Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWFS Kuala Lumpur Visit to Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace September 2016 - Epilogue and Day Eight


This is a rounding up which is followed by a Day Eight report. 

My reason for having the Epilogue first is that Day Eight has little in the way of interest food or wine wise and consequently be likely a bit boring in that respect for general reading. At the same time, I wanted to put something up for the sake of completeness for my side of the Pilgrimage. Pilgrims can thus feel free to ignore Day Eight, though there are some BA and One World experiences that might be of interest. Also, navigating Heathrow by Wheelchair might prove instructive. 


Writing all of this up some weeks (now months) after the event, I am struck at the intensity and vibrancy of the memories that seem to have burned into the brain. Impressions absorbed from the various towns and places visited seem to have a richness about them which has made the writing feel somehow more full and direct than previous scribbles. The main memories that seem to come through are the ambience and service at the restaurants and the grandeur of many of the places we visited. Some dishes also shine through, though possibly more for their contrast against the general fine dining throughout the week - the Baeckoffe in Alsace and the beer and sausage plate in Strasbourg stand out wonderfully. But it is mostly the places and the people that get remembered. Dinner at Ruinart, the Pommery tasting room, lunch at Les Parc des Crayeres, Ms Moneypenny in the vines at Bollinger, seeing Big Tony in total bliss sipping the Bolly in the Bolly cellar, Napoleon the bus driver getting nicked for using his handphone whilst driving and the subsequent Gendarmerie Escort through Beaune, meeting and eating with Fabrice Amiot at the Montrachet and Romain Taupenot at his winery, the morning walk with Fabrice through his vines, tasting Olivier Leflaive's first press of the 2016 vendange, the "light" lunch at Taverne Alsacienne, the delightful ambience of Domaine Trimbach, the stunning aspect of the Auberge de L'Ill and the evening chilldown in the gardens, Hugel and the Riquewihr church, the Baeckoffe, the group walk through Colmar and the whiskey at L'Atelier du Peintre, the boat trip and lunch in Strasbourg and huddled in the wet damp cold at the Strasbourg station waiting for the train to CDG at the end of the trip. And the generally brilliant weather we had. These moments stick. 

Some of the wines also stick - the Amiot Magnums at Le Montrachet and the Daume Taupenots in Morey St Denis, also the Bollys and the Domaine Weinbachs and the Hugels and the Coche Dury Meursault at Buerehiesel - but this trip ultimately became for me more a sense of place and people than the gastronomy aspect. I will remember this trip for the great fellowship, the camaraderie, and the general great humour on everyone's part (except occasionally mine - Mr Grumpy can sneak up on me sometimes when plans don't seem to pan out or after a restless night of music in the ether). A brilliant trip, and brilliantly organised by our Dear Leader to whom I feel all us Pilgrims should be grateful for creating such memories. I share some sympathy with the whinge that the scheduling was hugely intense and crammed one heck of a lot of stops into seven days. I certainly would have liked a bit more down time to absorb the impressions and let both lunches and dinners get properly digested. But I also get it that we need to cram as many food and wine experiences into the time available as is felt possible. We knew what we were in for when we signed up, so we can't really complain. And we can always opt NOT to go for that unmissable Michelin lunch or dinner. Can't we?

I think what has also come out of all of this is a sense of connection which in many respects I find quite odd - I am not normally one for connecting to too much or to too many. I have always been a bit detached from the world, preferring to observe rather than participate in it. But this felt different. I found myself connecting on a range of levels - physical, emotional, intellectual, and a bit spiritual - with both people and place. The Pilgrimage has forever connected all of us together both as individuals and a group (yep, including the idiot Napoleon). The hippies used to call these things a "be-in" - getting together and communing with each other and the place where we are, er, be-ing. Sounds not unfair - as it says at the end of Contact - The Movie, the only thing we have to banish our loneliness is each other. At the same time, I feel the Pilgrimage has also connected me with the places we collectively visited. Feels like there are bits of my soul that will reside forever in the Bolly vineyard, the slopes of the Cotes de Beaune, amongst the vines of Trimbach and in the Riquewihr church. Not sure if it can be called spiritual, but it doesn't feel far off. Though it could just have been the wines… 

It has been a tremendous amount of fun writing up this trip. All the food, all the wines, along with some personal memories and observations. I do hope everyone has enjoyed reading these posts and that, for the Pilgrims, they brought back some pleasant remembrances. And Pilgrims, do please feel free to add via comment and photograph. One Pilgrim has passed a previous comment that they look upon these scribbles as a gift for the future to look back on and bring back fond memories of our Pilgrimage de Gastronomy et Vins de Champagne, Burgundy et Alsace 2016. I do like that, and I do hope all the writing and photos have indeed that effect. Anyone want to throw money to produce a book of all this, also can la...

Salut-salut mes braves and here's hoping the next Pilgrimage will not be too long in coming!!

PS just one story to finish - my Singo foodie friend Julian shared that he was researching whether any Sparkling Wine makers introduced gas into their winemaking process to fizz things up. He said his search for "gas and champagne" got directed to my blog posts about Trombones in the ether…


Saturday, 1st October 2016

This was a restless night of sleep, with three get ups to pee or drink water or check email. We took a 7am wake up to pack and get down for 8.15 breakfast. I could not eat anything - the sight of the food was just not appetising at this time of the morning especially after the Buerehiesel beano of the night before so it was just a brief coffee to kickstart the system and down to check out and wait for the bags. 

I don't really like travel connections. They stress me out which is why I like to have plenty of time between them. So when the front desk suggested 9am taxi for a 9.57 train I was a bit "hmmmm…"  Still, one must presume that they know best so that was what we had opted for. But it never quite stems the anxiety I get - I just like to have large margins of time in case something goes wrong. Some people who were on the same train to CDG had booked earlier taxis and had all left pretty much on time. 

Lenglui sauntered down with some packed ham rolls for later in the day on the train, which were most welcome at about 10.30 speeding through the Lorraine and Champagne countryside. The taxi and the bags came smack on time, in we climbed and 15 minutes later rolled the bags into the station. Some of the earlier departees were there, and we figured safety in numbers near the platform entrance waiting for our departure platform to get announced.  It was a bit wet and cold and we huddled and chitchatted - quite a miserable end to the trip. So it goes.  We also took the opportunity to validate the tickets as had been reminded us to do on a few prior occasions. Non validation on the French Railway incurs a big Euro fine and no negotiations possible. We had to go through some automatic glass doors to reach them which would then not open from the inside - had to wait until someone else wanted to come in before we could get out and back to our bags. Bloody French. 

On the validation side, mine got done quite briskly, but some of the others tickets would not seem to get easily accepted by the machines - bit sensitive for some reason. Finally all got punched and printed and we were all set. 

The platform got announced, we headed straight up an escalator (unusual in French stations in my experience) and walked the length of the platform to get on the train. We managed to snag the luggage space at the end of the coach and parked in initially the wrong seats but quickly changed to the correct ones - each coach has the same numbered seats but the coaches are not all labelled clearly. Bloody French. A check on the electronic signage on the side of the coach verified the facts and we got sorted. 

Two grey, dozing and uneventful hours later we pulled into CDG station, got the bags off and followed signs up the escalator after which we said goodbyes as we went separate ways for different airline check ins. Here was where my anal need for connection time let me down as we could easily have made the 2pm BA flight (I had booked the 6pm, figuring we could be a bit lazy in Strasbourg and not counting on all the train tickets being booked en masse and at the same early time. My bad). To change to the earlier flight would have cost Euro285 each at which point we opted to lepak around the airport with coffee and lunch and free wifi until check in for the flight opened at 3pm. Which was actually quite fun - read papers, watched planes, went into my No Zone of daydreaming into the distance and communed with the rain. Ommmmmm…..

Lenglui had ordered a wheelchair at check in which got us through into the terminal shops quite smoothly. It was at this time that she found her phone was missing. I ran back to the security but nothing had been handed in. My guess was that it had been stolen - someone dipped into the bag and lifted it. They must have been damn fast - very few opportunities and we are normally quite careful. But Security rushed us a bit and I fancy this was where it might have happened. Though I will check Lost Property in CDG - one never knows. 

One point on the check in - we were not permitted to check our bags straight through to KL even though both BA and MAS are part of the One World Alliance. Seems the rule is that one must book the entire flight through One World for this to kick in. Bugger. So we had to retrieve the bags at the Terminal Five luggage carousel and then lug them to the transfer terminus for further lugging across to Terminal Four. 

It was a good simple flight to Heathrow, again opting for a wheelchair processing on landing. We were wheeled by a seemingly dour Londoner who turned out to be quite the raconteur. He told us stories about who he had pushed in his wheelchair. Bit like the proverbial London taxi driver - "Oi 'ad that Victoria Beckham in moi cab larst week" kind of chap. He shared that his most memorable passenger had been Pele, and said that it took an age to get him to the destination because everyone wanted to shake Pele's hand. Cute story, non? No one stopped to shake Lenglui's hand. 

On reaching the Transfer desk, we got told it would be at least a forty minute wait for the Special Wheelchair bus to pick us up. What to do? We were pretty locked into wheelchair process so figured we just had to ride it out. I went for a walk and found the toilet. Forty minutes naturally became an hour - but we had plenty of time so no major panic. During this time I witnessed an incident between a BA staff member and the wheelchair assistance receptionist during which he reduced her to tears through his bullying manner and accusations of her not seeming to be caring about a lost elderly passenger he was trying to locate. I passed a card to offer myself as a witness which the office later took up (I wrote and emailed a report, heard nothing since, doubt that I will but there you go. The BA Staff member was unnecessarily mean. Hope his next crap is a Durian). 

We got loaded on the Wheelchair Bus and swiftly transferred with the bags to Terminal Four and straight to Business Class check in. At the last minute Lenglui decided to check in her hand carry and take out her toiletries. This would cause a twenty minute delay as security would yank it to check for explosives. There were quite a number of people getting their liquids checked. One woman had come through with a bag full of toileteries - looked like she would be there for an hour. It does unnecessarily delay things because the checking takes up personnel and backlogs passengers on what was supposed to be the Express Lane. There is a case for Spot Fine to encourage people not to bring liquids through, though enforcing it would be a nightmare - need a trained linguist to communicate with all the various nationalities. Anyhow, the upshot of all this was we only got to the MAS Lounge at 9pm ahead of a 9.50 flight. I managed to down three cans of Guinness and some finger food and nuts - absolutely wonderful. Could totally feel the valves letting out their steam and relaxing thanks to the magic that is the Booze. Lenglui went for the Gin and Tonic. 

We were seated separately in Business Class for some reason but no matter - supper and a sleeping pill and after half a movie I was asleep and getting woken for breakfast two hours ahead of a 6pm touchdown. Got swiftly through customs and immigration, and our bags were almost the first coming out on the Carousel. I booked a limo at the counter, negotiated the KLIA Exit gate, clambered into the limo and we were home just before 8pm. Brilliantly smooth through KLIA and the MEX Highway. 

And that was pretty much that. We unpacked, loaded the washing machine, poured ourselves a couple of Gin and Tonics and turned on the TV and waited for sleep. Tomorrow would be a working day. Back to the world. No bad thing. As the old song goes, it's so nice to go traveling but it is so much nicer to come home. Word. 

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