Before you even think it – yes, it’s Tuesday, and yes this must be Belgium. It’s a fairy-tale town, not sure who came up with that first, perhaps the 2008 film. If you haven’t seen it, go now and watch, I can wait.

We checked into our hotel, Hotel Ter Brughe. Assigned room number 13, I carried our bags up the stairs for there is no elevator. Pack light! The view from the room was top-notch.

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We walked towards Da Halve Maan brewery, one of the more famous here, with a half-moon man logo. We tried all their beers, from single to quadruple. We couldn’t find one we didn’t like, especially at the end of the spectrum where things got darker, to Cait’s liking.

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The brewery closed at 6pm so we stopped by a nearby eatery that served the only thing I ever wanted to eat again – fondue.

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We sauntered back to our hotel room and passed out, stomachs full of beer and cheese.


We woke up to a rain downpour, and the latest news, “Clinton concedes”. The view on the USA election in Belgium was quite bleak. People here knew this election would in some significant way affect them. But, more on that in a short bit.

For our first full day here, Cait woke up and took a shower, easy for her given her height, but shortly it was my turn. It’s a tub, with the spigot on the wide backwall, which had the option for a handheld wand. The wand’s hose was about 3 feet long. So for the next few days I have been washing my head and face while sitting down in the tub, generating a puddle of water on the bathroom floor.

We decided to make our way via the rail station to Brussels. The tickets are pricey – almost 60 Euros for 2 adult visit/return passes. By a little before noon, we made it there, ready to explore. We started with lunch at Le Marmiton, myself having a “Heart of Beef” filet (tenderloin), and Cait having “Beef Carbonnade” basically Beef Stew cooked in local beer. The dialog for us now changed significantly, we could pretend to an extent that we were French (and we came up with a Canadian backstory – living in Toronto, Cait works for Canadian national healthcare and I am a Zamboni repairman, even though my hands are far too slender), but we know nothing of Dutch.

And of course, Canadians we are not. We faced many stares from the locals. Brussels is widely viewed as the unofficial capital of the EU. To a larger extent, people here embrace internationalism, and seeing Trump elected flew in the face of many of their beliefs. Of course, it is happening all over here, too. See Brexit, or the rise of Marie Le Penn corresponding with a rise in Syrian refugees. Indeed, the streets of Paris earlier on the trip were full of families huddled together under a plastic sheet, trying to keep warm and dry and escape the lives they left behind.

But like our lives, we can’t let a little shocking news derail plans – on with the journey! We walked around and eventually hit The Delirium, where we stopped in for a couple beers. Cait had a modest one, while I went for a 1 liter das boot.

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^ Maybe not fully modest, but my choice here was still an exercise in modesty – they did also offer a 2-liter das boot which I resisted, wanting to not die today.

This wasn’t the correct place, though, and two people at the bar were far too inebriated and yelling back and forth about Trump. We departed for right next door, the Delirium Cafe, which is the Guinness Book record holder with over 3500 beers available to choose from. The beer list has an index and table of contents, it is the length of novel. They had a house tripel I enjoyed, and Cait had a cookie beer followed up by a cherry beer. The walls starting to move on us a bit, we needed to get some food in our stomachs. We ended up at Le Selecto for dinner where we quickly destroyed two of the same creamy chicken dish they had. The food was excellent, and perhaps by now the Trump news fervor died down or else we had enough alcohol to not care, the stares from the others around us became less pronounced.

We walked back to the train station, admiring the views on the way before we boarded.

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We woke up to nicer skies and decided to stay in Bruges today instead of traveling regionally. We walked towards the Market and past many lovely churches and homes.

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^ This place contained one of the few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy.

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Back towards Market, there was a tower to climb with an impressive view atop!

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The climb is not a joke, it’s pretty tight and steep at points, with 2-way traffic. But it doesn’t take too long, and soon you’re up in the tower with all of the impressive bell mechanics.

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One of the bells up here, their largest, weighs in at 11,000 pounds.

Back down, time for lunch at Cafedraal. Cait was looking at the pheasant, but they were all out, so we both ended up with the specials of the day, pumpkin soup perfect for dipping fresh bread, and two plates of meatballs in a tomato sauce that went perfectly with their mashed potatoes.

On to try more of the beers from Belgium! We searched for a place named De Garre, famous for a house tripel with 11% ABV. It was a bit of an elusive one, tucked away in an alley, but along the way you’ll pass several chocolate shops and they’re worth stopping into – many give away free samples at the door!

Finally we found it, they don’t give you a whole lot of the tripel at once, but the quantity they do give really packs a punch. Delicious, too!

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While I worked on some refills of that tasty beer, Cait tried their recommended sour beer. Crisp and refreshing, it goes down easy!

We walked around somewhat aimlessly for a while until it was time for dinner at ‘t Brugs Beertje. We went simple, with a couple of ham & cheese sandwiches, time to get to bed as we have an early tomorrow dragging luggage to another country.


Up early once more for a travel day, we dragged our bags across Bruges to the station. And I do mean dragged our bags, Cait somehow recently lost a wheel on her luggage so she’s been rolling mine as I drag hers along. This in turn made me subconsciously miss our cat at home, the unwilling dragging behind being quite similar to her attitude towards walks on her harness. Our train arrived and we boarded to Amsterdam via Antwerp – and woohoo, another Thalys with an included lunch!

Ah, Paris… where to even begin. We made it from Bordeaux via the TGV in a little under 4 hours, impressive, but they’re advertising the opening of a new TGV line soon that can do it in a little over 2 hours – simply amazing. After we got to the train station, we needed to make reservations to Bruges, Belgium next week, and while we had the attendant to ourselves, we also made reservations from Bruges, Belgium to Amsterdam, Netherlands for a few days after that.

We walked out of the train station with our luggage in tow, and were a little surprised to find it was a 40-minute walk to the hotel we’d be staying at. Oh well, the walk was pretty, and it helped us get our bearings in the city. The Hotel Pullman, our home for the next 6 nights, is right next to the Eiffel Tower so it was quite easy to find.

We checked in, and upon doing so, received our 6-day Paris Museum Passes and 5-day Paris Transport Passes. The former runs at 74 Euros each, and gets you into pretty much any museum you’ll want to see in and around Paris, over 50 of them in total. This includes places like Versailles outside the city. The latter pass costs 41 Euros each and gets you onto any region rail or metro line, as well as buses throughout the city. They charge 12 Euros to have everything shipped to your hotel to meet you, but it’s worth doing – they also charge to ship it to your house and if you do that I’d imagine the odds of misplacing it rise significantly.

Finally getting to our room, we promptly dropped our bags, opened up a bottle of 2005 Saint Emilion we picked up yesterday to let it breathe, and decided there was no time to waste – on to the Louvre! Two short metro rides later, we were there. I won’t even bother going into the details of the Louvre, it’s absolutely massive, and one could write forever about it’s contents. Everyone should go at least once in their lifetime, and plan on spending at least 2 days there, it would be impossible to see everything in only one day. For now, here’s some highlights from our stroll around from 7pm-10pm when they closed.

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After the Louvre, we had an hour or so to get food before everywhere started closing shop. We checked Google Maps, a place named Semilla was nearby, right on the other side of the Seine, and had good ratings. We plotted a course, which took us by Paris’ old “lock bridge”. I say old because, in 2015, due to the weight, all of the padlocks were removed from the bridge, and plexiglass was installed on the cross-braces preventing re-installations of locks. Some locks ended up on the handrails on either side of the bridge, but only a small fraction of the former quantity. Soon enough we arrived at Semilla, and not long after that we were enjoying a Riesling from Colmar off their wine list. After dinners of a chicken breast & thigh for myself, and a John Dory filet for Cait, we had dessert, paid our tab, and grabbed the metro back to the hotel, where we got to see the Eiffel tower all lit up for night time.

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Time for bed, we had 10:30am reservations at the Eiffel Tower tomorrow!


We got up a little on the earlier side and got ready, before making the long 5-minute walk to the Eiffel tower. Coming to Paris in November was a smart choice, it is clearly the off-season here. At 10:30am, there was hardly a soul around the tower.

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We went straight through security, and since we had prepaid for elevator tickets, promptly became second in line for an elevator. Everyone easily fit on and I got a spot by the window to record our ascent. Within minutes we were at our first stop (the 2nd level, with 0th being the ground where we boarded), and needed to transfer to a different elevator in order to reach the top (3rd) level. We did so, and in a few more moments, there we were, atop the most popular paid tourist landmark in the whole world, with hardly any other people up there with us. The views of all of Paris from this height are remarkable.

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We descended back down to the 2nd level via elevator, as you can not take the stairs from their level, and again admired the views. On the 1st level, there is a restaurant named 58 Tour Eiffel – we checked and their dinners are prohibitively expensive, but lunch isn’t too terrible. Chalk it up to us deciding this is just one of those things everyone should do in their lives – dine on the Eiffel tower – so we took the stairs from the 2nd level to the first and stopped in. The meal was delicious, and the views were excellent.

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After lunch, we walked across the Seine to Trocadero, which affords more wonderful views of the Eiffel Tower.

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Stopping briefly back at our hotel for a bit to drop off some of our stuff along the way, we soon headed over to the Musee Rodin, which we got right into with our aforementioned museum passes.

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We walked around for about 1h30 and saw most of what was offered. Rodin was certainly a talented individual, mastering techniques in multiple sculpture mediums, as well as art and painting.

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Soon we were off to the Musee d’Orsay, which surprised us with it’s size. This place had all the big names – Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir… the list goes on.

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Unfortunately for us, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of this museum were closed temporarily, so we had to make due with the 0th, 1st, and 5th floors. This sufficed wholly – we spent over 2h there, and only departed at 7pm since we had dinner reservations for 7:30pm at a place about a half hour away. One just cannot comprehend the sizes and scopes of these Paris museums without visiting in person.

The dinner reservations? They were for Ciel de Paris, in the Mostparnasse Tower. From here, about a mile away from the Eiffel tower and up on the 56th floor, you’re looking almost eye-level with the Eiffel’s top deck across a sea of city lit up for the evening.

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Dinner was an appetizer of raw and cooked autumn veggies, followed by main courses of a beef filet and duck breast, and finished with a dessert of chocolate 3-ways, with espressos of course. It’s a little pricey here, and to be honest the food isn’t all that great. But you are really paying for the view and that does make the experience quite worth the price tag.

Descending from the tower, we stopped briefly at a wine store to pick up a bottle or two for the hotel room for the next few nights (I’ve begun to call this non-expensive-minibar-stash my “blog fuel”). We also grabbed a fresh baguette from a supermarket nearby. Checking Google Maps for public transit directions back to the hotel, it wanted us to take an RER train, which is the Region Rail. This ended as an epic failure, the station that Google directed us to led us in circles at least 3-4 times, telling us to go one way for RER-A and then suddenly switching signage on the track platform itself to RER-B once we though we’d figured it out. The electronic billboards offered no assistance, and no human being employee was to be found anywhere nearby.

Eventually we gave up on this station, walked back to the surface, and back towards the Seine river. Google soon abandoned the RER suggestion in favor of using only the Metro lines – ahhh, much better. These Metro-only directions presented no difficulty whatsoever, and soon we were back at the hotel, sipping on our blanc de blancs champagne and documenting our day. I’m now a little wary of the RER system, though it may have just been that one station that was unclear (to be fair, it was also under significant construction/renovation at the time). But, we have had nothing but success with the Metro lines. In most cases they run every 1-3 minutes, 5 at the most, and the directions/signage are second-to-none.

Tomorrow looks like some rain here in Paris, in otherwise beautiful sunny (but maybe a tad chilly) weather. Temperatures have been in the mid-to-upper 50’s during the day, easy to cope with by walking a lot with a light jacket. Night time gets a bit chilly, dipping into the upper 30s but really the same story, keep moving and you’re fine. Since tomorrow brings some rain, looks like it will be another perfect day to continue our museum binge!


Finally sleeping in a little bit to recover from our travels, we got up on the later side and got ready for the day. First place on the docket – Musee Orangerie! We caught the RER to Musee d’Orsay (our first time sucessfully using the RER – region rail) and disembarked, walking the rest of the way. This museum was filled with lilies painted by Monet in 3 different oval-shaped rooms with benches in the middle. The selfie sticks were everywhere, but a staff member was trying to keep order and shushing people – Monet wanted this space to be for quiet contemplating when staring at his works, as if you were sitting on a boat in a lake somewhere.

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Downstairs, there were more works by the usual French artists, and interestingly, an exhibition on the Great Depression in America, including the original American Gothic. Photos in this space were banned, so I can’t share the experience quite as well as some others.

This museum was on the smaller side – 2 hours later we had seen everything at a pace where we really absorbed it all (unlike the Louvre mad dash), and so we departed. This being a cold day, we made a beeline for Angelina tea house nearby – home of perhaps the best hot chocolate you’ll ever experience. It’s like drinking hot chocolate pudding, so rich and velvety. One gets the impression it really is it’s namesake – chocolate that has been warmed until it melted down, mixed in with some milk. This drink was at no point in powder form. Having skipped breakfast and this being late lunch time, we also picked up a couple of croissants and some macaroons, healthy of course, but there wasn’t time to think of such things, we had places to be!

Next museum for the day – Metiers Art Museum, which documents the progression of technology through the ages. Readers of this blog might be able to guess which one of us really wanted to spend time at this place. The exhibits include construction, materials, scientific instruments, communications, and others. Among the best of the pieces, the Micral N – the earliest commercial non-kit PC based on a microprocessor (in this case, an Intel 8008).

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An IBM 7030, dubbed at the time “Project Stretch”.

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A Cray 2 supercomputer. Fun fact about these: 49 of them were delivered in total, and a decade later (mid 90s), half of them were still in production use.

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Clement Ader’s Avion III flying machine prototype.

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Lenoir’s original gas engine from 1862.

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^ Love the fuel governor setup here, the steel balls center-image and 2/3rds right. The faster the engine spins, the more the balls raise up due to centripetal acceleration, thus limiting fuel supply and preventing the engine from overspinning and damaging itself.

Of course, can’t forget Diesel’s improvements exactly 30 years later, his 17th production here.

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Also among the best exhibits, this was home to Foucault’s pendulum, the first scientific experiment which proved the earth rotates in space on an axis. a pendulum swings from an extreme height, continuing back and forth in a precise single axis. As the earth and everyone on it rotates under the pendulum, the trajectory of the pendulum appears to change. However the truth is that the pendulum is indeed the only object that is not moving.

Foucault’s original experiment traced the pendulum’s movement in sand, the museum used pegs setup on the edges that the pendulum would knock down as the hours marched forward. Another interesting tidbit on this one, if the experiment was done at the poles of Earth, it would represent a true 24h rotation cycles. However, here on the longitude of France, the pendulum will take over 36 hours to complete a full circular rotation.

After this museum, we walked south to see the one and only Notre Dame. The church is absolutely massive.

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However, being spoiled by already seeing the churches in Lyon and Marseille with their intricate interior details, we did find the interior here to be a little underwhelming. Perhaps compounding the matter was the number of tourists, most with selfie sticks. Despite a religious service taking place, the inside was loud and chaotic. We felt this largely disrespected the atmosphere of the building, which was a tad saddening.

Moving on, we had dinner at La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint, a French restaurant with an Alsacian root. Appetizers of a salad and some smoked sausage, we followed with dinners of coq au vin Reisling and a steak. A couple of espressos later, and after paying the bill, we were metro-bound back to our hotel room for the night.


The RER sort of sucks. And by “sort of” I do mean “royally”. We took the line successfully yesterday, and assumed today we could take it to Versaille, even Google Maps said this would work out fine. We stopped by the station and waited, when the RER train arrived, we boarded. But, the first stop wasn’t what Google listed, and we quickly realized we were on the wrong line. By the second stop, we had asked a local if were were on the correct train – we were not. So we disembarked and crossed the tracks to head back from whence we came.

Once there, we encountered another English-speaking couple who were desperate for help getting to Versailles. How could we possibly help? We really couldn’t, so we braindumped everything we’d learned thus far and wished them a good journey, which they reciprocated. We searched around time and again, eventually giving up and exiting – noticing this other couple had given up even before we did.

How sad for the Paris RER system! We gave up soon, and upon our exit, we happened upon a booth attended by a human and inquired about the journey. She told us during this time of the year, to reach Versailles via the RER, one needs to first take the line to Invalides, then transfer. This was documented absolutely nowhere as far as we could tell.

Extremely frustrated, we made other plans for the day, it was already into the PM and we hate wasting daylight on trivia like poorly-documented rail stops. Hopping on the metro, soon we were at the Arc de Triomphe.

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We walked underground to try and stop up in the circle, but the line was insane. Although we had the museum passes, this place had no provision to bypass the ticket line. So we ascended back up and walked along the Champ Elysee, full of lots of high-end shops we can never afford. We ended up at the best steakhouse yet in all of France – Le Relais de l’Entrecote. There was a small wait to get a table, we debated leaving but the reviews kept us in our spot. We are so glad we stayed, when you are seated they ask only one question, “How do you want it cooked?”.

Of course answering au point, and getting a bottle of red wine, we soon had the best steak frites of our lives. Dessert was also quite impressive.

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We set out afterwards, and needing to burn as many calories as possible, climbed the hill to Sacre-Coeur. The amount of tourists was again a little ridiculous, there was a security line to get into the church. But it was moving quickly, so we joined.

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Soon after, we were inside.

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Descending back down the hill, we encountered a fantastic juxtaposition – in the shadow of this large church lies Paris’ more risque strip, including a cabaret all will be able to recognize.

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Along the strip, we found the hotel Royal Fromentin – home to some foremost authorities on absinthe. We had to partake.

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It’s strong, and tastes quite like licorice. A drink enjoyed by many of France’s artists, Degas even has a painting named after the drink involving a depiction of a green fairy hugging the head of a man enjoying his drink.

On our news feeds, we learned of Paris’ only erotic museum located only a few hundred feet away, with a collection of art and sculpture through the ages dealing with the subject of sex. Due to waning interest, it was set to close tomorrow. We couldn’t miss the opportunity, and stopped by to a packed facility. The exhibits were interesting, with artifacts from ancient civilizations, originals from the kama sutra, crude sexual toys from thousands of years ago, and accounts from Edith Piaf. Abandoned at birth by her mother, and having her father leave to fight in World War 1, Edith was raised in a brothel by her paternal grandmother, looked after daily by prostitutes.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this museum was how it exposed the sexual freedom of many ancient cultures, only to be stifled eventually by the rise of Christianity which associated such proclivities with a lack of morals and excess of perversion. The truth was quite the opposite, many of the frequenters of these establishments sought only comfort and compassion, a temporary kindness. Only the rich and powerful could afford to satiate their perversions, which at the time, tended to be mostly members of the clergy.

Moving on with the day, we stopped by the Palais Garnier, Paris’ foremost opera venue.

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Since Cait was traveling, it was of course under construction (for our honeymoon in Italy, the Trevi fountain was shut off for renovations for the first time in hundreds of years). We were promptly shooed from the premises, and decided it was time for dinner. After having absinthe earlier, the eatery named “l’Absinthe” looked perfect. We went there, only to find that all inside tables were reserved, but we were still able to enjoy a dinner of duck breast and baby pasta outside under the heat lamps.

As we left to take the metro back to the hotel, a light rain began to fall, continuing more intensely once we were back and in bed – the perfect way to fall asleep.


Another Sunday in France, nearly everything is closed today. We woke up with intentions of visiting Versailles. Once again, we were thwarted by the RER, at this point basically just laughing about it’s quality. In our news feeds, we’d recently read it’s the worst-rated transit system in all of Paris. And in terms of timing / schedule adherence, the 5 Paris RER lines are all listed in the bottom 6 of the least reliable systems. We were starting to feel like real locals, hating the same things as the Parisians.

We walked up to Trocadero, and found a cafe for lunch, a simple risotto and a burger with a bottle of local Chardonnay. Searching and searching, it was useless, nothing is open on Sundays. Well, there was Versailles, but this was inaccessible to us, and closes at 5pm. So, it was time for housekeeping, another laundry run. We found a SpeedQueen laundromat near the hotel and carried our clothes over. After starting the machines, we went next door to a brasserie for drinks – whiskies and a mojito – waiting for the washers & dryers to do their work. Soon it was done, and we carried our clean & folded clothes back.

That night, we kept life simple. I guess this is the design of the French schedule, and why Sunday is such a down day around here. We used Uber Eats to get some Indian food sent right to our hotel room, and picked up a bottle of champagne from the hotel bar – a Dom Perignon that was surprisingly affordable. We opened the window and popped the cork, if any Parisians were recently hit on the head with a cork without reason, our apologies!

We Skyped for the rest of the night with family and friends, looking forward to another full day tomorrow.


Our last full day in Paris! Mon dieu, where does the time go! Today was going to be a little brutal – we woke up to news of snow in Paris, and temperatures would top out around 40 Fahrenheit. We probably should have brought our winter coats, but we planned to keep moving, and this will be the coldest it gets during this journey.

The Eiffel tower had a neat look to it today – glad our summit tickets were for a better day!

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Off to the first destination, a day near the Latin quarter. The route there? Via the RER. Grudgingly, we went to the station – and for the second time in 5 attempts, managed to navigate the journey with full success. We stopped by the Shakespeare & Company bookstore – absolutely fascinating, with books and shelves shoved wherever physically possible. I’d show a photo but photos were banned here, a rule to which we adhered but many tourists chose to ignore. I stared at and shamed these non-conformant at every opportunity. We stopped in their cafe, but the prices were insane, with a coffee approaching 6 Euros. Hard pass.

Instead, lunch was at le Metro. Today was the day to do quintessential touristy things, so I enjoyed the quiche lorraine while Cait had the croque-madame. Mine was delicious but in secret I was a little jealous, I think she won this food round. Desserts of creme brulee and a tiramissu (and a chocolate milkshake) and we were off to the next destination – the Pantheon.

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This building is wildly impressive, though it is crumbling a bit – nets coat the ceilings in an attempt to catch falling debris which might otherwise kill a unsuspecting tourist. There was another setup of Foucault’s Pendulum here.

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We went into the crypt, and there I found the resting place of one of my personal heroes, Marie Curie.

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We departed and went to the Luxembourg gardens, which of course were closed when we arrived, the cutoff was 5pm. Paris has a lot to offer tourists – between 10am and 5pm, except for noon-3pm. As the demotivational poster says, adorned with the Eiffel tower, “hard work never killed anybody, but it is illegal in some places.”

Time for dinner. Along the lines of touristy things, I couldn’t fathom being on my deathbed, knowing I’d been to Paris and not tried escargot. And there it was decided, we went to Le Petit Zinc, a charming spot for dinner, and had exactly that dish.

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Not too shabby honestly, one mostly tastes the garlic butter spread, and the snail itself is reminiscent of a mild mushroom taste. We got a lamb shoulder that weighed in at a whopping 1 kilogram, cooked au point and carved tableside, we ate more than a reasonable amount, and took the metro back to the hotel.

The Eiffel tower is back in clear view tonight, and in 1 hour we will see the last “sparkle” with the backlights lit up. A tad sad for the pessimist, but being optimists, we are glad to have had such a wonderful experience here. And as for Versailles – well, I guess one always needs to have an excuse to return!


Another early day, and with some sadness, we admitted this was the end of our time in Paris for this trip. We got ready and checked out with some difficulty, Hotel Pullman screwed up and attempted to charge us for a lunch in their restaurant we didn’t have. We had an hour to go until we needed to be on a train, and their front-desk woman disappeared to check on Pullman’s error for a looong while. We had to sign a paper saying we didn’t order this food, after she asked me the same question rephrased 3 or 4 different ways. NO HOTEL PULLMAN WE DIDN’T EAT AT YOUR RESTAURANT.

Now it was our turn, they asked us how our stay was, and we unloaded a bit – including a flickering light bulb we complained about a few times and they never fixed during our 6-night stay. This place was stingy, Piggonet in Aix gave us unlimited coffee, Pullman gave 2 pods. Rollan de By did our laundry and folded it for us, Pullman promised us a full view of the Eiffel Tower and provided the top half unless we wanted another “room upgrade”. All in all, poor ratings for them, I’d not stay there again.

So now due to their restaurant error, we were beginning to run late. We ran out front and grabbed a taxi, groaning that the cost would be high. Turns out this was our best play, the buses and taxis in Paris have a lane of their own so we got to the station after 25 minutes instead of Google’s predicted near-40 minutes, and this was only 7 minutes before our train departed. The taxi price also wasn’t too bad, came in under 20 Euros.

We went through security for the train, the first time we’ve encountered this phenomenon, including X-Ray bag scans. Fortunately the process was quick, we boarded with a minute or two to spare. The rail line is a joint high-speed venture between France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, named Thalys. On the way, perhaps due to our first class tickets, an included lunch was provided.

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Just like on Amtrak! We enjoyed and settled in for the journey. Soon, we’d be crossing the border out of France, and beginning the next part of our trip. Farewell, Paris, our time there was lovely and full of more experience than we could ever enjoy in only a week. We’ll be seeing you again sometime!

The way I see it, there will be 3 pure-travel days on this vacation. There are of course the days we fly in and out, and then there was today. After finishing up the previous blog post, we sat somewhere around 7 hours on the trains in total until we arrived at Gare de Bordeaux-Saint-Jean (Bordeaux St. Jean station). But the journey was not over by a long shot – the place we would be staying, Rolland de By in Begadan, was still a two-hour drive north.

Because we didn’t arrive in Bordeaux until a little past 7pm and it was Saturday, most car rental places were closed. We got around this by making reservations at the Avis located at the Bordeaux–Merignac Airport, about a half-hour drive away. I checked Google Maps, there was a route we could take via a couple of busses, or we could use Uber again. I had planned on the latter, being on vacation and not wanting to lug all our stuff through crowds. Yet, in a moment of pure serendipity, literally the moment we walked out of the train station, a two-car bus drove into the loading zone with the words “Merignac Aeroport” on it’s sign. It was too good to be true, but alas, 3 Euros later we were both boarded with our things on a luggage rack they had near the seats.

Being a public bus, it did get crowded from time to time, and stopped many times along the way. Eventually we got a bench seat to ourselves near our bags and about an hour later we arrived at the airport. It was 8:15pm and our car reservation was for 8:30pm, the timings just couldn’t have worked out better for us. After a quick bathroom run, we got our passports and international driver’s license out and completed the car rental. We walked our bags to the car – an Opel Corsa with a manual transmission – and spent a humorous amount of time figuring out the basics, such as how to open the trunk, or how to turn on the headlights. Finally loaded up, we set course, Google Maps navigation guiding us.

Driving in France for some reason was a little more stressful for me than when I drove in Italy. The roads are a little tighter here during main stretches with small or no shoulders at all, and the tendency for the average driver to speed or tailgate you for not speeding is far greater. Also one needs to get used to circles – myriad circles – copious amounts of circles. On average during sections, a circle every 800 meters. The longest stretch without a circle the whole way? About 8 kilometers, during a 73 kilometer drive. Again, circles. A plethora of circles. Sick of reading the word circles? Not as sick as I am of driving through circles.

But at the end of a very long day of travel, with no pictures to really show for it, we arrived at the enchanting Hotel Rollan de By. We had emailed the proprietors earlier in the week that we would be arriving late, a good move since they only occupy the front desk from 8am-noon and 4pm-8pm. Their response was to give us the access code for the front door, and said, “we will leave your key in the lock to your room.” Seemed a little odd, until we arrived and realized, we are the only occupants here tonight. Yup, we have the whole hotel to ourselves, at a winery, with no supervision. Vive la France.


Up early to begin our day touring Bordeaux, we were the beneficiary of more timely happenstance – last night was the daylight savings time fallback here, so we fortuitously gained an hour of sleep when our phones automatically readjusted. After showing up, we went downstairs and finally met the hotel staff, who were more than eager to give us booklets and maps, and even went so far as to circle picturesque/favorite regions for us.

A quick primer on Bordeaux Chateau wines before we begin the day:

  1. Many reputable chateaus have a classification from 1st to 5th. The reason is largely historical, practically useless in today’s age. Commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III in 1855, it ranked Bordeaux chateaus from 1-5 based on their reputations and market prices. In the store, should you see a Bordeaux wine labeled with a classification, it is not the number that matters, so much as the fact that they have a classification, meaning they were around and worth rating in 1855, and following heavily-imposed traditions, should still be of a similar caliber today. Of course, a lot can change in 130+ years.
  2. Most chateaus will produce multiple wines in one season, but only one can carry the name of the chateau in it’s pure form, such as “Chateau Lynch Bages” with no other qualifications. This is known as their “first label”, and is their highest-quality wine, usually consisting of grapes harvested from vines +/- 25-60 years of age. The wines produced from grapes of younger or older vines will go into what is called a second-label, usually a high-quality product, but not the chateau’s best showing. Second-label wines will not carry the exact name of the chateau on their label, they will be qualified in some manner. Also, they will not carry the 1855 classification on the front label.
  3. The rules of the different Bordeaux regions are extremely strict. As an example, in certain regions, all white wines will consist of Sauvignon Blanc and/or Semillon Blanc grapes. One will find other grapes in the mix – Sauvignon Gris, Merlot blanc, Ondenc, etc – but in no case will a Chardonnay (for example) be in the mix, along with many other grapes. Should you ask why this is the case, you will be told something along the lines of, “it is forbidden”.

Having covered the basics, we’re onto our first stop, Chateau Lynch-Bages! We arrived within about a half hour in time for our 11am appointment, and parked near a smaller, inconspicuous building. The tour already beginning, we first witnessed their fermentation tanks, all stainless steel.

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Not too much to see here – these days, most of the process is computer controlled. There is a coil inside each of the stainless steel tanks through which water flows, either hot or cold, to raise or lower the temperature of the fermenting juice. The computer controls the flow and temperature of water. Each tank has an inlet at the top and an outlet / cleanout at the bottom, and again the computer takes care of controlling pumps that relocate or recirculate liquid inside of the tanks. What was perhaps more interesting was the old section of the building, and the history of how they used to make wine. Instead of stainless steel, the tanks were made of oak.

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On the side, each tank lists a sequence number, as well as it’s capacity. Ascending up a floor, one can see the tops of the wooden tanks, where the grapes & juice would be loaded in.

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If you look closely on this photo, on the bottom right side, you will see a railroad track. There are 4 of them along the top, upon which a work table sits.

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The red door on the right side of the photo is where grapes were brought into the building, hoisted from the horse carts via the swinging bucket to the left of the door. Bunches would be loaded into the circular container right behind the door. From there, the table the chateau worker is holding is filled with white tines facing upward. This is how they used to de-stem the grapes, bunches were pulled along horizontally and the tines would pluck the grapes off, which would then fall through the holes into the area were the worker was standing. At the time, the worker would also be walking in place non-stop, to crush the grapes. The whole platform could be moved along the tracks, and when full, uncorked on either side allowing the juice and grapes to flow into one of the wooden tanks. The tour guide explained this was the work for the women, perhaps because it was physically less demanding than other jobs, or perhaps simply because they would tend to have cleaner feet.

An interesting tidbit, between fermentation cycles, the wooden tanks would need to be cleaned. However, fermenting causes a build-up of carbon dioxide which could potentially be fatal for a worker who went into the tanks. The simple solution? Bring a candle in with you, if the candle goes out, there is not enough oxygen, and you should leave immediately.

Finally, we continued on to the aging cellar, where they had an impressive amount of barrels stored.

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Most wineries/chateaus will keep their barrels with the access hole facing straight up. However, at Lynch-Bages, they kept their barrels slightly askew, with the access hole at more of a 45-degree angle, and with a rag stuffed between the barrel and the stopper. The reason is to reduce the amount lost to evaporation – the “angel’s share”. By keeping a rag in place, and exposed to liquid therefore kept moist, a tighter seal is formed so less airflow makes it inside the barrel and less moisture escapes. Some is indeed lost through the rag itself, but apparently less than using the traditional ragless method. In any case, regardless of rag use or not, every couple of weeks a barrel is sacrificed in order to top off what is lost out of every other barrel. This keeps the amount of air in the barrel at a minimum and helps prevent oxidation.

We walked past the owner’s collection, a musty room filled with old vintages. Perhaps the most spectacular of the collection was kept in a glass dome, a half-bottle of their wine that astronaut Patrick Baudry brought to space and back – as of Oct 2016, the only bottle of wine ever to complete such a journey. One has to wonder how this might affect the aging, though I can’t imagine such a priceless bottle will ever be opened for any occasion.

After the tour at Chateau Lynch-Bages, we stopped at their store to pick up a bottle of their 2010 vintage, an excellent year. Then right next door, we stopped at the Cafe Lavinal for lunch, where I got a grilled lamb rack and Cait had a proper AAAAA Andouillette sausage, made using real pig intestine/colon. It definitely had a unique smell and taste to it, the waitress tried to be very clear about that up-front. But Cait soldiered on and made respectable progress on it, even the waitress was impressed when she came to bus the table.

Soon we were on the way to Chateau Pinchon Longueville Baron, where we actually had a private tour for just the two of us.

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We got a brief tour of the chateau, learning about the family that originally owned it. There is a chateau with a very similar name right next door – when the original owner of the land died, he left 3/5ths to his 3 sons, and 2/5ths to his 2 daughters. This ended up becoming two different chateaus, and over time, they drifted apart. Today, they have nothing to do with each other really, except being architecturally similar and in close proximity. As with many chateaus we have already visited, Pinchon Longueville Baron is today no longer owned by a family, but by an insurance company. However, the lineage which used to work these places is still involved in the routine wine-making operations.

We eventually descended underground, to the fermentation tanks.

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A clever design, their room consists of concentric rings of tanks. On the outermost two rings, stainless steel tanks. The second-to-innermost ring, wood tanks. And finally, in the middle ring, 6 underground cement tanks which can be seen as capped holes in the floor in the right-middle of the image above. The reason for concentric rings? As fermentation progresses, juice is moved between tanks by a pump. But using this layout, they minimize the amount of piping necessary, reducing costs, and they also minimize the amount of time the juice is in the piping, a relatively thermally-unregulated area. Eventually, the products from all tanks will be combined.

Moving on to the aging cellar, another vast quantity of barrels was to be found.

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The location of this aging cellar? Right underneath the reflecting pool in the chateau building photo above – look closely in the grassy area to see it. This helps to thermally regulate the room, and again minimizes the costs to the chateau. We moved onto the tasting room, and the results were no doubt delicious, but neither of their labels stood out greatly to us, and the prices were quite high. We decided not to purchase a bottle, but we did still have to pay for the tour at this place, 8 Euros a piece. The price was well worth it considering it was a private tour through an impressive facility.

And finally on the day’s docket, we stopped into Chateau Pontet-Canet.

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This chateau owns one of the largest plots in the area, weighing in at 120 hectares (about 300 acres). The first part of the tour was outside, where the tour guide had us load into a large golf cart. She drove us directly into the vineyard for an impressive view of their facilities and grounds.

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Much like the first tour of the day at Chateau Lynch-Bages, this one also had a history component, as their original facilities are still intact. The process again included wooden tanks.

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If the architectural style looks familiar, it is because it was designed during the same time period as the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t get to go to the second floor here, but the setup was much the same, with a twist. Once steam power came along, this chateau actually mechanized their second-floor rail system with pulleys and ropes, to reduce the burden on the workers and increase operational efficiency.

These days, however, the winery attempts to use biodynamic methods. These include steps such as:

  • Burying nearly 1000 “horns” of cow manure during the winter to fertilize the ground.
  • Using only natural insect repellents instead of pesticides.
  • Tending to different parts of the plants during different parts of the lunar cycle (trimming leaves is more stressful to a plant during full-moon, when the leaves are active for more of the day and night).
  • Eliminating their use of tractors in favor of using horses.
  • Hand-picking only, instead of using mechanized pickers (though many non-biodynamic chateaus also still do this, bringing in hundreds of workers for harvest, usually Portuguese, and more often than not, the same people from the same villages year after year).

But their efforts don’t stop there. All of the fermentation tanks they use are made of cement.

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To prevent seepage through the porous stone material, a layer of tartaric acid is applied to the inside of the tank. And much like their stainless brethren, these tanks still include a temperature control coil.

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One massive benefit of using concrete tanks is “thermal inertia”, the idea that a concrete tank will not fluctuate in temperature nearly as much as a stainless steel tank will. This means the thermal coil will be used far less frequently, saving energy.

While this chateau does still age in some oak barrels in their wine cellar (this is one of the very few chateaus with an actual far-underground wine cave)…

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…their commitment to the environment has them mostly aging in custom-designed concrete tanks, for which they have a patent on the design.

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These aging tanks are also lined, however, instead of using tartaric acid, the material in which the grapes to be aged best grow in is used – granite and crushed stone for Cabernet Sauvignon, and clay for Merlot. In the end, again as common in all of Bordeaux, the final results from all aging tanks, wood or cement, will be blended before release to ensure all bottles have a consistent product. These tanks are relatively new for the chateau, 2012 is their first varietal to use them.

Of course, no chateau tour is complete without a glimpse of the owner’s private stash, and since this one had a full underground cave, the collection here was extremely impressive.

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Back upstairs in the tasting room, we tried their first-label wine. It was absolutely fantastic. Although a bit on the pricier end for all of their options, we picked up one of the relatively cheaper 2012 varietals, the first to use those cement tanks. The chateau suggests it will age up to 30 years, we most certainly won’t be waiting that long.

Much like wineries in California, most Bordeaux chateaus stop hosting guests/tastings around 4pm-5pm, so we had some time to wait before most places would open for dinner at around 7:30pm. We drove about 5 minutes and parked in downtown Pauillac to walk around for a while. Passing multiple groups playing boulle on the dirt sidewalks, we found our way into a small seaport.

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But Pauillac was quite small so it didn’t take too long to reach the other end. We crossed the street and turned back, happening upon a cute small wine shop named La Cave la Route Des Charteaux. Inside we found a 2005 vintage, another excellent year, and got it for a very reasonable price. As well, we found as a more recent 2010 vintage we wouldn’t feel as guilty about drinking sooner rather than later.

It was now about 7pm, and we were a half hour from the place we planned to have dinner. But, we first wanted to talk to the hotel staff about breakfast tomorrow and drop off our wines in the hotel room. Since the hotel and restaurant are in close proximity, we stopped by the hotel first and accomplished our mission. We set out for dinner at La Maison du Douanier where I experienced another life first and had a veal dish, a stuffed breast. Cait managed to enjoy a mushroom-based main dish there, not a usual favorite food of hers.

We paid and left, and went back to our hotel room to document our day and catch some sleep on the earlier side. Tomorrow would be another early day with hotel breakfast at 9am before our first chateau appointment at 11am!


Our earliest day yet here in Bordeaux, we were up in time for a hotel breakfast that was far too large for either of us to finish. Plain and chocolate croissants, fresh fruit, real yogurt, applesauce, orange juice, coffee/tea, 3 different jams for 3 different types of breads… mon dieu! Also a little more housekeeping, another laundry run was due. The hotel documentation said that a laundry load would cost 5 Euros, so at breakfast we inquired about doing laundry later tonight. The response we got surprised us, “well if you leave your dirty clothes here this morning, we will have them washed for you by night.” After coming from a 5-star hotel attempting to charge almost criminal prices for laundry (think 10 Euros per pair of pants), we were taken aback. But lo and behold, we left them our pile of laundry, and when we returned later in the night, there were two piles of clean clothes folded in our room, sans jeans which needed some extra dryer time. Compare this to even the Lyon laundromat, for which we paid 13 Euros and needed to hang around personally for over 2 hours. Everyone, if you are planning a Bordeaux visit, plan to stay at Hotel Rollan de By, you will certainly be more than comfortable in your stay.

All our hotel business aside, we set a course for our first destination, Chateau Prieure-Lichine in Cantenac.

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We joined the tour right on time and our first stop was the modern fermenting tanks. This chateau has joined the ranks of others and gone with concrete.

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However, look closely at the tanks, you will see horizontal bands. In this chateau’s design, the cooling coil is actually embedded inside the concrete wall of the tank. The engineer in me wonders, why not both an interior and a tank coil? Perhaps entering the cement tank first, coolant would alter the temperature of the cement, and after proceeding to a central coil, the middle of the juice would be tempered by the thermal inertia of the cement. But I shouldn’t give away too many details of my grand plans…

Of course, no chateau tour would be complete without a stop in an impressive aging cellar.

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Some interesting tidbits we learned of this place, they source their barrels from 7 different cooperage shops all around France. Since these aged individual barrels are all blended, by diversifying their barrel portfolio with all medium toasts, they seek to attain a true average product representative of medium-toast French oak wood. In the aging room, instead of electric dehumidifiers, there are bowls of sawdust and wood shavings scattered around. Not sure how effective this method is, I would assume there’s a backup system, but surely it does work to some degree and is far cheaper to operate.

Although I didn’t get a photo of the cellar collection, this chateau had a unique opportunity for collectors out there – one can buy a collectible vintage (say, 1982) and have the chateau continue to store it for them in their cellar in perfect conditions. When one is ready to consume, just stop by and pick it up! To make up for the lack of cellar collection photo, here’s their outside garden-wall, designed to help keep internal temperatures low without using additional energy.

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We tasted the 2011 of their first and second labels, with the first label being a tremendous product. We walked over to the store, their prices were very reasonable, and we found that for a couple Euro more, we could get a bottle of the 2010 vintage, widely accepted to be superior to the 2011. We couldn’t pass up such an opportunity, and one will adorn our wine rack upon our return for many years to come.

Upon departure, it was lunch time. Checking Google, we found Le Savoie to have great ratings, and had passed it on our way to the first chateau. We drove to it for all of 4 minutes and parked on the street before we were seated. Google Maps reported that the next chateau on our list was a 6-minute walk away from here, so we had about an hour and a half to eat. Cait had a duck appetizer, with a pork rib main dish and a chocolate-based dessert plate. I was a little worried about time and only got an entrecote (rib steak) for main dish, and a cafe (espresso) for dessert.

Time ticked by as we sat outside in the 70+ degree sun and turned the perfect shade of pink, soon it was nearing time to leave, and our desserts had still not come. Alas, they arrived 3 minutes before we absolutely had to depart, and those around us took witness to something special and perhaps uniquely American, the speed-meal. We finished just in the nick of time, and having paid l’addition before the desserts came out, we walked briskly to Chateau Lascombes, arriving slightly late but not last to begin the scheduled 2pm tour.

It began like many, with a walk around the original chateau. This one was impressive by all accounts.

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Here, they used a mix of wood and stainless steel tanks, with underground cement tanks available for the mixing processes. Of course, the wine will be aged in French Oak barrels in another impressive aging cellar.

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This chateau used a style in the barrel known as “on lees”. Whereas most places will remove dead yeast and sediment from their wine in the barrel in a process known as racking – where the wine is moved between different barrels – this chateau instead had a custom barrel racking setup, where the barrels are kept on small rack-mounted castor wheels. In the old days, they’d go around with a cane and disturb the sediment to mix it back into the wine, now all they need to do is rotate the whole barrel a time or two in-place and the sediment is again suspended for a while. This process will be repeated every few weeks for months.

The owner of this chateau has an impressive collection as well, with vintages dating back to 1881 that are surely good for only salad dressing at this point.

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We did again learn, however, that the owner of this chateau is no longer the original family, but an American holdings group involved with insurance practices. This was becoming a theme in our visit, that chateaus owned for generations by the same families were being bought out as of 2007, 2011, and the last couple of years.

In the tasting room, we were impressed with how full-bodied the wines were. The second label was strong and forceful. The first label was a bit more subdued in body, but smooth and well-rounded. The strong body on both wines is no doubt a product of the on lees method of production. We thanked the tour guide and headed out back to our hotel room before it would be time for dinner.

Following the advice of the hotel staff, we ended up at Le Ble Noir, where I had an appetizer of 4 shrimp in a whiskey cream sauce. They were delicious, but upon giving Cait a small bite, she almost gagged, and – shoutout to our cousins from Mississippi – swore she would never eat another shrimp again unless Sandi picked it up with us from the dock fresh that morning, and Mike shelled, marinated, and grilled them on a stick. For main course, I went with the fish of the day, a flatfish filet, and Cait had the buckwheat crepe with 3 cheeses. Splitting a cafe gourmond for dessert, we headed back to the hotel for sleep with another full day ahead of us, including having a second hotel breakfast at the same relatively early hour as the day before!


We didn’t have to get up quite as early this time, our first tour appointment was for 2:30pm at Chateau La Dominique. After enjoying another lovely hotel breakfast, we decided to first check out Saint Emilion, the town in which the Chateau resides, and home of the original French macaroon. The town is gorgeous, and full of both wine stores and bakeries, with grapes growing as far as the eye can see in most directions.

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We didn’t have long here until we needed to make our way to Chateau La Dominique.

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We began our tour, which started atop the roof of the winery, where there was a small restaurant and wine bar.

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This Chateau was a little artsy for my personal taste. Looking at the photo above, the glass pebbles that catch the eye have different hues, matching the proportions of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot that the winery uses in their first label. The siding of the building, visible towards the grape fields center-image, starts out with a lighter hue at the top, and descends to a darker hue on the bottom, representing the phases the wine progresses through as it ferments and ages. And the killer of all facts about this chateau – they don’t have any vines older than 40 years old. After 40 years, they rip up any remaining vines, to prevent disease – which sounds akin to a war crime in our book. This chateau also has a policy of rotating their varietals much as a farmer would rotate crops, but again this seems superfluous, since all of their grapes are of the same species and therefore likely absorbs a nearly identical mineral profile.

On to the aging room!

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This chateau also used the castor-wheel racks, but it seemed largely unnecessary, they do not ferment “on lees”, the only rotation they really do is to move the access hole from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock. It is never kept at 12 o’clock, that is where the air inside the barrel will sit, and it is best to have the access hole under the level of the wine fluid, so as to reduce the amount of oxidation which occurs in the barrel.

This chateau went slightly out of order, and the second step of the tour was actually the first step of the process, the fermentation tanks. They use only stainless steel for this.

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They use only the pump-over method to extract from the cap here, no punch-down at all. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this shop is that they are actively experimenting with temperature-controlling the barrel-aging process.

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We saw their stainless steel mixing tanks, and secondary aging rooms as well. Finally, proceeding to the tasting room, we were thoroughly underwhelmed with their wines, and left without a purchase. We had bigger plans for tonight, which would take us straight into the heart of Bordeaux. We drove the 45 minutes and parked in the first available garage near the river. Walking along it, we stumbled upon an old sailboat we had heard was docked for a little while here.

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The sun began to set, but we still had a couple of hours until our dinner reservations, so we wandered around town for a while.

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Finally, it was time for dinner reservations – at Le Bordeaux owned by Gordon Ramsay himself. We went in as early as we could, 7pm, having made reservations for this time weeks ago. We ordered a charcuterie board to share as an appetizer. For the main course, none other than Gordon’s signature beef wellington to share. A word to the wise, if you ever get the opportunity, get one of these. It’s even more delicious than he makes it look on his TV shows. We washed it down with a 2010 Saint Julien until it was dessert time, Cait had more of a molten lava cake type dish, and I had the lemon meringue pie. After a couple of espressos, we were ready for the 1h30 drive back to the hotel.

The drive back proved a little difficult, the amount of fog this area sees can be a little insane – at times cutting visibility to only a few meters. Driving carefully, we arrived back safe and sound around 11pm, in time to go to bed as we needed to be up a little past 6am for breakfast before we were to check out of Bordeaux and be on to our next destination.


The last of our time in Bordeaux, we had yet another lovely breakfast at Hotel Rollan de By. Seriously everyone, if you ever visit this area, I cannot recommend this hotel enough. The rooms are lovely, and the staff are some of the friendliest and most helpful we’ve ever encountered. We loaded up our car, checked out and paid our bill, then departed for Bordeaux once more. We filled up the rental car with gas, going from 1/4 tank to full ran us about 50 USD since we calculated gas over here was about USD 5.82/gallon. Avis was a little weird near the train station, they had separate locations for rentals and returns. Nevertheless, we figured it all out, and soon we were at the train station and boarded onto our TGV line.

One caveat we faced, even though we had paid for 2 reservations, one of them was for a seat labeled as “place non attribuee(s)”, or basically, “yeah you can take this car – it’s already filled but there’s a couple of luggage-area drop-seats that can be used if all the other real seats are taken.” We sat together as long as possible until an older woman informed me I was in her seat, I checked around for another empty seat but alas I indeed ended up in the drop-seat for the last 2h of the ride. This made napping impossible, but on the plus side, it encouraged me to get more reading done.

Soon we would be arriving in Paris for 6 nights. I cannot imagine how much more action-packed the days there will be. Bordeaux was magnificent – all the charms of country life, 1h away from a major city, and the people were uniformly friendly. Even driving around Bordeaux center, I noted the fact that despite my ignorance of routes, I wasn’t honked at once. We’ll miss this place, especially having learned so much about their wines and processes. But, the show – errr trip – must go on, so here we come, Paris, see you in a couple of hours!

Moving at impressive speeds, the French TGV train got us from Lyon to Aix-en-Provence in only 1h30 with a single stop between. Arriving at our most recent destination, we found that the information desk with 4 workers was empty, providing a perfect opportunity to make our next set of travel reservations. We needed seats from Aix-en-Provence to Bordeaux, and from Bordeaux to Paris. Looking at our hotel check-out times, we selected which trains we would take and locked down two adjacent seats for the Aix-en-Provence to Bordeaux trip. However, still a week away, the TGV between Bordeaux and Paris that we wanted was already booked solid. Alas, not all was lost, the train 1 hour earlier had seats available. We snatched them up and patted ourselves on the backs for being so proactive.

Outside the train station, we ordered an Uber as there was no simple bus route to our hotel and it was too far to walk. Uber also beats the pants off taxi pricing, and as a bonus you provide up front both your pickup and destination addresses, so you don’t really need to communicate with the driver through a language barrier. After a painless pickup and a 20-minute 30-Euro ride later, we were at our hotel. And what a hotel we were at…

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Yes, they earned all the stars. And at check-in we realized that usually comes with a price. We had booked a “superior” room for our time here through hotels.com for $189/night, but the front-desk listed the normal price at a whopping 365 Euros/night (at the time of this writing, 1 Euro = 1.10 USD). The room is gigantic, with a closet in an entryway, a large bed space with a queen mattress, and a private bath with both a Jacuzzi tub and independent shower stall. And that is only just the beginning, walk outside and you can enjoy the same gardens that Cezanne himself loved strolling about, admiring while accompanied by his easel and paint.

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The interior was just as fine, but we’d have more time to explore that later, there was still some sunlight available for us outside. Heading off of the property and towards Central Ville, Aix-en-Provence’s “main drag”, we stopped at a few different stores and eateries, eventually having a lovely dinner on the edge of town. We went into town only a bit before it was dark, and picked up some wine along our way. We noticed a pattern, just about every intersection was a circle, and just about every circle has some sort of fountain or intricate work of art in the center. No wonder Cezanne called this place home.

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We walked back to the hotel to retire for the night, stopping along the way to check out the Aix-en-Provence train station. You see, while we arrived into Aix via the TGV, that station is completely separate and a 20-minute car ride away. The station from which we will eventually depart towards Bordeaux is right in town, a 15-minute walk from the hotel. This is also the station we will use if we decide to visit other nearby towns, such as Marseille, in the next day or two. Hurrah for being proactive!

While walking back, another fact of Aix-en-Provence became abundantly clear, this is definitely a college town. With 75%+ of people walking around a similar age as us, the city has a very lively night life, with bars and brasseries overflowing with people and conversations into the streets. We found this to be good news, we could explore other areas during the daylight hours, and still feel comfortable walking around town late at night. Finally back at the hotel, we opened up the cremant we had picked up, and discussed tomorrow’s plans before hitting the hay.


We had decided that today’s journey would be to Marseille. We departed the hotel after some espressos (free with the room), and headed down to the village train station. We paid for a rail ticket, and boarded shortly after. About a half hour later, we arrived at a train station that very closely resembles those one finds in New Jersey.

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It was warm and sunny on the coast, not a cloud in sight. Our phones reported 70 degrees, but to us it felt more like mid-80’s. We set off for Port Vieux (old port), down by the water. Along the way we saw what looked like a large cathedral in the very distance.

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We thought to ourselves, “that’s probably very pretty with excellent views, but it’s too far away to walk.” We’ll revisit that. There were tons of quintessentially French structures along the route to the old port.

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Nearing the water, it was afternoon, so we decided to find food before everywhere closed for the afternoon and didn’t reopen until 7pm. We found the cutest restaurant run by only two people, we imagined them as husband (cook) and wife (runner). Cait had a duck dish in fig sauce, while I got a faux-filet – the French term for a sirloin steak – which came with a delicious cream peppercorn sauce. While we ate, at least 3 people came through playing the accordion for tips. How delightfully French!

After paying l’addition and leaving, it was only a couple of minutes before we arrived at the water of the old port.

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This turned out to be apparently a very popular area.

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On the other side of the old port now, we decided to cut in a few streets and start to walk back. Along the way we found a pomegranate tree with a fruit low enough that I could grab it with a running jump. Nature provided an excellent tangy dessert.

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It wasn’t too long before we were atop a small hill, and looking back at the old port, the views were becoming impressive.

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Turning around, there was a set of steep stairs as the hill continued up, we decided we couldn’t turn back now, we had to see what was at the top. As we went, we soon realized the cathedral we saw earlier was at the top, and we were more than halfway there already. No turning back now!

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Onward and upward we climbed in the sun & heat, until finally we made it to the top.

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It was all suddenly so worth it.

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The inside of the cathedral was almost as impressive as the view outside it, and on par with fourviere in Lyon.

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We stayed atop admiring the views for a while longer, then decided to make our way back down the hill via a different path, no use in trudging the same ground twice while exploring.

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We walked around the old port for a while longer, but as the sun was setting, we headed back to the train station to get back to our hotel. Once returned, we made reservations at the hotel restaurant. There we enjoyed a lovely meal fitting for a 5-star hotel, with Cait having a “suckling pig” stuffed with quinoa, and a filet for myself (hey – don’t judge – I’ve been looking forward to French steak-frites for a long time before this trip!) A Latin Jazz band played as we ate, next to a crackling fireplace.

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I observed hotel staff restock the firewood at one point, bringing in the wood on a literal silver platter, just like we all do at home. After dinner, we visited the hotel bar, where for the first time in my life, I purchased a cigar (Cuban of course) with a glass of Havana Rum. We sat outside and puffed away on it, until at last it was far too late for us and we returned to the room to shower up before bed, lest we smell like smoke for the rest of the trip.


For the title of this visit to be Aix-en-Provence, we didn’t spend the majority of our days in this town. Today, we set our sights on Cassis. Catching the train and transferring at Marseille to another line, about 2 hours after we set out from the hotel, we were there… almost. The fastest walking route from the train station to the town center was about 45 minutes. But as ever eager adventurers, I plotted a different course away from main roads that took us through farmland and a forest.

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Eventually, we found the town, and came down a path probably only frequented by the locals.

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Et viola, we had arrived in Cassis!

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We walked along the coastline, while many people bathed in the sea. The weather was absolutely splendid, still sunny and 70’s, and the water was quite warm to the touch.

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All along the water’s edge sat bars and restaurants. We checked the hours, and as is typical in most of France so far, the majority of places are closed between approximately 3pm and 7pm. Looking at the train schedule for the Cassis station that was still a 45-minute walk away, the last train home would leave right at 10pm. So we decided if we found an eatery that would open back up at 7pm, we could take 2 hours to eat here and then climb back up the hill to get back home, with a little extra time just in case we were to take a wrong turn somewhere.

However, it was only 5pm, and after exploring all of the rather small town, we settled on a small bar that had local wines and half-bottles of champagne. While we were there, the sun started to set, and provided us with beautiful images I’ll remember forever.

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…and the real star of the gallery…

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While sitting there enjoying the sunset, a couple interesting occurrences transpired. First, a younger couple started making out sitting next to an older couple who couldn’t have cared less. Not the first time we’ve seen this in France, and we reflected back to dinner in Colmar with the Swiss couple telling us about visiting America. You see, they’d found a hot spring, and as such, disrobed and jumped in, only to be chased out and yelled at when happened upon. They also recalled going to the beach with a beer, and being told it was not acceptable, but after putting the beer into a brown paper bag, now all was well. This sight of the young couple making out (and they were really going at it) would surely have invited commentary in America, but here, c’est la vie. While we call ourselves the “land of the free”, other countries laugh at the thought and carry on with their lives uninterrupted.

The second interesting happenstance was that the bar proprietor lived in Bordeaux – our next destination – for 20 years before coming to Cassis. He lived right above the bar, so the view out his front window is literally that panorama above. He didn’t speak English well, so I was forced to test out my French, and it didn’t go half bad. He loves the weather in Cassis – other than January and February, it is pretty much sunny and 70 degrees year-round. In Bordeaux, he said to expect lots of rain, but I checked the weather report and it looks like we will somehow manage to avoid it, currently calling for upper 60’s and full sun for the duration of our time there. The rest of the conversation was mostly just him listing off delicious wines to try while there. I had found quite a kindred spirit.

It was finally nearing 7pm and so we stopped by the nearest restaurant that Google awarded a 4.3 star rating to, L’Oustau de la Mar. We were the first ones seated and to get our orders in, good news since we were on a bit of a schedule. We got a bottle of 2013 Domaine du Paternel which was out-of-this-world, and, being literally right on the Mediterranean coast, I opted for the grilled sea bass without hesitation. This time, it was Cait’s turn for a dinner of steak-frites. After some panna cotta for dessert, we paid our due and departed.

We made it up the hill and back to the station without issue, so we had some time to spare. Pretty much right at 10pm, the train picked us up. After a half-hour layover in Marseille again, soon we were on the train back to Aix-en-Provence. We arrived and walked back to the hotel, coming through the front gates just a few minutes before midnight.

There was still one thing left to do – we hadn’t gone swimming in the heated pool yet. The hotel staff tried to talk us out of it, not for fear of noise or anything, just safety. But we both know how to swim well and there’s two of us, so they eventually relented and opened the door lock to outside. We swam under clear skies, the night sky filled with stars, water perfectly warmed. After some time, we got out, toweled off, and after a few moments fireside back indoors, we were more than ready for bed.


Our last day in Aix-en-Provence, we got up on the early side, showered, and packed up our things. We checked out of the hotel and walked down to the train station by noon, soon to begin our 6+ hour train ride to Bordeaux, during which I finish this blog post. Ciao ciao Aix-en-Provence, your town (and those surrounding) are lovely, your weather perfect, and your people kind. We will certainly miss the southern French coast as we barrel forwards to our next destination!

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After arriving at the Colmar station, we took the train to Mulhouse station, the next stop, only a 20 minute ride. We found the track for the TGV for which we had seats reserved, and waited for it to arrive. Boarded with our bags in the dedicated area, we took our seats and began the almost-3-hour ride to Lyon. Since we were caught up on sleep, we were able to stay awake and get some reading done. After arriving at the Lyon station, we made our way to the street and navigated the 25 minute walk to Hotel Le Roosevelt, home for the next 4 nights.

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We dropped our bags and looked for food nearby, finding the aptly named Le Theodore restaurant in close proximity. After a dinner of filet mignon (cooked a-point [pronounced “ah-pwah”], meaning literally “on point”) and tuna steak (cooked likewise), we ordered a rum-based dessert that promised it came with a carafe of rum on the side. Sadly, it was a small supply…

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Once again full and happy, we journeyed the arduous one-block trek back to the hotel and went to bed.


Ah, the first full day in Lyon. What to do, what to do. We thought we had 11am reservations at Cafe de Federations, but after crossing the mighty Rhone…

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…we quickly realized our reservations were for noon, and for tomorrow. Oops. Oh well, we were nearby Lyon Vieux (Old Lyon) so we decided to do some walking around and sightseeing. Little did we know how far that would take us today.

We started by crossing over the equally-impressive Saone:

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and we quickly ran into Lyon’s courthouse:

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as well as a beautiful church, Cathedrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste:

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The architecture around this square is extremely impressive.

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We began heading up the hill towards fourviere and the views grew more and more impressive.

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and at last, atop the hill, we stood face-to-face with one of the most impressive cathedrals we’ve ever seen in person, la basilique notre dame de fourviere.

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The inside can take your breath away.

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Each wall was adorned with 3 pieces of mosaic art. In this picture, you cannot even tell individual tiles from each other. The intricacy and detail astounds.

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Then, walking out of the cathedral and to the side, one can see almost the whole of Lyon, as shot in this panorama. You might click it to view the full-size version, this thumbnail cannot capture the details we witnessed in person.

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High atop the hill also sits a mini-Eiffel-tower, which seems to serve as an extremely multi-functional communications hub given it’s high position.

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Continuing on, we passed what might be the largest cemetery I have personally ever witnessed.

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We did go into the cemetery and walk around. The headstones and mausoleums left great impressions, with some families beginning plots in the 1700’s. After walking inside for about an hour, we had still not hit any of the sides, and we returned from whence we came. Descending back down the hill, we were witness to many views we found beautiful, yet likely just part of everyday-life for a citizen of Lyon.

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From far north atop Croix-Rousse, we descended once again and headed back to the hotel. But crossing the river Rhone again, this time north of where we started, we were next to the Parc de la Tete d’Or, which was definitely on the todo list. It didn’t take long before we were glad we took the time.

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Soon the sun started to set on us, but it only made the park even more majestic.

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It was getting dark, so from the park, we walked the 15 minutes back to our hotel to wind down. All in all, about 11 miles of walking all over Lyon, in no particular efficient pattern.

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Exhausted and quite frankly a little sore, we looked for a dinner spot near our hotel, but this being Sunday in France, very few were to be found. We stopped at the Japanese restaurant Nikko right near the hotel, then headed back and very quickly passed out cold.


Walking… if there is to be a theme for our time in Lyon, it is walking. Iliotibial bands tight and feet blistered, we awoke and headed over for our actual reservation time at Cafe de Federations. After a lovely meal of way too many appetizers, pork sausage in a red-wine sauce, and chicken in a vinegar sauce (almost like a vindaloo but not nearly as spicy), we headed out. Crossing the Saone once again, we wandered around Lyon Vieux again, eventually stopping at a wine bar where we enjoyed some delicious Hermitage vintages. Heading back, yet another beautiful church was along the way.

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We continued up the hill towards Croix Rousse once again, and stopped to look back and take in the sight. What a city…

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Along the way we picked up a Beaujoulais wine and a pinot noir bubbly, as well as a peppercorn sausage, so we stopped briefly at the hotel to drop off our plunder. Bubbly in the minifridge, we set out again, there was no time to lose, sunset was arriving again soon. We headed back to the Parc de la Tete d’Or, on our first visit yesterday we only glossed the surface by walking the perimeter of their lake. This park is so large that it is also home to the largest free zoo in all of Europe. We passed by their botanical gardens…

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…and many other beautiful sculptures along the way.

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Finally, we made it to the zoo. However, it was already too late, the park’s zoo closes rather early, 5pm most of the year and 6pm in April and October. Many animals were housed outside the zoo gates, however, so we still got to see quite a bit.

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We walked back to the hotel and searched for a place for dinner. Finding La Table 101, we set course and got there just as they opened at 7:30pm – very fortunate as there were only a couple of unreserved tables available. There we had a delicious meal – several courses, and all so gorgeously plated one felt bad eating such works of art.

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^ That’s lobster, crab, and caviar with a carrot puree.

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For main courses, we both went with the duck, but served different ways. Of course it was cooked a point. It all went down so easy, and then onto dessert. I had a caramel chocolate bar with coffee ice cream, while Cait just couldn’t refuse the souffle.

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^ I can’t even begin to describe that souffle. A large dish, but so light and airy, after finishing one isn’t sure they had dessert at all, except perhaps for the warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Fat and happy, we walked back to the hotel for bed, and to prepare for our last full day in Lyon. While laying in bed, some severe thunderstorms passed by, providing a perfect ending to the day as rain pattered against our window.


Waking up on the later side, the skies were dark and the rain was still coming down hard. We checked the forecast, it wasn’t going to stop. On with the rain jackets! But first, a bit of housekeeping – we found during our travels a laundromat on the same block as the hotel, so we stopped by, paid a few Euro for the use of a large machine, threw all our clothes in on a heavy-duty cold cycle, and wandered around for a while. Returning to throw it in the dryer and eventually to fold the finished clothes, we were ready to wander. Today’s mission – walk to the point where the Saone river merges into the Rhone. It was a hike, about 1h15 of walking along the river bank, but as always, Lyon is there to provide exceptional views.

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Finally, we made it. The picture doesn’t really do the experience justice. The water wasn’t particularly violent when it merged, but there was something about the volume of liquid merging that a still photo just can’t capture.

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We crossed back over the Rhone and headed back towards the hotel, searching for somewhere to eat dinner along the way. We found a creperie en route with an astonishing 4.9 star rating. We stopped in, after another hour of walking. For dinner, we got a large fondue pot with salad, charcuterie, and a basket of fresh sliced bread. Mark my words closely, this is all I ever want to eat for the rest of my life. I’ve never had such a delicious fondue before. For dessert, I had a couple scoops of house-made mint chocolate chip ice cream with an espresso, and Cait got a dessert crepe – the creole – served with banana, hot chocolate sauce, Chantilly cream, and rum which was promptly set ablaze on the plate. Settling up on the cheque, we walked the 10 minutes back to the hotel and began to pack up our things – tomorrow we have one more stop in Lyon, but after that, we check out of the hotel and head over to Aix-en-Provence.


You’d think there wouldn’t be too much left, but no, we barely scratched the surface of Lyon. Waking up early, we finished packing our final things, checked out, and left our bags with the hotel. We walked down to Les Halles de Lyon, a large building with many individual vendors inside, resembling what Americans might call a shopping mall.

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We walked around inside for a half hour or so, somehow still astounded at how much the French love their wine and cheese shops. Oh and chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. Charcuterie and seafood too. We stopped at one of their bars and tried some more Beaujoulais wine, delicious as always. However, noon approached and we had train reservations, so we headed back, picked up our bags, and walked them over to the station. Riding the train out of town, we looked back on the last several days, having thoroughly enjoyed Lyon while covering tons of ground.

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There was so much more we could have seen and done, but we felt accomplished, if not a little worn out, and looked forward to our next stop!