Friday, October 25, 2013

A sip, just a taste; of Bordeaux

Two envelopes were waiting on our bedside table last night when we returned home after having dinner with Julie’s friend Antonio.  They were our train tickets to Toulouse, and the departure time was maybe a little sooner than we had hoped for, which made for a rushed morning.

We scurried down to the lobby: Julie to check out, while I asked the concierge for the best subway route to the train station. “Do we have enough time?” I asked. The concierge nodded “just enough”. I went over to the counter to see if Julie was finished and told her the news. I stood by our bags for a few moments, anxiously glancing at my watch, estimating the time for us to cross the street, get down in the metro and then onto the subway.  I glanced over to Julie who now looked somewhat panicked and said “taxi?”. I looked the other way to the concierge who nodded in agreement and started for the door to hail us a taxi. [Traveler tip: taxis in France start their meters at the time of being called to come get you, not when you physically get in the vehicle like North America.]  Mid-morning Paris traffic wasn’t bad, and the voyage above-ground provided us some new sights. Our energetic driver nosed his way through what traffic there was and the €10 fare was easily worth it to get us to Montparnasse station on Montparnasse Stationtime.

I have longed to travel via high-speed train, and today I would experience the Tay Jay Vay, or Train de Grande Vitesse [TGV].

Surprisingly there is no direct high-speed train from Paris to Toulouse, so we had a stopover in Bordeaux, which is good because it was an early victim to trip planning culling.

Bordeaux is…Bordeaux is lovely. It is like it stepped out of a Bombardier train commercial as sleek-looking trams glide past stately old buildings with just the sound of a dinging bell.  Check out their tourism website - or Lonely Planet’s quick intro -  We stashed our luggage in storage lockers at the train station (the only time we found this service during our trip) and hopped onto one of these new trams to the center of town.  And it was here, at Place de la Bourse with its large fountain with rose-tinted water (I’m guessing to pay tribute to wine) where we descended from the tram and were taken aback at the sight before us, even on this dreary, rainy day.

Julie had a destination for us, a restaurant for lunch. And in France, lunch can last a long time, but then it is over and you missed it, so Looking back through the tower to the riverwe had to hustle. We walked along the riverfront Richelieu Quay then through the Porte Cailhau that was built at the end of the 15th century, and where Cafe Chez Fred has a prime spot with a grand view of the old gate.

We found our targeted restaurant down one of many car-free narrow streets. Le Cheverus cafe was lively during the lunch hour and our young waiter’s broken English was better than my broken French so we managed to get Julie a dairy-free meal. And what a meal it was! The tajine de poulet au citron was a satisfying meal served in a clay dish with a tall, conical lid that the waiter dramatically removed upon delivery.

After lunch a drizzle accompanied us as we strolled south end to north through the old city. At the end we were surprised to see a midway [we shouldn’t have been – it’s a school holiday this week]. The Ferris wheel lured Julie in and we took a ride. It was a great way to see over the city without climbing the stairs in the cathedral’s bell tower!

riding the ferris wheel!

After that bit of excitement, we had time for a glass of wine at the very nice sampling shop Maison du Vin. I asked to try a “fort” wine, and the 2010 Margaux did not disappoint at all; providing all of the flavours and textures of what one imagines a good wine should embody.  Too bad I had to swig the last half as we had to catch the tram back to the train station.

Je t'aime Paris, mais je suis fatigue

It appears as though I either grossly underestimated the effects of jet lag, or was vastly over ambitious in what I thought we could see in a mere 48 hours in Paris. And so it is, that here at 9pm I lay in a luxurious bed willing myself to get up and go out into the streets to experience the City of Lights, but I do not, surrendering to the comfort and the fact my legs will not go.
But it was a good day today - Julie's birthday - that I'm sure to use as a bargaining chip at some point in the future: "remember that year that we spent your birthday in Paris?
Julie's pick for lunch was "le Café Marly", ideally located on a terrace overlooking Pei's pyramid at Le Louvre.  The clouds broke up, allowing the sun to pierce through and brighten the square bustling with tourists. I cannot imagine this place at high season.  It's a given that the prices at a café overlooking the Louvre will be extravagant, but my word - that lunch was worth it! First the bread with butter. And some small jars of jams. C'est ordinaire, non? I'm sorry Canadian and New Zealand dairy farmers, but French butter, combined with strawberry jam runs a close second only to clotted cream as the best thing on bread.  I'm pretty sure I embarrassed Julie by eating just butter and jam after finishing the bread!  The simple ham and cheese omelette was easily the best I've had; melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Later on I would learn that the secret is to not fully cook the eggs.
Watching the large entry queue from our perch, we opted to walk out of the square to the underground mall to buy our tickets to the museum that would exempt us from the line. The 15 minutes was well worth it to just walk right in.
We were somewhat pressed for time, if only by our body clocks, so regrettably we did the Louvre in less than 2 hours. Having seen 100 Masters in the small crowds of Winnipeg, I couldn't be bothered to wiggle through the masses to look at any given work of art. I also find that I am more impressed by the physical effort it takes to produce the piece, rather than the emotion that the piece physically represents. Must be the engineer in me...

Happy birthday Julie - Bonne fête!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A sprint to France

As the snow falls gently in Winnipeg, and apparently catches Gimli off-guard like that Canadian Tire commercial, we depart for France! Once again, gone at the first signs of winter :) - keeping that "summer chaser" mantra alive!

A slight delay leaving Winnipeg provided us an opportunity for some cardio in Toronto. The sprint from D28 to E73 was sweat-inducing! Tip: look for the shortcut to the right as you exit D wing.

Julie's Parisian friend has snagged us a splendid hotel right near the Louvre that I am looking forward to after sleeping in this chair. []

Bon voyage!


(on my MTS Blackberry)

Friday, April 19, 2013

WTF is a “Coachella”?

Ah, let me tell you!

While it’s fairly unknown up here north of the 49th, I have been dreaming of this festival for nearly 10 years after hearing about it on an independent alternative radio station down in Phoenix when I was stationed there after university. At that time they were readily handing out the tickets to anyone who was interested in making the trip to Palm Springs. Fast forward a few years and the festival has gone from a small, money-losing venture to a giant force in the music industry that is able to convince old bands to reunite for one more gig (well 2, since the festival is now replicated over two separate weekends). I think there are about 80,000+ people on the grounds each day, according to what Wikipedia tells me. So it’s much, much larger than anything we’ve been to.

Julie & I purchased our tickets in a harried online sale last MayCoachella 2013 line-up poster (yes, 11 months in advance! and 2014 goes on sale May 24, 2013!) and the artist line-up was only announced in January. Since that time I’ve been tuning in nearly everyday to Slacker Radio’s “Coachella 2013” online radio station to learn the music.  But even at first glance, there were a number of bands that I definitely was keen on seeing, notably “Of Monsters and Men”, “the Airborne Toxic Event”, “Franz Ferdinand”, “Dropkick Murphys”, “Social Distortion”, “the Lumineers”, “Blur”, and “the Red Hot Chili Peppers”.  Yet just like the Winnipeg Folk Festival, you have to allow time to discover new acts, and to that I’m sure glad that mom gave me cash for my birthday that I put towards a Slacker Radio subscription!

Our tickets arrived a couple weeks before departure in the best ticket-delivery-box I’ve ever witnessed – packed with buttons, stickers, information booklet, and a DIY diorama calendar. They sure know how to build a brand.

When we were planning the trip, we opted to spend a few more days down in California, mostly to recuperate! But with the prairie winter extending its grasp, we did not anticipate the desire to escape the cold in April. We had even considered the wild possibility of flying to Lima (Peru) to visit some friends since we were halfway there, but we restrained ourselves and picked out a wine area just over the hills towards San Diego.

Our WestJet flight from Edmonton was an amusing mix of festival-goers and other “vacationers” (i.e. golfers).  We were packed as heavily as we’ve ever been for a trip since we were carrying a full collection of camping gear. That answers the “where did you stay?” question.  Camping provides the full “festival experience”, and for $85 it was far, far cheaper than any hotel option.

We rented a van for the weekend, and the power-everything Caravan ALMOST made us consider getting a minivan.  We spent a longerLong line-ups greet you as you enter the grounds.-than-expected 2 hours at Wal-Mart stocking up on food and supplies so that by the time we rolled up to the festival gate, the entire rear portion of the van had shopping bags strewn about along with a mix of our own luggage as Julie had changed clothes while we were in the security queue.

Coachella features 5 stages: 1 large outdoor main stage; a slightly smaller outdoor stage next to it, then 3 increasingly larger tents side by side with the airport-hangar-sized “Sahara” tent book-ending the array.  There are also a number of smaller stages scattered around. One is a coachella venue map[lightly] air-conditioned DJ tent. Another is a frosty air-conditioned dome sponsored by Heineken. Lastly there is the “Do Lab”, an all day dance party that is stuck right in the middle of the 2 outdoor stages and one of the tents.  Coming from the Folk Fest where they strive to ensure that no stage’s music overlaps with another, here the strategy is simply what ever stage you are closest to, that one will be loudest. Strange, but it works. Food options are plentiful (sadly I missed trying the “spicy pie” pizza), water stations are adequate and the beer gardens are spacious and well-located, and reasonably priced. ($9/16oz, but a rum & coke is an outrageous $14!)

We had great weather this weekend in the desert. Daily highs of low 30s (°C) and no sand storm like they had to deal with last week.

I was beyond excited as the event neared, and even going in with lofty expectations, I can definitely say that the festival is astounding! I sure hope to go again soon!

coachella images are theirs, not mine.<> next post is more detailed, with show highlights and whatnot <>