Vive La France.

March 2, 2011 at 12:26 am 2 comments

Let me start this entry with a bit of background information. My mom has spent most of her professional life teaching French to high school students in the Chicago suburbs. She’s not in the classroom anymore, but when I think about the mom of my childhood, it’s always “my mom, the French teacher.” I also have studied French and though I’m not fluent, I speak French better than the average American who studied it in high school. My mom and I go through spurts where we practice with each other and we’re both nerdy francophiles.

American high school French textbook series always seem like they are trying to outdo each other with making French seem as wordly and multicultural as possible. What I took from these cultural bits in French books is a fascination with Angélique Kidjo and a strong desire to vacation in St. Martin. What my mom took from these cultural bits was a desire to see the fishermen on St-Pierre-et-Miquelon, a couple of French islands off the coast of Newfoundland.

And here we were on a trip to Newfoundland.

So an excursion to St-Pierre was planned. We just had to. I found a company that sold ferry+hotel packages and plans were made. We only had time to spend one night, but by golly, we were going to go to St-Pierre. For Christina and Jules, this would be their first trip to France!

Sunrise
We had to get up at an ungodly hour to make the four-hour drive to Fortune, where the St-Pierre ferry departed from. But it was worth it for this view of the harbour from our hotel room. Before the trip, I said I wanted to see a sunset in Victoria at the beginning of the trip (the westernmost point of my journey, roughly) and a sunrise in St. John’s (all the way east). Done and done! And it was a lovely one. Not lovely enough for me to get up at 3 and traipse up Signal Hill (I’ll save that experience for a trip with a less grueling schedule), but lovely enough for me to open the curtains and photograph it from the window.

You can’t account for some things, not when you have to plan in advance. So when we arrived in Fortune, we didn’t know that the ferry, about to venture into open water, was actually a boat smaller than the sightseeing boats that cruise the Chicago River at home. So we tried not to think about it. And we couldn’t plan for the weather, which turned out to be quite blustery. Once we got there, the ferry captain made some comment about how he wouldn’t have gone at all if he’d known it was going to be that rough. Pleasant! But we survived, and here we were, in France! And we’d taken a boat to get there!

I was so excited. I’d been to France (mainland France) 4 times before. Three times, I’d toured the country with my mom & groups of her students. The most recent time, in 2007, I’d only had time for a quick day in Paris at the end of a trip to London. I was craving all things French: bread, cheese, chocolate, wine, cheese, croissants, and especially cheese.

When I’m in France (I say this like I go there on a whim…I wish!), my first meal is always a sandwich au camembert. Many Americans probably think it’s strange to call stinky cheese on a giant crusty loaf of bread with some butter a meal, but not this one. I crave les sandwiches au camembert. And until a couple of months ago, I had no idea where to find one in Chicago, so this was my big chance. We headed across the square to the tourist office to find out where the nearest café was.

They were all closed; it was Sunday afternoon.

Actually, not one thing on the island was open, besides the tourist office, which was open primarily to inform the tourists that everything was closed. A few restaurants would open at 7pm evening for dinner. Nearly everything was closed Monday morning, too; things opened after lunch on Monday. This is pretty typical in small French towns, so I was expecting that most things would be closed. However, I’ve never experienced a tourist destination where everything is closed, at least not when the tourists all show up together, at a certain time!

We’d stopped at Robin’s Coffee & Donuts (their coffee is subpar at all of their locations, it seems, not just on the ferry!) early in our drive, but it was early afternoon now, and we were looking forward to a nice déjeuner. No such luck.

So we checked into the hotel, scarfed down some Pringles and fruit bars, and took our cameras out to explore St-Pierre. What else could we do?

Waterfront
St-Pierre really is a nice-looking town, although the weather is dreadful. Please note what this couple is wearing as they walk their dog, and remember that I took this photo on July 4th, when friends back home were donning shorts to picnics and having water balloon fights.

St-Pierre street
Like St. John’s, they use bright paints in St-Pierre to keep the town cheery through the dreary weather. Only I think that St-Pierre has even brighter colours, as well as pastels. Very pretty!

Cathedral
We saw the lovely stone cathedral, but it was closed, too. Despite it being Sunday!

Cannons
St-Pierre is quite proud of its lighthouse and cannons, and I have to say that we really did pick a great lighting day for photographing them!

Salines
These are “les salines,” and they’re used for storing fishing equipment. Or they used to be used for storing fishing equipment. Either way, they are quite photogenic.

Lighthouse
St-Pierre Lighthouse

Town Square
Town Square, at the waterfront. Look, we found a few people…but they are probably displaced, hungry tourists, just like us.

At this point, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was wearing 3 layers, but the damp wind was cutting right through them. It was nearing the end of a long trip, and after such an early morning, I couldn’t take being tired, disappointed, cold, and hungry. Three of the four, maybe, but not all four. So Jules and I retreated to the hotel and took a nap, which I think was the best possible thing I could have done. Sometimes the anemic girl just has to have a nap. I’d been pushing myself for almost four straight weeks; it was time.

After 7, we decided on L’Atelier Gourmand, partially because they claimed to have great fruit de la mer (seafood), partially because it was about 12 steps from our hotel room. Either way, it was a great choice. It was the sort of place with fancy folded napkins and food that came wrapped in parchment paper and, in my case, skewers of scallops served on a giant hanger-thing.
My Scallops

We cracked crême brulée with a spoon, like we were in Amélie, and drank delicious wine and ate fabulous seafood, and at the end of it all, I’d forgiven France for the transgressions of the afternoon. I still hadn’t had Camembert, but I planned to get a giant wheel of it the next day.

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Entry filed under: Photos.

a st. john’s evening A Day Without Cheese

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jules  |  March 2, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Le sigh.

    Reply
  • 2. Mom  |  May 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    J’ai appris, pendant l’excursion que j’ai fait ce matin, que le gouvernment francais paie pour les peintures des maisons tous les deux ou trois ans.

    Reply

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A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.

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