Archive for May, 2008

We’re Back Home – The Missing Week or So

May 24th, 2008 at 9:44 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived back on Bonaire, safe and sound, yesterday morning around 3am. The trip home was uneventful, although we had concerns about being able to leave Paris due to a strike which was to have affected Air France as well as lots of other things, but that proved to be a non-issue for us.

My postings to the blog have been, well, missing, since the one below about The Fat Duck, and that’s because once we had control of our own schedule in London and Paris, we abused the schedule, pretty much getting up, going about, getting back to the hotel and going to sleep.

So a very quick summary of what we did (with only a couple of photos because we’ve not had time to process more)

May 14, Wednesday – London
We visited the British Museum, and there visited exhibits about Celts, Romans, Mesopotamia, Assyrian culture, Greek Parthenon, and the Rosetta Stone.

The great courtyard of the British Museum in London
The great courtyard of the British Museum in London
Bas holds some ancient Chinese money, over 3000 years old, at the British Museum
Bas holds some ancient Chinese money, over 3000 years old, at the British Museum
Bas poses, reluctantly, next to a replica of the famed Rosetta Stone at the British Museum
Bas poses, reluctantly, next to a replica of the famed Rosetta Stone at the British Museum

This was followed by excellent dinner at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. Excellent service, great wine pairings, and a tour of the kitchen included.

May 15, Thursday – London to Paris
We had a late start, enjoyed conveyor belt sushi at Yo! Sushi at St. Pancras station, and took the Eurostar train to Paris’ Gard Nord. Dinner was at an excellent small Auberge recommended by the hotel concierge at the Marriott Rive Gauche.

May 16, Friday – Paris
We took a privately guided tour – just the four of us in a mini-van with our driver/guide Rupert – to Versailles to see the palace there and then Giverny to visit Monet’s home and lily pond. Lunch was at a very scenic restaurant located in a water-wheel driven mill along the way, but sadly we ended up in the “tour” dining room with a fixed menu, so we didn’t get to enjoy the breadth of the restaurant’s real culinary offerings. Dinner was at a nice bistro near our hotel.

May 17, Saturday – Paris
Our Dutch friends Martin & Angela drove down to Paris from Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and we went back to Versailles with them, this time by Metro and train, to see the amazing gardens at Versailles as well as some outbuildings, including Marie Antoinette’s “modest” home.

After a mediocre lunch at a cafe at Versailles’ grand canal, we walked around to visit the musical fountain “performances” near the palace. We discovered this was nothing like the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Instead, they had merely turned on the fountains for the show (they are normally off except for a few fixed times on the weekends) and piped in music into the area around the fountain. Kind of a let down – an example of where expectations and reality did not intersect.

We then returned back to Paris, visited Notre Dame, and walked around the nearby parts of Paris for a bit before taking shelter from the rain at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. Not bad, but not great.

May 18, Sunday – Paris
We met up with Martin and Angela again that morning, and headed out to visit the Arc de Triomphe. Krystyana and I were the only ones of our group who braved a tour of the innards of the Arc, which included a large number of stairs to a small museum section upstairs, as well as more stairs to access the open top of the Arc. There we found a great view of Paris, but it started to drizzle, so we headed back down.

We then walked in the drizzle to the Eiffel Tower, where we had a very nice (and very expensive) lunch at Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant, half-way up the Eiffel Tower. We learned later that this was the place that Tom Cruise rented out to propose to Katie Holmes (although the restaurant was not under the management of Alain Ducasse at the time).

Great view, and perhaps the best asparagus and best sea bass we have ever had (two separate courses). There was a mashed pea course which could have used a bit more of a salty counter-point (more caviar perhpas) as far as we were all concerned, but the food, and especially the desserts, were great.

Linda also enjoyed (I think) a belated Mother’s Day, as the kids gave her small froggy presents. The only real negative at our meal was that we had to frequently and repeatedly request to get our water glasses refilled, something that should never happen at as fine a restaurant as Jules Verne (it should be done automatically without us needing to ask). And I couldn’t quite tell if the sommelier was being condescending to me or just trying to be funny and not really pulling it off well, although the wines we ended up with were quite nice. We did miss having pairings by the glass for our meal, however – again something different from other high end restaurants we’ve enjoyed. An 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Martin and Angela then made their way north to Schipol airport in Amsterdam, to eventually arrive back at our house here on Bonaire (where they still are, with us, at this moment).

We proceeded from the Eiffel Tower to Les Invalides, which houses the Musée de l’Armée, a military museum which Bas greatly enjoyed as it contained a panoply of armor, swords, guns, and other battle gear. This was followed by a visit to Napoleon’s Tomb under the great golden dome one can see from any high spot in Paris (also at Les Invalides).

We headed back to the hotel to freshen up, and then took a taxi back to the area of the Eiffel Tower, where we boarded a dinner cruise on the river Seine, which took us through sunset and into the night. Very nice views, but very poor food (Linda and I had never had mealy, mushy duck breast before).

May 19, Monday – Paris
We had another late start, but then finally ended up at the Louvre, where we viewed exhibits about various artists and schools of art, include the Dutch Masters. Part of the exhibit in the Dutch Masters section also included modern works by Dutch artist Jan Fabre – some very odd stuff, such as people made out of thumb tacks, sculptures made out of scarab beetle wings, others made out of slices of bone (crosswise), and yet more made out of other bugs, beetles, and even feathers. We also got to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo first hand.

We walked around a bit and ended up at Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysées, where we saw a large police presence, apparently in response to a possible strike.

Dinner was at Les Foundus de la Raclette, a restaurant serving, of course, fondues and raclette cooking (where you get small pans and cook your own meal, with liberal contributions of Raclette cheese). Very enjoyable meal, although our cheese fondue could have used a bit more flavor. A 7.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

May 20, Tuesday – Paris
We met up with Diane, the friend we had made aboard the National Geographic Endeavour. Diane was also in Paris for the week. Together we went to Montmatre and visited Sacré Coeur, a large cathedral atop the hill that is Montmatre. We planned to go on a tour of the crypts there, and paid admission to something similar to an ATM machine (except it takes money instead of giving it) to get to the “dome & crypt”, not realizing that “dome” meant the top of Sacré Coeur. The stairs up (the only way to go) nearly killed Diane, but the view, once we got there, was phenomenal. I believe it was the highest point in Paris mere mortals could visit, taller than the top of the Eiffel Tower. Going back down, we found the crypts closed for renovation. Sigh.

We wandered about Montmatre for a bit, had a reasonable lunch in the open square where all the artists paint under the open sky, then wandered downhill to the Pigalle area, where we saw the famed Moulin Rouge. From there it was another cafe stop, and then a walkabout which led us to covered shopping galleries featuring unique and interesting shops – antiques, collectible toys, philatelists, galleries, etc.

We had an excellent dinner at a small restaurant we stumbled across, part of which had a retail specialty foods section, although the name eludes me at the moment.

Diane then parted ways with us to go back to her hotel while we made our way to the Eiffel Tower for the last elevator up to the second level (the top level – the third level – was already closed, alas) for a nice night-time view of Paris. Got back to the hotel around midnight.

May 21, Wednesday – Paris
We attempted to visit the Musée Rodin, home to Rodin’s famed Thinker sculpture as well as dozens of his other works, but found instead a massive police barricade around the museum. People were walking past the barricade, so we joined the small flow to discover the museum had been closed for the day. The police presence was there to corral a hundred or so protesting and striking fishermen who were protesting that the combination of high fuel prices and EU restrictions on the types of fish they could catch were hurting their livelihoods.

When we asked one of the policemen in riot gear about this strike, thinking it was the civil servants getting an early start for their announced strike on Thursday, he explained that that strike was scheduled for the following day, and that the fishermen were “today’s strike”. When we asked if there was another strike on Friday, he responded “probably”. Pretty funny and sad at the same time that strikes and protests are so much a part of the Parisian (and perhaps French) culture.

We ended up going to the Picasso Museum instead, where we saw hundreds of his works as well as a film showing him exercising his creative processes.

Dinner was at the Michelin three star restaurant Le Pre Catalan, which had a mind-boggling wine list. We all tried the chef’s menu, which provided a decent sampling of many of the dishes on the menu, but while the food was quite good, nothing really stood out to us. Again, the lack of pre-researched wine pairings was something of a disappointment, and we again had to ask to have our water refilled regularly, although at least here, in contrast to Jules Verne, the refilling was done as soon as we asked instead of having to repeat the request several times. Service otherwise was quite good, but for what the restaurant cost, it could have been better. An 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

May 22, Thursday – Paris
We spent the morning packing, checked out, and then ended up going to the catacombs at Place Denfert-Rochereau. The catacombs are the resting place for the bones of countless people (records indicate it might have been as many as seven million bodies) who ended up there from cemeteries on the Right Bank which had begun to seep into people’s homes in the 1760s. The bones we saw were mostly neatly stacked and organized, a macabre tribute to mostly unknown people, however plaques on the walls in the catacombs indicated that a fair number of those executed by guillotine in the late 1700s during the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath also found their way there. The catacomb tour was self-guided, and one way. After going in at Place Denfert-Rochereau, we came out about a mile south in a small neighborhood.

Lunch was at a very good and busy bistro on a side street, and we then made our way back to the Rodin Museum, which was now once again open (the day’s strikers and protesters were in a different part of town), but the top floor of the main museum building was closed due to a lack of personnel (due to the strike du jour). A number of Rodin’s sculptures were in a large garden, and more inside the ground level of the main building. We finally got to see The Thinker first hand as well. There was also an exhibit of the works of Camille Claudel, one of Rodin’s protégés. Amazing what these artists could do with marble and bronze.

We made our way back to the hotel to hang out in the executive lounge for a while, and then were off to the airport for a smooth check-in and flight to Amsterdam, and then from there back to Bonaire.

And that’s it for The Traveling Richters’ Moroccan and European adventure.

Our next trip is to Texas in about a month to see one of the showings of the True Colors tour (and we’re scheduled to briefly meet Cyndi Lauper as part of our ticket package too). And, as we’ll already be in Texas, we will be visiting The Alamo as part of the children’s American history school work. Best to see history first hand than merely read about it in a book – or at least so we think.

 

The Fat Duck – Molecular Cuisine In England, and a Visit With Friends

May 19th, 2008 at 5:47 am (AST) by Jake Richter

On Tuesday, May 13th, we moved from the Hilton Hyde Park to the more posh Marriott Park Lane, where we were to stay two more nights courtesy of my many thousands of Marriott Rewards points (cheaper by far than paying London hotel rates out of pocket, considering it is the most expensive city in the world to visit according to recent surveys).

After dropping our bags off, we made our way on the Tube to Paddington Station, and from there caught a train out to Maidenhead, some 40 minutes west/southwest of London to partake of a remarkably unusual lunch at a restaurant called The Fat Duck, operated by famed chef Heston Blumenthal.

Reservations at The Fat Duck, which is a Michelin Three Star rated restaurant, are very difficult to obtain, even a couple of months out, so we were elated when we received a call while in Porto the prior week telling us we had cleared the waiting list for one of the three different meal times we had requested.

The Fat Duck is one of few restaurants world wide which specializes in something called Molecular Cuisine, a cuisine in which science is blended with gastronomy to produce taste sensations based on scientific food research. It had been suggested that we explore Molecular Cuisine by Patrice, the owner of Bistro de Paris, back home on Bonaire, and we thank him profusely for that suggestion.

We arrived in Maidenhead early, so instead of a five minute taxi ride, we decided to use our GPS and walk the two miles to The Fat Duck. Half the way was drab and noisy, filled with cars, traffic, and asphalt, but the remaining half put us on a green country path which led us into the tiny little heart of the village of Bray. We actually walked past the house in which The Fat Duck was located, before realizing such a plain façade housed this fabled culinary destination.

What waited beyond the plain façade was a quaint room with perhaps a dozen tables, each seating no more than four people, necessary because a meal at The Fat Duck includes an element of theatre that is ill-suited for larger groups.

After being seated we ordered our beverages as we normally would, and all opted for the Chef’s Tasting Menu, but from there things changed.

Our first introduction to Blumenthal’s novel approach to cuisine was a vodka, egg white, and lime mousse which was “cooked” in liquid nitrogen right at our table. After it was removed from the liquid nitrogen the outside of the mousse was crisp. The server dusted it with matcha (powdered green tea), and we were instructed to immediately pick up the mousse “ball” and pop it in our mouths, where it almost literally exploded (gently, though – no carnage) on our tongues. We had a moment where we felt the frozen shell of the mousse ball before the whole thing came apart in a burst of flavor.

At the same time that the first mousse ball was served, the server also spritzed a bit of lime scent above the table using an atomizer, as part of the dining experience is to affect multiple senses. The spritz of aroma was for our noses, the nitrogen steam creeping over the edge of the copper vessel in which the mousse was being “cooked” was the visual component, and of course, the eating of the mousse ball filled our taste sensation.

And that was just our palette cleanser.

I went with wine pairings (excellent, incidentally) with my lunch, but Linda’s ear was still bothering her, so she stuck to water.

Dry ice and water creates ambiance for one of our courses at The Fat Duck
Dry ice and water creates ambiance for one of our courses at The Fat Duck

Other courses included oyster in passion fruit jelly with a sprinkle of lavender (Bas’ least favorite dish as he doesn’t like passion fruit); a pommery grain mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho (the ice cream was unexciting by itself, but when combined with the red cabbage gazpacho it was exquisite); and a duo dish of jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras, and oak moss and truffle toast. Preceding this latter dish, a bed of moss was put before us, and water poured over it, creating an aromatic fog of sorts when the water thawed the dry ice below the moss, and we were also given a piece of foie gras “tape” which came in the type of dispenser used to deliver Listerine mint strips. After we put the “tape” on our tongues and let it melt there, we were treated to the rest of the course.

This was followed by snail porridge (green) with shaved fennel and hair-like wisps of jabugo ham; roast foie gras with almond fluid gel cubes, cherry, and chamomile foam.

Another dish in which a blend of senses was used to heighten the experience follow, namely the “Sound of the Sea” course. This started with each of us getting conch shells from which iPod ear buds dangled out. As we were served the course, we were instructed to listen to conch shells (each of which had small original sized iPod Nanos in them).What we heard was a sea scape, with waves gently crashing upon the shore and seagulls crying out. The dish before us looked like a small beach, with a strip of what looked like sand (but was actually artfully prepared baby eel crumble) and sea foam (which hid three types of shellfish and multiple types of seaweed). It was an interesting presentation and blend of flavors and textures, made more “realistic” by virtue of the beach sounds we were listening to.

Next was salmon poached in liquorice gel with artichokes and very tasty vanilla mayonnaise – a dish which even Krystyana and Linda, neither of whom are big fans of salmon, found quite tasty. A ballotine of Anjou Pigeon with black pudding followed. The pigeon was served rare, and Bas was convinced it was beef until told otherwise. He now insists that while he does not eat pigeon as a rule (an issue we had with him in Morocco with an excellent pigeon pastille), he will make an exception for the Anjou Pigeon at The Fat Duck.

As a palette cleanser we then received a cup of hot and iced tea – in one cup. Incredible sensation, as the tea came in hot on one side of the mouth and chilly on the other. It was an Earl Grey tea, incidentally.

We thought we might be winding down at this point, but there was more to come. We got a small pamphlet about Mrs. Marshall, who is believed by some to be the actual originator of ice cream cones, and then received a small ice cream cone in her honor. Then there was mango and Douglas Fir puree (yum!), followed by a breakfast with parsnip flake cereal (in a cereal box with The Fat Duck logo on it) with parsnip milk (also delicious), and finally the final course – nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream.

Our server prepares Nitro Egg & Bacon ice cream at The Fat Duck using liquid nitrogen
Our server prepares Nitro Egg & Bacon ice cream at The Fat Duck using liquid nitrogen

For this last course, the server came out with eggs stamped with The Fat Duck logo, which she explained were special. And they were. She broke them open and as she poured the contents into the pan she had waiting table-side, it was obvious the contents were not just regular eggs. They looked like scrambled eggs with something more added. The server then poured liquid nitrogen into the pan, and started “cooking” the egg mixture, which was then served to us over a “pain perdu” (akin to French Toast) and a paper thin slice of bacon. The egg mixture turned out to be egg and bacon flavored ice cream, and it was extraordinary. Both kids now insist we need to find a way to make liquid nitrogen of our own so we can replicate this particular dish at home. I think that will be one of our science projects for their next school year.

We finished the meal with tea, coffer, and petit fours, including carrot and orange lollipops, mandarin aerated chocolates, violet tartlets, and apple pie caramels with edible wrappers.

The entire meal took over three hours, and was simply brilliant, with incredibly attentive service, great wine pairings, and, of course, intriguingly odd but delicious food with great presentation. The only thing that was a bit of a challenge was the final tab, which was nearly twice our monthly utility bill on Bonaire (and we pay more for utilities than most people we know pay for their mortgages). But it was definitely a worthwhile experience, and well worth the investment.

The Fat Duck is not a place one would eat at regularly, but it’s certainly worth a visit whenever the Chef’s menu changes appreciably (and one’s finances permit, of course).

I give The Fat Duck a rare 10.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

The rest of our day was spent getting Linda back to the hotel in London so she could rest (her ear was still really bothering her), with the rest of us heading back out, this time to Epsom for a BonaireTalk mini-meet at the home of Sarah and Hugh Frame, old friends of ours whom we met through the BonaireTalk web site community that Linda and I started back in 1999. Also joining us were Roy from Germany (another BT’er who happened to be at a conference in Manchester), and Bob & Yvette Raikes, friends of mine who live in Surrey, the same county where Epsom is located. Bob is one of the world’s leading experts in the electronic display marketplace, incidentally. Photos from this evening can be found here. We had a delightful evening with everyone, albeit without Linda present, heading back, tired and weary, to the hotel by hired car, around 11:30pm.

 

Portsmouth to London

May 17th, 2008 at 4:31 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

On Monday, May 12th, the Endeavour arrived at the final port of our trip, Portsmouth, England.

We had an early final breakfast aboard the Endeavour, and then were off with 22 of our fellow passengers on yet another tour bus, this time with all of our luggage stowed below. After a brief partial tour of Portsmouth we arrived at the Naval Yard, where we got an in-depth, private tour of the HMS Victory. The tour was conducted by Peter Goodwin, the curator of the HMS Victory. Peter and his wife Katy had been on-board with us on the Endeavour since Lisbon, and had been both very informative as well as fun folks to hang out with.

The Traveling Richters pose in front of the HMS Victory
The Traveling Richters pose in front of the HMS Victory

This part of our trip was in fact the only one which exceeded our expectations, as we had not expected to find the HMS Victory or its curator to be so interesting, and getting a private tour by someone as passionate about the Victory as Peter obviously was.

The curator of the HMS Victory, Peter Goodwin, holds up glassware which belonged to Admiral Nelson
The curator of the HMS Victory, Peter Goodwin, holds up glassware which belonged to Admiral Nelson

The two key things we took away about the HMS Victory are that it is the oldest British Naval vessel still in active service, even though it has been in dry dock for over six decades. And, the HMS Victory is the vessel upon which the much admired Lord Admiral Nelson died during the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805.

The Victory is a fabulous vessel, and now in excellent shape, thanks in great part to the efforts Peter has been making. But I also learned that back in the early 1800s, people were a lot shorter than I am (as the sore bumps on my head will attest).

After our tour of the HMS Victory, we visited an exhibition which describes how the top sail (which is the size of a soccer field) was being cared for, and what had been learned about its history. This was followed by more touring of Portsmouth.

Peter and Katy also joined us for lunch at a restaurant called the Lemon Sole, where we found the food and service to be mediocre, and the staff reluctant to adapt to eaters who could not or would not eat fish for lunch.

We then bid Peter and Katy adieu, and were off to London on our bus, arriving at the Hilton Hyde Park in the late afternoon. Due to my Gold-level HHonors status we got upgraded to a very nice corner room with the kids next door. The only bad thing was that an ear problem Linda had been suffering from since the prior night had become so painful that we had to have a doctor come pay a visit. He prescribed her some medicine, which we went out to get before having an excellent dinner at Royal China, a small chain of high end Chinese restaurants in London. We opted for Chinese because we had tired a bit of food without a lot of spice and zest during our travels, and were not disappointed.

We went to bed with full tummies, but Linda’s ear problem prevented her from sleeping well, unfortunately.

 

A Taste of Brittany and Normandy – Saint Malo and Mont Saint-Michel

May 17th, 2008 at 3:48 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

On Saturday night (May 10th), after two days at see, we approached the walled city of Saint Malo, France. It was after sunset as Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour neared the lock that would let us into the protection (and higher water level) of the harbor of Saint Malo. We cleared the lock a bit after 10pm, and moored alongside the city close to 11pm.

A lighthouse island as we approach Saint Malo at night
A lighthouse island as we approach Saint Malo at night

There was quite a crowd of locals watching our arrival, apparently because vessels the size of the Endeavour were not particularly common in the harbor.

The National Geographic Endeavour moves out of the lock into the harbor at Saint Malo at night
The National Geographic Endeavour moves out of the lock into the harbor at Saint Malo at night

As we needed to sort through our photos for a composite slide show for the following night, and because we were pretty tired, we opted to stay ashore instead of pursue the nightlife, but heard from others that went that the town was hopping. It was a long weekend in France, and many visitors were in Saint Malo taking advantage of their time off and the nice weather at the time.

Saint Malo at Night
Saint Malo at Night

In the morning, after having to cope with a problematic and chilly lack of hot water for our showers, we were ushered back onto large motor coaches, and driven to Mont St. Michel, about an hour or so away. For those not familiar with Mont Saint-Michel, it is the place where the abbey on top of a rocky island which was made famous by previously only being accessible at low tide. However, at some point in the past, the government built a causeway from the mainland to the island, and now it is accessible pretty much all the time. And there are plans to replace the causeway with a bridge to resolve a major siltation issue.

However, that change does not preempt the fact that the abbey is a stunning piece of architecture, and only in part because of its altitude and precipitous position high atop the mount. Due to various “owners”, fires, wars, etc., the abbey blends gothic and baroque styles, for example. One other thing that we found interesting was that as a result of revolution in France in the late 1700s against the nobility, and as an perceived collaborator the Catholic Church, all of the friezes and statues which feature Jesus were defaced as revolutionaries expressed their resentment against the Church in physical ways.

Mont St. Michel looms overhead
Mont St. Michel looms overhead

Mont Saint-Michel, at low tide, is surrounded by miles of wet sand, some of which can act as quicksand. When the tide rushes in, all 14 meters of it (about 45 feet – one of the highest tides in the world) at its extreme, it can sweep away most anything in its way, as it rises very rapidly, and has been the cause of many deaths of livestock and humans alike. Tides are worst during the full moon and the new moon.

It’s about a 20 minute walk up to the abbey from the bottom where all the tour buses park, and further yet from the areas where cars need to park (an area which incidentally is under water during the highest tides). Little shops, cafes, and museums line the medieval walls along the path on the way up to the abbey summit. Our tour guide, Virginie, gave us the history of Mont Saint-Michel, little of which I could hear because I was always playing catch-up with the group because I was taking photos, but let me just point you to the Wikipedia entry on the subject here.

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas on the terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Michel, France
Krystyana, Linda, and Bas on the terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Michel, France

One thing I do remember was that there were three levels in the abbey in terms of common rooms, with the clerics being on the top level, visiting nobility on the middle level, and commoner petitioners in the bottom level. This was allegedly done to remind the nobility of their place before the Church, and commoners of their position relative to both the nobility and clergy.

After we finished our tour, our guide told us we had ten minutes to get to the buses, even though it was at least a 15 minute hike down (more when one considered the crowds clogging the narrow road down). We ignored the deadline a little bit by stopping at a creperie for an assortment of crepes (chestnut cream, apricot jam, banana and chocolate, and hazelnut and chocolate), which we ate on the bus while waiting for everyone else to show up.

As we ended up leaving Mont St. Michel almost an hour late, we had to also forgo the scenic coastal ride back to Saint Malo, and instead took the highway back. During the bus ride I call our concierge service and secured a late lunch reservation at L’Ankerage, a small seafood restaurant situated along the busy rampart wall on the south side of the town. The meal we had was quite good, and the shellfish platter I ordered was chock full of assorted shellfish, including a large crab, whelks, shrimp, langoustines, cockle shells, and more.

Linda and Krystyana examine Jake's lunch of shellfish in St. Malo
Linda and Krystyana examine Jake’s lunch of shellfish in St. Malo

We waddled away from lunch for a walk around the rest of the ramparts, and then caught a Zodiac back to the Endeavour, which had left the dock a few hours earlier due to the tidal situation.

A man in St. Malo befriends a seagull
A man in St. Malo befriends a seagull

There was a presentation that evening by Massimo Bassamo, the National Geographic photographer we had on board, followed by the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party (best quote “CPA means Captiain Pays All”, referring to drinks from the bar). We also had our farewell dinner, which was pretty reasonable. I didn’t enjoy much of the evening though because I was stewing about how little time we had had in Mont Saint-Michel, something that was a repeat of most of the other land-based excursions during our Lindblad trip – basically large buses, large groups, and being rushed, just like on a large cattle boat cruise ship (which also costs maybe half of what a Lindblad trip does based on our experience last Fall).

I therefore found myself working for several hours on a letter to Lindblad management about how we felt the trip had not met our expectations, which in turn were based on their marketing materials and discussions with repeat Lindblad clients. I sent the letter in the following morning, and apparently was not the only one, as Sven Lindblad, the current owner of Lindblad Expeditions sent out a mass e-mail apologizing to everyone about the shortcomings of the trip, and a few days later offered either a cash refund for what worked out to about 25% of the fees paid for us, or a certificate in the value of about 50% of the trip fees to be applied towards a future trip with Lindblad. This refund was offered to every passenger on the trip, and I must say that we are very impressed with how quickly Lindblad admitted they had fallen short, and how quickly they came up with what appears to be a pretty reasonable financial apology for those shortcomings.

We’ll be reviewing other Lindblad trip options to see whether or not we go for the cash refund or the credit certificate. Certainly we have heard nothing but good about Lindblad with respect to natural history expeditions they make to places like the Galapagos or Antarctica.

 

Image problems, fixed again?

May 13th, 2008 at 5:44 am (AST) by Jake Richter

To those not able to see images in the posts made for the last week, I think I have fixed the problem, again. Hopefully it stays fixed…

To see the whole blog click on the Traveling Richters logo at the top of this page.

 

Spending Time At Sea

May 13th, 2008 at 5:34 am (AST) by Jake Richter

After we left Coruna on Friday, we set “sail” (the National Geographic Endeavour is a motor-powered vessel with no masts, but it still “sails”) for St. Malo, France, two days and hundreds of miles away.

So as to ensure that we would not be too bored while spending a couple days at sea, a number of lectures and events were planned on board, and we participated in all of them, including:

– Several in-depth presentations about the HMS Victory, the ship upon which Admiral Nelson died during the battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. Our presenters were Peter Goodwin and his wife Katy. Peter is the curator of the HMS Victory, and we had a chance to get a private tour conducted by Peter when we landed in Portsmouth yesterday. We learned a lot about naval warfare with sailing vessels and Nelson.

– Wine tasting featuring Spanish Rioja wines.

Our table was littered with wine glasses after the Rioja tasting
Our table was littered with wine glasses after the Rioja tasting

– A National Geographic GeoBee – a competitive quiz featuring questions about world geography and culture. The Traveling Richters tied for third place, meaning we all got GeoBee medals.

We tied for third place in the GeoBee aboard the National Geographic Endeavour
We tied for third place in the GeoBee aboard the National Geographic Endeavour

– Madeira tasting featuring three different Madeira wines.

The three Madeira wines we tasted at the Madeira tasting
The three Madeira wines we tasted at the Madeira tasting

– A nice presentation on the Basque culture and Basque whalers given by one of the naturalist staff members, Sean. Introduced the suggestion that the Basque people might be more direct genetic descendants from Cro Magnon man, and also pointed out that the Basque whalers were early visitors to North America, much like the Vikings were, although neither established permanent settlements.

– A lecture about bird species found in the areas we had visited and would be visiting.

– A discussion of the geology of the world as it relates to plate tectonics. The key takeaway point for us was that the “seven continents” we’ve all learned about are a fallacy when it comes to real geology, as there are actually about 25 various tectonically derived continents of various sizes (including a mini-continent which Italy is part of). The seven continents we’ve been taught are merely a human interpretation based on large land masses surrounded by water, with no actual regard for how things connect geologically.

– A photo slide show by a half dozen participants (including Krystyana and myself).

We also had a nice Philippines themed dinner during the time at sea.

One of the staff carves meat off a roasted suckling pig
One of the staff carves meat off a roasted suckling pig

All told, we were kept pretty busy between ports.