Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hidden Gems: Restaurants We Love in Pensacola

People are flocking to Pensacola, or, actually, to the white sugar sands of Pensacola Beach, where you can breathe Covid-free air, paddle around in the Gulf and maintain distance between your less-than-ten group and the next.

Those flocking are always looking for good places to eat at the end of a long day in the sun. As people who love good places to eat, we are going to share some of the lesser known but delightful places in Pensacola where we eat often. We arrived here ten years ago, and were blown away that this old Southern town had such a variety of restaurants full of different tastes.

If you are not from the South, this is for you:  Any time you see the words “with a Southern twist” it is code for loaded with fat and sugar. You can’t beat the sweets – think beignets, Southern cakes, think sweet tea. I believe the South does some of the very best desserts in the United States of America.

That Southern twist, however, is one of the reasons that the most obese states in the USA are also in the South. You will find sugar and fat where you least expect it – one time, at a noted Pensacola restaurant where people go to see and be seen, I ordered a side of greens, trying to avoid sugar. When I tasted the greens, I gagged. Whoda thunk that collard greens would be cooked with sugar?

These are places local foodies go:

Blue Dot BBQ310 N De Villiers St

I’m starting with Blue Dot because it is one of the quirkiest places in Pensacola. In the first place, sometimes they are open, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes when they are open they will answer the phone, and sometimes they will not. Their answering machine gives out a message that says something like “we might be busy or we might be closed, so don’t call again.” Sometimes they have ribs as well as hamburgers, and sometimes they do not. And always, they are packed with people picking up orders. The guy taking the orders keeps them all in his head, and we haven’t seen him mess up a single order.

I had lived here for ten years before I tasted my first Blue Dot hamburger. People here say these are the best hamburgers in the world, pure and simple. I fully enjoyed mine, and I can’t say why. The meat was really good, and the bun was really good, but I can’t put my finger on what made it all so good. It is simple, and it is simply good. Doesn’t come with anything. Doesn’t cost much. And if you’ve lived in Pensacola a long time, Blue Dot is the best kept secret.

New Yorker Deli, 3001 E Cervantes St

I should put a disclaimer on the New Yorker, saying we eat there regularly, like once a week, but the truth is, most of these places I am sharing with you are places we eat regularly, and we don’t get any kickback for saying good things about them. We say good things because they serve good food.

The New Yorker is a deli and restaurant frequented mostly by locals, but get there early. They serve at least eight different home made soups every single day, and a huge variety of salads. They also boast “Pensacola’s best Reuben,” which I can attest to being pretty awesome, and a French Dip Sandwich with some of the best dipping broth I have found. We took a visitor there, they only person I know who could get excited over a liverwurst sandwich, but he is from New York and this was his favorite place in Pensacola. Tuesday they serve Crawfish Etoufee, and if you want to dine in, you had better get there early. Friday, they often have their famous Broccoli Salad.

If you’re looking for dinner on a Friday night, get there early. Yes, they serve wine and beer.

They also have pastas and pizzas. They also have a spectacular selection of desserts. They also have friendly, personal service. We feel so blessed to have a place nearby serving food of this quality.

Gulf Coast Seafood Market and Restaurant, 2250 W 9 Mile Rd

This restaurant is not near-by, and it is high enough on our list that we make the effort to go there often. As part of the renowned Patti family seafood and restaurant empire, it serves some of the best and freshest seafood in the area. The Alaska girl in me gets a craving for some salmon and I give my husband the look that says “take me to (Jonathan’s) for some salmon!” While most of the customers are ordering their baskets or platters with fabulous fried oysters, crab cakes, grouper, catfish or shrimp, we love it that GCSMR will also grill or blacken. This little hidden gem serves what I consider the best salmon in Pensacola, hush puppies to die for, and excellent baked beans. They use sugar where you would expect it – hush puppies, baked beans and sweets – but they also serve steamed broccoli, no sugar.

Shoreline Deli, 1180 W Main St

Just down the street from the famous Joe Patti’s, at the corner of Main and E is the Shoreline Deli and grocery. Not only do we order out, fabulous fresh made sandwiches and salads with a Greek flair, but we also buy our olive oil there, by the gallon, LOL (you think I am kidding, but I am not). While waiting for my order, I buy many of my spices there, fresher than in the supermarkets, think za’atar, sumac, poppy seeds, cardamon, cinnamon sticks, clove, all packaged in small packages (or large, if you need large).  They have Mediterranean relishes, sweets, condiments, nuts, specialties of all kinds, and a very large selection of Zapp’s potato chips and other local specialties.

Near the cashier, where you get a military discount if you show your ID, is a stand laden with irresistible sweets – think baklava, big chewy cookies, and for my husband, some of the best peanut brittle anywhere.

Taste of Jerusalem, 707 N Pace Blvd Suite B

Ray, the owner, is working on a new location on Cervantes, so check Taste of Jerusalem.com before you head there. The current location is tiny, but well patronized because the food is just SO GOOD. I tell AdventureMan “this is better than some of the Middle Eastern food we used to eat in the Middle East.” Ray is constantly expanding his menu, and there is something for everyone. My vegetarian friends love the two huge Vegetarian Platters, with selections from hummus, baba ghannoush, stuffed grape leaves, Jerusalem salad, felafel, tzatziki, etc. His grill platters and sandwiches are chock full of grilled flavor; lamb, beef, chicken, kebabs, gyros, and shrimp. He also has grilled chickens and platters of biryani and mensaf. His trout is excellent. Join the stream of loyal patrons who marvel that Pensacola has a world class Mediterranean restaurant of this calibre.

Taco Rock 29, 5454 Pensacola Blvd

This is the original Taco Rock, and we love it because the food is so well prepared and so tasty. It is not fancy, and sometimes the air conditioning does not work. It doesn’t deter us. My husband is addicted to their fresh, home-made tamales (pork) and I am a big fan of the Burrito Loco. The food is fresh, hot, comes with a mild or hot salsa. You have your choice of meats in the tacos, tostadas, burritos, etc. The chips are thin and crisp. They have a loyal clientele, and many delivery customers, so sometimes you have to wait. It’s worth it. We love this place.

Seafoods Station, 4796 N. 9th Ave.

My Hawaiian friend introduced me to Poke’ bowls, which I’ve tried at different places every since, but I have found none that I love the way I love the Ahi Tuna Poke’ or the Salmon Poke’ at Seafoods Stations. Lucky for me, my husband has several dishes he loves – the clam platter, the mussels platter, the Cajun Shrimp platter, the Shrimp Stir-Fried noodles. Actually, the menu is so large and varied that everyone we have taken there has found something to love. It is quirky, to us to combine seafood, Vietnamese and Cajun foods, but with the local history of Vietnamese immigrants settling in Louisiana and becoming major players in the shrimp and fish industry, it all makes sense, and the flavors are beautifully combined at Seafoods Station.

Siam Thai, 6403 N 9th Ave

When we first moved to Pensacola and started taking our then-baby grandson out with us, he cut his teeth on foods from Siam Thai. They were always so patient with us, and so kind to our little grandson. Now, we order out from Siam Thai regularly because their food is so well prepared, fresh and full of flavor. In truth, I like some foods spicy, and they make it spicy enough for me.

We love their Spring Rolls, uncooked with shrimp and vermicelli noodles, and a rich peanut sauce to dip in. I love their Grilled Chicken Salad (that’s a full meal right there), and we love their Northern Style Noodles Soup (another full meal, rich in chicken and vegetables in a tasty red chli base). We love their Chicken Cashew Nuts and OMG their Rama Chicken. There are dishes we haven’t tried yet. We mean to, but we go to order and can’t resist those we have had and found to be so delicious. We intend to keep trying 🙂 and we will enjoy every bite 🙂

Taqueria Al Asador, 7955 N Davis Hwy

Once solely a food truck, Al Asador has some picnic-style outdoor seating, and now it is even covered. Listed as one of the best food-trucks in the USA, the food at Al Asador is worth every second of the wait in the line to order, and the wait to pick up. Service is speedy, and they have to-go down to a science, with pre-packaged Salvadoran sauces to spice your tacos and tostadas and burritos. One of our favorites is the Chicken Platter (Platillo de Pollo), so much food and we can both eat for under $20. The meat is grilled and smoked on huge grills behind the truck, so the aromas while you wait are sheer heaven.

Do not, we learned from experience, go on a Saturday. The line is very long.

You have to know what you are looking for. Al Asador is co-located with a Shell gas station, north of I-10. Drive north on Davis, do a U-turn at Olive Road and get in the right hand lane to exit soon, when you see the Shell Station. There is additional parking over in front of a warehouse on the right hand side of Blackwell Road. Al Asador is worth the trouble.

Ozone Pizza Pub, 1010 N 12th Ave #111

We think Ozone has the best pizzas in town, and the best thin crusts. I love that the pizzas are really Italian in style – not too much red sauce, not too much cheese, not too much crust, and fresh ingredients with a lot of flavor. I love the Pesto Vecchio and the La Bianco, my husband loves the Nutty Idea, our grandchildren love the Carnivore, my daughter in law loves the Root Down Salad and we love the Greek salad – one is enough to share, when also eating pizza.

I will admit, I also love that it is in a re-purposed old building, once a hospital, now housing two restaurants and several businesses. Ozone has loyal and fervent customers, passionate and ready to defend Ozone as the best Pizza in town (and one of the best bar scenes).

Joe Patti’s Seafoods, 524 South B Street

Just off Main, you can’t miss the huge sign or the flag, Joe Patti’s is a Pensacola landmark and institution. It is not a restaurant – well, maybe you can eat some sushi in the back – but there is a Joey Patti’s restaurant nearby serving a lot of heavily fried delicious fresh seafood.

I mention Joe Patti’s because I would dare to say that everyone in Pensacola shops there – some occasionally and some more frequently. Joe Patti’s has all the variety of fresh seafood you can imagine. It also has specialty food items you can’t find any where else.

For us, we are addicted to Joe Patti’s gumbo, although once I ordered clam chowder by accident and it was every bit as good, it is just, frankly, I can make chowder that good, but I cannot equal Joe Patti’s gumbo. We order it by the quart and grab a baguette of his delicious sourdough bread to go with it. Sometimes I can’t resist one of their specialty cheeses, even though I know it is bad for me, Joe Patti carries some really delicious cheeses. Oh. And ice cream and cakes. A whole display case of them. And a variety of seafood salads. Anything you could want for an elegant picnic, including wines, you can find at Joe Patti’s.

Do not go on Christmas Eve day; even early in the morning, there is a line a couple blocks long when it opens. If you MUST go on Christmas Eve, be sure you have ordered your oysters at least a week in advance.

* * * * * * *

Above are some of our very favorite, most frequented places. I will remind you that I have lived in countries designated by our fearless leader as “$#*!holes” and I am willing to overlook things more dainty women might object to. Most of these places are not elegant. You don’t even have to take off your shorts and sandals – they are Florida casual. Of course, right now, in the age of COVID, we are not eating out, but we are very religiously taking out; we want to support our hard working friends in the restaurant business.

Having said that, now and then you want to dress a little and celebrate. I will share four of the more known restaurants we like, and why.

Flounders Chowder House, 800 Quietwater Beach Road

Well, just kidding, take those pearls back off and get back into shorts and sandals, Flounders is casual, but more expensive, and part of a chain, but a local chain we really like because we find their food excellent.

The first thing we love at Flounders Chowder House is . . . the chowder. It is exceptional. It is full of seafood, not the least bit skimpy. My husband orders the grilled grouper sandwich, which comes with the most sinfully delicious fries ever. I am not supposed to eat fries. They are really bad for me. If I am going to eat fries, I eat a couple or five or so off my husband’s plate. They are so crisp and so tasty, must be all that fat and salt. I usually order the Baja Fish Tacos, fried and served with abundant pico de gallo, yes, fried, but so GOOD. If I am better behaved, I order the grilled shrimp salad or the Caeser with grilled shrimp.

The food is excellent, every time. You can also get good drinks and good wine there (we see it flowing like water, and many a well-oiled customer), often live mellow music, and always a fresh Gulf Breeze, even on the days with the heaviest humidity. Flounders is a treat.

McGuires Irish Pub Pensacola, 600 E Gregory St

I am pretty sure McGuires and Flounders are owned by the same company. Every now and then, AdventureMan and I get a craving for a good steak. We know what we want, just a little filet with a heavy crushed pepper crust. We know where to go – McGuire’s.

McGuires is not a hidden gem; it is well publicized and well known. There are lines outside to get in. We usually go in winter, or on a parade day when everyone is somewhere else. It is very pubby – dark wood interior, Irish music, live Irish singers, tables close together, large crowds of people calling out to one another, it is noisy. There are dollar bills tacked to the ceiling, everywhere. You really don’t have to dress, although some do, some are coming from events, but many are still in their beach clothes, it’s that kind of mixture.

The food is relentlessly good. I admire that McGuires can provide continuously good food, across the menu, from drinks to desserts, and maintain a high standard of excellence. Our steaks are perfect, every single time.

Fisherman’s Corner, 13486 Perdido Key Dr

We are getting up to my two all time favorite Pensacola restaurants here, and we drive for 45 minutes to get to Fisherman’s Corner. We take our house guests there. It is that good.

Every thing we have tried at Fisherman’s Corner, we love. We always start with their hand-dipped peppered onion rings. If your group is hungry, order two or more; they are gone in a heartbeat. My favorite entree is the Creole Linguine, which I cannot eat because it is too rich, so my beloved AdventureMan will order it (well, he loves it, too) and give me a couple bites. I adore the Cioppino, honestly one of the best I have ever eaten, anywhere, but it is not often available at lunch and sometimes not at dinner.

Fisherman’s Corner is like that. They don’t keep a huge freezer full of frozen stuff, their food is fresh and if it is not available fresh, then it won’t be available. You learn to live with that small inconvenience because holy smokes, the food is so incredibly good. Their smoked tuna – when available – is awesome. Their grilled tuna or grilled tuna salad – when available – is awesome.

We were first taken there by a member of one of Pensacola’s first families. We would never have found it if she hadn’t taken us there because you have to leave the road off to the right just before you cross the Theodore Baars bridge to Perdito Key, Drive down that road and you come to Fisherman’s Corner and it kind of looks like a bait shop, except for all the cars in front, and maybe even people waiting outside to get in. If you are able, better to make a reservation.

Their bread pudding dessert and their Key Lime Pie are also very good, and they serve some excellent wines. AdventureMan takes me there for events, like anniversaries or maybe because it’s Saturday. A few people dress. Most put on clean shorts and a clean shirt at the very least. It’s a nice place, but still Florida, where people are going to wear what they want to wear.

 

The Grand Marlin Pensacola Beach, 400 Pensacola Beach Blvd., Pensacola Beach

Every now and then, you just need a night at The Grand Marlin. When you need everything – good food, great service, lovely surrounding, you need to be at The Grand Marlin.

No matter where you eat, you have a view of Escambia Bay. No matter when you go, you know that the wait staff here are the best the area has to offer, and they really like working at the Grand Marlin.

I am absolutely crazy about their TGM BBQ Shrimp. It is an appetizer, only six shrimp, but six very large shrimp in an exquisite sauce, with an excellent garlic bread. It is a savory BBQ sauce; I think they must use a couple sticks of butter in it but they say it’s the beer that makes it so good. We discovered with COVID that we could take it home, warm it up and serve it over angel hair pasta and it was exquisitely satisfying. The grilled salmon BLT is divine. Both of those are available from Curbside service.

For the times when we can dine in, we have never had a bad meal. I love the Cioppino, I love the Crab Cakes, I love the grilled salmon. Most of all, I just love being there, I love the totality of the experience with good food, good wines and a nice atmosphere combining with a lovely drive across two bridges and maybe even a sunset. The Grand Marlin is an experience, not just a meal.

If you find a place you love, or try one of the above and like it, please share below the name of the restaurant and what you ate that impressed you. I love it when one of these entries becomes useful to a lot of people. You can help make that happen.

June 20, 2020 Posted by | Community, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Restaurant | Leave a comment

Forty-Seven Years

“Happy Anniversary!” smiled AdventureMan as he headed for the daybed in my office. He sets his alarm, gets up and comes into the office, curls up, pulls a quilt over him and goes back to sleep. Ragnar and Uhtred, who love a warm body, trail him in, and as soon as they hear him purring (as we call it) they snuggle right up.

Tropical Storm Cristobal is on our doorstop and with the bands of the storm come periods of light rain, occasional medium rain, and from time to time, lengthy showers of intense rain, sometimes sideways rain if the winds are blowing hard.

We still aren’t eating in restaurants, but I think when he wakes up I will suggest we talk with our son and his wife to see if they might like pizzas today, with us, from Ozone Pizza. While there are a couple expensive restaurants I like, my preference for celebration is always reliably good food, tasty food, and Ozone is tasty, reliably good, and has something to make every one of the six of us happy. On a rainy Sunday, this seems like a relaxed, family option.

The actual move is still stalled. We live our normal lives, waiting for the log jam to break. First, our son and his wife have to be able to close on their house, which is tied up in a legal glitch we expect to be soon solved. They move. We have the bedrooms and hallway painted, then we move. Sigh. These things just take time.

Meanwhile, I want to share something special with you – this was done by 8 downtown Pensacola religious leaders who years ago committed to meeting regularly for breakfast, getting to know and support one another. Their established relationship enabled them to come together to share their commitment to making Pensacola a better place for all races:

June 7, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Character, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Family Issues, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Spiritual | , , | 2 Comments

No, No, I Won’t Let Go!

AdventureMan and I make a great team. He is making sure the outside and the garage sparkle, and I am taking care of the inside, except for his office and his personal clothing. He likes to manage those himself, and I can’t blame him.

There are mornings I can barely face another day of packing, and then I remember Fort Leavenworth, when my riding boots arrived, packed without wrapping, in a box with my evening dresses. There was a part of me that felt outraged, dishonored. Who would do such a thing? And another part that empathized with the worker at the end of a long day, packing for a privileged woman who had riding boots, and evening gowns, and saying “what the hell.”

I learned a good lesson. If it matters to you, pack it yourself. If you can’t pack it yourself, have a special crate built for it.

We were so young, but we saved our money and bought a bird cage from Monsieur Samouda, in Sidi bou Said, Tunisia, and had a crate built for it. We’ve had it for forty years now with many moves and no damage.

I have packed a lot of boxes in my life.

I’m finding that there are some things I can part with easily. And then some things I can’t let go.

 

We met and spent our early married years in Germany. This was our wedding candle, lo, those many years ago. I had to stop burning it on our anniversaries when it started to collapse. It still makes me smile. I can’t let go.

My Mother and Father were in the Wednesday night bowling league in Germany, and they were very good bowlers. They were also on the admin board of the league, and were in charge of the prizes, which they often won. Texting back and forth with my sisters today, I learned that they served on that committee to insure that each of the daughters received an identical crystal cookie tree, which my Mother won each year in the final tournament. Post-war Germany was a wonderland for Americans who lived there. I’m not ready to let this go. One sister let hers go long ago, the other is using hers to hold her jewelry.

I know I should let this pot go – I think it is a fish poacher – and I can’t. We bought it in the Souk al Hammadiyya in Damascus. I can tell I have cooked in it once or twice in the forty years I have owned it, not enough to make it valuable for its utility. The reason I can’t let it go is because of the artistry of the handle. Not even that it looks so beautiful, but the bird handle fits perfectly in your hand. It feels GOOD. I’ve never had any pot or pan that had such a sensuously lovely handle. Someone who made this handle really knew what he was doing, and created it with heart.

When my husband came home today, the first thing that happened when he saw the pot was that he reached for the handle, and then asked “are you thinking of parting with this?” I said “No, I can’t.”

I wish you could put your hand on this bird handle. It’s that special.

We have a family message thread with my son and his wife, who are moving to a larger home as we move to a smaller home. I often take photos and say “would you like this?” maybe with an explanation, and they say yes or no.

This time, AdventureMan texted back immediately: “Not the Kuwait Teapot from the Blue Elephant!” and I immediately packed it to take with us. When we first got to Kuwait, he planned to take me out for Valentine’s dinner, not realizing that it was one of the hugest date nights of the year in Kuwait. On Valentine’s Day, he called everywhere looking for reservations, but there were none to be had.

Being American, we like to eat earlier than Kuwaiti people, so I suggested we dress and go to the Blue Elephant, a favorite restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on the beach, where we were known. When we got there, there were only a few other couples.

“So go in there and beg,” I suggested with a grin, “Tell them we will eat quickly and be out in an hour.” I think he did exactly that. I don’t know what he said, maybe a little money changed hands, but very soon we were ushered to a table, and reminded that we needed to be out by eight, when the table was reserved.

We had a lovely dinner, at the end of which he bought me the little elephant teapot. What I love is that I am not the only one who can’t let go.  🙂

 

 

May 11, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Marriage, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Tunisia | , , , | Leave a comment

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