Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Almost Friday? Really??

The week seems to have flown, and what do we have to show for it? In the span of the week, Michael and I have acquired a new table and a new obsession, Fromage Frais. Now, for the week's snyopsis:

Monday -- I'm not really sure what happened on Monday, neither of us can remember. However, after looking through emails to find clues to Monday's happenings we did realize the we purchased our train tickets on Monday to meet up with Harry and Camille in Paris a few weeks from now :-)

On Tuesday afternoon, we had our second French class which was, again, very enjoyable. She asked us about anything funny that had happened in the past week where we were stuck without French. One student talked about going to Cora and trying to buy cheese (fromage in french), but instead he ended up with Fromage Frais. Our MME Serafin explained that Fromage Frais (literally meaning "fresh cheese") is taken from the first stage of cheese making (after the curtling agent is added but before fermentation, sorry if I'm boring you with cheese-making procedure) and is whipped to smooth it out. It is traditionally served as a dessert here with sugar, jam, or honey added, but it can also be served warm with sautéed onions and garlic as a dip. It sounded awesome to me, so after going to Cora for general supplies, we bought a package of Fromage Frais. It turned out to be pretty awesome and a new favorite for breakfast (and lunch...and dessert, yes, I ate 3 single-serve containers today). It is a little tart, very smooth, and tastes exactly like what I imagine good homemade yogurt should taste like.

On Tuesday evening, after a yummy dinner of sausage, fried potatoes, and green beans, Moses convinced us to hop the bus into Metz to visit one of his couch-surfing aquaintences, Elaina. Elaina just finished her PhD (as she called it, her Permenant Head Damage) in Material Sciences at the University of Metz and is now moving to the Netherlands, therefore she has to get rid of crap and Moses thought we might be interested. We had come prepared with backpacks, which we loaded down with dishes and pots; Michael and I weren't in need of much although we took a few little kitchen things. The main thing we were looking for was a table, a little table that would fit in our little kitchen area and give us more working space, and bingo, she had one sitting in her bathroom! After we had everything packed up we sat down for a lovely dinner that Elaina prepared, a salad of greens, tomatoes, onions, fried pork lardons (essentially bacon bits, only fresh), and a fried egg on top dressed in a mustard and dill dressing. After that excellent (second) dinner, we all made our way to the main bus stop in town to catch one of the last night busses for the night. We were concerned that the bus driver wouldn't let me on the bus with a table (I know I would have never gotten away with that in Pittsburgh), so Elaina graciously agreed to come down to the bus stop and convince the driver (in French), which she fully succeded in. The driver seemed completely content to let us on with the table and was even nice enough to tell us when our stop came up since we had never been on the night bus route before. Yesterday (Wednesday) we had a Mexican Feast complete with fajitas, Desperado beer (flavored with Tequila), and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The Fajitas turned out well, we had to make do with a couple of things though. Fajita seasoning here is extremely different than in the US, it tastes almost exactly like BBQ sauce once it's cooked, and they don't really have sour cream, so we used some Crème Fraîche (same consistency as sour cream, but nowhere near a sour) instead. Once we piled the tortillas fully of the Chicken, lots of salsa, and the crème fraîche, it really tasted quite good although not really fajita like.

Today has been pretty mellow, we had a meeting with the manager here at the dorms where we paid our rent (well, gave him a check, we're waiting for our transfer to go though into the French account). For dinner, we had some green olives and tortellini with tomato sauce and watched My Cousin Vinny because it sounded maybe slightly Italian. The sunset was really beautiful tonight although I didn't manage to take the panoramic below until after mos of the color was already gone.

You can check out some more updated pictures at the facebook album here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It's been a busy week, and I'm not quite in the groove of documenting our lives without any further delay, here goes!
Tuesday was official orientation day at GTL; we arrived at 7:45 to a swarm of French students. We hadn't realized that the vast majority of students studying at GTL are in fact French students who will spend a semester at this campus and then will be off to study in Atlanta. As it turns out, Michael is the only American in on class and one of 2 in another. So, we sat through general orientation, graduate orientation, computer orientation, went home for lunch, bank orientation, Michael then had office hours and his Mechanical Engineering department orientation. Georgia Tech then hosted a little mini-meal/get-together in the student lounge. The served lots of hors d'oeuvres and different drinks. I ate a ton of raw tuna and what we think was sweet pea mousse while Michael busied himself with black raspberry cream puffs. The drinks were strange, I have always seen fruit nectars in the goya section of the supermarket but hadn't really tried them. They are incredibly thick and sweet, the apricot had an almond flavor and Michael was convinced that the strawberry tasted like cilantro. The meet-and-greet seemed to be a success, we met some more students and made some tentative plans for Thursday.
On Wednesday Michael and I went to our first French class with Madam Serafin. She has an interesting background, Italian father (hence the name), I believe a French mother; she spent most of her childhood moving from one European country to another, including a lot of time in England. She is now the English professor at the University of Metz and speaks English with a very British accent. She is comical and I think the class should be enjoyable. She brought in a big container of Mirabelles for us (the local plums) and told us to finish them but not to eat too many because "you'll get the runs". There are three French classes offered at GTL and this one is particularly for "getting by", supermarket sayings, phrases for going to the hair salon, etc. The two others are more by-the-book and academically taught (beginner and advanced); Mme Serafin said that we are welcome to attend the other beginning French class which is held on Monday and Wednesday, I will try to attend every week and as long as his work-load isn't too demanding, Michael will come too. Hopefully this will help kick-start the French learning.
Thursday morning Michael went to class (nothing new to report there, sometime when he's here I'll fill you in on the classes he's taking this semester, I can't remember all the technical class titles) and in the afternoon we went to an info session at GTL for international travel. At the session we recieved a large compilation of tourist info, train info, hostel info, and plane info on just about all of the European countries; it made me want to run to the train station and go somewhere, anywhere. We also got a listing of German folk festivals (beer festivals), we hope we'll be able to get to a couple. After a tour for the non-French students of GTL, we made dinner and got ready to go out.
Moses, a friend in MechE is also a couch-surfer and has been meeting up with fellow couch-surfers in Metz since we got here. On Thursday night he planned for us (and another friend, Albert) to meet up with Vanessa in Metz. We met up at GTL and walked over to the bus stop. Thankfully, Albert spent spring semester in Metz and is very savvy with the bus system, which was good because of my limited experience, I'm intimidated to use bus systems when I CAN speak the language. We were surprised to find that unlike Pittsburgh, you don't have to have correct change to ride the bus, of course, this was after we had run to Cora to buy two bottles of cheap wine with two separate 10 euro bills in order to have correct change. Ah well, now we know and and we'll eventually use the wine. The bus ride was short and we got off near the bus station and walked up to the cathedral to meet Vanessa. She is a very sweet girl, she works in Luxembourg in the cash collection dept. for some packing supply company and takes the train to and from work every day. Her English was excellent and she gave us a nice walking tour of the Rempart (fortification wall) and we had a nice chat with the owner of a Canadian restaurant (and were slightly picked on for our non-British accents), we'll have to go the the restaurant sometime, it had an interesting menu. After our tour, we walked up to Place St. Louis where we each got a Faro beer (belgian sweet beer made from sugar and lambik). From what Vanessa told us, the city of Metz likes to discourage a lively night life, which means that there aren't many busses to speak of after 10pm, therefore, we walked home. It was a very nice evening.
Friday came and went, we were horribly lazy. Our only adventure that day was motivated by food, which is no unlike us. We walked to a new grocery store, Simply Market, which is much calmer, smaller, and nicer than Cora. We bought incredients for homemade pizza, which was almost a weekly dinner back in Pittsburgh and we were determined not to let somethings so trivial as no oven stop us from continuing the tradition. After we got home I mixed up the dough and realized just how long it's been since I made pizza dough without the help of the kitchen aid. The finished product (well, Michael's finished product, I flipped a slice of mine, so it didn't look very pretty) is pictures on the right; we probably could have gotten away with using half that much dough, but the pizza was delicious! We will definitely be making stovetop pizza often and hopefully my kneading ability will come back to me.
Saturday morning we had some crepes for breakfast, that makes at least one thing the pastry chef in me can make without an oven! We each had one filled with wild blueberry jam and one filled with Nutella...I forget how sweet that stuff is! They weren't very filling though, so I made another with a fried egg, slice of smoked ham, and petite munster cheese, it was very good but the cheese was a little strong for Michael, so he opted for his French equivalent to Honey Smacks cereal. Much to our dismay, we went to Cora in search of notebooks and other school supplied (everytime I go there, I realize more and more why the french call it a Hypermarché, everyone there seems crazed). For lunch/dinner we had some potato leek soup from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I had made it in the past but reading Julie/Julia reminding me of how simple and delicious it is. After dinner, Moses introduced us to another great Metz couch surfer, Marine, she met us at Cora and drove us into town. We did another little walking tour with her, she showed us a little across the river and the University of Metz where she goes for pre-law/law school, the went to another bar in the place St Jacques where Michael got another Faro beer and I had a Kriek, which is another Belgian beer that is fermented with sour cherries. While we were sitting there, the french version of bachelor/bachelorette parties walked by(separately, of course) with the girls in leis and the groom dressed as a woman asking for money, apparently this is a fairly common occurrence in Metz on the weekends. We spent a good bit of time chatting with Marine and her friend Rakaele who met us there then went back to Marine's apartment to chat a little more before until Marine took us all home; another very enjoyable night in Metz. In the picture below, we are sitting in Marine's apartment -- sorry for the fuzziness.Yesterday was another fairly lazy day, we walked back to Simply Market to buy dinner stuff before realizing that everything, and I mean everything in Metz (most likely France in general) is closed on Sunday. We spent the evening scrounging together a dinner of potato salad and pan seared pork belly. The improvised potato salad turned out really well with cornichons, some diced saussicon, shallots, a hard boiled egg, stone ground mustard and mayonnaise. It reminded me of a Russian potato salad that an exchange student made years ago. The pork was delicious, although horribly fatty and I'm sure unhealthy; normally we would never just cook and eat a piece of pork belly, but we had bought it to put little pieced in other dishes like beef bourguignon and it was the only food left in the house. Today has been fairly tame, I walked to the bank to transfer money into our French account to find that the bank is closed on Monday, so I continued on to get bread from the bakery and other food from Simply Market, at least it was a beautiful morning to walk. And I've spent the past 2 hours writing out this blog...I really need to get better at updating more often so I don't have to write out a novella every time. For now, I hope all of you back in the states have a bon jour,
from France.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Photos have been posted!

Along with the photos added to the posts below, I've made an album with many more photos on Facebook (sorry Adrienne, there are far too many to post here, but I promise you won't have to sign in). For those of you without a Facebook account, you should be able to view the album by clicking on this link.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Requests Fulfilled!

I had intended to post this last night but decided to check my rapidly withering basil plant on the balcony first and if there is one thing I've learned since moving into the dorms here, it's that, if the lights are on at night, you never, EVER open the balcony door. As soon as the door was even cracked open, at least a hundred bugs came swarming in. I spent the next half hour standing on the desk and chair, swatting at bugs with the IKEA catalog and I still hadn't gotten to my basil plant! So I had to open the external blinds, shut off all the lights (including my computer) and leave it all sit for another half an hour so that the remaining bugs would loose interest before rescuing the plant. By that time, it was far too late to attempt a blog post.
So, for a few updates: I FINALLY got clothes hangers and dish cloths (the really cheap brand was finally re-stocked). I finally figures out how to do laundry, but it was only after we lugged all the laundry to the other building that Michael realized that we have a laundry room in our building.
Now, to answer some requests...
Mom (and many others) have asked for a little more detail on our living arrangement, so here it is: we are staying in a double dorm room at a French university across the lake called Supélec which is a Grand école (prestigious school) of electricity.Michael made up this nice diagram so that you'll have a better idea of the layout; for being a dorm room, it isn't half bad. The kitchenette is quite small and unfortunately, we only have one induction burner (an electric burner that uses magnetic waves to directly heat the pot, so there is less of a fire hazard and less wasted energy, they were all the rage at the CIA). Since we can only have the one burner, though, induction is really nice to have, you can boil a pot of water in something like 3 minutes! We'd like to get a small table both to sit and eat at and to use at more prep space. The bedroom is pretty cramped now with two twin beds crammed together, but it works fine. And likewise, the study/living area (where one bed was removed from) is pretty empty. We are hoping that eventually we will be able to get a small/cheap futon type piece of furniture to sit on for watching TV and movies on the computer. I'll be posting more pictures on Facebook later (for those of you without FB, don't worry, I'll post a public link so you can view them)
Speaking of pictures...
Adrienne requested that I put some pictures here on the blog, which I had been intending to do but was waiting until I could use my computer to upload the pics (meaning, waiting until we had internet in our dorms, which thankfully, we got the other day). I have added some pictures in to older posts and have made some small comments about them within the text. One more thing Adrienne requested -- a vocab lesson. I have been reading so much French literature over the past year or so that I forget most people don't know some of the terminology I use. I will try to go through before I post and note any words that might not be familiar, but if I miss any, please feel free to comment and I'll make sure to clarify. Here are some word that I used in past posts:

Saucisson - hard, dried sausage, French regions seem to have their own recipes
Cornichon - small, gherkin pickle, can be either sweet or sour
Technopôle - our "neighborhood" southeast of downtown Metz, it is the home of many tech companies and universities
Haricots Verts - skinny green beans

Let me know if there are any more words you need clarified.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lazy Weekend

Well, sort of lazy, but not really lazy in the sense that we walked at least 2 hours a day on both days, but lazy because in all that walking, we didn't really do much.
As I mentioned earlier, Saturday was a national holiday, the Assumption of Mary, which meant that everything was closed and the people of Metz flocked to our little lake on the outskirts of the city. People sunbathed, biked, roller bladed (which is still surprisingly popular here) and some pretty hardcore fishermen came out of the woodwork for the holiday weekend. Lac Symphonie is a very small, man-made lake with a man-made island just off center and it must be stocked with some large fish (I have yet to see anyone catch one) because the rods that people use here are similar to the rods I've used when cod fishing off the coast of Prince Edward Island. There are always people fishing on the banks of the lake but this weekend, two very serious fishing couples showed up with some very serious looking gear. They set up camp with two tents, some contraption on wheels that when folded out, became two very comfortable looking chairs with an umbrella and a table in the center. They also had some sort or rod holding device (also on wheels) that would hold six of these massive rods in place so that they could lay back in their chairs and wait for the fish to bite. It was a little odd to have them camping, sunbathing, and fishing just outside our dorm.
We attempted to get into GTL Saturday morning, but it was closed because of the holiday (which seemed odd, since it is normally open 24/7 for the non-French students), so we walked around and explored more of the Technopole. After a delicious lunch of saucission, cornishon, and butter sandwiches we decided to check out the Fort du Queuleu which is just on the other side of GTL. That proved to be a strange trip. There isn't much history noted in wikipedia and there is absolutly none noted at the actual fort. From what I can gather, the fort was built around 1870 in an attempt to fortify the city but was taken over and the construction finished under the German Empire and it was named Fort Goeben after a Prussian general. There is a huge gap in the wikipedia entry until 1943 when the camp was used as a Nazi Internment camp (which we were completely unaware of until we walked to the 1st casement to find it blocked off with a huge sign reading SS Sonderlager Concentration Camp 1943-1944), however, it wasn't really used as a concentration camp as it was used as a camp for interrogation resistance. The fort was evacuated in 1844 and the prisoners were sent to other camps. The only memorial to speak of was a strangly modern looking statue at the entrance of the fort, but other than that, they seem to have covered up the majority of the history. There are probably 100 caves that were built but they all have been plowed in with large mounds of dirt or filled in with cement blocks which seemed strange to me. The fort is now mainly used as a recreational area for families and an exercise course complete with numbered exercise stops with directional signs and exercise equipment (pull-up bars, etc.). It was all kind of unnerving to me.
After lunch on Sunday we walked to another lake on the other side of the highway from us. The walk was nice, through some woods and alongside a golf course, but it was very hot. The temperature was supposed to be in the low 90's yesterday, but it wasn't too unbearable with only 30% humidity (which felt amazing to us, coming from Pittsburgh where the humidity is never below 60% it seems). The Lake, Lac Ariane, is exactly the same as Lac Symphonie, small, man-made, with an off-center island, so that turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment. After we got home, we made some killer Coque au Vin with a Provencial rosé, chicken legs and thighs, some local plums (mirabelles) and haricots verts.
Hope everyone is enjoying a little bit of summer back home!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

All-in-all, prices in Cora (the Wal-Mart Supercenter twin) have been fairly comparable to those in the US with the exception of two things that we were looking to buy. First of all, clothes hangers are amazingly expensive...I'm talking (unless you're buying wire hangers) 5-10 dollars to buy three hangers! It is for this reason that I still have a pile of clothes to be hung up. The other wildly expensive item is a dish rag. Right beside the dish cloth, they have nice cotton dish towels, you can buy a two pack of those for roughly $5, but if you want to buy just one dish cloth (to wipe off the counter for instance), you have to shell out 6 or 7 dollars! So for now, the counter will have to be wiped down with the sponge for now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In September...

...we'll finally have internet in our dorm/apartment which means that we will finally be able to Skype with people back home and that there will be pretty pictures to post both here and on Facebook.
The past few days have been filled with lots and lots of walking. Our first full day here we decided to be ambitious and make the 45 minute walk to Centre Ville or Downtown Metz. The picture to the left depicts the Seille river before it meets with the Moselle. The walk is really not that bad, but after lugging our luggage from train to train the day before, we were tired out by the time we got back. Centre Ville is much more of the picturesque cobblestone streets and narrow townhouses that you imagine when you think of a European city than the Technopôle area where GTL is located. We found the indoor market, it is small but I believe there is a larger outdoor market on Saturdays that we will have to locate. We bought a sandwich with sauccision, cornichons, and butter on delicious bread and some muscat grapes to eat for lunch, wandered around a bit, then walked back home. At Cora that evening, we bought our first sausages (I forget what kind) which seems to be a culinary tradition left over from the area's many German occupations; they were delicious with some coarsely ground Lorraine mustard. Michael is pictured with the sausage dinner on the right in our tiny kitchenette. More pictures will be coming of the dorm soon.
Wednesday we wanted to explore the neighborhood right next to the
Technopôle in an attempt to find a downtown area a little closer than Centre luck! Borny is pretty creepy and didn't have any of the cafes or bakeries that we were hoping to find. However, on the other side of Borny we came across the Mezanine which is a nicer shopping plaza area where we managed to buy the few kitchen things that I had refused to buy at Cora (rubber spatula and a dish towel). We also found a nicer (much smaller) grocery store over there. We bought the makings for a fresh cherry tomato pasta which went very well with the bottle of $3.50 Rosé from Cora.
Yesterday we walked back downtown in search of an english book store only to find it closed utnil August 24th :-(. We went back to the market and got another sandwich for lunch, this time with black forest ham, cornichons, olives, and butter, which was again, delicious. From the produce stand, we bought some beautiful strawberries and enjoyed our lunch on the edge of one of the rivers. That night for dinner, we had mussles in a white wine sauce (from the fish monger at the march
é) and hericot verts (green beans only much skinnier). We've also bought a few cheeses; cheese and wine are two things that we've found to be quite inexpensive as compared to the states and we plan to enjoy them while we're here.
PHEW! Now that I'm finally caught up on the past few days, I'll be able to keep the posts shorter and more to the point. We'll soon be heading back to the Mezanine to get a few more things and buy groceries for today and tomorrow, tomorrow is a national holiday and everywhere, including Cora will be closed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


We're finally settled in and have internet access; it took 26.5 total hours to get to our dorm.
We had a few minor hiccups along the way, first, there was some major congestion going into Boston, which meant our plane in Pittsburgh was delayed 50 minutes. We only had an hour and a half layover originally in Boston to get out of our gate, take the shuttle to the international gate, get our tickets there, get back through security and to our departing gate, so having 50 minutes chopped off of that was certainly stressful. The nice Aer Lingus girl at the ticket counter ended up sweet talking the gate attendants into keeping the gate open for us and escorted us through security so we made it in time. With all the confusion, we had no time to get dinner and with the recent cut-backs in the airline industry, we weren't expecting to get any. We were pleasantly suprised, however, to be offered pretty decent meal choices (by airline food standards) of either chicken or beef ravioli and lots of tea, water and tomato juice.
We arrived in Dublin, which was pretty cold and rainy, and made it quickly to our gate for the flight to Brussles which ended up being delayed 25 minutes due to congestion in Brussles. We had our first meal in Europe (pictured below) once we made it to Brussles, a incredibly expensive breakfast (28 dollars) consisting of a coffee, tea, ham
and cheese croissant and a pre-made egg and bacon sandwich...guess we know to never plan on eating in the Brussles Airport again.
We got our train tickets and spent about three and a half hours on trains from Brussles to Luxembourg to Metz with some time in between each train.
By the time we got to Metz, we were so exhausted that rather than attempt to figure out the bus system, we just got a Taxi straight to l'université de
Supélec where our dorm is located. It was about 4:30 by this time and the RA (or administrator) was not very happy that we were so late...we got into Brussles at 9:30, why on earth were we so late?!? He seemed to think (from what little I could understand of his french when he called someone to complain about us) that we had been going on some sort of pleasure tour of Europe during the day when really, we got there as soon as we could given the train trip we were given. He was very grumpy and slamming things around at first but proved to be quite pleasant by the end and showed us our mailbox, laundry room, and around our dorm (which thankfully, does have a kitchenette). I just would have like to ask him what the quicker way would have been to get there from Belgium, we certainly would have preferred a quicker route to the one we took!
We have settled in well so far, there is something similar to a Wal-Mart Supercenter within a 10 minute walk of our dorm which has been helpful in getting food and other supplies for the dorm, but more on that and other adventures is well past lunch time and I'm hungry!