Arcachon Bay – Day 7

Oysters! We took a bus from the pier to visit Arcachon Bay, sample recently harvested Oysters and have lunch bayside. What a fun day trip.

When we arrived the tide was pretty high. All we saw of the oyster beds were these “sticks” poking out of the water. We took a boat over to the other side of the bay where there were a lot of Oyster cottages, owned only by active Oyster farmers. We had a tasting (about 6 each) while enjoying the view and his description of his farming.

By the time we finished our lunch just down the bay, the tide was almost out (a difference of about 7 feet). It was easy to see the oyster beds now (they grow in the green cages). At low tide the bay is only 15 sq. mi. compared to 60 at high tide. It is hard to envision that until you see all of the stranded boats in the bay.

Paulliac – Day 6

Time for the left bank, or Rive Gauche, home of the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux_Wine_Official_Classification_of_1855).

We were docked in Paulliac but toured the Medoc from north to south. We saw Château Margaux (Premiers Crus), Château Lafitte Rothschild (Premiers Crus) and stopped for a tasting at Château Marquis de Terme (Quatrièmes Crus).

We had a lovely dinner at Chateau Kirwan (Troisièmes Crus). It was a catered by our ship’s kitchen staff who had to haul everything to the estate for a dinner for almost 200 people. It was an amazing feat of planning and execution, given that they weren’t given access to the property that day until 4:00pm and we ate at 7:00pm. Oh – the Chateau Kirwan estate wines were excellent!

Bourg and Blaye – Day 5

Two picturesque little walkable towns, home to two large right bank wine regions. I had never heard of Côtes de Bourg or Côtes de Blaye but they both have some great Bordeaux wines – most of which are never exported due to their lower price point.

We had a small semi-private tour (24 people) that started at a wine bar in Blaye called La Petite Cave. It is owned by Leslie Kellen who also owns a local B&B, a tiny in-house winery, art gallery and several rentable apartments. It was adorable and makes Blaye a place we want to return to. The Côtes de Blaye wines are definitely worthy of exploration.

Libourne, St. Emilion, Pomerol – Day 4

We started the day with a visit to Libourne – known for its markets.

We then rode to the town of St. Emilion (home to Château Cheval Blanc – ironically it is the merlot that Miles loved in the movie Sideways), and visited the estate and winery at Château Siaurac (wines from Pomerol and Lalande-de-Pomerol) – followed by a tasting of course. Pomerol is the smallest AOC in Bordeaux and is home to the exclusive Château Pétrus.

Our guide also told us about the Fronsac AOC, very close to St. Emilion but with wines at a fraction of the price. We tried a Fronsac at dinner the last night of the cruise and loved it.

Cadillac – Day 3

Just south of Cadillac, cooler water flows from the Ciron  into the Garonne and creates this foggy mist. This mist floats over the vineyards in the mornings and dissipates in the afternoon. This flux between humidity and warmth are perfect conditions for “noble rot” which gives Sauternes, like the wines of Château De Myrat, which we visited, their intense flavors and sweetness.

The town of Cadillac is pretty sleepy, yet nice. We saw some very quaint sidewalk “porches” (you had better like your neighbors). 

Bordeaux – Days 1 & 2

We had a lovely week in Bordeaux exploring the area, learning some local history and tasting some great wines. On our walking tour we saw the Girondins Monument with a fountain & towering column erected to honor the revolutionaries from the Gironde region. We also wandered along the Garonne and its river-side gardens.

Here is a nice shot of the Basilique Saint-Michel and the Cité du Vin (a wine museum). The architects Legendre and Desmazières, wanted the space to evoke gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass, and eddies on the Garonne. It is stunning.

We departed that afternoon heading upriver. Some of the bridges are a tight fit.

To cap off our day we had a lovely Château Léoville-Barton, St.-Julien (Deuxièmes Crus) at dinner, to help celebrate our 29th anniversary.

Yosemite

We finally made it to Yosemite. I am not sure why we waited so long but we made it nonetheless.

Last June we made reservations so that we could stay on the valley floor. If you don’t stay on the valley floor the closest accomodations are almost an hour away. There are really only four options: VRBO, The Majestic (formerly the Ahwahnee), Yosemite Valley Lodge and camping. Mary has reminded me that at this stage in life camping is a hotel room with no remote control for the TV. Given that, we booked early and still had to move between the Lodge and the Majestic since three contiguous nights were not available.

Visiting in May (especially after a very wet winter) is ideal. The falls were breathtaking.

On our first full day we hiked about nine miles, saw Mirror Lake, Half Dome, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and more.

 

The next day we spent a lot of time in Cooks meadow, and got up close and personal with the falls.

 

Finally on our last day we visited El Capitan, and the Tunnel View. What an amazing park. We will certainly go back again and again.

 

 

There are more photos here.

Cuba – Havana Cars

The embargo froze (to a large degree) the state of transportation in Cuba. There are also a couple of oddities. 

While we saw a smattering of newer cars across the island, the number of cars still running and in good shape from the fifties is amazing. Many are used as taxis or are available for hire by tourists seeking a unique experience. Here are just a few. Enjoy!

Cuba – Havana

Our last stop in Cuba was Havana. Almost as old as Santiago de Cuba, Havana was founded in 1519. There are preparations everywhere for the 500th anniversary, which will be celebrated this fall. It is the largest city, with over 2.1 million residents.

It is a study of contrasts with most of the great architecture hundreds of years old and much of the more recent buildings displaying “deferred maintenance” issues. 

There is a vibrant tourism business, albeit visitors come mainly from places other than the U.S. It was fun to stop at the original Sloppy Joes Bar. The sandwich was, wait for it, a sloppy joe. We enjoyed looking at the old photos of Hemingway, Sinatra, Ted Williams and other celebrities that frequented the bar in its heyday. The second bar is a haunt of Hemingway’s.

While many of the living conditions are very tough, they have made great strides in literacy (from 50% in 1953 to over 98% today). Education is mandatory through middle school and free through college or trade school (including the medical and legal professions).

We were impressed with the Cuban people, I think that they are unfortunate victims of slavery and politics and have been for hundreds of years. I am certainly not a Castro apologist but their life now is better than it has been in the past under various regimes and dictatorships. If the decades-long U.S. embargo was lifter, their lives would certainly improve. In the mean time, they find joy in life and the love for their families and their country. It was fascinating to get to know a little more about them.

Cuba – Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is a quirky city. Founded by the French as a holiday town, it has had many masters through the years and the architecture reflects it. There are a number of local streets that now house artisans selling their wares. 

The Cienfuegos Botanical Garden, founded by an American sugar planter named Atkins, started as a center for tropical plant research over a hundred years ago. For many years it was focused on the hybridization of sugar cane as well as organizing the planting of trees and plants imported from tropical areas around the world (there are over 2000 varieties). Today there are many groves of Banyan trees, a variety of Palms. Here is a Bamboo stand over fifty feet tall and a massive Culpo tree (similar to balsa).

Just up the road from the garden is Parque El Nicho. A short trek up through some lush green mountain scape you’ll find sets of swimming holes, natural pools and a stunning waterfall. It has a reputation as the most beautiful of Cuba’s numerous waterfalls

Cienfuegos is quite a bit closer to Havana and became powerful due to good growing conditions and massive sugar plantations. It also had several large casinos and a massive estate once owned by Meyer Lansky. The mafia had lots of “influence” in this city in the middle of the 20th century.

Baseball is a national pastime. In this city  of 150,000 they have a baseball park that seats 30,000. It is very visible from the harbor.