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Archive for Getting There

Claudia’s Introduction to India

This is an image of the Gate of India in Delhi.It took 30 hours to arrive in New Delhi from San Diego, California, on American Airlines. I met Gail’s incoming flight from Washington DC and we shared a meal at the Macaroni Grill before boarding the 777 for a flight which was to last 14 hours. To celebrate the 5th anniversary of flights from Chicago to New Delhi, AA was offering the passengers cake and souvenirs in the waiting lounge. When we landed at the gleaming new airport, we laughed when we saw the set-up after immigration: in order to retrieve our bags, we would first have to buy something at duty free shops! Such is the importance of commerce to India.

Smoky air greeted us, and a guide with a General Tours sign was smiling to welcome us. Flower necklaces made of tied marigolds were given to us. The traffic was dense, chaotic, noisy with horns, but it flowed. Security here is more intense than at El Al airlines in Israel! We pulled up to the Meridien Hotel, and our car was searched, trunk and under the hood. We had to pass through security to get into the hotel. Our bags were put through a scanner, we were patted down, and then handed back our stuff. So it is every time we come back to the hotel.

The Meridien Hotel, although constructed 25 years ago, has the feel of a 1960’s disco, with vast marble spaces, candles, mirrors, bizarre structural pillars, lots of retro chairs, and patterned rugs in burgundy and black. Our room is large and clean, with beige comforters, hardwood floors, modern lighting, and gorgeous gold and charcoal tiles in the beautiful bathroom.

After a short night’s sleep, we explored the excellent neighborhood around the “hub” of Delhi, the circle known as Connaught Place. As we had been told that the government emporium north on Janpath was closed down for celebration of the end of Ramadan, Eid, and that there were demonstrations in the area, instead, we walked to another recommended shopping center. Monkeys roamed the broken sidewalks, and traffic was, simply, incredible. We drove through the diplomatic quarter, by the governmental ministries, and were surprised at Delhi’s wide avenues and gorgeous trees.

At the emporium, we were lucky to be treated to real Indian hospitality and skilled salesmanship, including the drinking of cardamom tea, and carpet shopping. The young law student, Omar, explained that the complex brought in wares from 288 families from the Kashmir Valley, out of the 3,000 families working there. The quality and range of goods was excellent, and there was no pressure (!) We negotiated on one small, glowing red carpet made of soft yak wool, and another of a subtle blue. The deal was clinched at 50% off original price, plus their arranging taxi fare to the Meridien. Another low-key salesperson, Dinesh, showed us pashmina shawls, a sari for Gail, and assorted scarves at reasonable prices. We couldn’t have made it home without the tuk-tuk wildly (but safely) delivering us to the hotel. We met the owner of the complex, a medical doctor, and told him how happy we were with the experience.

Suddenly, our jet lag began to set in. We spent the afternoon snacking on peanut butter, with cool gel packs on our heads, trying to rest. Thursday we will tour the Red Fort, Delhi’s monuments and the Old City. It started to sprinkle outside. Down below our window, we could see what looked like a factory. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the hotel was using 11 giant open boilers to purify the hotel’s water supply.

But it was a good day, and we got a good measure of how it is to interact with the Indian people. Today, we made it successfully on our own. But we notice how unfriendly the city is for walking, and we are eager to have a driver and guide. Touts are everywhere, and we booked a tour so that we wouldn’t have to constantly fend them off. We’ll be the only ones on this tour!

Claudia and Gail

Home away from Home!

On the way south to Cestas Gazinet, gite owner Xavier debriefed us on all the gossip since we left last October. 

It always feels wonderful to walk into this house.  The new Bulgarian maid, Teodora, had done a good job cleaning.  Every year we notice new details.  Daniele has repainted the kitchen cabinets in a golden yellow.  We discovered a new kitchen tablecloth, new coffeemaker, microwave, and pots.  New lattice wooden enclosure out front for recycling bin/trashcan.   Desktop computer.  New shower-head, new shower enclosure in green bedroom. New bedspread upstairs in yellow bedroom.  New café chair burgundy covers.  New mini-sofa in hall. New yellow patio chairs.  And the biggest surprise:  a huge bush beside the garage had been pruned to be hollow inside, and a nice lounging deck built around a big fir tree trunk.  A secret hideaway for relaxing in the shade.

This place is no secret.  Many of you reading this have come and stayed here too.  So you can imagine what we are doing and seeing.  The first day, we set up the computer, and the satellite TV system.  Neighbors Jean-Paul and Rachel came over with the 42 bottles of wine they had stored for us over the winter.  We got the sheets and towels out of the attic, and brought the kitchen knives and pantry items downstairs.

Sunday, we went to Intermarche for groceries (we didn’t rent a car this year because the cost went up 33%).  We bought 6 oysters originating from the immense Arcachon bay, Steve grilled up some fresh duck breasts, accompanied by endive, watercress and carrot salads.  We looked out from under the patio umbrella at the tall old oaks, magnolia, pine and holly overlooking the garden lawns of Monsalut.  Six hours later we had the cheese course.

We cleaned, lubricated, and reconditioned the bicycles, as they are going to be one of our mainstays of transportation.  French literature courses skipped over the words for bolt (boulon), nut (rondelle) and chain guard (carter), but Xavier taught me as he gave us a 4mm bolt and nut set.  I am constantly learning more French.  But that first class at age 11 has given the whole French world to me.

We will also get lots of exercise walking to the bakery, butcher, vegetable stand, pharmacy, and deli in Gazinet.  We can hop on a train there to Arcachon , Spain, Nantes, or Toulouse .  We don’t foresee any problems because everything is so convenient here.

Saturday night there was a tremendous storm, with loud thunder right over my bed at the apex of the house.  Rain poured down and lightning illuminated the skylight.  It has cleared the air, and the temperatures plummeted.  In the annals of Bordeaux winemaking, such storms are noted.  Jean-Paul told us that in 2008, March was very mild, but there was a hard frost that killed most of the prematurely flowering buds on April 7.  The summer was rainy and not warm. Now the storm of August 30 will go into the books, especially if hail or wind reduced the yield further.  2008 will likely not be a good year for Bordeaux wine.

If it doesn’t rain today, we’ll visit Franck at the pharmacy and explore our old haunts on our bikes.  No doubt we’ll end up at “Les Sources”, the iron-rich spring in the forest.  Steve calls these fall months in Cestas the “spa treatment”.  For me, it just feels great to be alive here!

Claudia and Steve
September 1, 2008

The Grass in Greener in Bordeaux

We felt the weight of the additional inspections during the trip from San Diego, through Dallas and London Gatwick to Bordeaux.  The airline felt the weight of all the oat bran, psyllium, toilet paper, paper towels, coffee and bicycle helmets we had in our luggage.  By 10:30 a.m. we were in the pub at Gatwick ordering up half-pints of John Smith Yorkshire ale and Directors’ Courage.  The stress disappeared.  Soaring over the French countryside, we saw the offshore islands of Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron.  It was brilliantly sunny over Aquitaine for miles, and we could see the muddy river Garonne widen to become the Gironde estuary.  Thousands of vineyards and a castle were visible down below.  Then the white limestone buildings of the city of Bordeaux came into view on the river’s west bank. 
 
For the first few days, we rest from jet lag in a hotel before driving a car.  We reserved a one bedroom apartment with kitchen at a new aparthotel, called Appart City, near the Merignac airport.  This cost 50 euros a night plus 10 euros for high speed internet.  We didn’t find out until later that, although messages were coming in, our messages weren’t getting out!  The dim bulb attendant at the desk didn’t tell us we needed to change the outgoing server name to smtp.wanadoo.fr. 
 
Each year we book our car through Renault Eurodrive.  You “buy” a car for $30,000, then sell it back to Renault at a pre-agreed price.  The difference between the buy and sell prices reflects your daily rental.  In this case, we paid about $33/day for a 1.9 liter Renault Megane 4-door diesel 6-speed manual car.  Fuel has really gone up since last year.  Regular gas is 1.29 euros per liter, and diesel is 1.06 euros per liter.  One euro is now worth $1.28.
 
On Friday we picked up the Megane and drove immediately to a gas station (because they only give you 10 liters in the tank).  We were warmly welcomed at the pharmacy in the little town of Cestas Gazinet where we are staying.  We bought a new chip for our GSM cell phone.  It was lunchtime, so we reserved at the Clos Tassigny, where we fortified ourselves with some pate, delicate salmon and beef .  Even if you only “reserve” a half hour in advance, you get the royal treatment when you come back in earnest!
 
Xavier Guibert, the owner of this gite, suggested we check in one day early (usually gite rentals run from Saturday to Saturday).  We have been coming here since 2001.  We like the combination of the spacious, elegant house, and the location.  It’s a long, low “longere”, rectangular 2 story house.  It has 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms.  The living room is wallpapered in turquoise, and chairs in yellow print.  There is a black marble table in the center, and a grey marble fireplace.  The ceilings are 12 feet high.  It is about 190 square meters, or about 2,000 square feet.
 
There was a new oriental rug in the living room, new bedspreads, chair covers and tables.  Most important to us, Xavier hooked us up to his wireless high speed internet connection.
 
The house is located a short walk from the train station (14 minutes north to Bordeaux), bakeries, vegetable market and butcher.  Behind the gite are an immense span of grass and 100 year old trees.  On the white stone terrace are umbrellas, table and a barbecue.  All around is the magnificent oak and pine forest with bicycle and hiking paths.  In the garage are our bicycles, which we bought 4 years ago.  In the attic are 8 boxes of sheets, towels, knives, phone and satellite TV receiver, everything you need to be at home in France.
 
Our neighbors Jean-Paul and Rachel came over bearing the case and a half of wine they had stored in their garage since we left last November.  They invited us on a bike ride in the pine forest this Wednesday.  We spent Saturday setting up the gite.  On Sunday we greeted the vegetable lady and the cheese person at the outdoor market in Cestas Bourg, then returned to the gite to grill duck breasts, in a sauce of fresh peaches, Cointreau, butter and shallots, accompanied by fresh green beans and garlic basil potatoes.
 
We caught up on all the gossip from our friends.  Our friends Carole and Michel just split up (they live near Spain in the Pyrenees Orientales).  The secretary of our former gite owner Evelyne Allien just lost her husband to liver cancer at 51.  Our friend Nicolas just succeeded in getting his teaching credential and will begin as an instructor in LeMans on Monday.  Jennifer and Francois, whom we were tutoring in English last fall, have gotten jobs in teaching and forestry with a long-term contract.  These young people truly deserve it, for they were willing to move to another city and even work for free, just to achieve their dream.
 
Everyone told us how unbelievably hot July was, and how it rained almost every day in August.  How will this affect the famous Bordeaux grapes?  We shall soon find out.  The ferns and corn are green, greener than we have ever seen them at this time of year.  But, one thing in the forest is not right:  the iron-rich spring down by the stream has completely dried up.  We pray it returns.
 
It’s hot this afternoon, so we have closed the tall white shutters to the terrace.  It’s comfortable and cool in the stone house.  Tomorrow we will take the train into Bordeaux.  We will pay the gite rental for October, shop for olive oil and perfume, go to the House of Japan to try to find a Japanese language tutor so I can continue my studies, and have a nice lunch in town.  Friday is the book club meeting. I am reading the books in French as fast as I can.  Saturday we will drive south to the fantastic Bazas market for herbs and sausages and then see our favorite Sauternes winemaker, Evelyne.
 
All these things unfold in the same order, at the same rhythm, as they have every year.  We can’t call this adventure travel.  Rather, we are walking down a path we have followed for many years.  We just enjoy the everyday pleasure of living in France.
 
The grass is greener over here.  But not so green when the chill winds arrive in November.  We’ll be back home by the end of October. 
 
Cheers! 
Claudia and Steve
9/7/06

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