Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The places you meet people . . . and the world according to Yann

Its an interesting affair for breakfast this morning. We had said goodbye to Kim and Fanie last night as they had to leave about 8 am and there was no way we would be up that early - well why should we be, we are on holidays! There is James and Rita from Melbourne, an English/Canadian couple and another from Ohio. Peter the Englishman goes home this morning after a flying visit to visit Vin Expo. So, with so many new people in tow, Les arranges for a visit to the Cantinot winery. We leave as soon as the last of us finish breakfast, just after 10 am.

It was fantastic to see Yann and Florence again. They are looking well and the vineyard is lush and green with a good crop of grapes on the vines. Fingers crossed, it looks like it could be a good year for them. They are generous and bring out a range of their wines to taste. During the course of the wine tasting, Florence suggests that our troupe share dinner with them this evening. This kind gesture is greeted with an enthusiasm, and it is agreed to rendezvous at the Cantinot's at 7:30pm.

Les leaves to take Peter to the airport, and it is not long after the rest of us say our goodbyes to Yann and Florence and head our separate ways. We decide to visit the small hamlet of Bourg which is about 11kms from Blaye. It's a glorious day without a cloud in the sky and wherever you look the scenery just sparkles. As we drive past the various vineyards, we comment how the rows of green vines just seem so - iridescent.

Once we get to Bourg we make our way to the centre Market Place and the Tourist Information Office. The staff are very accommodating and proud of their town, we are given a map which outlines a walking trail around Bourg and hire an audio guide as well. Now armed we set off. Bourg is about a quarter of the size of St Emilion, which we visited yesterday with Fanie and Kim. However, Bourg is just as charming with its history and variety of architectural styles. We visit the remains of the former citadel that in the 1950s was restored enough to be converted to a grand reception hal. It's riverside patio harks back to days of former glory when the French court was here. The gardens were beautiful and they had one of the largest tree magnolias I have ever seen.

Actually, Bourg is a 'commune' (municipality) in the Gironde 'department' (administrative division), as is Blaye. Nestled in the Gironde Estuary where the Garonne
and Dordogne rivers merge, it has served as a port since Roman times. Bourge has had various occupants: the Romans, the English, Louis the XIV and during World War 2 the Reich had built underground oil tanks during its occupation.

We spend a couple of hours wandering immersed in the local flavour and marvelling at the legacy of populations past. In particular we are amazed by the Roman Wash house. This is where the women of the community would gather to hold the 'women's parliament' passing comment on the life of the community and exchanging gossip. Oh yes, and to do their washing communally in large wash baths (for the want of a better descriptor), and then rinse. The water for the washing house comes from springs known as the 'everlasting springs' as since times recorded, they have never run dry.

The town is built on two levels that hug and sit atop a cliff of limestone that is dotted with caves extending back under the town. The rich people lived in the upper town but many of the building have trompe l'eoil facades - false facades added to the roof line to give the impression of much larger houses. Those less wealthy lived in the lower town, close to the Port. Over the centuries, the two were connected by steps that have survived to today.

Once we have completed the audio tour (which takes about 2 hours) we return to the market square to take some refreshment. We find a lovely little Tea Shop / Gift Shop and order coffee, a menthe water and a three cheese tart plus a ham and onion tart for lunch. They were nice small portions and very tasty. There are two women at the table across from us and we take them to be locals as they are conversing in French with the proprietor.

Turns out that Jude and her husband have recently bought a former chateau in nearby Comps and she and Lizzie (who is an actress) have been offering 6 day acting classes. They got a lift into town with a friend who was going further and they now find themselves witout any way of getting home for hours when the next bus runs. It is 2 pm and very hot so when they ask if we have a car and we learn of their dilema we offer them a lift as we are going back to Blaye and Comps is on the way.

They are very grateful and Jude insists on showingus her new home and giving us a cold drink. She as a music room that you would have loved Judith - complete with a grand and a baby grand piano! All set on the side of a hill overlooking a vineyard - ooh - hard to take? Not! We don't stay long as I want to get back and download photos and have a nap before we head out to dinner. Michael does a load of washing while I sleep!

Tonight there are ten of us for dinner. We have been joined by two Romanian wine representatives here for Vin Expo. Lorena is the wine maker and it is really interesting talking with her about her passion, and to hear her describe Yann and Florence's wines. Very interesting, very educational.

Yann and Florence have four children and their second son Christian is a chef. He cooks a fabulous meal for us all tonight. Firstly we begin with pieces of pizza as we are served a rose as an apperitif. Crusty with heaps of tomato based topping it is delicious. This was the precursor to a gastronomic feast. Our starter was egg, foie gras, ham and cheese cooked in preserving jar in the barbecue and presented with fingers of dry crusty bread. This was followed by Rabbit that was done with your choice of a chinese or a traditional sauce and served with ratatouille and potato gratin. True to form, Michael had a helping of both the rabbit selections! Then came the cheese - individual plates with pieces of four cheeses - a blue brie, an ashed goat cheese, a hard cheddar and softer cheddar. All this was washed down with liberal amounts of their wines wit vintages from 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. We finished with dessert - fruit flans (mine lemon, Michaels apple and others with raspberry or apricot) the smoothest ice cream I have ever tasted and espresso coffees, matched with a amazing Armagnac made by a friend of Yanns.

Ahh Yann, my French verbal combatant. He is great fun and a great conversationalist and for the most time I can give as good as he gives. But when Les arrives, the two of them combined are too much even for me! We had a fabulous night and will always remember their generosity and their hospitality.

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