On Saturday, June 7th our son, Rich and our daughter-in-law, Lisa, flew into Bordeaux from Toronto via Paris. We are very happy that they will be spending the next week here in Bordeaux and their apartment is only about a 10-15 minute walk away from ours. We met them on Place Gambetta as they arrived on the bus from the Bordeaux airport. Walked to their apartment which was only a block from the plaza. Their landlords spoke very little English so I was able to help somewhat with the information they provided.
After they freshed up, we headed down to the centre of town to have a light lunch, a bit of walking around to get them somewhat oriented to their new surroundings. Saturday the 7th was also their sixth wedding anniversary....what a great way to celebrate with a trip to France. In addition to their week here in Bordeaux, Rich and Lisa are spending a week in Amsterdam before heading back home to Toronto. Saturday evening after going our separate ways for the afternoon, Robin and I brought along a small bottle of champagne to their apartment to toast their anniversary.
The picture above is taken in Lisa and Rich's apartment before going out for dinner. As Lisa said in her Facebook posting, ". No, Dad and Son did not call each other to ensure they would wear the same shirts".
We then headed off to dinner. We picked a restaurant that was about a 15 minute walk from Rich and Lisa's called L'Exploit. This restaurant was quite highly rated and fortunately I had made a reservation. They must have turned away about 6 groups of people while we were there, guess we are not the only ones that read the reviews....but we are just smarter by booking ahead! A French restaurant run by a couple who take pride in certain house specialties. Robin and I shared a duck pate which we were told was made by the owner. He told us that normally when you order duck pate it us 80% porc and only 20% duck. He said his was the opposite..80% duck and 20% porc. He really could have told us anything, didn't really care; it was delicious! In all honesty, such a large helping it could have been enough for the four of us. Lisa and Robin both had Farcis stuffed Filet Mignon, Rich had one of the specialties of the house, the meat of pig's feet cooked with cabbage in a wine sauce and I opted for the other house specialty, Oxtail meat also cooked in a wine sauce. I know that these last two dishes sound a little different, but after sampling everyone's meal, couldn't say enough about this place. Poor Lisa and Rich suffering somewhat from jet lag proved to be good sports and we walked along the river a little ways to get home. We went home via La Place de la Bourse where the water feature is located. Got some great pictures there as the sky was starting to cloud up and rain was threatening. We all made it home before the storm. Love the picture below of the two them.
On Sunday morning Lisa and Rich walked over to our apartment and the four of us headed off to the Sunday market and bought some provisions for the next few days. Decided to make life easy and picked up some prepared Paella and seafood risotto for dinner for the four of us. Stopped in one of our favourite squares, Chartrons, for coffee before setting off our separate ways; then Lisa and Rich came over for dinner. Of course, we had to wait for the French open men's final to finish before eating!
On Monday we all head over to the tourist bureau to book a wine tour which we will be taking on Thursday. Sometimes that is just easier than trying to do it on your own. Also, considering we don't have a vehicle makes more sense. Head off to do some more exploration of the city and wind our way towards the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). The cathedrale St. Andre and the bell tower are located on the same square. Today in France is yet another holiday, and believe it in not, the cathedral is closed, so we can't go in to see it. I wanted to climb the bell tower, Pey Berland Tower and everyone else joined in. The bell tower was built in 1440 and was built a short distance from the cathedral in order to protect the church from the vibrations of the bells. There are a total of 231 steps to get to the second terrace where one gets a magnificent view of the city. A golden statue of Notre Dame of Aquitaine tops the bell tower.
Palais Rohan built in the 1770's now houses the City Hall and sits in this same square as the Cathedral. A short distance away are the modern looking law courts building.
Then off towards the Grosse Cloche. This Big Bell is the only vestige of the ancient defensive door of the 13th century, which protected the city. An astronomical clock is located within the tower. We then wound our way to the river and walked along the Quay, then across Pont Jaques along the pathways on the Bastides/east side of the Garonne, crossing over again on Pont de Pierre. All in all about 12 kms. of walking today. Since Saturday the temperatures here have been 28 to 30 degrees, so we have experienced thunder storms each night which are welcome to help cool things down.
Tuesday arrives and we meet Lisa and Rich at the Gare where we rent a car for the day to drive to La Rochelle, about a two drive north west from Bordeaux. La Rochelle is located on the Bay of Biscay and was founded in the 10th century and was known for maritime commerce and trade. It was also the largest base of the Knights Templar and was even under English control at one time. During the Second World War, Germany established a submarine naval base at La Rochelle and as it was a German stronghold it was the last French city to be liberated at the end of the war. Beautiful port town with lots of character. Stopped for the mandatory cappuccino (with chantilly) and tea, then off to discover the town. Walked along the port and the ancient walls, then found our way to a beautiful urban park and zoo and finally back through the old town for lunch.
On the way back to Bordeaux we stop in Roquefort to discover the famous cheese......Rich finally says, don't think this is Roquefort it's spelled Rochefort........oh well! We are here now so might as well see it. When I looked at the history of the town it turns out to be quite interesting. In 1665, Rochefort was chosen as a place of "refuge, defense and supply" for the French navy. Its military harbour was fortified and in the late 1600's the king had the "Corderie Royale" (then the longest building in Europe) constructed to make cordage (ropes for ships, mainly for rigging) for French ships of war. The Hermione a 12-pounder Concorde class frigate of the French Navy became famous when it sailed from here to the United States in 1780 and ferried General Lafayette to allow him to rejoin the American side in the American Revolutionary War. The ship was grounded and was wrecked in 1793. In 1997, construction of a replica ship started in Rochefort and it is also called the Hermione. In April 2015, this full-size replica of the Hermione frigate plans to make a return voyage to the United States from Rochefort. So a little mistaken side trip ends up to be quite interesting. Back to Bordeaux around 6 p.m.; a very enjoyable interesting day.
A side note...every night just before 9 p.m. we see either a small scooter or a small utility truck drive around the garden across from us. They honk their horn giving people a warning that the park is about to close. Actually, rather nice for us as we keep our bedroom French doors open to get a breeze, so it's nice and quiet at night.
On Wednesday the four of us meet up at the Gare and take the train to Arcachon, about one hour south west from Bordeaux, a seaside resort on the ocean. The town is only 150 years old, a baby by European standards. Prior to that it was just a forest of pine trees, oaks and strawberry trees (arbutus), with no road links. In earlier years, when some hygienists began to recommend sea bathing, this town was laid out by some entrepreneurs especially for the Bordeaux bourgeoisie and other wealthy people. By the way, I can attest to the strawberry trees and their berries (actually the berries look like small blackberries). I mistakenly sat on a sea wall and didn't notice the berries......did I mention I was wearing white shorts!
The architecture in the town is known for the "Arcachonnaise", the local name for an Arcachon villa, which is the architectural style of many of the older houses built here, very charming. Skies a little overcast when we first arrived, but cleared up nicely in the early afternoon.
At its southern entrance from the Atlantic ocean, Arcachon Bay is crowned by Europe's largest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat, nearly 3 kilometres long, 500 metres wide, reaching 110 metres in height, and moving inland at rate of 5 metres a year. As we were only on foot, we decided to try to make it there, but after several kilometres of walking, the promenade by the bay ended. We made our way up to a main road. Rich mentioned that he thought a bus went to the dune. A bus shelter just around the corner, but the bus only came every hour and a half......hmmm! I walk a little further and I see a French woman getting out of her car to pick up her mail. " Bonjour Madame, can you tell me how far to the dunes? Well she says, about 5 kms. although there is a bus but I have no idea how often it comes. Merci" we discuss our situation and decide to hit the bakery down the road to buy lunch and enjoy it by the bay. We will have to leave the viewing of the dunes for our next trip to this area! We walk all the way back into town and decide to take the train back to Bordeaux. Must say we are getting our exercise with all the walking which is great. Don't feel too guilty having a glass of wine with lunch or the odd desert.
Go our own ways for dinner, but we meet around 8 p.m. for a drink and desert. A demonstration is going on in front of a theatre, not sure why, so we have to cross the street to get to the cafe. I noticed a sign that says "no time to play" and a large crowd gathered around the demonstrators. Also when we got to the train station this morning, as we went to buy our tickets at the vending machine, a notice came up indicating that there could be train delays today. Heard later that the various high speed trains, TGV, Thalys and Eurostar, were affected as well as many train lines in Paris......what a country!
Thursday morning we meet up at the Tourist Office to catch the bus for our wine tour of "Les Crus Classes de Graves". A total of seventeen people on this tour in addition to the guide who turned out to be very informative. We visited two separate wineries in the Pessac-Leognan area, just south of Bordeaux, and had lunch at the second winery. The guide explained some of the history of this area. In the 12th century, the popularity of Bordeaux wines in England increased dramatically following the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. This wine was known as "claret" as it was almost like a rose in colour. In the 17th century, the Dutch introduced innovations and techniques, including sulphur in the wine making process, which killed any bacteria, thereby wines were able to ferment longer and deep red wines were the end result. The major reason for the success of winemaking in the Bordeaux region is the excellent environment for growing vines. The geological foundation of the region is limestone, and in particular the area we visited has lots of gravel.....hence the name "Graves". This gravel soil provides good drainage and the gravel also absorbs the heat of the day passing it onto the vine, thereby accelerating the maturity of the grapes. I have a good friend who has many sommelier courses under her belt and is very knowledgeable when it comes to wines and winemaking. Susan, hope your not rolling your eyes at my discourse on this topic!
The first winery,Chateau Olivier began viticulture in 1846. It produces red and white Grand Cru along with a "second" red wine. We toured the grounds of the chateau with one of the employees of the winery who explained the history of the chateau and then proceeded to the cellars where she went on to explain their process of wine making. This was followed by a wine tasting of their white and red wine. The wine was accompanied by three types of cheeses and some bread.
Back on the bus to the second winery, Chateau Fieuzal. New buildings and all very modern equipment, however they have been producing wine for over 400 years. A quick tour then into a dining hall where we are served a five course lunch. Starter of fresh oysters from Arcachon (we visited earlier in the week), second course of fois gras with crispy bread, followed by the main meal of magret de canard with a great vegetable soufflé, then a small salad ending with a desert made up of a rich chocolate torte, a small creme brûlée and a lemon type cream with meringue and an expresso. Served a white wine with the oysters, then moved onto the red......yum, yum, yum! What a great way to experience the wine country if only for a short time. Back to Bordeaux about 3:30. Took the long way home to get some exercise and spend some time relaxing.
We met Lisa and Rich at 7 p.m. on Allees de Tourny where the City is having a gastronomic festival for four days. Since we had such a large lunch, we simply split salads. Lots of people watching while we were eating. At one point while we were eating, a man stopped by and asked how we were enjoying the food and wine and we notice a crowd around him and someone taking our picture. We think it may have been the Mayor of Bordeaux. At the time you think....who is this guy? Have we met him somewhere in the last couple of weeks? We are pretty tired, so short walk along the river and we head home. Robin stays up to watch the first World Cup game.
On Friday, Robin and I set out of the apartment early as the cleaning lady is coming......I don't even have a cleaning lady at home for heaven's sake. This apartment includes the cost of the cleaning lady who comes once a week and all linens are changed and taken away to be washed....what a treat. We spend some time in the Jardin Public reading and relaxing, then off to discover another part of our neighbourhood which we haven't seen before. A stop at our favourite square for a cup of tea/coffee. In the afternoon we set out to visit the Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez, a contempary and modern art gallery located in the historic Chateau Labottiere not to far from our apartment. Rich and Lisa are off on their own today discovering more of Bordeaux. We will be meeting them later for dinner at a restaurant near their apartment. They leave early Saturday morning for Amsterdam.
Have to say that it has been absolutely wonderful spending this week with Lisa and Rich. Great to see new sights, experience new foods, wine and see new towns with them. Thank you Lisa and Rich for including us in your holiday plans.