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.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Eight

Sunrise over the Rhone in Tournon
Saturday September 23 2017

Quite a restless sleep tonight for some reason, getting up a few times to pee and then back into bed and fitfully rolling around waiting for drop off to dreamland which never quite came. You end up dozing and fitful and ultimately waiting for the sunrise. My response now is to fire up the Ipad and see what lyrics might come. I can jot down a few lines and rhymes and then start to doze at which point the lines seem to arrive in swathes and I have to get back up to catch them before they vanish into the ether. At least it is productive. Lenglui snores oblivious through all of this, though is occasionally also known to get up for a pee. 

The massive daily honeycomb - spoon a chunk into the oatmeal for a breakfast of champions
The Affinity was already docked in Tournon at sunrise. After about an hour lolling around I got dressed and abluted at about 7.30am and went off to get some coffee for us both from the bar at the Stern end of the ship. Also snagged a nice sunrise photo from the back of the ship. Jean Loup was also getting his coffee, both of us noting it to be a bit cooler this morning. Funny how talking about weather is always a conversation starter, eh?

Stinky hard cheese - heaven
I grabbed croissants and other bits for Lenglui, then scarfed down a quick breakfast and coffee before heading out into the town. We would only be here for the morning so I figured an early start to do Tournon and get back way ahead of the off. After some consideration, and being told that it was frisky cool outside, Lenglui opted to stay onboard and under the covers. There was a guided walk scheduled for 8.30am but I couldn't wait and decided to strike out alone. I was on solid ground at 8.15am. 

Miele et Confitures et huiles - yum!
The boat was docked next to a large carpark on which vans and cars had set up a market selling shoes and towels and other bits. All of this was under a blazing blue sky but by crikey it was cold on the dock. I was well wrapped up in scarf, gloves and hat but could still feel the sting of the cold on the cheeks. Crisp, with a nip of Jack Frost in the air (or should that be Jacques Frost?) - winter was a-coming. 

Porky bits of ham salami
There was a market getting started on the dockside carpark, with lots of vans setting up tables with bits and clothes and boots and bags, most of it not really of standard, and some of which had seen way better days. Slightly better than boot sale quality, but not enough to justify the prices being asked. It was too cold to bargain too. So off I trotted following the Avalon town map and wound my way to the market. The town itself looked pretty, but desperately in need of the heat of sunshine; in this dawning light the shadow of the buildings just made the empty Grande Rue along which I was walking seem cold and desolate.

Roast Chicken and roast potatoes off the van
En route, I felt a need for reassurance that I was on the right road and so checked with a young lady en route if I indeed was - I asked and pointed "S'il vous plait, mamselle, la Marchee?" and a delightful smile replied "Oui, le Marchee." "Ah, c'est bon. Merci Mamselle," said I with an toothy grin. I can be charming, even at cold and ungodly hours such as this was. 

Give us this day our daily bread...
And indeed, within twenty yards of this exchange of Entente Cordiale warmth and smiles the bustling market revealed itself, bathed in the light and warmth of the growing sun. Notwithstanding that the morning chill had still yet to be fully warmed off, compared to the crisp and chill air all the way from off the boat this little oasis of heat warmed both the body and soul. And it was good to see all the life going on here - the bustle of the buyers, the noise of the sellers, the live chickens, all styles of cheese and porky products, and loads of colourful vegetables. Can't remember much in the way of fruit though. With the light and the colours, there were lots of great opps for photos everywhere. This was a fun thirty minutes. I recall a massive tall hill backdrop rising up behind the town, and a church at the top which might have explained the cold at the bottom -  not sure, have to check this one.

Looking back on Tournon from the dock in sunshine
Then it was back into the cold streets for a wander past some pretty buildings and the still closed shops to come out near a long bridge across a river and a vicious chill walk along the bank back to the boat. The wind was whipping like a cold lash across the cheeks. From my side of the bank I could see large signs on vast green vineyard fields on the opposite side of the river which read "Jaboulet" and later "Chapoutier" - difficult to miss, and consequently some excellent marketing; anyone coming upriver could not miss the logo signs. It was also perfect elevation and prospect for sun and rain to massage the grapes to harvest fruition. 

Tournon dockside morning - beautiful sky...
It was getting a bit too chill on the riverside, so I veered off the bank and back through the car park market. This would turn out to be a gentle and pleasant wander through some tree shaded paths and also a chance to see if I had missed any treasures earlier. I hadn't. Took a couple of photos because of some decent light and then back on the boat to quickly divest and get straight back into the warm bed. Lenglui was still undercover. I did some FB posts and then dozed till an hour before lunch. Sky TV was on in the background repeating news stories. It made for good snoozing wallpaper. 

The ship was scheduled to set sail at ten thirty but we missed this due to not everyone seemingly being back on board. There was an announcement for two rooms who had not apparently returned the deck passes (NB these are identity cards which get given out when you get off the boat and which you are supposed to return at reception when you get back on board). It was quickly resolved and we were soon back out on the water. Our cabin was on the right side of the ship which meant we had views of the seemingly endless vine planted slopes of Rhone river varietals. At this time of year (late September) they must be getting ready for the harvest, if not being already underway. Given the area that we could see from the ship, they must need armies to bring all the grapes in. Vast acres of vines. Felt like heaven.

Rolling on the river....
Eventually resurfaced to shower and dress and get to the restaurant for a good solid lunch of beef stew with Proven├žal rice and chocolate ice cream dessert. There was a most pleasant sweet dry wine being served, very light and fragrant and so, so easy to sip and chug and quaff and guzzle. A perfect luncheon wine which went hugely well with the food. The slopes had now disappeared and it was most pleasant to sit and watch the charming countryside of the Rhone valley slipping by - lots of bird life, herons, ducks, cormorants, and seagulls. And there seemed to be a village every five minutes on one side of the bank or the other, all waking up to the weekend and all of them hugely pretty. Though all very similar in terms of a steeple rising up in the middle of surrounding low rise houses. I can now understand the artist with the easel setting up on one bank to paint what is seen on the other. Every lunch should be like this. 

After lunch, we all repaired to the lounge via reception for to pay Jean Loup for our future excursions in Paris. He also facilitated my request for all the dining and wines lists of the cruise for this series of blog posts. He also promised to pass some Paris restaurant recommendations that we could try during our time there (NB he would not be joining us in Paris, he needing to continue an Avalon cruise to Normandy). 

Rolling on the river....
It would prove to be a massively lazy afternoon spent doing NY Times puzzles, making notes on the iPad mini and enjoying the countryside. Totally chilled and warm on the sun lounge observation deck. Odd dozes, got a cup of decaf black tea for me and green tea for Lenglui from the back. It was once again wine fields all the way, and all with southern aspects (and occasional impossible slopes) to catch the sun. Delightful.

4pm was to be a coffee and chocolate talk, and the lounge filled quite quickly with most of the Cruisers coming off a tour of the ship's galley. As a supposed foodie and wine writer, I suppose I should really have gone along to see how the galley crew managed to prepare all the food and get it to the tables. Seriously, I couldn't be arsed. I have done them before and it is a lot of standing around looking at storage and stoves and when you have a lot of people then the questions and answers just lengthen the amount of time spent on the hindleg. Given a choice of sitting or standing, I take the comfy chair every time. 

The gunky lead lined Valrhona chocolates
Walking back to the cabin for a pre chocolate talk pee and again passing my delightful Latin dancer on the wall. I want to photograph her, but the lighting is such that a decent photo is impossible. Should I take it anyway? Yes. A number of times. Hope to get one decent shot. 

At the talk, Jean Loup said that we were not to touch the chocolate until he gave the go ahead. He then explained about how chocolate is made and that in France one should bring chocolate to a house gathering rather than wine or flowers. Reason is that the wines have usually been pre-selected and so anything brought will not be opened. With regard to flowers, some people are allergic and some can offend - Jean Loup gave the example of chrysanthemums which are usually are for funerals. I always understood lilies are for funerals, but they are used in masses at weddings in Malaysia. Must be a culture thing. With regards to chocolate, he says Valrhona is the good stuff and which will impress the most. He also shared that some peopll who bring Valrhona sometimes eat the content of the box and replace them with cheap ones!  

Jean Loup shared his technique for tasting and eating. He said we should first smell the chocolate, noting the absence of any sugar smell and thus indicating quality - the one we were having was 75% cocoa with garnache. We should then put the chocolate with the top side on the tongue and not to bite; just close the eyes and let the chocolate work its magic. It works! But these managed to hit the gut like a lead brick and bloated beyond belief. They would also coat the throat with some icky gunk that clung to the sides and tonsils like some alien slime. Total need for some liquid to cleanse the throat. Which is where the coffee comes in - perfect throat declogger - like Drain-O. But it didn't help the iron and metal in the belly. I recall not being able to move for five minutes until the bloat disappeared. Memo to self - never eat rich dark chocolates given to you by a Frenchman. 

The Steel Cow of Vienne. Oui.
As the chocolate talk came to an end, the boat was docking in the town of Vienne. We would not be here too long so we swiftly grabbed the bits from the cabin and made to get off the ship. Though not before Lenglui had scored some ice from the machine near the stairs to chill the Rose we had bought in Arles as aperitif for dinner. 

Bar opposite the Steel Cow. No time to stop for a beer. Next time. If there is one...
Vienne was a very pretty and hugely quaint town with lots of small one person operation shops (think old style ironmongers and tailoresses) with large windows to display the inside wares. It felt like a total step back in time, as if Vienne had been forever trapped in the 1950s. This was underlined by old style signages and typefaces on doors and windows. Amazing feel. Which also made for great photo opps, from Roman Temples to a modern steel constructed cow around which children played whilst the townsfolk did their evening passage at the bars. We had to walk across a steel bridge and over a main road to be greeted by a massive cathedral at which a wedding was going on. We hung around for a bit hoping to see the couple, but after five minutes and no show we trooped off to do a pleasant stroll around the town. This involved taking in all four pharmacies in the town at which nothing got bought - prices were way more expensive than those in the big towns. Mais bien sur…  anything coming to the small towns incurs costs in transport, so the profit margins need to be higher to offset. 

Lenglui and Roman Ruins in Vienne
We got back to the cabin, and cracked the Rimauresque 2016. The label of which declared it to be a Cru Classe Rose. Okay…  It would prove most pleasant, bit of grape on the nose, light strawberry mouth and crisp acidity on the throat. Good length on the finish, chewy and nice bite on the teeth, clean and frisky. Well tasty, and a perfect aperitif sip ahead of dinner.

Of which I have no memory of either during or after. This might have been the Cabaret singer, all French songs and hugely entertaining as only the French know how, teasing the men and stooges and rousing singing and partying. Only later did I realise our chanteuse was actually a chanteur as a result of Jean Loup quietly advising our singing friend to indeed be a gentleman. As a veteran of the Malaysian stage, I should have known. He/she was very, very convincing. I seem to recall the boat was sailing for the night to dock up at Lyon ready for an early off. Can't remember. Fell into bed and slept through. Lyon promised to be a good long day. Though not quite as we might have imagined it!

Lunch Menu
Seasonal lettuce and condiments
Avalon House vinaigrette, Parsley Yoghurt dressing, Walnut dressing
Chicory salad withapple, Carrot salad with raisins, Potato and gherkin salad

Creamy carrot soup with almonds
Viccisoisse, chilled potato and leek soup

Carving Station
Pink roasted leg of lamb marinated with herbs, served with natural gravy

Daily Live Cooking with Head Chef
Pasta aux fruits de mer - fusilli with shrimps, garlic, tomatoes and fresh basil

Main Course
Daube Provencal - Provencale style beef stew with red wine, onions, garlic and fresh herbs
Filet de plie Parisienne - pan fried fillet of plaice with parmesan coating
Caesar Sandwich - Slices of chicken breast with Romaine lettuce and parmesan dip
Greek Orza pasta stwe - sauteed with spring vegetables, fresh herbs and tomatoes

Sides - Broccoli, basmati rice, ssauteed corn and peppers, eggplant ragout

Sweet Temptations
Sour Cherry Cake - with chocolate sauce
Strawberry and chocolate ice ceam with chocolate and furit sauce, whipped cream and cones
Fresh seasonal fruit

Bourgogne Chardonnay Buissonier - Vignerons de Buxy, France, 12.5%
This aromatic wine had a clean, lively bite. Yellow pale gold in color and clear, its nose had a floral touch, recalling hawthorn and acacia.

Gris Blanc - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12.5%
The colour of this Rose is crystalline. The nose and the palate show fruity flavours. The wine is very tasty and has an acidulous finish

Bailli de Provence Rouge - Gilardi, France, 13%
Warm wine with characteristic notes of vanilla and candied red fruits. Very round in the mouth, the tannins are melted and give a feeling of smoothness. 

Dinner Menu
Bread and Dips - Freshly Baked Bread with butter and our dip of the day

Apple Cocktail - flavoured with vanilla and raisins
Feta Cheese and artichoke strudel - with red pepper sauce
Salade verte du jour a l'Arlesienne - French bacon salad with seasonal greens,olives, marinated garlic and corutons

Bouillon et pasta - beef broth with beans and noodles
Veloute de Potiron - Creamy Auvergne pumpkin soup with cinnamon croutons

Main Course
Sauteed potato gnocchi - with fresh spinace and tossed in white wine sauce
Broiled fillet of John Dory - with rosemary butter, young spinach and sepia noodles
Roasteed breast of chicken supreme - on Marsala sauce with romanesco broccoli and Chardonnay risotto
Vegetarian lasagne - with tomato sauce

Reserve Speciale Sauvignon - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12%
This 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from carefully selected cool climate vineyards and displays citrus and exotic fruit notes

Gris Blanc - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12.5%
The colour of this Rose is crystalline. The nose and the palate show fruity flavours. The wine is very tasty and has an acidulous finish.

Reserve Speciale Syrah - Gerard Bertrand, France, 13.5%

This 100% Syrah has a dark red colour with purple hints. Peppery, soft spices aromas. Rich and full bodied with spices and wild herb flavours.

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