Does that word Bordeaux conjure up mental pictures of France and acres and acres of grape vines? Or does it remind you of great evenings by the fire with a glass of wine – sharing a glass of wine with dinner and friends or just relaxing after a long day.
Well, taking a river cruise to the Wine Region of Bordeaux will surpass anything you can imagine.
View of the vineyards at Chateau de la Riviere Estate and Winery
I am the first to admit that before this wine-themed cruise I knew very little about grapes, terroir and the making of wine, but I learned a great deal on this cruise even though I was having a wonderful time doing it. All of our guides were so engaging and enthusiastic, you couldn’t help but soak up some of their great knowledge. For instance, when we visited a vineyard specializing in Sauterne grapes, we learned about the “noble rot” which sounds awful, but is the fungus which produces the great sauternes from that region. I will say that several in our group walked out of there with bottles of wine to enjoy later.
Without being conscious of it, I learned that wines from Bordeaux are a mix of different types of grapes and that each year the mix is different depending on the weather and how it affects the different grape varieties. I found out that all the grapes are hand-picked and that to be an organic wine, they can’t even water the grapes. Mother Nature rules in the vineyards of Bordeaux.
Who Doesn’t Love a Farmers Market?
Almost all cities and towns in France have market days and we were lucky enough to be in Cadillac on theirs. We were able to stroll around and buy bread, fruit and cheeses direct from the people who grow and produce them. The people are so friendly and willing to answer any questions you have and the variety of goods is wonderful. I bought some great cheese and fruit to snack on later. A great way to remember Cadillac.
Did you know they use eggs in wine?
There is a tradition in Bordeaux of using egg whites in the wine casks to help remove sediment during the wine-making process. As you can imagine, this leaves you with lots of egg yolks. The French have solved this problem by creating caneles, which are small pastries made only with egg yolks. I applaud their ingenuity. The cruise director brought several boxes back to the ship and put them out for everyone to try. I had several caneles. Okay, I probably had more than a few.
Not all highlights of a cruise have to be about activity
Here’s a question – how many of us have free time in our everyday lives to just sit back and totally relax. Onboard a river cruise, when you are cruising between ports, you have that opportunity. You can sit in the lounge and just watch the countryside go by, perhaps enjoying a glass of wine from the bar. Maybe you are a card player; there are tables in the lounge set up for whatever card game you would like to indulge in. If you love to read, bring your own book or enjoy one from the library.
Sitting on the sun deck is also an option if the weather cooperates. You could also enjoy that glass of wine in the hot tub or pool. I love early mornings, especially if there is a fog hanging over the river, isolating you from the rest of the world. I shot this picture while standing at the bow of the ship watching a crew member communicating with the Captain by walkie talkie as they steered us safely through this and several other bridges. Our captain was very young, but as you can see, very experienced. What an exhilarating experience to see the bridge emerge out of the fog and to sail gently through. So quiet and ethereal-it was one of the highlights of the cruise.
There are lots of possibilities, but they all have one overriding theme – this is your time to sit back, relax and let someone else steer the boat.
Now is the time to make your dreams a reality. Contact me at www.unique-journeys.com to set up an appointment to book your unforgettable river cruise
RAISE YOUR HAND if you have been thinking about visiting CUBA – THE EXOTIC DESTINATION CLOSE TO HOME. In February of this year, I was lucky enough to join the ranks of Americans visiting Cuba for the first time. Until recently Cuba was this exotic and mysterious neighbor we weren’t allowed to see in person. Oh, the really adventurous could go there by flying to Mexico or Canada and flying to Cuba from there. I was not among that contingent.
So this past February I walked onto the Holland America Veendam to see for myself what the real Cuba is like. We sailed into Havana early the next morning to start our 18 hour odyssey. As we stood on the deck waiting to disembark, one of the first things you think is “It looks like a normal morning in any tropical city.” Going through customs to enter the city is quite strict. Not only do they take your picture and do x-rays, but they take your temperature. If you have any fever at all, you are not allowed entrance. Once through all the entrance lines and getting your Cuban money, you go downstairs to board your designated bus for your day out.
Trip down memory lane
I chose to ride in one of the “classic” cars of my past. These cars are being maintained and used as taxis in the city. I scored a hot pink convertible and a driver who spoke some English. The first thing you notice is there are no seat belts. After they start the car, the second thing you notice is they use leaded gas, so the fumes bring back memories.
Make no mistake this is a Communist country and all around you there buildings in various states of disrepair because there simply are no resources to fix them up. That is really a sad sight. However, all the Cuban people we met, were extremely friendly and outgoing. Our guide for the day in Havana invited us to ask her any questions about the government, the country or even their religion Santaria. We took her up on that as we rode around to various sites and learned a great deal about the culture and lives of the people of Cuba.
What would a trip to Cuba be without Cigars!
After lunch we went back to the heart of Havana and walked through the three major squares and an indoor flea market. In one of the squares we went into a shop for a little retail therapy. Since all pricing is government controlled, it doesn’t matter which shop you buy from. I got the requisite cigars and rum and also picked up some Cuban coffee.
Happily toting my purchases I climbed the gangway to the ship so that I could take a shower, eat a little dinner and get ready to head out again for my night at one of the nightclubs that were available for shore excursions. I picked the show at the Hotel Nationale de Cuba since I was interested in seeing the hotel. It was the hotel of choice for lots of American gangsters and mobsters. There is an entire room with pictures dedicated the various personalities who have stayed there.
The show itself was very colorful with lots of music and dancing and costume changes. It was very interesting and I’m glad I went, even though it started at 10pm and ended just shy of midnight. We had to hurry back to the ship since it was departing at 1:30am. For me, beginning my day at 6:00am to view our arrival into Havana and getting to bed around 12:30am after a full day of touring, was exhausting, but exhilarating just the same.
AT-SEA DAY – BUT KEEPING BUSY
The next day at sea, I attended two Microsoft workshops, an America’s Test Kitchen demonstration, a BBC show and had afternoon tea. I got my exercise jogging between the different venues as they were on different decks and in the front and back of the ship. While I was taking advantage of the activities onboard, we were steaming toward Cienfuegos, our next and last stop in Cuba.
Next stop – Cienfuegos
We arrived there early on Saturday morning, which was a market day. My pick for the shore excursion here was to a graphic arts studio and a concert of all flautists. (I’ve always wanted to use that word). They are an example of the emphasis on art and creativity of all kinds in this society. All of the graphic artists at the studio and the musicians are young people with great enthusiasm for their medium of choice.
After lunch at a very modern hotel, we went back to downtown Cienfuegos for a walk through the market and a visit to a lovely theater. Once again, you could see signs of deterioration in this beautiful building and you wish you could do something to bring it back to its glory days.
Now that the door has been opened, I hope to go back and be able to see more of this exotic neighbor of ours. The more Americans that take advantage of this opportunity, the better both cultures will be. Why don’t you join me in considering a vacation to CUBA. Contact me to schedule your next adventure.
Do you Believe in Magic?
I believe in magic and you will too when you board your river cruise and see it decked out for the holidays. The magic and wonder of a Christmas Markets cruise in Europe is one way to re-capture the Christmas magical feelings of your youth and give it as a gift to your children. Take a river cruise to the Christmas Markets of Europe and you can introduce your children to cultures and traditions different than your own. You can expand their horizons and help them understand other societies. You can watch their eyes light up as you wander the various markets with their array of hand-crafted toys, ornaments and delectable treats. This is the true magic of Christmas.
Christmas is still very much a religious and family-oriented holiday in the countries you will visit. While shopping is a theme of your shore excursions, intertwined with every market are Christmas concerts at the beautiful churches and areas for the children to play and have fun.
You and your children will be exposed to traditions that have been handed down in families for hundreds of years and you will be learning about different cultures while you are having the time of your life.
When you board your river cruise ship, you are surrounded by energetic crew members excited to help you enjoy and get the most out of your cruise, a ship that has been transformed into a Christmas fantasy, and the promise of a great experience in some of the most iconic European cities and towns. However, there is one element that is waiting for your special touch – the passengers get to decorate the tree.
WHAT’S A PICKLE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Another fun activity onboard the ship is the hunt for the pickle. The Legend of the Pickle is hundreds of years old in Germany and your family will learn the legend and will get a chance to “hunt for the pickle”. Will you be the one to find the pickle? Even if you aren’t, it’s a great family activity, that you can take home with you and start your own tradition.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE INTRIGING CITIES YOU CAN VISIT
Your floating hotel will enable you to see many of the cities you have always heard about at a magical time of year when they are decked out for the Holidays. Some of the greatest cities in Europe are on the rivers, such as Vienna, Budapest, Strasbourg, Amsterdam and many others.
FEAR NOT FOODIES AND PICKY EATERS – YOU ALL CAN “HAVE IT YOUR WAY”
Breakfast and lunch can both be buffets or you can order off the menu. At lunch, you just want something quick so you can make that afternoon shore excursion? There is a shortened lunch menu in the lounge. Tired from all that shopping, exploring and absorbing history, how about a small assortment of sandwiches and desserts to keep your strength up until dinner. While you have been enjoying family time, your chef and his group of talented cooks has been creating food almost too good to eat. I managed and I’m sure you will too. Now, go rest up for dinner – where you have lots of menu choices.
While every city and town is celebrating Christmas, there will be regional specialties in each destination which are steeped in the history of the area. You and your family will learn the traditions that have been practiced for hundreds of years and handed down from generation to generation. Take Regensburg for example. It is the oldest town on the Danube and home to one of the oldest sausage shops, Wurstkuchl. This is a must stop before you start to explore this town which has over 1,000 historic buildings.
DO YOU HAVE A SWEET TOOTH?
Along with the wonderful treats created onboard your ship, you will find great regional specialties in each city. Take Nuremberg for example. Along with one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, they are famous for their gingerbread. Smelling it is almost as much fun as tasting it, but not quite. And, you will get to taste it everywhere.
While in Vienna, you can taste Sacher Torte. While not a Christmas specialty, you can learn how it originated at the Sacher Hotel. Pull up a chair and you can enjoy it where it was first served. You should also order one of my favorites while there, hot chocolate MIT SCHLAG. This is one of my special treats. In German, Mit Schlag means with cream and in Austria, you get a lot of Schlag when you ask for it.
HOW TO EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC AND WONDER OF A CHRISTMAS CRUISE
If you want your family to experience the magic and wonder of a Christmas Market cruise this year, you need to call me. The earlier the better to insure your family get the perfect accommodations on your first choice of dates. Many times the early you book the better the price. The first step is up to you. I’ll await your phone call.