Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Markets!!!

I needed a post to get that blob of raw ground beef out of my view because it's grossing me out, so here's a picture of the Freiburg Weihnachtsmarkt from Thanksgiving weekend. I was at the Paris Noel Fete whatever last night on the Champs D'Elysees and have some pictures, but I forgot to upload them to my computer this morning so you'll have to wait. Christmas is a pretty magical time in Europe and I love Christmas markets, not to mention mulled wine/Gluehwein/vin chaud. Nothing like hot wine and fatty food to make the dark and cold even nicer!

Yay Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Messed Up "Food"

What I am about to show you is bar none the most disgusting thing I have ever seen on a plate in a restaurant, and I ate it. Brace yourself, this is not for the faint of stomach. I've eaten frog legs, snails, and even freaking pork knuckles here, but none of those could prepare me for what I ate last night. I present you with Tartare:

They didn't even sculpt it into a nice shape or anything!

You are seeing correctly: that is in fact 1/3 lb of raw ground beef on a plate. Raw doesn't even begin to describe it; the last time this meat was warm it was alive. It was served chilled. I still don't believe I ate that, but I have proof.

All done!

Unlike the pork knuckle, I was not misled with this one. I asked the French people I was with what Tartare was, and they explained that it was uncooked ground beef. I asked several, just to make sure I was hearing right. The non-French at the table all thought this was disgusting, but most of the French were actually ordering. I thought, why not? This is something I would never be able to get at a restaurant in the states, and I'd always been a little curious as to what raw ground beef tasted like.

For your information, it tastes exactly like you think it does. The surprise is that taste isn't actually as bad as you think it is. It's certainly not delicious; the same meat would certainly taste much better cooked. It is, however, entirely edible, especially if you smother it in sauces and things. It was most noticeable later, because it sat in my stomach like a bloody brick. I'm pretty sure my digestive system has absolutely no idea what to do with it.

In their defense, this supposedly isn't actually French, it's from Crimean Tartars (thus the name). The Russians insisted there's nothing like this in Russia, but that it's possible that the Tartars eat this stuff because they're weird like that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

French Food: Line by Line

Like most of you, the quality of my life depends greatly on the food I am eating. Here are my thoughts on French food:

Basically, they're oysters with a funny aftertaste. Edibility depends quite a bit on the preparation and seasoning. Cooked in lots of butter and garlic these are almost as good as oysters, without lots of seasoning they're pretty bad.
Verdict: If you can't get oysters and really need some shellfish they'll pass if they're cooked in butter and garlic. Otherwise avoid.

Frog Legs:
I tried these at a Thai restaurant. The French guy we were with just shook his head and told me to enjoy my chicken. He was right: these are chicken with more bones. Without the extra small bones, I would have been hard pressed to distinguish it from chicken. That said, it was every bit as good as chicken and totally worth it for the novel factor.
Verdict: Worth trying once because it's novel, but outside of survival situations I don't really see a reason to choose them over chicken.

Pork Knuckles:
I got these on accident. I thought I ordered a big, juicy piece of pork, but after a few minutes of picking through bones and fat I discovered there was actually no meat in there. There wasn't even very much fat. It was sorely disappointing to say the least.
Verdict: Avoid, unless you like picking through bones for no meat.

If you were to order a steak "bloody" in an American restaurant, it would still be more well done than the French steaks. When I sear my steaks before grilling, I cook them more than the French do before serving. Also different from American steaks is you don't get to specify; they will not cook it more no matter how much you want it. E.Coli concerns aside, this makes their steaks very dependent on the quality of the meat. A good piece of meat will be delicious, a mediocre piece will be edible, and a subpar piece will be terrible. And the meat varies, even from the same source.
Verdict: If you can stomach practically raw meat, ordering a steak is rolling the dice: could be great, could be awful.

'Zin little pancakes, filled with delicious things like Nutella, sold for cheap everywhere. I don't see a downside.
Verdict: Win.

I love croissants. Delicious buttery flaky goodness. They're fresh and cheap here.
Verdict: I'm willing to forgive the French for being French solely because they invented croissants.

French bread is far and superior to its American counterparts, but I'd put it behind Germany. In France, bread is supposed to serve as a vessel for cheese, whereas in Germany they make it for itself and it's delicious with nothing but a little bit of butter (more delicious with lots of butter, of course). Like Germany, France shines in the "fresh bread" department, with bakeries (Boulanger) everywhere. Fresh baguettes are fantastic; lightly crispy with fluffy interiors. After a day they're pretty ho-hum, but it's not too hard to keep a fresh supply. They're cheap, too.
Verdict: Good and inexpensive, though generally requires accompaniment.

The French do soft cheese very well. Camembert, Brie, and literally a couple hundred other varieties are all available. In reality this is more like 10 varieties, because so many of them are so similar that it's a little disingenuous to call it a different variety of cheese just because it came from a different place. They are all very good, though, especially the soft bleu cheeses if you're into that sort of thing. They don't make much hard cheese, but they do import enough from Germany, Switzerland, and Italy that you'll not be left wanting.
Verdict: France ain't the "land of wine and cheese" for nothing.

Cheap and very good. I can get a bottle of '05 Bordeaux Reserve for less than 5 euro. France is like the wine section at TJ's, only better.
Verdict: Boo-yah!

The French think that Dutch beer is actually good and drink imported Amstel and Heineken almost exclusively. Ew.
Verdict: Epic fail, but compensated for by the wine.

The French say that they will eat anything that moves. This is usually good, though sometimes it's painfully obvious that there's a reason no one else eats it. It's a great place for carnivores, cheese lovers, wine lovers, pretty much anyone who likes well-made food. Like all of Europe the food is a little expensive for Americans, but it's worth it. Though they're snobs about their food being superior to everyone else, they still have readily available foreign food of pretty high quality as well. Beer lovers should either learn to appreciate wine or head east.
Verdict: My tongue and stomach have been pretty happy here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How a MAN opens wine

Leverage? I don't need no stinkin' leverage!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tour Eiffel on Armistice Day

I'm fairly sure it's legally required for all American tourists to visit the Eiffel Tower if they ever find themselves in Paris for any duration of time. As a regular rule follower I felt compelled to obey, so on my day off because of Armistice Day (November 11th, more on this later) I paid the steel giant a visit. In addition to the goofy photos that everyone who has ever visited the Eiffel Tower has taken without fail, I attempted to take some pictures that were not in every Japanese tourist's album. I took the stairs up to the second floor (about half way up the height of the tower, where the four legs meet), but alas they required me to take an elevator to the very top. I had to dodge and pass many a wheezing tourist on the stairs, with many French tourists lighting a cigarette while doing so (they were probably perplexed why their lungs weren't working so well and needed the nicotine stimulation to ponder it).

Spotting the beast through the foliage for the first time.

Champ du Mars, the park attached to the Tower (formerly a military school with equestrian ground to train cavalry), from the first floor of the tower (halfway up the south pillar).

Champ du Mars from the second floor, where the four pillars meet in the center

Champ du Mars from the top of the tower. The haze is not smog (for a welcome change!), the top of the tower was actually in a cloud while I was up there.

The Grand Palais something or other across the Seine from the tower, one of many palaces in Paris with a very similar name, from the first floor.

Same Palais from the second floor.

I think you get the drill by now.

On this loevely fall day 9105 km was still too close.

That's right; I peed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Sadly not off the Eiffel Tower, but I'm pretty sure I would have gone to jail for that.

The spire at the top from the top floor.

Yeah, you knew it was coming. Do I look nonplussed enough? I was really going for the nonplussed look.

Wednesday was also Armistice Day, the celebration of the end of WWI, or as I like to call it, the day the French celebrate their last military victory as well as their central role in causing WWII. The French people who heard me explain this to the Russians I work with didn't think that was funny. At all. The Russians have no idea what Armistice Day is, because apparently there was some more important thing going on in their national history in 1918 than the end of WWI, though I can't imagine what that would be.

The Etoile de Charles de Gaulle at the end of the Champs d'Elysees with giant French flag. The giant Tri-Color isn't usually there, that was just for Armistice Day. I should note that this arch was built to commemorate one of France's last major military victories, which was during the Napoleonic wars (maybe I'm a little to hard on the French? I mean, our last real slam dunk military victory was in 1945; perhapsI should take it a little easier on them? Nah...)

A scene from the Champs d'Elysees, one of many pretty streets in Paris and a fairly famous one. The Tour de France finished on this street every year, among other things.

Aww, maybe if they put their flags together people will forget that they've invaded each other numerous times! I have to admit, they do seem to get along pretty well these days considering.

A lovely fountain. Don't let the blue skies in these pictures fool you; this was the first reasonably sunny day I've had since being in Paris. I'm not complaining; I am absolutely loving the clouds and rain after being without it in SoCal for two years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ah, Paris!

Carie came to visit me in Paris this last weekend and we had a fantastic time. We saw the Notre Dame, made fun of art at the Louvre, and wandered through an over-the-top palace complete with beautiful gardens at Versailles. We also enjoyed lots of delicious French food in cute cafes and restaurants.

Day One: Notre Dame and the Louvre

Carie being her usual silly self on one of the many bridges on the Seine River. The spire in the background is the Notre Dame cathedral.

The front of the Notre Dame, which was an awe-inspiring place. I didn't take any pictures inside because the light was poor and it just seemed disrespectful somehow. It was certainly grand and breathtaking; a must if you visit Paris. I've seen many many cathedrals before, but this one still impressed.

Carie in the Louvre. Poor Carie injured her knees in 15k-run-sans-previous-training last weekend and it hurt to walk, especially up and down stairs. Standing and walking around a museum for hours was not what they needed, so we got a wheelchair from the museum and I pushed her through the museum. Sorry Jason, I know you were gunning for most doting boyfriend this weekend and it seems I stole your thunder.

The imperial apartments of Emperor Napoleon III in the Louvre gave us some interior decorating ideas for our new place once we move back to LA.

Carie reading the Code of Hammurabi in front of the original Code of Hammurabi, the first recorded written law. I didn't previously realize it was in the Louvre, but it was neat to finally see it.

The entrance of the Louvre by evening. Paris really is a very pretty city.

Day Two: Versailles

More interior decorating inspiration from the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

There was a neat hall of paintings of French military victories in Versailles, with battles from 600-1809 (to be fair, it was comissioned in 1830, though I can't imagine what victories they would add since then). This was one of Louis XV's victories somewhere. Note the skull and crossbones on the cavalryman on the left in the background; this one's for you, Jeannie.

Napoleon to the world: "Yo. Back atcha." From the same hall.

The statues in the Versailles garden were apparently too obscene to display publicly.

Carie and me in the Gazebo o' Love in Mary Antoinette's gardens. Louis got the war room, Mary got the nice pretty gardens.


Even cuter THATCHED-ROOF COTTAGE! with some sort of tower thingy in Mary Antoinette's estate. Apparently people actually live in these; we're trying to figure out how to get that gig.

The Versailles gardens and giant canal at sunset.

Versailles by night.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paris! Or, well, Palaiseau for now...

If you took the city of Rome and gave it the weather of Portland, you would have Paris. I like both, so I'm pretty happy with that. I haven't taken any pictures of Paris yet as I spent most of my time thus far in museums due to hard rain, and I think people who take pictures of paintings in museums are ridiculous. What, are they going to print them out and hang them on their wall? I spent most of my time at the Orsay Museum, which has a very large collection of Impressionism works. I like Impressionism and think that a good Monet or Sisley landscape is pretty, but after 15 galleries of the stuff it really tends to run together. That said, "The Origin of the World" by Courbet is a pretty striking painting (NSFW! Even if it is art! Don't say I didn't warn you! And it's Realism, not Impressionism!).

As I have no pictures I will leave Paris to another post. Of what I do have pictures, however, is Palaiseau, the suburb of Paris that contains Ecole Polytechnique, where I work. My commute is ridiculous, not because of the Paris train system (which is ridiculous, mind you; I have to make a transfer to go four stops on the same line!). It is ridiculous because of the walk from the train station to the school. Here is a sequence of photos of that walk, with each subsequent photo taken from the position at the top of the previous:

The most difficult part is the bottom, which is a 20-25% grade but without stairs. When it rains it's extremely slippery, especially going down it at the end of the day. It's hard to motivate myself to run when I do this every day, but I still need to keep my cardio system up there. Have to keep up with Jeannie and Jason in the high mountains! I live right next to a nice hilly forest park with a lot of nice trails for running and I'm starting to work that into the routine.

Finally, I must post one last image from my life in France, because I find this kind of thing absolutely hilarious:

That's right, EXTRA bon! None of this normal bon crap!

I'll post some pictures from Paris after I take them over the next couple weeks. Carie comes to visit on November 6th! I can't wait!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Europe at Last! And Alps!

I've been busy for the last week and a half in Europe, but felt obligated to post, if for no other reason than to share some pictures of pretty mountains.

First, I went and visited Carie in Munich. While where I used to live in Germany had terrible food, Bavarian food is actually pretty good. I ate my weight in giant pieces of fatty pork, pretzels, and beer. Also, I finally got to experience rain, for the first time in 9 months! Oh, how I've missed the rain!

Carie lives literally on the edge of this park. I kept expecting Fitzwilliam Darcy to jump out and sweep me off my feet (which would have admittedly been awkward)

After the wonderful visit with Carie, which wa s as usual not long enough, I traveled to Les Houches, a tiny town in the French Alps 5km from Chamonix. For the last week I've been at a plasma flow control conference at a secluded physics school up the hill from Les Houces, which has been an extremely good conference though I won't bore you with the details here. What you're really interested in are the awesome mountains and glaciers here, and let me tell you that they are really awesome. It pains me that I don't have my climbing gear, because I want nothing more than to run up Mont Blanc. I'll come back and climb some of these someday.

It was cloudy the first couple of days in Les Houches. This is the view from the main conference room where we're having talks (and from the room I'm sitting in right now as I'm posting this, though it's clear right now).

It cleared up the second day and has stayed clear since. It's unusually nice for October, if still very cold. The secluded setting of the conference is great.

Yesterday the conference had an excursion to Chamonix to take the cable car up to Aguille du Midi. This is a bunch of scientists milling around in the alps waiting for the cable car.

Aguille du Midi, a rock spire topping out at 3842m and on the way of the north route to Mont Blanc (4810m), was made famous in the 20's by George Mallory as he climbed the near-vertical north face (shown) while practicing for Everest. Today it is noteworthy for the extremely impressive gondola going from Chamonix up to the summit, and as the starting point for climbing Mont Blanc from the north. While the gondolas in Switzerland were impressive, this is like nothing I have ever seen. The second stretch shown here is a free-cable spanning 2km and 1500m vertical with no intermediate support. It's impressive.

At the top there were nice observation decks. This is me pictures with my new best bud, Mont Blanc (2nd peak to the right of my head). It was -15C at the top, which converts to 5F.

Another view of Mont Blanc, the tallest snow-capped peak in the center. I will be back (though probably in summer when it's not so cold).

A view of the mountains and glaciers opposite Mont Blanc. The glaciers are extremely torn up and crevassed, especially at the lower extent of their elevations.

Downtown Chamonix with the alps in the background. Mont Blanc is not visible because the foothills obscure it, but they're no slouches when it comes to foothills.

Tomorrow I leave for my two month stint in Paris. Actually, I'm just outside of Paris in what looks to be some nice pastoral French countryside. I'm looking forward to it, though I'm not looking forward to living near Paris while not knowing any French.

Also exciting is that Carie found a deal where we could get season passes at Mt. Baldy for $50. That combined with an El Nino year means our ski season this year will be much better than the last couple.