400 days to travel the world…only stopping to eat, drink, and everything in-between.

France

Day 138 of 400: Montelimar and Grignan – France

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The sweet crunchy wonton looking baked good was very yummy…what exactly it was we purchased from the bakery this morning…I don’t know but Giff and I were eating it quickly to see who would get the last bite.  Giff won…it’s not fair…his mouth is bigger.

The weekly market was going on today and was right behind our hotel in the pedestrian only zone.  We walked through the crowds picking out munchies for the road.  We found some cheeses, fruits and veggies and bread.  The market was huge spreading down many different streets…we walked through a lot of it but not all.

With our snacks in hand we checked out of the hotel and were back in the car.  We were heading to Genova today which means we will officially be sleeping in Italy tonight.

We took some of the back roads out of the city and found ourselves surrounded by fields of lavender.  The flowers were in bloom and the countryside was dotted with purple.  We pulled over to take pictures of course and stopped in a little town called, Grignan.  The town was small and cute up on a hill with a cathedral at the top.  We sat out on a patio enclosed by stone walls and green ivy for a cup of tea and snack.  The tea pots were heavy stone and had high quality tea leaves from China accompanied by little cookies and candy.  After our tea break we walked through the town to the top where we saw sweeping views of the countryside.  The little cobblestone streets were quaint and the buildings with their colored shutters were picturesque.

Back in the car, we pulled over again to take pictures of the huge lavender field with the mountaintop town we had just left in the background.  Ironically, we had bought a postcard in town of this exact same scene.

We saw our drive to Genova was a long one so we got back on the freeway.  We enjoyed our market foods in the car as the scenery into Italy started to change from lavender fields to olive groves and gorgeous views of the coast.  We were still on the toll roads but were going in and out of tunnels through the mountains with the ocean on our right.

It was pretty late when we checked into our hotel in Genova.  The hotel was an older building with the kind of elevator you see in old movies.  We got settled in, opened a bottle of wine and watched an American made movie in Italian before going to bed.


Day 137 of 400: Beziers and Montelimar – France

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We were back in the car today for our five-hour drive to Montelimar…an area we haven’t been to yet but is supposed to be beautiful, and was kind of on the way to Italy.

We first stopped in Beziers to find some lunch.  There was an artesian fair going on in the center of town.  They had all kinds of hand crafted vendors from smoked meats to cookies to leather goods.  Giff bought some very smoked meat at the first vendor and couldn’t resist the second vendor selling meat so opted for a thick piece of salami on a baguette…a meat sandwich without lettuce or tomato or even a little mustard…he wondered why I didn’t want any.  We of course picked up some delicious cookies as well and after a quick look around town got back in the car.

We arrived in Montelimar and saw our hotel was right in the center of town with a lot of people out and about.  There were restaurants and cafes all over the place.  Our place, the Sphinx hotel, was ideally located but the room was old and felt like a motel.  I did not provide the link because you will not be needing it.  I’m not saying there were bed bugs…but if there were bed bugs…this is probably the bed they would choose.  Thankfully we had bed bug spray and used it for the second time on our trip (thanks mom).

We found a little organic type restaurant with a cute outdoor patio to sit for dinner.  We didn’t exactly know what we ordered but we knew one involved chicken and one involved fish.  The plates came out with various small servings on each plate…a pile of sliced beets, sliced carrots, a piece of quiche, a tiny bowl of hot fish stew and chicken curry, a piece of bread with pate and a small carafe of house wine.  The surroundings were nice and peaceful but the meal was just ok.

After dinner, we went back to our room to book our around-the world-ticket with Delta Airlines.  We both had enough frequent-flyer miles to buy the ticket using miles.  This was great because it saved us a bunch of money.  After many many hours and at least 3 dropped calls using Skype…we booked our ticket and finally went to bed…way too late.


Day 136 of 400: Bourg to Toulouse – France

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The drive from Bourg to Toulouse took the majority of our day.  We had a late check out of Chateau de la Grave and started our drive south towards Italy where we will spend the next 5 weeks!

The drive wasn’t particularly interesting as we were on the toll roads the entire time, stopping for lunch at a random cafeteria type place.  By the time we arrived at the Marriott in Toulouse…we checked in and relaxed.

We both got on the computer, watched a little news and ordered dinner through the hotel restaurant which was surprisingly good.  We had a juicy cheeseburger with fries, a caesar salad and a cheese plate with bread.  Of course we opened one of the many bottles of wine we had purchased along the way.

We went to bed at a decent time knowing we would continue our long drive tomorrow.


Day 135 of 400: Bourg and Medoc – France

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Today was a big day for Chateau de la Grave…they were bottling their 2009 harvest.  Philippe (the wine maker) asked us to join him for a tour of his wine cellar this morning.  There was one other couple who joined us on this private tour which was great because we soon found out that Philippe didn’t speak English and the other couple was able to translate.

The tour started in the front area of the château overlooking their vineyards and it was explained to us how much they produce, what percentage of which grapes are used to blend and where each was planted.  After some questions, he walked us into where the huge silver tanks were holding wine.  This is where the 2009 was actually being pumped out of the tank via a long hose and then through a machine into the bottle.

Philippe pointed out a map drawn in chalk on a small blackboard where each vineyard was numbered and corresponded with which tank those grapes were in…he tastes each different wine from each different area of the vineyard every night, it is how he keeps in touch with the different parts of his vineyard.

We continued following him to the next room which was where all the barrels were being stored…this is where the wine ages.  He talked about how this vineyard has been in his family for 100 years…his grandfather handed it down to his father who handed it down to him and now he has two young boys.  He pointed to the old dusty bottles made prior to him and said they sometimes open them and they are still good.

After showing us the large wooden vats where he holds his superior wine, we walked outside where the ’09 was being bottled.  We took a short video of the small machine with a conveyor belt running through the center and the two men putting the bottles on one side….wine was then put into it by the machine, corked, sealed and the other man would remove it and place it in the cradle.  It was so classic when we saw the guy using one hand to load the bottles and the other hand to eat a croissant.  Philippe continued to show us the bottling process and explained that the cork was actually too big for the bottle and would need time to settle before it could be opened.  Even though this one machine seemed fairly small…they were bottling 20,000 bottles.

We closed out the tour by tasting his various types…white wine, table red, superior red as well as the 2009 that we were watching being bottled and he snuck us a small taste of the 2010 which is still in the wooden vats…he thinks 2010 will be even better than 2009 and as we tasted it…we agreed.  Unfortunately, we could not buy any of the 2010, it was too young and needed more time to mature.

After our tasting we drove up to the town of Blaye where we were taking a ferry to the Medoc region of Bordeaux…this area is where the largest château’s are, and some of the most well-known wine like Rothschild.  When we arrived to the ferry, we saw it didn’t leave for another hour so parked our car and walked around a bit looking for food.  A bakery was open and a little girl about nine years old was handling the cash register while her mom worked in the back.  We ordered some bread and paid her thinking how cute she was already learning her family trade.

Finally the ferry arrived.  We drove onto it and crossed the river which took about 25 minutes.  Once on the other side, we input some vineyard addresses and started our tour.  The first château we went to was a huge one  and it was recommended to us by Hugo in Saint Emilion but unfortunately we didn’t have a reservation and they were too busy…disappointed we continued driving looking for our next stop.  We went to a couple other vineyards and tasted their wines, we bought three bottles…one of which was a 2005 (a great vintage for France but hard to come by).

On our way back, we saw a huge wine tasting sign in front of a warehouse type building.  We pulled in and found out it had wines from around the world with a counter to taste wines at a fee.  We tasted two and left, we had tasted enough for today and since we were driving all the way around the river vs taking the ferry back, we needed to get on the road.

We arrived back in Bourg around 8pm and found the one restaurant in the entire town that was open and serving dinner.  We ordered a salad and breast of margret for dinner.  It was a diner type restaurant and had pretty good food at pretty good prices.  We had a leisurely dinner before calling it a night.


Day 134 of 400: City of Bordeaux – France

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The cathedral towers the city of Bordeaux…it was the first thing we noticed driving into the city today.  This massive building took 400 years to build!  We decided to take a break from wine tasting and visit the actual city.  The vinexpo (the world’s main wine fair) was being held this week so there were a lot of people in town both potential consumers and vineyard owners.  We would have loved to sneak in but the fair is business only…you have to work in the industry to get in.

We started walking through the streets, we quickly found the “old town” area which was a pedestrian zone only. The streets were big and lined with boutique after boutique with all kinds of specialties specific to Bordeaux as well as your usual clothing stores, restaurants, pubs etc.  We were ready for lunch and found a small cafe packed with people but with a table for two open on the patio.  We snagged it and placed our order.  The waitress didn’t speak a bit of English, Giff pointed to what he wanted which in hindsight is what I should have done.  Instead, I tried to explain in English what I wanted to a women who only spoke French…then finally picked a random salad off the menu hoping for regular mixed greens but received smoked salmon, shrimp and some lettuce with a piece of white toast…not a bad lunch but not exactly what I had in mind.  Giff got a piece of vegetable lasagna with a mixed green salad which was very good.

After lunch we continued strolling around the large city…it definitely wasn’t a small town or village…it was city with a city feel..it had taxi’s driving around and all types of people on the streets.  Giff saw a little bakery and even though we had just eaten, he ordered a sandwich and a piping hot baguette.  Giff literally made himself so full he was in pain but felt he had no option being the baguette was so delicious…it could not be wasted.

Did I mention how hot it was today?  The city retained so much heat with all the buildings and people and we were slowly melting so found a square to sip on a smoothie and people watch for a bit.  We left the main shopping area and found a few other major streets with impressive buildings before starting to walk back towards our car.

We saw a vendor with all kinds of fruits and veggies and purchased some cherries which were stacked up high and a couple of tomatoes to eat later and then walked back to our car to head to our B&B..