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Published: October 17th 2013
Vineyards, St Emilion
The vineyards that make the wine from this area so renown.
We'd done the stag
- now it was time for the main event.
Kelley and Penelope were getting married in the south of France and I was on my way down there aboard the Eurostar from London to Paris.
I always love going to Paris - I have seen a lot on my travels but few cities match the beauty of France's capital and I never tire
of going there, even if the people on the metro seem utterly miserable.
Arriving at Gare du Nord, I made my way straight to a restaurant by the Louvre, where Kelley and Penelope's union had created a reunion of old friends - a high school reunion. A Roskill
reunion on the other side of the world.
My old high school and uni buddies Stevie, Dino, and Jonny had flown all the way over from New Zealand for Kelley's special day. It had been about two years since I had seen them all and in those two years, Jonny had managed to get himself a girlfriend, Lin, who had come over as well.
And of course it was most awesome to catch up with my old partner-in-crime Davies, who had flown over with his
The happy couple look on as Kelley's sister Lily officiates.
new belle Rose, all the way from Melbourne, where he resides these days.
Whenever I am in Paris, I always make sure that I catch up with my friend Bertrand, who I first met six years ago
along with Cherilyne, who I also met at the same time. Bertrand has the very French knack of choosing great places to eat and excellent wine and he did not disappoint as we all enjoyed a great catch-up to kick off five days of laughter, celebrations, old jokes and old stories. It has been fourteen years since we all left high school but it was great to see that none of us have really changed.
Bertrand's hospitality is as good as his choice of restaurants and wine, as he kindly put me up on his couch in St Germain-en-Laye for the night while the others all retreated back to their hotels.
He was even kind enough to give me a lift into Paris on his way into work the next morning, dropping me off at Porte Maillot where I took the Metro to Gare Montparnasse for our train down to Bordeaux.
For once, I was the first to arrive so I tucked into a
Medieval Building, Sarlat
Prime example of the type of half-timbered, honey coloured buildings that make up the town of Sarlat.
train station breakfast of coffee, water, a croissant and a croque monsieur
which set me back an exorbitant 12€!
I love long train rides with a bunch of mates - even more so when we get to play poker the whole way down. Playing poker, reminiscing about old times, talking about the football...all that was missing were a few beers! Living in London really has seen me cultivate a rather unhealthy drinking habit.
In our party was myself, Davies, Rose, Stevie, and Dino - Jonny and Lin were making their own way down.
The wedding was taking place in a country chateau in the Dordogne so we had to hire a car to get there from Bordeaux. Well I say hire a car
- we had in fact hired a 9-seater space shuttle that we were picking up from the airport. As well as the van, we were also picking up three more passengers - Sherry, Pratiksha and Tabitha who are also high school pals from back in the day. The three of them live in London and have been there almost as long as I have - so trawling through my blog it is a bit of a
Grand Theatre, Bordeaux
Old neoclassical style theatre in the heart of the city.
miracle that we had never done a trip together until now, bar a trip to Milan
, where Tabitha was amongst our posse.
With Davies doing the driving on the right-hand side of the road, we were fortunate that the van was an automatic although we were unfortunate not to have a satnav like I did on my last holiday
. We therefore relied on the Google Map driving instructions that I printed out which in fairness, were pretty good.
We had hired out a villa for the weekend and nestled in the hills above the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda, the place had a stunning view across the French countryside. Also stunning were the amenities available to us - a hot tub, a swimming pool, a table tennis table, a hammock, a BBQ and a sauna. It was a shame we weren't staying here for longer - too many amenities, not enough time.
On arrival, the owner then proceeded to walk us through how to use every single appliance in the house
. Although helpful, it was probably a bit much - for example, I think we are all quite capable of working out how to use a microwave. In fairness, if I
View From The Villa
View from the house we were staying in.
was renting out my house then I would probably like to make sure my guests used everything properly so that nothing got broken.
Coupled with the fact our journey from Bordeaux to our villa had taken longer than anticipated, our thoroughly comprehensive tour of the villa had now made us really late
for the first event of the wedding festivities which was an informal dinner at the chateau. While we had printed out maps to get from Bordeaux to the villa, we had neglected to do the same for the journey from the villa to the chateau, which was thirty minutes away.
So we inevitably took some wrong turns and got a bit lost and at one point I even used my limited French to ask locals for directions. Eventually I decided to turn on the mobile data on my phone and guided us there via Google Maps. And lucky I did, because there would have been no way we would have found the chateau without it. It was dark and we had to negotiate several unlikely turn-offs and narrow roads to get there. At least we weren't as badly lost as Jonny, who encountered similar problems with the
Chateau de Lacoste
The wedding venue.
added inconvenience of his phone going dead and having nothing to guide him. While we had arrived about two hours late at 9.30pm, Jonny and Lin were the last to arrive at 11pm and were thus eliminated from The Amazing Race
. To cap things off, he was also fined 90€ by French police for speeding.
The chateau itself was breathtaking, even at night. Kelley and Penelope had pretty much rented out the whole place so it was like they were living in their very own mansion for a few days. The gardens were palatial and immaculate as well.
I get an immense sense of happiness and satisfaction attending events where you know almost every single person - it was great catching up with so many people all at the same time, many of whom have appeared in these pages. Arguably the best thing about weddings is how the union of two people leads to the reunion of so many others.
I had a good old chat with Kelley's parents - his Mum couldn't remember my actual name but she knew me as "Stamford Park" which is the road I lived on back in Auckland; his Dad could still remember what my house looked
The Groom & Groomsmen
Kelley, Yohei and Andrew await the bride against a stunningly scenic backdrop of the Dordogne Valley.
like from the times that he dropped me home. Speaking with his parents brought back the teenage memories of Kelley and I playing Street Fighter, FIFA and various other computer games back in the 90s.
Kelley and Penelope could not have asked for a better weather for the actual wedding day itself.
Blue skies and temperatures in the low-mid 20s was perfect. The ceremony itself took place on a spot in the chateau's compound that had a stunning view across the valley, which was dotted with cliffside castles and chateaus.
Donning sneakers with his suit for the ceremony was a typically Kelley thing to do, as was forgetting one of his vows. His sister was officiating the ceremony and upon hearing the length of the vow she had asked Kelley to repeat, I think everyone in the crowd pretty much knew there was no way he was going to remember it.
It was a lovely ceremony and the fact that everything was not taken too seriously was very apt.
The beautiful weather meant that dinner was eaten on the immaculately kept lawn outside the chateau, which was picture perfect. The local Perigord
salad with truffles was a treat as
Dinner With A View
A beautiful day allowed the wedding dinner to be held outside on the lawn of the chateau.
was the beef main. I don't how they do it, but the French always cook their beef so well, it is always so tasty and soft. The profiterole wedding cake was something different too.
Yohei's best man speech was a laugh and a half - the stories of how Yohei had never seen a person tackle themselves on a football pitch until he saw Kelley perform the feat, and how it took Kelley ten minutes to come up with "if" during a game of Scrabble were particularly hilarious.
The night was topped off by an spectacular fireworks display and drunken dancing into the early hours. Even Kelley's dad busted a few moves!
To enable Davies to have a few drinks, we got Stevie to drive us back to the villa and he could not have had a tougher initiation to European driving. It was dark and it was foggy - you could barely see twenty metres ahead. We were on winding, narrow country roads that were not lit up at all, Stevie was driving a massive vehicle, he had never previously driven on the right-hand side before, and he had six drunk people giving him directions in the back. He
No celebration is complete without fireworks.
did well though, and he took his time, getting us all back in one piece.
I've always found weddings and the idea of a wedding a bit corny but this was the first time that I had attended a wedding of someone really close to me, someone I had known for such a long time, and someone I saw on an almost daily basis throughout high school and university. I can say that I have never felt as happy for a bride and groom as I felt that day. As well as happiness, there was an immense feeling of pride in Kelley as well - it was so weird (in a good way of course).
Everyone was pretty hungover and sleep-deprived the next day as all the guests gathered again one last time for brunch at the chateau. As everyone started leaving to go back to their own lives all around the world, things got emotional as the guests started saying their goodbyes. It was strange to see, particularly when Kelley's sister left, because this was a side of Kelley I had never really seen before.
It certainly got me thinking about my own family and my own sister.
Guard Of Honour
A sparkly guard of honour for the bride and groom.
I think I will definitely have to make another visit home soon.
After we said our own goodbyes to everyone, I got Davies to drop me off in the centre of Sarlat so that I could take a look around. I will let the pictures do the talking, but the town is pretty, medieval, and very intact. Fully pedestrianised, taking a stroll through its maze of cobblestoned alleys was very similar to taking a stroll through similar old towns such as Dubrovnik
Trying to get together some food for a BBQ that evening, we were having trouble finding a supermarket / general store that was open. Seems that everything is shut on Sundays. What it did do however, was force us to visit the outdoor market that had sprung up in one of the town's squares, for our food and booze. There were stalls selling cheese, meat, bread and hot food. There was even a two-piece band playing French folk music that drew quite an audience and got some of the locals up onto their feet for a dance, and pen of sheep that could be sheared on the spot for the wool to be sold. Ironically,
Place Boissarie, Sarlat
Square in the heart of medieval Sarlat.
as soon as we had got everything we needed from the outdoor market, the supermarket suddenly decided to open. I think the crazy and inconvenient opening hours has something to do with the market, perhaps forcing supermarkets to close so that people will go to the outdoor market like we did.
Anyway, we got far more than what we actually needed and we spent the rest of the day soaking up the rays, swimming (the water in the pool was freezing
- Davies also managed to get Tabitha completely soaked with a sweet bomb), hot-tubbing, table tennis, and just chilling out at the villa, enjoying a BBQ.
It was great hanging out with old friends again, friends that I know so well that I knew I could just about say anything in front of them and that I could really be myself. It did feel like a school trip - even though we had not really seen each other much over the last few years, it really was just like old times.
It did make me think though, that I have perhaps been a bit lazy in terms of keeping in touch and keeping up appearances with old friends as
Cour des Fontaines, Sarlat
Another picturesque square in beautiful Sarlat.
a result of my travels and the busyness of life in London.
We made the most of the villa and the weather the next day before leaving around lunchtime for Bordeaux, as we followed the Dordogne
west towards the Atlantic Ocean.
On the way, we stopped by in Bergerac and the extremely pretty medieval town of St Emilion, famous for its red wine.
In terms of being a tourist destination, I had not really heard much about Bordeaux, whose name is more synonymous with wine then anything else. So on this basis, I didn't have the greatest expectations of it.
Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. The city itself is aesthetically amazing with its neoclassical and Haussmann architecture, and there are some really impressive public spaces such as the riverside gardens and esplanade. The semi-pedestrianised (this was a little annoying though - roads seem to be pedestrianised but then suddenly a car, tram or motorbike is suddenly creeping up behind you out of nowhere) old town is dripping with restaurants, cafes and bars that are all occupied by a young, vibrant student population. The place seems quite cosmopolitan too - there seemed to be plenty of foreign
Old Town, Bordeaux
One of the many pedestrian streets within Bordeaux's old walled city that is brimming with restaurants, cafes and nightlife.
students walking around Bordeaux's pretty streets.
I feel that I am tiring of London and wouldn't mind moving somewhere smaller - Bordeaux, with its population of 700,000 is a nice size. Big enough but not too big - dare I say it, eminently liveable...
Dino had kindly used his connections to get us all rooms at the Ibis Budget in Bordeaux for the night. They certainly weren't lying about "Budget" - the rooms resembled hostel rooms. At 57€ a night for a double room, we were basically paying hostel prices with two to a room, so you certainly were getting what you paid for.
We had our final meal together in the square containing Bordeaux's most famous sight - the Cathedral St Andre. When I saw that tartare
was on the menu, there was only one thing I was going to have. Although delicious, it is certainly something you can't eat too much of. We all washed down our food with an exquisite 39€ bottle of red from St Emilion.
While Sherry, Pratiksha, Dino and Stevie were all flying out the next day, the rest of us still had one more day to look around Bordeaux.
Cathedral Saint Andre, Bordeaux
Bordeaux's most significant sight.
seem sacrilegious to come to Bordeaux without doing a wine tour of some sorts, so after walking down to the tourist office, we managed to book ourselves onto one before we had a late breakfast on the riverside on what was a gorgeously hot day.
While Tabitha, Rose and I had a pleasant wonder through the city before the tour started, Davies had to complete his own Amazing Race Roadblock
by dropping our van to the airport before getting back in time for the wine tour. He had about an hour to drive out there and grab a cab back. As Tabitha and I looked out the bus window three minutes after the bus was supposed to have left, we see Davies jogging up beside us, greeting Rose who was waiting for him outside the bus. Talk about cutting it fine - though I'm not really one to talk
. We also bumped into some fellow wedding guests who happened to be on our wine tour - they were sisters of Hanson, who you may recall from my trip to the Peak District
earlier this year.
Our bus took us out of Bordeaux to three different vineyards, where we were shown the vines, the equipment and vats used to
Place St Pierre, Bordeaux
One of the many aesthetically impressive public spaces in Bordeaux.
make the wine, as well as being talked through the process. I can't really tell you how exactly they make the wine because to be quite honest, I was really tired from the last few days and wasn't really paying attention. I was all about the tasting where Rose taught me some basics - swivel your wine glass a bit to see if the wine sticks to it, and then give it a sniff before tasting it. How To Look Like A Wine Connoisseur 101.
90% of the wine produced in Bordeaux is red, and blended reds at that - so mainly mixes of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet France. Despite this, we were able to taste a red as well as a white at each vineyard. While none were as nice as the bottle of St Emilion that we had the night before, I was impressed enough by the red we tasted at the Chateau La France vineyard (which had a giant metal cock erected at its entrance) for me to buy a bottle to take back home. Just like my meat, I definitely prefer red over white - other than on a hot summer's day when a cold,
View Over St Emilion
View from the monolithic church overlooking the pretty square below a looking out towards the village's famous vineyards.
sweet white wine will do the trick, I prefer the richer, fuller flavour of a red. And as I usually dabble in cheap wine, the saying 'a cheap red will always be better than a cheap white' most definitely rings true.
Davies joked about how we usually did pub crawls when we went away - now we were doing wine tours. We must be getting old...
After the wine tour we had one final meal in Bordeaux that possibly ranked as the best meal I have ever had in France. I had escargot
for starters which I followed with an entrecote
which I asked to be cooked "blue" (less cooked than rare). Both were delicious with the entrecote in particular being among the tastiest and softest steaks I have ever eaten. It was cooked perfectly. For dessert, I had ile flottante
which I encountered for the first time in Annecy, six years ago
. I remember that meal as being among the best I have had - perhaps no coincidence that it also involved ile flottante. Using my newly-learned knowledge of Bordeaux wines, I chose the wine to accompany our meal and I don't think anyone was complaining about the red from Medoc, a
Monolithic Church, St Emilion
The church that looms over the village was carved out of the cliff that once stood in its place.
region that along with St Emilion, is rated as producing the best wine in the area.
There was time for one last Amazing Race through the old town area of Bordeaux, sprinting our way to the riverside where we were lucky enough to grab a cab almost immediately. If you're in a hurry to get to the airport, getting a cab that is a Mercedes always helps
. We got there with plenty of time in the end, where we met up with Kelley, his parents, as well as Jonny & Lin, who were all on the same flight back to London as us.
And that brought to an end five really enjoyable days. As great as the locations and the food were, it was really all about the people - the unions and the reunions. It was definitely a special occasion for everyone that was there and it was so good to hang out with old friends again and a privilege to have witnessed Kelley and Penelope tie the knot. Occasions like this don't come along too often so you have to make sure you enjoy them - we sure all did that.
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