Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Viking Forseti; Last Day and We Visit Arcachon

This is the one trip I had really looked forward to, a beachy area famous for seafoods, and mussels, and oysters. Arcachon reminds me of all beach towns, a little casual, often a little kitch-y.

We got on a bus for a 2 1/2 hour ride from Pauillac to Arcachon. This is the train station in Arcachon. You can see it is a beautiful day.

I snapped some of the houses just to give an idea of the beach aesthetic in Arcachon.

 

 

 

The harbor of Arcachon, where we caught our boat to to out to the oyster fields.

Loved this mercantile art!

 

 

 

“Noeuds” is not a word I am familiar with, but I love that, in the context, you can figure out what a lot of new words are, in this case, I speculate, “Knots.”

 

Not unlike the Gulf Coast we live on.

 

Oysters waiting for us . . hmm. . . in the hot sun . . .

 

Boats and oyster boats


Introducing us to the art of oyster farming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always a recommendation for an appropriate “pairing”

 

 

 

 

A mosque built for foreign laborers, but somehow it never worked out and it may be a church now.

 

We ate at this very crowded restaurant. Viking had set it up and we were so glad there were tables reserved for us. The place was PACKED. Viking had set up a lovely lunch for us, fish, with some sort of exception for vegetarians. On our way in, we passed people with huge bowls full of mussels! Mussels! We need to go back and eat mussels!

 

Oyster beds all over Arcachon Bay

 

 

 

Back in Bordeaux, people are getting ready for the famous Midnight Marathon.

 

Our last night on the Viking Forseti, and we get a thrill. We get to watch the bridge raise it’s middle section to allow a cruise ship to go through. Honestly, I held my breath. It seemed to me like there was a lot that could go very wrong . . .

We had our last dinner with our friends the four ladies turning 70, and it was a delightful, noisy, laughter-filled dinner. A great way to end a great trip.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Food, France, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Viking Forseti: Bleye, then Paillac and a Magical Dinner at Chateau Kirwan

I’m kind of figuring it out. Some days are crystal clear in my mind – the walking tour in Bordeaux, our time at the market in Libourne, walking in Bourg, my solitary time in Bleye – these are all definite. It is the times associated with the wine chalets and production where my mind gets fuzzy. OK, I can hear you laughing, but here is the truth. I like wine, I like specific tastes and particular kinds of wine, a dry, fruity Sancerre, a rich dry St. Emilion. I found a couple wines on the trip that I really liked, and after all, wine is a theme on this trip, I think it is called something like Chateaux, Rivers and Wine.

We signed on to a wine trip, so I am not whining about wine, it is just that it is low on my priorities. There were people on this trip who were really into wine in a big way, and they had a wonderful time. We drove by some fabulous wine producers (Petrus comes to mind) and we had the opportunity to learn a whole lot.

I am thinking for me, much of the wine information was sort of . . . irrelevant. So these tours are not sharp in my mind. I don’t much like bus travel, I am a big fan of history and sacred spaces and how people really lived, all the people, rich and poor. I try to imagine what their lives must have been like. So the tours were not without worth, it is only that for me, while the guides were going on, as they should, about wine, I was usually wandering off elsewhere, peeking behind the scenes and sort of self-guiding.

 

Please forgive me if some of my explanations are non-existent, or fuzzy or maybe, God forbid, just wrong.

 

Below is Bleye, the little town below the citadel, when the Mascaret has taken all the waters back out to the sea and left the fishing boats high and stranded on the remaining silt. The sky may look a little blue, but it is really shades of grey, and we start out our walk with our umbrellas, expecting to get rained on.

There are official tours going, but we really like to putter around on our own, reading signs, figuring things out, taking our time.

 

I can’t resist a church.

 

Look at the grace of those wings! It is a find like this that makes my heart flutter. I am guessing that is the archangel Michael, with the defeated serpent at his feet, but I really don’t know . . .

 

Sometimes I look at a photo and think “why did I take this?” but I can tell you why on this one immediately – look at the details. Look at the trouble someone went to to place flower pots in the middle of each little French balcony on the uppermost floor. Look at the niches built for the plant containers on the main floor. Imagine the effort to plant those containers each year. If it is this lovely on the outside, I wonder what it is like on the inside, what are the light fixtures like, do they use wallpaper or moldings, how are the spaces arranged?

Every village has its memorials to those lost in the wars. We really love it when it includes the fallen from all the wars.

So it started raining and we abandoned our walk, I think it was only a 7,000 step morning :). Now things get fuzzy. Thank goodness for the Viking Daily, which tells me we sailed for Pauillac at noon. At 2:30 we boarded buses to go explore the vineyards of Pauillac-Medoc and Margaux Wine Country.

I’ve always loved the harvests. In some places in the Bordeaux, we saw horses being used with the harvest.

I think this might be at Chateau Margaux. It was raining. There were lots and lots of tourist groups, not just the Viking tours. We were hurried along, and I don’t remember going inside anywhere.

You can see the weather is a little grim.

 

 

Off in the distance, a place I might like. I am a sucker for towers with high pointed turrets.

 

I’m pretty sure this is Chateau Giscours. I am guessing that because later in this post is a photo of a sign saying that, and I often take those photos to anchor my future self who is writing the trip up. I take pity on her lack of clarity, and help her out with some of the fuzzier details. Or maybe we are still at Chateau Margaux – the next photo is a church, and I think it was where the buses parked at Chateau Margaux.

 

For sure, this is Chateau Giscours. The hoi polloi (us tour groups) did not actually go into this building, which is probably a formal residence, or at least a party venue; we went to the wine tasting specially-built building next door, with wonderful modern restrooms built just to accommodate the tourist class.

I gave you a hint of our bus to the left, parked in front of the wine tasting addition.

Inside, those keenly interested in wines bellied up to the table.

 

After a sip or two, I slipped back outside to wander, see if I could find something interesting.

We toured another place where wine is created, bottled and stored.

 

A chart full of wonderful words we might use to describe a wine we are drinking.

I don’t believe this building is old enough to have really needed places to tie up the horses, but it may be that some nearby chateaux host travelers who want to ride horses to their wine tastings.

Promptly at 6 we leave the winery to travel a short distance to the Chateau Kirwan. Evidently Chateau Kiran was visited by Thomas Jefferson, and is one of the old Chateaux classified in 1855. Wikipedia provided me with this chart to explain the classifications;

The dinner was very elegant. I thought maybe Viking had bought this venue to use for “special” end of trip dinners, but it appears that it is a place which may be used by many organizations wanting to give their clients a special evening.

The wait staff was all from the ship. I think maybe some – or all – of the food may have been prepared on the ship.

 

We had several courses. Of course, these wines were available at the entry for sale, with other Chateau Kirwan wines.

My favorite parts were the pate’ and the terrine.

 

 

 

I liked this because the candelabra was high enough not to intrude on conversations across the table. The venue, however, was very loud, lots of excitement bouncing off beautiful hard wood surfaces, so there was not a lot of cross table conversation possible. It was difficult enough conversing with your neighbor to the right and left. But conversation was not the point of this dinner, it was to give us all an idea of how elegant and special life can be eating French foods and drinking French wine πŸ™‚

 

LOL, look at all those wine glasses! There was barely room for food!

The dinner did not drag on. It was served efficiently, and then we had a few minutes to chat or buy wine or hit the facilities before we boarded our bus. We saw one of the ladies from our dinner the night before and she said “oh! we wished we were at the same table as you!” so we arranged to eat together the next night, our last night on board the Forseti. Β The ship was nearby. We all had a big day ahead of us the next day, the last day of the tour.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, France, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Viking Forseti: The Captivating Citadel of Bleye

I keep telling my husband, this is the hardest trip I have ever written up. We wake up in one place, end up in another. We may or may not tour the second place in the same day. We may arrive, tour one place, then board a bus and head for another. It is very hard for me to keep my days straight.

For me, Bleye was a welcome relief.

My husband was eager, from the beginning, to tour Bleye, with it’s 17th century citadel high above the river. It was built by Louis XIV to protect Bordeaux, upstream. Legends are that Roland, knight of Charlemagne, is buried here, along with Charibert II, an early King of Aquitaine. So much history, and so beautiful!

I have my own agenda. I need some quiet, I need to be away from the groups. I need to walk at my own pace, and be able to stop and ponder where I will. Bleye, for me, is an opportunity to explore, on my own, in quiet. Yep. I’m an introvert. πŸ™‚

I had a lovely adventure. I started with the group, then headed off in a different direction, heading straight up the hill of the main street after entering Bleye. I toured the entire citadel, loved my time, went around the groups when I came upon them, and ended up at a small museum with a delightful woman who loved it that I was an American who spoke French. She spoke no English, and gave me a private tour of the museum. She made it come alive! It had been a prison, and I could see the prisoners trying to sleep in the cold stone courtyard, trying to bake their meager bread in the large oven, It was a brutal life. In the basement of the museum were models of the Bleye Citadel and various artifacts, going back to earliest man in that area.

I was both stimulated and refreshed! I also found a shop with lovely hand painted silk scarves, just what I love!

When AdventureMan and I met up again, we had a lot to share πŸ™‚

Arrival in Bleye, view from the river:

 

 

It looks like a grim day in the photos, but I was wearing a short sleeved dress and a hoodie, and I had to take the hoodie off and tie it around my shoulders, it was so warm and humid. I remember sunshine, but I don’t see any sunshine in the photos. I must just have sunny memories of Bleye.

 

 

 

 

This is the main street, where, when my group went left, I went straight ahead. There are all kinds of artisan shops along this street, including an artisan ice cream shop (No, I didn’t, but I was tempted by the blueberry ice!)

 

I don’t know what this was, but I loved the feeling of it. Maybe a farmhouse? Maybe a barracks?

 

 

 

This was my favorite area. It is all overgrown, all green and mysterious.

I purposely included people in this shot so you could see the relationship of citadel to river, and see the strategic value of Bleye. You can spot any ship entering from the Atlantic headed toward Bordeaux. Also, I think this is one of those iconic photo places where tour brochures are shot, wedding photos, “I was there” shots – I think I’ve seen that overlook from different vantages a hundred times.

 

I shot this watchman’s tower because it evoked in me a feeling of isolation and loneliness; I could imagine being the guard on a cold, windy night, no fire, and hours of watching before me. You always hope for nothing to happen, and at the same time, watching and waiting is boring and monotonous.

 

Lots of happy meals available in Bleye citadel. The menu of the day, tuna tartine (a savory upside down pie?), slab of salmon with creamy risotto and chocolate cake with a pear sauce and chocolate wafer all for around $25, really, not bad for a tourist location.

Don’t you like to see what’s for lunch or dinner? Β πŸ™‚

 

 

 

The Viking Forseti waiting for us at the landing below the citadel.

In the small museum, such treasures from antiquity!

 

This is my dear friend, who made my trip into Bleye so delightful, meaningful and unforgettable. It was a lovely moment of connection. (And that’s the old bread oven)

Model of the old citadel:

 

 

I love this rendition of the entrance, especially because later, when we visit the Museum of the Aquitaine, there is a print of people at the gate of a similar castle, surrendering to an army who probably starved the castle into submission. Such were the realities of a pre-nation.

 

I loved this door; it reminded me of Tunisia. My friend the museum docent, explained to me that the studs, while artistic, also ruined any axe which was trying to break down the door. Oh! I guess it should have been obvious, but I was so taken with the artistry that the utility escaped me.

 

 

Finally! A photo with a little pale blue sky!

We spent the night, and the next morning in Bleye,

This was one of the funniest nights of our trip. We couldn’t get into the Aquavit Terrace, the only place where you can find a table for two. We anchored a table for six (the smallest table available) in the dining room, and were approached by four very beautiful and a little bit tipsy women, asking if they could join us. I said “Of course! You are welcome!” because that is the custom of the boat, you share tables, you get to know one another. But they are all looking at my husband, whose face looks like a deer in the headlights. He does not want to appear horrified, but he is overwhelmed by these laughing, beautiful ladies and for an instant, is unable to hide his feelings.

Thankfully, they joined us, and as we chatted, we enjoyed them very much. Lucky for me, I got to sit next to another introvert, who lives a very different life from mine, in a very different context, but listening to one another, we had a lot in common and a lot to share. Each woman at the table was unique and talented. They were all celebrating their 70th year on earth and more than 55 years of friendship. They had met in school, and kept up the friendship all these years, traveling to get together, and planning a trip now and then together. They were delightful, and we all ended up laughing for the next two or three hours. At some point, we were close to being the last party left in the dining room, and we broke it up. From an awkward beginning came one of the best evenings of our trip.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, France, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Shopping, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Viking Forseti: Bourg, One of our Favorite Stops

Leaving Libourne, we chug up the Dordogne toward Bourg, arriving as we are still eating dinner. It is a dreary evening, and we hope the weather will be better for our tour in the morning.

The Cruise Director asked that everyone leaving the ship be careful as the boats were being re-provisioned. Logistics interest us, so as we leave the boat, we greet the workers and take a little peek at what they are delivering. The amounts are staggering.

This delivery man hammed it up a little for me πŸ™‚

 

Bourg is not very big. This is the entry from the harbor. There are a couple other major streets, not big streets, just streets.

 

It’s a drizzly morning, a quiet morning, and we have Bourg all to ourselves for a short while.

 

 

There is an overview of the river, and in the center of the photo below, you can see the Forseti parked at the dock.

 

The newsletter tells us “Bourg is a well kept secret. Over the course of it’s 2000 year history, Bourg was invaded by Romans, Vikings, Normans and the English. ” It is located at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, a key defense position. It is one of France’s official historic villages.

 

 

 

These masks are on the side of the church we will enter. We found these characters throughout the Bordeaux area, and enjoyed looking for them. They remind us of the television series Grimm, as if these creatures really existed.

 

 

This looks like a cat man to me.

 

 

 

This is a castle and a museum, but it is closed for the season. You can see it is beautiful inside; it is also used as a venue for concerts, weddings, parties and receptions. It contains a museum with a collection of carriages and carousel horses when we were not able to visit. I had to shoot the photo below through a locked gate. 😦

 

 

 

 

Along a shopping street, we see pre-packaged kits of local wines:

 

I loved this street. I found a little store with a lot of truly local items, and the two ladies running it were sitting at sewing machines in the back, putting things together. I didn’t do a lot of shopping on this trip, but I did at that store on this street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hiked to the top to Bourg, then found a staircase down to the harbor, near a retreat center.

 

What cat doesn’t love “attention?” πŸ™‚

 

Near the ship we found a wonderful antique shop. There was an entire Bayeaux tapestry, yards and yards of it, ready to be needlepointed. My hands itched for it, and my heart knew I would never finish it. I still think about it. My husband found an old helmet he has a had time resisting.

 

Back on board, our champagne has been replaced by bottles of a local wine, and some gorgeous French pears, so ripe, so juicy and sweet, we ate them all.

 

In the afternoon, the Forseti travelled a short route downriver to Bleye.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, France, Geography / Maps, Shopping, Travel | , | Leave a comment