Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Annecy, days two and three: Winged Rats and Frosted Mice

Annecy, France (Annecy, France)
October 2015
Though one of the main features of Annecy is its lake, Fabienne hadn't had the opportunity to explore it as she had no car access. That's where we came in! With our trusty Denis at our side (and under us and above us and actually fully enclosing us), we loaded up on pastries at a boulangerie in the old town and drove along the shore until we found a nice wee picnic spot.

Perched on a little mound of grass, we were afforded wonderful views over the water to the surrounding mountains topped with wispy clouds.

Along with our token raspberry tart, we had brought along a pastry mouse filled with chestnut paste and a brioche aux pralines (meaning it was covered in pink crunchy things). Much nomness was had, including chilled Orangina, though we all agreed that the chestnut pastry was a bit weird. We were probably biased though, as we had all tried roasted chestnuts before and had not exactly enjoyed them.

Continuing along the coast, we took in the sights of several lakeside villages being clung to by red ivy.

At one point we spotted a whole troupe of paragliders swooping along the mountaintops! I thought they were very brave.

We had planned on getting to know the old town more, but found that Saturdays were not a peaceful type of day and resolved to try again the next day. Instead, we raided Fabienne's flat for dinner supplies (briefly meeting her flatmate whose phone had met an unfortunate demise in the lake) and reconvened at our Airbnb.

Over a full antipasto spread of cheeses, salamis, bread and olive oil, chips and cider, we watched the All Blacks sufficiently trounce the French rugby team in the Rugby World Cup. Huzzah! Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, however, and the crepes we had planned on making would just have to wait until the morning.

And what a magnificent breakfast it was! With caramel and chocolate sauce and a bottle of cider, it could be deemed the breakfast of champions (wheee go All Blacks woooo!).

Fuelled for the day, we set about surveying the market stalls which wound through the streets of the old town.

Each stall was very specific, selling cheeses, nougats, salamis and the like. I found an olive stall which provided free samples of tapenades! Free samples were definitely the way to go, as in general the stalls were a bit too pricey for our budget.

Though it was very busy, we wanted to see the length of the market and squeezed ourselves through the throngs. We even made it so far as L'Etage (a restaurant that specialised in fondue), and made a reservation for later that evening. After the overwhelming surge of the market we needed a break from humanity and ate lunch back at Fabienne's flat.

Emerging for dinner, we enjoyed a decadent meal of fondue and tartiflette - heavy on the cheese and rather too rich for me! Understandably we were much too full to consider dessert and instead took our distended bellies on a tour of the old town.

It was even more charming lit up with lanterns, and we were surprised to find that bats resided under the bridges! They were very fast, but we could just make them out swooping around, and Yannick attests that he heard their high-pitched squeaks. Though Fabienne and I strained to hear them, we were unsuccessful and stuck to watching them catch their own dinner of insects.
Fabienne had class the next morning, so we said our goodbyes and parted, to be reunited at Christmas as a home away from home.

Today's post was almost called: Yeah Nah, Rugby and Cider, Mate

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Annecy, day one: Denis in the Sky with Autumns

Morning dawned and we said our goodbyes to our Airbnb host who kindly rummaged up a small box that we could use to house Fabienne's birthday present. On the way to Annecy, we drove along the eastern shore of Lac du Bourget, which was awash with autumnal leaves.

Even the vineyards were the colour of Dijon mustard - so very français!

Driving up a windy road, we took a picture of Denis for posterity's sake (#ipulledoverforthis) and very shortly after were thrown into a thick bank of fog!

So thick! So fog! So bank?

Annecy, France (Annecy, France)
October 2015
After cresting the hill, our visibility was slowly returned to us as the cloud dissipated and we stopped at a hypermarket for the last couple of additions to the present box. I selected a nice silver wrapping paper with gold stars on it which unfortunately turned out to be cellophane and therefore transparent (except for where the small stars obscured maybe 5% of what was underneath). Not ideal for a surprise!

A hearty range of foodstuffs was gifted, including Fabienne's portion of Croatian olive oil, Belgian Chokotoffs, and Italian prosecco, chips, soft drinks and chocolates. Profiterole the rabbit was a happy chappie.

After catching up for a bit in her centrally located flat, we explored the old town. There's a reason Annecy is such a tourist destination - it's beautiful! The river was oddly very low, but that didn't take away from the flowers still clinging to their petals and the quaint old buildings.

Luckily we visited at a time of respite from the crowds, as tourists had departed after the summer rush or were waiting for the ski season to begin. Autumn meant we could wander around in relative peace!

The lake had many small boats moored at its shores and its tiny island was positively exploding with autumnal trees. Framed by the surrounding mountains, it was quite a scene.

We got a good feel for the cobblestoned streets of the old town, with canals and bridges snaking through, flower potted window sills, stone archways and little alleys. We were looking forward to visiting the market the next day. The Airbnb we had booked was a ten-minute walk out of the centre, and our hosts were away for the weekend so we had it all to ourselves! We prepared a filling dinner paired with cider, walked Fabienne back to her flat and then slept very soundly.

Today's post was almost called: Ahoy Savoy! Alpine For You No Longer

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Chambéry: The Case of the Crêped Crusader

And alas, we were to once again leave the magical Land of Pizza and Gelato. But! We would be returning to the Land of Crêpes and Orangina, so we weren't too sad.
On the drive from Turin to Chambéry, we paid an outrageous sum of €44 just for the right to cross the border. Okay okay, it was the fee for driving our car through a fancy new tunnel under a mountain range meaning we wouldn't have to spend hours following narrow treacherous roads, but I would have liked to be given the option at least. Before you knew it, you were at the ticket booth with no way to turn back. Tricksy tunnelses.
On the drive, we were surrounded by mist and snapped some pretty shots of the autumn-coloured mountains.

Chambéry, France (Chambéry, France)
October 2015
We visited Chambéry as it was on the way to Annecy, where we would be meeting up with Fabienne before heading further west into France and eventually Spain. Having booked an Airbnb in the burbs, we were welcomed very warmly by our host. She went well beyond what we were expecting and provided some of the best hospitality we've experienced (outside of Croatia, that is). She drove us to the supermarket so we could acquire provisions for the next couple of days, and then took us to a wine bar in the centre where she bought us drinks and we chatted for a while. She also gave us a brief overview of the city, and we had a little wander around some main streets. It was lovely to be back in France after such a long time in unfamiliar countries - in some regards it was like returning to a home away from home.
Feeling a little exhausted from recent fast-paced travel, we lazed that evening and much of the next day. I blame Florence, as we had used nearly every available hour in the city to make good use of our Firenze cards. No regrets! But we were burnt out, and especially museumed out. But still no regrets!
On our second eve we ventured out. What better way to spend an evening in France than to eat crepes, drink cider and wander the attractive streets? We did just that! In fact, we tried to head straight to the creperie Le Gulliver, but found many exciting things along the way.
One of the most iconic sights in Chambéry is the Fontaine des Éléphants, or Elephant Fountain. It was erected in 1838 to honour Count Benoît de Boigne, a 'military adventurer' who explored many poverty-stricken areas of India (which was not exactly a glamorous pasttime for a Count), learning of culture and religion. 
We strolled along the cobblestones streets of the historic quarter and even stumbled across the cathedral all lit up.

After finding that we had been walking in circles, we utilised the ever handy Googly Maps to set us on the right course to find the creperie. Our cidre doux was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. Finally, delicious and reasonably priced cider again! Yannick ordered a specialty galette of the Savoy region, which included potatoes, raclette cheese, bacon and egg, while I went with my customary chevre. We shivered all the way back to our car and resolved to shop for winter clothes the next day, as "Winter is Coming!" (And we were in the Alps, which isn't quite like winter in Wellington.)
Making good on that promise to ourselves, on our final day in the city we stocked up on warm clothing at H&M. I got two jumpers! And socks and gloves. No more frigid digits for me, thank you.
On the hunt for lunch, we miraculously found ourselves right next to Le Gulliver again and thought "Shall we?!" We shall. Once again, we feasted on scrumptiousness heightened by cidre doux.
Rambling along, we spied a haunted mansion! I did my best ghost whoooing noise.
Revisiting the four elephants, we walked the length of Rue de Boigne to reach the château. Halfway along, we stopped and looked back towards the fountain. The arcaded street with grey stone and pink plaster was breathtaking, and the hanging baskets of fuschia blossoms made it all come alive. 
The much anticipated château can be seen poking out from the top of the tree. Having been expanded greatly by the Counts of Savoy in the 1300's, the fortress was intended to withstand sieges. However, the château soon proved itself to be fairly useless in that department and was mainly used as an administrative base for the Savoy area. 
On the way back to the carpark, we poked around the Place Saint-Léger, which once again delighted us with the choices of colourful plaster.
What a beautiful city. Now with a bit of a feel for the French Alps, we were excited to explore Annecy, a smaller Alpine settlement where a beloved friend was waiting.

Today's post was almost called: French Feasts In Doux Course

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Turin: A Merry Dance With Giacomo The Ripper

Turin, Italy (Torino, Italia)
October 2015
Having been full-time travellers for almost five months at this point, we were masters of the lazy morning. While some days we forced ourselves to wake at an acceptable hour in order to get the most out of our day (as responsible adults are wont to do), we were spoilt and usually slept in until what I will refer to as "brunch time". This is all well and dandy if you're already in the city you'll be exploring, but something else entirely if you're planning on gunning it from Milano to Torino in time for lunch.
Our hopes were further hindered by the blasted Zona Traffico Limitato signs which appeared before we reached our waypointed underground carpark, causing us to feverishly search for an alternative.
What luck! We sandwiched ourselves between two shiny Italian cars right behind a Pantheon-type church, the Gran Madre di Dio. Translating the name into English grants us "Great Mother of God!" which I can only say in the manner of an old-timey film actor exclaiming outrage. The idea for this church was to exalt King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia following Napoleon's defeat.
Strolling across the river, we were pleased to find that it was pretty much a straight shot into the centre of town. Long straight roads are unusual in old European cities because many evolved "organically" over millennia, and fun fact: Turin was captured by Hannibal in 218BC.
The main road was also atypical of Italy, as it actually had room for pedestrians. Along each side of the road ran a covered arcade type walkway which housed many shop entrances and secondhand book stalls for the thrifty student population.
Whenever there needed to be access to the main road, an elegant series of arches allowed cars to pass through. I realise I stated this in my Milan post, but Turin also gave off a more Austrian vibe in terms of design and reducing chaos. This is supported by the bustling tram lines, white sculpture strewn about and elevated dress sense (just ignore the lady with a pink puffer jacket and faded denim in the picture above, as she isn't corroborating my claims).
Here is a statue of a man in uniform to back me up. Though there were definite similarities between the two cities, Turin had that classic grungy feel once you got away from the main streets, whereas Milan felt as though it had been scrubbed clean.
Selecting Gofri Piemontéisa for lunch, we munched on what were essentially lightweight waffle sandwiches with prosciutto and cheese inside. While waiting for our melty creations, we enjoyed watching a line of Italians sat at the counter eating, cracking jokes and swigging beers.
The cloudy weather was urging us to try a hot treat, so headed to Caffe Al Bicerin (in operation since 1763) for a 'bicerin' - an espresso hot chocolate drink with a topping of cream. 
They were served in fancy glasses next to a glowing candle. One of our menus sported a burn mark on the back and I suspect it was from such a candle (or perhaps a cigarette notched nonchalantly between the fingers of a Torinese). Though expensive, the bicerins were a worthy treat and could never be described as not chocolately enough, not coffeey enough or not creamy enough.
Catching our eye from across the square, the Santuario della Consolata (basilica which resides atop an ancient Roman church) seemed worth a quick peek inside. We found that the interior was in the style of Superfancyesque, with many gold objects and detailed paintings. We have no photos however, because as we were staring around in awe we were approached by a man. He spoke to us, in Italian. We understood none of it except the word "campanile" and his gestures for us to follow him. We decided to roll with it and started after the man who we hoped was a staff member and not the infamous Bell Tower Murderer (don't worry dad, this is a fictional serial killer that I just invented for the sake of the story). He stopped and asked everyone else in the church along, which took no time at all as surprisingly there were only a few other tourists about. Clearly October is a good time of year for sightseeing in Turin. About to leave through a large door, we were joined by a kindly lady who seemed to be waiting for this procession and the man led us through a series of locked doors and shady corridors (honestly, I did not fear for my life once during this experience). Soon we were at the foot of the campanile and began the long ascent up, regaled the whole journey by chatterings of the man and woman as though we could understand them. Nodding and grinning seemed to placate them, and they carried on having a great time. 
All the way up we were afforded marvelous views, and even spotted a moored hot air balloon hovering above the rooftops. Reaching the floor with the bells, the ¿curator? told us all about loads of churches across the city, pointing them out and delving into their complicated histories (we think). Also, the city might have been where Mary Poppins was filmed.
He mimed an umbrella, performed some unrecognisable humming, and he and the lady sprung into a brief but energetic dance. Then he indicated that a new hour was drawing near and we should leave, lest we become deafened by the proximity of the bells. We thanked the ¿curator? profusely for the unexpected tower tour, and left with a feeling of incredulity and elation at what had just transpired. This feeling, when derived from an experience with locals in a new destination, is known as being "Maastrichted" from our afternoon in the Take One bar
To move one step closer to our goal of visiting every Grom store in the world, we acquired some sorbet and gelato on our wanderings. 
After Grom, we also wanted to try less franchised gelato, so we selected a gelateria at random. The problem with Turin is that we saw far too many gelaterias with the coveted metal canisters to try them all! (First world problems to the extreme.) The oddly named '+ di un gelato' had some amazing flavours, and we were very content in our choice, though we did find out that there are a few others in the city. We had gone to a franchise after all, though it was exclusively Torino-only.
Driving out of the city proved to be impossibly difficult due to the prevalence of ZTL signs. They were everywhere! How could we escape this madness? Eventually after avoiding driving into ZTLs for some time, we were unexpectedly thrown into one anyway and simply crossed our fingers that we would not be fined. Next stop France! (And no more ZTLs - hallelujah.)

Today's post was almost called: Stairway to Deafen