Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wine Cruise

Town center, Bordeaux

We have worked our way south from England, stopping in northeast France for two days, then two days in the Bordeaux wine region, two days in Bilbao, Spain and today we've landed at Vigo, still in Spain.

They call this an immersive wine cruise, but so far they've only served it in glasses and there isn't nearly enough in those to immerse yourself. To compensate we have done our best to drink as many of those glasses as we can.

Our first stop was Le Havre, which is a pretty dull port city. I am pretty sure even the City Elders realize this because the sign at the port brags that you are in Le Havre, gateway to Paris. Kind of like Hoboken bragging that it's close to New York.

This is the logical port to take some longish day trips to Normandy or Mount St Michel. We passed on both. I have been to many battlefields in my day, and have found myself completely unable to benefit from the experience. Where others see high ground and low ground and military advantage, I see hills and trees and beaches. My experience is almost always from reading the signs or books that go along with it. For that, it's not worth a long drive.

As for beautiful Mt St Michel, LK told me you had to walk about a mile from the parking area (which my London training made possible) but then you have to walk up about 300 steps - you know, like walking to the top of a 17-story building. Since LK didn't volunteer to carry me, I decided no old building is that beautiful.

So instead we walked around Le Havre, saw this amazing piece of architecture and realized that it ranked among the least attractive buildings we have ever seen. Its chief benefit seemed to be that it took your attention away from the rest of the city, which was very plain indeed. As our guide in Medoc the next day explained, "Le Havre was full of communists and they built it to look like East Germany."  Since this Frenchman's name was Boris, I took it that he knew what he was talking about.

Boris did give us a nice tour of the Medoc section of the Bordeaux wine region. We took three winery tours and discovered that all of them use big vats, oak barrels and machines that separate the stems of the grapes from "the berries", as they call them.

We also got to taste some beautiful red wine at these places, and unlike the Australian and American wineries, these folks weren't pitching to sell you some extra bottles. In fact, only one of them even had any you could buy since the other two used the traditional French system of selling their wine by the barrelsful to wine buyers who then did the bottling and marketing.

A great part of the day was meeting our new bff's, Dave and Beth. They are both optometrists (a flock of geese, a  herd of cows, a murder of crows, a spectacle of optometrists?) from North Carolina.  And they join a list of people who have made our travels so much more fun - Robert and Jaki, Wally and Judy, Tony and David - people who are interesting, make us laugh and always order another drink.

New bff's Dave and Beth at Chateau Phelan Segur

The four of us were on the same shuttle bus the next day to the city of Bordeaux and we ended up walking around the city together. The problem was that we had to return to the bus by 2:15 since the ship was departing that afternoon. Well, that wasn't really the problem. The problem was that almost everything worth seeing in Bordeaux didn't open until 2:00.

So we walked through the shopping district, skipped the river walk which would be lovely in the summer but was cold and windy on a gray November day, checked out a 13th century cathedral, and then gave up on trying to be good tourists and had some drinks at 11:30 until the restaurants opened at 12:30. By now you may be getting an inkling of why Dave and Beth are our new bff's.

To be fair, I am pretty sure Bordeaux would be a lovely place to visit in warm weather and without a tight deadline. And I should add that the restaurant we visited was lovely, and its sole English-speaking staffer wanted to be sure I wanted tripe for lunch making me realize that it has now been 47 years since I last studied French.

The next day brought us to Spain and a wonderful reunion with some long-time bff's. But this is long enough today. Bilbao and Vigo reports next time.

Also - as is typical this expensive and slow shipboard online system makes it impossible to upload photos. We will put them all up on Shutterfly when we are back on land.


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