I wasn't going to do this, but since there's a few folks not on Facebook (Rox, I'm looking at you) I'll go ahead and post some of our trip highlights here. Does this mean I'm continuing the blog? I don't know. I do know that I was very sad after the "last post". But it has also been relaxing NOT having to think about what I'm going to post next. So, to those of you who said I'd be back, congratulations, you are at least correct for today.
OMG we had the most awesome trip to Spain and France. It really was the trip of a lifetime and the parents spared no expense. Their motto was "no regrets" and we had the most amazing hotels and meals throughout the trip. The night before we left, I checked in with the airline and was offered an upgrade to first class for $799 each. Because we had already imbibed two martinis, we thought it was a good idea to push the button. Ka-ching sixteen hundred bucks and we got the sleeper seats on our flight to London. Above, you see me in the executive lounge at the airport. We decided we'll never do that again though (first class) because it came out to $133 extra an hour (each) to have that seat. So not worth it, I mean we could have had an all inclusive week for 2 in Cuba for that.
So we flew into Madrid and waited for our luggage. When all the people were gone and the conveyor belt stopped, our hearts sunk. We headed over to the help desk to report our lost luggage. It would be another 24 hours before we would see it. The worst part was not knowing if/when we'd be getting it. Above you see me in the traveling clothes on the first day in Plaza Mayor. It was in this very square during the Inquisition that people amassed to see the beheadings of the heretics.
We met up with Katie and her beau again for barhopping. She and I used to work together a lifetime ago and now she teaches English in Spain. A bit of a parallel life thing going on for us. The great thing about drinking in Spain is that you get food every time you order a round. Not just peanuts and pretzels either, lots of different things. We ended up making our big meals at lunch time and just drinks and tapas in the evenings.
Interesting advertisement for the tapas bar, no? So many cultural differences. Case in point, I went into the restroom at the Museo de Jamon (a chain restaurant centered on sliced ham) and a Spaniard came in and shook his enormous penis very earnestly next to me. I could see out of the corner of my eye the enormousness but I refused to look thinking it was probably an old fat guy. Turns out he was a hottie, but you know, time and place and all that. It was noon and we were waiting for my parents to arrive. Not that I would have done anything anyway. Ahem.
I like this shot of mom and I. You can see the city reflected in the cafe window. We pretty much just ate and drank the whole time in Madrid. There was a brief museum visit one day and a couple walking tours, but by and large the focus was on the food the whole trip.
We went to Casa Paco again, the place where they fry the filet mignon in a vat of oil and it continues to cook on your hot plate. Serge ordered the large, a pound and a half, ate it all and then finished my brother's to boot. Moo.
And we went to a bullfight. (Except for brother and Serge, who are against this sort of thing) The first bull out almost gored the matador, picking him up and flinging him but thankfully the horns did not meet flesh. All over the TV while we were there, we kept seeing a recent goring where the bulls horn went into the face and popped out the eyeball. Horrific. And if you want, you can see it here. Not for the squeamish.
But Madrid was only the beginning. Once we were done stuffing ourselves silly, we rented a big van and headed out to the countryside to stay in several Paradores, which are the government run hotels located in historical buildings.
First stop was Alarcon. You can see the fortress in the background here on the left. There are only 12 rooms at this one and we took three. We also hiked around the river which surrounds the "peninsula" on three sides. Perfect place for safety during the many centuries this building has stood.
It was quite warm at the beginning of the trip with highs in the 80's. That beer and chorizo sandwich really hit the spot.
Strolling back from lunch to get into our rooms which weren't ready when we arrived.
The town was almost deserted although there were many cats so someone must have been feeding them. I liked the desolateness of this shot.
After our hike around the village, we decided to poke into the church and wow, it had been converted into a work of art. Apparently some famous Spanish artist muralized the whole thing and it was really cool. You can see me there trying to get a good picture and you can see Serge admiring a mural. Baby bro took this shot with his iphone. Came out pretty good.
Our next stop was Alcaniz, and we stayed in the castle/convent that dated from the 12th century. We happened into getting a private tour of the place and learning about the many historical events that occurred in the area. It was cool to see the catapult stones and the murals depicting religious stories (to keep the peasants in line) and excesses (in the rich man's area) of the times.
The view down from our room. You could see for miles and this was handy in medieval times I'm guessing. We had awesome rooms and another feast at dinner time.
This was Serge's and my room. We played a rockin' game of UNO that night on our iphones. Luckily these castles have five foot thick walls.
We were pretty much the first diners every evening having reservations right when they open at 8:30pm. Hard to believe, but every table was full this night by 10pm. Spaniards eat late!
The next night, we stayed in the medieval castle you see in the background. This is in Cardona, where salt has been mined since the roman times. The castle was never conquered and it's easy to see why, as we read the stories of hot oil being tossed onto would be enemies below. Plus you can see for miles from up there.
We took a walk into town and roamed the medieval streets below. There was a central square with some humans and a guy selling freshly fried churros but we didn't partake as we had a five course meal to consume again that evening.
Did I mention the hot Spanish men? Probably. Here's one serving Serge soup. Ooh, Serge had bull's tail one night and I tried it. Even though they kill the bulls at the bullfight, all of the bull is used for food. Plus they have a great five years of life before they go into the ring.
Baby bro didn't realize he was standing on a promontory when we took this picture. He thought he was standing at the edge of the wall. It was only after he came down that I showed him where he had been standing. I don't think he would have, had he known.
Sometimes breakfast was included in the lodging price. When it was, it was vast and varied. I'm not a big fan of fish for breakfast except maybe smoked salmon. There was always too much to eat.
Then we were done with Spain and went into France for the next five nights. Our first stop was Montpellier, a lovely college town where we were booked into the Jardin des Sens, and we had a 2 star Michelin chef prepare dinner. Although the food was awesome in Spain, the French take it to a whole new level.
Here we are having a cocktail in our room before going down to dinner. In France, the restaurant opened at 7:30 so we got to eat a bit earlier than in Spain.
This was the cheese course offering. I fell in love with one of the cheeses I tried and in a delightful example of excellent service, the waiter brought me a printed up description of it. Turns out it's made by a cheesemaker in Corsica and it comes from a group of roaming sheep tended to by 20 farmers. Guess I'll never have that again.
This was the first dessert course. Much to our misery, there were two more dessert courses. We were in pain at the end of this meal. So pretty though, no?
We were thrilled that there was a McDonald's at the gas station stop because finally maybe we could get a regular coffee. Nope. Expresso again. That was the small and large coffee sizes and the cups were less than half full. Also, in the no fair department, McDonalds has a goat cheese wrap on the menu in France. Unfortunately they were out when I tried to order it. I hope they bring that here one day.
The next night we stayed at arguably the nicest place any of us has ever stayed in. It was the Chateau de Bagnols. Every room was a suite and was decorated with period pieces. This was baby bro's room. It was easy to imagine royalty living here.
Here's a shot from the outside. The gardens were also amazing and the view overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards made if feel as if we were in a movie.
We decided to have a mid afternoon drink on the terrace. Two beers and a sparkling water set us back 30 euros. One of the downsides to staying in castles, lol.
Dinner was awesome again. It was fun getting the mystery surprise appetizer at every place. This is in addition to the amuse bouche that they serve as well. I kept saying it was culinary Disneyland.
The next day finally turned cold after a few hours of rain. The next stop was our biggest culinary stop, Bernard Loiseau, the storied 3 Michelin Star chef (the highest rating possible). It was in a cute little town where we were able to do a bit of laundry. At 10 euros per load, yikes.
They had an old confessional in the hotel as decoration so we got a few chuckles and pictures out of it.
Dinner was beyond perfect and not only was every dish a work of art, the flavor combinations were equally indicative of culinary talent. Probably the best meal I've ever had in my life.
We had a fireplace in our room that night. We took advantage of that naturally. I mean really took advantage. Double ahem.
The next day was the folks 32nd anniversary so we got them some champagne and glasses. Then we got into the car and drove to the champagne region for our last fancy stay.
While the other two men napped, we took a stroll through the vineyards. Serge kept picking grapes and eating them. We figured they lose more to birds than to humans, but still felt a bit guilty about it.
One last fancy schmancy dinner (I had the best lamb chops I've ever had and a souffle) before we headed to Paris for a last evening without the parents.
We stayed near the airport and took the train into town for an evening of drinks and dinner. We laughed at how surly the waiters were and kept reducing the tip. It's not necessary to tip though which is probably why they are so surly in the first place.
Then it was a direct flight home from Paris and then picked up Georgie, who, much to our displeasure, had gained at least 5 pounds. Someone didn't observe our feeding instructions.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our travels, it really was a once in a lifetime affair. Cheers everyone!