Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who ever said BirthDAY, why not BirthWEEK?

I am dubbing this post birthday week to celebrate all the events that surrounded my birthday that were generally great and made turning 21 a memorable time.

Four days out, on April 20th, started off as all birthweeks should, with Pancakes! Thanks to an inpromto sleepover with the lovely Annabel, we teamed up for a bit of a deluxe breakfast. Afterwards, I got down to business with class, yoga, velib'ed home and then spent the rest of the afternoon in cleaning mode as preparation for the big birthday bash the following day. In the evening, Annie and Corina came round to lend a hand in the making of cupcakes, coupled with some good fun baking chats. I also had my first "mother-esque" experience of staying up late baking for the next days activity. Hopefully I don't have to do that too often!

April 21st: I call this birthday part 1. As my birthday is the 23rd and Daniel's is the 22nd, we had decided a while back to have a joint birthday. Bacause this also fell over Easter weekend, Thursday rather than Friday was deemed the best day for the event since most people were probably taking off for the long weekend. Hence, since the big bash was a couple of days early, and this was the great excitement, it felt like my birthday :) After finishing the last few cupcakes and small cleaning tasks, Daniel arrived and we made final plans regarding food etc. After dashing out for groceries, I managed to finish off research notes for an upcoming essay for Vichy France and even squeese in a great little run on this perfect sunny 23 degree afternoon. Talk about productivity! I was feeling on a roll! Before heading to 5pm class, Annie came over to pick up the food prep while I was away.

The Birthday Team! Daniel and I.

Vichy class flew by as I couldn't wait to get home and get the party started! The timing was coming together flawlessly. Changed, hair having thankfully cooperated, guests started to arrive slowly after 8:30. I also finally got to meet Daniel's girlfriend Anne, who's living in London, and she was lovely. Let's get the party started! I love being hostess, and between the doorbell ringing almost constantly, helping people with drinks, and serving up dinner of homemade lasagne (thanks Daniel!) and dessert (cupcakes!), the evening flew by. The apartment quickly filled up with probably close to 30 people! It was wonderful as all of my guests who were in town made, so pretty much all of my friends were there! I even received roses for the first time in years from Ilona - they were pink and beautiful! Never underestimate how happy flowers make me. Thanks to our great speakers we even got a bit of dance party going in the apartment. All in all a smashing success!
I have met some fantastic Finns! Ilona and I excited about my roses :)

Around 11:30 we gathered the troops and headed out, somewhat reduced to try our luck at a night of dancing at the Mix. With a good group, it was bound to be a great time. Unfortunately, this is only possible if the bouncers let your group in. One of the few times I have ever not gotten into a club - bad timing! Thankfully, Emmanuelle stepped up the plate and steered our group over to the Pachanga. It actually worked out quite nicely since there was lots of room on the dance floor but also tables for people to sit and chat. Everyone has said they had a good time. Me, my fun factor was catching up with me, and after making a valient effort on the dance floor, had a bit of a low moment, and Annie and I called it a night at about 1:30. The Out part of the night not as stellar but I guess thats par for the course. Probably for the best, since I went to sleep pretty much instantly upon arrival home. Overall, 21 party was a great night!

The next morning I remembered why I've been able to be so much more productive during the days, and feel like I've accomplished so much more this semester. It because I haven't been stuck on the couch feeling queasy multiple Fridays, Saturdays of Sundays. As much as I loved hungover days with Annie, maybe I don't love the hangover itself. The general tiredness and inability to to anything is always pretty entertaining though, and we seem to cook up amazing meals. This day was no different. Thank you delicious scrambled eggs and homefries for saving my life. The morning was made particularly funny when I stumbled upon Thibault who had stayed over and I had forgotten all about. Sons of Anarchy comforted us all afternoon as we slowly returned to normal selves by the evening and managed to clean up some of the disaster. In some ways I was really glad that today wasn't my birthday, and that now on the actual day, I'll be in good shape!

Saturday April 23rd, 2011: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! Sorry, I just love birthdays. It fills me with a nice little warm feeling of happiness all day. Nothing overly special needs to happen, but just knowing that its my birthday makes a regular day just a little bit nicer, and I appreciate that.

This particular birthday started off with a heap of fun, cleaning! I had to get up early in order to finish off party cleaning because I was headed to Bordeaux later that morning. It was actually great because everything was all clean, which makes me happy, I packed and got ready and was not rushed at any point in time. Ahh so calming. Minus a quick double back home to grab my train discount card, I caught the bus to the train station at Montparnasse (my metro line was closed over that weekend). Met my travelling team of Annie and Ayumi and had a great train ride down to the south of France enjoying countryside and getting into my newest book, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, by Gertrude Stein. It is one of the stangest styles of writing I have ever encountered with very funny punctuation. When I began, I really struggled, but now that I'm a bit further in, its actually quite interesting. Its all about their life in Paris meeting the leading artistic and literary circles of the early 20th century, including Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, and hundreds of others.

Anyways, we arrived in the beautiful town of Bordeaux around 3 in the afternoon, and after a bit of lost wandering, found our incredible apartment that Annie had booked for us. We had an amazing pad all to ourselves only a 10min walk from the center of town! After dropping our bags, we got some groceries and had some delicious baguette lunch before trying to head out and do some exploring around 6pm. We didn't even get 200m down the road when the first rain drops started falling. It was almost comical. Back we went. I actually wasn't too fussed bacause I find rain in the late afternoon rather soothing, and this also meant we could partake in one of my favorite activities - cards!

We had dinner reservations at a restaurent booked through La Fourchette across the river, and it worked out perfectly since the rain has stopped and left the air fresh and sky a pale pink as we walked through town along the river towards dinner. I knew already that Bordeaux was going to be incredible. Along the way we noted the notable Allee de Tourney, among other sites. On to dinner at a funky Brasserie, decorated 1930s France style. It was a perfect vibe, with great music. We all had great entrees and plats, myself the veal with rice in a savoury sauce over a lovely bottle of Chateau Loumede. It was a delicious dinner (plus 30% off -score!). At the end, Annie and Ayumi surprised me with gifts and a very entertaining birthday card. I got a fabulous vintage square scarf for my new scarf collection, and a beautiful fountain pen and notebook to encourage my new writing aspirations. It was so touching, and I was pretty much overcome by happiness. To be in France, in the beautiful town of Bordeaux on my birthday was incredible. On top of that, I was with my two closest friends from my two friend groups, the Capulets and the Montagues, except they like each other. Apparently I'm the friar, don't know how I feel about that one... It was a beautiful thing for me to have both groups represented on my special day.

Ayumi in L'Alcazar, awesome birthday resto.

My better half, the lovely Annabel Waters.

It got better. We finally headed for home after our 2 1/2 hour meal and emerged into a beautiful evening. It was stunning to be on the far side of the river and see Bordeaux, especially Place de la Bourse all lit up across the water. Talk about breathtaking. It was wonderful walking back across the river and to our apartment under the lights. I can truly say it was one of the loveliest nights possible, a cap to a very nice day. In my mind, that's exactly what a birthday should be!

Places de la Bourse lit up at night. Talk about gorgeous.

One thing that was weird about the day was the lack of phone calls to my family. Its on special days like these that I miss you guys most. However, I did enjoy all the lovely messages from friends over facebook and email.

Onto the real first day of exploring Bordeaux! There is no better was to start a full day of adventures and touristing than a big breakfast complete with toast! Toast is not a big thing in France, and surprisingly enough, we all realized how great toast is an how me missed it. Also how my dad was right after all these years and tomatoes on toast is actually pretty delicious. Apparently now that I'm 21 I can appreciate these things.

P.S. Really annoyed because the computer was acting up and I lost the second half of this post and had to rewrite it all! Very lame. To add insult to injury I had copied and pasted the unsaved section to a word doc, but had thought in the end it had saved online so didn't save it. Stupid! Now somehow I have to recapture my carefully written prose of the previous time. Here it goes!

We then hit the streets to see all the notable touristic sites of this lovely town. We walked through the flea market at Esplanade des Quinconces before taking in the boardwalk and Place de la Bourse in the daylight. Then after stopping by the Cathedral St Andre and hiking up to the top of the Tour Pey-Berland to see the city from above. We hit up the Hotel de Ville (nothing beats Paris' though), we made our way over to the flea market at St Michel. I always like a good flea market, and we enjoyed touring around, and all snagged some faded French paperbacks for some reading down the road. It was a great morning with glorious weather, and while all these sights were impressive, it was the quiet streets of Bordeaux and the multiple small squares that pop up everywhere that captured my heart. By the time we had done all this, the hunger was upon us, and we enjoyed some very delicious Thai food, myself revelling in pad thai. Food in Paris is scrumptious, there lacks easily accessible, cheap ethnic food, so this was a real treat.

Ayumi and Annie exploring the flea market at St. Michel.

We continued to see a few things such as the Grand Theatre on our way back to the apartment to make some plans for the evening and take a little rest, since touristing is in fact quite tiring. I then took a splendid hour long nap on the couch while Ayumi and Annie were busy planning. I did rouse by 4 or, and we took off again to check out Palais Gallien, ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheatre. Bordeaux was first settled in 300BC! After appreciating this site, we headed to the Public Gardens/Park just around the corner from the house to do some reading and lounging, but no more than 5 minutes after our settling in dark clouds converged overhead and we made a beeline back to apartment and barely missed the downpour. Like I said about Saturday, this didn't particularly bother me since it meant more relaxing at our sweet pad, proper vacation style, and more card playing! Somehow, much to my chagrin, I managed to lose Oh Hell to Ayumi after leading the whole game!

Ruins of Palais Gallien

Cards away we set to work to make an unconventional easter feast: A rose sauce pasta with fresh fettucine, aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zuchinni), leek, chicken and cheese. It was absolutely delicious! We bided time before our evening film at the theatre by watching political satire clips on youtube. How Colbert and Rick Mercer do make me laugh. Then, we took a pleasant night walk over the theatre to watch Mon Pere est Femme de Menage (My father is a cleaning lady). The plot revolves around a teenage boy who is looking for a role model in his adolescent, and his best option is his father. Over the course of the film, the boy comes to appreciate his father's love and coming to terms with his humble career. While this might sound like a promising, touching film, we kept waiting for something to happen. It was a little bit of a fail. However, between the pathetic sister who's trying to make it as a pageant girl, and the boy worrying about the size of his cue, we certainly got some laughs out of it. Enough that rehashing it on the walk home had us in histerics. Bedtime featured girltalk sleepover style which is always appreciated.

After making the most massive breakfast ever in an attempt to finish off our food, we headed up the road to try and check out the Museum of Contemporary Art. Unfortunately, being both a Monday and a holiday, we were bi-losing on that account. To comfort ourselves, we strolled up the boardwalk and enjoyed tea and coffee under the sun on a nice patio. After, we made our way back to the botanical gardens at a leisurely pace, and then after checking them out, we settled in for some cards and sunning. It really was glorious out. I had a brief brush with losing my shirt, no such bad luck befell me and we ended up at the tourist info office at 2 to embark on our 4hour wine tour, on one of the most touristy things I've done all year. While normally I try to avoid such displays of being a foreigner, in the name of the wine, I was willing to compromise.

The public gardens where we soaked up some rays

Departing on a coach, we toured through lovely countryside on our way out to the Bourg/Blaye region. Bordeaux has 5 wine regions - Bourg/Blaye, St Emilion, Graves, Medoc and Entre-Deux-Mers. The soil in these different regions affects the types of wines produced. There are 72 different appelations of wine in the region and over 7000 vineyards, most of which are family-operated. Our 50min drive took up past gorgeous rolling hills covered in new vines and past rivers and cute rural homes. It was a gorgeous region, and soon enough we arrived at our first stop, Chateau Monconseil-Gazin, where we met our host Micheal. Vineyards of all sizes in Bordeaux get to assume the title Chateau. This vineyard has been in his family for over 200 years, and they produced both white and red Cotes de Blaye wines. After discussing the process of selecting tending the vines, which can grow up to 10cm in a week in spring, and the harvesting of the grapes, we moved inside to the cellar where there were dozens of huge barrels of wine that were in the process of fermenting. The barrels are of French oak, and the porrous nature of the wood allows for excellent oxygen exchange to age the wine over 12 to 18 months. Each barrel is 600 euros a pop, and Bordeaux producers, in order to maintain the highest quality of wine, replace their barrels every 5 years! A mighty expensive little endeavor. Bext came the best part of all - la degustation. We sampled a lovely light white and two nice reds while Micheal went over the proper method of fully tasting a wine. Thanks to Etienne's tutelage at earlier salon de vins, I was already a pro at using many senses in evaluating the wine - seeing, smelling of of course tasting.

Picturesque Bordeaux Vineyards

French Oak Barrels

La degustation du Vin au Chateau Monconseil Gazin

We were soon sheparded back to bus and over a ridge into the Cotes de Bourg region were we visited the Chateau Rouselle. Our host, Vincent, had a very different story than Micheal. He had in fact bought the vineyard only 11 years previous because of his love of wine. He led us on tour of the vats in which the wine is stored and processed, and emphasized yet again how important the cultivation of the grapes are in making reds. Without grapes of the finest quality, the battles is already largely lost. I enjoyed that all his vats took on the names of the dwarves from Snow White. He was quite a character, with mad scientist hair and a jolly disposition.

The travelling team with Vincent.

Back on the bus and a sleepy ride back to town before saying goodbye to Ayumi who was taking a covoiturage back to Paris. Meanwhile, Annie and I returned keys and decided to check out a very funky looking restaurent on our way out of town that we had spotted on Saturday's La Fourchette search but had been unable to make a reservation. L'Antre de Peggy lived up to the intrigue with magic garden style decor, and we enjoyed another lovely meal before beelining it to the station to catch our train with a whole 2 minutes to spare. Tons of time! Back to Paris for the crunch week of essays - and I even missed the last metro and got to velib home! A truly perfect weekend with close friends - I couldn't have asked for more over my 21st!

Inside l'Antre de Peggy.

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