looked for several places and not found. After visiting the market our plan was to eat in Roquebrun at La Petit Nice, a restaurant where Burt had eaten on previous trips. I had been calling for a reservation, but only got a recording that I couldn’t understand. I did hear ‘fermi’ (closed) and the word for Saturday, but ??. So we went, discovered it was closed until Saturday, Nov. 11th, (said the sign), drove down the street and found another that was open. It was called the Auberge Saint-Hubert. We had a wonderful dinner and Burt pronounced it even better than La Petit Nice.

For starters Burt had Foi Gras, and I had a dozen escargots; for a main course we each had roast lamb with frites which was superb; then each had an array of cheeses and coffee. We came home and took a nap!

Here’s the pyramidal goat cheese that we bought at the Saint-Chinian market on Sunday. It was very good, as all the cheeses hereabout are. Why is it pyramidal with the top lopped off? Legend has it that Napoleon saw it; it reminded him of the Egyptian pyramids, which angered him, so he lopped the top off with his sword. In any case, it tastes good. The black stuff is edible ash.

It was horribly cold and windy Monday—-a nice day to stay indoors. We did run an errand to buy some butter. We went to the big supermarket in Saint-Chinian and they were completely OUT of butter. There was a sign up where the butter usually is. It mentioned ‘beurre,’ which is ‘butter,’ but we couldn’t understand what it said—-a RUN on butter?? So we got some at the small downtown store.

Our last excursion before going home was to the Mediterranean; first to Marseillan, which is the home of Noilly Prat Vermouth, where we had a nice tour of their operation, with a tasting that followed. We bought two bottles of their ‘Amber Vermouth,’ a product that is not exported.

 

 

 

From there we went on to Sete, a town on
the Mediterranean, where we enjoyed a seafood lunch, with their local Picpoul de Pinet wine.

 

 

Since it was only 52° and kind of breezy, we were very surprised to find many of the people eating outdoors. We’ve noticed that before—-the people in Languedoc like to eat outside, even when we think it is not weather-suitable.

Once again, the GPS ‘lady’ on my iPhone guided us home. Roads, Numbers, Names are very confusing here. I would think it would be almost impossible to drive with only a road map. Thank goodness for GPS!

And now it is time to say goodbye to France and the Languedoc and return home. Today we are doing a little cleaning, organizing, and packing and tomorrow (Thursday) we will go one last time for this trip to the Auberge de la Croisade for lunch, before the 2 1/2 hour drive to Toulouse. Here we will stay in a hotel at the airport, leaving the next morning on a 9:20 AM flight.

What a wonderful experience this has been. I’ve certainly eaten foods that I had never heard of, much less tried, and gotten to know this area, which I really didn’t before, either. We certainly hope to come back as we both loved it a lot.
Our next big trip will be Japan in May——stay tuned—-.

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#4, France, Nov. 1, 2017

We had a lovely day at Narbonne on Friday. We went to three museums and then had lunch at Les Halles, the covered market. At the Archeological Museum we saw Roman paintings
and sculptures.

Way up in the carved wooden beams in the ceiling, we spotted a trebuchet, like the one that destroyed Minerve’s well and so caused them to surrender.

The second museum was the Horreum, a now-underground gallery of Roman shops. Imagine how long ago these were active! There was also a sound system that attempted to make it more ‘living,’ which made noises of cows lowing and people calling out their wares in Latin.

The third museum was a deconsecrated church that held over a thousand 2000-year-old Roman pillars, most with decorations on them. The museum was called the Musèe Lapidaire. There was to be a Sound and Light Show which occur right on the hour. We were there between 11:00 and 12:00, thinking we would see/hear it at 12:00. But NO, everything stops at 12:00, so we would have had to come back at 2:00, which we didn’t. By that time, we had eaten and drunk a wonderful lunch in Les Halles, the covered market, which is Burt’s favorite market in the world!

I had Cheval Tartare (horsemeat) and Burt had a hamburger of horse meat. Neither of us could taste the difference between it and beef. Mine was served with accompaniments of onion, capers, pickles and a raw egg, along with pomme frites (French fries), bread, and salad.

For some reason we couldn’t make our GPS work on the way home, but were very proud that we made it back to Saint-Chinian without her!

Saturday was a very nice quiet day involving clothes washing, food shopping and food preparation culminating in eating scallops in their shells with a lovely salad. It’s amazing what’s available here. Our local 7-11 type store has many wonderful things including scallops in their shells. Burt looked up how to clean them on the internet! They were so delicious, although they took quite a bit of preparation.

Sunday we went on an excursion to see some pretty mountain towns. First was Roquebrun, with its 10th C. tower from old fortifications.

 

 

 

An arch framed the town’s bridge with 
a shadow of a streetlight adding to the color. Burt and I posed on the bridge, watching for
traffic—-so cars didn’t run over our toes.

We had intended to go on to see Olargues, but a sign said, “Barriee— 1500 Meters” and yes, they meant the road was barred in a km and a half! So we backtracked and came to an equally pretty mountain town called Vieussan.

We hadn’t heard of it before, but there are so many beautiful mountain towns in the Languedoc.

We followed the signs for Saint-Chinian and pretty soon were home again.

Burt prepared a wonderful dinner, starting with oysters on the half-shell which we had bought at the Saint-Chinian Sunday morning market; salade de Gesier with the duck gizzards; and cassoulet, which we bought at the Narbonne market the day before, accompanied by some lovely red Saint- Chinian wine.

The area around Saint-Chinian is so beautiful. Monday when we went on a shopping trip to Narbonne, we stopped on the way home to grab some photos.

In Narbonne, Burt bought a number of things to take home like walnut (Huile Verge de Noix) and hazelnut (Huile Verge de Noisette) oils, and lamb bouillon which is impossible to get at home. We also bought some things that he will cook during the next couple of days.

Carcassonne is a place we’ve all seen pictures of. Going there was a beautiful sunshiny drive but La Citè in Carcassonne is hard to see in it’s entirety. I think the travel posters always show an aerial view. The towers are so big that one can only get a small view of all those walls and turrets. I did stop off the highway going out of town to try to get a picture of all of it.

Then we proceeded to Lastours where there were four 12th C. castles on adjacent peaks. We saw two of them from below, but we would have had to walk up, up, up to see the other two, so we didn’t. This one is called Quertineux.

At ‘home’ Burt cooked our Bar fish, also called loup or Mediterranean sea bass. That and some potatoes fried with fennel in duck fat made a lovely dinner, as usual. We finished it off with a wonderful cheese called Mont d’or (Mountain of Gold). You bake this in the oven with garlic and some white wine and end up with ——ambrosia!!

Since we only have one week left in the apartment, we are attempting to plan things so the food and wine come out even along with several occasions where we want to eat in restaurants.

It’s clear that All Soul’s Day (November 1st) is celebrated here quite extensively. There are kiddie rides in the downtown square and we see many, many mum plants being sold in front of cemeteries. It was started as a day to honor the dead by Pope Gregory IV in 835.
We wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner today, but when called for a reservation, they were ‘full.’ So Burt is cooking guinea hen, brown cabbage and pumpkin soup.

We took a run over to the Capestang Cemetery where All Soul’s Day was in full swing. The flowers were stunning, mostly mums, but cyclamens, too.

People were cleaning out their family crypts; gathering to bring the flowers to the graves.
One gravestone said, “Death for France, at 21 years in 1918.” The flowers here were in France’s colors, which are also red, white and blue.

 

 

Didn’t we used to see those maroon and gold mums at University of Minnesota Homecoming games? And how do they get them to grow like this?

As you can tell, we’re having a lovely time here in France and now it’s time to eat one of Burt’s wonderful French dinners!

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#3 France, Oct. 26, 2017

Sunday morning we went to the Saint-Chinian Market. It’s fun to look at their version of products. Here we have their squash; then some interesting fish called Carrelet, which have orange spots; and their big, knobby sweet potatoes. Our mission, though, was to buy paella from a vendor that cooks it.

It was a popular place as I had to stand in line for about 15 minutes —-well worth it! We certainly enjoyed it when we ate it later that day.

Monday we had a stellar day, going to the Auberge de la Croisade, which overlooks the Canal du Midi. Burt had discovered this restaurant on an earlier trip. What a lovely dinner we had! The setting was perfect, a country auberge nestled in vineyards and pretty trees, with an occasional pleasure boat going by our window on the Canal du Midi.

 

 

 

We each had a set menu. We both started with an Amuse-Bouche of olives and lovely little savory cookies; then heavenly pumpkin soup; Burt’s first course was a Quail Slipper on a Mousseline of Egg; mine was Foi Gras Terrine with Zucchini and Greens; we next shared Red Mullet with Cuttlefish Ink Potatoes.

Now it was time to cleanse our palates with Citron Ice in preparation for the main course. Burt’s was Fish Fillets with Bouillabaisse Juice; mine was Suckling Pig Chops.

 

 

But Wait! There’s More! After all of that came Assorted Cheeses (for each) and then a

Dessert Plate for each of us.

All the while we looked out on the Canal at a few pleasure boats going by in the beautiful sunshine.

We attempted a small walk after our dinner but we didn’t make if very far. But what a lovely day!

At the market Burt bought a small ‘bouquet’ of fine herbs—lovely fresh thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage, and bay leaf. So for breakfast we had a ‘fine herbs omelet’ and he used some to marinade the lamb for the next day’s dinner. What a treat to have them so fresh and just a small amount of each one.
Tuesday we visited three sites quite near ‘home.’ First was a special bookstore that Burt wanted to visit. We pondered over the business card and determined that it was open from 10:00 until 12:00——good. We went there first. It was closed and we couldn’t figure out why until we realized that both the card and the store window said, Fermè le mardi——which means closed on Tuesday. We’re learning French the hard way! Still, this town of Somail was on the Canal du Midi and so we enjoyed watching the boats.

We moved on to our second site—-Puisserguier (easy for you to say!) A small town of no importance, but with a 12th Church and Castle. And the medieval streets that surrounded these buildings
were amazing. Can’t you just hear the town council about a hundred years ago saying that the streets should be widened but they didn’t have the money! (Thank goodness!)

 

 

Our third site was the 12th C. Abbaye de Fontcaude, a Romanesque Abbaye that was partially destroyed in the war of religions. Still, there was enough left of it to make an interesting visit.

 

 

 

 

And the beautiful clear air and sunshine this day really make the vineyards sparkle.

 

 

 

 

The following day we went to Minerve, which figured prominently in the Cathars war with the Pope. The city fathers knew they would be under siege, but the city was well fortified and had a good water source within the fortifications along with plenty of food to withstand a siege. The invaders used four trebuchets, which were large timber-built structures that could fling a 300 pound stone a hundred yards (think a football field). What with the preparation they could only fire them about three times a day. Three of them aimed their stones at the fortification walls, but the fourth aimed its stone at the protected well, which supplied the water. These devices were not at all accurate, but, with a lucky break, after seven weeks of siege, a huge rock from a trebuchet squarely hit the well head, crushing it and rendering it unusable. With their water supply gone, the Minervens quickly surrendered but many of the Cathars were burned alive anyway.

Minerve is in a gorgeous setting in the Sesse Gorge, formed by the Sesse and Bram rivers. The Gorge is over 100 feet deep, which added to its defenses.

As we were leaving Minerve to go back to Saint-Chinian via my iPhone’s GPS, there was a problem. In retrospect, I think that the GPS was out of date; there had probably been a change in where visitors parked. So when we tried to follow the GPS’s instructions to get back on the highway, they didn’t work. Well, there was another car ahead of us that had left the parking lot in Minerve just ahead of us, so we followed them. They were pausing, too, apparently not knowing quite where to go. We went higher and higher in the mountains and the road got narrower and narrower until the dotted line down the middle divided the road into ‘bicycle’ type lanes, not car lanes. Burt said he thought the dotted line down the middle was for separating the burro going Up the mountain from the burro coming Down the mountain. Then the GPS quit on us——“No Service”. We kept going and eventually came to a tiny town called Boisset, and then to a regular highway. When we got home we looked up Boisset on the map. We had been for miles——not on a red road, not on a yellow road, but on a white road—-they don’t get smaller than ‘white.’ The scenery was beautiful, though!

Minerve had its local wines, too, so we brought back a couple of bottles, one of which we had with our dinner of lamb sausages, Salade de Geziers (duck gizzards) and potatoes.
Today we shall go to the Saint-Chinian market, and the local bakery.

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#2 France, Oct. 21, 2018

Tuesday we went on our first outing to Bèziers. It was settled first in Phoenician times and
was an important outpost in Roman times. Bèziers figured big in the Pope’s standoff with the Cathars, a spin-off sect from Christianity in the
13th Century. In 1209, 20,000 Cathars were slaughtered and the town was razed.

What we saw this week was an affluent town with pretty buildings and a huge Cathedral. This church was built in the two centuries after 1209 when their old church was burned along with many Cathars who were taking refuge there.

Cathars believed that the world was evil and that they would renounce the world, live in chastity, poverty and aspire to be a ‘Perfect’ one. The Cathars became quite powerful and numerous in the Languedoc and so were considered a threat to the Roman Catholic Church.

The view from the Cathedral over the River Orb was spectacular, in spite of this being a heavily overcast day.

We enjoyed the Fine Arts Museum in the Hotel Fabregat (one of two old mansions that house this museum) but had to sign off promptly at 12:00 since EVERYTHING stops at 12:00 so the French can eat their midday meal from 12 to 2:00.

We did see their centerpiece which was attributed to Hans Holbein, The Younger.  There were also some pretty paintings in the stairwell from the ‘20s by Gorguet.

Still for our first outing after recovering from jetlag, it was plenty and we repaired home to a lovely dinner of cassoulet and a frisèe salad made by Burt.

The following day we went a long ways (2 1/4 hours) to Albi. This was the center of the Albigensian Crusade—- the conflict between the Pope and the Cathars.

Again, the Cathedral was used as a refuge but the Cathars were killed anyway. The new Cathedral was begun in 1289 and in two centuries it was completed! 15th Century Italian artists painted every square inch of it—-this is a HUGE cathedral and so beautifully decorated inside. Now, I have seen hundreds of churches all over the world and had never heard of this one before and it is WORLD CLASS. It is the largest brick church in the world, but the uniqueness is the interior decoration.

 

 

We had a lovely lunch——I had escargot, magret duck (I seem not to be able to get enough of this!); lemon and cassis sorbet.

 

Burt had Salade de Gesièrs (chicken gizzards with lettuce—a specialty of the area); then skate fin with rice and onion/aubergine, shown here; and sorbet, also.

After lunch we visited theToulouse-Lautrec Museum (he was born here) but that was a little disappointing—-paintings pretty gloomy and dark. Still, the building of the   Archbishop’s Palace from the 1200s was worth seeing. Apparently that Archbishop liked pretty girls on his ceilings!

The town, itself, is beautiful. It is on the river Tarn, and has many beautiful bridges,
buildings and scenes. However, it was 2 1/4 hours each way, and driving home after all that activity was a challenge. Still, the Cathedral was WELL worth seeing. With all the hundreds of churches I have seen world wide, I can’t believe I had never heard of this church. It was spectacular!!

After a rest day on Thursday—- walked around town, bought some groceries and Burt did some elegant French cooking—-on Friday we went to Narbonne. We spent quite a bit of time in Les Halles, the covered market, which was gorgeous and full of good things to eat. We bought some scallops with roe, and other things for Burt to cook. It’s hard not to go nuts with buying food in these places. Still, we did show some restraint and only bought about three meals-worth. I thought it was amusing to see places to eat in the market with beautiful wine glasses all set out in an elegant way!

We crossed the Canal du Midi a couple of times, which runs through Narbonne. This canal was the engineering miracle of the 17th Century. It links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic in France. A man named Pierre-Paul Raquet managed to overcome all the challenges, including how to finance it—-he was a man of means and financed most of it himself! It was begun in 1667 by 12,000 men digging it by hand. It stretched 241 km and was 19 meters wide. It went through 63 locks, 10 double locks, 4 triple locks and 1 quadruple lock. Unfortunately just as it was about to be finished, Raquet died. His sons continued the effort and in May, 1681, 24 boats sailed from Castelnaudary to Bèziers in four days!

Of course Narbonne also had their big Cathedrale St. Just, which we explored. The one at Albi pretty much spoiled me, though, for all the others, no matter how big, and this one was huge. It did have a nice little Notre Dame de Bethlèhem chapel with a lovely alabaster Virgin and Child from long ago.

Today I washed clothes in the nice washer in the kitchen and hung them on the terrace. The sun has finally come out and the weather is perfect.  So we took the opportunity
to go on a small excursion. First we stopped at the old

windmill that overlooks Saint-Chinian.  The beautiful vineyards make a pretty scene this time of year.

 Then we went on to Capestang, a small rural town that isn’t even listed in guide books, but we had driven through it when we went to and from Narbonne.

We first visited their HUGE church, called La Collegial Saint Etienne. It really was nice with wonderful stained glass windows.

On the edge of town we again encountered the Canal du Midi,
which runs through Capestang, too. Many boats were lined up on the canal, probably for rent, I would
think.

 

Then we visited the Capestang cemetery. It was a huge cemetery for a small town.

Home to Saint-Chinian and a lovely linner made by Burt: a little foi gras to tide us over; then a lovely salad, again with lamb’s ears and all the rest——with a good bottle of Saint Chimian red wine; and then a hangar steak and fried potatoes. We concluded with apple sorbet with Calvados poured over. It was a lovely day, made more so in that there were NO tour buses where we were, and yet, there were lovely things to see. All quiet and tranquil with just ‘us’ tourists.

We have about five meals in the freezer/refrigerator so we have to discipline ourselves not to buy more food until we use what we have. This is such a beautiful area, especially in the sunshine which we FINALLY got today.

 

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#1 France, Oct. 16, 2017

#1 France, Oct. 16, 2017

Burt and I are in France! Yes, that was a quick turn-around from my trip to Kazakhstan. We arrived here in Saint-Chinian on Friday noon by car (a nice little Fiat) from the Toulouse airport. We have rented a second-floor apartment in this town of 15,000 in Southwest France, in the Languedoc region, which is near Spain. Burt has stayed in this town twice before, so it’s his ‘Partina, Italy.’

Since French cooking is really Burt’s specialty, he’s been cooking up a storm already. This apartment has a nice kitchen with eating area, also an eating area on the terrace; It’s located very centrally so the shops and main drag are about two short blocks away.

This is big wine country. The supermarket has about 20 feet of shelf space (all four shelves) devoted to just Saint-Chinian wine. And of course there are many special wine shops in this town. Saturday night Burt cooked bluefish (Filet de Lieu Noir—-said the package) with a tomato/mussel sauce, along with chanterelle mushrooms and spinach. We had two wines because we had bought two different grades of the same brand and wanted to compare. Well, I got them mixed up so we still don’t know.

There is a lovely market on Sunday and Wednesday mornings under the plane trees in the main square. There were some clothes and jewelry, but the big attraction for us was the food!

 

 

We bought some country ham, some salami, bread and olives.
Every time we see some other seafood, horse meat, or special lamb cut, Burt says, “We’ll have that for a meal sometime.” Since it happens all the time, I say, “In that 
case, I think we’ll have to stay six months!”

The apartment is perfect for us. The kitchen is fitted out with a dishwasher, a clothes washer, a stove with oven, a wine chiller, a table to eat on and good cooking implements. The terrace is right off the kitchen.

 

 

 

The living room has a nice table on which to do our ‘computering;’ and also a couch and two easy chairs for us to relax into.

The two bedrooms are quite plain but with good beds; the bath is fine. Burt has brought his music set-up that plays off his computer so we have wonderful music at all times!

 

 

For Sunday dinner Burt cooked Lapin (Rabbit) with Chanterelles, La Ratte potatoes and a frise`e salad with anchovies and black olives. The wine was a pale rose`. Unfortunately, we couldn’t eat on the terrace

as the weekend was cloudy and a bit breezy. In fact, the iPhone forecast predicts clouds and a bit of rain for the next three days. Actually, the climate here is normally quite dry—-the grapes like it.

Monday we went for a long walk around the town, which was charming. We were treated to many pretty views which would have been even prettier if the sun had been shining. Still a French town like this is so pleasing.

 

 

 

There is a lovely little river that divides the town. There were many ducks that quacked at us to feed them; a lady came along and did just that from the bridge.

We stopped in the huge church, which was not outstanding, but very big!

More pretty streets enthralled us until we came to the wine shop, which really was our planned destination for our walk. It’s actually about one block from our apartment, but we took the looong way to see the town. With the recommendation of the proprietess,

 

 

Burt chose a special red to go with the magret duck which he cooked later in the day. There was a sign in the shop that said (in French) that a Magnum was the right size for one couple! That’s a bottle apiece!

Four other bottles followed us home to our wine chiller in our kitchen, so we are well prepared for any eventuality.

For dinner Monday night, Burt cooked the magret duck steak, melting the very thick fat on one side first, then turning over the steak and quickly cooking the meat to perfect rare doneness. With it were ratte potatoes and chanterelles fried in duck fat, and green beans. The Saint-Chinian red wine put the crown on it. What a lovely dinner!

Tomorrow we shall call ourselves ‘recovered’ and go on a small excursion.

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#4 Kazakhstan, Oct. 4, 2017

 

After the ‘included’ breakfast at the Hotel VanGogh, I asked my landlady via the Google Translate program where Astana Airlines had an office. She drew me a map—-oh good, it was not far. I set out and despite asking several people (Google Translate) nobody could tell me where it was. Eventually I went into a bank to inquire. That guard sent me to some young women in the bank who could speak English. They sent me (with a written note) to a travel agency via a taxi. My mission was to change my flight ticket that was to the city of Astana to go to Almaty. I had decided to skip Astana as the temperatures were showing lows of 24 degrees F and highs of 38! I had bought my ticket to Astana on the website of Astana Airlines and it said I could change it.

Finally the travel agent said I would have to go to the airport. So this I did (taxi) and that woman at the ticket office (knew English!) sold me another ticket but said I would have to get credit for this ticket on line, which is how I bought it. Taxi back to hotel and cancel my hostel for the city of Astana; then go on Astana Airlines’ website to get credit for my ticket. Of course they make it very difficult to find where you want to cancel a ticket! Finally I telephoned them and got a woman there to give me the credit on my credit card, and the credit has actually shown up!

Then it was time for my linner, which I started with 100 ml of vodka—-I needed that after my morning’s frustrations. I ate ‘laghman,’ a local dish but this time it was ‘Westernized’ for tourists at this hotel. It was OK, but not great. This VanGogh Hotel has pictures all over it in the manner of VanGogh—-this one of him with the bandage on his ear (when he cut it off) was in the dining room.

The next day I took a taxi to the Regional Museum—-he understood my saying ‘Musai’—-Russian for ‘museum!’ Well it happened again. Every now and then in a developing country I run into the phenomenon whereby a good-looking museum official gets totally officious. Today this person charged me 1,000, for FOREIGNERS, she said—-that’s fine, but it’s the first of about six museums I’ve visited in Kazakhstan that had the price differential. Then she told me , “No Photos!” even without flash. Again, all the others let one photograph without flash. Then she glued herself to me, following me through all the rooms, all the while thunking on her iPhone. I asked her if she were the police (she could speak a little English) and she kept saying it was her work. When I went up to the second floor, I had a different escort. I asked her (with Google translation on my iPhone) why I couldn’t take photos. She said I could. I pointed to the downstairs, meaning that lady, and she shrugged her shoulders, indicating that I should take photos if I wished.

Here is a photo of a photo of their president, who has been in power since independence, 1991. He has an unpronounceable name, and is not running for reelection.

A beautiful Russian samovar caught my eye—-
then a full-sized yurt was lovely.

I find Kazakhstan much more like Mongolia and Russia than Uzbekistan is. While they no longer live in yurts like the Mongolians do, they certainly revere them as something not too distant in their past. Also the way their cities are laid out—-oodles of squares with fountains/statues/clocks, etc are everywhere, which resemble the Russian cities that I saw in Siberia.

After walking around for quite awhile, I decided to get on a city bus (number 1) and go to the end of the line. I sometimes do that to see a city. At the end of the line, it wasn’t returning, so I got another bus (number 11) and figured I’d take a taxi at some point when it seemed to be in the middle of the city. Well, lo and behold, it went right past my hotel! So I got off at the next stop (a few blocks past), walked back and went to another restaurant nearby for linner. Then as I walked back to my hotel, I stopped in a cafe and had a cappuccino and sweet.

It was fun just to ‘be’ and ‘see’—-here’s a typical couple walking down the street.

In riding the buses, these are some things I saw: a young girl eating corn-on-the-cob; decorations that they have many places over the streets. They are highly reflective and when the sun hits them, they really glow; signs here and there where they are teaching English. I saw these in huge numbers in Sri Lanka—-here they are surprising out in this rural nondescript small city.

I got my flight out of Kzyzlorda to Almaty Saturday evening. Well, I had an interesting flight. During the airplane’s taxing to take off, my young man seat mate began praying like crazy. He would cross himself repeatedly (Russian Orthodox—right to left), then bow way down to pray; then he got out a card with a picture on it and kissed that and held it to his forehead many times; more crossing, more bowing and praying. When the drink cart came, he needed to get out and went to the back of the plane. I looked at the card, which he had tucked into the seat pocket, and it was an old white bearded man. He didn’t return and this all made me suspicious. When a flight attendant came by, I actually told her the whole story and said, “Maybe he is simply afraid of flying, and now he has been in the rear of the plane for quite awhile, and I’m concerned about this activity.” She said, “Oh, don’t worry, he’s a football (soccer) player and he just went to sit with his friends, but thank you for telling me this.” I had seen some young men come on board with identical athletic jackets, and when my seat mate eventually returned to his seat, I could see he was wearing one also. So, not a terrorist!

He initially asked me where I was from, so could speak a bit of English.  When he got back, I said, “So you’re a football player.” He said, “Yes.”  I asked, “For Kazakhstan?”  “Yes.”  “Did you play in Kyzylorda yesterday?”  “No, in Astana—we lost.”

Got a taxi from the airport and once again, as we were leaving, the taxi driver invited another taxi man (?) to come along.  I said, “NO, NO, NO” and so he got out again.  This is their ruse to gang up on me when I go to pay—and the door to the hostel is kind of in a remote area and this is 10:00 at night.  This is what happened when I arrived here initially a couple of weeks ago.  This time I told him to let me off on a main street, which he did.  He got out my bag, handed it to me and I handed him the money—more than quite necessary, and walked away.

The next day I walked down to the place where one can take the cable car up to a mountain.  I had taken it before, but had forgotten to look for the statues of the Beetles.  Well there they were, although not easily recognizable.  I really couldn’t tell one from another.

However, it had snowed yesterday in Almaty (so said my roommate) and the mountains, which are visible from the cable car were spectacular, as they were coated with white.

Monday I returned to the Central State Museum to see the special area (with special ticket) of gold pieces that were found in a Sythian tomb in 1969. This is where the “Golden Man” was found, but he’s safely in a bank vault someplace else, although I have seen two reproductions of him.

These gold pieces are from the 8th to the 1st C. BCE! They are really beautiful. This piece is about three inches high and about 7 inches long. An English speaker gave me a tour of the exhibition. Unfortunately no photography was permitted, but luckily I had taken three pictures before they told me that. Previously I had included a picture of a piece (reproduction) from the Golden Man in one of my email-blogs, and my friend, Susan, said that it was similar to an exhibition that she had seen years ago on Sythian gold. I asked the tour guide if this exhibit had ever toured in the USA. He said, “I have heard (he was young and probably hadn’t been born when Susan saw it) that it was once shown in New York and in Berlin.”

Then I went to the Dostyk Plaza, the big landmark hereabouts. I thought I was in the Mall of America in Minneapolis! All the store signs were in the Latin (our) alphabet; there were many American name brands; all very spiffy. There were three floors—-I wonder if the designers of this mall visited the one in Canada that our Mall of America is modeled after.

Linner was again at ‘my’ restaurant—-the name is so difficult I can’t even copy it! I had Besparmak, which were plate-sized noodles with mutton, onions and chives on top. It was quite plain but good.

Tuesday I walked a long ways to see the Central Mosque. It’s the biggest in the country and can hold 3,000 worshippers. It was mildly interesting. This is a Muslim country but they’re not ‘in your face’ about it. I haven’t heard any musseims call me to prayer. And they sell pork in the markets! There are quite a few Russians here that were conscripted to work in factories that were moved here for safety reasons from Russia during World War II. Then also Koreans were conscripted by the Soviet Union and placed here from Siberia. There’s lots of kimchi in the markets. So there’s quite an ethnic and religious mix.

Back to MY restaurant via city bus.  Oh, I love that restaurant.  As I was sipping a white wine, I saw spectacular dishes being taken to a neighboring table.  I got up with my menu and excused myself and asked what that was.  They were happy to help me, and found the dish on the menu (and they spoke English).  It was Cheburek, a fried bread kind of thing that poofs up, and has meat in it.  So I ordered one of those and also a dish called Chuchvara, described in English as ‘meat pockets with meat gravy.’  Kind of like meat ravioli.  It was all just great, especially with two more glasses of red wine.

As is customary here, we remove our shoes inside the hostel and wear scuffs. Here is a picture of the many pair of shoes at the door.

Four-inch heels??? I was told that this hosteler came from a wedding.

The thing that’s so nice about the DimAl Almaty Hostel, is Tai and Andrew. They really go out of their way to help you, and are so pleasant all DSC02639.jpgthe time. Reserving train tickets on their computer, arranging for a taxi at 4:00 AM—-it’s all in a days work for them!

My last day in Almaty I revisited the Art Museum. Again, I loved seeing the room full ofDSC02650.jpg tapestries. At first I thought they were paintings, but no, they’re done with needle and DSC02669.jpgthread in these wildly bright colors.

Some Russian, some Kazakh artists—-it was hard to keep track since many of the labels were only in Russian in the Cyrillic alphabet. Here is Bebutova with “Harvest in theDSC02681.jpg Ukraine.”

DSC02684.jpgThenDSC02685.jpg it was time for linner, again—-my last at ‘my’ restaurant. This time I had Dumgaza, which are braised veal tails with potatoes and onions. I did get a kick out of a couple sitting near me, having lunch. I guess this is a contemporary Date!

Some special things about Kazakhstan:

1) I’ve never been in a country that never complained about making change like in Kazakhstan. Goodness, in Egypt they would actually jerk a smaller bill out of your hand when you tried to pay with a larger bill. Needless to say, one was always out of small bills! Here—-never! Sometimes they would have to go out to find change, but never complained.

2) In every place I stayed, including a kind of nice hotel in Taraz where one of the President’s Ministers stayed (I saw him at breakfast) there is always a receptacle right near the toilet for you to put your toilet paper in. Often there is a sign telling you to do that. No, we don’t put the poopy papers in the basket—-we flush those down and it usually takes two flushes.

3) All of the young people dress totally in the western fashion; older women wear traditional clothes, so in 20 more years, the traditional clothing will be gone.

4) As in most developing countries, smoking is pretty widespread here among the young people.

5) As I have mentioned before, it is quite amazing on city buses to see 10-year-old children spring out of their seats to give them to adults, without any prompting. And not just to old people, but really any adult.

6) They eat a lot of horse meat; I learned in the market that horse meat is the most expensive, followed by beef, followed by mutton, followed by chicken. I’m not sure where pork fits in, or seafood, although there isn’t much seafood—-some dried fish.

7) Since the population has large numbers of Russians, who were conscripted to work in the factories that were moved from Russia for safety during World War II; and quite a number of Koreans, who were conscripted from Siberia to also work in the factories, it is quite a mixture, both ethnically and religiously. It’s basically a Muslim country, but there are quite a few big Russian Orthodox churches. Tai told me that many Jews were moved out of Russia to Kazakhstan also. Andrew is Korean, but can’t speak the language. I suppose it was his great-grandparents that were resettled here.

So, tomorrow a taxi will come to the hostel at 4:00 AM to take me to the airport, for me to start my homeward journey. Kazakhstan has been interesting and challenging, but I’m very ready to go home! Of course I’m missing Burt and the rest of family.

Burt and I are off to France for a month in six more days—-you’ll be hearing from me.

Roger and out——-Carol

Posted in 2017, Kazakhstan | 4 Comments