Friday, July 31, 2015

Bordeaux & Saint-Emilion: French Wine Country and a Medieval Town

Kristin, Sapna, Sean  - Road Trip Selfie!!!
Our last stop on our week-long road trip was back in France - in the beautiful Bordeaux region. As we only had a day and half, we sped on to Saint-Emilion, a medieval town famous for its wineries, before visiting the city of Bordeaux itself.

Trilingual Spelling Mishap
We lucked out with the weather and had a beautiful day to check out the winery that the tourism office recommended for that day - Les Cordeliers.  Now, remember my last post where I was complaining about my lack of switching ability with languages? Below is an excellent example - I went to order us tickets in French, which worked well, until she wanted me to spell my name and couldn't quite get the letters she switched to English, thinking it would help. I said them in English and she didn't understand. So, I started speaking Spanish, seeing her badge said she was fluent in Spanish.  So...we ended up going into the winery with three tickets reading "Sehjal Sarna". Gotta love it!

Sapna & Kristin @ Les Cordeliers
The winery was beautiful and we learned that the medieval town of Saint-Emilion was famous for not only its wine, but it's calcium stone and its location on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrammage, which many people still do today.  It's a religious trip and there are golden shell-shaped symbols on the sidewalks of Bordeaux and other places to keep pilgrams on track (y'know, before the GPS was invented ;) 

Sean & Sapna @ Les Cordeliers

We arrived at the city of Bordeaux by night and spent an hour walking and enjoying the city by night - it is stunningly beautiful (pics in the slideshow at the bottom of this post). The next morning, we saw the incredible beauty by day, at the Miroir d'Eau, a fantastic shallow pool of water that shows the reflection of the beautiful buildings. Note: make sure you patiently wait until the children stop jumping in the pool to take your photo; the water has to be still to get images like this one:

 (Photo credit to Kristin - great panoramic shot!)

I can't forget to mention the dinner we enjoyed in Saint-Emilion (after hunting around to find a place that would make me something vegetarian!); what a beautiful last dinner together. We also enjoyed some high-class wine (thanks for the bottle, Kristin!) and stayed in an actual hotel for our last night (well, ibis, but it was actually super great, with an awesome spread for breakfast --- a hard find in Europe, where breakfast normally consists of espresso (great!)... and diabetes on a plate.

 For those of you who read French, I absolutely loved the restaurant's placemats, which had beautiful quotes about the pleasure and art of eating:

 Our last afternoon in Bordeaux (before Sean drove us back 6 hours to Paris--thanks for driving, Sean!) was spent eating delicious food and having coffee on terraces. We bought GIANT macaroons and shared them - vanilla was the best flavour, and I liked pistacho next and raspberry last. Sugar high! 

Oh, and our last coffee stop was actually an anise-liquor stop for Sean. Apparently this is a drink that's widely available in France!
Sean with his anise liquor drink

 The only comment I have left to make is that we definitely can't wait five years to have this type of road trip again!  

Check out the slideshow below for pictures of the winery, architecture, mirror d'eau in Bordeaux, and the second winery that we walked through, which was in the crypt (and reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, especially since someone has graffiti-ed the word "LIE" into the green mold on the walls (pics in the slideshow)!

(Note: if you're on a mobile device that is incompatible with Flash player, please click to view my Flickr album, where you can click on a photo and then flip through them all).

Happy Summer - here's to more adventures ahead!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Coffee Bar & Disco Pub: Roadtripping Bilbao & San Sebastian

Kristin & Sean - Road Trip Fun!
Our second stop on our mini-reunion road trip was the north of Spain. In Bilbao and San Sebastian (Basque country), we discovered a beautiful coastline. Although it was cloudy and rainy for half of our stay in the area, we absolutely loved the views. 

Bilbao is a port city, right on the coast and much more modern that we were expecting. Spanish in design, yet modern and towering and very much like many cities. We spent the day touring around, and I did most of the speaking (seeing as my French has attrited so much that my Spanish is better...eek!) Here's to truly understanding my PhD research topic (inhibitory control, which, in simple terms, is how your brain blocks some information (ie: one language) and focuses on other, conflicting information (ie: the other language). Time to "unblock" my French ;)

We took the funicular in Bilbao  and wandered around the old town, and walked along the ocean in San Sebastian. We joined a crowd of locals in Bilbao who were staring at some type of fireman operation - turns out it was the fire department sending up suited-up officers to tackle a beehive growing on someone's balcony!

Pictures may not be worth a thousand words, but they probably do sum up our two days in the area better than I can - again, we spent most of the time chatting, catching up, drinking coffee on terraces, wine in bars (and in our hostel rooms), eating insane amounts of gelato and remembering our Singapore adventures.

Here is the slideshow of our time together - apologies for a few blurry pictures! (I should probably find a photography meetup group and practice...). Note: If you are on a mobile device that does not allow Flash (e.g. Android phone), please click here to see my Flickr set, where you can flip through all the photos in the slideshow.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Biarritz Beauty: Reunited for a French & Spanish Road Trip

Kristin, Sean and I were reunited (for the first time in 5 years!) for a beautiful six day road trip in the south of France and north of Spain. One of the most amazing feelings in the world is that simultaneous rush of excitement and cozy comfort of meeting old friends and exchanging life stories again - real friends who know you so well, no matter how many months or years disappear in between your visits.
 "Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say." ~Unknown
Biarritz is a beautiful French coastal town that is buzzing with tourists and families on holiday. The beach, which we spent the day sunbathing at on Sunday,  was a bit more on the rocky side than soft, sandy side, but still a beautiful escape from reality. In fact, I have no Sunday pictures - the day involved long-overdue conversations, coastal sunshine, and delectable gelato.

The morning before, (on two hours of sleep and exhausted from my DELE Spanish exam), I had flown in to Charles de Gaulle from Barcelona.  Kristin had taken the train from Brussels and we hopped right into the rental car. Sean drove us (for 9 hours including horrendous auto-route traffic and a lunch break!) from Paris to Biarritz. Upon arrival, we stumbled upon this picturesque scene:

Biarritz Beauty, July 18, 2015
Biarittz lighthouse
Biarritz Boats

Before dinner we took our SLRs and tried our best to capture the town's beauty against the sunset:

Biarritz town Birds- Eye

"You know...a [best friend]...a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. ~L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Why did it take us five years to make our life-change bound schedules mesh?! This time, we'll make sure it doesn't - starting with a potential ski trip in the Alps this January - after PhD data collection and right before teaching my first university class! (I guess I'd better brush up on my skiing skills...Pyrenees for practice, anyone?)

First, though, keep reading for my upcoming posts on Bilbao & San Sebastian (the Spanish part of our trip) and a post on our stop at a beautiful winery and precious medieval town in Bordeaux, France (Burdeos in Spanish!)

Slideshows are coming up  in my next two posts- stay tuned!