Monday, December 28, 2009

Walks and Domestic Chores

We continue to explore Metz by going on one to two-mile walks each day. Yesterday we walked south of the central area to a neighborhood with larger buildings. Very few people were out and about - just a typical Sunday in Metz, I suppose. We walked by the Moselle River and turned inward on the street where another Georgia Tech apartment is located; it's in a stand-alone building with Tudor revival features covered with what looks like wisteria. We searched for a restaurant called "Le Tex Mex" but couldn't find it (we later saw that we had missed it by a block). Our next stop was the Metz train station, built in the early 20th century with very Germanic architectural elements (look at David's blog for more information and photos).

Our walk today took us through the central area of town, down to the Moselle, and back through the shopping area. People were out in force today, most likely a result of after-Christmas sales.

On to domestic chores. In the past 24 hours, we have used the dishwasher, the washing machine, and the dryer - all successfully. It's very interesting to watch the washing machine - a front-loader that goes clockwise and counter-clockwise, rinsing and spinning like crazy. It takes two hours and ten minutes to go through its cycles! We also drove to Cora, a super-marche near Georgia Tech's building, to get groceries and other items the apartment lacks. Cora is similar to Walmart - it has everything. We enjoyed going up and down each aisle checking out the merchandise.

David made a wonderful dinner of chicken, pasta, and zucchini tonight, and we ended the meal splitting a chocolate eclair and a mille feuille (this is why we take walks each day!).

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas +/- in Metz

We've had a low-key couple of days, catching up on our sleep and exploring our new environs. After a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at a nearby restaurant, we slept late on Christmas Day, took a nap a couple of hours later (!), and attended an organ concert in a very cold church two blocks away. Returning to the apartment to warm up, we watched television and made dinner, consisting of beef stew and wine. The buches de Noel made for a fine dessert!

We awoke to a clear blue sky this morning and decided to get in the car and drive east towards the German border. We went to the basement of our building to get the car and found that the battery was dead! So up we went to the apartment to call the Hertz Emergency Service. A mechanic came about an hour later and got the car started and we were then on our way.

David and I have a penchant for taking back roads to our destinations. He drives and I navigate; we have a French atlas that shows each and every road. Our first destination was a town called Pange, home to an chateau that was indicated on the atlas. The chateau was built in 1720 by Jean-Baptiste Thomas de Pange; its gardens have gone through many changes since that time. Occupied by the Americans, Candians, and Germans in World War II and turned into a children's home and playground, the chateau was returned to its owner, the Marquis de Plange, in 1977, and his son and daughter-in-law have restored the house and the gardens.

Passing the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant (one of two we saw today), we continued on to Creutzwald, a town next to the German border. We drove around looking for a place to eat (by that time it was about 2:30 pm), and weren't successful. On our way out of town, we noticed a sign for the arches dorees, and partook of a meal there. The fries were good and the bathrooms were clean.

Driving northwest out of Creutzwald, we came upon a small, terraced cemetery near the town of Bouzonville. We passed it, and noticing that it was a Jewish cemetery, turned around to take a look. There were many members of the Bloch family buried there, and there were stones on newer graves, indicating that people had visited the cemetery to remember family members. There is a wedding store in Bouzonville named Benoit Bloch.

We returned to Metz on a two-lane road on a ridge, enabling us to see green fields and valleys below. Once in town, we made our way back to the apartment, parked the car, and rested for a while before going out for a walk.

And a nice walk it was...through the Place de la Republique to the Moselle River, passing churches and buildings lit up in the night sky. We walked up to the Jewish synagogue then back down to the downtown area. After buying some very expensive Alsatian cookies in Place St. Louis, we headed back to the apartment, stopped for a dinner of tartines (open-faced sandwiches), and are here blogging away!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Settling in...

We had a long day yesterday, a continuation of the day before. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport at 8:30 am, we figured we would miss our train out of Paris, so we exchanged our train tickets and took the TGV to the Lorraine TGV station, located in the middle of the countryside about 20 minutes south of Metz. During the 90 minute ride through the French countryside, we saw many grain elevators and green fields. Getting on and off the train was a bit difficult - carrying six suitcases of various sizes and two briefcases, we must have been a sight to behold! We hopped on a shuttle to Metz - the driver was nice enough to put our bags in the baggage compartment - and went on a route that included the regional post office, the regional airport, back to the post office and then on to Metz.

We unloaded our bags at the train station and found a place to sit to await Nicolas, a staff member at Georgia Tech-Lorraine (GTL), who helped us rent a car and took us to our apartment. Located across the street from the downtown area, the apartment consists of a large living room, a smallish kitchen, a study, three bedrooms, a tub and a shower. When we arrived, Nicolas went around the apartment turning on heaters in each room as it was quite cold. He showed us the particulars of the apartment and gave us the keys - there are four doors one must open before one gets into the apartment itself - and left. We then followed him and went to explore the downtown area and get a bite to eat.

Metz is known for Christmas markets located throughout the downtown area. The markets are charming, with vendors selling everything from cheese to spices to escargot. Bakeries and chocolate shops abound! People were loading up on bread and pastries (especially boches de Noel - special for Christmas). We ate a mid-afternoon lunch of soup, a savory crepe, and cider, and bought some pastries to eat later - they constituted our dinner!

When we returned to the apartment, all the lights and heat were off. I had noticed a flashlight (thank goodness!) and we looked into the fuse box but didn't see anything wrong. With the phone inoperable, David had to go out, find a phone and call Nicolas to help us out. Nicolas arrived about 10 minutes later, turned a switch which we hadn't seen, and voila, the eletricity and heat returned. Yet, when we used an appliance or turned up a heater, the electricity would go off again. This lasted for about an hour, and the place was getting colder and colder. Once the electricity had stayed on for 40 minutes, most likely a result of turning down the heat in the other rooms, we decided to get some sleep. It was still cold, so we slept in our clothes with duvets from the other beds covering us!
Nicolas came by at about 10 am this morning and said that an electrician would come by at some point today. That happened to be about five minutes after David left to get breakfast and other provisions. Of course, the electrician didn't speak English and I couldn't convey the problem in French. He checked out the fuse box and looked around and couldn't find anything wrong. Fortunately, David returned just as he was leaving, and we all figured that we had overloaded the system when we turned on all the heaters at once.
After a mid-morning breakfast, we ventured off to take photos of the markets, visit the Metz Cathedral (with beautiful Marc Chagall windows depicting Old Testament themes), make reservations for dinner, and buy food for the next couple of days at a nearby grocery store. We returned to a warm apartment and unpacked, so we're feeling settled.

My first impressions are Metz are quite good. The people are friendly (especially if you speak French like David) and their warmth helps overcome the cold weather. We are lucky to be in the center of town in an apartment that is quiet but close to shopping and other attractions.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

I'll be posting experiences, photos and impressions of living in France for five months as well as travels to Bangladesh and India in January 2010.