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Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Greetings from France!

It has been quite some time since we last posted on this travelpod. We hope that this finds you all well and hi to those we don't know that have signed up to get the updates on this blog.

Meg and I had the opportunity to take a little over a week off together for the first time since we returned from our time in Europe and we jumped at the chance to visit a part of France that eluded us last time around.

The South-West of France had been on our minds since we returned home almost three years ago (gasp).  We flew into Paris on the red-eye and were ready and waiting for our train to Bordeaux within 20 minutes.  Charles De Gaulle Airport is most efficient for this.  As we waited for our high-speed rail journey, we were quickly reminded of how wonderful the food is here.  You know it is a good thing when the delicious pain au chocolat sold (and quickly consumed) at the numerous airport kiosks would generate a premium price if sold at home in a specialty shop (Megan’s creations are an obvious exception of course).

We arrived in Bordeaux in the early afternoon and we were most pleased with what we found. 
The Aquitaine region of France was first settled by the Romans (of course) way back in the day (54AD).  It wasn’t until the 12th century when the region truly found its raison d’etre after Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II of England.  The English passion for the area’s red wine (known as claret) provided all the reason needed to fortify the regions reputation for producing some of the world’s best wines for centuries to come.

After checking in to our kid-themed hotel room (it had bunk beds, colourful sheets, and a bathroom only a child could fit in – but I digress), we strolled across one of the many bridges straddling the Garonne River and we were immediately struck by the size and age of the city.  Not to sound like braggarts, but we have been to quite a few old cities and towns and few can compare with the size of this 'old town’.  Most places we have visited have a wee (but gorgeous) old town in the middle of a contemporarily metropolitan city.  The neoclassical architecture of Bordeaux stretches as far as the eye can see and resembles the endless blocks in Paris or Geneva’s old town on steroids.  This 18 square km area is the largest Unesco-listed world heritage site (and for good reason).

We quickly gave ourselves over to the pedestrianized cobblestone streets of the city.  We were greeted by a plethora of patio lined squares, wine shops, and tasting caves.  The vibrant student population certainly kept the streets abuzz and the patio chatter constant.  We were told that the city isn’t much to write home about, but we were pleasantly surprised by its beauty, cleanliness, and joie de vivre.

After a nice tour of the town, we visited a bakery that caught our attention earlier in the day. There was a constant stream of customers picking up fresh baguettes on the way home for dinner.  We grabbed a couple that were so fresh, it felt like it was actually burning my
hand as I carried them back.  We hit up a grocery store and picked up some goods to have a wee picnic in our room as we did that quite often on our previous adventure.  We always found it interesting to browse the shelves and try new and unique forms of sustenance (we picked up a 4 euro bottle of wine that would cost $25 at home… sigh).

It was a long but lovely day one and we couldn’t wait for day two.

After getting on schedule by waking up at about 8:30 local time, we got into our Peugeot and headed for the heart of what makes this region famous, St. Emilion.  This town may be familiar as it is the source of much of the French wine that fills the shelves of the LCBO.

St-Emilion is a small medieval village (also Unesco-listed) surrounded by rolling vineyards dotted by grandiose chateaux.  It is filled with the quintessential cobbled streets and winding hills. We have decided that St-Emilion is there to challenge the rich to spend-a-million (In one shop, they were selling a bottle of 1945 Mouton Rothschild for a mere 14,000 euros).  It is incredibly expensive, and there was no shortage of fabulous looking people packing their Louis Vutton luggage and newly acquired wine treats into the trunks of their classic Rolls Royces. 

We visited the L’ecole du Vin de St-Emilion and played their scent recognition game.  You smell
a canister containing a scented cork and guess the smell (blackberry, red currant, or wild strawberry for instance).  Meg managed to go 15/16, pretty impressive.  After a stroll up and down the rolling cobbled streets, we paused for lunch at patio on a cute little square.  We roughed it having local wine, foie gras, smoked duck, and a cheese plate - we know, but please don’t feel too sorry for us.  With our bellies full of goodness, we decided that my hiking boots and fleece no longer fit in with the millionaires of St-Emilion so we headed out of town to take it down a notch by touring a local winery. 

We visited Chateau Soutard, one of the area’s 100 or so wineries and because we were out of high season, we managed to score a private tour.  Anna (our guide) was incredibly informative and friendly.  This Chateau is under renovations but the Countess still lives in it (yes the countess is still on the grounds) but she was not available for visitors.  The winery is run by
women keen on blazing a trail.  They are focused on organic practices and seem to have carved a niche for themselves.  We were enlightened on all things viticulture by Anna (did you know you can get about half of a bottle out of one vine each year?).  Fascinating stuff.  After enjoying our wine tasting outside in the glorious sun, we set out on a bit of a driving tour of the region where we found endless vineyards and countless quaint villages. 

We returned to Bordeaux and headed across the river to wind down our evening with some drinks and ‘menus’ (selecting an appetizer, main, and dessert from a variety of things for a set price).  It was a lovely (and tasty) day.

Off to Basque country!

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Linda on

How wonderful ... the weather looks fantastic as do the two of you! Have an enjoyable and relaxing time ... and taste some of that wine for me too!! xo xo

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