Day 6 – Bordeaux

(6/22/13)

Our day in Bordeaux was interesting in that we didn’t have that great a time.  The weather was pretty bad, which probably made the day worse as well.  We had wanted to go on a wine tour of the area immediately outside of the city, which was offered by the tourist office, but when we asked about it, we found out that they were all booked for the day.  Disappointed, we decided to take a mini-train tour around the city (you know those little trains that zoos and parks use?  Yeah, we rode in one of those and were the only people a) without children and b) who were not old), which helped us get our bearings but also helped us discover that there wasn’t anything particularly interesting to us.  There was a small Roman necropolis under a church that we visited (helped out by an adorable, and probably very bored, French guy about our age whose English was terrible), and some interesting sites (fragments of an amphitheater, an enormous clock tower, and the church where Eleanor of Aquitane was married to one of the Louis), but mostly it felt like we were doing a lot of walking for not a lot of excitement.  It certainly didn’t help that, in addition to the weather, most of the food we had did not live up to the French stereotype.

Now, I will say that we could have researched Bordeaux a little better and planned things out so that we could do things that were cool to us.  We could have reserved tickets to a wine tour in advance.  We could have researched restaurants that were affordable and delicious.  I think, though, that we were both so excited about the “Roman” portion of the trip, that is, Arles and the surrounding area, that we didn’t even think about Bordeaux and what we might want to do there.  I think that’s the problem with me and Chris travelling together – we are so very extremely excited by Roman stuff, and places that have Roman stuff that we forget that some places are exciting for other reasons but that we might need to work a bit harder to figure those reasons out.  So, lesson learned.  🙂

Pictures!

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Day 5 – St. Emilion

(6/21/13)

Today we walked around St. Emilion, which is a really lovely medieval town.  It produces a lot of wine, which is also pretty exciting.  We saw lovely old churches, a beautiful cloister, and the ruins of a convent.  We also had an amazing lunch (duck confit for Chris and fish in a sublime butter sauce for me) and a very chic little place.  But best of all was Greg.  Greg is an Australian who came to France ten years ago to learn about Bordeaux wines and never left.  He runs an adorable little shop in St. Emilion and is very knowledgeable about wines.  He let us try about ten different types (all within our price range, luckily) and we left with 6 bottles (he’s also very good at his job; we only intended to buy 3), with one bottle to save for our five-year anniversary and one for our ten.

After St. Emilion, we returned to Mme. Duranteau’s for a bit to rest up (an write some blog posts).  Then, Charlie and Lucie came to pick us up and off we went to a tiny bar in a tiny town about half an hour away from Frontenac.  The bar seemed to have overdosed on Texan steroids, judging by the decor.  We spent the next few hours eating fish and chips (“The fish was frozen, Charlie, I know it,” said Lucie) and listening to Charlie’s friend, George, play.  It was really fun.  The bar was full of ex-pat Brits and the mood was jovial.  The band played Beatles, Sinatra, even a little Elvis, though no one seemed to know that song (Blue Suede Shoes).  When George and the band took a break, George’s 14-year-old son took the stage and WHOA that kid is talented.  He played guitar and sang and was phenomenal.  So, despite the frozen fish, a good evening was had by all.

Pictures!

IMG_1680 The view of St. Emilion from the ruins of the convent

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IMG_1727 Tasting wine with Greg!

At the bar…

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Day 4 – Frontenac

(6/20/13)

Thursday was the day I realized that I could move to Frontenac and live here forever.  Thursday was our cooking class.

So, originally, we were going to stay at the B&B belonging to the Skipwiths, an adorable couple with whom one of my best friends had stayed last year.  We got in touch with them but found out that they were already booked for the time we would be there.  They recommend Mme. Duranteau and so here we are.  The Skipwiths also offer, however, a “cookery course” in their home, which we, of course, were eager to try.  So, at 9:30 am in the pouring rain, Lucie Skipwith came to our B&B and took us to the local market so buy ingredients for the evening’s dinner.  (A quick note about the Skipwith couple – Charlie is English and Lucie is French.  They lived in England for quite some time before buying their home, Le Cros, and restoring it so that they could be closer to Lucie’s mother)  Anyway, at the market – it was pouring so there weren’t that many vendors or shoppers, but Lucie pointed out different types of fish, cheese, vegetables, etc as we moved from stall to stall.  We bought monkfish, lamb, asparagus, cheese, strawberries, zucchini, squash, eggplant, and tomatoes.  Then, because it was raining and we couldn’t go sit by their pool, Lucie drove us around the neighboring villages so we could get our bearings and see some of the local sites.

The afternoon was spent eating a massive lunch of vegetable soup, ham with tomato chutney, bread, cheese, and wine, then sitting around reading and chatting.  Lucie prepared ingredients for our lesson, and around 4:00 pm, we got started.  We chopped, washed, boned, and filleted.  All four burners on the stove top were on as we boiled, simmered, sautéed, and seared.  Lucie was excellent at timing – telling us when to start something because something else had to sit for a while, showing us what could be made in advance.  The amount of butter that went into each dish would be absurd if I didn’t love butter so much.  But it was also interesting to me how relatively simple everything was.  I have always thought of French food as the Parisian haute cuisine – complicated, elaborate, and difficult to make.  I mean really, read one of Julia Child’ recipes sometime!  These dishes, however, were Provincial – almost literally, provincial.  Simple, hearty food using fresh, local ingredients.

So, here’s what we made:

creamed asparagus soup with morel mushrooms
roasted monkfish, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant with fish stock sauce
roasted “crown” of lamb with a honey-vinegar and caper sauce
“biscuits” (Americans would call them cookies) with strawberries and Chantilly cream

All of this, of course, was served with bread and wine, as well as an aperitif before dinner. Everything tasted amazing, and Lucie and Charlie were also so lovely – friendly, endearing, absolutely adorable, and total fine with spending the entire day with perfect strangers.  They told us about the restaurant they ran together in Hampshire, how they worked as caterers for a car racing team, and how they bought Le Cros in ’88 when it was a total ruin and there was a tree growing through the middle of it.  Basically, they are awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that they invited us to go out to a “pub” the next night to hear a friend of Charlie’s play “mostly Beatles music, but some old stuff, you know.”  But that’s a story for another post!

Pictures!

IMG_1730  Le Cros from the frontIMG_1729  The side of the house.  It’s beautiful!

IMG_1648  Lucie, sautéing some zucchini

IMG_1646  Fresh food!IMG_1649IMG_1647   the monkfish waiting to go into the oven; the lamb and sauce on the stove.

Day 3 – Chartres and Frontenac

(6/19/13)

After hurriedly packing up all of our stuff, Chris and I headed down into the Metro one last time – this time to pick up our rental car.

Yes, we decided that instead of taking trains, our customary mode of transportation in Europe, we would rent a car and drive all around Southern France.  I thought this was a really good idea – that is, until I was sitting on the Metro realizing that I would have to drive back to the hotel so we could check out and get all our stuff.  Realizing that I would have to drive in Paris.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I do most of the driving.  I love driving, plus the fact that I get really car sick when I don’t drive.  So when Chris was reserving the car, we decided that, since it was more expensive to list two drivers, I would drive most of the time, since I do that already anyway.  Perfectly logical, until I suddenly realized that I would, in fact, be driving in a foreign country.

So, we picked up the car, and, after a few minutes of deep breathing and reassurances that everything would be fine, we started back to the hotel.  And, surprisingly, everything was fine.  The roads in Paris are too narrow and the stops are too frequent for anyone to be going too fast, which was perfect for me, still trying to get over the fact that I was driving in another country.

So, we made it back to the hotel (after a few wrong turns and surprise one-way streets), loaded up the car, and headed out.  The plan was to drive to Frontenac, the village outside Bordeaux where we were staying, stopping at Chartres along the way.

One more thing about driving – on the highway, the speed limit is 130 km/hr.  Which is roughly 80 mph.  Which means I (and everyone else!) was going about 90 mph (which might have crept up to 100 mph while Chris was sleeping).  It was awesome.

Chartres is a beautiful little town with a gorgeous, and unusual, cathedral.  It is unusual because most of the cathedral is Gothic.  One of the towers, however, is in the Romanesque style, a leftover from the original cathedral that was (mostly) destroyed by fire.  So, the cathedral looks almost lopsided, with one tower outrageously ornate in true Gothic style and the other the plain, simple Romanesque style.  It’s pretty neat.  We spent a few hours there, having a leisurely lunch and exploring the church before heading on. IMG_1611  Our rental!  It was the only automatic that they had…

IMG_1619   Our lovely lunch spotIMG_1622  Our delicious lunch.  Onion soup with wine, followed by sandwiches (croque monsieur for Chris, camembert for me)

IMG_1616  The facade of Chartres.  See how the two towers are different? 🙂

IMG_1640  The interior of Chartres

After about 6 hours of driving at the reasonable speed limit of 130 km/hr, we arrived in Frontenac, the village we are currently in.  It’s about an hour outside Bordeaux and is super charming and quaint.  We were nearly cross eyed with exhaustion and fairly grumpy from hunger when we finally found our bed and breakfast, so we were more than pleased when our hostess, Mme Duranteau, offered us dinner.  We were served a simple salad of cucumbers and tomatoes with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, fresh local cheese that was heavenly, two soft boiled eggs from her own chickens, bread, and of course, wine.  It was so simple and so beautiful and so delicious, I nearly cried (though that may have been from the exhaustion as well.)

IMG_1644  We also had cherries from her garden for dessert!

After dinner, it was finally to bed.  The B&B we’re in is wonderful – I highly recommend it to anyone planning on visiting this region.  Mme Duranteau is very sweet and friendly, and though her English is not the best, we all made due with a dictionary.  The town itself is an old Medieval town, with ancient looking buildings all squashed together around a church and a square.  Mme Duranteau’s house is right down the street from the square, with an expansive first floor dining/living room and kitchen and then a nice upstairs with three bedrooms, each with it’s own bathroom.  Everything is neat and clean and adorable!