Last Friday evening my cousin got a babysitter for her little boy and then we headed out to eat dinner at the Restaurant L'estaquad, a trendy eating spot on the River Garonne with fantastic views of the river and the city. Everything I ate was a first for me. Since I am trying my best to absorb as much of the experience here as possible during so short a stay, I decided to go with the local/regional specialties. We started off with escargot which were delivered with our drinks and were served with a mustard-based sauce. We then each ordered an appetizer; I had cuttlefish, Ashley had foie gras and chutney sauce. Both appetizers are regional favorites. My entree consisted of canard (duck), served in round slices, very rare and tender, with red rice and vegetables. Ashley had cod and herb potatoes. The bread that was served was wonderful, too (although I must admit that it's wonderful everywhere you go here). Everything was delicious and fresh. As we ate our dinner we were able to see the sun set and the city light up across the river . A party barge floated up and down the river, twinkling with lights and loaded with many partying people who enjoyed waving at the patrons of the restaurant. The restaurants here are very small and so L'estaquad got very crowded as the night went on. Our dinner lasted about 2 1/2 hours, which is normal here. The French typically eat dinner between 8-10 pm, or even after that. There is no hurry to eat, and you are given a check only after you ask for it. I really like that about the restaurants here; so often it seems in the States that you are quickly seated at a table, your server bustles around, your food is delivered quickly, shortly after the check gets planted by your plate, by which they mean that you need to hurry it up because other people are waiting, and so you scarf down your food and end up leaving maybe 30 min to 1 hour after arriving. You don't do anything quickly here. The servers take their time and handle things very efficiently because there is no hurry. So far I haven't been to a restaurant that has any more than one or two servers waiting on all the tables.
As we left the restaurant, we noticed that the tide had risen and covered the river's narrow shore. As a result, the river's muskrat population were out in full force, and it was fun to watch them swimming around. They were absolutely huge, and I must say that I had never seen a muskrat in it's natural habitat before. They are a cross of beavers and squirrels, in my humble opinion. :-) The river is huge and connects to the Atlantic, so the tides always affect the river (of course). Oddly enough the Garonne does not flow towards the ocean but opposite, and so when the tide pushes it's way into the river the water is visibly moving in different directions.
As we walked to our tram stop to go home there were suddenly police cars cutting off the roads in front of us, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Police were everywhere on foot and rollerblades. Of course my first thought was that something was amiss, but then we noticed the army of rollerbladers heading towards us. It was a night of some special rollerblade event and so hundreds of people rolled past us and crossed over the bridge into the city. We never did find out what it was exactly or where their destination was. I saw why they needed the police to cut off traffic, whether by car or foot, as these people were going very steadily at a high rate of speed. Honestly, it looked like a lot of fun and made me wish for a moment for a pair of rollerblades. I could never be as graceful or steady though - the people here pretty much grow up on them, I think. It's a great means of transportation in the cities. That and cycling. People of every age and every income ride their bicycles as a means of transportation. I have been tempted a few times to take out the owner's bike that he left in this house, but I haven't biked in so long that I'm not sure I would last long on the streets, and certainly not as far as the downtown area, my most frequented part of the city.
Coming next: Day 4 - Join me in the beautiful countryside of Southwest France where we toured an ancient abbey, medieval village and the lush vineyards surrounding them. :-)