Festive France Day One: Bienvenu!
Since 2011, France has celebrated its gastronomy with a typical passion and style unheralded and this 5th annual edition of Fête de la Gastronomie, the country-wide celebration of all things French food and drink is no exception. Join followsummer along with seven Canadian bloggers as we gather in four different destinations, Nantes, Bordeaux, Bayonne, or Mulhouse. Think of a French Foodie Amazing Race: Eight Canadian bloggers, four destinations, five days of eating glorious food, sipping celebrated wine and enjoying the passion and hospitality of everything France. Bon Apetite!
And don’t forget to vote for your favourite #FestiveFrance destination (HINT @VisitMulhouse !!) You could win two Air France Economy return tickets from a Canadian city to Paris, two 3-day France Rail Passes and 3 hôtel nights in the winning city. No purchase required. Contest open from September 23rd to October 15th, 2015. Trip value : 4,300 CAD.
Vote here: festivefrance.rendezvousenfrance.com
Day One. Arrival
It is a hot and sunny Indian summer day in Toronto as I trundle my over-packed bag down to Church Street, hail a cab and begin my journey to #FestiveFrance and the Fete de la Gastronomie. Already my phone is a buzz with excitement as each of my fellow Canadian bloggers is discovering what their final destinations will be when we all arrive at Charles de Gaulle tomorrow morning. The Twitter chatter is immense, and I will admit that I have a sneaking suspicion what my final destination will be.
I hop on the UP Express and whiz out to Pearson in anticipation of some Air France paparazzi, swooping down and grabbing snaps of me as I open my over-stuffed Air France envelope with the final destination boldly emblazoned on it. Unfortunately, due to some communications issues at check in, I missed my paparazzi moment and breeze through check-in and welcomed into the Air France Business Class Lounge. Oh and did I mention the fabulous upgrade to Business Class that Air France gave me?
Our promo photos finished, I head down to the gate, settle into Business Class loveliness and thumb this evening’s dinner menu over shot of vodka and quickly eye the Cod with Creamy black rice, a recipe from the official patron of this year’s Fête de la Gastronomie, Anne-Sophie Pic! Quel coincidence!
Soon we are waking up to a sunny yet chilly Paris morning, the omnipresent smell of diesel a welcome and welcoming sense memory of our many arrivals at CDG. My baggage is 3rd off!!! Nuff said as I don’t want to jinx the baggage gods on the way home. My Mulhouse teammate Jonathan, speeds through the arrivals gate all of 40 minutes after I do and we are soon headed to Gare Lyon for our 3 hour TGV trip to the Calvinist manufacturing Republic of Mulhouse, known as Stadtrepublik Mülhausen.
An hour into our speedy TGV trip, Dijon welcomes us with a one hour and thirty-five minute complete stop. Someone had decided that this day, in particular, was the perfect one to ‘jump.’ Jonathan and I use this time to get to know each other and quickly are amazed at the quick bond we have formed. We finally cruise into our Final Destination and are welcomed by the charming Clémence, check into the Hotel Bristol, literally drop our bags and rush back down to the lobby for a quick media briefing of our 4 days of challenges, food, site-seeing, wine-tasting and all things Alsatian. Because of our TGV delay, we are over two hours late with our itineraries and challenges: our fellow bloggers have already arrived and are fast at it!
At first glance Mulhouse is typically France: her working class history of cotton and railroad manufacturing, to the expansion of the textile, tanning, chemical and engineering industries from the mid 18th century clearly evident on each Mulhousian face. I can certainly see why she is known as the Manchester of France. Our briefing finished, we set out to complete our first challenge: ‘Find a Kougelhopf and meet your greeter for a visit of the city centre” Huh??
Hooked up to our handy My Webspot portable, individual wi-fi (which we LOVE), we head out to find our Kougelhopf. (google it) After much too-ing and fro-ing, a Kougelhopf is secured, and we meet our greeters, only ten minutes after the appointed hour. We are split up and I am paired with the charming Florent who gives me an English narration of the history, public spaces, and historic landmarks of the charming city centre, starting at the quaint Place de la Réunion with the City Hall and dual spires of Temple Saint Etienne (the highest Protestant Temple in France) as our beacons. Florent pulls me into the 110-year-old Au Bouton d’Or, one of the oldest cheese vendors in Mulhouse for a taste and nibble, my favourite being a smokey, stinky Muenster.
Dinner is a quite affair at the charming and tellement typique La Pause. There does not seem to be a lot of restaurant activity on a Thursday evening in Mulhouse but Clémence has chosen well, and we are regaled by the charming and completely bilingual owner, discussing smoking habits and overtime wages paid to French workers.
Tomorrow starts with a challenge of real community spirit, and I am looking forward to it.