Food, Travel

A Visit to the Confiserie des Haut Vosges (CDHV)

When discussing French gastronomy, it’s not hard to guess what immediately comes to mind. The trifecta of “wine, cheese and breads” are the usual suspects, closely followed by breakfast pastries, funky foods – mostly along the lines of terrines and patés, frog’s legs, escargots, steak tartare, and what someone once described as “actually, not far from dog food”.

Be that as it may… one man’s meat is another man’s poison, n’est-ce pas?

What may come as a surprise however, is how partial the French are to their sweets, or bonbons, as they call them over here. We’re not talking about gâteaux like a fondant au chocolat or a Paris-Brest, nor desserts like a clafoutis or a crème brûlée, nor pastries like an éclair or a kouign-amman, nor biscuits like a macaron or a tuile, but actual sweets.

Or candy if you’re from the USA. Or lollies if you’re Australian. Yes, sweets.

How fond exactly, of sweets, are the French, you might wonder? Well, consider this – statistics from the Syndicat National de la Confiserie (yeah, they actually have a national candy organisation) state that in 2013, the French spent a total of 1,070 million€, to consume 222 200 tonnes of sweets. Over a billion euros. On average, a French person would consume 3.3kg (or 7.27lbs) of chocolates, dragées, nougats, pâtes de fruits, marzipan and chewing gum per year. For those interested in a full breakdown of stats, click here.

Little wonder then, that the Confiserie Des Haut Vosges is the fifth most visited enterprise in all of France.

GodzillaPin, eager to indulge his sweet tooth.

GodzillaPin, eager to indulge his sweet tooth.

Having sampled and bought the CDHV goodies many times before, at various Christmas markets and local fares, the duo simply couldn’t resist a visit to the factory in Plainfaing when they were in the area for the Ninja Turtle’s trail race in the Vosges. Hey, carb-loading, right? And since sugars are carbs, who’s to argue with science?

Entry was free and open to all, and the visit included a quick tour with a demonstration of the candy-making process. The team were highly professional and explained the process well, BUT… it was all conducted in French. That said, the factory does welcome international visitors, and there were brochures and pamphlets in English, German (and maybe Italian if one remembers rightly?) At any rate, it’s a great place to bring the kids who need an extra incentive to brush up on the French!

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Once the factory tour was complete, visitors proceed to the museum.

Traditional copper pots on display. These were called "cul de poule", which translates to "ass of chicken" (I kid you not).

Traditional copper pots on display. These were called “cul de poule”, which translates to “ass of chicken”. Truly.

The visit ended in the candy store, where GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle spent so much money, the shop gave them a free environmentally-friendly reusable bag to carry all their goodies in, plus three free bags of candy, because of course, the 15 they bought were not enough. After all, with a 3.3kg of candy consumption target each to meet, they’ll need all the sugar they can get to fulfil their patriotic obligation!

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Running, Travel

40th Edition of Les Crêtes Vosgiennes

Hi all, apologies for the spell of silence since the last update, the Ninja Turtle hasn’t fall off the side of a cliff (yet) so she’s really got no excuse for not updating, but the weather here has been swinging between extremes – hot and sunny days punctuated with periods of overcast and cold, so the Ninja Turtle has been trying to make the most of the warm weather while it lasts. Unlike most people, she prefers the heat to the cold, and while she may look foolish in shorts, at least she’s not battling to open her mid-run fuel with frozen fingers despite 2 pairs of gloves.

Last weekend, the duo took another road trip, this time for a race in the Vosges. Thankfully, it was much closer to home than the Alps; there is little worse than being cramped in a car for hours after, or for that matter, even before a trail race. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Les Crêtes Vosgiennes is a well-established trail race in Alsace that offered up 2 distances, 13km and 33km. The longer race commenced at Markstein, taking runners over 13 peaks (or crests), sharing the last 13km with the shorter race, and finishing at Lac Blanc. There were water stops every 5km, and except the first one, all the others also offered up fresh and dried fruits, cheese and sausages, biscuits and gingerbread. Just like at the Trail des Passerelles, the weather promised to be fine – only if you finished by a certain time.

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The duo stayed in a cute little bed and breakfast, where the owner kindly prepared the Turtle a super-early breakfast of coffee, pastries, cheese and jam, which the Turtle demolished because #1. nothing like coffee to get pre-race bowels moving, and #2.from previous experience, racing above 1000m above sea level makes the Turtle quite ill so there is no guarantee she’d be able to stomach any mid-race fuel. GodzillaPin drove the Turtle to Lac Blanc, where shuttle buses waited to take runners to the starting lines at Markstein or Schlucht.

Now, it could have been the three cups of coffee, or it could have been the winding mountain roads, but the ride felt interminable, and the Ninja Turtle was feeling rather anxious. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help asking herself “Are we there yet? How much farther till we arrive? I have to run this whole way back? It’s very far… can I really run this far? It feels very far. Oh my God please don’t let me DNF again…”

To calm herself down, she turned to the runner next to her and started blabbing.

NT: Do you know how many runners are doing the 33km?
Fellow runner: No idea, but quite a lot. It’s the 40th edition so it’s pretty big.
NT: Have you done this race before?
Fellow runner: Yes, in 2010, and it was rainy but we’ve got good weather today. It’s going to be lovely, you’ll enjoy it.
NT: But I think they say it’s going to rain at some stage this afternoon?
Fellow runner: Well, if you run fast enough, it won’t be a problem now, will it?
NT: How technical is the trail?
Fellow runner: It’s pretty tough, but doable. You know, back in the day, it started at Lac Blanc and finished in Markstein.
NT: Why did they reverse the direction of the race?
Fellow runner: To make it harder.

Not exactly reassuring, but at least it killed time and soon enough, they arrived in Markstein.

The competition was, for want of a better word, competitive, at this race. Laugh all you want but the Ninja Turtle found herself swept along in the enormous crowd and after the first kilometre, found herself panting despite a descent. She had to swallow her pride and let dozens of other runners overtake her as she found her rightful place in the line.

First thing the Ninja Turtle noticed was the difference in landscape. A few short months ago, she was in the area skiing at La Bresse; gone was the snow and in its place, tall grass and rocky, pebble-strewn paths. And mountain ranges are all magnificent in their own special way – the views while running on the Alps were truly spectacular, but the pine forests of the Vosges are no less impressive.

The other thing was the crowds – volunteers at the water stations and supporters en route. While us runners may be grimacing in pain, don’t for a minute believe that you are invisible to us. We may not respond to your words of encouragement, but every one of them is very much appreciated. Being one of the few (or sometimes only) Asian runner in a mostly homogenous competing field, she finds herself in the rather awkward position of drawing more attention than she’s comfortable with.

There are mutually embarrassing moments when she runs with a group and supporters would be shouting encouragements to each individual but as soon as they see her and they just clam up – the Ninja Turtle is just going to assume that they assume she doesn’t understand French, because the alternative explanation is unthinkably racist and if it truly is the case, she’d rather not know. But then there are also some lovely moments when supporters see her, and cheer her on as they would any other runner. At this race, the Ninja Turtle got a lot more encouragement than usual, which only leads to the conclusion that Alsaciens/Alsaciennes are incredibly friendly. Also, they have the cutest accent (c’est bien comes out sounding like “say bee-an” rather than “say bee-uhn”).

A few quick lessons the Ninja Turtle’s learnt from this race:

  1. A mile is a mile is a mile, but racing from point-to-point feels psychologically harder for the Ninja Turtle rather than doing a round-trip.
  2. She doesn’t like mounting several small peaks, preferring do a couple of big climbs and a couple of big descends. This race had an elevation gain and loss of about 2000m (compared to 3500m at her previous race) and yet the constant uphills and downhills felt tougher.
  3. An uphill climb on soft forest soil is ten times easier than flat ground studded with irregularly-shaped rocks where runners have to leap over said rocks or try to balance precariously on them while maintaining a “running” pace.
  4. An uphill climb on any terrain is a million times more preferable to a cliff descent that involves rolling pebbles over sandy and unstable ground.
  5. Don’t put Ventolin or mobile phone in left chest pocket of hydration bag, it’s got a giant hole in it.
  6. If said hydration bag weighs 1.6kg after crossing the finish line, it’s got too much crap in it. (Most of the weight is water, and some just-in-case-I-get-lost-or-fall-down-a-cliff-and-need-to-wait-for-help food which NEVER gets around to being eaten.)
  7. Don’t get cocky. Three 30+km trail races in 5 weekends is naturally going to take a physical toll, and just because the last trail race yielded a better-than-expected result doesn’t mean we’re now in pro territory. Since when did timing mean anything in a trail race for this stop-to-take-some-photos runner?

Results:

Time: 4 hours 12 mins 08 secs
Ranking: 653/940 (Overall), 59/129 (Women) 33/63 (Senior Femmes)

She also beat the rain clouds to Lac Blanc by about an hour, although by the time GodzillaPin arrived (he got lost biking in the mountains, which was bound to happen sooner or later since he never has a map) the thermometer dropped to 14 degrees Celsius and fat droplets of cold rain pelted upon a shivering Ninja Turtle. GodzillaPin bought her a giant sausage sandwich and French fries with mayo and ketchup, so all was forgiven.

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Travel

Here Comes Spring, Now Let’s Go Ski!

What does one do when the weather threatens to turn fine?

Why, hang on to the last vestiges of the cold, of course.

Why, hang on to the last vestiges of the cold, of course.

So off the duo went in search of some snow in the Vosges.

So off the duo went in search of some snow in the Vosges.

In fact, a few weekends ago, GodzillaPin had the idea of going skiing, but seeing how it takes 2 hours to drive to the Vosges from Metz, and it was already about 11am when he thought of it, the idea was shelved. This weekend however, they were awake at 7am, ready to roll.

They don't own their own equipment, but not to worry, there are plenty of ski hires around.

They don’t own their own equipment, but not to worry, there are plenty of ski hires around.

They stopped to hire skis here because the sign said in French “the last ski hire before the station”. This is A LIE. A blatant, blatant lie that made them feel quite bitter because they struggled for a good long time to fit the skis into GodzillaPin’s car. Well evidently, you could hire ski gear at the station itself. Of course, seeing how the Ninja Turtle has never gone skiing in her life, she didn’t know this. GodzillaPin conveniently forgot this option even existed. Oh well.

A short drive later, they arrived at the slopes!

A short drive later, they arrived at the slopes!

The Ninja Turtle was frankly quite hesitant about skiing – hurtling down a slippery slope of ice at great speed is not exactly her idea of fun, especially not since her accident back in November from falling 2.5m onto concrete from a mate’s loft in Adelaide (which resulted in a nasty combination of hospital+morphine) still gives her frequent recurring nightmares. Nonetheless, there’s a first time for everything, and she had to at least give it a try before dismissing skiing completely, right?

Whoopsie! Two steps in and she's experienced her first fall.

Whoopsie! Two steps in and she’s experienced her first fall.

Nonetheless, GodzillaPin’s patient guidance and explanations slowly gave her courage a little boost, so it was up the slopes they went.

Look, if the little children can do it, surely it's not that difficult, right? RIGHT?!?!

Look, if the little children can do it, surely it’s not that difficult, right? RIGHT?!?!

A few practice tries down the little slope later, it was time for the big one. (OK fine, it was the next slope up from the baby slope, but it was big enough for the Ninja Turtle.)

Yikes, it's a long way down!

Yikes, it’s a long way down!

True story, the Ninja Turtle fell standing on flat ground, but not once while she was skiing. Ain’t that weird?

Off went the Ninja Turtle, desperately trying not to vomit in fear.

Off went the Ninja Turtle. She may look like she knew what she was doing, but she was desperately trying not to vomit in fear.

One roll down the big slope was one attempt too many. For a moment, she found herself picking up more speed than she cared for, and her brain froze in panic mode. Mental images of crashing into someone or something, or hitting a bump of ice that’d send her airborne filled her mind. So she did the only thing she could think of right then, which was to change directions, and proceeded to wind her way down to the bottom.

It may have looked like a stunning performance, but she was shaking so badly by the end of it, and was ready to call it a day. Besides, the ski shoes were killing her feet and shins, which is really not ideal, given how she’s still trying to get back into top form after last week’s marathon. So, she sat herself down and took a break, while GodzillaPin refreshed himself quickly before running off to attempt the monster slopes.

Yup, nothing like a bit of booze to help with the balance.

Yup, nothing like a bit of booze to help with the balance.

It was a fun afternoon, and certainly a change from all the weekend racing. GodzillaPin got to do a bit of what he enjoyed, and the Ninja Turtle tried something new for the first time in her life. That said, there was no sweeter moment than when she finally took off those heavy cumbersome skis, and felt light on her feet once more!

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Running

Race #2: Piste de Napatant

Today, GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle celebrated International Women’s Day by waking up super early, and fitting in as much as they could during the daylight hours (which are getting longer hooray!) Although Spring doesn’t officially arrive in France till 22 March, and even then, we don’t shift the clocks forward till 29 March, there is definitely a slight change in the air. The morning chill lingers, but the sun is slowly beginning to bite. This is how the Ninja Turtle likes it.

The 13km took the runners around Briey, which is still in Lorraine, but the next department over – la Meurthe et Moselle. Under the glorious sunlight, the route was gloriously beautiful. It was a mix of road and trail, and although people were making a big fuss out of the hill climb in the final 2km, the Ninja Turtle didn’t mind it.

One of the better small town races so far. The post-run refreshments included the standard fresh fruit, raisins cake and chocolate BUT it also had fruit salad, ham and cheese sandwiches and a choice of drinks including BEER!

One of the better small town races so far. The post-run refreshments included the standard fresh fruit, raisins, cake and chocolate BUT it also had fruit salad, ham and cheese sandwiches and a choice of drinks including BEER!

Yay! GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle sitting on the grass and snacking, just like back at the Adelaide University campus!

GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle sitting on the grass and snacking, just like they used to back at the Adelaide University campus

Then, because it was only midday when everything was done, and they had many more hours of sunlight to enjoy, they decided to take a roadtrip to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. Because, why not?

The majestic Vosges mountains

The majestic Vosges mountains

The quick stop back at the apartment gave the Ninja Turtle a chance to take a shower, and they packed a picnic lunch of sandwiches, salads, chips and fruit. But then of course, GodzillaPin conveniently forgot to mention that there was a reason why they were going to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges that day.

23ème Salon de la Gastronomie et des Produits Fermiers du Massif Vosgien la Table Vosgienne

23ème Salon de la Gastronomie et des Produits Fermiers du Massif Vosgien la Table Vosgienne

So, they foolishly carried around a picnic bag with food brought from home, in a food exposition. *le sigh* Aside from the usual cheese, honey, sausages, terrines etc that characterise the offerings by these small food producers in the region, they managed to buy some rather interesting items, such as a honey-like spread made from dandelion flower and saffron, duck terrine, and this:

St Patrick's Day came a bit early for this man...

St Patrick’s Day came a bit early for this man…

Yup, green beer. It was in fact, beer with a green thistle syrup. The Ninja Turtle stole a sip, and it had a nice floral smell but otherwise, it tasted like regular ale.

The precious little that was left of the afternoon was spent driving around aimlessly, just enjoying the sun and the scenery of the region. When it was time to head home, the duo were treated to sunset on the highway.

Even if there had been a traffic jam, one wouldn't really complain.

Even if there had been a traffic jam, one wouldn’t really complain.

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