Saturday, June 2, 2012

Working hard

Evidence of Amie hard at work on her PhD. Really, I was working!
Giscours Tasting at Max Bordeaux
The question is, can you identify me? (in black looking very studious, of course)

Mode de Vie

I do believe it is a sign of a civilised country when you can be noodling around the supermarket on a Saturday morning just picking up a few things for lunch and in the basket goes a small bottle of Cognac for 5 euros. Ah, just the thing for my last few days in France. I'm not quite sure what the people in the checkout queue thought as I bought goat's cheese, lettuce, yoghurt, milk and cognac. Hopefully that I was concocting an extraordinary culinary delight.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Petanque, bien sur

What an intriguing window I have. Having spent the day at the beach yesterday I came home and looked out to find the town petanque competition in full swing. Oh so gallic - to be playing boule on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the car park.

And of course, a temporary bar had been erected for an obligatory glass of pastis for participants and spectators. C'est pour ca que j'adore les petites villes - that's why I love small towns. No fuss or fanfares, just people doing what they enjoy in simple and practical ways.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Gateau de Shoe

I finally gave in to the pressure of not being able to see properly and went to the hairdresser down the road today. We're having the usual polite conversation (except I'm from Australia and she's from Nancy, in the north east of France. About as far as you can get from Pauillac and still be in France), and she poses the question of food. Do I like the food and wine in France? I resist instinctive urge to say that I have organised my life so that I can come and enjoy France's gastronomical delights on a regular basis and politely answer in the affirmative. Any country that can produce things like this photo has, by definition, won my instant allegiance.

(Yes, what you see is indeed a shoe made from chocolate filled with macarons sitting on a chocolate coated cake. And with a red sole it must be a Christian Louboutin!)

Friday, May 11, 2012

La grande plage - Biarritz

I'm very tempted to stay here in Biarritz. It's a gorgeous Art Deco town on the Atlantic coast near Spain which was in its heyday in the 1920s.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Look out Lucie!

The cheese & wine shop next door to our apartment. The proprietor is a lovely man, despite being somewhat overweight and hairy.
(Bruce says: Look out bear, here comes motor-mouth!}

Gabriel & Lucie, the fabulous bilinguals

Yet another boat - not sure what this one is, but it's a pretty colour!

Biarritz - c'est magnifique!

Gorgeous sunshine in the stylish Art Deco city of Biarritz down on the Atlantic coast. It was in its heyday in the 1920s and we stayed in a grand old hotel from the time. Fabulous Art Deco furniture and fittings that necessitated an olive in my martini.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rapunzel in Pauillac

Picture this: It's after midnight in Pauillac and we're just about to go to bed. I hear a whistle from the street and peering through the gaps in the shutters I spy a man on the street looking up at my window. He must be the whistler. So, wondering whether perhaps he is need of help, I open the shutters and windows and say Bonsoir. As it turns out, he's staying at the hotel a few doors down and is looking for a cafe or anywhere that's open to have a drink and round off his night. We have a conversation - he on the street, me at my second floor window - about the dearth of  activity in town. I learn that he's coming with a group of 35 people in November on a wine tour and will thus have to organise a night event. I inform him that given that I will be in Australia in November I can't assist him on that front. Et voila, we wish each other good night and I close the shutters again. I can only assume that he whistled at our window because it was the only lit window in Pauillac at 12.30 on Saturday night, in his words: "Pauillac, c'est mort" (Pauillac, it's dead.)
On further reflection, it is somewhat strange that I have not noticed a single bar or cafe in Pauillac. It's a town that has a reasonable population, and this is in stark contrast to the other towns I have spent time in in France. A mystery warranting further investigation.

Monday, April 23, 2012

La pluie, les nuages - tout gris

Well, for a quick contrast, this photo is the view from our window that has been the predominant one for the last three weeks. Coming from Ballarat I'm used to cold weather, but the consistency here is a little gloomy - three weeks of grey, wet, windy and cool is not the beautiful spring climate that I was expecting. It is apparently a little unseasonal, so hopefully our karma will improve and bring fine weather for the rest of the stay. Fingers crossed.
 I can't be too pessimistic. As the sun-drenched dredge demonstrates, there are a few moments of glorious sunshine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Turning whine into wine

Wine is an important part of life from a very early age here in Bordeaux - while your parents are inside tasting and buying wine, spend a little time on the grape slide. (Lucie and Gabe twigged instantly that it was a bunch of grapes - lucky they told their silly old mama what it was or she may have been puzzled for a lot longer!)

Monday, April 9, 2012

La Plage Atlantique

Et voila - a day at the beach on Easter Sunday. Two very happy kids had a big play on the enormous dunes on the Atlantic coast west of Pauillac yesterday. Despite the icy wind, which may or may not have explained the lack of children, Lucie ended up completely soaked with a grin from ear to ear. The huge tides and relatively shallow water mean the dunes are very steep and the beach is intriguing map of tiny rivers, ponds and islands with water trickling gently between them.

We collected a few stones or were they Easter eggs? (Sadly they lost their translucency when they dried.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

La vie est belle!

Sometimes the universe chooses to be kind and this trip to Bordeaux seems to be one of those occasions. Our apartment turns out to be much better than the very brief description and four photos that were the basis of my booking. These photos were taken from the lounge room!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two weeks until lift off!

New posts will be coming soon - I'm off to Bordeaux again to find out all I can about wine in the Medoc.
A bientot!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Olfactory Paradise

Coriander, Mint, Cumin, Figs, Cardamom … My nose is assaulted by a rich and delicious concoction of scents as I approach the Saint Michel market. Packed around Bordeaux’s highest monument, the 114m free-standing cathedral tower, Saturday morning is a hive of activity as Bordeaux residents descend to do their weekly shopping. The first thing my nose recognises is the coriander. Stalls piled high with fresh herbs – coriander, parsley, mint (I assume for tea), and various other culinary delights that my eye is not familiar with line the first row of the market. If I didn’t need to fill my basket with tempting produce I could quite happily sit and inhale the sweet scent for an hour or more.
Within minutes however, I am drawn to the visual feast of the spice stall. There must be at least 50 different spices sitting on the table, each in a small calico sack, as they have no doubt been sold for hundreds of years. They are sold by the gram, each purchase carefully scooped into a bag and weighed. My saliva glands are working overtime just imagining the array of different dishes they will end up in. As exotic cooking is not high on the priority list (why would it be when there are so many deli items available to taste?) I settle for a cake of soap from Provence, choosing the red vine for its deep red colour and visible seeds embedded in it, but mainly for the mysterious perfume.
Moving through the brilliant reds and oranges that signal the stone fruits of summer, my basket is gradually filled with kilograms of peaches, nectarines, pears, shiny summer vegetables, salad ingredients (including beef-heart tomatoes – deformed but delicious), eggs and figs. While it is tempting to try the curious, spotted barbarie figs – not a fig at all, but the fruit of the Prickly Pear, a noxious weed that grows rampantly along the train line between Ballarat and Melbourne – they will have to wait until next week as I can’t resist the real figs, plump and oozing sunshine. Back in our apartment, the figs don’t see the end of the day as it would be a crime not to devour them without restraint.
It is now Wednesday and our tiny fridge is no longer bursting at the seams, but by Friday things will be looking lean and the whole family will be once again looking forward to our Saturday morning market ritual.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Langon & Sauternes

Escaping the city for the weekend, we hopped on a bus and spent a few days relaxing in Langon. The bus follows the Garonne on the north side of the river. It takes longer than the train south of the river, but stops in all the little villages along the way. Built on the hillsides rising up from the river, and more often than not with fortifications dating from as far back as the 13th century, they are islands in the sea of vineyards that make up the Entre-deux-Mers region between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. The soil here owes its quality to the changing course of the Garonne over the centuries, creating an ideal environment for a range of grape varieties. At this time of year the vines are a vibrant green and the unripe fruit is just visible underneath the leaves.

Langon is on the south side of the river, which is considerably smaller here than at Bordeaux but given the length of the rail bridge, is prone to serious flooding. A marker on the river bank indicates the flood levels of the last century – up to 13m – which explains the damp smell and number of dilapidated houses close to the river (not the most attractive real estate!). Once a trading hub when the Garonne was the main freight route, especially for wine, Langon is now a quiet town of around 10,000 people. There are few tourists despite being at the doorstep of the Sauternes wine region, famous for its sticky wines.

Noble Rot is the Jekyll and Hyde of wine – how something as ugly as a bunch of shrivelled, brown grapes infected with the fungus botrytis can be transformed into a beautiful, golden drop that smells like there are hundred flowers in your glass is a miracle. Having tasted the bottom of the range, then a mid-range Sauternes, I’m inclined to believe the guide at the Maison de Sauternes when she said that the difference between mid- and top-range (not available for tasting, think Château d’Yquem) is ten times that – it must be heavenly. Botrytis thrives in this region due to the chilly waters of the Ciron, a tributary of the Garonne, meeting the relatively warm ground temperatures at harvest time. This in turn creates morning mists and damp conditions perfect for growing fungus. It gradually reduces the juice in the grapes so that the volume of wine produced is a fraction of other vineyards, but has a highly concentrated flavour.

Happily any fungus was long gone from our delightful B&B in Langon. Probably built last century, the house has been tastefully and luxuriously renovated based on the previous renovations in 1945. The architect’s plans still exist and apart from modernising electricity, water, bathrooms and kitchens, it keeps its 1940s character. In town, but set in a one hectare walled garden complete with pool, spa, and banana lounges, it was a wonderful change from our Bordeaux apartment. However it was our hosts, Elizabeth and Patrick, who really made the weekend wonderful – we were picked up from the station, and driven to the nearby Château de Roquetaillade (11th century but refurbished in the 19th century) among other excursions. They were great with the kids – Patrick had a seemingly endless supply of wooden toys and old games (my favourite was the frog on the box where you have to throw a disc into its mouth) and was enjoying having an excuse to play just as much as Gabe. By Sunday afternoon Patrick and Gabe were busy doing important things and having serious discussions in French about how things work.

Breakfast was included – thick hot chocolate, rich coffee, fresh pastries, homemade jams, and fresh, unpasteurised milk. Langon has the first milk vending machine in the region. It is a little shed in the centre of town where you can buy either a bottle or cup of milk at any time of day or night. Each morning just before 8am the local dairy farmer brings a fresh tank of milk to replace the previous day’s. Fresh milk really is a different thing from the homogenised/pasteurised supermarket product. I think we spent a good hour each morning sitting on the terrace or sunroom enjoying such a sumptuous breakfast – a great way to start the day.

Elizabeth served a traditional Basque meal on Saturday night. We were joined by the other guests, a newlywed Parisian couple, which turned out in our favour. The aperitif was served in the garden – prawns wrapped in bacon and cheese, cod balls in Basque sauce, and olives, with a rosé and dry white wine. Moving inside for the meal it was revealed (much to Elizabeth’s horror) that neither of the Parisians ate seafood, so Kent and I were obliged to have an extra serving of oysters and pipis. Oysters are sold closed in France and Patrick had kept them in the fridge for a week so they could de-stress after being harvested! Kent had a lesson on opening them correctly – it’s amazing how oysters can break down the language barrier. With entree we drank a very tasty New Zealand style sauvignon blanc made by a Belgian winemaker in Bordeaux. I guess this is one of the advantages of globalisation. Squid in ink sauce followed, which was quite unusual but delicious. Next came the cheese course which included a camembert that Elizabeth had been carefully aging for the newlyweds, however they didn’t like cheese anymore than seafood, so we profited once again. The two red wines from Entre-deux-mers (north of the river) and one from Graves (south) complemented the food beautifully and showed just how diverse wine can be even when it comes from one small area. The Graves was the closest to an Aussie-style red that we have come across so far. The crème catalan (similar to a crème brulée) finished a beautiful meal in good company and very pleasant surrounds.

We caught the bus back to Bordeaux on Sunday afternoon having had a very relaxed weekend and feeling like we’d been staying with good friends. This is definitely on my “must revisit” list and I’d highly recommend both the region and B&B. For a glimpse of the B&B go to

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2 July 2009 - Bordeaux University

Note to self: 38 hours travelling is a very long time (but it is worth it!)

Our apartment on campus.

There’s nothing quite like arriving in a new city accompanied by the glares of the locals. Your two year old screaming at top volume for a two hour flight is almost guaranteed to do this, but with the jetlag that goes with travelling halfway around the globe (and I wasn’t joking about the 38 hours) everything is a bit surreal. Things only get worse when you read a sign saying there are special swine flu forms to fill out if you’re from Australia and then you can’t work out how to release the luggage trolley even though you’ve got the right change. In the midst of all this, a friendly face holding a sign with your name on it when you’d been trying to calculate the cost of a taxi fare does wonders for the mood.

First impressions of Bordeaux (Talence, the university area south of the city) were not particularly impressive. While there is some interesting architecture, most of this area is reminiscent of post-war Eastern European construction – lots of grey, concrete buildings that look like they were built en masse in a hurry, as if someone had decided that Bordeaux needed a

Science faculty, so one was built in two weeks. On first glance many buildings look abandoned, but on closer inspection, I realise that hiding behind the run-down exterior and acres of graffiti they are still very much in use. (The brown buildings to the right are actually different science buildings - there are three identical in a row! The graffiti-covered medical centre took me by surprise - here's hoping the quality of care is better than the quality of the exterior.)

The campus itself is very open – lots of space, but none of it particularly pleasing to the eye nor well-used. I find this quite curious as all of the other

French cities (and indeed European) that I have visited don’t seem to waste a single square centimetre of space.

In stark contrast to this underlying feeling of decay, the ultramodern tram

cuts through the campus with a remarkably efficient service. In central

Bordeaux the trams run on ground power – like a third rail that is only live when the tram is on it – to avoid filling the streetscape with overhead power lines. The trams run from 5am until 1am and don’t bother having a timetable as they are so frequent – every few minutes for most of the day. We’re lucky enough to have a tram stop just outside the front door (to zip us out of concrete and graffiti land and into the beautiful city centre). (The ENSEIRB building is quite interesting with it's antenna on the roof in the shape of a boat and a pod-like entrace, but it has already been infected with the graffiti skin disease. I hope it stands the test of time better than the Science Faculty.)

Despite the grey of the campus, and the fact that there isn’t a bakery around the corner (is this really France?), I rate the lifestyle quite highly due to the food. I’m always amazed at the quality and price of so much of the food in France, especially the cheese (aah, sigh of relief from my taste buds, unpasteurised), bakery and deli produce such as terrines. For this very reason (and rule no. 7 in our apartment: it is forbidden to cook in the apartment, despite having a kitchen with saucepans and stovetop!) we have decided not to cook, but live on salad, delicious cheeses, hams, terrines, oysters .... sorry, I digress, but we did enjoy our slice of terrine forestière last week (made from goodness knows what meat with a sprinkling of herbs and wild mushrooms).

The cheese is also magnificent. One of Kent’s all-time favourites Le Rustique is currently lurking in the fridge. A strong, non-pasteurised, camembert-style cheese that barks each time the fridge is opened. It’s neighbour is a goat’s cheese log that is being consumed at an astonishing speed. To accompany all this stinky cheese, the fine croque (crunch) of a freshly baked French baguette is one of life’s simple pleasures, and at less than 1€ there’s no excuse for eating stale bread. We’re also enjoying the croissants, pains au chocolat and various other delicious treats that threaten to enlarge our waistlines to gargantuan proportions.

Saturday’s adventure is to the Marché des Capucins, Bordeaux’s main food market, which promises to fill our shopping bag with all kinds of delights.

(Please excuse the page layout - I'm still learning to blog! Amie)

Gabe & Lucie happily sharing their double bed!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Welcome to the adventures of the Gourmet Kangaroo, currently hopping around Bordeaux.