Off to Bordeaux

LOCATION: Bordeaux, France

WEATHER: Rain in AM; nice in PM. High 70

We said good-bye to our homeowners and cats, dropped off our rental car in Bergerac, and hopped on the train to Bordeaux. The train ride was mostly through wine country, including another glimpse of beautiful St. Emilion…

We heard that Bordeaux is expensive, so we are trying to economize. We bought a 24-hour tram/bus/water taxi ticket that gives us free entry to the Cité de Vin Center and an open-air sightseeing tour of the city. We took the tour in the PM, enjoying the sites…

Bordeaux is a beautiful town with a rich history.

To get our money’s worth out of the transportation card, we took a tram to the outskirts of the city, then the bus (also included) back to downtown, just to see more of the city.

We stopped at a sidewalk cafe to people watch, which has the effect of making me feel dowdy as compared to the chic French women.

Then, dinner at this neat restaurant near our hotel…

We shared a big pot of steamed mussels with French fries. Very good!

Picturesque French village with a lot of Brits!

LOCATION: Housesitting in SW France, between Bergerac and Bordeaux

WEATHER: Rain most of the day. High upper 60s

Being our last day here, we spent the morning tidying up and packing a bit. Then we hit the road for a village that our homeowners had recommended.

It was about an hour away. They told us that part of the road was “wibbly-wobbly” and indeed it was – hairpin curves and one-lane roads. Very beautiful scenery.

This village won an award for being France’s most picturesque village. It was very cute.

It would have been every prettier with sunshine. The streets were full of outdoor cafes and nice shops…..and tourists. We found a cute bar/restaurant with a terrace overlooking the lower part of the village. Its wall was made of old doors and signs.

We saw British and Dutch car license plates in the parking lot, and heard English spoken everywhere. The restaurant was owned by a Swede and run by a Brit. The British waiter said that this area of France is full of English ex-pats due to the lower cost of living and nice lifestyle. Also it is a popular wedding venue for Brits.

The homeowners returned in the afternoon. Then, we went in to Bergerac for a lovely dinner. We went to a tiny restaurant that is one of their favorites.

As with many French restaurants, they have about 4 starters and 4 main dishes from which to choose, on a fixed price menu. For my starter, I had white asparagus. It was served with toast points, some dabs of sauces and a poached egg. For my main, I had rack of lamb, again with dollops of sauces and some veg. All the dishes were beautifully plated. George had crab as a starter and rabbit for his main. At each course, the waiter (the chef/owner’s wife) stood by the table and explained each dish – very French. A great send-off for Bergerac.

Foie gras meets morel mushrooms. Wowsi!

LOCATION: Housesitting in SW France – between Bergerac and Bordeaux

WEATHER: Light rain all day. High 60s

George started the day by fishing out a dead frog from the swimming pool. Sad…

Then, we took off for today’s outing, our destination being a chateau where American singer/burlesque dance Josephine Baker used to live.

Our GPS let us down again. We were doing fine until it had us get off the main road to a secondary road. We were a bit uneasy, as there was no signage for our destination. We passed through beautiful medieval villages, and by old chateaux and churches. Just beautiful. But then, the GPS instructed us to turn down this lane….

From there, the lane deteriorated further, and we ended up in a farmer’s driveway. The GPS was not too helpful…

We turned off the GPS, retraced our route, and finally saw a sign for the chateau. We thought we should eat before we started touring the chateau, so we pulled off the road to try this restaurant. What a find!

We sat overlooking the Dordogne River

George ordered a dish which ended up being one of the best meals we have ever had. It was foie gras, lightly seared to perfection, over a bed of tagliatelle in a morel mushroom sauce. It doesn’t get much better than this!!!!!

The chateau we visited was outstanding. We learned about Josephine Baker, a black woman from Missouri who ended up in France as a singer and burlesque dancer. She bought this chateau and raised a large family of adopted, multi-racial children. She ended up bankrupt. Recently, new owners bought the chateau and renovated it and the gardens beautifully.

DINNER: Being our last dinner here, I tried to use up leftovers. Pasta with lots of veg in a cream sauce. Certainly can’t compare to lunch!

Back to see Cyrano in Bergerac

LOCATION: Housesitting in SW France, between Bergerac and Bordeaux

WEATHER: Mostly sunny. High 75. Rain in the late PM and overnight

This area of France retains a culture of slow living. During the week, we are not allowed to make noise (like mow the grass) between noon and 2:00. Ditto for all day Sunday. Many shops close between those hours, and almost everything closes up all day Sundays, including supermarkets. Knowing that the small towns would be absolutely dead today (Sunday), we returned to bigger Bergerac for the day.

Roses grow really well here. This is our neighbor’s house on our way out for the day…

In Bergerac, we checked out the newer of the 2 Cyrano de Bergerac statues. He and I are comparing noses…..

We strolled around the streets, admiring the architecture

After a nice pizza lunch in an outdoor cafe on the Cyrano de Bergerac plaza, we took a boat ride on one of the old flat-bottom boats that used to be used to haul cargo on the Dordogne.

The guide tried to do some of the commentary in English for us. Really cute.

DINNER: Pasta with a veg Bolognese sauce. Artichokes from the farmers’ market for an appetizer.

Lovely St. Emilion

LOCATION: Housesitting in SW France -between Bergerac and Bordeaux

WEATHER: Very nice Highs in 70s. Rain in late PM

We checked out the market at a nearby village. It is one of the largest markets in the area.

Not only do they sell the normal farmers’ market veg, flowers and fruit, but they also have a huge seafood section, lots of cheeses and pates, artisan baguettes, and of course – foie gras. We bought some veg, a herb-crusted hard salami, spicy tapenade, and a baguette. White asparagus are in season and they were beautifully displayed.

We returned home and did a few chores, including finishing up the mowing. They have a big yard so it is a pretty big job.

Then, off to St. Emilion, one of the most famous Bordeaux wine regions We stopped for a picnic along the Dordogne River – a baguette sandwich with some tasty cheese and the salami we bought at the market.

St. Emilion is a beautiful old city. Surrounded by chateaux and vineyards, it sits atop a hill that you can see from a long distance.

Although a bit touristy, it is still quite nice – almost every shop is a wine shop or wine restaurant.

We learned that you need an appointment to visit most wineries. We stopped in one wine shop to taste and buy some wines. They only do reds in this appellation.

If we have time, we might make an appointment and visit one of the wineries next week.

It poured in the late PM (conveniently after our day trip) so we won’t need to water the veg for awhile.

DINNER: Paella that I bought at the farmers’ market this AM. It was surprisingly good – big chunks of chicken, shrimp and sausage. Arugula (or as they say in Europe – rocket) salad, and flat beans, also a market purchase.

Getting lost among the vineyards

LOCATION: Housesitting between Bergerac and Bordeaux in SW France

WEATHER: Some sprinkles, then sun. Highs in 70s

At this assignment, we are taking care of 3 cats. We don’t see too much of them, as they like to bask in the sun. They come inside at mealtimes, and each goes to his designated, labeled bowl….

Then we were off to one of the many chateaux in the region. The GPS wasn’t working correctly, and took us to the wrong place. On the upside that meant that we drove hours through tiny villages and through vineyards and vineyards and vineyards – you get the picture.

Finally arrived there, but too late for the restaurant that our homeowners had recommended. Lunch in most places is served between 12:00 and 2:00, but you have to be there and order no later than 12:30 or so. We arrived at 1:00, and they turned us away even though there were tables available. So, we went to a little bar and had a nice vegetable/cold cut platter that was excellent – and was a lot cheaper than the restaurant would have been!

This is the 12th century castle there…..

We found the town’s wine center – where they have info about the wines in the region and let you sample some. Even though we are only 25 miles or so from our house, this is considered a different “terroir”, therefore different wines. We bought 2 – one red and one white.

As we were walking around the village, I saw this condom machine along the wall in the parking lot. The French have a different (more open) approach to sex. Interesting, though, that the name of the machine is in English ”love sex”. :-).

Back home, we did some of our chores. I mowed the grass some (until I pooped out) and picked a big bowl of strawberries…

DINNER: Omelette with vegetables and potatoes. A crunchy baguette on the side and some beautiful, steamed asparagus. Oh, and did I say wine?

A French kiss and foie gras – wow!

LOCATION: Housesitting near Bergerac, France

WEATHER: Very nice. Highs upper 70s

After the homeowners left around noon, we made our plan for the day: lunch and shopping. We drove to a small village nearby. It was very quiet, although we have heard that it explodes on Saturdays for market day.

We weren’t seeing many lunch options until this chef rushed out of his bistro, and beckoned us in. He was a real character. There was no menu, so we winged it. They didn’t want us to split a meal, so George got their steak special and I ordered a “small” salad. It turned out like this…..!

He came out to see how we liked the food. The French couple next to us were debating about whether to order the steak. We heard the chef explaining the cut of beef in wondrous detail. Then, he went back to the kitchen and hauled out a huge loin to show him where he would cut the steak. (It worked – they ordered it). He was very dramatic!

After a bit of a driving challenge, we found the major supermarket in the area and stocked up. Then, to the wine cooperative. It is literally in our backyard……

The local farmers bring their grapes here and this co-op blends them all together for local wines. There are bottled wines for sale, but most people bring in their plastic jugs and fill up…

We are taking care of 3 cats. They seem pretty easy.

In the afternoon, we planned out our week’s itinerary.

DINNER: Really decadent. As my brother pointed out, I am slipping a bit. It took more than 24 hours to get to the foie gras! We bought a jar of it. You can buy goose or duck, but the duck is less expensive and tastier, or so we heard. You can buy 100% foie gras, or pates mixed with foie gras. We bought the real thing. We couldn’t figure out how to open the jar, so Google You Tube saved the day! We spread it on a baguette and had some goat cheese and a salad on the side. Fresh strawberries from the garden for dessert. Are we in heaven or what!

In Bergerac with Cyrano

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Bergerac, in SW France

WEATHER: Sunny and hot. High 80

Who said the French are snooty? We started the day with a delightful motel desk man who was overseeing the breakfast. It was certainly not like an American motel one. The breakfast bar included some gourmet cheeses and of course croissants and baguettes.

He helped us with breakfast then called a cab for us to get to the rental car office at the airport. Again, the people couldn’t have been nicer. They didn’t charge us for yesterday, even though they had not received my message that we weren’t arriving in time to pick up a car. We extended a day, and they simply moved the start and end date. Then, they said that the car we had originally ordered was already given out yesterday, so they upgraded us to a brand new, bigger car (5 miles on the odometer). They even apologized! George likes this Fiat just fine….

We walked around the town of Bergerac. It is the home of wonderful local wines and foie gras. I think we will like it here!!!

We walked around the old town admiring the lovely old architecture.

Bergerac is situated on the Dordogne River.

Of course, we had to track down one of the statues of Cyrano de Bergerac. Notice his famous long nose…

Our housesitting assignment is in a small village between Bordeaux and Bergerac, right on the Dordogne River.

We chatted with the housesitters and got oriented to our assignment. We will be caring for 3 indoor/outdoor cats as well as keeping the swimming pool clean and watering the plants.

DINNER: The homeowner made a delicious dinner of chicken cordon blue and roasted vegetables.

Almost lost George along the way….

LOCATION: On bus most of the day. Night in Bergarac, France

WEATHER: Cloudy and warm on bus through France

The day started with a bang! We departed from London last night on the bus and arrived at the English Channel at about midnight. We had to get off the bus for passport control. Just as we were finally sleeping! The bus driver told us to run back to the bus as he was anxious to catch the Chunnel crossing at 12:19 AM. I ran back, thinking George was right behind me. The driver started the bus engine up, but George wasn’t there! I yelled to tell the bus driver to wait. By this time, it was 12:15 and the driver was anxious for us to catch that train through the tunnel. If we missed it, we would have to wait 2 hours for the next one. Everyone started looking around for George. They realized that I was anxious and told the bus driver something in French like “this lady’s husband isn’t on the bus yet”. Frantic, I didn’t know what we would do. Finally, George appeared…..He had entered the back door and was in the bus’s toilet! We took off and got on tunnel transport at 12:18. Whew!

Here is the bus and driver on our 35-minute tunnel crossing…

We were scheduled to arrive in Paris at 6:45 AM, but at 4:30 AM, the driver announced that we were arriving. I guess they publish the 6:45 AM arrival time due to the uncertainty of which tunnel crossing transport we would make. The bus ticket said that we were stopping in a “Gare” (station), but it wasn’t a real station, just a dark ghetto-like garage-type area. Most of the passengers just scattered. We had to wait until 8:20 AM for our bus to Bordeaux. There were lots of homeless guys sleeping it off on the benches. We just sort of huddled over our backpacks. Then, these drunk North African guys came in, just to make trouble. They obviously had been partying all night. One guy had his shirt off. They approached me (while George was snoozing), trying to engage in a boozy conversation. I just ignored them and pretended to sleep. I wonder how travelers do this in the winter – just open space – must be freezing.

Finally, it was 6:00 AM, and we walked out of that garage to see if we could find a cafe. Yay! A really quaint, typical Parisian cafe had just opened. We had coffee and a scrumptious croissant.

Back to the bus area. More people had arrived, so it wasn’t scary any more. It was very unorganized, though. None of the buses had signs on them saying where they were going. So, people just walked back and forth, dragging their wheeled suitcases, nervously looking for their bus. It was a sea of humanity, walking from one end of the parking bays to the other. Finally, at about 8;15 a TV monitor came on and showed the bay for upcoming departures. We set off for an 8-hour drive south.

The bus trip was uneventful, but we arrived about an hour late, missing our train to Bergarac. We caught the next one, and happily landed in our hotel at about 8:00 PM. 34+ hours of traveling!!!

We were supposed to pick up our rental car, but the office was closed. We will deal with that tomorrow – if the airport car rental office is even open, since the airport is probably not functioning due to strike.

DINNER: We are staying at an Ibis motel – a European chain like Microtel. There was only one restaurant nearby that we could walk to – an American Tex-Mex steakhouse restaurant called Buffalo that features California wine and quesadillas! What could be worse in Bordeaux country with great wine and foie gras! We were so tired that it really didn’t matter. We ended up with some local wine, a decent cut of beef and a salad.

Glitches in Traveling

The Glitches of Traveling

LOCATION: Traveling from Gloucester to SW France

WEATHER: Sunny in Ross-on-Rye, Drizzle in London. Highs 70

As I wrote yesterday, we had a wicked surprise via email last night informing us that our flight to Bergarac, France to get to our next assignment was canceled. It is due to an Air Traffic Controllers’ strike throughout SW France. So, it wouldn’t make sense to try to find another flight to that area. Frantically we researched other options. We looked at the Eurostar train (through the Chunnel). $600 USD for the 2 of us, plus a requirement to take a bus in Paris from one station to another station with a tight time frame. So, that was out, too. Also rumors of train strikes in France this coming week, too. We had to resort to the bus option.

Originally, we had nice plans to go from Gloucester to London Stansted Airport where we had reserved a cute little hotel/inn, with a leisurely stay and a flight on Tuesday AM direct to Bergarac. The best laid plans…..Now, we will travel by bus to London (3.5 hours), then wait in London for 7 hours, then catch a 9:00 PM bus which will get us to Bordeaux at 3:45 PM tomorrow. We got a refund on our flight, but we lost our money on the hotel. The bus will be $70 USD more than the flight. Crazy. Plus, once we get to Bordeaux, we will have to find a train to Bergarac, then a taxi to the hotel which is near the airport. With all the travel we have done in the last 5 years, this is really the first major glitch we have had. On a positive note, we have a day buffer between housesits, so we can get to the next assignment on time.

With that “sorted out”, we went to bed last night knowing that this would be the last comfortable sleeping arrangement for awhile.

This morning, we said good-bye to our cute little Jack Russell dogs at our housesitting assignment in Ross-on-Wye. The homeowner kindly drove us from Ross to Gloucester, about 45 minutes. From there, we caught the bus and rode through the lovely Cotswolds. As we neared London, we rode near the Chelsea Flower Show area, a very famous event that just started.

The bus dropped us off at Victoria Coach Station which is the same station that we will leave from tonight for France. We will be back here in about 2 weeks, so we checked out our future travel arrangements to Gatwick Airport and found the hotel that we have booked for the night before. We were just killing time, without sitting on our bums (in preparation for the bus trip!)

We enjoyed this nice pub for a drink where we will probably eat dinner at when we return to this area in 2 weeks. The sign outside said that Churchill lived near here and frequented the pub.