Showing posts from February, 2011

Tours I

1 September

We took the TGV (France's high speed train system) to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, and then had a quick, 5-minute ride into Tours.  Unlike at the beginning of my trip, when being tossed into a new, unfamiliar city every few days was overwhelming and bewildering, now it was commonplace to not know where I was, but get my bearings and figure it out.  We found our hotel, and spent a little time studying maps and guidebooks, and then it was time, of course, to figure out where we'd be having dinner.

Given that the Tours is in the heart of the Loire valley, which is considered to be the "heart" of France and the "birthplace of French cuisine," I wondered if the menus would be as generic and uninspiring as those of Bordeaux.  But I need not have worried, Touraine cuisine is as unique as that of any other région, with rillettes and rillons and freshwater fish aplenty.  The dinner choice was easy once I found this window:

This restaurant was lauded not only …

La Rochelle III

31 August

After a few quiet hours in the hotel, we were ready to head out to the beach to watch the sunset - after picking up a pair of pink felt slippers for Mom, and a dinner of Mamie Nova cérises griottes yogurt (outstanding stuff), rhubarb-apple sauce (also outstanding), and a baguette (unfortunately, mediocre) for both of us.  We ate at a bench near the beach, then took off our shoes to walk on the fine-grained, super-soft sand and stick our toes in the ocean.  It was still quite light when we got there, but we were patient and watched the sun dip below the horizon for my first sunset over the Atlantic.

Shades of aqua quietly gave way to baby blues and salmons over the hundreds of masts in the marina.

The beach was fairly empty, and we appreciated the peace and quiet after a hustling, bustling morning.  After the sun had gone down, we started heading back into town, admiring the effect of the soft gloaming light over the city.

On the way back, we passed Ernest le Glacier, an arti…

La Rochelle II

31 August

We woke up early to head out to the market before meeting up with Chantal.  The morning air was refreshingly chilly, and the streets were fairly empty, at least until we got to the market.

Outdoors there was a nice selection of local fruits and vegetables - check out the provenance of these pommes de terre:

Inside, there were boucheries and poissoneries and fromageries to tempt any palate:

We bought a few carrots and nectarines, then hurried back to the hotel to drop off our produce before Chantal arrived.

She had a big day planned - she wanted to show us all around her beautiful city, giving us an insider's perspective we'd never have just wandering ignorantly about on our own.  She lead us by leafy terraces and through shady courtyards, into the Mairie (city hall) to show us the Salle des Mariages (the room where couples sign marriage licenses) and into a 500-year-old house in the midst of a renovation to become a new block of apartments.

If anyone, like the surpris…

La Rochelle I

30 August

After a light breakfast and completely repacking my new luggage, we checked out of our hotel around 10:30 am and took a cab to the train station.  On the way, our gregarious cabby chatted with us about my travels and his favorite vacation spots in France.  He recommended Mont St. Michel, which I have no doubt is spectacular... but also another tourist central.  And I must say, I'd rather walk around the markets and see a little of la vie quotidienne than immerse myself in a group of foreign tourists.

On the train, we were seated facing a woman who struck up a conversation with us about my mom's habit of taking pictures out of the train window.  Within the two hour ride, Chantal, a La Rochelle native, offered to give us a tour around her city.  My this-is-a-stranger-and-that-means-they-are-Bad guard was up a bit, but how could we refuse an insider's view of the city?  We parted at the train station as new BFFs and agreed to meet at 9:30 the next morning.

After set…

Bordeaux IV

29 August

Lazy Sunday morning.  I had been thinking about trying to visit St. Emilion and see some vineyards (and, you know, maybe taste another wine or two...), but I realized that morning that since I had left for Europe exactly one month earlier, I hadn't gone two days in a row without getting on a train.  Any time I stayed somewhere for three nights, one of the days I would head a different nearby city for the day to take full advantage of the region.  We had our tickets booked to head up to La Rochelle for the following day, and the idea of making our way across the city to the train station and chugging our way out to wine country for a few hours sounded like too much.  Two-thirds of the way through my trip, and I was tired.  So we ate yogurt and fruit in the hotel, and booked our hotels for Tours and Paris, and finally headed out to find some bread around 11:30.

Unlike in the US, where we're offended by shops that aren't open 24/7, most French businesses are closed …