Nantes – our first evening

So after getting situated in the hotel and cleaned up, our first peek at Nantes came on the way to dinner. Our destination this evening would be a restaurant called “La Boudoir”.

Our hotel is located in the pedestrian part of town, so except for the odd taxi or bicycle we could walk without worries as we looked all around. There are quite a few small, bars and cafes and they all seemed pretty lively.

Our restaurant is literally a five minute walk from the hotel. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted and then taken charge of by the owner. She and I had traded emails, as we were not sure if we would get there due to the train strike. She was so nice and made sure our server took very good care of us throughout the evening.

We truly enjoyed the little bit of extra pampering after the day’s travel. As for the meal – ooh la la! Started off with our traditional Kir Royals, along with an amuse-bouche that was puréed asparagus with little bits of pepperoni. Very different, and very good.

For our meals, Sue skipped the starter and then had a grilled turbot fish plate. I started with a crab salad with minced vegetables and a thin pastry shell made with ginger. My main dish was a grilled fish called St Pierre along with a langoustine. We had a bottle of Pouilly Fume and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

For dessert, we both had something called a Mojito. It was a combination of flavors just like the drink. It had a base of a financier, citrus, honey, spun sugar and cream. I’ll let that all settle in and just say that the meal was wonderful.

During the evening I also got little French lessons – mostly pronunciation and all with a big smile. We even got to join in and sing happy birthday to a woman celebrating with family. The fun part was that we were the only non French people there and felt like we belonged. Thank you to Nathalie and staff for a lovely evening.

A short walk back to the hotel and we were asleep in a blink. That bed sure felt good!

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We have arrived – Finally!

Bonjour everyone! It was a long couple days of travel but we are here in France.  And might I say, loving it.

So we started our adventure with a little bit of drama back in Buffalo.  Checked in at the Delta kiosk with lots of distractions.  People can be such pains at times – anyone ever run into those folks?

Checked in, made our way through security and went to the gate.   While sitting there, my name was called to come to the podium.  Gate agent Kristen handed me my credit card.  Yikes!  So grateful to the honest person who turned the card in and to Delta for getting it to me before we took off, averted what could have been a real disaster.

Moral of the story, ignore the dumb people and just tend to one’s business.

Otherwise, the flight to JFK in NY went smoothly.  We had lots of time, like 6 hours, to kill.  Since we are flying business class, we were able to use the Air France lounge at JFK.  What a pleasant experience!

Besides comfortable seating, they offer free drinks, a buffet and snacks.  The time went by quickly and we were well hydrated and sated.  We ended up going down to the gate area about a half hour before boarding time.  The flight was unfortunately delayed due to computer problems in Paris, but only by an hour.

Once we boarded, we were able to get comfortable and enjoy some of the benefits of business class – champagne!

I have to say, the Air France business section was comfortable and the service was great. Everyone was friendly and did whatever they could to make you comfortable.

When we were ready to take off, the big bird was awesome.  We flew on an Airbus A380 and the business class section is on the upper deck.  The cabin is set up as 2 – 2 – 2 across and you don’t feel like cattle at all.  The seats recline to horizontal for sleeping and the leg room is plentiful.  In our advancing years, the little extra is well worth it to be comfortable.

Dinner on board was delicious.  We both had a cold lobster appetizer with a mango salad, followed by a wonderful chicken entree.  The white wine was a Louis Jadot Chardonnay that went perfectly.  Not bad for airplane food!

After filling our bellies, it was time for a bit of a snooze.  The fold down seats were very comfortable and before you knew it, they were waking us up for descent.  That also meant breakfast – fresh fruit, yogurt, croissants and tea.

A smooth landing was a great way to arrive at Charles De Gaulle airport.  It took about an hour to get through passport control and gather our luggage.

We were affected by the rail strike, but we knew that prior to leaving.  We were able to get tickets to fly from Paris to Nantes with just a bit of a wait at the airport.  When we finally boarded, we had beeen given seats in the emergency row, so at least we had a little leg room.

The flight from Paris to Nantes was about an hour, and went smoothly.  We finally landed in Nantes around 6:00 pm and then took a taxi to the hotel.

So all in all we left Tuesday at 12:00 noon and arrived in Nantes Wednesday at 6:00 pm.  We were a bit tired, but ready to enjoy ourselves.

We are staying at the Hotel Oceania in the center of Nantes.  So here’s how we roll.

We walk in and in my best French I say: “Bonsoir, mademoiselle.  Je m’appelle Thomas Herkey”. Rosalia replies: “Bonsoir, monsieur!  Do you prefer English or French?”  I say: “English, s’il Vous plait.”  So much for my dynamic French.

We checked in and went up to the room to relax and get ready for dinner.

 

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Just about ready to leave

Just three days until we are off and everything seems to be in order.  Emails with confirmations have been coming in from the hotels, and restaurant reservations are mostly made.  We are a little excited about finally getting a reservation at ‘Restaurant Frenchie’ in Paris.  We’ve tried the last couple trips without success, so hopefully it lives up to our expectations.

Flights over look good and on-time.  We are flying from JFK on Air France on an A380, their big double decker – it’s flight AF 011.

We did receive a notice that our train is cancelled on the day we arrive due to the national rail strike.

We were anticipating the train problem, so we were able to book plane tickets from Paris to the Nantes Regional Airport.  It should actually get us to Nantes about the same time as the train would have, so we don’t even have to change our dinner reservations.

The good news is that since we know in advance, we don’t have to run around trying to seek out alternate plans, including that 7 hour bus ride I had previously mentioned.  Oh, and we get a refund on our non-refundable tickets that we had purchased.

We also found out that on the 21st of June, France celebrates their “Fêtes de Musique” with concerts and street music throughout the country, including a street venue right near our hotel in Paris.  Hoping for a nice, warm evening to enjoy the music and perhaps even a glass or two of wine.

So that’s the update.  Hopefully the next time we connect we’ll be in Nantes.

See you soon.

 

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Retirement Trip to France – 2014

This is a repost of a previous trip.

To celebrate my retirement, in May 2014, we enjoyed a month long holiday in France.  We started with friends in Paris and the Dordogne for a couple weeks before heading on to the Loire.

via Retirement Trip To France

Just linking it here so I don’t lose the memories and photos when the other site shuts down.

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Potential bump in the road

Planning complete.  Restaurant list looking good.  French rail strike – what?

Just when we thought that everything was in place, the French rail union has called a strike or ‘La Grève’.  French unions are different from unions in other places in that they actually post a schedule of the days that the work stoppage will occur.

France Train Strike Dates

Looking at the schedule, April and May don’t come into play, however, June is another story.  It just so happens that one of the strike days is the day we arrive and plan to take the train to Nantes.

“Oh bother”, said Pooh.

So for now, we are holding our breath and hoping for a settlement.  Meanwhile, we’re checking alternative travel means – but a seven hour bus trip is not how I want to start vacation.

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Returning to Europe

To misquote one of my cartoon favorites – Bullwinkle.

“Spring is here.  The grass is growing.  I wonder where the Herks are going?”

And the answer is – back to Europe.  We’ve decided to go on a little adventure this year, moving to a few different locations over a three week period.  We have a few bucket list places that are calling for a visit.

The plan is to fly to Paris, then hop on a train right away and begin in Nantes, France.  From Nantes we’ll be heading up to the town of Pontorson, France.  After Pontorson, we’ll hop back on a train to Paris.  From Paris, we’ll be visiting the town of Bruges in Belgium.  Our final destination will be Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

2018 Vacation Plans

Our travel route

So, why those five places?

Our first stop will be in Nantes.  Nantes was once a thriving ship-building city located on the Loire River.  Now that the ship building industry has dried up, they have gone through a renaissance and have become an arts and cultural mecca.  Nantes was also the birthplace of Jules Verne, the prolific author of such novels as ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ and ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.

A few of the sites that we are planning to visit include the Jules Verne Museum, the Chateau of Anne of Bretagne and the Isle of Machines (Sounds much better as – Les Machines de L’ile).  Hopefully we’ll have lots of pictures and memories to report on.

The second stop is the town of Pontorson located to the north on the coast.  Pontorson is where we’ll be staying, but just 10km away, Mont Sainte-Michel is our real destination.  Mont Sainte-Michel is a unique UNESCO World Heritage site in that it is an island that has housed a church dating back to 708 AD.  Throughout the years, it grew from a small church to a larger church to a Benedictine Abbey to a prison during the French Revolution and eventually restored to the island abbey.  During high tide, the water surrounds the island and during low tide the island is left in the dry bay.  We will have time to visit both day and night and luckily the tides will be higher when we arrive.

Back on the train to our third stop – Paris!  As everybody knows, Paris is my favorite destination city and we always look forward to spending time there.  One of the highlights of this trip will be an exhibition of artworks by Eugene Delacroix.  We’ll be staying in a different arrondissement, so there should be many new places to explore as well as quick visits to some favorites.

After Paris, we head to Belgium and the town of Bruges.  We have read about it, seen pictures of it and even watched the movie “In Bruges”.  It looks lovely and we can’t wait to explore it for ourselves.  We’ve heard that they are pretty good at making beer and chocolate, so we might try those while we are there too!

And our last stop will be the city of Amsterdam.  Canals, tulips, Van Gogh, wooden shoes, Heineken, Red Lights, windmills and probably a whole bunch of other things.  This will be another first time visit, so everything will be new and exciting.

Planes, trains and hotels are booked, and restaurants are being researched.  Brushing up on my French and trying to learn a few words and phrases in Dutch.  And, of course, crossing our fingers for a good exchange rate and some warm, sunny weather.

mont_st_michel.jpg

Mont St-Michel

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Return Visit To Boston

This was originally going to be the time we spent exploring the natural beauty of Iceland, instead, we returned to the flatter ground of Boston and the majesty of Fenway Park.

I know, that’s not exactly apples to apples, but it beat sitting home and complaining about a sore back.  And.. we had fun!

To minimize our walking, we stayed at the Hotel Commonwealth, which is about three blocks from Fenway Park.  The hotel was a great choice – spacious room, excellent restaurants, perfect location and the friendliest staff we had the pleasure of interacting with.  It’s located in the Fenway / Kenmore area and we would definitely recommend it.

Having arrived in the late afternoon, we settled in, cleaned up and it was dinner time.  Dinner the first night was at one of the restaurants that is in the same building as the hotel called Eastern Standard.

The menu has a little of everything – with a slight lean towards French Bistro food.  We like that lean, especially when it means that there is Duck Confit on the menu.  They also have a really good wine list, though I thought once again the wine prices in Boston are a little on the high side.  That said, we had a great meal.  We both ordered the duck confit and we had a nice bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin burgundy.

After dinner we just relaxed in the room for a while under the “glow” of the historic Citgo sign.

Woke up bright and early Tuesday.  We’re gonna catch the Hop On – Hop Off trolley tour and since the weather is gorgeous, take a harbor cruise in the afternoon.  It’s just a short walk to the trolley stop, which happens to be at Fenway Park.  As we were approaching the ballpark, we could hear a woman doing a sound check and singing the National Anthem. I’m sure it’s nerve-wracking to sing in front of a filled ballpark, but it must really be strange to sing in a completely empty ballpark too.  Looking forward to seeing her this evening.

We had a few minutes before the trolley arrived, so Sue found a friend.

High-fiving Mookie

High-fiving Mookie

When the trolley arrived, we climbed aboard and found seats next to an open window and off we went.  There are 26 stops along the way and it takes about ninety minutes if you just get on and take the ride around the circuit.  Our driver was a real hoot.  Stereotypical Bostonian and funny as can be, yet he still provided a good tour with lots of information for those who didn’t get the jokes.

We stayed on until he arrived at the wharf area and then headed over to take the harbor cruise.  The cruise lasts about an hour and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day on the high seas.  (Hint:  sit on the right side of the boat for better views)

Relaxing ride and cruise, now a little lunch was in order.  We stopped at the Legal Seafood Restaurant by the Aquarium on State St. and in our shady outdoor seats enjoyed some nice wine and tasty seafood.  Absolutely wonderful way to spend a day.

Back on the trolley to head to the hotel.  We’re at the starting point so there are twelve stops before we get back to Fenway.

It’s Baseball Time…  Washed up and relaxed a little bit before heading to the ballpark.  The Red Sox are playing the Oakland A’s in the first of a 3 game series.  I managed to get some nice seats for tonight’s game.  Sue will definitely be able to see her beloved Red Sox players close up.  So off we go!

So much fun!  Great game, if you’re a Red Sox fan, as they won 11 – 1.  Lots of action, crowd was into the game and the Stella was cold.  Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Sue’s all-time favorite Red Sox player – Carlton Fisk was in attendance and waved right down at us.

There is such a great vibe in the air after a victory.  Fans are happy, the bars are crowded and young and old alike all have big smiles on their faces.  The walk back to the hotel is quick, the doorman greets us with a high-five and we’re cleaned up and resting while watching the highlights on tv.  Tomorrow we are going on a tour of Lexington and Concord, so we just leave the Citgo night light on and head to bed.

Time for a little history.  Today we take a coach tour of Lexington and Concord.  The tour talks a lot about the battles that took place and the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere.

Spoiler – Paul Revere was captured by the British and ended up walking bootless back to Lexington.  It was Dr Prescott who made the complete ride to warn the townsfolk in Concord.

The tour eventually became interesting when we got to the sites, but definitely not one I could heartily recommend.  This was a Viator tour and I think they certainly could have done better.

The bus returned to Boston and we got off at Quincy Market.  After a short walk, we ended up at McCormick & Schmick’s for some lunch.

We found a table in the shade, got a bottle of wine and enjoyed our lunch.  Everything was great, but our waitress was the highlight.  Our red-headed Irish girl, Eileen O’Brien.  We had so much fun talking with her, especially after the restaurant crowd thinned out.  What a blast – Cheers Eileen!

Being a little sore, we caught a taxi back to the hotel to relax for a while.  All things considered, I thought I got around pretty good through the first couple days.  Tonight we’re grabbing dinner at the other restaurant attached to the hotel, so minimal walking will be a plus.

Watched the crowds heading to the baseball game.  Looks a little cloudy, glad we’re not going this evening.  Downstairs and over to the restaurant; tonight we are eating at the Island Creek Oyster Bar.

IMG_0426

Dinner was great.  They have an expansive raw bar and everyone around us were raving about the oysters.  We aren’t raw oyster people, but the shrimp cocktail had some of the biggest and sweetest shrimp we’ve ever tasted.

Quite the appetizer, so our dinners were surprisingly both seafood.  Sue had a delicious lobster roll with a heirloom tomato salad, while I had most of the shrimp cocktail and seared bay scallops.  We both absolutely loved our meals.  Our server Kayla was oh-so-helpful in coordinating our meal and selecting wines and extra friendly to us “out of  towners” coming to see the Red Sox.

The evening and the meals were so delightful, that we made a point of letting the manager know how much we enjoyed it.  We didn’t have plans for the next evening, so with her help we were able to get reservations for the next night.

Back up to the room to watch the remainder of the Red Sox game only to see that they are in a rain delay.  Looked out the window and it was dry at the hotel – then two minutes later, it started to pour.  After a few minutes, the rain stopped, the game resumed, the Red Sox lost and then it started to rain even harder, this time with some lightning thrown in for good measure.

Woke up early – the rain was gone, the sun was shining and it’s game day!  We have great tickets and high hopes, especially after the Red Sox loss last night.  Cleaned up, dabbed on the sunscreen and off we went to Fenway Park.  In the “baseball” elevator, the side panels have player autographs and right in front of us was Carlton Fisk.  After seeing him at the game Tuesday, Sue thought that it was a cool coincidence.

The crowd was already filtering towards the ballpark when we left the hotel and we just blended in with the others.  Five minutes later we arrived at Yawkey Way and enjoyed the pre-game festivities.  Bands, jugglers, drink stands and food vendors lined the way to our gate.  Once inside, we headed to our seats.  We thought that the first seats were good, these were even better.  Not cheap mind you, but an awesome way to watch the game.  It felt like we were a part of the action.

After the debacle the night before, the Red Sox played a solid game and won 6 – 2.  All of our favorites were involved in the scoring and once again, Carlton Fisk was in attendance.  We couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

After the game we headed back to the hotel to relax before tonight’s dinner.  I think I forgot to mention it previously, but we brought a couple bottles of Rose’ wine with us, so relaxing in the room means quaffing some nicely chilled wine.

Dinner was back at the Island Creek Oyster Bar and when we walked in you would have thought we were regulars.  The manager, Chelsea, greeted us right away and led us to our table.  That table just so happened to be back in Kayla’s area, so we got to enjoy her service once again.

We started with a glass of Rose’ for Sue and a Gin & Tonic for me.  We had fun with Kayla, but they were busy so we placed our order and let her get to her other customers. We decided to start with a shrimp cocktail again.  When they brought them to the table, another person brought over two bowls.  We were explaining that we didn’t think those were ours when Kayla popped by and said they were on the house – “we had to try the chowder”.  For our mains, Sue selected the seared scallops tonight, while I had a grilled fish known as Tautog that was recommended.  Once again both meals were delicious.  We both had a cup of tea to finish off the meal.  Mega good-byes to all before we headed back to the room.  Tonight we just cleaned up, watched the baseball highlights and then it was off to dreamland.

Friday morning arrived and we were up early once again.  We have reservations to take a tour of Fenway Park at 11:00 am, so we move right along.  It’s going to be another warm, sunny day in Boston – perfect for our quick walk over to Fenway Park.

It just takes a couple minutes to exchange our vouchers for tickets.  Looks like there will be about 50 people on the tour.  You have to go through security before entering and that takes a few minutes for them to check all the bags people had with them after stopping at the Red Sox store.

The tour actually takes you throughout the stadium bottom to top and then ends at the Red Sox museum.  I’ll give you some of the highlights rather than all the gory details.

You start with a look from the box seats around home plate, which just happened to include the seats we had for the two games.  Next stop is the visitors clubhouse.  I know it is an old stadium, but what a total lack of amenities.  The clubhouse was originally the janitorial and maintenance room before being converted.  Next we made our way up through the stands to sit in the seats in left field, which are still there from 1933.  I would advise the purchase of those seats only if you are 5′ tall and weigh 100 pounds.  Beyond those dimensions, you will be very uncomfortable.

Next stop was the top of the “Green Monster”.  There aren’t many seats there and they go for a premium depending on who the Red Sox are playing.  Our guide told us that when the Yankees are in town, they can sell for up to $1,000 a ticket.  Maybe being squashed in the bleacher seats isn’t so bad after all.  Great view of the “Fisk” foul pole.  An iconic image for Sox fans who remember Carlton Fisk willing the ball to stay fair as it tailed towards the pole.

Next it was up to the upper deck for great views of the skyline.  Around the walkway we passed a garden on the roof.  It keeps the roof from leaking and the vegetables and herbs are used by the stadium kitchens or donated to the local food pantry.  Continuing around,  we entered the Press Box.  Pretty nice area, considering the flack the media gives the team.

After a few trivia questions, we made our way around to see the seat that Ted William’s 500′ home run landed in.  It’s easy to find when you get there, it’s the red colored seat in the sea of blue.  They even knew the name of the guy the ball hit while he dozed during the game.

From there you make your way down to the museum.  Lots of Red Sox memorabilia, displays and pictures.  We definitely enjoyed the tour and hearing about the history of the stadium.

Note: The “Teammates” statue is dedicated to Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams

Since we skipped breakfast, it was definitely time for a little lunch.  Sue had a salad and I had a Cubana sandwich, plus a glass of wine each, of course.  Just enough to tide us over until dinner.

As this was our last night in Boston, we decided to splurge a little bit.  Dinner tonight would be at the Mooncusser Fish House.  Loved the name as a “mooncusser” was the name given to the land pirates back in the 1700’s.  They would extinguish the light house lanterns and then light fires in places that would lead the boats to run aground.  They would then plunder and pillage the grounded ships.

While the name was what caught my eye, the food is what made the evening.  What a great restaurant.  It’s only been open a couple months but has been getting really good reviews.  From our appetizers to our desserts, we also would give it a rave review.  I realize that we are in Boston and right next to the ocean, but everything was so fresh and well prepared without being fussy.  They have a very nice wine list and a sommelier who was a big help without being pushy on price.  The decor is plain, yet comfy and the service was wonderful (Thanks Meg!).  As you can probably tell, we would definitely recommend you try them out.

What a perfect ending to a great trip.  We had an uneventful flight back home with the opportunity to try JetBlue’s new organic chocolate chip cookies.  I give them a thumbs up!

Hopefully we’ll get to Iceland in the future or maybe we won’t, but the moral of this story is: when life gives you lemons,  pull out the ingredients and make Limoncello!

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