Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our spectacular wine guide at Chateauneuf-Du-Pape!

Amidst dozens of wine-tasting rooms at Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, we were lucky enough to wander into Cave Du Verger Des Papes Located just a few steps down from the medieval castle of a former pope, in an ancient wine cellar carved into the rock, we met resident wine ninja Anne Cantineaux. She has spent many years studying wine and is an expert in the wines of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. She’s also warm, friendly and funny, and speaks excellent English, a huge help when discussing the varied wines of this region. She made the tasting both fun and information-filled! We learned more about wine in our hour with Anne than we have the entire trip. It was easily our best tasting experience, and we recommend everyone visit her when in Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. Years from now we’ll open a bottle she recommended and remember our time here. Thanks, Anne!

Question without answer

If the French insist on playing all anglo-radio, does it have to be Wayne Newton, Celine, James Blunt (the male Celine) and Timbaland? I’m willing to bet that if someone introduced them to The Shins, Deathcab and The Killers, U.S.-Franco relations would reach heights not seen since we helped liberate Paris.

Radio Free Anglo

It seems that, at most, 50% of the music played on the radio in France is in French. Most of it hails from either the U.S. or Britain. We’ve even heard a few commercials in English. It’s safe to say that at the outset of our trip, we did not expect to see our 50-year-old café owner dancing and singing to Kanye.

The sun still doesn’t set on the British Empire…

As far as we can tell, most of the people in France are either British themselves or hail from a former colony. Our wonderful hosts at Chateau Guerinet were Aussies, as were the other guests, and the owners of our gite, Norman and Alison, hail from Wales and South Hampton respectively.

Somewhere in time…

One of the (seemingly infinitesimal) highlights of our trip was a journey to the small, medieval hill town of Le Crestet (not far from Vaison La Romaine). Despite being constructed sometime around 800 A.D., it remains largely unchanged today. In fact, not only is the cobblestone still in place, but the fountains still work. It is also still inhabited by some 35 people year round. Situated precariously on a large hill, it looks down over fertile wine fields and all the way to the French Alps to the north. It is still inhabited, if by only 35 very lucky people, year round. Walking its silent streets (we encountered only one other person the entire time we were there), was a surreal step back in time.

We found some great wine from Gigondas that is come home with us. Michael and Kristin, we look forward to sharing it with you. Art, it seems they keep the 100-point Coke & Diet Coke combo in Atlanta.

An interesting thing happened on the way to the chateau…

Our Aussie friends, Dave and Corina, related a great story. It concerns, the apparently inept, French boy scouts. During an orienteering exercise they circled around the chateau for hours upon hours. Eventually, Corina, tired of seeing them wander across her yard, drove a group of them to their destination. No sooner had she returned home, when another group arrived. Rather than sacrifice her day shuttling lost boy scouts, she gave the second group directions. Seemingly satisfied, they disappeared into the woods, but returned within a few minutes, having given up. They made themselves at home on Corina’s patio furniture, and she tried to go about her day, when their was a knock at the door. The scouts had decided to eat lunch, but apparently had forgotten the first rule of scouting be prepared. You see, they’d brought paté, but had no bread to eat it with!

Thank goodness for the metric system

Everywhere we go we find another amazing winery. We’re pleased that U.S. airlines measure luggage weight in pounds, because we’ve limited ourselves to buying wine in two-liter bottles.

St. Michael's Cathedral

Pics and Posts
Because we’re in a hurry, pics and posts are without question not in the order received. Sorry, but we’ve sites to see before we sleep.

Le Nouveau Saint
We visited Vaison La Romaine and toured a cathedral, St. Michael Sans Stomach. In the reliquary is a gold-plated gall bladder. Once a year, it screams pain-laden obscenities. In all seriousness, Michael, you should be sainted for visiting every hospital in France. Beth, you should be sainted for reasons to numerous to mention here. We’ve contacted the Vatican to have you both canonized.

Miss us?

Sorry for the long absence.
It turns out, the farther south we go in France the harder it is to find an Internet connection. We forgive you if you thought we were swallowed up by a deluge of wine, cheese, and butter-slathered pastries. We forged ahead and came out happier (and strangely thinner) on the other side. We’ve come to believe that all food in Europe, London included, is better than in the states. For example, a tuna fish sandwich at the gas station (of all places), tastes better than when made fresh at home. Yogurt is richer than chocolate pudding, but somehow it’s good for you. And, did I mention they put chocolate, usually in the form of shavings, comes in 80% of their cereals? Finally I have found a country that understands me!

P.S. The picture is of our pet car, Buzz.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Australia Day!

We just completed a wonderful four-hour dinner with four wonderful Australians -- Dave, Corina, Peter and Rebecca (in the Loire, no less), and we wanted to wish everyone a happy Australia Day, January 26! Who knew?

We'll write more later, but perhaps not Sunday as we have a big drive ahead of us.

Chateau & Sunshine

Having left the hustle and bustle of London and Paris far behind, we were met with a day of beautiful sun as we explored the Loire Valley. We passed through picturesque villages, seemingly ripped from travel posters, and took in a handful of the hundreds of chateau in the region. The chateau and the small villages they inhabit, are like something out of a fairy tale, complete with clock towers, turrets, and ornamented roofs.

We spent a couple hours wandering around Amboise, where Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years, and where the current Duke of France (the man who would be king if France maintained the monarchy) lives. It's an idyllic town, with cute shops (including an amazing chocolatier), cobbled streets, and lanes so narrow it's surprising they allow cars on them (at first glance we thought the streets were limited to bikes).

The highlight of the day, however, was Chenonceau, an even more amazing Chateau. At various times, it was occupied by King Henry II, his wife Catherine de'Medici, and his mistress Diane de Poitiers. It sits quite literally on the river, with arched stands for the river to run under. The Gardens, when designed by Diane de Poitiers, were the most elaborate and contemporary in all of France.

We had just a few moments to squeeze in a quick wine tasting at the village of Vouvray. They are famous for their sweet wines, which are almost impossible to find in the U.S. Unlike many sweet wines, these ironically have savory flavor that underpins the taste. Melissa and I both agree they are unlike any wine we've ever tasted.

Ver... sigh

We departed Paris Friday morning and traveled to the nearby town of Versailles (essentially a suburb within 10 miles of the Eiffel Tower). In doing so we discovered that we'd departed the English-speaking territory. No matter, with lots of gestures and a bit of broken French, we bumbled our way through (and learned yet again just how nice and accommodating the French are; they repeatedly apologized for not being able to speak English). We made it to the palace without any problems and took in Versailles. Between solid silver furniture weighing hundreds of tons, gold gilding, and manicured gardens that go on for acres, it's a testament to overindulgence. We preferred the Louvre, but Versailles was well worth seeing.

Friday, January 25, 2008

John's a big, fat liar!

This morning we went to Versailles to see the hall of mirrors and all of that... more on that later. The real blog for the day is: John is a big, fat liar! Know why? Because he told me months ago, back when we were still in the states that the hotel in the Loire wasn't going to be that great and to be prepared to stay somewhere sketchy. He writes down all of the directions, and we start off in the rental car. Well, the directions are only 90% correct. The last 10% is him pretending like we're lost. Finally we pull up to this...Not exactly a "Motel 6" crackhouse. Turns out we're staying in an 18th century chateau built by a Prussian prince for his wife. She was a woodcutter's daughter from around here and always missed the area, so he basically bought it all. Here's our bedroom:

I hate roughing it. We're in the middle of nowhere, no one (except the family that owns the chateau who's from Australia) speaks a bit of English, but in the one restaurant in town we had the best meal of our entire trip. I'll post pictures of that too because who needs Versailles when there's food?

So the moral to the story is, John's a big fat liar... but I'm not complaining.

If you're ever in France, you MUST eat here (better than Paris and much less expensive):

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The French Know How To Throw A Protest

Better than a day at Disneyland, yesterday's protest came with music, drummers, literal dancing in the streets, food stands, and balloons! Where do I get a ticket? Here's a short article on yesterday's protests and here's some background on the French economy.

We'll always have Paris...

Today we spent the day doing two of the greatest things in Paris... shopping and eating. We went to dinner at Cafe de la Paix. It sits just outside the Paris Opera house and was designed by the same person, Charles Garnier. It was designed in 1862 during the belle epoque (the beautiful age) and used to be the place to "see and be seen" in society. We were lucky enough to get what we considered the best table in the house because it had the perfect view of the opera house. We were surrounded by gold gilding, muraled ceilings, and tuxedoed waiters (not too shabby as far as settings go). Dinner was beautiful and tasted every bit as good as it looked. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Paris. Tomorrow we're off to Versailles in the morning (because we just haven't seen enough gorgeous palaces yet), then the Loire Valley in the afternoon.

Nous sommes tres Francaise!

(We are very French!) We've had three people stop us and ask directions. I was just sure we screamed "American," but maybe not. Here's a pic of us now so you can decide... it also seems to be 1947...

Viva la revolution!

Right now we're watching a protest parade for the labor unions. It's a grand piece of street theater. However, the Pompidou center was closed today because of it... sacre bleu!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pics & movies...

Here are a few "bonus" pics and two movies from a couple days ago.

Oh my gosh, the French are so nice!

Because of all the talk, we expected Parisiens to be a bit cold and standoffish (not unlike many places in the U.S. we might name). But on the contrary, they are warm, friendly, and quick to smile and laugh. In fact, we have yet to encounter a single rude person, and have frequently been offered help even without asking. It's also great that nearly everyone speaks English! If only we could return the favor in kind.

Some pics from Jan 23

These are all of the Louvre, which as I describe below, is vast. To get some semblance of its size, consider that the photos of the towers, below, represent just a small portion of the overall structure. Better yet, try to count the chairs around the dining table. I believe there are close to 36. This room, which is not particularly large by the standards of the Louvre, is only one among what must be hundreds.

Here's a pic...

It's us in front of a very small part of the Louvre! Plus photographies demaine! Bonne nuit!

French Fried!

We saw the Louvre today. It kicked our Mona Lisas! If you thought we walked a lot yesterday, then you haven't seen the Louvre. It's huge. Words fail to describe how big it is, but think roughly 20 (or possibly more) U.S. congressional buildings. And did I mention that every inch is filled with priceless works of art and antiquities? For now, we're beat, and the batteries to our computer and camera are dead or dying. We'll post photos later. Until then you'll have to content yourself by studying the Louvre here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Viva la France!

We saw over 11 miles of Paris on foot today. Literally 11 miles! We just mapped it out. We started out at the Arc de Triumph and shopping on the Champs Elysees. Then headed over to the Paris Opera House (Opera Garnier) and toured it. After that we walked through the Louvre (which was HUGE, but closed today), and kept on until we got to the Notre Dame Cathedral. All of this walking worked up quite an appetite so we had a long (3 hour) dinner at a bistro by Notre Dame. Great food - it was from the Alsace region so there was a lot of German influence (I had sauerkraut with mine). Then we walked all the way back... phfew.

The Opera house was so much more gorgeous in real life than in the movies. It not only an amazing auditorium and staircase (you know, the one the phantom comes down wearing that red costume) but it also had giant ballrooms, receiving areas, a library and a Chagall ceiling (with that famous chandelier hanging from it that the phantom likes to drop on people). I even took a picture of his box (no. 5). It was captivating place, it's no wonder Gaston Leroux imagined that story.

The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the grandest examples of gothic architecture still standing. Outside the detail draws you in and then once you get inside, it's so grand, yet so dark and formidable. The stained glass makes it all worth it though, it's hard to stop staring. It's probably the most unique church I've ever seen.

That's a good chunk of what we got in today. Tomorrow we're off to the Louvre to visit Mona.

For a few more pics, click here.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Sideways Videos

You may have noticed the two personal videos we posted, on the other site, are sideways. For whatever reason, Apple won't let you reorient the video without paying for editing software. Since we have free software from Microsoft back home, you'll have to turn your monitors on end until we return.

Ooh, la la!

We've arrived in Paris. Our hotel has a view of the Eiffel Tower and a bathroom with a full size tub, so we're living in the lap of luxury right now (John's telling me this is the nicest hotel we have, so I shouldn't get used to it). We pulled into town about 3:30pm, and by the time we checked in and figured out where we were, it was time to eat dinner -- but oh my gosh the FOOD! I had a strawberry tart that made me temporarily forget my own name.

I took a few pictures, but I'll get tons more tomorrow after we actually do something besides eat. But judging from the strawberry tart, the pics may all be of food... I make no promises.

Bon Soir! For a few more pics click here.

Bye bye London, Hello Paris!

This is my souvenir from London…

Turns out Harrods has them.

Anyway… we loved London, and we would be leaving kicking and screaming, but luckily we get to console ourselves with Paris. We’re about to get on the Eurostar train that goes underneath the English Channel over to Paris. It travels at 186mph and is 150 ft below sea level. It allows travelers to make it from London to Paris in just under 2 ½ hours – way cool. That gives us 2 ½ hours to learn the French language… better get started.

BTW—John wanted me to post this clip in honor of our England/France transition. He has a lot of time on his hands now (see above souvenir).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tea for Two

We spent the most of the day in the National Gallery looking at amazing paintings by people like Rembrandt (perhaps you've heard of him). The gallery was so big that we spent a good 5 hours in there and still only feel like we saw about 10% of it. Oh well, leaves us something to go back to next time. After the art museum, we had reservations for afternoon tea at the Duke Hotel. Very cute and "proper" and all of the food was amazing (I'm adding clotted creme to my new favorites list).

Anyway, it's only 8pm here, and we're headed out again, so we'll write more later. It's off to Paris tomorrow.

Au revoir!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


We're trying to include links to many of the historic places we've seen. So, for example, if you've never heard of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, a simple click will make you an expert. We've updated a few, but not all, of previous posts to include these links. For subjects we've failed to include, probably because the Internet connection was too slow, Wikipedia is just a click or two away.

Best abbey I've seen...

After our trouble posting last night, I'm hoping we have more luck. Today started out at Westminster Abbey, which was unfortunately closed because of the annual day of prayer. We still got to go in the cloister though and it was pretty amazing just in itself. We spent a couple of hours there looking at all of the 1000 year old graves and marveling at the building. We also got to observe part of a service that included chanting and singing. The acoustics in that place were amazing!

After that we went and ate at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Tavern. It's been a tavern since 1538, recently remodeled though... in 1667! We sat in Charles Dickens favorite seat near the fireplace in the Chop Room and had traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (surprisingly yummy). Other people that frequented it were Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain. We sampled a stout and a bitter, made by Samuel Smith (the house beer of the current owners). These are the traditional rich flavored, real ales that are "pulled" up from the cellar. They're served at cellar temperature and not carbonated. We found them full of flavor and really creamy.

We spent the remainder of the day at St. Paul's Cathedral burning off our roast beef walking up to the top of the dome. 452 stairs, a few tight hallways, and hair-raising, rickety steps later, it's a fabulous view. We also pondered the fact this 300 year old building was designer Christopher Wren's first foray into architecture. Eeek. Down on the ground, we were especially surprised by the American Chapel dedicated to American servicemen who lost their lives fighting in WWII and the monument to George Washington.

We're more and more impressed by the city (we're in love with the tube!), and can't wait for tomorrow!!

P.S. So far coming to Europe in winter was a brilliant stroke. It's actually been quite warm with temperatures in the low to middle 60s. John hasn't worn a coat since the first day. We also haven't waited in ANY lines. We walked right into the crown jewels and crowds are nonexistent.

For more pics, click here.