we both meant to write about this a couple of weeks ago, but shortly after we returned from this trip we had several guests come and stay with us. needless to say, we were busy playing with old friends from back home, so we haven't gotten around to blogging until just now. apologies for the delay, but better late than never, as they say!
it all started like this: back in january, carl (one of adam's professors from his grad school days), and his wife, marylee, came to the netherlands for a conference. while they were here, carl and marylee stayed with us for a short time. it was during that visit, when we were all having dinner together, that conversation turned to the next time they were planning on coming to europe. they told us that they were coming back in may for another conference and that while they were here they would like to see their long-time friends in bordeaux. "oh, you guys should come down there too! i'm sure they'd love to meet you, and then we could see each other again!" they said. of course, carl and marylee asked their friends if we could join them for their holiday, and of course, their friends said yes.
fast forward several months, and we're on a plane to paris, to meet carl and marylee there. when we arrived at the airport, we found out that marylee had fallen off a bicycle in copehagen just the day before, and was needing crutches and a wheelchair to get around! ouch! fortunately nothing was broken, but she was bruised up pretty bad and sore all over. so rather than taking the train from the aiport as planned, and arriving in bordeaux that same evening, we ended up all getting a hotel near the airport and spent the night in paris. just getting out of the airport took about 2 hours because the signs were not clear and we had all our bags plus marylee piled onto a baggage cart which we were pushing around the terminal. we finally found the place where the free hotel shuttle was supposed to pick us up. supposed to. it never came. after another 40 minutes of waiting, we got a cab. and then, when we got to our hotel, the meter said something like 15 euros. and the driver said, "45 euros please." and we were all "uh, no." he was trying to explain to us that oh, there are 4 passengers, and all our bags, and blah blah blah. and i'm all, dude, if you work at an airport you're going to have a sign in your cab saying that bags are an extra charge, which he didn't. marylee refused to get out of the cab, and adam ran inside to get a hotel employee (who didn't want to get involved and refused to come outside to help us until adam practically dragged him out there). so i forget how much we actually paid him -- maybe like 20 euros or something. grrrr. welcome to paris, suckers.
but we were finally at the hotel, which was wonderful and good, and we ate and slept and generally felt much better afterwards.
the next day, adam and i got up early and headed into paris so we could see the eiffel tower before we left town. we stashed our bags at the train station and walked a couple of miles to the tower, stopping off at a couple of bakeries and a grocery store along the way, to get picnic supplies. (you guessed it: bread, cheese, wine, and chocolate! you know us so well!) we also took a quick picture of adam with napoleon's tomb in the background, and spent the rest of the time picnicking in the park beneath the eiffel tower, people watching and sunbathing and relaxing. it was sooooo neat to see the eiffel tower again (we were there about 3 years ago too).
we met carl and marylee at the train station in paris and got the last couple of seats on the next train to bordeaux. marylee got the last seat on the train, and the rest of us got to play musical chairs in the hallways of the train. funny! we actually got a seat during the first leg of the trip because there were lots of empty seats right away. but after we made a couple of stops, people sat in their reserved spaces and we were exiled to the wings. but it was kinda fun to sit in the hallway because we got to be noisier and saw lots more people moving about. it was one of those super-fast french trains, too, that felt like it was going to lift off the tracks every time it made the slightest turn. fun!
we got to bordeaux in the late afternoon, and daniel and anita (carl and marylee's friends) were there to greet us. their house is a beautiful 17th century building with lovely antique furniture, brightly colored walls, comfortable beds, and a cozy, lived-in feeling. i felt at home immediately. daniel cooked for us every night -- pasta with breadcrumbs and anchovies, tuna steaks and potatoes, asparagus, chicken, fancy cheeses, and of course, lots and lots of wine from bordeaux. anita made a transcendental lemon tart that made me involuntarily and loudly interrupt a philosophical discussion after dinner our last night. it had this inspiring merengue (sp?) that had this layer of sugar that almost dissolved in your mouth, all crumbly and sweet, and ... i digress. seriously. amazing. their son, benoit, joined us for dinner a couple of nights, and we would all spend literally hours eating, talking, lounging, drinking, eating some more, all in their dining room with the house filled with good sounds and good smells. (seriously, their house smelled delicious even when no one was cooking -- like melted butter and boiled potatoes. how do they do that?) we slept great every night we were there, with the windows wide open and the rain on the roof and the church bells chiming. i went to sleep every night thinking "this house is older than america." seriously cool.
since marylee was all banged up from her accident, we didn't get much of a chance to visit with her. she would stay in the house with anita, reading and talking and drinking scotch by the fireplace, while the rest of us would be out exploring the city. daniel took us to the market, which was held in a couple of different places that day. one place was in a large building that was sort of like a parking garage, but nicer. some of the stands are there every day but mostly it stays empty until saturday when the market is open. it was mostly like our market in hengelo, with different stands really specializing in different things: seafood, bread, cheese, fruits or vegetables, flowers, etc. the biggest difference i noticed was that they had wine for sale at many of the stands, including a stand that was just wine. and they also had these small barrels of wine where you could buy it in bulk, by the liter. isn't that cool?
the other market was outside in the shadow of st. michael's church. it is this towering gothic cathedral in the middle of the city. quite a contrast to have this scattered, brightly colored, chaotic market juxtaposed with this ornate, organized, quiet behemoth of a church.
on one of the days we were there, daniel drove adam, carl, and myself around the countryside, telling stories about bordeaux and his childhood along the way. he took us to a large chateau that makes a lot of wine, and we walked through their vineyard enjoying the day. he explained to us the difference in the names of wines (wines are either named after the type of grape, such as "chardonnay" or "pinot noir", or they are named after a region such as "bordeaux" or "champagne" and will often be wines made of different blends of grapes) and told us that one vine produces enough grape for one glass of wine. that sure doesn't seem like that much to me! i'm surprised by that! i thought a grapevine would yield like a bottle or something but nope, it only makes about a glass on average. afterwards, he drove us to a much smaller vineyard, one owned by his friend, jacques. jacques has a very small vineyard which produces about 1000 bottles of wine a year. he asks his friends to come out some weekend during harvest time and they all go crazy for a couple of days picking the grapes, and then he makes wine in his cellar/shed/garage thing. he gave us a "tour" of his "facility", which basically consisted of two rooms in this old barn-type structure that was half underground, to keep the temperature more constant. he let us sample the wines right out of the barrels, trying different vintages. it is a sweet, white wine that he makes, which is not necessarily typical of the region. it was really delicious. we bought several bottles to share with friends.
another day we went to mass in the gothic cathedral nearby and afterwards went down to the river where we ate a pizza (there was another market down there that day but was selling mostly food to eat, not food to prepare) and watched the skyline. and somewhere in there daniel guided us through his town, pointing out an old roman ruin that used to be a giant colosseum (sp?) and taking us down to the main cathedral in town, whose name i forget. adam and daniel climbed to the top of the bell tower next to the church while i sat in a cafe down below drinking a glass of wine and journaling.
our last night was my favorite night because not only did we get to eat anita's transcendental lemon tart, but she also got out her accordion and played us a couple of songs! then daniel came in the room and started singing along with her! all these beautiful french songs which i had never heard before, which sounded lovely and exotic and bittersweet. it was so wonderful.