Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Boarding the Viking Forseti

We’ve been watching the Bordeaux weather forecasts for weeks. It shows it will rain every day of our trip. Fortunately, we’ve always had good weather-luck. It may rain from time to time, we may even get sprinkled on, but, for the most part, we don’t get rained out.

 

As we head through the suburbs of Bordeaux, I am reminded of Tunis, where we lived many years ago. The ground is dry, sort of pinkish red, sandy, with scant trees, and maybe a little green ground shrub here and there. The buildings look like something built in the old Soviet Union, all concrete and utilitarian and crumbling.

 

When we reach the wharf at Chartrons, an area close to the center of Bordeaux, the sun breaks through. It is a joyful arrival altogether. The Viking Forseti is docked next to a city park area, a skateboard park, with skinny French teenagers all practicing their moves. Next to the skate park is a children’s playground. It is a lively area, full of families, and we have to cross a busy bike and walking path to board the ship.

 

Once aboard, we are quickly processed and shown to our cabin.

 

I am taking a great risk here, telling you my innermost thoughts. In our family, we have a saying “That sounds like a first-world problem,” which we can say because we have lived in many countries which were not first world, and where people worried about serious things, like having enough food to eat, or finding a place to sleep where the police wouldn’t bother them or the like. We are on a Viking riverboat. This is luxury.

 

We booked a suite on the Forseti. When we walked in the door, I gasped. It was small! It was two rooms, three if you count the tiny bathroom. You entered into a sitting room, with a couch and chair and flat TV on the wall over a counter space for wine or fruits or books. It’s the size of  a normal small cabin minus the part which is our balcony, which we really wanted so we could sit out on it while we cruise up the rivers.

 

I have a thing about space. I feel like I can’t breathe well if the ceilings are not high enough, I don’t like being cramped. I know, I KNOW how lucky I am to have so much room and I can’t help it, I feel what I feel.

 

Our only other trips with Viking have all been on Ocean boats. Our cabins on the bigger ships had a lot of space, and a double closet, and lots of cupboards for putting folded clothing, underwear, shoes. etc. As I said, this feeling cramped on a river boat is not a worthy problem, and after bumping around a little while, we adjusted and did just fine. It was, however, a shock at the beginning.

 

 

There was champagne waiting for us, two glasses, and a flower. It’s a lovely thought.

You can see our bedroom through the door of the sitting room.

 

This is the bedroom from the door. On the right is a French balcony, i.e. sliding doors open but you can’t go out on it, as you can go out onto a balcony outside the door of the sitting room.

 

Inside the bedroom, this is the closet and all the drawer space. Two drawers. There is space under the bed for suitcases.

As you look to the right, entering the bathroom from the bedroom. The floors are heated.

Watching the safety video is a requirement. So we watch it, and check to make sure our life vests are stowed where we can get to them. There will be a drill the next day in Cadillac.

We are tired, and the sky has darkened again. It has started to rain. We decide to nap for a little while and then go to the welcome aboard briefing at 5:30.

 

View of Bordeaux from the ship.

People begin to gather in the lounge for the briefing.

 

By the time we finish dinner it is no longer raining, and Bordeaux looks inviting. I know I should go walking, and we are signed up for the walking tour of Bordeaux that leaves at 9:30 pm, but . . . I need to sleep. I need a nice shower. It is only 8:30 now, and I can’t face staying awake another minute. Before my head hits the pillow, I am asleep.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, France, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

Departing Pensacola for Bordeax and Nothing Goes Smoothly

OK. I am NOT a control freak. I roll with whatever comes along, well, sort of.

 

I am a planner. I strategize. I research. I seek alternatives. I check with my husband, to insure that the trip will please him, too. I choose the exact flights, and then I choose the seats. Hmm. When I say it like this, I sound like I am a control-freak, but  . . . as a strategist, I realize I am not in control of all the variables. I plan, and then so often, I have to be flexible.

 

The night before we are to leave Pensacola for the Bordeaux, a wildly windy tropical storm in forecast to blow in right around the time our flight is due to take off. I talk to my husband, I call the airlines. They COULD change our flights, but they can’t, they aren’t allowed to, the flights were booked by Viking, our cruise line, and they are not allowed to change anything. My husband knows me well. He drives me to the airport (nearby) and I try to sweet-talk the desk agent to change us to an earlier flight. I am close to success, I can feel it, but as she tries and tries, without success, my hopes fade. She makes a call, and gives me the same information – that she can’t change the flights because they were booked by Viking. But, she says, if we show up the next day for the earlier flight, we are likely to get on.

My husband is a good sport. The next day, we go to the airport early. Actually, it worked out well, our son was able to drive us and we got to have a good chat with him before he dropped us off. We went up to the desk and the clerk said she couldn’t change our flights. Aarrgh.

It wasn’t that bad. We checked in, got rid of our bags, went through security. We had lunch at the airport and it wasn’t bad. I can’t remember what we had, but I remember having a conversation about how it wasn’t bad for airport food.

Our flight boarded quickly, thanks to a flight attendant with a hilarious sense of humor who patiently, endlessly directed passengers entering the plane to put their large bags overhead, wheels in first, and their smaller bags tucked under the seat in front, and please, please, take what you might need out of your bag before stowing it so that other passengers might not be delayed in boarding. The delivery was perfect, utterly hilarious, and the passengers did what he said.

As we were departing, the storm was moving in, and we were warned that there would be about 15 minutes of turbulence as we avoided the clouds. It was bumpy but not bad.

When we got to Atlanta, we headed for our Paris flight, and it looked like 600 people waiting to get on in different lines – all on the same flight. We found the right line, which was moving slowly. It took us about 40 minutes to actually get on the flight and get to our seats. This was a plane with an upstairs and a downstairs; we were on the upper deck. We turned to the left, and there was business class.

It was the biggest business class section I have ever seen. It was also a little chaotic. There was one thing I really liked, and that is that toward the front, where the toilets were, there was a little lounge kind of place where you could stretch and walk around and not have to worry about being in anyone’s way. You could look out windows and take your time, which was really nice.

This was the Airbus 380, “the biggest airplane in the world.” There was a compartment next to my seat where I could stow all my gear, as well as in the luggage section overhead. Having all that space was nice.

The meal service was not smooth. It felt like maybe there had been some last minute changes and people were trying to deal with some changes. Finally, however, all that was past, and the lights dimmed and most people went to sleep. The seats went flat, and the mechanisms were very quiet. You could get a good night’s sleep.

Overall, given my choice, I will never fly a plane that big again. Even in business class, you feel like cattle. The cabin crew did their best, but they had a lot to do, a lot of people to look after, and they seemed stressed and overworked.

We dreaded Charles de Gaulle; transiting CDG is always a nightmare, but for some reason, early this Saturday morning, it went smoothly. We headed for our gate and tried to pick out which of our fellow passengers waiting for the flight were Americans, and who might be on our ship, the Viking Forseti, with us. We were right about a few, and wrong about others.

Across the aisle from me, on the flight to Bordeaux, was an American going on a bike trip, chatting with a man who lives just outside Bordeaux. The man who lives in Bordeaux was groaning that since Bordeaux has been modernized, with great public transportation and public spaces, other French people are retiring and moving to the Bordeaux area, “snapping up properties at ridiculous prices,” causing taxes and prices to rise. “The newcomers are ruining Bordeaux,” he added, “Bordeaux is being gentrified! We can’t afford to live there anymore! Every thing is changing!”

Bordeaux is not a large airport, our landing went smoothly, soon we had our baggage and were loading up onto a Viking bus. I am guessing that Viking may be a part of the gentrification, paying for expensive, accessible mooring positions, buying and maintaining their own bus fleet rather than chartering, and supplying their ships in bulk with all the advantages that bulk purchasing might bring. As we were leaving the airport, I saw something very strange;

It was at a different hall from the one we came into, and we think it might be one of the budget airlines. The line stretched out several hundred meters, and only inched along. We hoped that we would not face a similar fate upon departure. (As it turned out, our departure had its own, radically different anomalies.)

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, France, Paris, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux/Dordogne Trip – We Owe it All to Martin Walker and Bruno, Chief of Police

Several years ago, I ordered a book recommended by Amazon. I do that from time to time, and I will tell you honestly, some of them are real stinkers.

 

This book, Bruno, Chief of Police, by Martin Walker, was delightful. So delightful I started looking for more of the series, some of which I was able to find used. So delightful, I shared the Bruno, Chief of Police with my husband, and he, too, was hooked.

 

If there is a genre I like, it is detective novels set in foreign locations, dealing with crimes that have to do with social issues current in the locale. The first I can remember is the Eliot Pattison series about Inspector Shan, a Chinese detective who falls on the wrong side of Chinese political correctness and ends up in a Tibetan jail, where he begins a series long association with Tibetan monks and the threat to Tibetan civilization that the Chinese pose. It is eye-opening reading.

 

The next series I discovered were the Barbara Nadel series set in Turkey with Inspector Cetin Ikhmen. Then the fabulous and prolific Donna Leon and Commisario Guido Brunette, set in Venice.

 

And actually, I don’t read all this books in sequence. I watch for books by these authors, and read them when they come out, not unlike my addiction to James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux, set in New Iberia, Louisiana and Montana.

That was a very long introduction to the idea that it makes travel in foreign lands much more user-friendly to have read books that put you on the ground, seeing what the people who live there might see. When we went to Venice, we went off the beaten track to eat at a restaurant that Commissario Brunetti recommends to a touring couple who witnessed a crime and made a report to him. It was a great adventure just finding this restaurant, Rossa Rosa (“Guido Brunetti Sent Us”) and it had delicious local food, no tourists. In Venice. Imagine. Now, too, when we read the newest Brunetti novel, or watch the German production of the Brunetti series, we feel a closer connection with Venice, a familiarity, because we have a “friend” on the inside. Or so we feel.

 

Bruno Correze, the Chief of Police in the fictional French village of St. Denise, along the Vezere river close to where it links with the Dordogne, loves his small town. In the very first volume, we meet his friends, we visit his home, we are with him when he prepares meals and entertains his friends (he uses a lot of duck fat) and we get to visit the markets and cafes with him. Every book, like the best of this genre, introduces us to at least one issue, social and/or criminal, past or present, which is manifesting itself as a problem in the Dordogne. The actual crime may or may not be the point of the novel, and the solutions are often very French.

 

We have devoured this series. We felt like we had been there. So we decided we needed to go there.

 

We visited the Dordogne – it seems like a short time ago – the last time, 35 years ago, when our son, now grown, was around 9. We made a special effort to make this a trip which was relevant to him, too. We visited Castelnaud, and spent hours with the trebuchets and mangonels, old weapons once the ne-plus-ultra of fighting off the enemy. We visited the old caves with early paintings, when they were still open to visitors.

 

We love France, we love traveling in France and we have never had a negative experience in France. While I once spoke French fluently – we lived in French speaking Tunisia – but language skills get rusty when they don’t get exercised. Oh, really, any excuse will do. Martin Walker’s books made us hungry, hungry for French foods and hungry just to be in France.

 

We booked a cruise out of Bordeaux, eight days of cruising on the Gironde, Dordogne and other rivers, visiting villages older than our entire nation, learning about major appellations, eating some fine food and drinking some very fine wine.

 

And then we picked up a rental car in Bordeaux and headed to the Dordogne. I’m going to tell you all about it, but first I want to share Martin Walker’s books with you. He, and Bruno, have a wonderful website where he tells you all his favorite places. As we read the Bruno books, we also take notes – which wine he chose to serve with the duck course, where he and his friends gathered for the wedding feast, etc. It was like having a friend who says “Oh, I am desolate I won’t be there, but here are all the places you need to go, restaurants you will like and oh, be sure to try this wine!” Hotel and restaurant recommendations are on the website under “Bruno’s Perigord”

 

Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police website

 

Here are the Bruno, Chief of Police books, in order, from a resource called How to Read Me, which puts the books in order. http://www.howtoread.me/bruno-chief-of-police-books-in-order/

1 Bruno, Chief of Police – Meet Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in a small village in the South of France who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. But then the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes all that. Now, Bruno is paired with a young policewoman from Paris and the two suspect anti-immigrant militants. As they learn more about the dead man’s past, Bruno’s suspicions turn toward a more complex motive.

2 The Dark Vineyard – When a bevy of winemakers descend on Saint-Denis, competing for its land and spurring resentment among the villagers, the idyllic town finds itself the center of an intense drama. Events grow ever darker, culminating in two suspicious deaths, and Bruno finds that the problems of the present are never far from those of the past.

3 Black Diamond – Something dangerous is afoot in St. Denis. In the space of a few weeks, the normally sleepy village sees attacks on Vietnamese vendors, arson at a local Asian restaurant, subpar truffles from China smuggled into outgoing shipments at a nearby market—all of it threatening the Dordogne’s truffle trade and all of it spelling trouble for Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, master chef, devoted oenophile, and, most important, beloved chief of police.

4 The Crowded Grave – It’s spring in the idyllic village of St. Denis, and for Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges that means lamb stews, bottles of his beloved Pomerol, morning walks with his hound, Gigi, and a new string of regional crimes and international capers. When a local archaeological team searching for Neanderthal remains turns up a corpse with a watch on its wrist and a bullet in its head, it’s up to Bruno to solve the case.

5 The Devil’s Cave – It’s spring in St. Denis. The village choir is preparing for its Easter concert, the wildflowers are blooming, and among the lazy whorls of the river a dead woman is found floating in a boat. This means another case for Bruno, the town’s cherished chief of police.

6 Bruno and the Carol Singers (short story) – Bruno is occupied with his Christmastime duties. From organizing carolers to playing Father Christmas for the local schoolchildren, Bruno has his hands full . . . at least until some funds raised for charity go missing.

7 The Resistance Man – First, there’s the evidence that a veteran of the French Resistance is connected to a notorious train robbery; then, the burglary of a former British spymaster’s estate; and, finally, the murder of an antiques dealer whose lover is conveniently on the lam. As Bruno investigates, it becomes clear that they are connected.

8 The Children Return (also known as Children of War) – Bruno’s village of St. Denis has been called many things, but a hotbed of international intrigue has never been one of them . . . until now. When an undercover agent is found murdered just as a prodigal son is set to retun from a grim tour in the Middle East, the small town suddenly finds itself host to a determined global tribunal, threatening the usual cheer brought by St. Denis’s annual wine festival.

9 A Market Tale (short story) – As summer blooms, the newest talk of the town is the rapport between Kati, a Swiss tourist, and Marcel, a popular stall owner whom Kati meets over his choice strawberries. None are happier than police chief Bruno to see Marcel interested in love again, but as his friend’s romance deepens, Bruno senses trouble in the form of Marcel’s meddlesome sister Nadette.

10 The Patriarch (also known as The Dying Season) – Bruno Courrèges is thrilled when he receives an invitation to the lavish birthday celebration of his childhood hero, World War II flying ace Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix. But when the party ends in the death of one of Marco’s longtime friends, Gilbert, it turns into another day on the job for St. Denis’s chief of police.

11 Fatal Pursuit – It’s the start of summer, and Bruno’s found himself the last-minute replacement navigator in a car rally race. The event has attracted a spate of outsiders with deep pockets, big egos and, in the case of one young Englishman, an intriguing story about a lost Bugatti Type 57C. When a local scholar turns up dead, Bruno suspects unnatural causes.

12 The Templars’ Last Secret – When a woman’s body is found at the foot of a cliff near the idyllic French town of St. Denis, chief of police Bruno Courrèges suspects a connection to the great ruin that stands above: a long-ago Knights Templar stronghold. With the help of Amélie, a young newcomer to the Dordogne, Bruno learns that the dead woman was an archaeologist searching for a religious artifact of incredible importance.

13 A Taste for Vengeance – When a British tourist fails to turn up for a luxurious cooking vacation in the idyllic village in the south of France that Bruno Courrèges calls home, the chief of police is quickly on the case. Monika Felder is nowhere to be found, and her husband, a retired British general, is unreachable.

14 The Chocolate War (short story) – Police chief Bruno enjoys wandering the stalls of the weekly market in the village of St. Denis as they are being loaded with wares. But when Bruno’s old friend Léopold from Senegal start selling African coffee and chocolate more cheaply than Bruno’s old friend Fauquet at his café across the square, a competition erupts between the vendors.

15 The Body in the Castle Well – When Claudia, a young American, turns up dead in the courtyard of an ancient castle in Bruno’s jurisdiction, her death is assumed to be an accident related to opioid use. But her doctor persuades Bruno that things may not be so simple. Thus begins an investigation that leads Bruno to Monsieur de Bourdeille, the scholar with whom the girl had been studying, and then through that man’s past.

How to read me: Bruno, Chief of Police

Bruno, Chief of Police Books in order: How to read Martin Walker’s series?

 

I owe a big thanks to Martin Walker for giving us so much inside information which enhanced our trip so much. I will try to remember to give him credit along the way as I take you along with us on our trip.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Fiction, Food, France, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel, Tunisia | , , , , , | Leave a comment