A Random Walk Through Europe

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June 7th 2019
Published: June 2nd 2019
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Some casual and quite random observations, while in Europe.

Service people seem much nicer here than back in the US. No surprise at all. Weather is still a bit dreary (Amsterdam), spring has not sprung, yet. (It did in Istanbul, however) Flying over to Europe in coach is dreadful, though the seat next to me was open. I managed a few hours sleep, with the help of modern medications. I finished the David Lagerkranz follow up to the trilogy of Stieg Larson about the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not bad, not great. The movie was on my screen, but it was totally disjointed. The weather was quite dreary in Amsterdam, but seems a little better here in Bordeaux. We got our bikes delivered just now. Friday will start with a circular route back to the same hotel here in Saint Macaire. It will be a 27 mile (ended up 31 miles with a few wrong turns), relatively flat ride through the region. Our hotel, the Hotel Les Feuilles d'Acanthe, actually has the best restaurant here in Macaire. We had lunch there and plan to have their duck l 'orange for dinner tonight. It was quite good, prepared medium rare. And the wine was also quite good. Best part: take the unfinished wine back to the room for tomorrow night's dinner! Did you know the Dutch air traffic controllers are on strike? We were over 30 minutes late taking off this morning from Schiphol. The French people here are so much nicer than my first trip here in the 70s. I walked this little village (Saint Macaire) today, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, lots of limestone everywhere. Cemeteries, old buildings in need of restoration, but mildly interesting. Breakfast in Bordeaux is simple, with coffee, bread, cheese, fruit, and some pastries. The hotel here is quite old, but well maintained, rather quaint, with some modern touches in the bathrooms and lighting. We are headed out soon for our first ride of the week. I can't wait for my first bike ride through a roundabout!!! Andy, our young support coordinator, moves our luggage and bikes around the countryside, as needed. Today, he rode some of our 31 miles with us, so we bought him lunch. He is a ski instructor in Zermatt, Switzerland during the winter. Great work, ski in winter, cycle in summer. Go Andy, go!!! Very nice young man, from Inverness, Scotland, of course. Tomorrow, we skip the bike ride to Sauterne, instead, wine tasting and tour in Bordeaux. Should be fun. Not much English language news on TV here, no BBC or CNN. A good break from the chaos back home, though Brexit, the French protests, and global warming are big topics here. The funniest ever, Homer Simpson speaking French!!! So, wine tasting in Bordeaux, a bit curious, and lots of pretentiousness. They seem so paranoid about California wines. It is almost a comedy!! They take such extreme means to grow grapes, then curiously machine pick! This is not done in the Champagne region, nor in most of Napa Valley. They are limited in Bordeaux to make only one bottle of wine per vine!! And there are a myriad of other rules, mostly "tradition", and to maintain the mystique of French wines. The little village of Sauternes is quite small. We have some hotels, four places to eat, two wine stores, no bakery (in the next town), one pharmacy, two churches, and a partridge in a pine tree. How many of you will understand the pine tree here in Sauterne? Maybe Beth. Our hotel here in Sauternes is just wonderful, old but completely refurbished. Not only huge, but I have a fireplace, foyer, and even a hammam in my bathroom!!! And the owner is a most delighful man, named Didier. He even picked us up in Langon since we could not find an Uber or taxi. He makes breakfast every morning, our dinner reservations, and anything else we want. We only did 28 miles on the bikes yesterday, over to the town of Bazac, then back on a long cycling trail for the most part. Lunch was finally a green salad, and of course, pomme friites and a beer. Today, we ride over to the Cadillac region for two nights, then on to Saint Emilion. Finally tried a Sauternes wine with dessert last night, with apple tart. Pretty good, but I could only do that once a month. Too sweet! We also had a really nice blend of Saint Emilion with Sauvignon blanc with our local fish dinner. Yesterday, surrounding the church grounds, was a huge petanque gathering. I thought it was bocce, but it is more like curling with metal balls that are thrown or rolled over to the target area. Just when I feel a tiny bit better about the French, this happens. Our travel coordinator, a young chap from Scotland, was denied entry to the hotel dining room and bar when we arrived in Cadillac. When we told them he was with us, they became somewhat apologetic. My take, at least ask the poor kid before you kick him out!!! Needless to say, we went elsewhere for our lunch. Easy ride today, but strange in spots. The strangest was a bicycle only gate with an old wooden crossing over the double rail tracks here. The path leading up to it looked like an unused grass strip. Just between us, I can't wait to get out of Dodge, or France as it were. Looking forward to seeing my friends, Dirty Pat and his wife, Renee' in Bucharest. Then onward to Istanbul, if I can find some clean clothes. Sometime in your life, it is better to be lucky. Such was the chance last night. Our last resort for dinner, a shabby pizza parlor, transformed into wonderful French cuisine. I had escargot, risotto, pasta, and ice cream sundae. Quite well done, Luigi. At least, he was trained in Napoli, maybe once a Louis, now Luigi?? Saint Emilion is more my kind of town. Sauterne and Saint Macaire were just too small for me. Love the myriad wine shops here, and the little cafe's. Great place to end the week of cycling. I celebrated with a great burger. Gazing at the bottles of famous wine has a way of intoxicating my common sense. I almost bought a $400 bottle of Chateau Margaux. I ended up at another wine shop with several bottles of Saint Emilion's finest, a blend of cab, and merlot. In fact, I had three glasses of this wine at lunch, before staggering back to the hotel, less than 30 yards away. Morning starts early, as my plane from Bordeaux, via Amsterdam to Bucharest leaves at 6:30am. The driver was 30 minutes late, and I came within a nanosecond of missing both flights! Not a good feeling, and reminded me too much of my days of heavy work travel. Landed safely in Bucharest, and had a few beers and snack waiting for Pat and Renee' to arrive from their trip to Yas. Did I already tell you they are on the fourth floor, and the elevator is broken? As I mentioned in a separate email, Bucharest is quite the place. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and might even come back! I am not sure if this is a highlight or lowlight, but we ended up at a Shakespeare play, in Romanian, with an Elvis song thrown in! I have a difficult time with Willie's play in English. It was directed by one of his fellow Fulbrighters. We did some touristy things, visited Casa Ceausescu, where the infamous dictator lived. We also did a walking tour, before heading to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. The Japanese chef is from Oregon, and married a Romanian woman. Pat and I spent the day in Brasov, a German ski resort about two hours by rail north of here. Visited Bran Castle, took the tram to the top of the resort, sampled some German delicacies, and washed it down with beer! On to Istanbul, another early morning, leaving their apartment at 6:30am. Uber is very reliable here. My airline was called Tarom, but I did not go there! My hotel is located in old town, or Sultanahmet, where the famous sites are located, and not far from the Grand Bazaar. Did I mention I am on the fourth floor again! And no elevator, just one of those strange semi circular, off beat staircases made for tiny feet? My guide, Gokce was arranged by a friend of a friend. He is very knowledgeable and a really good sport putting up with me. Of course, one of the first things I requested: beer, lunch, and a visit to the Grand Bazaar. My brother rarely asks me to buy anything for him. But he did request some Turkish raisins. Definitely not as good as ours. But I fell in love with Turkish delight, a great dessert item or sweet to have with their rather strong coffee or tea. Visited both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, then headed over to the Galata Tower for a great 360 degree view of Istanbul, and the Bosporus. And it was a beautiful, sunny day, with time for a few Turkish beers after. I was invited over to my guide's home, met his wife, and their two dogs. What a treat! Then over to their favorite seafood place for a really interesting and tasty dinner. People here are so nice. I have a little hangout about 40 yards from the hotel. I have a cold beer there at least once a day, sometimes some fries, and even dinner there one night. I gave him a sweater since I ran out of room in my suitcase. Too much Turkish delight! I fail to see why the U.S. government wants travelers to avoid Turkey. It is safer here than back in the states! They even have undercover police patrolling the tourist areas at night! Only in Istanbul can you take a tour bus over to Asia in a matter of about 30 minutes. I actually went back twice on my Bosporus cruise. No visa required, as Istanbul is located on both continents! Another early morning, started at 4am, for 5am car service to airport. I needed four flights to get home, 9:30pm! I was tired, jet-lagged, and badly in need of a good meal and hot shower. Welcome home!


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