a quick trip to bordeaux

Marriott free nights: use ’em or lose ’em!

We have been traveling a lot. So much, in fact, that we thought we’d take a break and stay home before the arrival of our first house guests in late May. However, I had two Marriott free nights expiring in June, and our only available dates to use them (retirement is BUSY!) were May 8-10. We chose Bordeaux (close enough for a two-night trip, a place we wanted to revisit, and offering an eligible Marriott property). We set off early Sunday morning for the train station.

We made it to Beziers before an unscheduled stop, due to the tragic death of a person who apparently jumped in front of another train. Our train was delayed three hours, and upon arrival in Bordeaux our tram was delayed 45 minutes due to an accident. Phil might want me to add that I walked us across the wrong bridge, causing another 30-minute delay. Hot, tired, and a bit shaken, we finally arrived at the Moxy, where we were greeted with a refreshing cold herbal tea shot. We quickly unpacked and headed to dinner atop the next-door Renaissance.

Sunset dinner: mediocre food, but the view!

The next morning we set out to explore this beautiful place. Bordeaux is a city of Haussman-style buildings, flower-filled parks along the river, and way too many interesting things to explore in two days. 

I was fascinated by the beautiful street lamps of Bordeaux

There were so many interesting things to see along our walk for coffee: monuments, fountains, intriguing shop windows, and historic sights. 

A peak into a floriste

One of four still-standing Bordeaux gates

Just a random beautiful door

We spent the morning strolling the city, stopping for a quick lunch at a salad chain before joining our St. Emilion wine tour group. Hosted by the knowledgeable Sonia, eight guests enjoyed a wonderful afternoon in this esteemed wine region.

Lovely grounds of the Chateau Chatelet

Grand Cru Classe

We enjoyed tastings at two wineries, one Grand Cru and one Grand Cru Classe, where we may or may not have bought wine to take home. We also explored the village of St.Emilion, home to only 300 people but visited by over a million each year.

The Roamers enjoying the view from St. Emilion

St. Emilion has a gorgeous church and cloister. During the French Revolution, Sonia explained, all the priests and nuns were forced to leave, but the cloister has been preserved and is still beautiful.

Cloister

One of the beautiful church altars

After the tour we stopped for a cocktail while we considered dinner options, which are quite limited in France on Mondays. We opted for BIG Bistro Girondin and outdoor seating, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and excellent people watching. We shared a wonderful and unusual appetizer, oefs parfait aux petits pois et chorizo, Phil had braised pork, and I had skate, we had a couple of glasses of wine each, and Phil had a caramelized pineapple dessert. The tab? $83.44.

The next morning we stored our bags at the hotel and walked to the oldest bakery in Bordeaux, Au Petrin Mosisagais, where owner Serge Combarieu still bakes traditional Gascon bread (we brought a loaf home!) in the original 1765 oven. We enjoyed a wonderful petit dejeuner there, facing the mural of Serge and his family.

Mural of the baker and his family

We watched Serge carefully place dough in the oven, which must always be kept hot, as we munched on his delicious bread and croissants. If you ever get to Bordeaux, this bakery is not to be missed!

The oven

After breakfast we strolled the city, enjoying window shopping and stopping for more people watching at a cafe before heading to the public garden. We watched a man feeding the ducks and geese, calling each by name and feeding them from his hands.

Ducklings!

We didn’t have time to fully explore the park, so it’s on our list for the next visit. It’s beautiful, interesting, and a great place to just stop and listen to the sounds of nature. 

Statue of Juno overlooking the pond

Why didn’t we have time? Because we had booked a unique lunch experience: Demystifying Duck! Hoted by the fascinating Kim Freeman in her lovely house, this was a hands-on cooking experience where I prepped as she prepared a special lunch featuring duck, a Bordeaux specialty. Kim is an American magazine editor, designer, and photo stylist who lived and worked in Paris and New York and now lives in Bordeaux. She hosts Airbnb guests, leads food and market tours for cruise passengers, and hosts a variety of culinary experiences in her home and garden.

Lunch!

Our lunch featured duck breast with apples and pears, Thai black rice with leeks and toasted hazelnuts, a tomato salad with duck crisps, and berries with cream for dessert. Everything was delectable, matched only by the fascinating conversation. We left feeling that we’d made a new friend!

Happy Roamers, photo by Kim

And then it was time to go. We left Bordeaux with wonderful memories and plans to return. We continue to be gobsmacked by our good fortune and have to pinch ourselves; we are really living this life in France!

Wonderful words in the St. Emilion church: “All by love, nothing by force.”

 

spring has sprung!

Our first spring in Montpellier

Upon our return from the Italy trip, we experienced a bit of rain. In Montpellier it tends to pour, but not for long; it’s not unusual to venture out with umbrellas unfurled, only to wish we didn’t have to lug them around in the sunshine. But the damp days were short-lived, and they yielded our first temperatures in the 20s (20 degrees Celsius is about 68 degrees Farenheit). Phil has been very patient with me as I’ve stopped on our walks to take pictures on PlantNet to identify various flora.

European Privet has a light floral fragrance with a note of citrus.

And what better way to celebrate spring than hosting a coffee? I invited a few friends for a mid-morning coffee last week. What an easy and fun way to entertain! The only thing I made was this coffee cake, and setup and cleanup were easy peasy. Several guests had not met before, so new friendships were initiated. I’m so grateful to have friends to invite!

Table set for coffee

One thing I loved about our little soiree was that half the table conversation was in French, and the other half was in English. I tried very hard to follow the French portion, but it was nice to revert to English for a break.

Bilingual coffee chat

My lovely friend Gwen, who loves flowers perhaps even more than I do, brought me the cutest plant. I have acquired six plants now, and all but the chives seem to be surviving fairly well (apparently chives expect regular water. . .). Tomorrow we’re headed out to buy pots and potting soil to give these babies larger homes.

The instructions say “Keep my head dry.”

A highlight of my week is Thursday morning coffee with a lively group of English speakers. This group grew out of the Facebook group “Long Duck Ladies,” which was started by Renestance founder Dennelle Taylor Nizoux. We sit outside on the Place de Marche des Fleurs, at Cafe de la Mer. Last week we stayed until almost 1:00, and then six of us continued on to lunch at a tearoom/restaurant recommended by friends Tracey and Bobby: La Maison des Chats. Six cats reside there for the guests’ petting pleasure. I can’t even describe the decor, you’ll have to look at the website. They serve beautiful tartines (open faced sandwiches).

My tartine, and my friend Nathalie

We were all too full for dessert, but guess what came with Phil’s tea?

Cat Cookie!

Spring is also a wonderful time for outdoor markets, and we have a great one in a neighborhood called Les Arceaux, named for the ancient aqueduct that runs through it. On Saturday we loaded up, because the next day, May 1, is a major French holiday when even the restaurants and grocery stores are closed.

At the market

May first is a double holiday in France: it’s la Fete du Travail (International Workers Day, aka Labor Day), and it’s also la Fete du Muguet (May Day). It’s the only day of the year when workers must all legally be given a paid day off, so almost everything is closed. It’s also the only day of the year when anyone can sell flowers on the streets, tax-free and without a license. The tradition is to give muguets des bois, or lily of the valley, to friends and family. We decided to stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden founded in 1593 by Henri IV. 

Jardin des Plantes

After walking to the garden and then walking through it, we were tired and thirsty! So we were delighted to discover that our favorite nearby cafe was open. We stopped for an apero before walking home (did I mention the buses and trams were not running on the holiday?).

Outdoor apero on May Day

On the way home, we stopped at our neighborhood florist to buy a muguet plant. Since it’s a symbol of friendship and luck, I gave it to Phil and then he gave it to me. It’s hard to imagine how we could be more fortunate!

Our little good-luck plant