Sorry for the following monster post; thankfully, much of it is pictures.
The Sunday after our little Christmas, Michael and I walked into downtown Metz where were were to meet his parents that afternoon. It was a chilly and rainy day and after wandering through the quickly-disappearing Christmas markets and finding the oldest church in France (more on that later), we meandered our way to the train station to warm ourselves. It was getting a little late and we still hadn't heard from Tom and Ginny, so we figured our best bet would be to hang out where they were to meet us. We went inside, splurged on some coffee and croissants, and waited for our toes to regain feeling. Just as we were heading out the door, like magic, there they were! After many hugs, we made our way outside for a little walking tour of Metz only to find that during that short time in the train station the nasty rain had turned to snow, leaving about an inch of white fluffy stuff for our viewing pleasure.
Our first POI (point of interest -- that's GPS speak) on our walking tour of Metz was St-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, the oldest church in France. It was built somewhere between 380 and 395AD.
We then took a short tour of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Metz and got a lovely, if wet, family portrait outside. Before giving up and retreating to the car, we walked around to a few of the Christmas Markets to get one last glimpse until next year
After settling into our nice warm apartment, we started in on what would be a very full night of eating. We started off with some cheeses and foie gras that we had been accumulating over the previous weeks. Then we enjoyed some steamed artichokes. And finally, we dove into the cassoulet that we had spent the previous 3 days putting together. For those of you unfamliar with cassoulet (I was until reading Julie and Julia), I will include the Wikipedia definition:
Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans.
It is not difficult to make, just time consuming. It turned out well for our first attempt but we certainly need some more practice.
After a very filling dinner, we played some Mille Bornes (the French card game that Michael got me for Christmas) and opened some Christmas presents from home. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening with wonderful family.
Monday morning we cleaned up, showered up, packed up, and hit the road with Madaline, our trusty GPS system in the rental car, without which, we would have never made it through France. After about 9 hours of driving, we finally made it to the condo in Canet-en-Roussillon, a small village near Perpignan, France. After attempting and failing to find an open grocery store, we finally gave up and ate at one of the restaurants at the resort. We were pleasantly surprised and while Tom and Michael ate their salmon and vegetables, Ginny and I enjoyed our steak and fries and we all shared a lovely 6€ bottle of local wine.
The next morning we ventured downtown to find this lovely view of the Mediterranean Sea.
After a quick chat at the tourist's office, we made our way to a little village that is home to this fortress/castle. Fort de Salses was built in the 15th century as border security between what was then Catalonia and the southern border of France.
After the castle, we ventured to the small town of Millas which is home to La Catalane Moulin à Hulie (the Catalan Oil Mill) where we sampled and bought some deliciously spicy olive oil and a baguette for our delicious dinner of seafood alfredo.
The next morning, we set off for Barcelona. Along the way, we stopped off in Collioure, France to see what was described to us to be a typical, pretty French town with a beautiful rocky shore line.
After some more driving (poor Tom) we arrived in Barcelona. Parking prooved to be tricky but with Madeline's assistance we eventually found a spot on the water. We found this happy guy while walking along the water towards the main road, La Rambla. We followed la Rambla away from the harbor. It was filled to the brim with live statues, tapas bars, artists, and people. About half way up, we turned onto a side street to visit the Barcelona Cathedral which is quite possibly, the most beautiful cathedral that we have seen so far in Europe.
On our way back to the car, we were treated to this amazing sunset on the harbor.
Instead of going straight along the coast back to Canet-en-Roussillon, we decided to take a detour through the tiny country of Andorra. On our map it looked like a fairly straight major highway going north into the capital city then east back towards coastal France. The detour would perhaps add another hour onto our return trip. To the left is one of the few pictures we got from the car.
What our (rather large) map failed to show us was this kind of switchbacks that we encountered through the Pyrenees, which included probably 2/3 of the trip.
That, combined with the sudden, mini-blizzard that we hit resulted in a 5 hour drive rather than a 3 hour drive. The detour was long, and a little nerve-racking. But even at night, the city and scenery were incredibly beautiful. And considering the amount of people we passed pulled over, putting on their snow chains, we were just thankful that the snow didn't get any worse.
Before beginning our journey back to Metz, we made one last stop at the beach so we could wade in and say we had been in the Mediterranean Sea. The water was cold, refreshing, and beautiful. We can't wait to go back in the summer.
We arrived back in Metz later that evening and since all grocery stores had closed early, we had to scramble to make some pesto pasta for dinner. At midnight, we toasted the new year with a lovely bottle of Champagne. We look forward to being back in the states with our loved ones by the next New Year.
Thanks again, Ginny and Tom, for the visit and wonderful trip to the south. Much love and Bonne Année!