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Dinard

Saint Emilion to Dinard

Here’s a map showing the distance we drove today from Saint Emilion to Dinard – it’s a distance of 320 miles.  We didn’t encounter any problems along the way but Marie (that’s what we named our Navigation voice) wasn’t cooperating too well.  I wasn’t sure what settings were in place but they definitely didn’t include the most direct route.  She sent us through tiny villages when we left Saint Emilion and it was raining on top of it all.  After about an hour or so, I told Marie that we were taking matters into our own hands.  We finally ended up on the autoroute and then were able to move fairly quickly.  The toll was about $32 for the entire length – a lot of money, but well worth it. We got to Dinard about 2:30pm.  Here are the pictures from our balcony:

 

Here’s the bay at low tide

 

Again at low tide

 

Side view from the hotel

Low tide

 

We couldn’t understand why all of the boats were sunk in mud when we arrived around mid afternoon.  I checked into the tides at Dinard and discovered that we were at the lowest point for the day and that high tide would arrive about 9:30pm and rise an incredible 36 feet!  It is really very hard to believe but take a look at the pictures of the same views later in the day:

 

View from our balcony at high tide

 

Notice that there’s very little ground now showing

 

Even less now

 

It’s unbelievable how quickly and how enormous the tides change.  Apparently this occurs twice or maybe even three times a day.  The last picture was taken somewhere around 10pm and it was still light.

 

This last picture is for Anette.  Anette, you asked for a watercolor and I had already determined that the watercolor would need to come from the northern part of France.  We were in luck today because we saw a young artist while at a seaside brasserie who was painting with water colors.  We asked him to paint a special picture just for you:

 

Watercolor scene

 

Isn’t  that a great scene?  Now we’re not done yet.  We asked him to superimpose both Rich’s and my faces down below somewhere.  And see that island with the castle in the background?  We asked him to paint a tiny Eiffel Tower on that island just for you.  Parfait, n’est-ce pas?

 

That’s it for tonight.  It’s been a long day and we’ll have more stories to tell tomorrow.

 

 

Leaving Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion is a very special place…. I’m so glad that we came here and that the weather was perfect throughout our stay.  Rich mentioned the other day that Saint Emilion reminded him of the place where the movie Chocolat took place…. it has very much the same feel and magical quality. Today we spent most of the day relaxing and walking around the city.  I did two strenuous activities in the morning…. climbing the stairs of the church steeple and then climbing the steps of the tower of the king.  Both were extremely high with very narrow and dark steps that went in a circular pattern.  I only encountered one person coming down while I was ascending and we had to rearrange our camera bags so that we could both squeeze by – very narrow.  But the views from the top were incredible and it was such a beautiful day.  So here are some of the steps along the way and the views from above.

Stairway to the top of the steeple.

 

View from above.

 

View from the top

 

This is how far up I was.

On the way to the King’s Tower, there was a very beautiful street scene that I wanted to capture and kept getting frustrated because people would enter the picture.  I finally got the shot I wanted when all of a sudden this man appeared from a doorway and entered the scene.  He stepped back into the doorway because he could see me taking a picture.  It’s funny because you can still see his stomach sticking out of the doorway.  I have one without the stomach but I thought this one was unique.

Just a tiny bit of his belly showing…

 

Here are a few shots from the tower:

 

Workers trimming the vines

View of the church steeple from the tower.

The dinner tonight was at the Hostellerie de Plaisance, the hotel we are staying at.  Philippe Etchebest is a Grand Chef of France and presents an incredible meal for all of his guests.  We started by sitting out on the terrace and selecting all of your meal selections.  We went a la carte with only 3 courses – starter, main course, cheese and dessert… well I guess that’s really four.  Anyway, you make all of your selections before you enter the dining room.  The process is very formal and you have a glass of champagne while you’re selecting… of course.  Once you enter the dining room, there are no longer any menus or choices to be made.  And everything arrives like clock work.  Our meal was outstanding beginning with several amuse bouches, a starter – Rich had an egg dish with Spanish ham along the side and I had the most humongous oyster I’ve ever seen.  One oyster cooked in coconut milk that filled the plate – delicious but very strange looking.  We both had Brittany lobster that was de-shelled table side.

 

Rich and a glass of champagne

 

Marc with his back to the hotel

 

Small amuse bouche outside to go with the champagne

 

The ham accompanying the egg dish

 

Here’s the enormous oyster – a delicacy in the Bordeaux area

 

The lobster

 

There was a slight problem with the desserts.  They mistakenly gave Rich the strawberry dessert although he had ordered the chocolate dessert.  As a result, they gave him both.  On top of that, they brought me another dessert for my birthday with fireworks and all – literally, there was a huge sparkler on the display.  The chef came to the table and started applauding and everyone in the room applauded – it was great.

 

Pineapple dessert for Marc

 

The chocolate dessert for Rich

 

And here’s the mistake – very tasting strawberry cake inside

 

And finally, the birthday surprise – see the sparkler at the bottom right

 

And then a picture with the chef….

 

 

 

The birthday cake

 

It was a great ending to our stay in Saint Emilion.  As I said, it’s a very special little village with a prestigious wine history and a very comfortable feel.  I would definitely come back.

We head off tomorrow very early because we have a long drive from here to Dinard in the north of France.  See you there.

Wine Tasting à la Française

 

Today we arranged for a couple of wine tours in the immediate area.  Saint Emilion is one of the great appellations of Bordeaux and we learned a tremendous amount by just visiting two wineries.  We went to two chateaus – Chateau Figeac and Chateau Beausejour – both within a mile or two of the village.  As opposed to Napa or Sonoma, the wineries have relatively small areas of vineyards and there is tremendous history in both the winemaking process and the wine itself. For the first visit, we drove to the chateau and requested an English tour.  Our tour guide, Gwen, was not only extremely fluent in English but also very knowledgeable.  We had a group that included us, a Brazilian couple, a Danish couple, and a couple from Virginia who were extremely annoying…. you know, constant stupid questions like, “Is this a red wine?”… of course I jest, but they were still very annoying.  Here are a few pictures of the chateau and the environs:

 

 

The Chateau – home to the owners of Chateau Figeac

 

The wine tasting area – only one wine to taste.

 

 

 

 

The tasting at Chateau Figeac was in the morning and then we had another at 2:30pm at Chateau Beausejour.  The chateau was actually within walking distance of the village and our hotel.  We had a private tour with Patrick who had previously worked in Napa and Sonoma and again was fluent in English.  He also gave us all sorts of little tidbits of information that we had never heard.  First of all, the wine for this chateau was stored in underground limestone caves – you’ll see the pictures below.  Apparently, these caves were dug centuries ago to claim the limestone which built the entire village.  The entire area including the village is built upon these caves below and are all interconnected….. amazing.  In addition, the limestone is very easy to cut underground because it contains so much moisture – Patrick showed us the humidity within the caves and it was 98%.  Evidently this keeps the wine at a stable temperature with the proper moisture.

 

 

The wine barrels

 

 

More of the caves

 

Of course with all of this walking around and education, we needed a sugar break to build up the energy.  We stopped at one of the many macaroon shops and grabbed a small bag:

 

 

Chocolate, raspberry, vanilla….. and extremely light.

 

And to end the day before dinner and to celebrate my birthday, we had a glass of rose champagne on the terrace of the hotel.  I love this shot of the champagne glass reflecting the village behind.

That’s it for tonight.  Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful birthday wishes.  We’ll be in Saint Emilion one more day.

 

 

Cheers….. à votre santé!

 

Saint Emilion

 

 

The trip from Paris to Bordeaux on the train was fairly uneventful.  When we arrived at the train station, it took us forever to find the car rental agency.  Then, of course, the car we had requested (one with GPS) wasn’t available.  After lunch and a couple of comical episodes, we were able to exchange the car and were well on our way.  It’s actually pretty funny… the car is a great diesel Peugeot, stick shift (they still make those?), and a navigation device that only offers directions in French.  She has a wonderful voice so it makes the turns and roundabouts even more fun.  The difference between straight ahead and turn right is “tout droit” vs “droit” – better pay attention or you might miss your turn.  LOL

We arrived in Saint Emilion and checked into the hotel.  Since it was Sunday afternoon, there were a ton of visitors (mostly French) in the small town – it’s absolutely beautiful!  These are the views from our room:

 

 

And then a few more from the street below:

 

 

 

The town is famous, of course, for its noble wines but is also known for its macaroons…. haven’t tried them yet but it’s next on the list.

 

 

 

 

We had dinner at a very small restaurant in the village on a very steep inclined street – so steep I almost lost my balance on several occasions.  Anyway, the dinner was great and we sat next to a couple from Cape Town, South Africa.  We talked throughout dinner and found out that the husband was originally from Belgium – sorta reminded me of Hercule Poirot.  Those Belgians are hiding in the most unusual places, don’t you think?

In closing, here are a couple of shots of the town after dark.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Rudy!!!

Sorry, but I’ve run out of time tonight…. too tired from a wonderful day.  Stay tuned to tomorrow’s update.

À bientôt à Paris

 

 

We left London at 8:50 on the Eurostar from St. Pancras Train Station.  Here are a couple of pics from the station – notice the Olympic rings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Paris and went back to our original hotel and enjoyed the bottle of champagne we’d gotten when we first arrived….. had to get ready for Joel Robuchon!

 

 

Our reservations at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon were for 6:30pm – a little early for us but that’s all that they offer on a reservation basis.  It was on the other side of the Seine and traffic was horrific.  I wanted to be there just a little bit late but not lose our reservation!  Not to worry, everything worked out fine.  This was to be my first birthday dinner…. there are many to follow, trust me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything was outstanding.  We ordered several small courses somewhat like tapas style.  We were able to take some hints from those around us and everyone was fairly fluent in English…. although honestly sometimes it’s really hard to understand them because of the accent.  Anyway, we sat next to a family of four from New York – lived in Connecticut.  They had two small girls and a dog…. can you believe it?  Taking small children (they were probably 4-6 years old) and a dog into a restaurant like this???  We loved it.  They were a great couple – she spoke French fluently since she was born in Paris and he was of Belgian descendant… can’t get any better than that!  Anette, I took their picture just to show you that even Raya could have a good time at Robuchon.

 

We had a variety of different plates – all were exquisite…. here they are:

Tomato gazpacho – velvety

Eggplant with mozzarella

Iberian ham to go with the bruschetta – absolutely delicious!

Crevettes (Shrimp) wrapped in very thin vermicelli and fried – yum!

Langoustine in a puff pastry

Crab royal served cold with a salad casing.

John Dory – known as St. Pierre in France

Angus Beef

Joel Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes – is there enough butter in here for you?

Quel dommage – no more mashed potatoes.

 

The mashed potatoes are honestly magical… you’ve never had anything quite as delicate from a potato.  Evidently everyone asks for them when they come here and I’m so glad that I knew to order them.

 

Last but not least – the desserts…..

 

It was called Frais – strawberries on top of a very light custard.

Chocolate – very intense and velvety.

It probably seems like a lot of food but it actually was just right.  I first had my doubts about a counter offered French gourmet meal but it was an outstanding experience and actually a lot of fun.  Not stuffy… not pretentious… excellent food…. and a good time.  I won’t mention how many euros we offered to alleviate the European financial crisis – Angela Merkel would be proud!

I’m a little sorry to leave Paris in the morning but we’ll be back in another week or so.  What a great city and one that always continues to shine from my perspective.  We leave tomorrow early to board the train to Bordeaux.  I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

If you read my blog, please take a moment to share a comment…. if nothing else than to say that you were here.  Hope you enjoy!

 

 

London

The Union Jack flying all over London

Wow!!!  Taking the Eurostar through the Chunnel is great!  It’s a very smooth ride, the seats are very comfortable, and you’re there in a very short time….. 2 1/2 hours Paris to central London.  Today started with a slight rain.  When we arrived in London we had to wait for our hotel room and of course, it was rainy and blistery.  Winds were blowing and we must have been around 60 degrees compared to yesterday’s 90 degrees…. talk about a change!

What to have for lunch?  Why fish and chips at a local pub, right?  And that’s just the way it went.  We found a nice out of the way pub called Two Chairmen very close to Trafalgar Square.  Here’s my pic of the Square with Admiral Nelson looking great among the fluffy clouds.

Just before we had lunch we stopped by the Queen’s Palace…. and yes, apparently she was there this week because the royal banner was flying high.  I spoke to one of the “Event Coordinators” who was pleased as punch to tell me why the Mall was closed until the end of September and what activities were planned.  Apparently, there are several races planned on the street including the Marathon during the Olympics.  Here’s the view:

 

Buckingham Palace

 

The Mall and preparations

 

And finally, they just put up the Olympic Rings on the Tower Bridge earlier this week and I think I got a great shot of the bridge and the wonderful sky above.

 

 

It was short stay in London but always worth the visit.  We ended the day with a visit to a great Chinese restaurant called Hakkasan.  The food is terrific, they have wonderful cocktails and the vibe is intense….. everyone’s having a great time.

So Anette, we almost missed the train this morning waiting for you and Faisal to show up and join us on the Eurostar…. where were you?  What a great time we would have had.  You both would have loved Hakkasan and the entire scene there.

So, that’s it for tonight…. I know, it’s a short blog but we’re back on the run tomorrow early to catch the train back to Paris… I’m sure I’ll have a few more food pics tomorrow when we go to a special Parisian landmark.  Until then, Cheerio from London!

Jules Verne et La Tour Eiffel

Place de la Concorde

First full day in Paris and what a day!  It started by raining just a little – just enough to get the streets wet and to muggy up the weather…. boy was it hot and muggy!  The temperature was 85 degrees, it felt like 90 and the humidity was oppressive.  But hey…. it’s Paris so it can’t be too bad, right?

We had 12:30 reservations at Jules Verne on the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower.  We wore jackets so that we looked the part and took Metro to the nearest station – still a hefty 30 minute walk in the noon day sun.  But what a treat!  The experience was truly amazing and lived up to every expectation I had imagined.  I’ve included a small gallery of everything we ate:

First a glass of champagne – bien sur!

A little Amuse Bouche 0f orange, salmon and a little asparagus

A starter of veal layers in an aspic sauce

John Dory over a bed of shaved fennel and tomatoes

A raspberry/chocolate square

A side order of macaroons a la Jules Verne

Amuse Bouche

Veal Layers in Aspic

John Dory

Raspberry/Chocolate Square

Macaroons

 

 

Here’s a picture of the place setting and the marvelous butter they serve with the logo on top:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A special note to Adrienne:  Yes, we have eaten a lot but remember this blog is about food and other things as well – you’re going to see a lot of food.

 

Special note to Anette:  here is the watercolor we found for you along the Seine…. oops, what no Eiffel Tower… c’est dommage!

 

Selected exclusively for Anette

 

And now just a few pics to capture the rest of the day.  Gotta get some sleep because we’re catching an early train to London.  A bientot!

Hey Rich! Do you know where the Eiffel Tower is???

 

Same shot with Marc

Notre Dame

Nightime look towards the Place de la Concorde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nous Sommes Arrivés à Paris

We arrived without a hitch and had a wonderful flight on the Air France Airbus A380 – what a machine!  We boarded the plane via several ramps that led us directly into Business Class which was the overhead portion of the plane.  It took off like a rocket ship without a sound – it was truly amazing.  And the seats were incredible!  We were able to recline totally flat so that we were able to sleep fairly well.  Here’s a small preview of our dinner meal:

 

 

Lobster salad with a mango chutney in center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken fricassee                                                                                        Beef Tornadoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice the real silverware!!!

 

Here’s a picture of our little neighbor on board who was a champ throughout the flight and never sounded a peep:

 

We arrived on time and took a taxi to our hotel – it took a long time because of the traffic. The hotel, Hyatt Madeleine, is new and very comfortable – are we really in Paris???  Everyone is helpful and speaks English.  There was a problem tonight with the drapes that we never noticed and they left a very nice bottle of champagne for us – mon dieu!

We had to have a couple of beers at the Cafe de la Paix – it’s a tradition for us and a landmark in Paris.  It looks upon the old Opera Garnier so I couldn’t resist this wonderful view of the opera house with the cafe logo in the forefront:

 

 

After resting a bit, we had a very nice dinner at the Royal Madeleine bistro – very authentic French and not touristy at all.

 

Bienvenue en France and what a wonderful welcome it was….. this is just the first day so stay tuned!

 

 

 

Getting Ready

We’re on the final countdown – we leave Tuesday at 4pm!

We should be in Paris on Wednesday morning and the blog will be updated daily – depending upon access to wi-fi.  We plan to go to London via the Chunnel and then back to Paris.  We’ll take the train to Bordeaux and stay 3 days in St. Emilion.  From there we drive up the west coast of France to Dinard which is in Brittany on the northern coast.  It’s then off to Honfleur in Normandy where we visit Omaha Beach and other Normand sites.  Next on the itinerary is Maastricht, the Netherlands, Antwerp, Belgium, Tielt, Belgium and finally back to Paris.  Click on itinerary up at the top and you’ll have a daily track of our trip.

Come check out the blog on a regular basis and leave your comments.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Marc