No Cheese

Joined September 2015
  • Day54

    Homeward Bound

    May 24 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Well I'm sitting in a railway station
    Got a ticket for my destination...

    Ok, I'm sitting in an airport, but you get the idea.

    Brenda and I spent the last two days enjoying the beautiful weather London offered us and wandering through the streets and shops.

    We got into the city around 1:00 P.M. on Wednesday and Brenda immediately snagged us two tickets for Come From Away, my first London theater experience. Another item crossed off the bucket list. The show is a rousing musical based on the hospitality shown to seven thousand stranded airline passengers by the residents of Gander, NFLD on September 11, 2001. It made me proud to be Canadian.

    After the show we dined at Norman's Coach and Horses, a vegan English pub, where we had Tofish and Chips, marinated tofu, wrapped in seaweed and deep fried in beer batter. Incredibly delicious.

    Thursday was much of the same. A late lunch scheduled with a friend was cancelled and we found ourselves with time on our hands in one of the worlds great cities.

    We ended up browsing through the shops, shaking our heads at the crazy prices in Harrod's and eating some vegan street food for lunch on Tottenham Court Road at Enter the Eden. We ate so much, so late there that dinner was a very simple sandwich and crisps (potato chips to us Canadians) purchased at Sainsbury's, where we also stocked up on some gluten free treats to take home for Brenda.

    This morning we took the tube out to Heathrow and immediately made our way to World of Whiskey, where we filled our one liter per person alcohol quota with two lovely bottles of Scotch. Of course, the samples of several high proof Scotch Whiskeys on a relatively empty stomach went straight to our heads and I can only hope the ones we bought are as good as I thought they were.

    And so this wonderful journey now comes to an end. It's been one of discovery, reunion and relaxation. Of great food, wonderful wines and, surprisingly, a plethora of vegan and gluten free choices.

    As much as we enjoyed our travels, the constant moving around was not usual for us, nor was it something we'll likely repeat. We've decided that on our future lengthy journeys, our minimum stay in one place will be one month. Even though we travelled very light the constant packing, unpacking and organizing point to point travel becomes quite wearisome. Live and learn.

    As we prepare for take off, all I can say is: Arrivederci, au revoir and TTFN.
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  • Day50

    Bath

    May 20 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    For the penultimate stop on our journey we spent two days in Bath Spa. As the name suggests, the Roman's built baths and a temple here in 60 AD because of the hot springs that emerge in the center of the city. More about that later.

    We came here to meet up with Brenda's friend, Laurie, who came from Wales to spend Monday with us. Unfortunately, our train from Bromsgrove was cancelled and, by the time alternate arrangements were made, we arrived ninety minutes behind schedule. So much for the efficiency of British rail. We nonetheless made the most of our time with her and she brought us around to areas of the city we likely would not have discovered had she not been our guide.

    I had no idea what to expect from Bath and was astounded by how beautiful it is here. Many of the Georgian style buildings date to the 17th century and some are even older than that. The Gothic abbey was founded in the 6th century and was rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. It is a very impressive structure, although we didn't find time to visit it on this trip.

    And why were we so short of time? Because my beautiful and generous wife treated us to a day at the Thermae Spa baths that included three hours of soaking, sweating and chilling followed by a 50 minute spa treatment. Aaaaaaah!

    By the time we had showered, changed and de-pruned, it was after 6:00pm so we went for our first pub meal at the Grey Fox pub. The therapist at the spa suggested I take in plenty of liquids to replace those I'd lost, but I'm not sure he included a pint of stout in his recommendation.

    We wrapped up our day wandering through the streets and enjoying our very relaxed state.

    Now we're off to London for our last stop outside of Canada.
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  • Day50

    Bromsgrove

    May 20 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    When traveling for nearly two months it's always difficult to choose one event or destination as a favorite.

    After all, we've been to so many beautiful, historic and storied places, had fabulous meals, reconnected with old friends and tasted wonderful wines.

    Who would have imagined that one of my highlights of this journey would have started in the little English hamlet of Bromsgrove?

    Yesterday we arrived here and immediately made our way to meet with my 94 year old Aunt Roma, who, the last time I saw her was half that age! As soon as we walked into the room where she was waiting, even Brenda, who had never met her before, picked her out of the crowd. The family resemblance to my sister, Dena, and my late mother is uncanny. My Mum left us much too young and Roma gave me a glimpse of what Mum would have been like had she lived to a ripe old age. Roma is spry, witty and charming and recounted many tales from her youth about my Mum. It was a wonderful visit.

    My cousin Phil and his wife Pauline then arrived to drive us all to Worcestershire where we had lunch at cousin Richard and his wife, Jude's home along with my cousin Trevor, his wife, Claire and their two children.

    Jude went above and beyond to meet our vegan and gluten free dietary requirements with an awesome choice of vegetables, potatoes, rice, vegan chili and even homemade gluten-free pie and vegan meringues accompanied by mountains of fresh berries. Everything was amazing!

    Dinner conversation was lively and included a video chat with my sister Dena and her husband, Ed.

    When all was said and done, we all vowed that we wouldn't wait another 47 years to get together again.

    What a wonderful day!
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  • Day49

    Birmingham

    May 19 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Our flight from Dublin got off the ground an hour late and then, due to a missed communication, we had to wait half an hour for our Airbnb host to show up. So, in the end, our visit to Birmingham became nothing more than a whistle stop.

    We did, however, get out to celebrate Brenda's birthday with a meal and bubbles at Ba-Ha Vegan restaurant, which unbeknownst to me when I reserved, was just a stones throw from where we stayed.

    And now we're off to Bromsgrove to catch up with family I haven't seen in 47 years!
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  • Day48

    Dublin

    May 18 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    We arrived in Dublin on Wednesday and were greeted at the airport by Brenda's ex-coworker, Gerry. She and her husband, Eddy, were kind enough to offer us lodging during our stay and took the time out of their schedules to act as tour guides.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Gerry drove us out to
    The Wicklow mountains, where we visited Hollywood (the original) and Glendalough, which contains the ruins of a sixth century monastery. As we drove the different cycling routes that Eddy frequently rides, we were treated to breathtakingly beautiful vistas.

    Since this was my first time in Dublin, Brenda and I bought a two day Dublin Pass, that granted us admission to more than thirty local attractions, including the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson distillery.

    We managed to get good return on our investment by doing a complete bus tour of the city and visiting the Dublin Castle, Jameson, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublinia, Teeling Distillery and Guinness.

    The church is very strong in Ireland and, according to our bus tour guide, there are 651 churches in Dublin. When you consider that 25% of the country's population (1.5 million) is concentrated there, the number sounds reasonable.

    However, one institution of contemplation outranks even the church since there are 851 pubs in the city. With statistics like that, it was easy for me to cross the "Drink a Guinness in Dublin" item off my bucket list. And yes, it's true: the Guinness is better in Ireland.

    And now we fly back to England to embark on the last leg of our European vacation.

    Exciting times ahead!
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  • Day43

    I Love Paris Every Moment...

    May 13 in France ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    Every moment of the year ...

    This was my third visit to the city of light and I was no less wonderstruck this time than I was the first go around in 2007.

    There are so many iconic buildings, monuments and places here, it's hard to look around and not see something of beauty. To name a few, the Eiffel Tower, The Opera, Le Grand Palais, City Hall, Les Jardins de la Tuillerie, l'Arc de Triomphe, all standouts. But those landmarks aside, even the row upon row and block after block of six storey apartment buildings, with their wrought iron balconies, give you a clear indication of which city you're in.

    We spent our first couple of days here hanging out with Carhy, one of Brenda's friends, who traveled here from Nantes to share some time with us. We ate, drank, wandered aimlessly through different arrondissements and even did the touristy Seine cruise on Sunday afternoon, that turned out to be most enjoyable and very informative.

    On Monday, we had a brush with fame. Another of Brenda's friends, Patrice Romedenne, who she met in Vancouver many moons ago, is now a well known writer and TV journalist. He invited us for coffee at Le Cafe de l'Homme, which offers probably the best view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I have to admit, I was glad he picked up the tab because the three scoops of sorbet that Brenda ate and the very delicious, but tiny apple tatin I chose were both priced at €15.00 each. I hate to think how much his chicken caesar salad cost!

    On Tuesday, Brenda and I picked up a bottle of rosé, a few spreads, falafels and vine leaves from Le Marche des Ternes and, of course, a baguette (from the bakery that won 4th prize for the best baguette in Paris in 2004), all of which we gobbled down while sitting in the sun on a park bench in Parc Monceau.

    In a city where real estate prices, like Vancouver, have skyrocketed in recent years, it's great to be able to find a large green space amidst all the concrete

    So now we say au revoir to Paris and fly off to our first English speaking destination of this trip: Dublin, Ireland.

    I've been to Paris in the fall and in the summer when it sizzles. Now I've been here in the spring and have only to visit her in the winter, when it drizzles, in order to be able to have lived the song lyrics.

    Why, oh why do I love Paris? Because my love is here. (Or at least she's with me every time I've been).
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  • Day40

    Beaune & environs

    May 10 in France ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    When I was studying to become a sommelier a dozen or so years ago, I decided that one day I had to make a visit to the Burgundy region of France. It wasn’t only for my love of Pinot Noir or the way the French bring out the best in Chardonnay, it was the beauty of the architecture, the complexity of their classification system and the long and storied history of their vines.

    Brenda was thoughtful enough to include a five day stop in Beaune in this European trip’s itinerary, allowing me to cross one more item off my bucket list.

    For me, the magic of visiting a place like this is the way in which all the theory and instruction I received during my sommelier classes suddenly becomes concrete. I now understand how the classification between regional wine, Villages, Grand Cru and Premier Cru are established. I saw with my own two eyes many of the 1247 different parcels of land that are under vine. I walked through the rocky, limestone, clay or Marl soils that give these wines their individuality and complexity. I saw the hills where the grapes grown at the top of the south facing slopes produce the finest and most expensive Pinot Noir on Earth. I learned that one vineyard may have a limestone subsoil, while its immediate neighbor may be clay, giving completely different expression to the wines produced there. I saw numerous small plots of vines surrounded by short masonry walls that were built from the stones taken from those very vineyards. These enclosed plots are what are known as “Clos” , and the wines made from those grapes will show that word on their labels.

    The entire Burgundy Appellation covers a length of only 67 kilometers, and although we were based in Beaune, we managed to cover a good portion of it, and more than one third on foot!

    As we walked South from Beaune to Santenay, passing through Pommard, Meurseault, Chassagne Montrachet and Puligny Montrachet, tasting fabulous Chardonnays as we went, all the names on all those bottles I puzzled over in wine shops for so many years, gained recognition and gave me one of those big “AHA!!!” moments when it all became a lot more clear.

    To the North, we did some exceptional tastings in Nuits Saint Georges, where the Pinot Noir was in the forefront, except for our last event where we sampled five different bottles of Cremant de Bourgogne, which I’m pretty sure were Brenda’s favorites of the entire Burgundy visit.

    The weather on Wednesday was wet, windy and cold, so we pretty much stayed in our room, did laundry and relaxed.

    On our last day in Beaune, we did a tasting at Le Cellier de la Cabiote, where, in their XVIth century cellars, we sampled six different wines, and a very syrupy, but delicious, Crème de Cassis. Of all the tastings we did, this was probably our favorite. All the wines were from different producers and each was hand selected by the owner of the shop, who provided detailed and knowledgeable comments on each of the samples. Anyone going to Beaune should make it a point to stop into that shop.

    Our time in Bourgogne is now over and we’re about to start a five day visit to Paris, where Brenda will be catching up with another old friend. Other than that, we have no real itinerary, although I may want to spend a day at the Louvre if the weather is uncooperative.

    We already climbed the Eiffel Tower eleven years ago, so we have no need (or desire) to do that again.
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  • Day37

    Bikeless Path

    May 7 in France ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    Today we thought it would be fun to follow the Veloroute 22 kms through the vineyards of Burgundy to Santenay. The only catch was that the bikes made available to us by our Airbnb host didn't seem all that safe.

    It was a beautiful day, with highs of 16°C, little wind and only a 30% chance of rain. Since the forecast for the next couple of days is less promising, we decided we'd do our tasting in Beaune on those days.

    We could have rented a car and driven to Santenay, but what fun would that have been? We could have rented bikes, but the miser in me couldn't bring himself to pay the rental fees they were asking.

    The solution: we'll walk! What the heck, we've walked farther than that on more than one occasion in a day on this trip, and the route is supposed to be mostly flat. Allons-y!

    And so we set out at around 10:30 and passed through Pommard, did tastings in Volnay, Meurseault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet and arrived at the Santenay train station at around 4:45. In between, we were treated to beautiful vistas, Burgundian Chateaux, winery workers toiling over their vines, including one vigneron plowing his vineyard with a horse drawn plow, and a visit to 15th century cellars.

    This region of Burgundy is famous for its white wines, which are almost all 100% Chardonnay. Anyone who is part of the ABC club (Anthing but Chard) would have to rethink their position after tasting some of the beauties we sampled today. The Burgundian terroir lends a fine acidity and a delicious minerality to the wines that is typically combined with a short maturation period in a mix of old and new oak barrels. Unlike the buttery, vanilla flavored chardonnay produced in California, the wines here are delicate, complex and just plain delicious.

    Yes, there were a couple of dogs in the ones we tasted, but for the most part, I wish I could have brought home several bottles.

    At our last stop, in Chassagne Montrachet, we treated ourselves to full glasses of a red and a white Premier Cru, both of which were fabulous.

    And in the end, by the time we took a few wrong turns and explored some wineries, my Garmin said we'd covered 25 kms when we arrived at the Santenay train station.

    And so, rather than go for one more wine tasting at our final destination, we decided we'd walked enough and here I sit, waiting for our train back to Beaune and writing this blog.

    But don't feel bad for us, we still have that bottle of Cremant Rose we bought yesterday waiting for us at home.

    Oh que la vie est belle!
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  • Day36

    Nuits Saint Georges

    May 6 in France ⋅ ☀️ 5 °C

    After a very fast 300 km/h TGV ride from Marseilles to Lyon, we had to transfer onto a conventional train to bring us to Beaune.

    When we arrived in Lyon, the temperature was only 7°C, and all the doors to the train station seemed to be open. It was FREEZING in there! Fortunately, one of the cafes in the station had heating AND room for us, so we hung out there until our train departed.
    The two-hour ride to the Burgundy region was easy enough, and we arrived in Beaune shortly after noon on Sunday. Once again, we discovered that Europeans take their day of rest very seriously, and we could find very few shops or restaurants open.

    We also discovered that Beaune is a very, VERY expensive place to visit. Restaurant prices are three to four times higher than what we were paying in Italy and, surprisingly, the local wines are no bargain either. OK, I know Pinot Noir is the heartbreak grape and the very limited production by some wineries can drive prices sky high, but in the old town even the run of the mill Pinots are priced very similarly to what we’d pay in Canada.

    Thankfully, our AirBnB host left us a very nice bottle of Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne chilling in the fridge for us to enjoy, and enjoy it we did. I’d never heard of this producer before, but this wine was so good, they are now on our hit list for a winery visit.

    On Monday morning we went out to the local Carrefour Supermarket and stocked our pantry with food to consume while we’re here. It’s not just the €12.00 Margherita pizza or the €72.00 lobster thermidor restaurant prices. It’s that fact that none of the restaurants here offer more than one “vegetarian” dish on their menus, if they offer any at all. Between 2016 and 2018 Le Jardin d’Alice was the only vegetarian restaurant in town, but they closed their doors last year. It’s hard to believe that we had less trouble finding things to eat in Italy than in France, but that is the state of affairs, at least in this part of the country. Hopefully when we get to Paris, things will improve.

    After our shopping spree we hopped on the train to Nuits Saint Georges to do some serious wine tasting. Our first stop was at Le Caveau Moillard where we sipped both their white and rose Cremant de Bourgogne, their Meursault, the Savigny Les Beaune Villages and their Premier Cru Nuits Saint Georges. We liked them all well enough, but not that much that we were willing to part with €89.00 for the Premier Cru.

    Next, we walked over to Dufouleur Pere Et Fils where we got to taste three of their Pinots, the second of which tasted like it had been open too long and was a little Port-like. The owner was, however, very congenial and our visit there was most pleasant. Also, it was the only one where we actually got to visit, and taste, in the 300-year-old cellars where the wines are stored. Best of all, this was our only tasting of the day that had no fee attached. Score!

    When I was researching Nuits Saint Georges wineries, I came across Morin Pere et Fils, where no reservation is required and whose specialty is Cremant de Bourgogne. How could we resist? We walked the 1.5 kms to the address on the website only to find ourselves in front of a very modern wine store in an industrial park. WTF?!? I asked the woman in the shop where we could find Morin and she directed us to L’Imaginarium, just the other side of the traffic circle. Huh…… OK.

    Off we went and after another kilometer or so we walked into a huge wine emporium that operates as L’Imaginarium, which is owned by le Groupe Boisset. As it turns out, Morin was gobbled up about ten years ago, perhaps by Boisset, who owns and operates dozens of wineries and distilleries not only on France, but in Scotland, the US and Canada! In any case, we convinced the young man who greeted us that we were there to taste Cremant and only Cremant, and he graciously took our €20.00 and proceeded to serve us five different bubblies from producer Louis Bouillot, a rose, a blanc de noir, an extra-dry blanc de blanc, a 50/50 Pinot Chard blend and a 2014 vintage. They were all very different and quite delicious except for the overly exuberant bubbles on the vintage wine. We left with a bottle of the rose.

    After all that wine, most of which we did not spit, we found our way to the train station and weaved our way back to our accommodations where we had a nice hot bowl of soup and a salad for dinner.
    Life sure is good.
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  • Day33

    Notre Dame de la Garde

    May 3 in France ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Just when you think you’ve experienced more than enough history for one trip, you come across something like Notre Dame de la Garde.

    Set atop a limestone peak rising 162 meters above the port below, construction of the first chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was done between 1214 and 1218. At the beginning of the 15th century, it was replaced by a larger chapel, which was then reinforced to serve as a defensive fort and a place of worship.

    The building then went through a long period of political upheaval within France, the details of which are far too convoluted and dull to recite here. If, however that’s your thing, do a Google search, there’s lots to read about.

    Of (relatively) recent interest is the battle for Marseilles that took place in August 1944. Strategically, during WWII, the occupying Germans were using Notre Dame as one of their defensive fortresses in Marseilles. The allied forces had begun their assault to retake the city in mid August, but the battle culminated on August 24, 1944 when a brigade comprised mostly of Muslim Algerian rifleman went on the attack, and used a “back door” that was unknown to the Germans to gain the upper hand.

    The battle scars of this skirmish can still be seen on the exterior walls of the basilica.

    The French Underground was extremely strong in Marseilles and the Nazis virtually razed Marseille in their efforts to undermine their efforts. Somehow, perhaps by divine intervention, this enormous monument remained almost unscathed by the bombing and shelling that nearly destroyed the rest of the city.

    Brenda and I walked up the hill to visit the temple on Friday afternoon, and we were astounded by the breathtaking views of the metropolis that is spread out below her. The interior of the basilica pays homage to the Resistance fighters that liberated the city in 1944 and to all the sailors who lost their lives at sea while trying to earn a living.

    The church is not as old as many of those we visited in Italy, but it is no less beautiful or historically important, particularly given the part it played in the last world war.

    There is also a lesson somewhere in there that all religions can co-exist given the right circumstances.
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