So Christmas came and went, but we still had so much to look forward to…. Mac and MaMac McFadden were coming to visit!
Chuck woke up early the morning of their arrival and headed up to Paris to pick them up. He left with plenty of time to spare in case he ran into any delays on his way there, but when he arrived to the baggage claim, his parents there waiting on him. Their flight had arrived an hour and a half early! I didn’t even know this was possible, especially with an international flight!
All went well with their trip, and the 3 of them arrived to Clermont that evening. We were all so excited to see them, it was a long day of waiting! Wells decided to wait right next to the door… he laid under the table in our hallway for easily 30 minutes!
It was so incredibly wonderful to see them, hug them, and have them here with us in Clermont for the next several days! 6 months has felt like FOREVER!!!!!
We had planned to pick up pizza from our favorite pizza place here in town, but they were closed for the holidays, so Chuck ended up grabbing frozen pizzas from Picard, a nearby frozen food store. I”m not sure how they do it, but every single thing we have bought from Picard is so tasty! Luckily, though I wasn’t planning to have to rely on frozen pizza as their first French meal, these did not disappoint. They have all types of varieties- the goat cheese/walnut/honey was definitely one of the faves! We were also so excited to open some of our very favorite Bordeauxs we had bought back in October at the wine fair and, along with finishing off some Christmas cookies, all was good 🙂 I couldn’t get over how well Mac and MaMac rallied that night! They were looking great, full of energy, and no hint of jet lag!
The next morning, they were up and ready for the day! Early that first morning, Mac had gone down to the breakfast room at their hotel, hoping to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper, but, (as one of the challenges to an American coffee drinker here in France) finding 1) brewed coffee and 2) a moderate to larger sized cup of coffee is almost impossible. And if you do find a restaurant that serves it, you have to figure out what it’s called, because there are several different names for it, but usually just “American coffee” (not to be confused with an “americano”). Ordering just “coffee” usually means a tiny cup of espresso, hot, black and super strong (aaaahhhhhhh…..so yummy!!) But, if you are not an espresso drinker (like Mac), finding your morning coffee is no easy task! And FORGET IT if you wanted a big coffee to go! There is literally only one place that serves a big cup of coffee to go (and it’s not that good). Luckily, the previous tenants of our apartment had sold us a coffee maker that we keep on hand as a spare, so I was happy to have a pot brewed for him the next several mornings 🙂
After brunch at our house (pastry time!) we headed out to show Mac and MaMac all of our most-frequented spots here in Clermont. It was a super cold day, but they had come well prepared with hats/scarves/gloves, heavy coats, etc. so they were all set!
They were staying at a hotel across the square from us and had lucked out with a huge corner room that overlooked Jaude… after a cozy lunch of crêpes, they were brave enough to invite us up to their room to show us the view:).
After a few minutes of undoing everything the maid had done that morning to clean their room, it was time to get the boys out of there…
Since Mac loves a good steak, we took them to our favorite steak restaurant, La Vache Qui Tête that night.
For a true steak lover such as Mac, there is some good news and bad news when it comes to eating steak here in France… Bad news first.
1) Beef is definitely not their forté. While there are exceptions to this rule- we’ve had some great steak since we have been here- most of the time, the beef can be very tough (all grass fed) and has a very different flavor.
2) It is almost impossible to figure out which cuts are which. The French cuts of meat are butchered differently than back home so in addition to trying to figure out how to translate “filet” into French, for example, you also have to figure out what that cut/region of the cow is termed here. When I was back in Greenville and taking French lessons, my French teacher knew that I was quite interested in trying to familiarize myself with French cuisine, so one day she handed me a printout with a diagram of all the different cuts of meat that are most commonly eaten here in France- beef, lamb, pork. Chicken is eaten frequently as well, but there’s not much change there. At the time, it was a complicated picture with lines drawn everywhere and French words that I didn’t understand. I still don’t.
So, being the Americans that we are, we all had our phones out at the table trying to translate “Sirloin” and “Ribeye”, etc. quickly before the waiter came so that we could be prepared…
The good news. The French do love their steak rare. And I mean, like bloody. This IS the home of steak tartare after all. (For some reason, this confuses me… why is the word tartare used to describe a dish made from raw ground beef?) So, if you love your steak rare (like Mac), you are in business. If you don’t (me, the boys (hamburgers), then you have to just lay your pride aside and (though you might offend the chef I’ve heard?) ask for it to be prepared “Bien cuit” (well cooked) which I find to be the equivalent to still (only) medium.
MaMac went with the faux-filet and the 3 of us had the entrecôte, all of which were great. It was a freezing cold, windy night but thanks to some warm heat lamps, we had a cozy meal outside (in tents) and had a great time.
On New Years Eve, after weeks of rain, clouds and cold, we were thrilled to see the weather forecast predict sun and 65 degrees! We had hoped to be able to take Mac and MaMac up to the Puy de Dôme, the big volcano I had talked about in an earlier post (see Biarritz) to enjoy the view of the city down below and way beyond. At this time of year, or at least this year, it has been extremely rare on any day to be able to see the entire Puy de Dôme…
Usually you can just see the lower or upper half of it, as the rest is often covered by clouds.
But most days this winter, it has been so gray and cloudy, we haven’t been able to see much of the Puy de Dôme at all.
You can drive about 20 minutes up from downtown and park to board a panoramic train which continues up further to the top of the Dôme.
Wells had a little bout of carsickness on the way there (note: reading I Spy in the way back row and switchbacks do not mix) but after some time and a Pepsi, he was back in business…
When we arrived to the train, some people boarding were wearing full on snowsuits and carrying sleds, so we figured there must be quite a bit of snow up there.
We could not have had a more perfect day to visit the top. The view overlooking our city from this high up (1465 meters) was incredible!
There was a lot more snow that we expected! Without gloves, boots (or sleds! ha!) I guess we were a little ill-equipped (at this point, that’s not a new concept) but this definitely did not keep the boys from pummeling us with lots of snowballs and trying to sled down the hill on a plastic bag, which was zero help.
There were so many different views depending on which direction we were facing. Because it was so clear that day, you could see what felt like all of France beneath us. And the volcanos! Because the Puy de Dôme is the highest peak of all the nearby volcanos in this Châine des Puys, we were literally looking down on some of the others, including Volvic (where Volvic bottled water is sourced) you could even see the craters!
We of course, took advantage of the view (and Mac and MaMac 🙂 to snap some family pics too! So much easier than trying (and failing) to get a selfie of the 5 of us….
The sun was so bright it was hard to avoid the glare in some shots…
After awhile, we boarded the train and rode back down to the welcome center where the train stops. There was a cute gift shop and small museum there too where M/M found a few treasures. At that point, we were all starving, but opted out on the few remaining mayonnaise-laden, pre-packaged sandwiches left at the snack bar, figuring we could find something back down in Clermont.
When we got into Chamalières, a small town right outside of Clermont, we stopped at one of our favorite bakeries, figuring we’d be able to get some sandwiches to tide us over until dinner. Well, it turns out that showing up with 7 English-speaking people at closing time on New Years Eve means 1)a less-than-patient boulangère 2) no sandwiches left. So, I grabbed 3 loaves called I-don’t-know-what, but woven with cheese and bacon and 21 euros (!) later, we were all happy and no longer hangry.
We headed back to the apartment to get ready for New Years Eve dinner and Mac and MaMac headed out to explore. They headed up to the Christmas market and shared some oysters….
They told us later that the mignonette that was served alongside them was especially good! Chuck and I were both jealous and now kicking ourselves that we never bought some when the market was still open…
We had a lovely New Years Eve dinner with Mac and MaMac and were all easily in bed by 10:30. Everyone was exhausted from a busy day and I was feeling a cold coming on, so we never even made it to the magnum of champagne I’d purchased from my French teacher’s friend in Reims (one of the centres of champagne production here in France). Ugh! So sad. Charlie and Owen were determined to stay up until midnight and watched various New Years Eve celebrations from all over the world in different time zones. They were the last 2 standing!
The next day was cold and rainy (much more like the weather we are used to) and I’m not sure Owen and I even got off the couch. Everyone else headed to a nearby park, but with the rain, they came back and M/M ventured out a bit on their own, exploring some more. We had a low-key meal that night and were able to watch the Gamecocks play (and win!) in real-time, which we really haven’t been able to do here up until now either because of different time zones or technical issues… It was so special for Chuck to be able to watch Carolina play with his 2 favorite fellow Gamecocks!
The next morning, with clearer skies but very heavy hearts, we walked over to their hotel to say goodbye. Selfishly, we didn’t want them to leave. SUCH an incredible week with these 2 very, very special people.
But, they weren’t heading home quite yet. They were heading to Paris for the first time in their lives! And for us, Barcelona.