Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Breakfast at Domaine de la Vitrolle

It would have been a false economy to skip breakfast at the Domaine de la Vitrolle. Yes, you can grab a cup of coffee at a local supermarket, and a croissant, and go your way for very little, but you miss the whole joy of a really good petit dejeuner.

If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I like people, I get along with people, but oh, I am such an introvert. I crave quiet time, and I love privacy. I treasure privacy.

For me, this hotel stay was restorative. All that socializing on the Viking Forseti! All that chatting and cordiality! Yes, I can do it. It takes its toll.

We have the dining room all to ourselves, and the table is beautiful and the food is beautiful. Look at this beautiful bread.  It tastes good, too!

 

See the apple juice at our plates? Pressed from apples grown on the domaine, where you can smell apples from the minute you drive in. They also have fields of grapes, and their own vintner, I understand. You can buy their juice and cider at the little store at the Domaine de la Vitrolle.

See the little plate of meats, and the separate little plate of cheeses? Lovely! Little pots of jam. Little pats of unsalted butter. Fruits. Over on a side table you can choose from cereals, and make some toast.

 

Croissants and pain au chocolat arrive in their own basket, still warm.

For me, this is what I love the most. Coffee and warm milk, served in separate pitchers. I love it that I can pour in a lot of milk and it doesn’t damage the heat of the coffee. I hate tepid coffee; but who serves warm milk anymore? Domaine de la Vitrolle won my heart with their coffee service.

We also got a bit of solid gold information before we headed out for the day. The manager tells us “there are three supermarkets in LeBugue, just turn right when you get to the bridge and they will be on your right.”

We are on the road for several days, and we like to have snacks with us, and to be able to eat local treats from the area. The supermarket format is also easy for us – mostly, a supermarket is a supermarket wherever you go, and you find what you want, go to a counter and pay for it.  This Intermarche turned out to be one of our favorite places. We went first thing in the morning, and then we went back late in the afternoon and picked up food for dinner, so we wouldn’t have to go out.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? You go all the way to France and you don’t want to go out for dinner? This is why I love traveling with my husband; we share some of the same oddities. We love travel, we love seeing what is available for people to buy, we love eating lunch out, but by the end of the day – we’re ready to settle in. We don’t want to wait until seven for restaurants to open, and then spend almost two hours eating a meal that is heavier than we want to eat.

We can pick up salads, pate, sandwiches, pastries, pieces of pie, macaroons with chocolate, tangerines . . . little napkins, forks, knives – it’s all so easy. We get to pick our own meals and amounts, and then, we have time to make notes at night, or read, or look at the map for the next day’s adventures, or even take a lovely hot relaxed bath in a huge bathtub. The making notes is critical; there is so much detail we forget, and when I can write some of it down, it makes for fun later on, reliving moments we had forgotten.

At the Intermarche, we also found something really fun – a Lego advent calendar for our grandchildren. It took a little doing, as there was no price on it and we had to track it down, but we are so delighted to have found it. My husband found some amazing macaroons with dark chocolate bottoms; we had one a day and they lasted the entire trip, oh how we enjoyed them! I found Prunes from Agen, famous prunes, fat and juicy, and I brought them back and used them in my Christmas fruit cakes. People were so kind and so helpful. It would not surprise me if we go back for another visit.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Advent, Blogging, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, France, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dordogne, Bruno and the Domaine de La Vitrolle outside Limeuil

Close to six we drive down the long apple-scented drive to arrive at the Domaine de la Vitrolle, where several episodes in the Bruno, Chief of Police series take place. This beautiful location is not outrageously prices, and we are staying for three nights, to be able to fully enjoy this area.

(I didn’t take the above photo; it is from their website.)

The lady waiting for us tells us all about the hotel, and that we are the only guests for the first night. Actually, later there were guests, but they were staying in a different part of the hotel. We were staying on the second floor, next to the tower. It was a delightful room. From our bathroom (which was huge) window, we could smell the apples on the trees. With our breakfast, we had apple juice/cider which was pressed from these apples. Heaven.

Our room was really two rooms, a bedroom and a sitting room. After our little suite on the Viking Forseti, this felt like such luxury!

I LOVED this bathroom!

The hotel was very elegant, and also very welcoming.

 

The sitting room where we had best access to wi-fi:

Below, our table in the dining room:

Don’t you love this fireplace?

 

 

Andre Malraux had a French resistance headquarters here, at the Domaine de la Vitrolle.

 

This is the drive into Domaine de la Vitrolle, lined with fruit trees.

We go into the village of Limeuil, looking for dinner but also loving the ancient streets, all quiet except for the ghosts and goblins coming from the castle at the top of the hill where a Halloween party is just finishing up.

 

It is a beautiful little place, wonderful for walking.

It is Sunday night in rural France, off-season in the Dordogne, and there is no place to eat in Limeuil, as beautiful as it is. We turn to our friend, Bruno, Chief of Police (and author Martin Walker) who tells us that nearby, in LeBugue, there is an Italian restaurant, Da Francesco, which serves good Italian food at reasonable prices.

Tired. Hungry. We head for LeBugue. We see several other promising restaurants, including a Middle Eastern restaurant, all closed, but not only is Da Francesco open, there is a parking place, just across from the Police Station, just steps from the restaurant. AdventureMan orders a large salad, and I ask for hot soup, my throat is a little sore, probably allergies, it happens. The soup is wonderful, nourishing and tasty, and my husband’s salad is so huge he can’t eat it all. Our bill was small. We like the Dordogne. Great food at reasonable prices, our kind of place.

It is only minutes back to our rooms at Domaine de la Vitrolle. We are almost asleep before our heads hit the pillows, and we sleep wonderfully. It is amazingly quiet, so quiet.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Building, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, France, Hotels, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux to Limeuil: “And We are Still Married”

The morning after the race, the major streets in Bordeaux are deserted. AdventureMan and I discovered an ATM just around the corner, and we don’t know how it’s going to work. You’d think we would be jaded by now – we know how to use ATMs in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Germany, etc. but we have also learned NEVER to take anything for granted. We give ourselves plenty of time. Going slowly and carefully, following the instructions to the letter, we get the funds we need. We’ve also learned never to count on using a credit card, and always to have back up cash.

Just because we love mustard, especially French mustard.

Just down the street, St. Andrews Cathedral.

Again, just because I love this mosaic tile in our hotel, it’s kind of a WOW for me.

Another thrill, I discover that I can make phone calls with my iPhone. I had checked, and was told I could. I know I was able to in Germany last year at the Christmas markets, but again, I never take anything for granted, things change, different countries have different systems, and for me, when I get technology to work, it is something like magic to me. YOU may think it is rational and normal, but I see a million varying factors that can cause the rational to go off track. I danced for joy when I was able to schedule a pick-up by the same limo service that dropped us off.

It was a bit extravagant, but we hate what we call “the bag drag.” The limo picked us up, put our luggage in the trunk and took us directly to Gare Sainte Jean, where he let us off at the front entrance. This is where you catch the train to Paris, or, in our case, where you pick up your rental car.

“So where is Hertz?” my husband asks me, since I made the reservation and double checked to be sure we would have a car just days before we left.

“Ummm . .. here. Here, in the Gare Ste. Jean,” I responded. We are standing there, with our roly bags and our carry bags, and there are no car rental sites in sight. Worse, there are no signs. I ask a couple people, and they don’t know.

We see a sign saying something about “voitures” and head in that direction. As we pass a McDonalds, AdventureMan goes in to ask, and a sweet, delightful little 16 year old comes out to help us. She is truly an angel, practicing her careful English, and so happy to be able to help us. “You are American?” she asks, and when we say “yes” she is all smiles.

“It is in Halle 3,” she tells us. You follow this corridor until you get to Halle 3, then you go downstairs, it is downstairs in Halle 3.”

Halle 3 feels like a mile away. It is a colossal bag drag. The walk goes on and on. Grumble grumble, if I had known, I would have had the driver let us off at Halle 3, and I grumble because it’s my fault. I’m the one who sets these things up, I’m the one who didn’t check where the car rentals might be, grumble grumble, yes, I am hard on myself as I drag my bag.

We have some good luck when we get to the rental place, the man in front of us is finishing up and heading for his car and we are next. It’s going to be more bag drag; we have to go from Halle 3 out these doors, down this sidewalk to the parking garage, then up to the 6th floor. Grumble grumble.

We get there and we love the car, a little silver SUV and not unlike our Rav4s, much of the operating system is analagous. There are a few little things . . . but we take our time, try to figure things out before we leave.

Every marriage has its pressure points. For us, here is where the rubber hits the road. We have to get out on the road. My husband, who does not speak much French, has to get us from the garage to the road. I am navigator, reading my phone and road maps, my job is to help him make the right turns.

It is a disaster. We miss the right exits and have to go back, just to get out of Bordeaux. We end up going the wrong way on the right road, and it takes us miles (kilometres) before we can turn around and go the right way.

We lose about an hour, but it is no big deal because our drive for the day is only about two and a half hours, and we plan to stop here and there and wander, as we do.

Within about twenty minutes, AdventureMan says “isn’t there is smaller road we can take? This isn’t very interesting,” and I agree, we like smaller, more picturesque roads. So i set a course for Eymet, where there is a Sunday market we’d heard about, and follow Google instructions.

One thing catches me by surprise. It is Sunday morning, and there are large groups of bikers. Not the motorcycle kind, these are bicyclists, all in fashionable athletic wear and expensive shoes on sporty bikes, and the groups look like clubs, out for a Sunday ride. I’ve never seen that before, and I love it.

Sigh. Google takes us on some weird paths. Sometimes I am not so sure Google understands French. We are on some very rural roads, not that interesting. It takes us more than two hours to get to Monsegur, where we decide to stop because we are really hungry, and I love the name Monsegur.

 

This is not the exact route we took. Google kept telling us to take some really small roads. Monsegur (means “safe hill”) is along the route before Eymet.

We turn off to Monsegur to find a place to eat. It is old, very old, and quiet. My husband is tired, and hungry. I am feeling responsible, because we are sort of lost, and not making good time.

 

We walk around the market square, and we see a couple places that do not look inviting. Then we see two elderly women, well dressed, heading to a place around the corner. We follow them. They head directly into Auberge La Piece de Boeuf.

They slow just enough for me to ask them “Is this a good place to eat?” They are more than polite, they are cordial and gracious, and tell me, slowly so I can understand clearly, that this is the only place in town with really good food, and we must try it.

We are not really meat eaters, although we are not not-meat-eaters, but . . . when in France. There are other things on the menu, but everyone in the restaurant is eating beef, and when you are in a restaurant whose name is A Piece of Beef, it is probably a good idea to eat the specialty of the house. We play by different rules in different cultures.

We are charmed by the interior. And we are delighted when they have a place for us, in a back corner where we can see almost the whole restaurant, what everyone is eating. Within ten minutes, the last table is taken, and we are glad we got there when we did, as we watch people being turned away.

The owner is very gracious. He helps AdventureMan find something he wants to eat. The entree, or starter, is a salad with a very tasty, salty beef. I totally loved it, and actually, it was enough for an entire meal for me. It was really delicious.

 

And then came my main course – beef. It was a lovely little filet, wrapped in bacon, and I was able to eat about a third of it. I couldn’t eat the potatoes, but I think there were green beans I ate before taking the photo. The meat was fork-tender.

AdventureMan had a different cut of steak, and he ate about half. It was just too much food for us. You are going to have a hard time believing this, because it is unthinkable, but . . . we couldn’t even eat dessert, even though it was included. The meat, the meal, was so rich and so filling, we couldn’t. Also, we were drinking some very fine local wine, a Graves, and we knew we had miles to go before settling in.

I saw the little French ladies who had advised us to eat there as I headed to the ladies room. They greeted me, and I asked them, “can you eat all this food?” because they were eating the same menu we were. They said “yes” but that if you can’t eat it, you can ask for a “boîte” (box) which shocked me; I have never seen French people take home uneaten food, it was once considered uncultured. But now, these refined ladies were telling me I could take it home, and that it would be a pity to waste such fine beef.

 

 

They are so proud of their locally sourced beef that they keep a large poster of the farmer and his cows in the restaurant. When I was a child, almost all food in France was local, but now France is as modernized as other countries, and “locally-sourced” is a marketing tool.

 

We needed to walk off a little of our meal and wine before we started driving again, and Monsegur was a really great place, very quiet, to walk. This is the market square – you will see a lot of market squares in my photos; you’ve already seen Libourne.

I think the above church is Notre Dame de Monsegur, but some of the churches and their interiors start to blur. Some are distinct in my mind, some are less so.

 

 

 

There is another Monsegur, I think farther south, which was an old Cathar stronghold, and where the Cathars were cruelly wiped out as France claimed the southern regions of France for the crown.

 

This is Rue de Soleil, street of the sun, which I thought funny because it is barely three feet wide and would get very little sun if you wanted to grow a little rose bush or something. It also struck me that my friends with the last name Soule’ may actually be Soleils.

So we finally left Monsegur, and in very short time found Eymat.


 

This is the old city square in Eymat; I can just imagine people riding up on their horses and letting them drink from the communal fountain, hitching them to posts around the square. Probably on market day, there were carts and peddlers.

 

I suspect these old timbered houses are sort of fire-traps, but they do give atmosphere to the old villages.

 

There was a beautiful old mill, a working mill, on the river in Eymat.

 

 

An old (castle?) enclosure in Eymat, with a Donjon – Dungeon!

 

 

 

 

Love this door, which is only maybe five feet high. But I love that now I know those nail studs are there to destroy the axe that tries to destroy the door.

I’ve apologized to my husband that what was supposed to be a sort, easy drive has turned out to be longer and more complicated, and he laughed. He put his arm around me and said “And we’re still married.”  LOL, I suppose there is something to be said for surviving challenges for all these years together.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Food, France, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux: City of Many Discoveries

We’ve had a full morning, and head for the hotel, and then to see if we can find the restaurant our guide recommended when we were on our walking tour. It met all our favorite criteria – it is recommended and frequented by citizens of Bordeaux, it features Bordeaux specialties, and it is unpretentious. We love this kind of place.

We had a very short walk, and we are very hungry. We find the sign and board for the restaurant, and then the hilarity begins. We can’t find the door.

 

We find an entrance, and are greeted and seated quickly. When we look at the menu, and look at the clientele, it doesn’t feel right.

It’s not the same menu we saw posted at La Table Bordelaise. The manager can see we are puzzled, and he assures us we are in the right place. I asked about a particular dish, and he then agreed we were meant to be next door. I think he knew all along we were looking for the other restaurant, but this was the Bordelaise GRILL, and he graciously consented to let us go.

We were embarrassed, of course, but relieved. I don’t want to waste my calories, or my Euros, on a meal I don’t want. I will pay the price of a little embarrassment to be in the right restaurant.

So we go next door, and are happy to be seated in a very crowded restaurant. What I like is that there is a wide variety of ages, from twenty-somethings, to couples older than we are.

We order, maigret de canard (duck) for my husband, who for years has said “I only eat duck in France” and a fish for me. I was delighted to see the lady next to me, very French, had ordered the same thing. I was horrified to see how elegantly, delicately and thoroughly she was able to eviscerate the fish, top and bottom, while I struggled, leaving a lot of the fish on the plate. It was delicious, topped with almonds, and crispy skin with soft flesh. It’s not like I could take the excess with me, so I relished what I could get off the bones, and had no regrets for the rest.

 

 

Somehow, I deleted the photo for my husband’s duck, but he remembers it was wonderful.

 

For me, this was the truly wonderful part. One of the desserts was pear ice cream. When it came, with the clear cold liquid in the tiny glass accompanying it, I knew it had to be a pear liquor. AdventureMan asked if I was going to drink it. I am diabetic. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol anymore.

“Yes,” I said, and poured it all on. There are times in life when you should be cautious, and there are times when you just need to throw caution to the wind. It was worth it. Every bite. The pear ice cream was very lovely, a sorbet, very pear-y, and the liquor was worth every second of my life I might have lost because I savored it all. Some things just make life more worth living.

 

My husband had the creme brûlée, below, which was actually not half eaten when it came to the table, but somehow I got so absorbed in my pear ice that I was late in taking a photo of his creme brûlée, which he determined was excellent.

 

Sated, and a little exhausted (big night when we farewelled the ship, big day at the market and the Aquitaine Museum) so we took the short walk back to the Grande Hotel Francaise and rested for an hour.

There are other years when we would have kept pushing, so much to see in Bordeaux. We’ve had to learn that for us, resting now and then when we need it is worth it, so we can build up our energy once again, and enjoy the rest of the day.

While resting, we heard chanting, and loud singing. Yellow jacketed strikers, making their protest in the nearby street. There were maybe fifty people, and mostly people not striking were just going on their normal course, not fazed by the protestors.

The tram lines in Bordeaux are wonderful, and new. We can get on steps away from our hotel, and go in any direction. We each have a Bordeaux City Pass, takes us on all the tram lines, bus lines and gets us in free to most of the places we want to go. We bought ours at the tourist office while we were on our walking tour. It doesn’t start until the first time you use it, and then it is good for 24 hours. You may be able to buy City Passes for longer, I don’t know. You can also buy tram cards which allow you to travel without cash for a certain amount of time, which varies depending on the card you buy.

We have a plan. We want to take the B line all the way to the end in both directions, and then maybe switch to the A or C lines. Riding the trams is fun, and you get to see parts of town that a tourist doesn’t see otherwise. I also got to see wonderful signs.

 

“You think your act is anonymous – but we see you!”

“A wandering/mischievous hand, one foot in prison!”

There is a mighty effort to confront sexism in France – who’d have thought, fifty years ago, this was even possible? We’ve seen some radical changes in the French culture. Women seem so much more independent and confident.

We ride the B tram all the way north and then back, but there are running signs inside the tram telling us the tram will stop running at 1830 because of the marathon. This is a BIG deal, streets closing for the runners, trams shutting down, it is amazing and wonderful to have so much support for a marathon. We remember when fitness in France was mostly limited to the military; now we see the French, male and female, embracing fitness with a vengeance. C’est merveilleuse!

We exit at St. Andre, which had been closed earlier in the day. I am a great fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was married in this church – at age 13. It sounds awful, but girls from noble families expected to be married at an early age, and Eleanor was an extraordinary girl who eventually married two kings, France and England. She was aggressive and confident.

Being able to go into St. Andre’s is a thrill, and a bigger thrill at twilight, when people are quiet and respectful, and you can soak in some of the character of this church and the long history it has survived.

 

 

 

This is my favorite photo from the church:

 

There is a lot of marathon excitement going on outside St. Andre’s. It looks like some kind of staging area or some kind of water stop, or check-point, so we decide to find a place to eat and just watch the goings ons. We find the Ristorante Palazzo, salads, pizza and open air seating. It may be the end of October, but the temperatures during the day are hitting 70 F. and the night is still balmy. Every restaurant that can has seating outside tonight, so the Bordelaise can enjoy one of the last nights of dining al fresco before serious winter sets in.

 

 

Marathon set up

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles show up – and leave. Nothing much has happened in terms of the marathon, so we idle our way back to our hotel, just enjoying the lovely night. We had no idea that the French had adopted Hallowe’en, but evidence is everywhere.

 

I’ve always loved French clothing for children.

 

Outdoor dining everywhere! We could stay in Bordeaux happily for weeks.

AdventureMan spotted the scallop shell indicating this was part of the pilgrimage route to San Diego Compostela. It was fun

 

Porte Dijeaux takes us back to the Saracen times in Spain, with their bands of dark and light on their arches:


 

Our hotel, Best Western Le Grand Hotel Francais, in the very heart of Bordeaux on a very quiet street, easy walk to theatre, opera and restaurants, close to tram lines.

We had just finished brushing our teeth and were getting ready for bed when we got an unexpected thrill – the Bordeaux Midnight Marathon was running right by our hotel :-). Every single runner was cheered – we love that kind of spirit.

 

It went on for a long time. Longer than we stayed to photograph. We had a big day coming up and needed to get a good night’s sleep, which we did.

There were so many stores in Bordeaux, full of interesting things to buy, some very lovely, but I just didn’t feel the need to buy anything. We went into Galleries Lafayette, where I often used to buy clothes, but all the clothes were Ralph Lauren, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger – things we can get in the USA! My preferred souvenirs are silk scarves and jewelry, clothing if I find something special that I will really wear. Other than that, we invest in experience and good food and wine, and comfortable hotels. I’m just so glad I don’t have to carry film anymore, although I do still carry a camera for better shots. We want to come back and spend more time in Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, Exercise, Faith, Food, France, Halloween, Hotels, Political Issues, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grown-Up Holiday Interlude

Mostly when we go to New Orleans, we have our grandchildren with us. We go to a family friendly hotel, we go to the Zoo, the Aquarium, maybe the Insectarium, we ride the cable cars, we eat food the kids like – pizza, sushi, crepes. Fortunately for us, they have developed a taste for French food, so we can take them to some places with decent food that we like, too.

But this time, we took a Grown-ups Getaway!

We had so many agendas, and we accomplished the most important – we had a wonderful time.

Our first stop was the Cafe Abyssinia, (3511 Magazine Street) for a combination of several vegetable dishes and lamb tips with injera, the fermented pancake-bread you use to eat the food with your fingers. It was so delicious, and so satisfying, and on the day after Christmas in New Orleans, it was easy to find a parking place.

After lunch, we needed a good walk, and what better place to walk – and shop – than Magazine Street, full of quirky shops with unique items. The funniest part was my husband wanting to visit a shop, Mayan Imports, which turned out to be a cigar shop (not his thing at all.) As we left, we noticed all the signs that said “Cigars” and it’s like we didn’t even see them as we were walking in. They were hard to miss.

Late in the afternoon we checked in to our hotel, and as soon as darkness fell, we went out to City Park to see the lights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish I could have caught all the dinosaurs at the front entrance for you. They were magnificent. We had no idea that City Park lights was such a big deal. There was a huge crowd, and for $28 you could buy tickets to ride all the rides all night. (Just admission was $10.) We had learned about City Park Lights as we waited to pick up our Christmas Eve dinner in a crowded restaurant, talking with another person who had preordered and was also waiting. Some pieces of information are pure gold!

An article I found online about the hottest restaurants to open in New Orleans in 2019 led us to Costera, a Spanish restaurant in the same space where we had once had Thai food, (4938 Prytania) near our favorite ice-cream place.

 

We got there early. It filled up fast, and no wonder. The food was fabulous. We had rapini, a broccoli-like vegetable, a beet salad, bread with a tomato smear and aioli lashings (out of this world good), duck in a rosemary sauce with mushrooms, and scallops on fideo, fideo being thin noodles with a tangy flavor. Each dish was mind-blowingly delicious. I loved the rapini, and I loved my scallops, but we shared everything and my husband’s duck was also as good as any duck we have ever eaten in France (sort of our standard for measuring) or anywhere else.

 

 

 

The food was light enough – we loved having tasty vegetables – that when we finished we walked over to Creole Creamery, just a couple doors down, where I had a small ball of bittersweet chocolate (intense and lovely) and my husband had a bittersweet chocolate fudge sundae.

 

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of our hotel as we returned; it is beautiful and elegant, The Park View.

Once inside, my husband had a glass of port before we went up to our room. The downstairs rooms are gorgeous; lavishly decorated for Christmas.

 

I shouldn’t show you this photo of our room; I should only let you see it all made up, but something about the morning light in this room compelled me to take the photo of the room in dishevelment, It’s beautiful anyway!

 

On! On! To our friend Henri, and Zito’s Plating and Polishing Works, where we have a nice visit and leave some treasures to his excellent magic.

 

We hit the mall in Metairie, a mall I really like because there are so many great seating areas. We often split up to shop, and when one finishes before the other, there are a lot of good, comfy places to sit and watch people while you are waiting.

And then, to finish our visit in a grand way, a visit to Drago’s, the original Drago’s, for their incomparable grilled oysters. Yes!

 

We are happy! We head home, content, satisfied, making conversation, falling silent, making more conversation. We have our best conversations when we are on long road trips together.

And one final photo, looking out over Mobile Bay before entering Florida:

I promise I will return to the trip, just getting ready to leave Bordeaux for the Dordogne and Auvergne. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed this short interlude.

December 27, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Chocolate, Christmas, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Hotels, Pensacola, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, 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 🙂

 

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.  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: Dawn Cruise to Cadillac

(The map above shows the land time to Cadillac; I couldn’t make it show boat time. We were not on land, we were on the river 🙂  )

 

It’s Sunday morning, and a whole new world for us. We gave in to jet lag the night before, so at four a.m. when we can no longer sleep, we have the whole ship to ourselves. The ship will sail at 6:30 a.m., en route down the Garonne River to Cadillac, home of the famous Sauternes. We feel like a great adventure has begun.

Above is a view of the lounge (LOL around 5 a.m., not a creature is stirring) from the wrap around bar.

 

More lounge, and where the night time entertainment takes place. The entertainment is wasted on us; after a long day, and a dinner that stretches a couple hours, we are in our cabin making notes, reading, or crashing 🙂

 

The dining room, above, with a variety of tables for six or more people at each meal.

 

Breakfast is semi-buffet style. The wait staff are there to bring us coffee, tea, hot chocolate or anything we want off the extensive special order menu, which includes French Toast and Eggs Benedict, as well as eggs to order, etc. The buffet is enough for us, and more than enough. There are many kinds of rolls, and at least two home made jams, in addition to butter, and other spreads.

 

 

The chef will do omelets to order, scrambled eggs, whatever you wish.

 

For me, I am delighted every day to find smoked salmon or herring, just thrills my little Scandinavian heart. People always ask “Don’t you gain weight on these cruises?” and I say “No” because there is a secret. Many of the portions are tiny, just a taste, to prevent waste. Usually the small taste is enough for me. With all the walking we do, I actually lose weight on these trips, in spite of some truly fine eating.

 

The tables are beautifully set, even at breakfast. Our attendant this morning, Roxana told us that one of her favorite stops on this ship is Bordeaux. “Better than Paris?” we asked her, and she just laughed and said “Paris is full of rats! Have you ever seen rats bigger than cats? Paris has rats the size of DOGS!”

 

As we finish breakfast, the Forseti moves away from the dock, headed in the direction of downtown Bordeaux.

 

 

Sunrise from our bedroom window.

 

Along the route are fishing camps, and these nets when lower down right into the river to catch fish. The Gironde flows into the Atlantic Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean sends tides up the rivers, a tide called the Mascaret. The Mascaret can cause a huge lift, enough to make going under bridges difficult for ships, and, alternatively, can cause very low water, making it possible for ships to go aground, so the ship captains have to be very aware of the tidal forecasts on these associated rivers.

 

We are told that this is the first ship in months able to go as far as Cadillac.

 

We have a fire drill, put on our life vests, show up at our emergency posts, then go back to the cabins to stow the life vest and get ready to go ashore in Cadillac.

This is the interior of one of the Viking buses. It is roomy and comfortable, and has it’s own toilet  aboard. We aren’t on the buses long, but they take us to the various vineyards and wineries for educating us on wine production and tasting the wares. And selling the wines, of course. We are warned that this is a very good time to buy French wines before the new Trump French wine tariffs go into effect, pushing up the prices and limiting the availabilities of the finest wines.

 

Today is Sauternes.

 

 

 

We arrive shortly at Domaine de Rayne, where we tour the wine storage area, and sip dry, semi-sweet and sweet Sauternes. I am not a fan of sweet wines, but I could understand how these could enhance the right pate’ or dessert. They were good, just not my favorite.

 

 

The late harvest is still continuing, and I loved that there were still grapes on this vine and at its foot.

 

 

 

 

 

The tasting began. It is sad to see civilized people elbowing others aside.

 

 

We headed back outside where a rainbow appeared and brightened the day.

 

We are told that roses are planted with the vines so that if a fungus or disease shows up, it hits the roses first and most visibly, sort of like a canary in a mine can indicate when air flow is low.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the bus, on the way back into Cadillac, our guide, whom we really liked, told us a cross cultural story we could really relate to. She and her husband had a good French friend, and they were invited to their house for dinner. The non-French couple wanted to make a really good impression; they really liked these people They didn’t know much about wine, so they bought a bottle with a beautiful picture on it and hoped it was a good one. She baked her famous chocolate cake to take with them and give to her, and they bought chrysanthemums from the florist. When they arrived for the dinner, and presented their gifts, they could see that the gifts did not have the intended results.

They later learned that the gifts were all wrong – the home made chocolate cake implied that the hostess wouldn’t have a dessert of that quality, the chrysanthemums are a flower used on graves in that part of France, and the wine implied their hosts did not know how to choose a wine. Fortunately, the hosts were not insulted, and over time, explained the local customs. They looked at the gifts with their hearts, and perceived that the intentions were for good. The two couples are fast friends to this day.

How often we’ve been in that position, and how easy it is to offend, when you don’t know what the customs and traditions are! We are so thankful for all the tolerance we have received, being welcomed as ignorant strangers into strange lands, welcomed into homes where we might unwittingly insult our hosts and hostesses. Thank God for their kind, forgiving hearts, and for their willingness to patiently educate us into the ways of their countries.

 


 

 

Back in Cadillac, we look for a good restaurant. Part of the reason we are on this trip is because we miss French food.

 

 

L’Entree Jardin is recommended by Viking, which says “Owner and chef Didier Bergey and his wife Helene Bergey welcome you to their little haven foreign of Cadillac’s finest gastronomic experiences. Centrally located in the heart of town, this quaint restaurant offers traditional regional cuisine with a modern flair – all made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The delicious, tastefully plated dishes are served in a cozy setting. . . . Address 27 Avenue du Pont, 34410 Cadillac. ”

 

We did not have reservations, but they had one table left. They were very kind, very patient with my French. There was one other small group from the ship also eating there; we had to ask them about tipping as we knew the US practice of 20%+ is not the practice in France, but we didn’t know what a proper tip would be. They gave us their opinion, which seemed low. We opted for somewhere in-between.

Our guide to the Domaine de Rayne had eaten there on the previous Sunday, and told us about the scallops and little pumpkins, which we ordered for the first course. This was my favorite part of the meal. I love scallops. I love pumpkin. What a fabulous combination.

 

We both ordered fish; I had tuna and my husband had Maigre, which we looked up and it came back a fish called Croaker (U.S.) We found it later in the markets of Liborne and Bordeaux. I believe this is my husband’s main course; I think I ate mine without remembering to take a picture.

 

The desserts were all about the presentation. They were wrapped in caccoons of caramelized sugar strands. My husband had a Tarte Tatin (an apple pie that is cooked upside down)

I had a chocolate ganache with a raspberry coulis – delicious. We were both very happy with our first totally French meal in France. I saw that because although we are in France, all the people working on the Forseti are from somewhere else, not France. The cruise director, Jorge, is from Portugal, others are from Romania, Spain, Bulgaria, Austria – from anywhere but France. No one speaks French on board!

 

After lunch, we take a walk around Cadillac. Here, in the old tower, is a chart of where the river has risen during winter and spring storms. We have the same kinds of charts in Pensacola, thanks to hurricanes and water surges, so we understand, but this one measures over centuries. We are greatly impressed.

 

 

I am a total sucker for old walls and watch towers. You will see a lot of different walls and towers from this trip 🙂

 

 

This is the Chateau de Cadillac, home to the Dukes of Epernon:

We were just strolling along feeling pretty good when we saw a Viking tour group doing a walking tour, but sort of hurrying. One of the group said to another “we have to be back by 3:45 because the ship is leaving to go back to Bordeaux” and we noticed a lot of different people sort of scurrying in the direction of the ship. So we scurried, too, and made it back. What we do not want is the walk of shame, the whole ship waiting and watching for the last ones to board.

 

From our balcony, we enjoy the sunny skies on the way back.

 

 

 

 

 

This is the Museum of Wine in Bordeaux, just northwest of where the ship is docked.

 

We had a lovely experience at dinner. We preferred to eat at the Aquavit Terrace, where they have TWO tables for two people, the only two person tables on the ship (there may be more when the outside terrace is open, but it is not warm enough in November). The tables were all taken. It is a more casual restaurant, few tables, very popular.

 

The head waiter, Anton, put us at a nearby table in the lounge, and made sure we had a good dinner. After the fabulous lunch we had, all I wanted was soup and the appetizer crab cakes. Anton made sure I got a huge bowl of soup and two crab cakes, so it was more like a full dinner. They were all so caring, and didn’t want to see us under eat. My husband had salad and scallops, which were also supposed to be an appetizer, but the portion was very generous. Anton was chastised for allowing us to eat in the lounge, but he stood his ground and we were very grateful to him for his kindness, wanting to make sure we had a good dinner and were happy.

 

We go on cruises, but we are introverts. We pay more for a cabin because we know we will spend a lot of time in the cabin, so it is good if it has a balcony and some space. It makes us happy. We usually prefer to eat by ourselves; we’ve been married for 46 years and we have good conversations. The Forseti is not equipped for room service.

We DO like other people, but until we’ve met someone we choose to eat with, we eat alone. On this cruise, we actually found people we liked eating with, and one group we actually adored, but that will come.

After our quiet dinner, we left the Forseti and walked into Bordeaux, just a short distance. We had a lot of fun just walking around, and then it started sprinkling, so we walked back. We were able to stay up until 10 this night, our second night in Bordeaux, so we feel pretty good.

December 16, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, France, Geography / Maps, Local Lore, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yellowstone to Missoula: A Day of Transition to Glacier National Park

I’ve had one odd problem on this trip, which is that my iPhone went wonky in Yellowstone National Park. I figured out that if I downloaded maps while I had wi-fi connections, sometimes they worked in the park. It was a pain in the neck, and I didn’t always remember. The phone always knew where we were, but the maps didn’t always show up clearly. I am guessing it is a coverage problem, no cell towers, or something, but once we left the park, the problem was over. The phone could show me where I was.

We got a slow start – like maybe we slept in until 7 a.m. and then we went to Gardiner for breakfast, this time trying a place we had seen and wanted to try, Tumbleweeds.

Tumbleweeds is also a book store, where both AdventureMan and I found used books at 50 cents each to get us through the rest of our journey. In the last week, I had totally caught up with all my unread New Yorkers (woo hoooo!) and was ready for something light. I found Margaret Atwoods “A Cat’s Eye” (not light, has to do with bullying among girls, and emotional manipulation) and my husband found a Ludlum book he hadn’t read.

The food was just exactly the kind we like, not fancy, not pretentiously served, but made in house from locally sourced ingredients, as much as possible. Their coffee was delicious, to start. AdventureMan had a breakfast sandwich, and I had Montana oatmeal, and an english muffin. They make their own bread. They make all their own food. We were happy to be there.

 

 

If it weren’t for the mountains, the road to Livingston, where we got on I-90, would have been pretty boring.

 

 

No elk. No bison. No wolves. No bear. Shortly after we left Gardiner, we discovered also that the weather had changed dramatically, and not only were we shedding layers, but it was getting hot. I checked the forecast for Glacier – in the 80’s. In the 80’s ??? Yikes! I packed for freezing!

We drove as far as Butte before our breakfast wore off. We had no idea where to eat, so we drove to the downtown area and stopped a couple guys on the street and asked them where they eat lunch. They looked at each other, said there are a lot of options, then one of them looked at us and asked “Do you like a little nuance?”

No one has ever asked us that before.

We said “sure” and he recommended Metals, and showed us how to get there. Just as we were entering, the two guys entered, too, and said “we thought as long as we were recommending it, we might as well eat there, too.”

 

The first photo I took was the menu, because it cracked me up and agrees so totally with how I would like to live my life.

Metals is a sports bar. I guess it has been several things, but it began as Metals Bank, as Butte is a mining town.

You can even dine in the bank vault.

 

 

 

I had an Oriental Chicken Salad, delicious, and AdventureMan had the Chef Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast, which was also very good.

 

We continued on to Missoula, where we have stopped before when we used to drive from Pensacola to Seattle, and like a lot.

Our hotel was beautiful and quiet. We were welcomed warmly, and the receptionist was very helpful. This was the Grant Creek Best Western Plus, and it had great beds, was very quiet and was an easy access back to I-90.

 

I had found a Montana food blog and we knew exactly where we wanted to go. There is a fabulous BBQ restaurant in downtown Missoula called The Notorious Pig. My phone got us there without any problems.

 

We know what we like. This is it. We heard someone come in behind us and order, and asked about desserts. The guy at the counter said “We don’t do desserts. We just do smoked meats.” You could hear the pride in his voice. You could smell the meats; holy smokes.

 

 

I had first ordered burnt tips, only to be told they had already sold out. The smoked turkey was a great choice, so moist and so delicious and – so much. So much of both my husband’s BBQ pulled pork and my smoked turkey that we good boxes back to the hotel and although the hotel offers breakfast, we preferred to have warmed up BBQ. It was that good.

 

 

I will tell you this was one of the most memorable meals on our trip because of the quality of the meats. Also, I had never had Fire and Ice pickles before, so this was a first for me, and I was hooked. I’ve always loved pickles. These almost tasted like dills – maybe they even started out as dills, but then pickled again in a sweet, spicy brine. Oh wow. I’m going to have to figure out how to make these pickles.

 

We had a great nights sleep in Missoula.

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Eating Out, Food, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bozeman, Montana and Feed

Our room isn’t ready, so we head out to lunch and to visit the famous Museum of the Rockies. Remember how yesterday I had a passing though of bad omens? Those thoughts are well past. We love being in Bozeman. The air is cool, but not cold. People have been very kind and helpful to us here. We are hungry, we don’t know where to go and my husband sees this innocuous looking place and says “Let’s go there.”

Wow.

 

The place is bustling. You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table. Behind the counter is an open kitchen, including a whole area for their baking. They have a display counter full of pastries and muffins and some breads. Most of the people eating there seem to be regular customers. You can smell coffee, and it is good coffee.

 

 

 

You can get your own water from a dispenser; even the water is good. Finally our meals come, soup and salad for my husband, salad with trout for me. One taste and we are in heaven. Part of it is that the bread is SO GOOD.

 

We decide we will have breakfast there the next morning; sometimes when you find a place this good you just want to stick with it.

We feel re-energized. We are close to the Museum of the Rockies, it is starting to drizzle, the Museum sounds like just the thing.

 

June 21, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Eating Out, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Baden Baden Christmas Angel: Christmas Markets on the Rhine

AdventureMan is low energy, recovering from a bad cold, and I have a sore throat, so we decide to spend a day relaxing on board the Inspire, and to go into Baden Baden that evening for the opening of the Christmas Market. It is a great decision. We love traveling, and at the same time we are not in control of our schedule. There is little time for rest between tours and activities and briefings about the next days activities, and meals. Lots of meals.

It is a great decision. We feel great by the time evening arrives, and head into town for the opening of the Market. We arrive just before the arrival of the Christmas Angel. We are with a more aggressive shipboard friend who manages to be both aggressive and polite, and she “excuse me’s” our way to a very close vantage point, surrounded by Baden-Badeners who are delighted we have come to participate in this special community event. They explain that the Christmas Angel always used to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage, but now arrives in a beautiful new Mercedes. Somehow, that makes me laugh. Either way, it is an odd way for an angel to arrive!

 

Well, even though we have this great view, I have to hold my camera way up above my head to get this shot, and the Christmas angel is barely visible. She also has to make a very long obligatory speech thanking every possible Baden-Badener who made the Market possible. And many school children come on stage and sing. It is a lot of fun, and it is also very cold.

 

This is one of the loveliest Christmas markets I have ever visited. It has wide aisles, and lovely merchandise, and really cool food vendors with delicious cheeses, special wines, meats, and, of course, gluewein.

Our friend was a really good sport. AdventureMan and I are remembering our young years, and the way we loved currywurst, so we talk her into joining us for dinner at the currywurst stand. This is upscale currywurst, but of course, this is Baden Baden. It is served on a china plate, with potatoes. The currywurst we remember was really just a sausage cut into slices and then sprinkled with curry powder before ketchup was squirted on. This currywurst is a more special sausage, and  there is a lot of it. It also comes with a lot of tiny little potatoes, and a kind of garlic hollandaise sauce. A little of it went a long way.

 

Above are wooden carved creches, and all the carved figures you can put inside. These were really beautiful. I wondered where they came from; you sort of picture little wizened wood-carvers in Bavaria, but I suspect they are machine made in China.

It looks like crystal, but it is all plastic! Some of the stars were faceted plastic, and sparkled, so I bought several, even though I have a wonderful collection of glass and crystal ornaments from our earlier years. I also have two destructive cats, and anything special gets hung on high from candelabras and chandeliers, but plastic stars I can stick to the windows and not worry if the cats fiddle with them. Thus, over Christmas, I have already lost two of them to falls and being batted around.

 

Moravian stars were everywhere, most made with a heavy paper.

A beautiful collection of creches, each in it’s own container, above.

Some were very modern.

One of the speciality food stores.

 

We made it around the entire market, and now it is time to find the bus to return to the boat. I am glad; it is a very cold windy night, as beautiful as it is, clear and cold, and I have lost my voice. My throat is also very sore.

 

March 28, 2019 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Eating Out, Germany, Travel | Leave a comment