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. 

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.