It started with a sweaty, fatigued knock. Followed by a smile, two smiles… four.
Let’s pass on the kisses, we’re sweaty… even the handshakes, we’re gross.
The beginning of any friendship, the greeting…the kindness. It was all before us, witnessed by our rain-glazed eyes.
It was a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon when we arrived at the doorstep of our Bordeaux hosts. August 3rd, to be exact.
Entirely discouraged by the bad weather and slightly wounded from a train-track tumble, we were in dire need of a warm shower and a good meal.
Our hosts were Fiona & Pierre, an expecting couple whom we were introduced to by Emily’s friend GiGi (who she met while teaching a stand-up paddle board lesson back in Los Angeles). Fiona is GiGi’s sister, both are amazing women, so the rest is history.
As we removed our bags from our bicycles and took them inside, Fiona led us into her beautiful new home… in the heart of Bordeaux. With a warm, welcoming smile, she walked us upstairs to our bedroom for the week. This bedroom… reminiscent of a modern boutique hotel, blew us away. With expectations no higher than a comfy couch, we were lifted in awe with our week’s accommodation.
After the hellos came the showers, and after the showers came delicious pizza. The night, alright, had been perfect. Our week, yes, was set for success.
GiGi’s Bordeaux family consisted of her sister Fiona (a very talented pastry chef and expecting mother), Fiona’s mate, Pierre (an accomplished physical therapist and doctor of osteopathy), and their mother, Marie-Anne (a retired air traffic controller and fellow world traveler). All were delightful and almost immediately took us in as their own.
Monday, August 4th, 2014
As Monday came around, Emily and I were on our own to explore Los Angeles’ “Sister City” by foot. We wandered the narrow city streets for hours, visiting Rue Sainte-Catherine (the longest pedestrian street in Europe) and enjoying a picnic by the Miroir des Quais (the largest water mirror in the world!).
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
On Tuesday we awoke early as we were greeted by Fiona’s mom, Marie-Anne. Today we would be adopted and driven to Saint-Émilion, a pre-historic wine village just northeast of Bordeaux.
As we explored the city, we stopped for a shot of espresso, canelé, and thin macaroons that were unique to Saint-Émilion. We took this opportunity to learn more about Marie-Anne… her family, her career, and her recent retirement. We found common ground in the newfound freedom within our lives, her with a permanent retirement and us with our “mini” retirement.
After a long stroll and brief conversation, we enjoyed an expansive picnic, carefully planned and packed by our thoughtful guide. Saint-Émilion wine, melon, quinoa salad, sausage, cheese, cheese, and more cheese. We sampled all sorts of French cheeses- Comté, Blue Cheese, Camembert, and a slew of others for which we can’t recall their names. All delicious. Stinky, but delicious.
On the way home Marie-Anne toured us around the countryside, showing us private castles and homes in which she lived during her childhood. It was enchanting, really, like the moments when your parents tell you of times past.
Once home, we met up with Pierre & Fiona for dinner at a small wine bar called L’Autre Petit Bois. Here we tasted wine from four different regions of Bordeaux and shared four superb French dishes, including foie gras, smoked salmon, and loads of different cheeses. To top it all off we tried a “Berry Crumble” for dessert. Taste buds blown.
After dinner we roamed the city by foot, walking atop cobble stone streets and along the Garonne River. The perfect ending to a beautiful day.
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
We awoke the next morning rather early. On this Wednesday we would be joining Marie-Anne and a group of her retired friends for a scavenger hunt around Bordeaux. I’ll tell you now, there is no better way to explore a city than with a seasoned group of locals. Starting at the Place des Quinconces, we followed clues to make our way through the city. To the Jardin Public we continued, followed by a stop at the St. Louis Church and a stroll down Rue Notre Dame (our favorite street in Bordeaux, reminiscent of New York City’s Greenwich Village).
After the scavenger hunt we made our way to a restaurant called “Quai West,” where we were treated by Marie-Anne to a delicious meal. The Café Gourmand was by far our favorite dish.
Marie-Anne then led us on a five hour bicycle tour around Bordeaux. We explored Le Base Submarine, the Bois de Bordeaux, and the city’s latest development, Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux (a new Fútbol stadium for their local team, Girondins de Bordeaux).
Continuing the family fiesta, Emily and I later made dinner for our lovely hosts. The SoCal Bacon Guacamole Burger, we called it. Fairly self explanatory. We topped the meal off with mint chocolate-chip ice cream and a cookie. So “American.” It was good, really, and we were so happy for the opportunity to return the hospitality that we’ve been shown throughout the entire week.
After a wholesome night of sleep, Thursday would be another adventure with Marie-Anne. She drove us to Arcachon Bay where we would enjoy an oyster meal (they would enjoy an oyster meal). It was my first time trying oyster, and, well, I didn’t exactly find it suitable for my palate. I, instead, enjoyed a jar of pork paté. Yummmm.
Later in the day we would see the coastline for the first time in a month, and then had the opportunity to treat our amazing tour guide to a visit inside her very first lighthouse… the Cape Ferret Lighthouse.
In the evening we cleaned up and enjoyed a lovely gathering of friends at Pierre & Fiona’s home. Fiona prepared both langoustine and chicken risotto and her Wine Somalia friend, Farah, brought a host of unique wines for everyone to try.
Also joining the party was the neighborhood cat, whom Fiona had recently named “Kevin Le Chat.” Kevin Le Chat, in honor of me, of course. I fed him one night and caused him to routinely return each night at around 9pm. I’m really happy to have made my mark on their world.
Friday was quite laid back. We stayed home blogging and editing photos, taking advantage of the rainy weather outside. We drank espresso, so much espresso, as we sat quietly in the kitchen working away.
Promising to capture maternity photos for Pierre & Fiona, we later hosted a photo shoot around the city of Bordeaux. Taking over 300 photos in a matter of two hours, we were very happy to provide our hosts with the gift of everlasting memories… photos that they’ll have for the rest of their lives (and beyond).
Saturday arrived a bit too quickly as we prepared for a sad departure.
In a foreign country, in a foreign city, with foreign people, having foreign experiences… here we felt right at home. We knew nothing of Bordeaux, we expected nothing of this city, yet this town and its people now hold a very special place in our hearts.
With life, in any life, for anyone, we know now for certain what we’ve known before for sure… the nurturing of family, the cultivating of new friendships, and the culminating of positive experiences is what brings meaning to living and life to life.