Good Old Harrogate

2016-03-29 11.44.41If old people’s homes are platform waiting rooms for heaven then Harrogate is the last stop on the line before that penultimate destination. Don’t get me wrong – Harrogate is a beautiful place with fabulous shops, a wee bit culture and some great restaurants – it’s just full of pensioners, which is surprising really because it’s pretty damn hilly.
I visited with Maxi-me for a few days (remember I took her to the red light district in Amsterdam last time) and I made the mistake of booking us into The Hotel That Time Forgot – probably circa 1970. Our room would have been luxurious in 73, the breakfast Michelin starred and the clientele in their 40s.  Today the hotel is as tired as the pensioners that litter the foyer. The tiny lift (max  5 persons – yeah right!) really only held 2 comfortably but 3 adults and a zimmer frame were the normal load.

However, the hotel for us was only a base and although Maxi-me is in her 70s she was sprinting up the slopes and shopping until it was me that was dropping. Together we visited the Pump House where an Amanda Barrie lookalike (Alma out of Corrie btw – just to save you googling)  let us go down to the old street level and smell the eggy water, which had put Harrogate on the map. Apparently ill people would drink the sulphurous water as part of a prescribed  course of treatment, having to drink 2 to 3 cups a day before rushing back to their hotels to allow the purgative effect to take place . I felt ill just smelling the natural, rotten-egg smelling, spring water from the well so immediately felt better after we left – now I know how it really works 😉 2016-03-30 11.01.54We also visited the art gallery, had a cream tea and enjoyed a coffee morning at St Peter’s Church.
OaksI bought a fab outfit from the tiniest shop in the world and Maxi-me bought a glam jersey from a shop that had random zeros after the normal prices. We also had a beautiful meal at William and Victoria.

What surprised us both though, was the amount of jobs available in the town. Shop assistants, waiters/waitresses, receptionists, bar staff….loads of signs in windows.   Why? Are the young people of Harrogate that scared of being trapped in the 70s time zone they escape as soon as they can? Or is growing up there, among all the years of intelligence captured in each octogenarian who frequents the Yorkshire town, completely conducive to  being accepted into Uni?

Anyhoos, Harrogate is a lovely place – it was a great get away from it all and allowed me to see how young Maxi-me is in comparison to her peer group, so it was win win.

Wine Tasting in Bordeaux

As part of our holiday in Bordeaux I had pre-booked a wine tasting tour to Saint-Émilion. If you haven’t heard of the place before, next time you’re in the supermarket check out the wine in the French section – I guarantee there will be wine from Saint-Émilion there.

We were picked up outside the tourist office at 1.30pm and our tour guide was Juliette, a tall, leggy French woman. Also on our trip were 2 Germans, 2 Spanish, 1 French, 1 Argentinian and of course, 2 Scots. So we pretty much had a good area and grape mix Reisling, Rioja, Bordeaux, Malbec and, of course, erm…. whisky on the coach trip.

We travelled out of Bordeaux through boring, flat countryside (no hills just lots of sky) until we reached Château Soutard. There we were guided through the wine making process. Apparently there are almost 7000 Châteaux in Bordeaux. Being able to use the term Château means they have to make their wine in the same place they grow the grapes. It’s not just because they have a fancy castle in the vicinity – yes I thought that before too. If you don’t make your wine in the same area you can’t call it château anything instead it would be Domaine, Vin de pays etc.

2016-03-24 14.58.30At Château Soutard we saw enormous oak barrels used to process and help add flavour to the first harvest of grapes but only for a determined amount of time before being moved into the smaller French oak barrels. Stainless steel or concrete vats are also used during the fermentation process. 2016-03-24 14.56.40We also learned that blending grape varieties is important to get the right taste. You need the Merlot grape to give you the rich, fruity flavours and then some Cabernet Savingnon, which is more acidic, to give balance.  Yes – before I thought 100% one grape was better – not any more. The barrel makers and the amount of times they are used are also important as the wood of the barrel makes a real difference to each year’s wine. Incidentally you will never get 2 years of wine tasting the same due to ‘terroir’, a French word that means everything that has an impact on the wine – soil, weather, grape, skin marks, age, barrel, time of year  etc.

We were then taught how to taste wine by first of all checking the colour and seeing how clear it was. Red and clear equals young whereas brown with deposits means it will be older and have more depth. We then had to swirl it and inhale over the glass before then sticking our noses right in. We weren’t to sniff but to breathe it in. Fruity, peppery, tobaccoay (maybe not a real word but you know what I mean),  leathery, woody? We had to search our memory banks for the smells.

We tried a 2014 and a 2003. The differences were obvious. Incidentally, for no apparent reason, every 5 years they have a good year in Bordeaux so next time you’re choosing a bottle of French red try to get a year ending in a 0 or a 5.

2016-03-24 16.29.48We then headed to Saint-Émilion and wandered around the cobbled streets of the quaint village hearing all about the Robin Hoodesque Saint who settled there that could change bread to wood. (He was caught stealing bread but when confronted showed he had only wood under his coat). It was great to visit a place I had only ever seen in sketches on bottles before 😉

We then drove to Château Siaurac where we were taken out into the vineyard and told about the strict rules that were in place to ensure the vines were a certain height, there were only so many of them and each vine only had as much as 12 bunches of grapes on it. The way in which they were then hand picked to ensure that each grape was perfect and had no sign of any fungal infection was illuminating to say the least. Honestly, I didn’t realise the rigorous and stringent processes in place which the wine producers in France have to adhere to just to produce one bottle of wine with their Château’s name on it.

After a second tasting and 2 more different wines – of course we were all professionals by now and could tell the difference between the young one and the peppery one – we headed back to Bordeaux. The bus was a lot quieter on the way back – can’t think why. Of course being the Scots on board the culture bus we had to buy a carry out…..

Château Siaurac 2010, which was very nice indeed.

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Cut and Blow in Bordeaux

Today I managed to tick off another item on my bucket list. It’s not as impressive as learning to fly a plane but (as far as I’m concerned) an achievement nonetheless.

I got my hair done in a foreign country!

To let you understand – when I was 16 and working in my first ever job, the woman who gave me a run to work every day went on holiday to Portugal. Now at that time holidaying in Portugal was pretty impressive on its own but she came back with the most fantastic hair cut ever, which she got when she was out there.  I was in awe! Therefore, ever since, I have wanted to get my hair done somewhere abroad and as I’m in Bordeaux and badly in need of a trim, today was the day.

I googled nearby salons and made my decision based on their websites, tariffs and location. Then OH and I headed off to Rue du Loup to find Saco Hair Salon.

Thankfully, it was easy to find so I plucked up my courage and went in. “Bonjour,” called practically everyone in the salon as soon as I opened the door.  After a smiley bonjour back I did my usual, “Parlez vous Anglais?” They all looked at one another and then a young woman with extremely short hair and huge glasses stepped forward in a denim jumpsuit. “Oui, how can I help you?”

After establishing I wanted a cut and blow dry (Bain relaxant, Coupe personnalisée,  Brushing ou coiffage) she booked me in to see Sebastian at 3.30 that afternoon.

OH and I then headed off into the sun to waste some time (aka drink wine and eat crepes).

Soon it was time to head back and see what could be done with my mop.

Again, everyone called Bonjour. This time though, denim girl showed me into a cupboard where I could take my coat off and hang it up myself (yes I know – where was the junior?) When I came out I was pointed towards a chair. Soon Sebastian appeared to play with my hair, pooh-pooh the pic I showed him (your herr iz not thick enuff) and then shrugged in a typically French way when I said, “Do whatever you think will look best.”

I then met the junior who was going to wash my hair. He was young, heavily tattooed, perforated more than a teabag with a multitude of metal bits and bobs and had turquoise, peacock blue and blonde hair. He also had a nice smile, spoke excellent English and was great at washing hair.

Before long (no Indian head massage :() I was back with Sebastian who told me he was going to dry my hair before cutting it. Hair brushed, dried and straightened then the real work began. I could tell Seb worked geometrically – sectioning my hair, measuring down in thirds and angling my head just so. He then asked me to stand up with my hands on the back of the chair. With one hand behind his back his scissors became a blur as he snipped away. Saying that, one blade didn’t move at all, it was stock still as the other done all the work. I have to admit I was watching (with a bowed head through hair) a master at work. Even Edward Scissorhands would have been impressed.

When he was finished he showed me the results in the mirror, doing that backward mirror into mirror thing. Yup, it looked great. My hair had went from being akin to Cousin It’s to now having layers, more movement and a fringe!

I paid the bill and left the salon – totally worth it.

Ladies, if you want to know how much the bill was DM me 😉

Lost in Bordeaux

OH and I decided to have a wee break in Bordeaux just to get away from it all. Prior to leaving I did my research and, as we like a wee bit of culture now and again, I booked tickets to see Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine at The Grand Theatre for the Sunday morning (or so I thought!).

The Saturday night before we did our homework and found the Grand Theatre without any trouble at all so our plan was a long lie, croissants and coffee for breakfast and then a leisurely walk to the theatre so we could sit back and enjoy the orchestra. What do they say about best laid plans?

After finishing Saturday night off with a very fine Bordeaux we woke late.
OK I thought, we can still buy something from a bakers en route. Eh no. All the shops were shut.
OK I thought, there will be a cafe in the theatre. Eh no. The theatre was shut!

We went into the restaurant next door to ask where the booking office was. A small Chinese man spoke rapidly in French. I heard the word shut. I did my best quizzical look and he gestured us outside. He then pointed down a side street and with his hands brushed us away.

After about 100 yards we came across “L’entree des artistes”. Through the window we saw an older gentleman – I held up my booking form like a white flag to gain entrance and he beckoned us in. He knew no English and I know very little French but I droaet a chance to use my favourite phrase ‘je ne comprendes pas’. Between us we discovered the concert wasn’t in The Grand Theatre at all but another building a distance away. He gave us directions by pointing in arches and going deda deda deda to describe the blocks we had to cover. In amongst the hawheehaws I heard Place du Gambetta, droite, gauche, auditorium and with his hands he demonstrated a large impressive building.  We headed off on a march already knowing we were going to be late.

We did the deda deda deda and found Place du Gambetta and then it went all wrong. I obviously went droite instead of gauche so when we saw an impressive building we headed for it. Turned out it was a museum. OH spotted a woman standing outside enjoying a cigarette with a radio strapped to her belt.
Museum attendants are always helpful and tend to know English. Eh no.
I showed her my now crumpled piece of paper. More hawheehaws Opera, Bordeaux, colleague, moment. She disappeared. When she returned she shrugged and called over to a pretty young girl about to light up. Hawheehaw, parle Anglais, hawheehaw, Opera, Bordeaux. The pretty girl laughed and said, ‘Non’.
Then a young lad suddenly turned up and wanted to light pretty girl’s cigarette.
I couldn’t make it all out but I like to think what followed was –

‘Hey Albert do you speak English?’
‘Yes. Yes I do. I did it at school.’ (Trying to show off to pretty girl)
‘Good, can you give these poor, lost tourists directions to the Bordeaux Opera House please’
‘Eh no. Sorry. I thought you were joking. I can’t speak any English.’

He went a bit red when he stopped doing the hawheehaw thing. Then arrived our knight in shining armour. Well, duffle coat.
When he arrived there was only a short hawheehaw and he said, in damn perfect English, ‘Hi, how are you. You are looking for the Auditorium. If you go up this street to Place du Gambetta and then down Cours de L’intendance.’ I asked him to repeat the street name at this point. He did and added it’s a big luxury street you can’t miss it.
Who knew knights were blonde with hipster beards and striped scarves?

So off we headed retracing our steps. It was a grey morning with a dampness in the air but I could feel the sweat trickling down my back as I checked my watch. 10 minutes to the hour.
We found Gambetta again but disagreed about the luxury street –  mainly because we had already walked along it earlier! I saw a street vendor so went to ask him for directions but just before I got there he started serving someone so I asked an Inspector Clouseau lookalike instead. Again no English but lots of hawheehaws and pointing – back towards the Grand Theatre.
‘Eh non!’ His very sophisticated good looking wife interrupted him. I heard – concert, now, orchestra – then she motioned right across the road at a modern building.

‘Oui! Go!’
‘Merci beaucoup!!!!!!’

We ran across the road

With 2 minutes to go we found our seats.

The orchestra was fantastic and the helpful people of Bordeaux even better!


Bridge Inn, Ratho

OH and I had arranged to pick my brother and his wife up from Edinburgh Airport on Friday night so instead of hanging around at home waiting for the clock to edge ever forward we decided to head to Edinburgh to get something to eat. I did a quick google search on restaurants near Edinburgh Airport and the Bridge Inn in Ratho jumped out as somewhere close, different and exactly what we were looking for.

Finding the Inn wasn’t difficult as it is right on the Union Canal and similar to the google search the only place that does jump out at you in Ratho.

The menu was large and highlighted they must be one of the only restaurants in Scotland to employ a full-time gardener, working in their walled garden further up the canal towpath. They also have their own pigs, chickens and ducks – a reason to return for their breakfast menu. During the shooting season they obviously have a word with their local game keeper too.  All these good things added up to various offerings on the menu such as their own sausages, venison, duck and a roast vegetable and puy wellington. With that in mind, I was boring and went for Haddock and chips, from Scottish day boats, lemon, chunky chips, mushy peas. 2016-03-11 19.13.58There was a choice of small or large so I sensibly (with hindsight) went small. OH plumped for the Roast duck breast, pak choi, tomato bulgar, baby courgette honey glaze, jus.

My fish was excellent. The batter spot on, light crisp and not greasy. The mushy peas came in a separate jar in case you’re  the fussy sort (like some people I know – yes I’m looking at you Claire) and don’t like their foodstuffs touching.  I was also given some tartare sauce, which was homemade and I loved.

2016-03-11 19.13.24OH raved about his duck, which was done to perfection. It wasn’t the slightest bit chewy and the perfect shade of pink. He wasn’t so sure about the tomato bulgar and would probably have preferred some roast potatoes but that’s only a slight thing.

As I had went small earlier I had room for a dessert, which when I looked at the menu quickly became cheese. AND (I’m blaming the menu here) because the list of dessert wines and ports were also shown, I decided to be decadent and have a glass of port with it too.

OH chose the Frangipani sponge, vanilla pear, blackberry gel, roast almonds. I didn’t taste it but it looked lovely and OH cleared the plate. 2016-03-11 19.48.54My cheese came with a variety of biscuits, some celery, grapes and a fabulous homemade chutney. I’m guessing here but I think there was grapes and cherries, which had been soaked in booze before being added to the onions. It was beautiful!  As was the accompanying port.2016-03-11 19.49.02

OH finished his meal with a double espresso (remember he still had to drive to the airport) and I finished my second glass of red.

The service was fantastic – the waiting staff were friendly, welcoming and helpful.

The bill came to £56.00 (2 mains, 2 desserts, lots of drinks).

The area the Bridge Inn is in looked lovely in the dark and OH and I have decided to return in the summer to check out their decking area, which looks over the canal. This restaurant is off the beaten path but definitely worth a visit – especially if you are picking up someone from the airport.