On Monday morning we fully felt the impact of a typical French strike. We arrived to class at 9am and there was no teacher, 1.5 hours later he arrived due to the farmers protesting against cuts to their produce and as the French do, they blocked off a couple of roads that lead into La Rochelle with their tractors. That afternoon we headed into La Rochelle’s Port where we met our French teacher. We split up into pairs and had four different places we had to find and take a photo of it. I was with Stephanie and we couldn’t find the Cognac shop, and this really nice guy saw that we were lost and helped us find the place – the world is full of really nice people! When we got back from our scavenger hunts we got stuck into learning the French words for legumes (vegetables), fruits, fruits de ter (fruits of the sea – seafood), vin (wine), pain (bread), and boissons (drinks).
With our trip to Paris just around the corner we had our Paris briefing and we were also treated with a traditional sweet treat, La Galette, which is only had in January to celebrate the Three Kings. It is a sweet pastry, which has a token of good luck inside, and whoever received the slice with the token inside, wears the crown for the day and claimed the King or Queen.
That night we decided to take the advice of the locals and go find some seafood near the port. We first tried the Aquarium, but it was deserted at 7pm so we stumbled upon a seafood restaurant, Le Bistrot Gourmand. The next challenge was to comprehend the French menu with the assistance of Google translate and the little words we learnt the day before in our class. The boys ordered an entrée and they came out looking like boats that were filled with oysters and shrimp. Another student Nick somehow ordered escargot (snail), which we all took the opportunity to try. The consensus is that it’s like very chewy calamari but still tasted pretty good. I ordered a decent helping of mussels – nothing like the present to try something new! They were so fresh that some of them had little crabs in them for an added crunch (or so I told myself).
Thursday was Paris day! It was an early morning for us (any time before 9am is early because the sun does not rise until 8.30am). After three hours on the train we arrived into Paris and headed down to the Champs Élysées where we arrived at our first Paris company visit, Ladurée. We first had a quick tour around the different areas of the shop and eating areas. Regardless of which shop or country you enter into, the décor and furnishings are all similar to the ones in Paris. In every experience that a customer has with Ladurée, they aim for the customer to feel as though they are stepping into a French store, regardless of where they are. Then we ate at the restaurant and treated ourselves to some macaroons. Afterwards we sat down with the HR manager and International Operations managers where we learnt about their international strategy and the qualities they look for in their staff. Fun fact: unlike many large food companies, every macaroon that is sold from Ladurée is hand made by the bakery.
On our second day in Paris we headed west to Poissy where the PSA Peugeot Citroën factory is. The plant is that huge that it used to be classed as a city and it still has it’s own emergency services. We took a 2.5 hour tour around the plant following from the cutting and pressing of the steel, to the assembly of the frames, and to where we saw the cars drive off the assembly line ready for the final check before they were distributed around the world. I couldn’t believe how everything was so precise that even the specific doors to the cars would arrive just as the correct car frame came along.
On the Saturday we had planned to go up the Eiffel Tower, and so we did, BUT the weather had other plans. We braved the scattered showers and just as we could see it, it started bucketing down rain. When we got under the Eiffel tower we decided not to go up, as it would just not be worth the effort and money. So, like every other tourist we found the closest museum, the Louvre! We strategically made our way around to the particular areas that we wanted to see like the Mona Lisa and the Egyptian mummies and tombs. I couldn’t believe how huge the Louvre is – I totally underestimated its beauty. After we saw everything we found a restaurant that had six seats spare (it was pretty hard), and while we were there we bumped into an Australian from Sydney who works as a Chinese Airline Pilot. It’s always a relief to talk to fellow Australians and share different cultural experiences while being abroad.
As Sunday rolled around we had a casual day and headed to our favourite local café that serves avocado on toast and porridge – by this point we have gotten a bit sick of having sweet breakfasts. Most of us headed to Sacrè-Cœur where we were given great views and photo opportunities. We were also entertained by a local group of singers/musicians and even though some songs were in French, their talent and passion for music definitely shone through. Ben did the deed and ordered a French specialty for lunch – Beef Tartare. Basically, it is raw mince (like the stuff you get from the supermarkets) with a raw egg right on top. Some people may say that us Australians are lazy when we shorten every single word, but when it comes to food, we take the time to cook it – unlike the French!
When we got back from Paris, it really hit us that we only have one more week – cue the ‘Oh my Gosh’s where did the time go’! Next week is predominantly filled with tidying up our assessment pieces, heading to the markets (marché) for French class, our last company visit, and of course us saying our goodbye’s and flying back to Australia!