Sunday, July 28, 2019

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...) and similar to Canada (driving on the right, and the metric system). Pretty much all of my time in France was spent in the region of Normandy and so most of what I learned might not apply to all regions of France. As ever a work in progress, here we go!

General Facts about Normandy:
The cliffs at Dieppe
  • Normandy is known for her cliffs and rocky beaches which are both stunning and dangerous. The highest cliffs in Normandy are by the city of Fécamp and reach a height of 110m.
  • The Calvados region of Normandy is famous for, uh, Calvados. This is a type of brandy/whisky made from apples (mostly) or pears. I did not try it.
  • Many places in Normandy experienced a lot of damage during the war from both sides of the fighting. This means that some towns, like Caen, look a lot more modern than others.
  • In Normandy, there are more cows than people. (Okay, this last one isn't a fact, but it sure seemed like it. There are more cows in all of France than in Normandy though).
Now, here's what I noticed about France:
1. Dinner Time
I’d heard that Italians eat dinner late, but I didn’t realize that it’s also a thing in France. Every day at Verbosc, Michel and I would have a breakfast of bread/croissants around 8, lunch around 12-14:00 and then the hours would drag by. He wouldn’t even think of making dinner until 19:30/20:00. In Korea, city night life is also huge! But where I live on Jeju island, many restaurants close around 20:00 with last orders sometimes as early as 19:00. I’ve become accustomed to eating earlier. I also found that when I ate later and then still woke around 6/7am, I felt nauseous.
2. Yield to the Right
Random road near le Verbosc.
When driving in France (and apparently other European countries), if there is no signage indicating otherwise, you need to yield to the right. This system definitely has merits which help to ensure that other vehicles are able to emerge and get into traffic, but there were a couple very busy roads where cars were zipping along at 70km/h and a smaller road intersected, and not always easily spotted. If you are foreign to an area, it could be very dangerous; if cars were waiting at the intersection, those clicking along need to stop and yield. 

As a side note to driving, I have become accustomed to the use of mirrors everywhere on Korean roads and I don't think I realized how much I appreciated the extra vision they afforded until we're weaving through these French streets where everyone has really high hedges and harsh corners to the edge of properties. I was at times really concerned about easing around a corner because you really couldn't see very much. Long live the mirrors!

3. Recycling at the Grocery Stores
If you have lightbulbs or batteries or other odd recyclables, you can bring them down to your grocery store and deposit them in a bin. Very convenient.

4. Everything is better with Goat Cheese.

5. But seriously: Cheese and Bread?
Rack of baguettes at Duclos' Boulangerie.
People joke about the bread and cheese in France, but now I get it. Seriously. The bakery is the heart and soul of a town and people go every single day. 

Every morning, Michel drove to a bakery in Yvetot to pick up fresh bred for the day. What if we didn't eat all of the bread one day and had leftovers? Old bread isn’t for ordinary meals, peasant. Old bread is for toasting. (Although I secretly wished I could have toasted the fresh stuff, too!). 

There was also always some type of cheese on the go in the fridge, sometimes two. When guests stayed at the castle, we would serve cheese with breakfast, but at most, I think a hunk of cheese lasted 3 days before being fully consumed. I like cheese well enough, but on things. I don’t much like the feel of chewing into cheese. While I might like the taste, I usually need to pair it with another texture as a distraction. These people? I saw people cutting off pieces thicker than my wrist and biting it like an apple. Crazy!

6. Transportation: BlaBlaCar
BlaBlaCar is my new favourite car service, although I only successfully used it once. Really, it’s not much different from Uber or Lyft. The main difference being that commuters have posted their regular commute or planned routes. You can then find a car going where you’re going and jump in. BlaBlaCar has recently partnered with Ouibus, a cheaper bus service in France. You do need a phone number to set it up, which did cause me a couple of initial problems. With both my Korean and Canadian sim cards, I had trouble receiving the texts while in France. I ended up inserting one of my parental phone numbers, calling them over wifi, and getting the access code that way. Without it, I couldn't arrange any rides or send anyone any messages. (I also found some really cheap train tickets here, for when BlaBlaCar couldn’t solve my problems. This website and the accompanying app, saved me at least twice).
7. PDA
Maybe it's because I've been living in Korea for so long now and the most touchy-feely you tend to see is handholding or a side hug. France was not like that. On more than a couple of occasions, I saw couples full out making out. The worst (or best depending on how you look at it) was when this couple was on the subway platform across from me in Paris. The woman was holding a purse in her hand and the guy was holding an empty coffee cup and some trash. It started out simple enough with a gentle kiss, and then they both decided they'd rather eat each others face. So they did that for a minute or so (while a mom and three kids comes out of the entrance beside them and sits along the chairs at the back) and then they decide that the items in their hands are too much of an obstacle. So they quickly put them down near the wall and proceed to hold each other in a rapt embrace, bodies flushed together. 

Why did I watch this? I was mildly curious as to how far they would go. Luckily, my train arrived (causing no ripple in their tongue-locking action), and I left.

Love and Bisous (the cheek ones, not the crazy PDA ones)
The city of Rouen from the top of le Gros Horloge (the Giant Clock).

Friday, July 19, 2019

Thoughts from Caen

Dear people of the blogosphere and travel enthusiasts,

I've been taking a bit of a different approach with my travels this summer and have planned my few overnight trips less than 48 hours before departures--and sometimes only the bare minimum: transport and accommodation. The sights I sort of decided on the fly.

Last week, my visit to Caen was no exception. I didn't really know where I wanted to go, but thought it'd be cool to see Juno beach since I'd already seen Dieppe and both were major incidents for Canadians during the Second World War. A quick google search spoke of William the Conqueror's castle and I was sold. (My patron, upon learning I was going to Caen, couldn't really understand the attraction aside from the nearby D-Day beaches. He argued that people go near Caen, but not to Caen. So maybe it was also part stubbornness that firmed my decision).

Most of the city was destroyed during the summer after the D-Day landings and in the late 1940s/50s, the main goal was to rebuild quickly so that people had places to live. This means that unlike some other cities in France, there are not as many stereotypic picturesque streets, although there are a few gems and hot spots. During my first night in the city, I learned about the Caen Memorial and decided to make it my first stop.
Photo of the Caen Memorial. Source: François Monier, Calvados Tourisme.
I didn't realize how big the memorial was until I stood at the entrance. I wasn't sure what to expect, initially, but it wasn't the structure that stood before me.

In the memorial, they had recreated a wall
covered in propaganda and news.
The giant slab of stone, rising from a well maintained field of green, had the words, "La douleur m’a brisée, la fraternité m’a relevée, de ma blessure a jailli un fleuve de liberté" written across its surface (Pain broke me, fraternity brought me up, from my injury flowed a river of liberty). An imposing reminder.

I arrived early just as the memorial opened at 9am and opted to get the audio guide for an extra couple of euros (ticket just under 20 euros, audio guide just under 5). In hindsight, there was a lot of information even without the guide and I wouldn't say that it was necessary to enjoy the museum and the experience. At times, I struggled with the guide because I was trying to read and listen at the same time--which I know uses the same part of your brain and doesn't work, but still... There was just so much to look at!

For those interested, you could also arrange a tour to the beaches, but as I already planned to head out to the Canadian Juno Beach Centre the next day, I decided not this time.

The memorial had a really cool set up and was divided into different zones. At the start of the tour, I entered a door marked pre-1945 and was taken on a directed journey through twisted corridors and a labyrinth of rooms (or at least, that's what it seemed like).
Anti-Hitler teapot. Would you keep
it after the war?

The walls were lined with various sources from photos, maps, journal/news excerpts, video interviews, and explanations. Along the way, they would show updated versions of maps, depending on the year/month of the war, for both the war in the pacific and Europe to show the stages of military and country control. Certain sections were set aside for daily life during the war, the holocaust, and key points of conflict, but on the whole it was structured around the timeline. I really liked learning about some of the ways the governments raised money for the war effort: anti-Hitler themed teapot, card games and board games being some examples.
Part of the display on the
Jewish Discrimination

In the post-1945 section, they not only discussed the immediate conclusions, but the dynamics of the cold war, the changing relations of power and between countries. There were even pieces from the Berlin Wall, which was definitely cool.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and thought it was presented and organized well (with a decent gift shop for war related materials). Unfortunately, I also quickly got information overload. From the text, visuals and audio stimuli my brain had trouble digesting and processing all of the information.

I spent about 7 hours at the museum and mainly left because (1) I felt like I couldn't absorb anymore information, and (2) I still wanted to see a couple other things in the city and I needed to be mindful of closing times.

So, while my patron questioned why Caen, I found a gem well worth visiting in a city that has been through a lot. If you are in Caen or visiting the beaches, I highly recommend you check it out!

Love and Hugs

Monday, July 01, 2019

Dear Canada,

Happy Birthday! Today you are "officially" 152 years old.

There has been a lot of hype around your official birthday in the last couple of years. Especially during Canada 150. Like many countries around the world, you have a shadowed history with skeletons buried only as deep as last season's fashion line. I wish you didn't, true, but I can't just ignore and pretend they're not there.
An appropriate shirt for the day.

As I've been spending time away travelling through other countries and meeting all sorts of people, I've been thinking a lot about what being Canadian means to me and to our identity. Why do I celebrate Canada Day? Here is a very *very* abridged timeline:

We are a country of blended (and chaotic) beginnings. With the race for colonization and imperialism, both the French and the English fought for ownership over the land and the native populations. It was an era of nationalism and the clash of prides. That history is littered with the fragments of broken treaties and unkept promises--from multiple parties.

In the mid-late 1700s, after many battles between the French and English (with First Nation allies on both sides), France lost the war and ceded ownership of what is now Quebec to England. The lingering sentiment between the two languages and people wasn't so "easily" settled by the shake of hands and French communities were not treated as well nor always respected by the English settlers.
But who were we then? Not a country yet... Just a gathering of settlements amidst clans of aboriginal tribes in a country the English claimed as their own.

To the south, the US claimed their independence from England with the bravado and volume they have become known for world wide. We were like a young toddler waddling along next to the 19 year old moving out and off on a motorcycle while mum and dad weren't looking. There was a fear that we would be invaded and absorbed, ripped from mummy's hand. This fear, along with a number of other factors that are too numerous for this abridged account, eventually led to acquiring our own independence on July 1st, 1867. Most people in Canada often say that the US had an exciting beginning whereas we just talked and talked and talked and then became a country. If they only looked deeper, they'd see the intrigue and plotting... and the planning of genocide.

In addition to the conflicts between the English and the French (with a predominantly English government enacting discriminatory policies that limited the growth of French like in Manitoba and Saskatchewan), the government oppressed AND continues to oppress native communities through policies (ie. residential schools) and the distribution of services (communities that are without water, stable education, or goods). A quick internet search today can yield a slew of articles on injustice issues and so really, it's no wonder that your birthday gets people riled up. What are we celebrating when so many of our own people--and some of the people who've been here the longest--are being mistreated and misrepresented? That needs to change. No birthday in the world can change that.

Canada, I know you can be better. I want us to be better.

 I think of all the people who live off your land today who are from countries all over the world. Whether they've moved because they want to or maybe because they've had to, you have become a safe place and a home for many. You unites us, and in the same way, you allow many to promote and share their own cultures.

So, Canada, you are far from perfect, but today on your birthday, I want to celebrate what we have come to stand for at our core, and our potential for the future.

Love & Hugs

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...