Playing Cinderella in Bordeaux France

What does the pitter patter of rain remind you of? For myself, it brings back nostalgia from my childhood.   When I was a young child, I recall summers spent in my parents’ ancestral homeland.  There among the thick smoke of a humid summer, citizens would look forward to the skies opening up and unleashing torrential downpour to quench the thirst of the dried land.   My cousins and I – some apart only months in age, would huddle together on a charpaia traditional netted settee and peer with owl eyes full of amazement as the impact of sizzling raindrops against hot concrete would cause a gauzy smoke to arise from the floor.  And then, in childlike jubilance at a respite from the equatorial heat, one or the other of the lot of children would jump off the charpai and go dashing bare footed into the rain. 

Over the years, that type of innocent childlike abandon has given way to cursing the rain.  Bad hair days, wet socks and Murphy’s law at never having an umbrella in the rain have since taken over these fond memories.   Until recently…

Bordeaux, France is a city in southwestern France. Known for not only its robust and hearty wine culture, but also for being a “mini Paris.”  The rivalry between residents of Bordeaux and residents of Paris over whom may claim to be more artistic, tolerant and open minded is centuries old.  Bordeaux invented Bordelaise steak sauce, and supplies Emirates Airlines with the red wine served in business class.  Unknown to most, Bordeaux is infamous also for its delicious duck foie gras (outlawed in many places in the world), as well as for one fact I learned on a hot October night.  No taxis!

Rain slicked Place Gambetta

Rain slicked Place Gambetta

My friends and I had taken a taxi a brief 5km from our centrally located flat just off the stylish and iconic Place Gambetta and wound up at a gorgeous outdoor café.  We were on a mission to eat our way through the Bordeaux wine country, one Michelin restaurant at a time.   As we sat distracted and laughing the night away, we noticed most patrons had gotten up to leave in haste. When we asked our server where everyone was running to, he responded that the taxis ceased operation at midnight.  We then asked about public transport.  He responded that too was shut down for the night.

And then we all looked at each other, a slow panic spreading around the table.  Laughing that life is about the journey, we resolved to walk back to our apartment in the warm autumn night.

Then it started to rain.  No, that’s not accurate. Then it started to POUR.  It poured seeming buckets of water out of the sky.  As though a canopy holding all the year’s water had been punctured, drenching the tiny city this one October night.   As we began to walk, sans umbrellas through the city.  A giddy merriment overtook me.

Rain Starts to Pour

Rain Starts to Pour

The absurdity of the situation, adults “stranded” in the rain, with no real method of getting miles home in the dead of night.  And, my feet, began to move.  A little dance at first-  just a little skip.  Then a song from my childhood, about , lo and behold, dancing in the rain.  And suddenly, madness overtook me.  I was singing, and I was dancing in the rain.  For once in my over thought out life, I was living in the MOMENT.  And my friends, perplexed, began to laugh.  They too realized the absurdity of the situation , and pretty soon you had a merry lot of Americans, practically dancing and skipping their way home. 

Later, as I saw my beautiful shoes had been destroyed, I could not stop giggling.   It had only taken twenty some odd years, to remember, that sometimes, you just have to dance in the rain. 

Best of Bordeaux:

Stay

Airbnb.com  had the best assortment of clean serviced apartments.  Otherwise check out Le Grand Hotel de Bordeaux set on a gorgeous square overlooking the city’s prettiest museum.  Also a bonus, the most delicious macaron and sweets store is directly adjacent.  A bonus that city’s tram runs right out front (although you are better off exploring the city on foot)

 Eat

Le GABRIEL – Bordeaux – a gorgeous and refined Michelin restaurant, the tables book up fast, so best to book this in advance of your trip.

Foie Gras Lafitte – the best place to pick up some authentic and delightfully fatty foie gras to delight yourself or for a special loved one.  The prices are not nearly as expensive as in the States or otherwise, but be prepared to shell out for quality.

Le Pavillon des Boulevards– the chef knows how to present French classics.  If you are searching for a perfect Duck Confit, look no further. 

Le Rince-Doigts – Brasserie du Pécheur – Solid steaks, and don’t forget that Bordelaise sauce was invented in Bordeaux !

Shop

Don’t!  All the prettiest and priciest brands are present in Bordeaux, but I must impress that it’s a town to eat your way through. Don’t spend time in the stores !

And don’t forget, the Taxis don’t run after midnight Cinderella!

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Of Gods and Men…. The Oracle of Delphi

In Ancient Greece, the Oracle of Delphi was the most infamous of treks to make.  It was rumored that the God Zeus sought the heart of Mother Earth and sent two eagles soaring through the land.  The place where the path of the two eagles intersected was to become the site of the Oracle of Delphi.   Delphi sits some 150 km from the bustling city of Athens.   Throughout time, legends have been passed down throughout the world of the Gods and Heroes alike who climbed to the top of Delphi to beseech the High Priestess Pythia (otherwise known as the Oracle) to bestow upon them some nuance or inkling predicting their future.  The catch being that the Oracle could never answer a question directly with “Yes” or “No”. 

 

So, one unbearably warm October day, I found myself hiking up the southern spur of Mount Parnassus  to touch the bedrock and ruins of  the infamous archaeological site.  What guide books fail to warn you is that the site was a pilgrimage for a reason.  The motivation to reach the inner sanctums of Delphi is what spurs the normal traveler to hike to the top in the face of beautiful distractions.  It is rumored that the Muses that inspired the ancient Greeks were also inhabitants of the nearby Mount Parnassus.  Among the beautiful distractions are a grove of succulent ripe olives in myriad shades of green.

 

Have you ever come upon a place that aside from being beautiful holds some mystical power? Thinking about what lay at the top of that hike still causes me to fade into a flashback reverie.  Warm sunshine and cool breezes tickled my suntanned face as I plucked olives straight from the trees at the base of my trek.  Once to the top, gulping large quantities of bottled Delphi water, I found myself inhaling a type of light, sweet, fresh air my New York City soaked lungs had never felt before.  When every breath you take feels like the first real breath of air you have ever taken, you seldom want to leave such a place.   I remember poking around the ruins for hours.  Mystified by each piece of rock and each new angle my camera was able to capture.  I stared at the pillars, wondering how much truth and how much legend encompassed the stories I had heard about the Oracle.

 Oracle of Delphi

Apollo, the Greek God of light, truth and prophecy was the son of the Greek God Zeus and Leto. Leto was the daughter of the original Titans.  As such, Apollo and his twin sister the hunter goddess Artemis were incredibly powerful.   It is legendary that Apollo granted immense powers to his High Priestess to indulge the queries of his devotees.

 

And now onto my favorite topic, traveler tips! 

Vakhos –  Sitting near the top of Delphi is this authentic family run tavern.  On a sunny day, I swear you can see heaven.  Normally I am not a fan of chicken, but every dish at this restaurant is mouth wateringly enticing.  

Pitho B&B – to stay, there is nothing comparable to Greek home style hospitality.  Although most make a daytrip out to Delphi from Athens, I would actually recommend spending the night.  A fresh dinner and then tucked into a room in Delphi village with its fresh breezes is a comfortable respite from the normally frenetic pace of life most of us enjoy. 

Mpempelis– For those seeking something slightly off the beaten path, I would recommend venturing to Galaxidi near Delphi.  A small harbor type village, the locals are lovingly raucous and I remember a delicious meal complete with plenty of “opa!!” inspiring plates breaking.

 

Do youself a favor, don’t leave until you’ve had a breakfast of thick Greek yogurt topped with sweet honey drizzled on top of sugar crusted pecans. 

Je Taime Paris

Oh where did we leave off?  I was waiting to fly to France wasn’t I? 

No one forgets their first time.  With cooling breezes, and moonlight shining brightly, the monolithic structure before you gleams majestically.   You pause and wonder- what if anything, did you ever see before that could compare? You smile instinctively and rush towards the wondrous monolith paying homage to man’s architectural spirit and fascination with metal. 

I remember clearly my first view of the Eiffel Tower.  What is so fascinating is that this revered artistic icon was once denounced by the brilliant artists of Paris.  Angry letters penned furiously from the tables of Left Bank cafes beseeched the French Government to prevent the “monstrosity” of the Eiffel Tower from being erected.  In fact, artist Guy de Maupassant had hated it so much that he ate lunch in the Eiffel’s 2nd floor restaurant only to be able to escape its view while eating.

Many years have passed since I was that young girl of 15 striking out to see the world.  I’ve come across many other beautiful buildings displaying the grandeur that clings to great creations of architectural genius.  But nothing ever compares to a stroll along the Left Bank, circling around the tiny bridges and grandiose museums dotting the Left Bank until finally the beautiful Eiffel Tower comes into view.  Blessed with many a trip to Paris in the years that followed, a few weeks ago I found myself once again traversing the Rive Gauche on a crisp October day.  Thinking silently that I was far too established a visitor to Paris to care about the “tourist” trap of the Eiffel Tower, I instead crossed the Seine to take a leisurely stroll deep in self introspection through the Jardin des Tuileries.   I paused to sit in a bright green lawn chair amongst Parisians sharing coffee and chit chat with friends over a stolen moment from their days.  The splaying fountain in the center cooled the effect of the shimmering sun on the metallic chairs circling the fountain.    And I, there, deep in my own reflection was suddenly jostled by the sight of the Eiffel Tower peaking through trees, sun, and the giant Obelisk in the Place de La Concorde.  Before I knew it, my feet were walking, and soon I stood in front of the Obelisk and was once again, just a 15 year old girl struck with the beauty of black wrought iron against sunshine and blue skies.   I suppose it goes to show, that beauty, is tireless.  We can often believe ourselves to have grown far too jaded to appreciate the appeals of our youth, but true beauty is effortless and timeless.

Eiffel Tower Peaking Through

In deep discussions with friends of kindred wanderlust spirit, I have often found we share something in common.  Every wandering world citizen has certain pockets of serenity across the world.  A grandmother’s garden under the shade of a mango tree reminiscent of childhood summers, or perhaps the stone steps of an ancient basilica.   From my first visit to Paris to this day, the Basilica Sacré Cœur that stands high atop Paris is a place of deep reflection for me.  On every journey whether alone or with friends, I steal a few precious moments to wander towards its steps.  Perched high on a hill top, it too seems to stand in silent reverie of a city so beautiful that words and history have struggled to describe it.  Some things just have to be experienced.  For this reason, I struggle to think of even one instance, where in my hyper photographic, overly “instragrammed” life I have even once thought to photograph it.   So too one night a few weeks ago I stole away from a wonderful meal with friends to seek my own constitution upon that beautiful hill top.  Turning my phone off, I sat on a step in the center and stared off into a star dusted Parisian night.  What journeys and what paths a human canvasses can rarely be summarized.  But for some reason, that night on that hill, despite being utterly alone, my heart was full.  Full of all the people I hold dear. Full of their love, their support, their smiling faces reaching out across the expanses of time and distance to touch my stoic heart in a simple gesture of affection.   And it was enough.   Enough to be able to realize that even while traveling this earth alone, a nomad through and through, I would never ever be truly alone. 

 

Paris is a Foodie Paradise; See below some of my favorite places J

Virage Lepic – Montmartre – Paris – Eponymous of the Jazz Era of Paris that gave rise to literary heavy hitters such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, this Montmartre bistro is family run from generation to generation.  Its simple delights are in waiting for a table so close to other patrons, you nearly always walk out with a new friend.   

Colorova Pâtisserie – Montparnasse – Paris – This colorful and simple café makes the best cappuccino I have had outside of Roma.  Its tiny bite sized pastries are a guilt free way to enjoy traditional Parisian dessert fare. 

Café Le Petit Pont – Saint-Michel/Odéon – Paris – I struggle with myself to understand why this 24/7 café sitting just across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral is such a favorite place of mine.  Yet time and time again, I find myself bringing friend after friend to try the traditionally served frog legs, or sing a song with the friendly owner.  All while under the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral?  Don’t mind if I do.

‘Love Locks’ on the Pont Des Arts Bridge–  Although I am by no means a romantic, I still find myself smiling at the displays of true love that are tied to this bridge.  A short stroll from Notre Dame, on a recent midnight I found myself with friends reading inscriptions on each of the locks.  Admiring the commitment of lovers to one another – they say one who inscribes their name and throws the key into the Seine will never lose their lover’s affections;  I found myself breaking into dance.  Spontaneous unadulterated joy, that true love still exists in our cynical, overly analytical lives. And perhaps, in this realist’s heart, a brief glimmer that one day I too may return with a soul mate with whom to throw a key into the river. 

Frenchie Restaurant – Tacky as the name is, that’s how charming the interior of this cozy wine bar is.  I am a huge fan of the panna cotta which is a perfect balance of sweet and smooth.  Love Lock Bridge

Where it all began….

Any meaningful journey in life begins with a succinct and detailed starting point.  Mine began when I was 15.  I remember fervently praying to not only my god, but to the gods of any other religion, recognized or not – that would offer me salvation from what I feared to be an imminent death at the hands of my parents.  Specifically, my parents upon returning from a meeting with my 10th grade English teacher who felt that I was becoming complacent with my writing skills.  She believed that I was “cruising” on my laurels rather than continuously putting in effort.  Of course all this garnered barely more than a stifled yawn from the aforementioned complacent 15-year-old in question.

Hearing a bellowing screech of my name, as I flew down the stairs to greet my parents upon their return, I expected any of the following outcomes:  1) grounded for life ; 2) a stern discussion on my priorities in life; 3) banishment to my parent’s ancestral home.   What I got instead was a cheery greeting from my father who said “Pack your bags Kiran, you are leaving for France in three days.”

“What?”  I remarked incredulously.   Although I had grown up continent hopping by my parents’ side, they never let me so much as sleep over at friend’s homes let alone travel!

“Yes, time to grow up. Time to experience the world.  Your English teacher thinks you are bored in life and need to see more of the world.” My father remarked cheerfully, my mother nodding in approval by his side.

Was this really happening? Was I honestly being rewarded for being a lazy little punk?  Or were my parents onto something grander?  A thousand thoughts raced through my mind.  I hadn’t ever even thought about traveling.   I didn’t know how to pack or do laundry.  In fact the only skill relevant to traveling I had ever acquired was photography at my father’s knee.

“Where am I going?” I asked my voice cracking.

“She said Geneva, the Swiss Alps, Cannes, Nice, Monaco, Provence, and I believe you finish in Paris” my father offered, scrolling a list he had jotted from the brochure my teacher had offered before taking their handsomely written “payment in full” check.

Blink. Blink. Blank stare.  It sounded exotic.  It sounded like a movie.  It did not sound like my life.

Little did I know then, it would become my life.