Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day Four, Bordeaux Unravels

7:45 a.m. came a lot faster than I anticipated. My stomach, it had seemed, was still settling from the 5 course meal the prior evening. But, like a moth to the flame, there I was, sleepy eyed and groggily staring out my front window at the energetic walkers below.
This morning, we took a guided tour of Bordeaux, learning about its history, famed monuments of the 18th century and the role of the Garonne River over the last several centuries. In a few short hours, I felt as though I’d cracked open an oyster, reveling in its pearl.
Bordeaux, at least in my mind, has made a very grand entrance on the map. If you’ve ever discovered a place not a lot of people are aware exists and feel a strange sort of kindling honor at knowing it’s there, privileged by the secret, then you may have a glimpse of what I felt today. Only, this isn’t a place that should be kept a secret, despite most people having at least heard of Bordeaux or seen its name on various wine labels.
I look forward to giving a crash course on its offerings in my final travel article, but on the more intimate, personal side of things, I must say, not only is its history in the wine industry abysmal, its past in royalty, revolution, various wars, its elaborate structures and aesthetic overhaul in the last decade is enthralling at times.
I found myself transported into another century at various intervals throughout the day, including the time we were able to wander off on our own, as our trip to Arachon fell through.
So, two press group members and I took to the streets of Bordeaux this afternoon, checking out the decorative arts museum as well as the resistance museum.
Both carried completely different energies, but inspired emotions across the spectrum in their own rites.
I also found myself engrossed in the flat stone streets and walkways beneath us. Their muted, calming colors of salmon, faded indigo, speckled gray and creams captivated me.
Not to mention the various scents that filled my nose, tickling my taste buds as we walked past several cafes, bistros, boutiques and antique shops.
Once again, I found myself shopping. I just couldn’t help it. At one point, I was drawn to a particular diamond shaped ring with an aquamarine center stone in an antique setting. I wouldn’t stop staring at it and tried to talk myself out of getting it, but succumbed to peer pressure. Carla and Marybeth, both in the press group, told me to live a little. It was only, after all, $44 Euro, which equates to the $60 mark in U.S. dollars.
So I did. I lived a little.
The evening wound down with a brief trip back to the hotel where I sadly began packing my bags … or rather, shoving as much as I could into every nook and cranky of my suitcase and duffle bag. I then decided I wanted to just roam. To have no orientation. To just be here.
I walked outside into the 50 degree weather, past the softly illuminated carousel, past the breathtaking Monument Aux Girondins and finally around to the Garonne River.
I can’t wait to explain the water mirror designed in front of the regal, majestic buildings overlooking the river near our hotel.
The feel, movement and pace of this city and its people are quite different from Paris as well, creating an interesting balance I will also elaborate on.
Our evening unraveled with dinner at a cozy restaurant called the Le Plat à Oreilles. I purposely ate half portions of the other courses just to save room for the chocolate drenched, vanilla ice-cream filled puff dessert.
But, alas, those stories are to be continued at much greater depths. It is, after all, 2:22 a.m. here and I’ve got another early morning ahead of me.
Yet … as I shake my head, staring out my window at the Grand Theatre, crowned with statues of muses and three goddesses, I find myself wishing I’d never wake from this dream.

-- Cassandra Shofar

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day Three: Bordeaux

My alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. this morning and with it came a wistful exhale and soft groan. It wasn’t just the fact that it was so early and I had only gotten a few hours sleep. It was the knowledge that within a couple hours, I would have to quell my time in Paris and say au revoir to its never sleeping streets, cozy cafes, picturesque buildings and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
So, as I did the morning prior, I got up and ambled to the window, opened it up to the terrace and stood outside for a few minutes, forlornly transfixed on the street washers cleaning the sidewalks. It was as though they were created in that moment solely to illustrate my melancholy musings.
On the other hand, I was excited to get to Bordeaux, a place no one in our press group had ever been and a place that isn’t high on the tourist radar at the moment, giving it an air of mystery … we didn’t know quite what to expect. So, we boarded the Rail Europe and within a few hours, made it to Bordeaux and our hotel, the Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux.
I’ve been trying to come up with the words to describe this inordinate structure, which is located in the main section of Bordeaux across from the Grande Theatre. The moment I set foot inside, a faint scent of gardenias charmed my senses.
The hotel itself was once a smaller building, but over the last decade, was connected with four other buildings to form the elaborate, expansive presence that it is now. Nothing in the city compares to it, according to one of our tour guides.
My room – adorned with lavish cream, robin’s egg blue and burgundy hues along its walls and spiraled carpet – has a bathroom, another room with a marble tub and sink, the king-sized bed in the center with an enormous flat screen TV and a sitting room. The crimson couch is coupled with a marble topped, dark cherry wood dresser and elegant coffee table, a French window backdrop framed by luxurious curtains swooping down and pulled back with fringed ties, and overlooks the Grand Theatre.
Another common feature in both Paris and Bordeaux are softly lit and working carousels. In Paris, there was one on each side of the Eiffel Tower. Here in Bordeaux, there’s one to the right of the hotel. It took everything in me not to join its playful, archaic horses during their mesmerizing circular motion.
Today also marked the first day of a huge sale in both cities, which caused a flood of customers through the main shopping area in Bordeaux, Sainte-Catherine Street. But before any more shopping could be done, our group had a lunch at the Café l’Opéra before attending a wine tasting nearby.
I anticipated an overwhelming experience, but found the entire event very intriguing, educational and enjoyable … though it was interesting to take a sip of wine and then spit it out in order to appreciate its taste on the palate, or perhaps more importantly, to keep a “clear head” during tastings.
Afterward, I attempted to shop, but it wasn’t long before I become beleaguered by the constant waves of people, throbbing within every store like the pulse of a heartbeat. I felt as though I was back in the mall during Christmas Eve, yet sorely magnified. The wall- to-wall foot traffic and eager shoppers stole my breath.
This time, however, I made it back with a half hour to spare as the evening was topped off with a dinner at our hotel. The evening included five courses presented by renowned chef Pascal Nibaudeau, who was awarded a Star in the 2010 Michelin Guide within 10 months of working at the Regent.
I tried everything from a sour cream, cucumber and Brussels waffle with seaweed, to duck, scallops and truffles, as well as an organ of an animal I don’t want to fully know about with quail eggs and truffles.
Then, they brought out the lobster press, one of five ornate, silver lobster presses in the world in fact. And it was quite an interesting process to watch. However, at that point, I felt like I was filled to the brim.
Yet somehow, I was still able to make room for dessert. I couldn’t pass it up, not here, not in this place I may never have the chance to inhabit again.
It included an egg white plum entrée as well as a chocolate mousse and fruit sorbet. Every few minutes, I would lightly shake my head and repeat how completely awe inspiring the dinner was, not to mention the hotel itself. And many times, my sentiments were echoed by the others.
Prior to our elaborate banquet, we toured a few different suites of the hotel, including the royal suite where Tom Cruise stayed last year during the opening of his movie with Cameron Diaz, “Knight and Day.” Yeah, you better believe I sat right on that bed and had a picture taken …
But moving on, each room, designed by the famous French designer Jacques Garcia, was drenched in a different style, color scheme and pattern of sumptuous fabrics and designs. Between the rich chocolates, terra cottas, burgundies, lavenders and blues, I was immersed in them all with every step and breath that ensued.
However, when it’s all said and done, I really am having trouble finding the words to describe all that I saw today, but I hope to convey these musings on paper once my article takes shape.
All I can say right now is, I look forward, though with some bittersweet feelings, to my last full day on this trip tomorrow. We’ll be taking a tour of the city in the morning followed by lunch at Café Andree Putman and another train ride to the city of Arcachon by the beach.
Until then … adieu.

-- Cassandra Shofar

Disney Dream, not France

Francophile that I am, it's my colleague, Cassandra Shofar, who is blogging from France this week.
I've received a few emails and phone calls from regular blog readers asking why I'm not in Paris. If I could figure out how to be in two places at once and still keep up with the regular Food, Health and Religion stories for The News-Herald, I'd be there. But I'll be on the inaugural voyage next week of Disney's Dream from Cape Canaveral, Fla. so Cassandra is on this France trip.
Sounds to me like she's loving Paris, even in winter. Be sure to read her story in the Feb. 13 travel section.
Meanwhile, see Sunday's paper for a look at what's new in the Caribbean.
Janet Podolak

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day Two in Paris

Day two, and I’m still floating in a dream. It’s currently 11:49 p.m. in Paris and I just got back from a dinner cruise on the Seine River.
The dinner portion included four courses, well, five technically as they serve their coffee as a course in and of itself.
Between the scallops served in a cream sauce, the farmhouse guinea fowl drenched in a wine-based Chateaubriand sauce and the chocolate/praline dessert, I feel as though I’ve become someone new, or perhaps I’ve just shed an inhibiting layer of skin. It’s more than just good food.
It’s this feeling of relishing every bite coupled with every individual sip of Chardonnay or Medoc. It’s letting this culture seep into my bloodstream and guide me. Slowly, as the evening went on, I felt myself unravel. Every moment, as our ship gently swayed and bobbed with the water, guiding us past the Eiffel Tower and under several elaborate, bowed bridges, I was coming undone.
It was as though I began to transform with each harmonious song in the background, with the man who quietly stood by our table, serenading us shortly after our first course was served; the talk of diversity in culture between our press group and the natives.
And yet I found myself continuously wanting to pinch my elbow to remind me this was real. Especially when, on the hour, the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle again, reflected off the water and onto the glass surrounding our boat. Once again, it elicited a gentle sigh I could not hold in.
But let’s back up a moment. Before all of this enchantment, I had been a panicked mess. You see, most of the places to visit in Paris are easily done if you know your way around the city, or, more specifically, the metro system.
Let’s just say, I was all good for the majority of the day. I woke up at 7:20 a.m. to the sound of rain. Sure, I was in Paris, but rain had the same effect it always does on me, not to mention the bed they put me in is a California King sized piece of heaven, so I had found myself momentarily tortured.
Nevertheless, the motivation of this city – and the fact that as soon as I opened the curtains to my terrace, I saw traffic and people out and about – gave me enough inspiration to hit the shower and enjoy a complimentary omelet and chocolate-filled croissant breakfast downstairs.
We met with the SNCF National Rail Operations Centre early this morning. If you’re not familiar, Rail Europe is a pretty big deal here. For example, you could get from Paris to Geneva, Switzerland in 3 and a half hours if you wanted to, but I’ll have more on that in my actual article.
Afterward, I visited the Louvre, though it was not open today. However, the Musée d'Orsay was opened, so I took advantage. While part of me was truly bummed the Louvre was closed (I didn’t get to see it the last time I was here either), another part of me is grateful. Orsay was amazing.
It was formerly a train station and its internal set-up definitely speaks to that, giving it a very obscure character that was magnetic, not to mention the intoxicating Jean-Léon Gérôme exhibit as well as Van Gogh’s section and both Édouard Manet and Claude Monet’s work. At times I found myself staring for minutes at a single painting, utterly lost, before taking a breath to regain myself and move on.
Then the shopping bug bit … and bit hard. I can tell you this much. If ever you come here and want to find some good deals, the left bank is where it’s at. The lovely quaint cafes strewn about for a quick snack or lunch break add an allure as well.
Then finally, Notre Dame. I choked back tears the moment I saw her. It was approaching sundown and I was due to be back at the hotel for dinner, but I couldn’t miss it. I just couldn’t.
It was different at night (the last time, we went in during the day). The overcast backdrop gave the gargoyles an edge and the stained glass windows, a melancholy glaze. And there was a service that actually began a few minutes after I entered, indicated with melodic bells and the smell of aged wood layered with incense. It filled my nose as I made my way around the expansive, glorious building.
But not long after, I knew I had to tear myself away from it and head back, which is when I took the metro on the left bank instead of crossing the bridge back to the Louvre on the right. Suffice it to say, I popped up on the left bank by the Eiffel Tower and had a bit of a disoriented, semi-anxious ridden adventure getting back to Le Dokhan.
But, feet screaming in agony, I made it. Too bad this press trip didn’t include a write up about massage services …
Nevertheless, the momentary freak-out was worth it. Anyhow, I better tie this one up. It is currently 12:59 a.m. here and I have to up at 5:50 a.m. to be ready for our Rail Europe train ride to Bordeaux.
Until next time … au revoir.

-- Cassandra Shofar

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day One In France

The plane ride was rough, no doubt. A five-hour layover in Newark and six-hour flight on AirFrance. Yet here I am, in Paris again.
And completely breathless.
Today marked the first of my six-day press trip to France. I have a full day in Paris tomorrow (Tuesday) before being whisked off by a Rail Europe train to Bordeaux.
It’s been six years since I was last in this city. It had bewitched my heart then, haunted me with every year that passed and seemed to beg for my return. So when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t hesitate.
But now … now I find myself more taken with every curve of architecture, every antiquated piece of history, every bite of savory food and sip of aged wine, than I ever thought possible.
The other women I’m traveling with can’t help but giggle every time we passed the Eiffel Tower today, which is right near our hotels, the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan and Le Dokhan. For every time we pass I find myself in awe, lips slightly ajar, whipping my camera out yet again as though I can’t quite get enough pictures of her intricate layers and metallic weavings.
As we drove from the airport in a taxi to the Le Dokhan, we passed the Arc de Triomphe and I shook my head in disbelief. Could I really be here right now, driving over cobblestone roads to a hotel that is over 100 years old?
Yet there I was, being escorted up to the fifth floor by an elevator that was created out of an old Louis Vuitton wardrobe trunk. The wallpaper was still scratched and worn from years of wear and tear, giving it character the hotel decided to keep.
After passing out for an hour and getting a tour of each hotel – the Le Metropolitan being renovated to a much more modern style compared to the Le Dokhan – I felt like the media relations manager and other coordinators had read my mind by putting me in the Le Dokhan.
Its empire furnishings and 18th century décor in the bar and dining area, not to mention its posh, yet cozy and soft atmosphere in its business suite, are just a few reasons I’m enamored of this charming hotel. But enough about that, after all, I must save some things for my travel article.
Once we had champagne cocktails, complements of the Le Dokhan, other women in our group invited me out to dinner to top the long, jet-lagged day off.
We walked across the Seine River, past the Eiffel tower – then sparkling feverishly at random and accented by an ethereal crescent moon – and found ourselves at the la Fontaine de Mars restaurant.
One hint to the relevancy of this quaint, left-bank bistro: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined there when they were in Paris last year.
My course included an omelet entrée with chocolate truffles. It may sound strange, but it was a balanced savory taste and potent with flavor in every bite. My salmon and spinach main course was equally delectable as was the crème brulee, which seemed to melt into my very mouth with each spoonful. I was lost in a way I haven’t been in a long time … and it felt good.
The streets are more relaxed, less crowded in the off-season. The staff is also more noticeably at ease and peaceable, much more so than they were during the summer 6 years ago. And sure, it’s January, the weather is chilly and I’m in my winter gear.
Yet, none of that matters right now, because I’ve answered a call. And as the jet-lag threatens to take me over tonight, I can fall asleep with a trace of a smile on my lips.

-- Cassandra Shofar

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