Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


France Trip (Days 3 & 4)

Day 3: Monday, September 26
Sunrise Run, Groceries, Tourist Office, Bus Tour, Tower Climb
I discovered the negative flip-side of the longer evening light that we experienced the night before when I got up at 7am to run and could still see the moon! Luckily, the riverfront promenade was nicely illuminated with streetlamps clad in patterned columns of glass. I didn’t encounter nearly as many people during my morning workout as we had last night, but there were still a few runners and even more cyclists as well as some early-risers on the riverboat cruise ships.

I noticed that the lights along the promenade changed colour from white to green and pink as I approached the Miroir d’Eau and the Jardins de la Lune (Gardens of the Moon) on either side of the reflecting pool. My timed out-and-back route took me just past/under the Pont de Pierre, which we later learned has 17 arches to represent the 17 letters in Napoleon Bonaparte’s name, as it was built under his command.

As I turned around to head back to the apartment, the sun was starting to rise on the right bank of the River. The slightly cloudy conditions resulted in an amazingly beautiful sunrise of pinks and oranges that were reflected in the windows of the buildings all along the left bank of the River. Breathtaking!!! I finished up my workout with some yoga, and once Mr. E was ready, we walked two blocks north to find the Carrefour City market, a miniature version of the typical Carrefour supermarket. We stocked up on some basics and then returned to the apartment for a late breakfast of soft-boiled eggs, fresh multi-grain baguette with ham for Mr. E and smoked salmon for me, fresh berries, and strong French coffee. Yum!

Thanks to some of the visitor info we found in the apartment, we had already decided to purchase a 3-day City Pass, which would give us free or discounted access to many monuments, museums, and attractions along with unlimited use of the public transit system, which includes many bus lines, three Tram lines, and a water taxi service. We decided to wander through some side streets to get to the Tourist Office, discovering some amazing and unexpected murals and other views along the way.

In addition to purchasing the City Pass, we also made reservations for a wine-tasting later in the evening at Max Bordeaux, a guided city walking tour in English for the next morning (included with the City Pass fee), and a half-day wine-tasting excursion to Saint Emilion for the next afternoon. Our City Pass also included a double-decker bus tour, so we strolled around the central area and the long pedestrian Rue de St. Catherine before finding the make-your-own salad spot Eat Salad (not even trying to be French in that name!) for lunch. 

We then headed back to the Tourist Office to catch the 2pm bus tour, which wound around the historic area and across to part of the Right Bank during a 70-minute narrated tour (personal headphones so each passenger could choose his/her preferred language… I chose French, of course!). After the bus adventure, we made our way to the Pey Berland Tower to climb the 233 steps to the top for an amazing 360-degree view of the entire city and surrounding area. Quite narrow and steep and winding steps – definitely a good workout!

At this point, we had just about 90 minutes before our wine-tasting appointment, so we decided to continue our explorations and stopped at the little street-car shaped kiosk near the post office, where I had bought postcard stamps earlier, to get crepes and a beverage to tide us over ‘til dinner. We also walked a bit further into the Golden Triangle area, checking out the Carrefour in the Marche de Grands Hommes, where I happily discovered and purchased a bag of mini Lion bars. Yay! I always stock up on Lion bars and the Regal’ad fruit chews when we come to France.

We arrived at Max Bordeaux a bit early and ended up having to wait even beyond the 5:30pm start time for our tasting workshop because only one staff person was working this evening. He apologized for the delay and explained that his colleague was ill (mentioned later a car accident!), so he was working solo and had to not only manage the scheduled reservations but also any other clients who wandered in for the self-serve style tasting option. Although we were initially a bit peeved by the inconvenience, we ended up with a private tasting that lasted at least 90 minutes (rather than the 60 minutes schedules/promised in the info guide). Not bad! He taught us about the history of Bordeaux as a wine-making region and provided a basic overview of the complicated classification system. He also gave us some interesting insights into how to approach a wine-tasting and how to begin to identify wines by sight, smell, and taste. At the end, he gave us an extra tasting of a very high-end wine to compensate for the delay and inconvenience of having to “share” him with other clients.

Rather than walking back to the apartment, we put our City Pass benefits to good use by taking Tram B, which got us back in about 5 minutes. We headed back to Carrefour City to buy some dinner items – Mr. E inadvertently ended up with duck because I didn’t pay enough attention when he quickly showed me the package! – and then had our meal at the apartment, wrote some postcards, checked some email, and wrapped up the evening.

Day 4: Tuesday, September 27
City Walking Tour, Saint Emilion Wine-Tasting
After breakfast, we took our first Tram ride to the Quinconces station near the Tourist Office in order to meet up with our 10am walking tour of the City. Our guide was a bit tardy due to some delays on the Tram line she was taking to the meeting spot, so we set off around 10:15am as she began the tour with a historic overview of Bordeaux. Our first monument visit was the Girondins Column, which Mr. E and I had noticed the day before. The statuary around the column, especially in the lateral fountains, is fascinating and full of symbolism – figures representing military education, secular education, arts, vice, virtue, and who could forget the ocean horses with their web-like hoofs and fishy tails?

The tour lasted almost 2 hours, as we wound through the city centre, learning about the Golden Triangle, the Marché de Grands Hommes, the Cailhau Gate, several churches, and ending near the Grand Théâtre. Our guide also emphasized the changes that have occurred within the past 10 years, such as the Tram lines, cleaning the buildings, and restricting car traffic in the area by transforming former parking lots into pedestrian plazas. Mr. E and I definitely appreciated this aspect of the city. These changes also help to explain why I didn’t find much of the city familiar from my 2-day trip here back in 1995 when I was working for EuroDisney, since so many of the appealing characteristics we were enjoying didn’t exist back then!

We jumped back on the Tram for a return to the apartment in order to grab a bite to eat and get changed before heading back to the Tourist Office again for our afternoon tour to the Saint Emilion region. Led by Cristelle of the tour company BordO’Vino, our small group of eight included Mr. E and me, a woman from Brazil, a woman from Melbourne, a French couple from Lyon, and an Italian couple from Milan. Cristelle provided her commentary in both English and French in order to accommodate the mixed group, so I could understand all parts of the narrative!

The ½ day (6-hour) excursion included tours and tastings at two Châteaux along with a scenic promenade around the small town of Saint Emilion. Our first stop was at Château de Sales, a traditional winery that’s been in the same family for multiple generations. The current winemaker, M. Bruno de Lamont (I think that's the correct name...), is retiring after this year’s harvest, which had actually begun earlier today. His son, who has been working in the wine industry in Chile, will be returning to France as his successor. M. Bruno owns the property along with his three sisters, and among the four of them, there are 14 relatives in the next generation, but only a few of them are connected with the vineyard. Our tour guide at the Château was very friendly and multilingual (5 languages – I’m so envious!), and she told us about the history of the property as she showed us the house and the grounds before leading us back to the technical area, where we got to see the winery crew unloading and sorting the newly-harvested grapes. We finished up with a tasting of both the “first” and “second wines,” Château de Sales and Château Chantealouette, both from the 2012 vintages. Most wineries can’t label their secondary wine as a “Château,” but this vineyard has one of the few exceptions thanks to its longevity and existence prior to all of the strict regulations about wine classifications and categories. We bought a bottle of 2008 Château de Sales to enjoy later tonight.

The mid-point of our tour was spent following Cristelle around the charming small town of Saint Emilion, as she pointed out some historic buildings and provided an overview of the town’s founding and evolution. The second tasting was at Château Soutard, which was only about five minutes from the town center, and we could see some of the taller buildings of the town from the vineyards at Soutard.

This is a much more modern winery. Part of the current facility is housed in the original farmhouse, which was dismantled brick-by-brick in order to renovate the interior and then reconstructed to maintain the historic characteristics of the site. Our guide took us on a bilingual tour that included information about the different vines and properties nearby, as Soutard is owned by the international luxury brand conglomerate LVMH and includes two other nearby vineyards, all of which produce under their own labels. The barrel rooms and underground tasting room are quite elaborate and even ostentatious, including the chandelier in the fermentation room and the silent glass elevator in the second barrel room. Our tasting took place in a lovely area near the boutique, and we got to have some snacks with our wine this time (a platter of bread, almonds, sausage, and two kinds of local cheese). We made a purchase here as well and hope for the best in bringing the bottle back to Sacto with us, as it definitely needs to age for a few years.

We got back to the Tourist Office for our drop-off around 7:30pm and initially thought to eat out somewhere nearby but couldn’t find anything immediately tempting, so instead we took the Tram back towards the apartment, getting off one stop farther than usual to be closer to the Carrefour City market and an Eat Salad location. We’d discovered the latter restaurant option at a location near the city center where we had lunch the day before, so we grabbed dinner at this nearby site and enjoyed our meal with the lovely Château de Sales wine back at the apartment.


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