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 Five

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Five

Wednesday September 20, 2017

Ship docked next to where Van Gogh painted his Starry Night
Woke up to a view of the wall of the riverbank and a thin strip of blue sky outside the window balcony, which was half promising. We dressed for breakfast and walked along the gangway to the stairs and lift which was down for breakfast and up for off the ship. The breakfast doubled as the dinner restaurant at night and was essentially a double line of tables and sofas and chairs with windows looking out onto the passing countryside. I tucked into a large plate of baguette, cheese and ham and jammy buttered croissants and coffee. Lenglui went for sausage, bacon and scrambled egg. As said, on one side was the bank whilst the other looked out onto the beautifully bright sunny day that appeared well in prospect. 

This would have been his view. Minus the ship. Of course.
The cruise featured a free 9.00am walking tour of Arles which the blurb said was "one of the most interesting Roman towns in France" with an arena, and famous for welcoming Van Gogh. Never ones to say no to a free, we duly arrived at reception to join the tour. As said, the view from inside the ship did not give any indication that outside was anything but perfect. However, on getting to reception to get our tour guide battery headset packs we could see everyone wrapped up in coats and hats. Reason - the Mistral was blowing serious windy gale force outside, which made everyone needing to wrap up against it. Bloody cold and windy. We duly slipped back to the room to fetch hats and scarves and warm coats. And gloves. 

The stroll into Arles centre
Once on dry land, our guide pointed out the actual spot where Van Gogh had painted the Starry Night thing. Bet Vincent chose a night when the bloody Mistral was not in season. Seems the thing lasts for three days and then dissipates and everything is light and breeze. Bugger must have known we were here today because it was whipping up the air like a banshee. We took the obligatory photos and quickly headed off to some brick and mortar style respite from the wind. Though not before our Guide also said that Vincent used to live in a small house around an indicated corner behind a Monoprix department store. After this, she kindly decided we should get out of the wind. 

Off we all traipsed across some roads and through a ruined Roman gate which marked the back entrance to the town. It was dam cold. Lenglui was suffering, so I gave her my woolly beanie hat which she pulled over her ears whilst I made do with my scarf and cap. Ears were major burning with the cold. This side of Arles leading up to the Amphitheatre (Rue Voltaire) felt a bit dilapidated; lot of side streets of old houses with shutters that could use a lick of paint or replacement. Old railings and brickwork. Quite sad in the wind and shade. And cold. 

The group stumbled along the Rue Voltaire got to the Amphitheatre which clearly had mountains of steps. Lenglui and steps do not connect because of creaky knees so we decided against the steps and the Amphitheatre and go off on our own adventure. Which usually means a search for pharmacies. For some reason, we both enjoy them. Hunting for and finding little necessaries not readily available at home. Additionally, Lenglui thought she had forgotten to pack the major medicine bag and needed some medicinal necessaries. The ship had provided a street map of Arles and I figured out where we were and where we needed to get to. We turned a corner, walked along a street and voila - the ubiquitous Dayglo flashing green cross that signalled drugs got spotted and we made our way there.

Arles centre. Kind of faded glory...
Two very pleasant and knowledgeable lady Pharmacists tolerated my broken French and I liaised between them and Lenglui and we got the necessaries. Which did not stop us visiting the other two pharmacies in town. The first was disappointing though the second proved fruitful and we bought a walking stick with an elbow support for added leverage for Lenglui. It is a bit ungainly but solid support for walking the streets and getting on and off the ship.  Lenglui does the pharmacies to test them as to whether she can snag drugs for which she normally needs a script. To my knowledge, this has never yet succeeded.

I somehow missed a turn and ended up taking the long route back to ship along the Rue de la Republique and along the riverbank roads. Which as it turned out would bring us past a tasty looking wine store where we ended up buying three bottles of the local artisanery from a most knowledgeable and enthusiastic and young wine seller. We specifically asked for wines that gave a taste of Arles and surroundings and we quickly accepted the recommendations offered. Our position is that we may never pass this way again so get in as much of how the people here live, work, eat and drink so as to generate as much a memory of "place" as can be done. We find this creates so much more in meaning terms, and prefer to visit the market rather than the Amphitheatre. I exchanged business cards with my new friend, though nothing ever yet has happened as a result of doing this. Still, one never knows - at least a new friend has a contact here in Kuala Lumpur should there ever be a reason to visit. 

Lenglui and the Avalon Affinity
The road took us back to the river along which we would have to walk to get back to the ship. We would also have to battle the full force of Mme Mistral. And she made a full fight of it - whipping through the trees and streets and chilling all to the bone. We cut up and back through various side streets but the bugger would find a way to turn back on us and whip around everything. We got battered - the thing had a mind of its own. Total Banshee. Eventually we made it the boat and went straight to the coffee bar for a warming cup of machine ground Joe. Very necessary. Brilliantly sunny but viciously cold morning.

We stashed our coats in the cabin and headed up for an easy lunch of soup and chicken and rose wine and then back out in the afternoon to scout the Monoprix store that our guide had pointed out to us earlier. Though not before filling the Mr Hardy icebag I had souvenired from a Cardiff Charity shop with ice to chill the white we had earlier bought and ready to drink on return from the shopping. 

Lenglui and ship plant. What?
There was an option to visit the Carrierres de Lumieres and the town of St Remy de Provence which the Rick Steve Guide book said were worth a visit, but we decided that the Monoprix looked more interesting. It was also a five minute walk there and back from the ship. And free. Yes. 

The Mistral was still whipping (though not with as much ferocity as earlier) as we stumbled across some pavements and roads to the store. The Monprix doubled as a mini Department Store and Supermarket - kind of like Asda but with less choice and medium quality clothings and goods. Though the booze section was massive, albeit supermarket brands - a lot of the labels looked familiar to what was available at both the Malaysian supermarkets back home and what I had recently seen at the main chains in the UK. We bought some bits, including some baby blini and a tin of lumpfish roe. Perhaps it was the buying of the Caviar bowl that did it, but I had a mind to try and figure out what was the attraction of caviar and 1 euro for blini and 3 euro for the 100g of lumpfish seemed a bargain way into it. Actually, a BIG bargain way into it. I had had the full monty Beluga and Blini along with the chopped egg and Pol Roger champagne at a Christmas party some time back, and I didn't get it. It was fizzy booze and salt eggs and the blini and egg was… snuzz. Didn't register anything. So I figured to try this cheap alternative with the chilled white back on the ship and see if anything would click. Lenglui found some good value make up bits and some cute kitchen souvenir things for giveaways back home - can't remember what they were now. But a good fun way to pass a couple of hours out of the wind.

The booze and the guide book
A gentle stroll back to the ship suggested that the sun had warmed the air and the Mistral was continuing to relent, though not so much as yet to be able to remove the scarf and hat. I had earlier dug out some earmuffs and a spare woolly hat during the lunch sojourn so as not to suffer so much as the morning. Some gloves too. We were both secretly hoping that the whole cruise would not be like this. Bloody cold. 

Back in the cabin for about 4.30pm and divested, I cracked the white and we supped it with the blini and roe. The white was belter, a blend of Viognier, Roussane and a regional varietal called Petit Manseng. The Viognier gave it that slightly oily mouthfeel whilst the other grapes frisked it up a treat. The result was somewhere between a mellow Chablis and a bright Sancerre. Lovely balance, all things bright and beautiful are here in this wine. Wonderful drink. Certified Organic, the wine is Domaine Mourgues du Gres Terre d'Argence Blanc 2015. The website says:

"The vineyard is situated on the terroir of La Terre d’Argence that lies between the Rhône and Camargue. For one thousand years it was linked to Provence: it was a part of the diocese of Arles from the 11 th to the 19 th century. It is the silvery flashes of the leaves of the alder and olive trees, fluttering in the Mistral wind, as well as the richness of the wine that lends its name to it.

"The IGP* Pont du Gard offers a lot of creativity with an original blend: the union of Rhône varieties (Viognier et Roussanne) with a variety of the South-West (Petit Manseng, therefore certified IGP “Pont du Gard”). This famous Roman aqueduct, situated close to the estate, evokes the richness of our location as the crossroads and the link between two regions.

"The Mediterranean, furthermore, with its summer breeze, balances the wine and allows it to develop a rich, aromatic palate."

Getting ready for dinner...
The Roe and Blini were as I remembered them from the previous - bleugghhh. Perhaps there is some higher sensation that exists with caviar for which my sensory antennae have yet to find the frequency. No matter - there are plenty of other magnificent taste sensations which satisfy beyond grace and sublimnity with which I can live. 

At 5.30pm the ship fired up and we were off for an evening sail around the Camargue and then a dock up at Avignon ready for a day "sur le Pont" or "dans le town" for a shop. It was good to get underway - felt like the cruise was getting real. 

The Affinity lounge and bar
We headed to the lounge for happy hour ahead of a briefing. Not sure what was happy about it, as I saw no apparent changs to any of the prices on the bill I eventually received. The Pouring Wine of the Night was the Georges Duboeuf CdR which was drinkable though far from startling. Jean Luc arrived and we all got entertainingly briefed - there was a bit of a sales pitch for the excursions on the morrow which I mostly missed due to Lenglui receiving a follow up survey from British Airways and me trying to transpose the whinges into prose for upload. 

The it was down for dinner and the firing up of the ship to do a little evening around the Camargue and 

Still getting ready for dinner...
This was followed by a swift but enjoyable dinner at which I persuaded an 82 year old Scots lady who had taken Canadian citizenship many moons previously that, whatever anyone said, she was still a Scot. I used the old "you can take the boy out of Scotland but can never take Scotland out of the boy." I think she liked that. She left us with a good twinkle in her eye. Can't pinpoint the dinner menu at present; I secured a full listing of menus from the hugely helpful Ship reception on departure, and there has been a little mislabelling - so hopefully it will all come out in the wash. 

Entertainment for the evening was a Gipsy Kings style band (which we opted against listening to) and went to bed. Slight panic as Lenglui claimed she could not find the iPhone, which ultimately got found under her blanket on the bed. 

Crawled under the cover and did a few NY Times puzzles and quickly conked out. Outside of one 3am pee, slept like a pig.

Lunch Menu
Seasonal lettuce and condiments
Avalon House vinaigrette, Garlic-yoghurt dressing, American dressing
Beetroot salad, Rice and Sweecorn salad, Coleslaw salad

Chicken bouillon with parsley dumplings
Chilled apricot soup with chopped almonds

Carving Station
Roasted whole Burgundy ham with honey glace

Daily Live Cooking with Head Chef
Risotto qu Champagne - Risotto with Champagne fresh herbs and parmesan cheese

Main Course
Chicken Saltimbocca - Chicken breast paillard with sage and smoked ham, served with gravy
Grilled Pangasius - with tomato sauce
Jambon Buerre - French smoked ham sandwich with garlic butter on baguette rbead
Tempura vegetables - Assorted vegetables friend in tempura batter wit Ponzu lime sauce

Sweet Temptations
Mixed berry mousse with walnut
Apple Pie - with chocolate sauce
Yoghurt raspberry and hazelnut ice cream with chocolate and caramel sauce, whipped cream and cones
Fresh sseasonal fruit

Sides - Onion mashed potatoes, basmati rice, stir fried vegetables, sauteed okra

Bailli de Provence Blanc - Gilardi, France, 13%
A bouquet of white flowers with hints of passion fruit, great finesse

Roche Mazet Merlot - Beziers, France - 12%
It is aged in wood and has a silky, well balanced structure. Aromas of blackcurrant, cherry and trufle on the m=nose mingle with hints of vanilla. Elegance is the keynote on teh palate through out the whole tasting experience with hints of red fruit and the characreristic Roche Mazet woodiness on the finish. 

Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rouge - Famille Perrin, France, 13.2%
Beautiful deep ruby colour with purple undertones.An intense note of red fruit, raspberry jam,spices and black pepper. The wine is soft and round, structured with freshness. 

Dinner Menu - to be located

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