Chalone trip to France plus England
Luigi and Manly, 1993

When we arrived in Charles DeGaulle Airport about 8:00 in the morning of Sunday, June 27, Luigi and I were met by a young man carrying a sign reading simply "CHALONE." We were the only members of the Chalone shareholders group on that flight, so he did not wait for others to disembark and took us directly to his car and drove us to the Hotel Lutetia on the Left Bank, in the Mont Parnasse region. We spent most of the rest of the day resting, though Luigi interrupted her rest with a walk. An early dinner at a restaurant called Cour St. Germain prepared us to go to bed so that we would not be any more tired than necessary for the next day.

There were about 40 of us on the bus the next morning, including Bill and Vicki Hamilton (she being the Chalone Special Events Director), Paddy Nichols, (the tour director), Bob and Barbara Longstreth and Max who had all been on the Chile trip last year. This time Max brought his friend Karen. Most of the others were from California, but several other States were represented, including Mississippi whence came Hardy and Judy Graham of Meridian. The latter charmed Luigi by replying, when asked whether she washed her silk blouse or had it dry cleaned, "I really don't know, I just hand it to my maid." He owns the local Coca Cola bottling plant.

The first hotel was the Chateau de la Muire, an old manor house at Reims, 140 kilometers east northeast of Paris. I relaxed and Luigi joined the others looking at the Cathedral (which she and I had seen a few years ago) and taking a tour of the Moet winery riding on a train that some said made the experience resemble Disneyland. The group was supposed to tour the Veuve Cliquot winery, but a labor disturbance (which included kidnapping the president of the company) prevented it. We did have a delicious dinner at the Chateau Veuve Cliquot, in a very old room with stone walls and colorful hangings. Very good Champagne and other wines, too.

On Tuesday we drove through the countryside admiring the vineyards along the "Montagne de Reims" -- a ridge of chalk on the sides of which the vines prosper. There were visits to and tastings at Bollinger in the village of Ay and Pol Roger in Epernay, where we met the current M. Roger. Not only do the grapes grow on the chalk subsoil, but the aging wine is stored in miles of tunnels in the chalk, some of the holes leading to the tunnels having been started in Roman times. During a tour of one of these tunnels I ascertained that I could drive my thumbnail into the chalk wall.

Dinner was at Les Crayeres, a restaurant rated three stars in the omnipotent Michelin guide. Specially printed menus of the dinner were printed and folded inside glossy covers bearing a reproductions of a painting especially rendered for Gerard Boyer, the proprietor and chef. Wines included Champagne Lanson Black Label Brut as an aperitif and Chassagne Montrachet 1986, Chateau Ormes de Pez 1983 and Muscat de Rivesaltes Domaine Cazes. Dinner comprised la minute de saumon frais tagliatelle de legumes a l'huile de truffes; la croustade de champignons des bois, sauce cressonette; le filet de Saint-Pierre grille, petit flan de bouchot, concassee de tomates et oignons safranes; la poularde de bresse en demi-deuil, riz basmati, foie gras et truffes; la grande assiette de desserts et les petits fours frais; and le cafe moka et ses fins chocolats maison. With all that wine my recollection of what those dishes actually were is a little dim, and my French is good enough only to partially translate all that into: fresh salmon with vegetables and truffle oil; wild mushroom tart; grilled white fish with tomato and onion sauce; chicken and rice with foie gras and truffles (a slice of truffle was inserted under the skin of each chicken breast); an assortment of desserts and fresh petit-fours; and mocha coffee with chocolate candy. The meal was served on the terrace of an old manor house. The staff would remove your crumpled napkin and give you a fresh heavy linen napkin every time you left the table (as many did in view of the length of the meal). When the main course was brought to a table of eight, four waiters stood around the table and simultaneously lifted the silver-plated covers from the plates. This practice was followed at a number of other fancy restaurants -- perhaps it is something one does to earn Michelin stars.

We returned to Paris on Wednesday in time to catch the pre-noon train to Bordeaux. This was one of the Tres Grande Vitesse (Very High Speed) trains that the French are justly proud of. Lunch was served at our seats and the ride was so smooth that the wine didn't slosh in our glasses. We reached Bordeaux in southwestern France in the early afternoon and stayed in a pleasant hotel, the Burdigala, near the center of the city.

On Thursday we visited wineries in Medoc and Pauillac, including Chateau Mouton and Chateau LaFite, belonging to different, though amicable, branches of the Rothschild family. The latter had a very impressive underground room, round and about a hundred feet in diameter, in which barrels of wine were stored. At dinner time a long bus ride took us to a dock at Arcachon where we caught a boat (that did not display much evidence of life preservers) across a bay to "the simple village of Le Canon;" a few minutes walk brought us to a remarkable restaurant of which the architect's mother must have been frightened by a jungle gym. It was on several levels, the sides mostly open to the elements, with tables wherever there were not staircases. En route we were treated to a discussion of the oyster raising industry in that bay, including a display of small sections of planks on which baby oysters fastened themselves after hatching. Dinner was good, mostly seafood.

Friday was mostly devoted to Sauternes, including lunch at Chateau Rieussec, next door to Chateau d'Yquem. Rieussec is owned by the Lafite Rothschilds and we were served an excellent lunch there after an instructive illustrated lecture about the way Sauternes wine is made. The grapes are picked individually when either (a) botrytis mold is well advanced on the grape or (b) the grape is ripe but not moldy. Slightly moldy grapes are left on the vine to become moldier. The (a) grapes are turned into the famous sweet wine of the region and the (b) grapes are fermented in the normal way and are turned into a dry white wine. We had Chateau Rieussec (sweet) as both an aperitif and a dessert wine and Rieussec (dry white Bordeaux without the Chateau or the Sauternes appellation) to accompany the main course.

On Saturday Luigi and most of the others went on a tour of the Pomerol and St. Emilion regions while I rested and wandered about the city a little. St. Emilion is an old walled city on the top of a hill, very picturesque. What I was resting for was the evening dinner catered at Chateau LaFite. Chalone and Lafite have a cross-ownership arrangement under which each owns some of the other's stock, so we were given VIP treatment. As favors, each lady was given a handsome green Limoges china plate with a picture of the Chateau on it, and each gentlemen got a wooden box bearing the legend "Grand Vin de Bordeaux, Chateau LaFite, 1986 -- Rothschild" with what seems to be a bottle inside. Among the wines we had at that meal was some Chateau Lafite and it was very good indeed; I only wish it had been the first because after I've consumed a few glasses of wine, my perception is not so keen. For this meal the menus were printed on small cards, and I am enclosing a copy with this letter. The waiters performed the same cover-lifting routine as at Les Crayeres, but they did not replace napkins when the user left the table.

A dozen or so of our group left to return to the U.S. on Sunday and the rest of us went by bus, first to the spectacular and crowded resort city of Biarritz for lunch and then to St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees, just north of the Spanish border. This is the Basque country town where pilgrims to Santiago de Campostela would gather before crossing the mountains in the middle ages. Some still do; one who makes the effort of walking at least 100 kilometers in the process can obtain a certificate to that effect and his time in purgatory will be cut in half. In view of my knee and foot problems, I decided to reduce my sinning instead.

We stayed in "Les Pyrenees," a nice small hotel on a street which, Monday morning, served as a market. Local people brought their produce to town to sell to each other; others tried to sell things to the former or to the tourists. I bought a compact disc of Basque music titled "Bal Champetre au Pays Basque -- Orchestre Champetre Ramuntcho;" it contains about 30 songs, all lively and all but the last sounding very much alike, even though some purport to be marches, some quadrilles and some fandangos. The last, "Cri des Bergeres Basques" (Cry of the Basque Shepherds) sounds like a cross between a rebel yell and a coyote wail. We celebrated the Fourth of July here, not with fireworks but with small paper American flags and occasional songs (though no one was willing to try the "Star Spangled Banner.")

On Tuesday the bus took us north and east to the Dordogne Region and the village of Montignac (east southeast of Perigeux) where we stayed at the 19th century Chateau de Puy Robert. Next to the Chateau itself is a newer building, with rooms all the same size where we stayed, in a lovely rolling pastoral setting. So pastoral that we saw bales of hay and cattle in an adjacent field. The chief attraction of Montignac is the Lascaux Cave, discovered by boys playing in 1940. This cave contains paintings 15,000-20,000 years old of various animals that roamed the area, but not of men nor of the deer that were the main source of meat of the men who lived there. The actual cave is now closed to the public, but a replica has been made and is visited by throngs of people each day. The skill and artistic sophistication of the artists is very impressive, including the way they used parts of the uneven surface of the cave interior as part of their painting, and the effectiveness with which, by a few lines and varying techniques of applying pigment, they portrayed the essence of the wild oxen, horses, bison and other animals they painted.

We were also taken to a goose farm where they raise and force feed geese to turn their livers into foie gras. After reaching full size the geese are put in pairs in pens about a meter square in a barn. Each pen is made of iron pipe, with a depression in one wall where the farmer (or his wife) thrusts the bird's head down and then up with the beak around a traveling funnel containing boiled corn. The wings are clamped down and the goose's neck is rubbed to help the corn pass into the stomach. Then the bird is released after its head is briefly turned 90 degrees to make sure the corn stays down.

Also at Montignac we learned to appreciate the local wines from such places as Cahors and Bergerac; we were told that they have improved markedly in recent years. After visiting the preserved/restored 12-17th century city of Sarlat with its stone walls and narrow, winding streets on Thursday, we were taken to Angouleme on Friday where we caught the TGV train back to Paris. There we had dinner at a good Indian restaurant and accompanied the meal with beer.

Luigi and I stayed in Paris at the Hotel Windsor, on the Right Bank near the Arc de Triumph, until Monday. We saw a good exhibition of the "Tresors de la Russie" comprising many old Russian gold and silver crowns, cups, tea services etc. at the Petit Palace museum, and the new glass pyramid designed by Y.M. Pei over the present entrance in the courtyard of the Louvre. Luigi disapproves because it impairs the view of the structure surrounding the courtyard. On Sunday we took a long subway ride out to La Villette, a major development at the northeast edge of Paris with a sports complex, concert hall, amusement park, playgrounds, science and industry museum, hotel, apartment building and very few people. Indeed, except for the Champs Elysees which is always crowded, Paris appeared able to accommodate many more tourists than it had.

London, on the other hand, seemed to have all the tourists it needs. On Monday the 12th of July, we took a fast train to Boulogne, a huge, fast catamaran to Folkestone, and a train of dignified speed to Victoria Station. A taxi delivered us to the Ashburn Garden Apartments, just off Cromwell Road. We were welcomed by Mr. Aresti, the manager, who arranged to have us and our luggage taken up separately in the small elevator to the second floor where our apartment was Number 11. It had a large living room and a medium-sized bedroom plus kitchenette and bathroom with a working shower and a built-in retractable clothesline over the tub. The hotel occupies both number 3 and number 4 Ashburn Gardens (a couple of old row houses) and is possibly four stories high. Rentals are by the week and the cost amounts to about $100 per night. Maid service occurs Monday through Friday, and there is a rack in the lobby containing leaflets describing many of the things to do in the city. A large supermarket with decent prices and an excellent selection (including better cherries from Washington State than I bought here at the Farmer's Market) is about a block away. In addition to sandwiches and breakfast foods they also had some Hungarian Merlot wine at a reasonable price that turned out well.

Luigi picked out one leaflet dealing with theaters, and on Thursday we got around to going to the ticket exchange at Victoria Station where we got tickets for that evening's performance of The Last Yankee by Arthur Miller with Peter Davidson and for Friday evening's performance of Separate Tables," a revival of a good 1950's play. The ticket exchange also sold subway tickets, though we didn't buy any there. Our neighborhood Underground station, Gloucester Road, is in the center of a large area full of tourists, mostly young and many who speak English only as a second language. Paddy Nichols, our tour director, referred to such people as "Grockles." Each morning after breakfast there were long lines of people waiting to buy the daily pass that is good only after 9:30 A.M. By Friday I learned to buy not only that day's pass but Saturday's pass, too. You can get a weekly pass, but that requires a passport photo.

Our apartment was also close to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and we both took advantage of the fact. We went to the National Museum to see the Elgin Marbles, but the room where they are was blocked off in preparation for a party to be held later in the day. Indeed each of us saw all the museums he or she wanted to and I got to take several naps and short walks about the neighborhood. Also I was able to visit my tailor near Picadilly Circus and pick up a couple of suits I'd ordered as well as have an old suit let out (it interfered with my enjoying some of the meals in France) and have the left cuff on my gray flannel slacks repaired.

On Friday we took the subway out to the Docklands, a huge redevelopment project for which Skidmore, Owings and Merrill opened a London office several years ago. Of course it does not appear on our 20-year-old London maps, but does show on the current London Transport maps. Included in the Docklands redevelopment area is the Canary Wharf Project that contributed substantially to the demise of Olympia and York by failing to draw tenants. Although the office building part of the area resembles a ghost town, there is some life in the residential areas of the development, including a small shack of a restaurant on the bank of the Thames across from Greenwich and the Royal Naval College.

There were a couple of restaurants of which we thought highly: Beotys, a Greek-Mediterranean establishment near Leicester Square and the Bombay Brasserie a couple of blocks from our apartment. We had our last regular meal at their buffet brunch Sunday afternoon. It included a very tasty dish of lamb cooked in yogurt and orange zest which Luigi successfully copies (but with beef) after our return. Sunday evening we had sandwiches and beer in our apartment before going to bed early to get some rest before meeting the taxi driver at 5:30 Monday morning to go to Heathrow and the flight back to Chicago.