Monday, May 09, 2016

Bordeaux to Britain, Days 1-3

Day 1, 4/23/16

Mom and I both had milestone birthdays last year, so this year we celebrated with our first Smithsonian trip.  From Bordeaux to Britain was a 7 night cruise about the French ship L'Austral.  Of course, first we had to get to Bordeaux.

Mom and Dad picked me up at 3:00 Saturday afternoon and Dad dropped us off at the airport to catch a 5:30 flight to Detroit.  I stopped at an airport newsstand to pick up a bottle of water and a granola bar, and caught up with Mom, only to find her at the bar on the way to our gate, chatting with the county executive and a local mayor on their way to Hanover, Germany for a trade conference.  They were on our flight to Detroit.  The flight was short, only 25 minutes, and we had plenty of time to eat overpriced caprese sandwiches near the gate before our 8 p.m. flight to Amsterdam.

On board the big-ass Delta Airbus, we met another mother-daughter duo who were going on the same cruise but with a different group, the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  B and her mom W are from Columbus, and the daughter and widow respectively of a WWII veteran who participated in the landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day.  W is 90, which is not something I would ordinarily mention, but which became important later.  We got all settled in the plane and then sat on the runway for a hour while they replaced the radio.  Delta wouldn't move us to another plane because it was "not a safety issue".

Once we were in the air and the cabin crew started serving drinks, they apparently got enough questions about potential missed connections that the captain came on and said don't pester the cabin crew, they can't do anything.  Then he said, "We are aware that some of you have tight connections.  Delta is aware our flight is late, staff on the ground is late, and we will do everything we can to see that you make your connections" (emphasis mine).  So I tried some of the pasta that smelled wonderful and wasn't, enjoyed the brownie, drank a boatload of water and napped fitfully while one of my seatmates watched The Revenant.

Eventually we landed, at 11:45 a.m. Amsterdam time, which was 5:45 a.m. Akron time.  Delta's idea of doing everything they could to make sure we made our connection was to have an employee meet us at the gate, look at our boarding passes and tell the 4 of us to go to gate B-36.  No one offered to call the gate and have them keep the doors open, no one offered transportation to the departure gate, and no one seemed to care that they were telling a 90 year old woman to walk from one end of the A terminal to the opposite end of the B terminal in under 10 minutes when it was a minimum of a 20 minute walk for an average adult.  A non-Delta airport employee helped us whisk through Customs but to no avail, by the time we made the gate they'd closed the doors of the plane.

After we walked all the way back to the A terminal, we got to stand for another 45 minutes while KLM agents tried to book us on the next day's flight and tried to call the ship to tell them not to expect us until Monday.  Then it was downstairs all the way through cavernous baggage claim to get our hotel and meal vouchers, then back upstairs and out of the damn airport to wait for the bus to our hotel.  It was 2:30 p.m. Amsterdam time when we got to the hotel and grabbed some lunch.  That's 8:30 a.m. Akron time and we'd basically been up for 26 hours and traveling for 19 hours.

Short digression:  the dog knocked me over about a week before we left and I was so concerned with the giant bruises that I didn't really notice I had a sprained ankle.  I very much noticed it by the time we'd walked all over Hell's high acre, aka the Amsterdam airport.  I'd also forgotten to pack any ibuprofen.  Because our hotel was in a freeway service plaza, after lunch Mom and I walked over to the gas station to see if they had any ibuprofen or aspirin.  Unfortunately, all they had was paracetemol, aka Tylenol, which does zip for me.  However, the flowers at the gas station were exquisite and heart-lifting.  After we walked back to the hotel, I took a nap, and then Mom and i had coffee in the lounge, then read for a bit, then had dinner.  After dinner, we both took the showers we desperately needed and washed our socks and such and then left a wake-up call and went to bed.

The next morning we were on the bus headed for the airport at 8:20, managed to catch the 12:30 flight to Bordeaux with no problems.  As dog is my witness, I will never willingly fly Delta again.

Days 2 and 3 with lots of pictures after the jump!

Day 2, 4/24/16

Mom and I got up when the hotel called on Monday morning, ate a quick breakfast with 4 demitasse sized cups of coffee each, then waited in the lobby for our bus to the airport.  Despite the fact that the hotel was part of a service plaza on the freeway, there had been two weddings the night before, and we got to see a very large group of Italians gather in the lobby, talking and gesticulating.  Their tour bus arrived before our bus did, and the lobby seemed very quiet after they left.  We got to the airport, along with B and W, in plenty of time to clear security and catch our flight to Bordeaux.  It was a short flight, just a little over an hour, but the snack was a cup of water in a container that looked like a pudding cup and a slice of vanilla poundcake with a heart-shaped center of chocolate poundcake.

At the Bordeaux airport, we had to wait a bit for our taxi to the ship, but we got to see a yellow Lab sniffing luggage for contraband or bombs.  By the time our taxi came, I asked the driver if we could stop at a drugstore on the way, as my ankle was really hurting and I'd realized I'd forgotten my Prilosec.  He was nice enough to stop, and I got some Paracetemol and generic Prilosec.  It was interesting how few medications were available over the counter, and in fact the pharmacist told me that if I were French, I'd need a prescription for the Prilosec, but because I am American, she would sell it to me.  Thank goodness!  And French omeprazole works exactly like the American stuff. :-D

My camera was still at the bottom of my carryon, but Bordeaux is a very pretty and interesting mix of old buildings and new, and the sun was shining, so we all enjoyed the ride.  The driver let us off at the docks, and we had a bit of a hike to the ship, but once we got there, I was delighted to see we were docked next to a dog park.  I sat on the balcony and watched dogs play for a bit, and got a picture of this handsome pup:

Then I turned my camera to the street opposite the dog park and took a picture of a gorgeous building:

I don't know if that building still functions as a stock exchange or if it's been re-purposed, but it was certainly lovely.

After watching the puppies play, I took a nap and Mom read, then we went to dinner, skipping the captain's reception because neither of us had packed a cocktail dress and heels.  Dinner was served at 7:30, but we were so far north that it was light past 9:30.  That led to an error on both our parts of having coffee after dinner, and Mom didn't sleep that well.  The ship left port at 8:00, so we got to watch the landscape change to seascape as we ate a delicious meal, including an incredible dessert which was made of equal parts coffee meringue, caramel and ice cream.

At Dad's request, we'd paid for internet access, but it wasn't working that night, so we brushed our teeth and went to bed without e-mailing him.  I do very much like sleeping on ships, and the bed was lovely, but the room was SO warm that around 3 I woke up sweating and Mom was awake and warm too, so I opened the balcony door and went back to sleep.

Day 3, 4/25/16

Even though neither of us slept well, we were up early Tuesday morning, got dressed and went down to breakfast on Deck 2, where the dining room is just above the water.  The breakfast buffet had all the traditional offerings, but the stars for Mom and I were the fresh croissants, much smaller and tastier than U.S. versions, and the cheese selection.  I had what became my traditional breakfast on the cruise, a croissant with Brie and Camembert, plus bacon and fresh pineapple.  Mom tried all of the dozen or so kinds of bread over the course of the week and said they were all good.  She also had yogurt and muesli every morning.  There was also a breakfast menu, which we never even looked at because the buffet was so good.

After breakfast, Mom went to both of the lectures on offer and I went back to the room, put up my foot and took a nap.  Then we went down to the dining room for lunch, then back to the room for sweaters, coats, purses, ID cards and in my case, a hat.  The ship docked at Belle-Île-en-Mer and this was the view from our balcony:

Belle-Île is a lovely island in the Atlantic ocean near the Brittany coast.  We weren't at the docks but anchored a way out.  Lots of ships at the dock, from yachts to sailboats!

We took a tender to the harbor, which is marked off by these lovely lighthouses.

I'm not sure if they work or are decorative, because we weren't there past dark.  Either way, they were beautiful.  Then it was a long walk through town to the buses, with lots to look at.

I don't know if this was a canal or an inlet running through the town of Le Palais, but either way it made for a very pretty walk.  It was also a very chilly walk, since the temperatures were unseasonably low.  It seems Mom and I brought some Ohio weather with us.  Fortunately, we'd both packed lots of layers!  After a long walk (mostly uphill), we got to footbridges crossing the canal/inlet, and this little building, which is actually inside the hill:

Then it was a fairly steep but mercifully short walk uphill to the parking lot.  While we were driving around the island, the guide told us about the island's history of belonging mostly to France but sometimes to England, and that the local language is a Germanic language.  When she pronounced the town name Sauson, it sounded like something from my History of the English Language class.

The guide also told us that the island was a favorite painting spot for Monet, who painted quite a few versions of the Côte sauvage (wild coast).  We stopped there first, and saw a German bunker, part of Hitler's Atlantic Wall.

Very close to this bunker is one hell of a cliff where Monet painted Cliffs at Belle Ile.  The little specks on top of the cliff in the first picture below and on the beach in the second picture below are people, to give you some idea of the size of the cliffs!

There are rock formations just off the coast, and the one in the middle is called the Howling Dog:

I loved the howling dog and wanted to take him home with me, but I'm pretty sure that he'd be over the baggage weight allowance.  I also loved this cheeky gull who clearly DGAF about the people invading his launch platform:

Our next stop was Sarah Bernhardt's home on Belle-Île.  Evidently she fell in love with the island and converted an old fort to a home.

There's a pretty little church nearby, plus pretty road signs and French cows.

We passed a French trailer park, which looks like an American one, but sounds better when it's called Parc Par La Mer. It's amazing what the constant sea wind does to the plants, and a little scary, too.

Our final stop was at a huge rock building called The Citadel.  It's very old, and there wasn't much of the building to see, except for a small and very eclectic museum on the ground floor, but the grounds were extensive and lovely.  We were passed by a French Labrador Retriever, out for an amble with his person:

And we got a glimpse of our ship, and I got a fuzzy picture because I was chilly and my hands were shaking:

Then it was on to the Citadel.

I really wish I could do a better job of conveying the sheer size of the place.

Although the person in the middle right of this picture does help with scale:

There was lots of wild geranium in the citadel.

And there were plants growing out of the walls!  I think but am not positive that this is some kind of laurel.

Inside the Citadel on the ground floor, there was a very eclectic museum, with everything from a vintage map,

to Victorian medical supplies,

to a lot of Sarah Bernhardt souvenirs of bygone days,

to completely modern dioramas.

Next we wandered around the outside of the building, peeking into claustrophobic holes like the place where they stored the gunpowder and weird things like a greenhouse with Sarah Bernhardt's cactus collection.

When it was time to leave we walked through the central courtyard, lined with very large artillery shells

And, of course, cannons!  Also over the baggage weight limit, alas.  Also also too small for the shells decorating the walkway.

Then we walked around the entire outside of the Citadel, down and down and down until we were back at the little hill house and then down and around some more until we were in the town, where we stopped at a chocolatier called La Palatine and I bought lots and lots of chocolates, both for me and to share with my co-workers.  Then we stopped at a darling little accessories shop, and Mom bought me my birthday present, which I am trying to forget so it will be a surprise on Bastille Day.

After that we walked to the harbor, waited in the cold for the tender, which arrived back at the ship and decanted us into the lounge just in time for the cocktail hour.  Mom and I both had coffee, which was free, rather than drinks, which were not, and Mom was very unimpressed when one of the waiters tried to slide past us without dropping off the shaker full of snack mix.

Then, surprise, we went back to the room and I took a nap, then read for a bit and washed my face before we went to dinner.  I have to say that two of my fellow passengers, B from Ohio and M from Texas were very generous in sharing their anti-inflammatories, which helped me get through the week.  My dinner was very good, and Mom enjoyed hers, but she did note that the vegetarian desserts were awful and after the previous night's frozen paper-thin pineapple slices, she ordered the dessert from the carnivore menu.  Other than the first dinner, I can't remember which dessert was which night, but in no particular order, I had strawberries with pudding, balls that were half lemon gelato and half lemon shortbread, fudge cake with a mint meringue straw on top, all of which were incredible.

After dinner, we still didn't have internet, so we couldn't e-mail Dad, but Mom wrote up her travel notes from the day and I downloaded pictures from my camera to first my computer, then hers.  We took turns showering and then it was lights out.

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