A Travellerspoint blog

Lourdes-day 2 and back to Portugal

Into the Pyrenees

overcast 9 °C
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In the morning we had breakfast with Marete (Jean-Jacques was out shopping for the nights feast), she makes her own yoghurt which was beautifual and she also made her own honey bread. With fresh coffee and juice, croissants and toast this was a lovely way to start the day and once we had finished we packed up and headed off to drive into the mountains.

Just a quick but winding 20 minute drive from Lourdes you find yourself passing under cable cars and driving through some of the very pretty towns I had only previously glimpsed through Tour de France coverage. We considered driving the col du tourmalet but I was the only one who has any interest in the tour de france so I was voted down and Erin and Allanah wanted to go to Pont d'Espagne where Marete had said there were waterfalls.

We drove up through Cauterets and up as far as we could go at Pont d'Espagne. We quickly found out however that with the ice and snow we wouldn't be able to walk the extra kilometre or so to see the waterfalls. We walked across to one of the vacant carparks which hadn't been cleared of snow and as I prepared to throw a snowball at Allanah I noticed that on the other side of the carpark there was an izard (kind of wild deerfound in the Pyrenees), we then saw another, larger one so probably a male and female. Allanah tried to sneak closer to get a photo on the iPhone but they walked deeper into the trees.

Allanah and I got back to the task of having a snowball fight with the large but soft chunks of snow that were resting on the car park fence. Erin and Allanah then decided to walk a little of the way back down to explore some of the small waterfalls we had seen on the drive up. I drove down and waited for them at each bend where I was able to stop and eventually all the way back down to Cauterets.

Allanah hadn't had enough of the snow but we wanted to get going to see if we could find one of the mineral spas to soak in for an hour or 2. We found a big thermal spa at Argeles-Gazost but they were closed for 2 weeks for renovations so we couldn't go in. We drove back to Lourdes to find a supermarket where we could buy some fresh supplies for our road trip back to Portugal the next day.

As dinner neared I was getting worried. I was still feeling very full and a bit off after the heavy meal the day before and I think the cheese we munched on in the mountains (a foul smelling variety of Brie) had turned my stomach. Jean-jacques had a 6 course menu he was preparing, how would I manage?

We arrived in to Marete's to find 3 kindsof pate waiting for us. We found out they kill their own animals to make produce like bacon, pate, etc. and Jean-Jacques had prepared pig, duck and rabbit pate which he brought out as the first course. The rabbit I didn't like much as it had bits of aspic-like fat in it and the pig and duck were a little overseasoned but still nice. They were heavy though and what little room my liver had been able to clear was once again full and was I was not looking forward to the rest of the meal.

The pate was followed by oysters (he said oysters but I think they may have been scallops as they had the orange tongue) on toast with cheese covering and then prunes wrapped in bacon (just what I needed). we adjourned to the table and were served a yummy creamy pumpkin soup, then fish served in a special sauce from Brittany which Marete said Jean-Jacques did better than the restaurants up there. This again was very nice but I knew I was in trouble and was facing serious liver damage if I didn't start saying 'non'. You will notice that fresh veges still haven't featured in this besides the pumpkin soup which Erin specifically requested.

We finished it off with a banana tart (done in the style of tarte de tatin) and whilst we were offered coffee and aperitifs we declined as politely as we could. I needed to get to bed. I was really feeling the effects of the heavy food we had eaten over the past few days and to cut a long story short, spent the night up and down to the bathroom and then next 24 hours without food and barely able to stomach water.

Jean-Jacques was mortified thinking he had poisoned me or something and I wasn't sure what I could do to reasssure him that I was feeling that way before his meal and that I really shouldn't have eaten at all. In trying not to be rude (by eating the meal) I had actually made him feel worse. There is a lesson in there to be ignored I'm sure.

One of the interesting things to come out of this was that Erin got to experience driving in Europe. Leaving around 10am the next day, Erin drove from Lourdes to Bayonne and I took over once I felt a little better but having not gotten a lot of sleep I couldn't make it all the way to Portugal so Erin had to take the wheel about an hour from the border, driving with rain, fog, trucks and then darkness to get us not just to the town of Chaves but actually to the hotel we had booked with no maps as the wi-fi connection wasn't strong enough for google maps to work properly.

After a little trouble with the room booking (only 2 beds) we hunkered down with two rooms for the price of one. We had a quick meal at a restaurant round the corner although the salad of tomato, lettuce and shredded carrot was as close as we got to fresh veges. I slept for close to 12 hours and felt much better for it. We had breakfast in the hotel and got going. We had to make Porto by nightfall and had some stops we wanted to make on the way.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 03:23 Archived in France Comments (0)

Lourdes - Day 1

Getting back to a relaxing pace

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Kim:

After a bit of a hectic pace set through Spain, Biarritz and Bordeaux we had a choice to make. We could either stick to the original plan of driving across to Toulouse and Carcassonne and being more touristy; or getting back to a more relaxing pace and choosing something a little different. There is so much to do here it is impossible to do everything but we thought the Eastern Pyrenees could probably be squeezed into another trip so we decided to book a couple of days in a B&B in Lourdes which was close by and we thought would make a good base to see some of the mountains.

The B&B Erin chose was a relatively new place run by a couple named Marete, a lady who was Danish by birth and studied languages and dance, and her husband Jean-jacques who was an architect from Brittany. The deciding factor was the fact that in their blurb they said they made home-cooked meals for their guests and by this stage we were a little disheartened by the French cooking and we wanted to see what it was really like.

Erin was desperate for fresh veges as the French restaurants we have been to seem to see vegetables as something evil that needs to be boiled in oil and sauced to within an inch of being beyond recognition and then placed to the side as an oily, drab garnish to be poked at and dismissed. I don't know why (Actually I blame Master Chef) but I expected the French to respect the natural flavours of their ingredients but we have been sorely disappointed on this front. We have since been through the supermarkets and there is nothing wrong with the produce and we have even resorted to cooking our own fresh green beans and it seems that the effect of hot water is the same here as it is in Australia. Anyway, at this point we thought maybe it was just a restaurant thing and home cooking would be different. More on that later.

We drove out of Bordeaux with mixed emotions. We were a little surprised by how much we liked it (it is likely our stumbling on to fantastic croissants and coffee had something to do with this) and we have mentally noted this as a location for a longer visit in future. We again chose to take the scenic route which we thought would see us arriving in the late afternoon (well, not so late but getting dark). We had a very pleasant drive for the most part as we munched on baguettes of cheese and tomato and finished off the viennessoise (croissants).

As we got closer to Lourdes the Pyrenees started looming out of the clouds. At first you could barely see what was cloud and what was a snow-capped peak. Allanah was getting very excited, she really wants it to snow hard while we are here in Europe. By the time we got into Lourdes the mountains were part of the landscape and though we were still a good 20minute drive from actual snow we felt like we were in the mountains. We got a little lost on arrival trying to find the B&B. Lourdes, like many European towns is a nest of one way streets and it only takes one mis-step to end up a long way from where you want to be and very stressed.

In the end we pulled up at the gate and drove in to be greeted by Marete and Jean-Jacques, their dog, cats, kittens and horses. The B&B itself is a large house which has been converted to house a number of double rooms and a family suite downstairs whilst the hosts live upstairs. Jean-Jacques is in the process of installing a swimming pool and jaccuzi.

http://www.domaine-de-merete.com/

We realised too late that we had not made it clear in the booking that we were keen on the home cooking so we weren't able to dine there but there was a restaurant pretty much across the road which Marete said would serve a typical winter soup called Garbure which sounded just what the Doctor ordered. I had a lie down while Erin and Allanah started watching a Dvd of the life of St Bernadette of Lourdes grotto fame.

We went to the recommended restaurant around 8pm and it was a lovely, though very empty place being the low season between summer hikers and winter skiers (apparently the season is more Jan-April). Looking at the menu it was clear there was no Garbure and that they love their tripe. Actualy there were only a few tripe dishes which we managed to dodge by selecting the set menus. Once again, the food was nice but really heavy with sauce and it was difficult to tell what the vegetables actually were. I had fresh oysters, followed by fish covered in cheese and onion (gratin) and a veal steak with what looked like a mushroom mousse and there were 2 lumps of white mush, one which tasted like cauliflower in a bechamel sauce and the other I really don't know but may have been cheese and onion???? The steak was rather thin and covered in a red wine sauce (jus) just to make sure you couldn't taste the meat. Again, it was quite nice, the steak was tender and I'm sure it is how it was meant to be but I was just expecting a bit more respect for the ingredients from what was clearly a fine dining establishment. Erin and Allanah had fish with the same sides. Erin had a foie gras starter and Allanah had an absolutely delicious mushroom risotto with calamari. The desserts which came with the set menu were very nice, no complaints there at all. After this very heavy meal washed down with a local wine, we made our way back to domaine de marete for a sleep.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 01:53 Archived in France Comments (0)

Bordeaux

sunny 10 °C
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Kim:

After a late night, we opted for a sleep in although given we had lost an hour this didn't help a whole lot. We wanted to head to Bordeaux but thought we should get some French countryside in so we chose the green local route rather than the blue motorway. This was quite nice but added quite a bit time-wise so it was already starting to get dark when we arrived.

The setting sun may have been a blessing as we drove through the main street along the river. Bordeaux was a lot bigger and a lot prettier than we were expecting. The apartments and shops along the river-front looked very well maintained, not sure how old they must be but are absolutely beautiful.

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Arriving quite late on a Saturday evening the traffic was quite bad and we struggled through the town and across the other side of the river with the thought of finding somewhere to park and a hotel. Erin found a Residhotel which is a relatively new chain set up for business travellers and is the chain we chose for our Eurodisney stop so would be interesting to see how they go.

After another lap of the Bordeaux traffic we made it back through the centre of town and found the hotel. I managed (in some very poor Frenglish) to let the receptionist know who we were and we were given the key. This was the last time the receptionist showed the slightest bit of interest in us or anyone else that we noticed. She spent the whole time on the phone to her friends, stopping to answer questions with a tone that suggested she had better things to do. It wasn't a problem though. The room was good and she told us where the laundry was so we could finish drying the clothes we washed in the Porto apartment.

We were looking at catching the tram in to town to get dinner, it turns out after nearly ripping out the tram system (because it was dangerous for cyclists) Bordeaux actually ended up improving and separating the trams from bikes as much as possible. When we went out it was pouring rain and we didn't have change so we took a chance and got back in the car. Long story short this turned out to be a good choice and we quickly got into town and found a parking spot right in front of the tram stop.

It was getting a little late so we started walking ( in one direction so we didn't get lost) and eventually stopped at a little grill. We all ordered fish and it turned out we should have got steak judging by the meals that came out to others. The fish was all over-cooked but the steaks looked nice. Anyway, we started walking back to the car and soon discovered why therewas so much traffic. Not far from where we parked there was a Christmas market on (we had been told to keep an eye out for these in France) so we went for a wander through. They had lots of food and typical market craft stalls as well as some local produce stalls. It was interesting but not that different to what you would find in a market in Australia(one of the stallls even sold kangaroo meat sandwiches). Allanah bought some lollies from one of the stalls and we all wished we had room for crepes but we were a bit full so walked past, back to the car and the hotel.

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After a good sleep we packed up early to get some breakfast and catch a tram in to walk the streets of Bordeaux. We found a little mini-version of a Carrefour supermarket where we bought bread, cheese, tomatoes, croissants and some juice and kept walking. We then stumbled on a little cafe that did coffee that didn't taste like cigarette butts (a first for us in France) and ordered a cafe noisette which is like a piccolo latte, named for the deep brown hazelnut colour of the coffee. Allanah had a hot chocolate (I can tell you there is nothing wrong with French hot chocolate).

We walked along the river and then across a bridge to get some photos from the other side of the river. After strolling for a couple of hours we thought we should probably make a move as we had a few hours of driving (via the countryside again) to our next stop at Lourdes.

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We stopped back in for another coffee and some more croissants on the way past as they were so good and also picked up some breakfast stuff in case we didn't find somewhere in Lourdes to get this sort of thing. In the end we didn't need it as Erin booked us in to a lovely little B&B.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 02:16 Archived in France Comments (1)

3 Meals in 3 Countries in 1 day!

Porto to Biarritz

rain 8 °C
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Our stay in Porto comes to an end after a relaxing few days. We are treated by torrential rain and gusty winds. Kim and I divide and conquer the tasks that are ahead which are to pick up the car on the other side of Porto, pack and do one last bakery run ( most important). I venture out in the wet with the umbrella we picked up in Lisbon and get half way across the square when the wind gust blows my umbrella inside out forcing me to nana shuffle across the square to a cafe for shelter against the rain. I order a coffee (in Portuguese :-D) and spend the next 10 minutes trying to salvage my umbrella. I succeed and head out once again to pick up the supplies, not a minute later my umbrella bends inside out and snaps without any possibility of repair. I am now forced to run the last of my errands getting wet in the process making it home for hot shower. Kim has ventured on the bus to the other side of Porto picking up the car, braving the flooded streets and even worse drivers on the road. Making back to the apartment without his trusty navigator!!

We load the car between bursts of down pours and head out of the city towards France!

Once we are settled on the highway we tuck into the Natas(Portuguese tarts), chicken pies and my queque cenoura (carrot cake). I will miss these - adding to my cook book when we arrive home!!

We drive out of Portugal and through the north of Spain through heavy cloud and rain all of the way. We don't see a lot of Spain and the low cloud cover makes the trip feel like it is taking an eternity. We stop in a truck stop around 2 in the afternoon for lunch. Kim does very well deciphering the menu and ordering in Spanish. He will say that he does not do this well, I beg to differ.

Allanah has a burger and Kim and I share a hot chicken sandwich that is the length from elbow to finger-tip (huge). We continue on in the car (Kim is driving) for another 5-6 hours through the Basque region to glimpse through the haze a warren of towns squeezed into the valleys of these huge mountains. It is not until we come back a few days later that we see how big these towns are spotted with old churches and buildings dating back to the 18th century and a few new ones (including a massive Renault factory).

We find the hotel in Biarritz relatively easily and realise that we are an hour behind timezone and dash to the stadium for the last 50 minutes of the Biarritz v Connaught game.

It is and has been raining cats and dogs and the field looks like a pond. It is only that there is 15 players at one end and 15 at the other (as they kicked to each other) that you can tell who is playing for which team. There is a break in play and one of the players dips his hands into the puddle to wash his face that we can see the red on jersey to see he is a Biarritz player we know which team is which.
Half time 10-0 to Biarritz.
We sit amongst a very loud few Irish supporters that seem to have had a few brews and really annoy the Biarritz supporters that are around us. It is really funny to see the French annoyed at the loud cheering at a poor Irish performance. They struggle to hold onto the ball in the slop and right on the buzzer Biarritz score in the corner to win 15-0 (we didn't wait around for the kick). The Irish supporters were yelling all the way to the dying end.

It is now almost 11pm and we leave to find some dinner. Pizzeria around the corner from the stadium (sort of) is still open. We soon find out that Pizza is done well in France. I am still needing Veges so we order a Salad that arrives soaked in a garlic dressing - this I think will help keep the man cold at bay!!

I forgot to mention that we are seated next to the dessert bar - which provides some excitement and does not disappoint when Allanah orders Ice cream sundae (chocolate of course), Kim the Tarte de Tatin and for me the Profiteroles.

Mmmm now all that is left is to lay down and sleep!

We have not seen a lot of Biarritz, what we did during the evening walk/drive is enough to whet the appetite to come back and spend some more time. This is a very popular spot for surfing and swimming at the beach - only 2 hours from Bordeaux with an airport close by.

Another place to add to the next travel list, but will need to save some more money and learn French!

Posted by Kimerinallanah 01:04 Archived in France Tagged rugby biarritz basque Comments (1)

Porto Day 3

Recovery ...

rain 7 °C
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After a very late night from our travels to the Matasihnos and the dodgy fish place in the grotto, we all sleep in. There is no early walk for me, I am feeling under the weather. Not sick, under the weather!

We have a little stash of food in the house and tea bags so around 9.30am we surface for some tea, natas (portuguese tarts) and oranges. Not long after breakfast I start to go down hill pretty quick and head for a hot shower and sleep. I know that Kim and Allanah join me for a post breakfast "nap".

Waking it seems a little later feeling hungry again (2pm in the afternoon) we head out for some lunch. We decide again on the tourist bus (Porto Red Bus) which takes us around Porto to the sights we have not yet explored.

Although today was a late start, we had a plan.

A food plan.

We have read about something called Sandes de Pernil.

With many international reviews, we note the Red Bus takes us past the place for the famous Pork Sandwiches.

We find this little gem in Praca dos Poveiros - Porto. As with most Portuguese food places - you do not judge the food based on the outside.

We head inside to see 2 brothers manning this bar / food stall.
Allanah wants something that resembles an Aussie lunch and orders Sausages, eggs and .... CHIPs. Kim and I order a sambo each to test the water. It is quick to come out and we start and can not stop. In between mouthfuls we order another 2 which arrive just when we are finishing our first ones. These ARE THE BEST HOT PORK sandwiches EVER!!! The pork has been cooked so slowly that it falls apart and has been basted as it cooks in a garlic oil that is like no other. It is just a bread roll with this juicy pork meat .... I have 2 surprising myself. Even as I write this blog a few days later my mouth is salivating at the thought of these. This will be making it to my "cook book" for when we get home and have to try and replicate this delicious anytime treat!

We walk out of there (4 sambos, 3 drinks and Allanah's dinner) 17€ lighter - which is what I would have paid for 2 of them, they are divine.
We hop back on the bus and head home before the rain gets heavier for a nap ( yes again) before dinner.

We have really slotted into the Portuguese lifestyle eat, sleep, eat sleep. What we have not been able to do as yet is the other Portuguese past time is drive all the way to the beach to sit in the car and eat pistachio nuts discarding the shells out the car window. If you are by any beach in Australia and see shells - you know the Portuguese have been there before.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 11:25 Archived in Portugal Tagged restaurant pork sandes pernil Comments (0)

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