Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beautiful Bordeaux & Sand in Our Shoes

Last weekend we took advantage of one of the many French holidays in May, and visited the beautiful city of Bordeaux. Bordeaux has about one million residents, making it one of the largest cities in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, which is the region in which we reside. But most famously it is known for its surrounding area, that produces some of the world's best and most well-known wines.

The tourist area of the city is almost squeaky clean. The sandstone buildings have all been cleaned, there is an impressive amount of pedestrian streets, and amazingly, there is next to no dog poop on the streets (a rarity in most of France). There is a wide and long walkway along the river, with walking and cycling lanes. Also on this walkway is the miroir d'eau, or water mirror. It is a large concrete area covered with about an inch of water. It is a bustling area, attracting both locals and tourists. Unfortunately it was a bit breezy the afternoon we checked it out, so it didn't exactly resemble a mirror.

On the drive home we stopped at the Dune de Pyla, the largest sand dunes in Europe. They are about 110 m high and three kilometers long. They fall into the Arcachon Bay, which is famous in France for its oyster production. We climbed the dunes, walked along them for a bit, then let Xavier play in the sand. They are very impressive! And we are still emptying the sand out of our shoes, pockets, diaper bag,....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Free-Range, Farm Fresh

Kramer had Little Jerry Seinfeld, now we have our own rooster, I mean chicken. Well, we don’t exactly have a chicken running around in our backyard, but we do have the next best thing: eggs from a friend’s chickens.

The egg industry is a sad one in most industrialized countries. Hundreds of chickens are crammed into cages, forced to stand on little pegs, see little or no sunlight, and just lay eggs. This results in unhealthy chickens laying unhealthy eggs. Just look at the colour of the yolks. In Calgary, the yolks of the eggs I bought were a dull straw colour. I tried different eggs claiming to be high in omega fats, with little improvement. It’s unfortunate, because there are free-range eggs out there, but not usually in the grocery stores, and most people are unwilling to pay the much higher price for them.

In France, the situation is much better. There are very affordable free-range eggs available at the grocery store. I am often skeptical of labels such as ‘organic’ and ‘free-range’, knowing it can be easy to make these claims, regardless of the actual farming technique, but the eggs I buy here are significantly better than what I bought in Calgary.

Many chickens do run freely here. All I need to do is walk five minutes down my street to find a home with a few chickens in the yard. The owners are not farmers, just own a couple of chickens for their use. I do not notice a foul smell coming from their yard; I only hear the occasional cockadoodledoo early on a summer morning when our windows are open.

Urban foodies in Canadian cities are now fighting for the right to raise chickens in their yards. Currently, there is a trial being run in Calgary and Edmonton to see if it is manageable, and Vancouver is close to passing a by-law allowing the practice. Hopefully the trials will be successful, and those wanting to keep chickens will be able to do so.

Now back to our eggs. Gilles and I have made friends with a French couple that live in our town. They have a virtual zoo in their yard, and amongst the dog, pigeons, geese, rooster, and bunnies, they have several egg-laying chickens running around. When I arrived at her house yesterday, three chickens strutted in front of my car. They roam freely, eating grass, oats, and corn. The yolks are so yellow that scrambled eggs look fluorescent. And now I am buying half a dozen eggs from her every week. Healthy chickens, healthy eggs!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Have Baby, Will Travel

I was 22 years old when I boarded my first airplane. My son, Xavier, was four months old. When I was eleven years old, my family spent a few days in St John, New Brunswick to visit my grandfather in the hospital. One night my parents took us to the shopping mall just so that my brother, sister, and I could ride the escalator. I had likely never been on an escalator before this, so it was a fun-filled family activity! In contrast to his Mom's early sheltered life, Xavier has been on city buses, Seabuses, escalators, subways, and many flights.

Last weekend we went to London, for round two of travel with baby. Babies are constantly changing, so this trip posed different challenges than the Vancouver trip. Xavier is now older and more alert, and doesn't just fall asleep anywhere and at anytime. We had to plan around naptimes and make sure to give him some playtime throughout the day. But in general, the trip went really well. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, and we only had to seek refuge from rain the last afternoon we were there.

The most challenging part of traveling with baby this trip was riding London’s Underground system, or ‘The Tube’. Most stations do not have elevators, meaning that we had to get the stroller up and down using escalators and stairs, all while fighting crowds of people. We quickly realized that making transfers was incredibly cumbersome, doubling the amount of ups and downs we had to make with the stroller. We could no longer come and go as freely as before, and chose to plan our trips to avoid transfers and the most touristy Tube stations.

Just like our London trip last year, we spent our first couple of days shopping, preferring London to Paris for this. Then, my sister and her boyfriend, who now live in Northern England, joined us for a few days. It was their first time in London, so we did some more touristy activities: we visited the sights on a hop on-hop off bus tour, and saw changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. And Saturday night, Auntie Julie babysat Xavier while we went to a lovely Indian restaurant for supper. It was our first time out alone since Xavier was born! A real treat, indeed!