Sailing towards Lisbon, Portugal
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
We’ve almost forgotten our great days in England; after all that was nearly two weeks ago. In Dover we boarded the beautiful, award-winning Crystal Symphony for a 12-day cruise that will conclude tomorrow in Lisbon.
After our departure we stopped the next morning in the beautiful (and crowded) Normandy seaside resort of Honfleur. Our private Signature Journey excursion brought us to the old capital of Normandy, Rouen. It’s a handsome city. Next we stopped at a pretty restaurant along the Seine estuary for a French Sunday brunch. The day was warm and beautiful so the restaurant was a bit overwhelmed but it was fun to see how the French spend a lazy Sunday afternoon and the dining was excellent.
We stopped the next day in one of England’s Channel Islands, Guernsey, in the charming little town of St. Peter Port. Once again the city sparkled in the late summer sunshine (we can only imagine the conditions when a storm whips up the English Channel and lashes Guernsey.) Even though it was a Monday, it was a ‘bank holiday’ in Great Britain so most stores were closed. That did not stop our ladies from thoroughly searching for treasures in the few stores that dared to open their doors. With its attractive low tax structure, several of our guests looked on those living in Guernsey with envy.
Leaving Normandy behind, we stopped next in Britany, in the stunning walled town of St. Malo. Once home to pirates as well as the discoverer of Quebec, this is a handsome place. Though heavily bombed during World War II, the city’s surrounding walls have been rebuilt.
Typical fare in Britany is a seemingly endless variety of crepes. The sweet crepes with jam or syrup or fruit are called ‘Crepes’ while those filled with eggs, meat, cheese, vegetables etc. are called “Gallettes”. In one of the city’s hundreds of restaurants (St. Malo is said to have more restaurants per capita than any other city in Europe), we stopped to sample the local fare – delicious.
After a day at sea we arrived in the splendid French city of Bordeaux. In fact our ship sailed up the Garonne River and docked right on the seawall in the heart of the city. Fantastic. It was just as if we had accommodations in a fine hotel in the city’s best location. We could watch the locals watch us: kids on scooters, young and old on bikes, couples strolling etc.
Our excursion in Bordeaux took us out to wine country to the pretty village of St. Emilion. Of course we visited a vineyard for a tasting and an interesting walk through a few blocks of the extensive underground tunnels beneath the vineyards where the region’s limestone had been excavated.
We stopped for a pleasant lunch in an interesting building called “Terrace Rouge”. The building itself reflected the surrounding vinevards in the rose-colored mirrors that covered its exterior. The restaurant was situated one story higher giving us superb views of the vineyards surrounding us in all directions included the vines of the noted Chateau Cheval Blanc. Unfortunately though the food was good and the building dramatic, the service was abysmal. Pity.
After Bordeaux, high winds caused us to miss our next scheduled port of call, St.-Jean-de-Luz. But that allowed us to sail into the port for Bilbao (Spain) 12 hours early. Bilbao gained its wealth from its heavy industry; unfortunately, as the industry moved elsewhere, that left the city in a terrible state with abandoned buildings and crumbling factories. In their efforts to revitalize Bilbao, the city fathers put up the funds to hire Frank Gehry to build Europe’s Guggenheim Museum on the river in the center of the city. This was the beginning of an extensive plan to create a stunning new city. Today, Bilbao is impressive with superb architecture and infrastructure (to say nothing of the fantastic bars and restaurants with their extensive displays of tapas – called Pintxos here.)
For our final Signature Journey shore excursion we drove nearly back to France to he delightful seaside town of San Sebastian. Before we describe our day, however, let’s remind everyone that this whole corner of Spain is Basque country. The Basque language (a unique language not related to any other) comes first on all signs followed by Spanish. These Basque provinces also enjoy a high degree of autonomy from the rest of Spain. For example they collect their own taxes and do not send them to the federal government in Madrid. One local resident described a Spanish governmental building as the “embassy of Madrid in Basque country”.)
San Sebastian, a beautiful seaside city surrounded by green hills, offers a delightful ‘old town’, a vibrant daily market and great beaches for both bathers and surfers. Walking with our delightful guide, we stopped to visit the old town apartment that he shared with his wife. When we walked in, the kitchen table was covered with delightful little bites of Spanish ham, tasty olives and other little pintxos. As we shared a mid-morning aperitif, we realized what an honor it was to receive an invitation into a European home – a privilege typically reserved exclusively for family and a few close friends.
Next we had organized lunch in a private members-only dining club. A custom typical of San Sebastian, in the past only men could be members in most of these clubs. When we walked in, a charming young American woman (a member of this club) who has lived in San Sebastian for a decade or so, welcomed us to a delicious Basque lunch prepared by the chief chef of a local cooking school. Accompanied by local wines and cider, we were a bit timid at first to try the food. It didn’t take long to realize that it was delicious and we were in for a treat. We loved every moment and every bite. All in all, we enjoyed a visit today that would typically be reserved for local insiders. It was the perfect ending to a great Signature Journey.
We’re all doing well, perhaps we’re a bit weary, and preparing for our flights home. Together with Nadine and David, we’ve been traveling since late July when we went to South Africa for our Signature Journey Safari prior to flying to England to begin our third Journey of 2017.
Be patient when we return. We’re filled with excitement and eager to tell you all about it.
Paul and Christine