Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving in KC

We had something of a family reunion in KC for Thanksgiving. Trevor's family from CA and the rest of us from CO converged on Jamie's sister's and Lynn's sister's homes in the KC area for a delightful week taking in as much of KC as we could. Many thanks to our hosts Vickie and Rob, and Laurie and Andy! All the photos are here. Not pictured are trips to various haunts like Velvet Creme Popcorn, Laura Little's Fudge Shop, Andre's (napoleons!), Panache (truffles), and the Luminary Walk at the Arboretum. We also drove by where we lived way back when. I hear the Nipomo Fosters went ice skating after we left for home.

At Fritz's Burgers, the meals are delivered by train to the table!

Marshmallow playdough fun at Function Junction.

Outdoors action at Crown Center (Hallmark).

The bow-making machine at the Hallmark Visitor Center was a huge hit.

Kaleidoscope. Very cool activity-packed place for kids at Hallmark.
The kids' great uncle has worked at Hallmark for 40+ years!

All the cousins, including some seconds. Or is that
cousin-in-law. I'm never sure.

The kid-sized hamster wheel at Science City (in Union Station)..

Generating some electricity.

Very cool climbing structure (still at Science City).

Spotting some stray balloons at Union Station.

The kids' table at the Harvey House in Union Station.

Can you spot their order written on the table?

Even the big kids had fun.

The "kids" table at Thanksgiving. The following Saturday, Nick's (on the right,
plays right tackle) football team won the state highschool championship!
Serafina was there. Nick is Hailey's boyfriend; she's a cousin.

The ferris wheel inside Scheels (like a Cabellas).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bordeaux, France

Jamie and Lynn joined Bob and Sandy for a 2-week visit to France this Fall. We spent a week in Bordeaux and another week on the Amadolce, an AmaWaterways river boat, on which we sailed up the Garonne and Dordougne rivers. It was fabulous, n'est pas!

Bordeaux, France. All the Bordeaux-on-our-own photos are here and roughly follow the itinerary below. We followed this map the whole time.

Bordeaux Centre, including the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.
St. Andre Cathedral
Esplanade de Quinconces.
Place de Bourse and the Mirror Pool.
The new Wine Museum (Le Cite du Vin).
Basilique St. Michel.
Porte de Bourgogne and Porte Cailhau.
The Grand Theatre.
Chapel of Notre Dame and art museum next door.
Musee des Arts Decoratif
Musee des Beaux Arts

Notable eating places:
Bistro Montesquieu.
Grand Hotel.
Le Petit Commerce (all fresh fish).
Baud & Millet (wine and cheese restaurant; great, quirky).
All manner of cafes and bistros.

Then it was on Amawaterways' "Amadolce" to visit the wine country...

Chateau de Montaigne

All the river cruise photos are here.

Roughly in order of visiting:
Roquetaillade Castle.
Sauterne winery.
Medoc wineries, City of Pauillac.
Cities of Blaye (citadel) and Bourg.
City of Libourne.
Saint Emillion.
Chateau Bitounet.
"Night Lights" excursion along the Bordeaux waterfront.


In no particular order:

Le Petit Commerce is a seafood restaurant not far from the river front by the Mirror Pool. This might be the only exception to the “it’s all about the sauces” with French cuisine. Here, it’s all about the fresh fish from Arcashon (area on the Atlantic a few tens of miles from Bordeaux). They don’t mess up the flavor of the fish with sauces (heresy!). But oh my, it worked. And I’m not naturally a fish guy. We had razor clams (a first), cuttlefish (another first), scallops (delectable), and a mixed grill of 4 different fishes (Jamie ordered these without even knowing what four fish). And no sauce. If you’ve still got any room, their mixed desserts with espresso is mighty fine.

We went to the French Laundry. Correction, “a” French laundry. To actually do the laundry. Laverie.

FNAC. It’s a store and it’s an acronym. Fédération Nationale d’Achats des Cadres (large French retail chain selling cultural and electronic products). There’s a store on the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. We were sent there to get some electrical adapters/converters. They didn’t have them. Why would they carry devices that no one in France needs? They did have vinyl LP records. A bit like a Best Buy. It’s pronounced fnac or phnack (rhymes with snack). What other word has f and n together like that?

I love travelling. But I hate the actual travel part at either end (unless it’s a train, of course). Anyway, kudos to Air France that handled the Economy Class with aplomb. Two complete hot meals and snacks on each Atlantic leg. And pretty good food, too! The Airbus 380 is quite a plane.

While we’re on kudos, let’s send kudos to Rebecca at San Simeon Travel.   We met her once at a Pear Valley Winery event where we first heard of the winery’s trip to France. We signed up and the rest is now history. Rebecca helped us through all kinds of questions and processes. And I’m sure some questions were answered more than once. Always same day (assuming a work day). The river cruise was by Amawaterways, 5-stars top to bottom.

If you need quality internet while in Bordeaux, make arrangements ahead of time. I wouldn’t know what that means having not done it, but here’s the scoop… You can get free wifi almost anywhere. But it’ll be glacial in speed. I did set up Verizon Wireless for unlimited data over the cell system for $10/day. Kicker is that after 500mb you’re throttled back to the same glacial speed as anything else. And that assumes you can get a connection (while out on the rivers even that was questionable). When you're planning to upload a few thousand photos at 4mb-ish each, that just doesn’t cut it. Often could not even establish a stable FTP connection to make minor website edits.

There is a tower at Chateau de Montaigne that survived the fire of the 17th Century that destroyed the rest of the chateau. It’s where Montaigne spent the last years of his life. It was circular with a chapel on the ground floor, and his bedroom and library on the second. Pretty small, maybe 15 feet in diameter. Our group was shown into the chapel while the guide waited outside till everyone was in. We naturally lined up around the wall, looking much like riders ready to go on a Tilt-a-Whirl. While standing there, I started singing some Gregorian chant stuff that sounded great in this little Pringle’s can of solid rock. Just loud enough for everyone to hear, and it was pretty quiet. When I ended, the last note just hung there and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Then this guy at the other side of the room with a rather nice bass voice sings simply, Ri-co-la. It was a good 60 seconds till the laughter subsided.

This trip was in two phases. A week’s worth was spent on our own in Bordeaux. We explored the city center on our own and got as close to “the locals” as tourists generally get. Among other things, this is when I got to test my French. The other week was on the river cruise and its myriad of excursions to all the wineries, castles, etc. This second part was an English-speaking bubble for the most part. We enjoyed both parts.

We had several locals let us know that they appreciated having us visit Bordeaux and to please enjoy our stay. Seemed like the Chamber of Commerce had set something up. One such encounter was with a young couple. In their 30s and doing the shopping street with a stroller. I forget how the conversations started exactly, but we shared where we were from, where we were visiting, and that they want to visit the U.S. some day. Upon parting, he said thanks for visiting Bordeaux.

Lynn loves Napoleons. Has since Kansas City days where she got them at Andre’s. The owner worked for the Swiss Counselate. And she swears that she saw one in a pastry shop early on in Bordeux. But, she never saw another. What Bordeaux does have is canelles. In spades. They’re everywhere. Must be the pastry of Bordeaux. Sadly, we didn’t find them all that exciting. Good thing we’re going to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. Update: Lynn got her Napoleons at Andre's in Kansas City!

Ever heard of a tidal bore? Neither had we. It happens roughly every 12 hours when the ocean tide starts coming back in – including pushing water upstream in any river that feeds into the ocean. At certain points in the lunar cycle, the pulse of incoming tidewaters can create a wave, a sort of wall of water moving up river. I vividly remember the river behind my grandparents’ house on the Jersey shore switch direction of flow every six hours or so. Back and forth with the ocean tides. The conditions in Jersey never made for a tidal bore, so I was never made aware. The “wave” of a tidal bore moving upstream in a river can be profound. We saw pictures of surfers riding this wave stretched from shore to shore on the river. One line of people surfing a river upstream. Rather remarkable. But most of the time, it’s barely perceptible. Even so, the ship had to untie from the dock and move away for a few feet during the time of the shifting tide.

“B” is for Blends. In Bordeaux, anyway. It’s not a fad, though, they’ve been doing it for centuries. We heard an awful lot about the rules and regs in the various appellations of the Bordeaux region. OMG, what a pile of rules. You can grow and do what you want, but unless you follow the rules, you can’t call your wine a Bordeaux. It becomes a “Product of France.” But back to blends… Maybe that’s why everything was good, from the sweet whites of Sauterne all the way to the more beefy reds of Medoc, for example. I can say I never disliked a Bordeaux wine. I can’t say that after visiting lots of California wineries.

I love word play. Puns. A clever turn of a phrase. We stumbled onto one such gem in search of Lynn’s napoleons (see another excerpt). She found a pastry/sandwich shop in Cognac that had some sweet delights, though, alas, not the elusive napoleon. The name of the shop was La Mie Caline. I could make no sense of that, so I asked our guide. She smiled and said, “it’s a play on words…” La mie, she said, is the white stuff inside breads (what’s not the crust). And caline is a hug, or hugging. So, the shop is called something like “the whitestuff in breads that hugs you.” The play on words comes from the fact that the letters in la mie can also be put together as l’amie, friendship. So, in all, you’ve got something like warm bread insides, hugs, and friends. Not bad.

Right next to our first hotel in Bordeaux was the Bistro Montesquieu. We had our last Bordeaux supper there as well as many scotches, coffees, and occasional cigar. The proprietor turned out to speak enough English and I enough French that we got along well. Even the waitress got into the language thing to the extent that she would not let me get away without properly pronouncing the word for rare (as in beef cooked rare). Saignant. I got it after a couple tries. And the meat? It was perfectly rare.

It seemed a little surreal that regular church-going folks walk into an 18th century chapel of maginificent proportions every Sunday as if it were any other church building. And Renoirs hang in rooms right next door to the local café or laundry.

We visited a medieval citadel in Blaye. And we explored practically ever inch of it, through all three levels of defense, through the various underground tunnels that took soldiers from one level to another. And we were doing it in the rain, kind of running. It was as if I was running in a pack of those soldiers, swords and shields at the ready, in a rush to accomplish something. Like save the city. History naturally comes alive in its own setting.

Speaking of rain, it was definitely raining when we first visited the square with the grand church of Saint Michel. We peaked in, but mass was in progress, so we didn’t stay long. Back outside, we wandered around and found a market on the other side of the church. Fruits, figs, pastries, produce, and oysters. Oysters. Ready to eat. Sandy and Bob love oysters. Nothing like oysters in the rain outside Saint Michel’s. Bonus: directly across the square from the church and oyster “bar” was a café with shelter, and champagne. Perfect.

Speaking of Champagne, as in from that region of France, it’s quite expensive in Bordeaux. Minimum 65 Euros for a bottle. We’re told that in Champagne proper it’s not nearly that expensive. In fact, our friends from Pear Valley had a case or two shipped home while they were there before our cruise. So, when in Bordeaux, ask for sparkling wine (vin pétillant).

I made one food ordering mistake in the two weeks. Andouillettes are not the same as andouille sausage. It looks like sausage, but it’s filled with other stuff, stinky and chewy stuff, more like tripe I’m told. Someone used the word chitterlings. My YouTube French teacher, Alexa, warned me about faux amie, false friends. Words that look like English words but have very different meanings. Definitely a false friend. I’ll suggest to Alexa that she put andouillette on her faux amie list.

We witnessed a demonstration. On animal rights. From the comfort of our Bistro. See photo #63-65 in the Bordeaux gallery.

The Hotel Montesquieu (Hotel Continental on Rue Montesquieu) was delightful. Very supportive staff, great breakfast (included), and a relaxing Happy Hour with wine and cheese (also included).

Wine and spirits prices are much better in grocery stores than in other "specialty" stores.

The new Wine Museum (Le Cite du Vin) is incredible. We were there over 2 hours and didn't get even half of it done. Intended to go back but never made it. Interesting both for the wine knowledge imparted, the wine tasting room at the top, and the modern features of a high tech museum.

Lynn asked Bob and I to get her a mimosa one morning while we were up and about at the breakfast buffet. No problem. Except, we used carrot juice instead of orange juice. First, who even has carrot juice. Second, have you seen how orange carrot juice is. So, of course, now we have a tradition of carrot juice mimosas.

Chocolate ice cream is even better with Disaronno or Drambuie.

Roasted Camembert cheese is the bomb. Baby potatoes (cooked, lightly pan fried) were a wonderful dipper that we may not have thought of.