Cruise lines all sail up and down the same waterways, so they compete to have the most interesting tours and excursions. Tauck hit the jackpot last night, when we went to dinner in the private garden of the Jacques de Crussol, 17th Duke of Uzès. For an added bonus, the Duke himself was in attendance early in the evening.
We knew the Duke was home (instead of Paris) because his flag was flying over the building:
Uzès is a small city south of Avingnon, where we are docked. The castle we visited has been there since the 11th century, and the Duchy of Uzès is France’s oldest ducal peerage, since 1572.
The courtyard is somewhat more modern, with a new-ish facade on the old walls. Notice that the columns are Doric on the first floor, Ionic on the second and Corinthian on the third.
The adjoining wing
We got to tour some rooms, full of period furniture and art, but not exciting. When the Duke himself showed up, he took people up to his favorite room, where he has a large, elaborate model train system.
This is the garden where we would enjoy our supper:
We had enjoyed champagne and some excellent canapes in the front courtyard, now we settled in for a gourmet feast. The Duke is a graduate of MIT and has an MBA from Columbia–which explains the professional way this operation is run. Owning a castle is exceedingly expensive, and there is constant need of cash for repairs and remodeling.
We began with salad and mille feuille, sort of a cold eggplant lasagna.
The second course was either a tender cut of veal:
Or a bouillabaisse of John Dory, served in a pot.
The entree was followed by a brief concert. Two violins and a guitar provided modern and classical music in the warm evening air. As the shadows lengthened:
The music played:
Following the concert, a dessert of Lavender creme bruleé was served.
With the sun setting over the fallen ramparts of the building, we shuffled back to the buses and headed home. At least I’ve lived like nobility for an evening.
The French have their own version of bullfighting, course camarguaise. They don’t kill the bulls, but rather chase them around the ring trying to take ribbons from their horns. The only blood spilled is from the young raseteurs running and jumping to get the prize without getting gored–the French bulls are bred with their horns turned up, not down like the bulls in a Spanish bullfight.
We bused out to a ranch in the Camrgue, a region situated between two branches of the Rhône adjoining the Mediterranean. The ranch we visited raises cattle solely for the fighting ring, not for meat. They also raise horses with which to tend and herd the cattle.
This is the season for foaling, and they have a number of babies on the ranch and two more expected in the coming week.
These horses are for work, not play. They are never stabled, living outdoors all year. They aren’t shod, as the ground is relatively soft. And they receive no vaccinations, which seems odd to me but they didn’t ask my opinion.
The cattle likewise are unvaccinated. I guess it works for them.
This showing off for tourists is a big business in itself. The ranch has a building which seats over 100, with a commercial kitchen. They need it to feed the gringos who arrive by bus, down a long single lane dirt road. The food was excellent–we started with a buffet of appetizers/salads:
The main course was essentially pot roast in red wine sauce and red rice grown on the ranch. The rice is common in this area because the ground is very salty from historical incursions of the Mediterranean, only 10 km to the south.
The dining hall was decorated with a fascinating collection of saddles, from all over the world. Saddles from America, Europe, Somalia, Ethiopia, Latin America, and Asia.
Music accompanied our meal, more Spanish than French–but this area isn’t really all that far from Spain, and the influence is strong.
We saw the cattle and horses from trailers towed behind a tractor, while the cowboys followed on their horses and herded the livestock towards us for a better view. There are only a few full time ranch hands, including the owner and his mother and father, all of whom were riding along to make the show great. This is a working ranch, but they are in show business, too.
The excursion this afternoon was to a truffle farm. For as long as men have enjoyed the truffle, they had to find it in the wild. Modern science is changing that, and now oak saplings can be inoculated with truffle spores, and in 10 years or so the tree has a very good chance of being a host for the expensive fungus. It’s not an exact science, and not every variety of truffle can be created, but it’s a big start on the domestication of the aromatic delight we love.
The owner of the farm, Gilles, came out to give his talk on the history of his industry. He is both a grower and a broker, shipping, he told us, 5000 tons of truffles a year all over the world. He grows black truffles, and the less expensive white summer truffles. The hideously expensive white winter truffles cannot yet be cultivated and are all found in the wild.
What we were all interested in, of course, was the harvesting process. So Gilles called for his two trained Labrador receivers to show us how it is done. Although pigs used to be the preferred hunters, it’s hard to convince a pig to give up the truffle once she (and all truffle hunting animals are female) finds it. The Labs can be trained to trade the golf ball sized treasure for a biscuit, and they’re easier to get in the car, too.
Gilles currently has a 3 year old, and a puppy still being trained at 4 months. He gets the puppies at 9 weeks and immediately starts to teach them. They work in the field with a handler who guides them and provides treats when things go right.
After a bit of hunting, not successful because the season is really over and there aren’t many truffles to be found, we went inside the farmhouse for a tasting.
They sliced the truffles into thin slivers, then covered them with olive oil and sea salt.
Putting them on a slice of bread, we had quite a treat
We had some very friendly visitors while we tasted–the two working dogs and a retired truffle dog living with the family.
Truffles are grown in Oregon and places on the East Coast, where the weather is moderate and cool. Lafayette is too warm, or I’d be teaching Claudia to root around for treasure.
There was a gift shop, naturally, where you could buy truffles or truffle oil. I bought the oil, perfect for flavoring scrambled eggs or pasta.
The day was a delight. Our hosts were pleasant and taught us quite a bit about an interesting subject. The dogs were cute. The truffles were great. The French countryside is beautiful as we drove the huge bus down tiny one lane roads, sharing with tractors, trucks, cars and bicycles.
And we’ll have more fun tomorrow.
We’ll get to Giverny, but first a couple of photos of Paris at night.
First, the opera house:
Next, the plaza in front of the Opera, with all the car lights streaming from a long exposure. I’ve always wanted to make a picture like this, and where better than Paris?
Monday, the cruise line had another tour planned, with a pastry making lesson at the Cordon Bleu. Since I didn’t like the first tour, I decided not to take the second tour. Nobody else in our group wanted to go, either, so we decided to hire a car and go somewhere.
Kate and I went to the concierge for suggestions. Sadly, many of the places we wanted to go, like the Musee d’Orsay, are closed on Monday. Then she mentioned Giverny, the home and gardens of Claude Monet, and we knew we had found our excursion. A car was hired to take us there, and off we went 80 km north of Paris to see the sights.
It’s about a 90 minute drive through Monday morning Paris traffic, north by northwest to the tiny town where Monet lived for 46 years, creating a fabulous garden in which to create not just art but an entire artistic movement, impressionism. The road follows the Seine as the suburbs give way to exurbs then to farmland. The bright spring weather was perfect, and we were lucky to arrive into gardens riotously laden with tulips and other flowering magic. The first gardens were attached to the Museum of Impressionism.
Kate left her phone at home, so she’s photographing with her iPad:
The family refused to pose like three monkeys seeing, hearing and speaking no evil. If you squint just right, you’ll imagine them that way anyhow:
These tulips seemed extra interesting because they have very serrated edges, and don’t really look like the rest of the breed:
Giverny is more than just Monet, it is a town with a couple of museums, restaurants, and people living quietly behind wall while the tourists swarm. Walk another 100 meters, and you get to Claude’s house, where you can pay your €10 to enter the house and grounds of the master.
We never even made it into the house, so enchanted were we by the gardens. Let’s start with a panorama:
We wanted to see the lily ponds, of course, only to find that it’s too early in the season and the water isn’t warm enough. It seem you can have tulips or lily pads, but not both. So we made do with tulips, and other flowers tended by a horde of gardeners.
Panorama from the other corner:
The central corridor of the garden:
And the single most perfect flower of the day:
Time ran out. We had to get back in the car and return to the hotel, then board a bus for the Gare de Lyon, where we got on the TGV, Train à Grande Vitesse the high speed train for Lyon. We were clocking close to 300 km/hr, or 180 mph, slicing through the countryside on a smooth as silk ride to big city in the south of France.
Once there, we boarded our ship, found our rooms and unpacked. One of the great things about a river cruise is unpacking once while sleeping in a new city each night.
Our ship is beautiful. Much smaller than the other river boats we have been on, it has a capacity of perhaps 100 passengers, and there are only 76 on this cruise. This means we get insane service, since the crew has so many fewer people to please.
More to come, stay tuned.
Waking up in a strange hotel room in a foreign country, Kate zigged when she should have zagged, rolled the wrong way, and hit her head on the corner of the night table, opening a gash in the corner of her eye. Never fun at any time, at 2:30 in the morning in Paris it could have been quite an issue.
Facial cuts bleed profusely, so it certainly looked awful. Because this is the modern world, she did the obvious thing: picked up her phone and called the Kaiser advice nurse in Marin County.
The advice nurse said they should see a doctor.
Brad went down to the front desk, in the middle of the night, and came back with crushed ice, Band-Aids and first aid equipment. The desk offered either to send her to the hospital or to have a doctor come to their room. Of course they chose the doctor visit.
In a stunningly short 30 minutes, a well-dressed, experienced, English-speaking physician appeared at their door. He treated the cut, decided that no stitches were required, properly bandaged it and left a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers.
By 9 AM the following morning the hotel had already used their connections with a local pharmacy to have the medications delivered.
Although the cut looks bad, it has been excellently tended and there should be no repercussions.
We are all amazed at the quality of service the Intercontinental Grand Hotel provided. It is hard to imagine getting a doctor to make a house call at three in the morning in the states. Sometimes the French do things the right way.
Life is good.
I’m back. I was away for a while, but now I’m back Couldn’t think of anything to write since I got back from New Zealand. Now I can. Some things are simple
We’re in Paris. So of course I have things to write about. Starting off on a river tour, we begin with two days here in the city of lights. This place gets my pick for the greatest city in the world–New York has more business and better theater, but Paris is still the one.
Our hotel is right next to the Opera House–I can walk out onto our tiny balcony and look down on the the plaza. Yesterday there was a band playing there.
A closer shot shows a motley crew, in various stages of uniform. They played for over 2 hours, so they must rehearse quite a bit. I’m guessing they do this regularly and pass the hat for a profitable afternoon.
The Opera building itself is a work of art, topped by two works named Harmony and Poetry, covered in glimmering gift copper electrotype.
But what I really want to talk about today is my buddy Augie, Auguste Rodin. My favorite artist by a wide margin, Augie was an immense, imposing man of magnificent talent and an ego to match. He turned out a prodigious amount of what I consider to be the greatest sculpture the world has known, abetted by a large studio and many many assistants, who sculpted particular parts–there was a hand expert, a foot expert, a patina expert, etc. The artistry of Rodin was decidedly a collaborative effort.
His home, in the left bank, was huge, and is now the Musee Rodin. Gail took Brad and Kate sightseeing in a private car because Brad had never been to Paris. Barbara McKay and I went out on a morning tour with our Tauck tour group, but it sucked big time, so we bailed out, had a bite to eat and then strolled down the Boulevard St. Germain and Google took us to the museum.
I’ve been here before, but can’t really get enough. Here are some photos of artwork that caught my eye this time.
The building is impressive, and much of it is unchanged.
Our bathroom is adorned with feet. How do I get this wall of foot models home with me?
I don’t know whether the artist of the day traded pieces or if Augie bought these two pieces, but they’re kind of nice decoration to have.
In the garden are many large pieces, including The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell. This piece, Le Trois Ombres, is included on the top of the Gates of Hell, with the figures pointing to the sign “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” In its separate incarnation, I think it should be “Get down, get funky”. I doubt Augie got that whimsical.
Certainly all this travel is the sign of a wonderful life of privilege, for which I am mightily grateful.
Nonetheless, the greatest privilege of them all is having friends, and it is there that I am truly blessed.
Monday night, I had dinner with Micky and Linda. Yes, they followed me all the way here just to have a meal at the O’Connell Street Bistro.
Gail and I have traveled the world with these two, not mention the dozens of regionals and nationals Mike and I competed in. Last year we surprised them in Tel Aviv. I can’t get away from the guy.
Okay, in truth they were here to board a cruise ship for a trip to Australia and Bali, the timing was just Mike’s usual good luck.
David flew home Monday morning, and I’m encamped in a slum of a dump of a hovel they laughingly call a hotel. I’m saving all my bad words about them for the Trip Advisor review.
Mike had a list of five great Auckland restaurants he got from a friend of his, and I chose this one. We had a table outdoor, along a walking road (with a few taxis cheating) The weather was balmy and delightful, the early evening just right for dining al fresco.
Although the menu had quite a variety of dishes, with beef, lamb, chicken, fish and rabbit choices, all three of us ended up with the identical dinner.
We began with the amuse bouche. A small piece of Tandoori chicken served on a yogurt raita. It was delicate and perfectly designed. The service included a tiny fork and spoon to match the serving plate.
Nest was the gazpacho, which promised considerably more than it delivered. The presentation was lovely, with first a dish of the solid elements:
There’s melon, pepper, jicama, tomato, cheese and a few unidentifiable things there.
The server then poured the soup over the fixings:
Things now went downhill–there was damned little soup in the bowl. I told the waitress, and that seemed to amuse her. I convinced her I wasn’t kidding. They brought out a little more soup for us, but the portion was still insufficient, especially for a dish that cost NZ$24, or sixteeen bucks US. The waiter came out and explained that the chef want the cheese to be the hero of the dish, which is an odd choice for a soup.
And then the soup wasn’t all that good, anyway. The texture of the raw vegetables was antithetical to the dish, and the chef’s attempt to model molecular gastronomy with “olive oil caviar”, tiny balls of microencapsulated olive oil, was a failure.
All was forgiven when the main dish arrived. You come to New Zealand, you gotta order the lamb. My first meal here was dreadful chops in a cafe, this meal had the finest lamb chops I’ve ever enjoyed.
There were two perfectly roasted chops, a piece of braised lamb, some “Parisian” Gnocchi, minced peas with mint and feta and a crispy thing. I wasn’t crazy about the crispy thing.
The minced peas and feta will be finding a way to my kitchen soon. I grew up on canned peas, and still like them, but this is an entirely new world.
This dish is the work of an artist. Everything was cooked perfectly, everything went together. It was a masterpiece.
I thought I should have dessert since the soup didn’t excite me. Skipping the fancy words in the menu, I had salted caramel pudding with ice cream and butterscotch sprinkles.
It was sweet, and salty, and smooth, and crunchy. The ice cream was aaaaaallllllmost melted. The plate was clean when I was done.
The bill for all this was about the same as it would be in San Francisco. The soup was expensive, the lamb was more reasonable. You can’t get a glass of ice tea in this country. The service is included, so what you see on the menu is what it costs, no tip.
Micky and Linda are off to Bali, I’m on a plane home tomorrow. Next adventure on Friday. Life is good.
A few blocks from our hotel is Cuba Street, a walking street with bars and restaurants very close to the University of Wellington, so it is full of young people celebrating the end of the week.
We strolled down to dinner, enjoying the energy and the crowds.
There were street performers, who clearly had a schedule for the best spot. We watched this juggler/performer/comic for a while, but he took too long in the setup.
Eventually, we settled on Scopa, an Italian restaurant for dinner. It was very modern, open to the street on one side and full of young people, mainly women. I have no idea why.
The service, like everything in this country, was friendly and efficient. I had to drink Diet Coke because there doesn’t seem to be any iced tea here.
Starting out, I had a caprese salad. This one was excellent, with a broad selection of heirloom tomatoes and leaves of fresh basil.
David and I both chose the spaghetti, with roasted broccoli and a pesto of fresh peas. It was bright and fresh, the pasta cooked perfectly.
We were seated in the front of the store; I was facing the street. Looking out, I was stunned to see this phenomenal vehicle waiting at the light.
That’s a left hand drive 59 Ford Galaxy with every possible bit of chrome and a full Continental kit on the rear.
I know the year because there came around again 10 minutes later and I went out to talk to the four very friendly women in the car. They were just cruising the main on Friday night, like we did in Walnut Creek when I was a teenager.
Dinner over, I set out on a mission. I want to be better at taking pictures of strangers on the street, and resolved not to go back to the hotel without getting a few.
First, I found an oddity–most street performers are male, and very few play the sax. This woman defied the probability:
I’ve certainly seen women walking late in the evening holding their shoes, but always it’s because their high heels are not comfortable. This is the first time I ever saw a woman stop and take off her flip flops to walk on a very dirty city street in her bare feet:
The earrings this woman was wearing caught my eye first, but she turns out to be some kind of performer who was out drumming up an audience for a show tomorrow night. Between all the noise and her accent I didn’t quite understand the details, but I got the shot anyway.
Mission accomplished, David and I piled into a taxi, headed up the hill to the hotel and now I’m done posting. Good night.
That’s pronounced “En-Zed”. It’s what all the cool guys, and cool guy wanna-be’s like me, say.
I flew from SFO to LAX, waited an hour and got on the flight to Auckland. It’s a looooong flight. Watched a movie (Snatched, with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn) that Gail would never go with me to see. Slept. Ate. Eventually landed.
David was here to meet me. We had a reservation at Hertz, but they managed to lose it. Beth the Travel Goddess got us another one. It’s nice to be able to call home quickly and cheaply and have Beth there ready to fix any and all problems.
I’m letting David do all the driving. He lived in England for 6 months and is accustomed to it. So far he’s been perfect, and I get to look out the window, look up things on Google and navigate.
First stop was breakfast. We both wanted the Joe’s Diner sort of experience–we know what McDonalds is like. Boy, did we find it.
I could not pass up lamb chops and eggs, it seemed so quintessentially Kiwi. There soon appeared the highest fat meal I’ve had in 2018.
Just what you would expect from Joe’s Diner. Two random pieces of lamb, more gristle and fat than meat, eggs cooked in fat, fries. Some kind of sweet sauce on the meat. It should have a nitroglycerin pill on the side. I survived, but I won’t do that again.
We had a delightful chat with the man at the next table, who seemed like a regular.
I love to talk to people in places like this. The may not be founts of erudition, but they’re interesting as heck. It was important to him that we were Americans, not Canadian. Don’t know why.
We have 4 days together. Looking at the map, we decided to take 2 days to drive to Wellington down the West side of the island, and 2 days to drive back up on the East side. Destination the first day: New Plymouth.
This place is beautiful. Much like California, if we had 10 times the rain and 1/10th the people. Everything is green, the rolling hills are covered in trees. We kept seeing cattle, and I was becoming concerned because we hadn’t seen any of the vaunted sheep NZ is famous for. Then we saw these guys, and I made David stop so I could take a picture.
Kind of scraggly looking, but I guess they were shorn at the beginning of summer, in December. Sheep just roam here, over the hills and through the wood, not in tight flocks.
Since I had the camera out, I took a photo of David, so you should know who I’m travelling with. He’s 15 years, 7 months and 13 days younger than I am, and I raised him from a pup.
The art of naming waterfalls isn’t very advanced: it seems like half of them are named Bridal Veil, and indeed we saw a sign for such and turned off the road to find it.
A 10 minute walk from the trailhead, we found a not very auspicious waterfall, but are required by the tourist code to take photos:
The forest surrounding the area was lush and full of trees I don’t recognize, not that I’m all that big on recognizing plants:
This area is much like a rain forest, and I saw a plant that might have been more interesting than the falls.
We had wandered out to the ocean, to a tourist town named Raglan. Very big on surfing, it seemed a lot like Santa Cruz.
Stopping in a local bakery for a snack, I noticed this man sitting across from us. He had been in line ahead of me and we chatted–seems like a pretty normal, decent kind of fellow.
Because I always want to get my full share of veggies, I had the carrot cake. It turns out that this is very popular here, and every bakery has their own version of it.
The bottle of “blue” is milk. They have many flavors of milk here. Banana, berry, chocolate, and this one:
I didn’t have the nerve to try it, but I think it’s milk and honey.
Arriving at a hotel I found online while we were driving, I just collapsed and slept 11 hours. Now I’m adjusted to the time (it’s only a 3 hour time difference, and a day ahead, the easy way to express that this place is 21 hours ahead of California)
Friday we drove down to Wellington, enjoying the hills, trees, cattle, sheep and seashore. We got to talking to some guys in yet another bakery (and another, smaller, slice of carrot cake) and learned that there is a large lumber industry here, centered on Monterey Pine, which was imported from California 150 years ago. There is a ton of corn growing, and it is mostly feed corn for the cattle.
Now we’re in a hotel in Wellington, getting ready to go out to dinner. More tomorrow.
I’m just hanging out in the admirals club at SFO waiting for my flight to Los Angeles then a flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
I was supposed to be doing this yesterday. I carefully packed everything, checked that I had my passport, ran my errands, went to Berkeley, did my job, motored over to San Francisco. Everything was going; fine traffic was light I was there early. Dropped my car off at the long-term parking and went up to the American Airlines counter.
Being a wiseguy, I said “I hope I don’t have my wife’s passport” as I walked up to the agent. That was sadly prophetic, because that is precisely what I did have.
Yes, I had managed to look at both passports in our office and take the wrong one.
There was no recovery. I could not fly without my passport, I could not get my passport in time. I drove home sad and dejected. Claudia was glad to see me.
At least I was able to reschedule for today. So now I sit here, patiently waiting for a plane I should have been on 24 hours ago. My trip is foreshortened. My brother had to find something to fill his day in Auckland today. I’m grumpy with nobody to blame but myself.
Continuing my simple mindedness, I checked in this afternoon, got my ticket, cleared security and was walking along when I heard my name being paged.
I had left my travel documents folder back at the counter–my passport was in my pocket. I had to go back out, get the folder, clear security again (thank heavens for pre-check). Before I finally landed my butt in the Admirals Club to wait. At least I was two hours early so there was no time stress.
So far, i’m not having any fun. I’m looking at 14 or 18 hours of travel in front of me that doesn’t look like fun either. Finally I’ll get to Auckland, catch up with David, get in a rental car and we’ll go explore. That part should be great. Hang on.
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