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5 Ways to Be Intentional and Have Your Best Vacation

Living your best life is an idea with growing notoriety, yet we seem to think that a vacation is a vacation and there isn’t a right way to travel and recharge. Wrong. Almost every seasoned traveler has done it – you experienced an otherwise fantastic, amazing,wonderful vacation only to come home uninspired, unrested and feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation. Well, no more. Follow these tips to get your mind right and be intentional about your time off so you really can have Your Best Vacation while in pursuit of living your best life.
A recent business trip, turned vacation was just the opportunity to field test strategies for making the most of my vacation time away from home. Here are the top five:

1. Decide You’re Worth It and Leave it at Home (or the office)

You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy! Busy, busy, busy. Managing households, kids, school, work, businesses, employees, deadlines and on and on. We’re all so busy we just need a vacation to keep from losing our ever loving minds. Unfortunately, we keep taking all of these problems with us on vacation. We come home unfulfilled with even more to do’s and dreaming of the next time we can just go on vacation, repeating this self-defeating cycle.
It’s time to remember why you’re taking a vacation in the first place. Why spend thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars on a vacation only to bring your problems and workload with you? Here’s the deal: you’re worth it. If you don’t invest in a little R&R to recharge your batteries, you won’t be able to achieve what your capable of in the long run. You need to realize that without a break – a real break – you can’t operate at 100%.

Leave Your Baggage at Home

So make the decision that you and your potential are worth investing in. Book that cruise, resort, tour or round-trip ticket, but then make the commitment to get your non-negotiable responsibilities addressed and completed before you leave so you can leave that guilt at home and enjoy your time away. Make no mistake though, this is 90% attitude and 10% action. Just accept the fact that you aren’t that important and the world will still be turning when you get back.
Not only should you enjoy your vacation – you need to enjoy your vacation, and all of those important people in your life – your spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and employees – they need you to really and truly enjoy your vacation even more than you do. If you don’t, they’re the ones who pay most. Once you accept this reality, you’ll see that bringing your problems with you defeats the entire point. The only baggage you should bring on a vacation is the kind that you can put a luggage tag on.
Best Vacations - Remich flowers in alley

2. Be Intentional – Have a Goal

Great, so we all know truly investing in our sanity is a worthy undertaking. Now we need to consider what we’re trying to achieve. Setting goals are important in every aspect of life, so why not vacation time? Think about it, what are you trying to achieve? What do you need?
Whether we admit it or not, most Americans should realize just how good we have it. Just about every American is the envy of the majority of the world’s population. Travelling simply to better appreciate what you have and where you live is a worthy goal itself.
Maybe you feel like daily life is drowning you? The to-do’s and deadlines increasing at an incessant pace. Maybe for you travelling to be able to step back and prioritize what is most important in your life is a great goal.
I can’t tell you what your goal should be, that’s for you to discover. I can tell you that if you take 10 minutes, go into a quiet space, close your eyes and really think about what is frustrating you most in life, then think about that through the lens of travel, you are likely to uncover a mighty fine goal for your next journey.
Best Vacations - Small boat on the Moselle River

3. The Company You Keep

Vacations are (usually) about shared experiences and it almost goes without saying that choosing your traveling companion(s) wisely is key, yet time and again I hear of people in need of a relaxing getaway or an exotic experience for self-reflection choosing to hit a “popular” vacation spot with their kids or a rowdy group of friends. To be fair, I have nothing against these kind of trips. In fact, each year I aim to take the family somewhere incredible so the kids can experience something new and to schedule at least one guys’ weekend to meetup with old friends. These are important and you should try to do them, but let’s be honest, just because your employer counts them as paid time off doesn’t make them vacations.
Match the purpose for your vacation with the people you want to share it with so you can achieve your vacation goal. This can even be a solo trip. There is no rule that says you have to travel with someone else if your travel goal is really about self reflection – you may need some alone time and that’s okay.
Beg, borrow or steal baby-sitter time so you can go on an adventure with your spouse (for as long as you can, but it’s okay if it’s just for the weekend) or try proposing a new, slower kind of trip to your friends. You never know, they may be up for something new too.
Best Vacations - Remich Jillian on side street

4. Have a Plan, Allow for Margin, and Actively Seek Small Surprises

Isn’t it so romantic to say that you’re just going to buy a plane ticket somewhere, anywhere, and then just wander? Sure is. Know what? It is also stupid. Believe me, I’ve done it, twice. Sure, it is fun and sexy and makes you feel like you are really living, but that’s just the travel equivalent of pheromones talking. Just like a romantic weekend fling as a 22 year old, it all comes to an abrupt end and leaves everyone feeling slightly hurt. On both occasions I came home feeling like I wasted my time, like I missed something, like I should have seen this or experienced that. Why? No goal and no plan!
I’m not suggesting you have an itinerary broken into 10 minute increments like my Uncle Ken (true story), but there’s a happy middle ground.
Once you identify the goal for your best vacation, have a plan to do things, visit places, or meet people that will serve the goal.

Allow for Margin

Plans are made to be broken though, or at least bent. So the most important aspect of any itinerary planning process is to build in margin – free time. You will discover something, likely lots of somethings, that you simply must do while you’re there. Great, that’s the really fun part of travel. Unfortunately, if you have an itinerary with no margin, you’ll be forced to choose, and in choosing, you’ll be necessarily disappointed.
Using the margin that you build into your itinerary is the perfect opportunity to really and truly enjoy travelling and all of its small surprises. Here’s a silly example, but for me, one that is very real. My wife and I are about to board a river cruise departing from Remich, Luxembourg. We arrived by plane at 10 AM. The ship doesn’t leave until 4 PM. My instinctive response is Hey, that’s 6 hours, let’s shove as much crap into the itinerary as we can so we don’t miss anything.

Seek Small Surprises

Fortunate for me, I was testing this strategy to build in margin and we just spend a few hours talking, relaxing, walking, and seeing what the sleepy riverside town on the Moselle River has to offer on a random Thursday afternoon. Jackpot. In that few hours we discovered an epic tree-lined riverside walk, the largest leaf I have ever seen, and a beautiful row of cafes that called to us to enjoy a coffee together.
Unique? Not really. The most incredible travel experience? Not even close. Worth writing an article about? Nope, sorry. A chance for my wife and I to really connect, to really slow down for a few hours, to get our minds right to enjoy our trip? Bingo.
Plus, I mean, look at this leaf. Ridiculous.
Best Vacations - Jason Block and the giant leaf

5. Get Local to Really Create Memorable Travel Experiences

Mental state, goals, traveling companions (or not), and a matching plan – all check. I think you’ll find that almost any vacation goal is compatible with this fifth strategy. I used to shun the idea of getting up close and personal with real, live locals. However, the more I travel the more I uncover the most memorable, genuine, and gratifying experiences when I have the chance to interact with real people who live, work and play where I am visiting.
Appreciation for other cultures, understanding how I can be a better person, or just relaxing without pretense all can be accommodated by getting local. What’s great is that it’s easier than ever to meet local people. There are a world of small group and private tour offerings to choose from that cover just about any interest. In fact, I have an upcoming column about local food scene tours in Florence and Rome that was put on by Eating Europe – simply fantastic. See some more ways to live like the locals in Germany.
Even easier, the next time you’re traveling, venture away from the hotel, find a local restaurant, and talk to the server or bartender. 95 out of 100 times they are thrilled to share something interesting about their lives, their country, and their culture or just to answer a question that may be on your mind for how locals live. Book that local tour or step out of your comfort zone, ask a question and see where it leads.
I promise, you’ll come home with a smile and an appreciation for life that you didn’t have when you packed your bag.
Best Vacations - Shopping and cafe in Trier Germany
 

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Review: Is Delta’s New Premium Select Cabin For You?

Delta Air Lines recently introduced a new class of service, Premium Select. I have been asking and hoping for a cabin class option like this for a decade. So what exactly is it and does it stand up to my expectations?

What is Delta’s Premium Select?

In short, think of Delta’s Premium Select as a domestic first class experience on an international flight, but at a far lower price from their more luxurious first class cabin, Delta One. Premium Select is now available on Delta’s new A350 aircraft, mostly out of Detroit for the time being (as you may know, I live in Atlanta, so I actually flew an extra leg up to Detroit en route to Amsterdam to try this thing out. I know, going to Detroit on purpose? That’s dedication!).
The Premium Select cabin features seats similar to domestic first class seats, with the addition of a slight legrest recliner feature. In my opinion the legrest (not a footrest) is nice, but I didn’t find it all that useful given the limited extension. The seat width is terrific though. For years I’ve been looking for a more economically priced seat offering without going to the full out expense of something like the Delta One cabin (which is fantastic by the way). Premium Select fits the bill. It allows me enough elbow (and shoulder) room to be comfortable for a long flight without completely draining my wallet.

How is it Priced?

Obviously prices vary, but for example, a Premium Select seat on a flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam (yes, connecting in Detroit) in February is currently listed at about $2,100. This is well more than the Main Economy cabin price of $1,015 or the even cheaper Basic Economy price tag of $885. But compare it to the Delta One seat that rings up at about $4,100. By my math that means that the Premium Select cabin is about half the cost of Delta One on this flight (and about double the Main Economy cabin), so you really have good options to determine what kind of flight experience you value. More choices is a good thing.

The In-Seat Monitors Steal the Show

Delta has deviated from other carriers and continued to make large investments in their in-seat entertainment offering. As a frequent traveler I think this is outstanding and the in-seat monitors equipped in Premium Select on the A350 are nothing short of awesome. I didn’t see what seats in the back of the plane were packing because I couldn’t stop enjoying my flight in the mid-level cabin. This screen was nearly as big as my overly large desktop monitor at home, and was crystal clear. The onscreen menu interface functioned quickly and easily, and I found the whole experience to be terrific. I left the iPad and laptop in my bag and didn’t miss either for a moment.

The Surprise of Delta Premium Select

My interest in taking this flight was purely to check out the hardware in Premium Select. The seat, the monitor, the overhead bin size… all great. As much as I loved all of that, what I left remembering most was how Delta’s service level’s actually seem to be getting even better in a world where they already blow the doors off their domestic competition. The food on the flight was not only edible, but actually reasonably delightful. The flight attendants were not only courteous, but took extra steps to make sure I was comfortable and actually having a good time. When’s the last time you took a flight and thought to yourself that it was fun?
Kudos to Delta Air Lines and bravo for Premium Select. Better late than never. I just hope people keep filling the seats so they expand the offering on more aircraft and routes. Maybe then I won’t have to go to Detroit.
 

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Jason’s Next Journey: Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy

Gearing up for our next big adventure in-country as they say.
We have some exciting insider looks coming your way while we’re filming our upcoming travel episode shorts and we’re getting really excited to share it with you. On this go round we’ll be visiting the duchy of Luxembourg, experiencing a river cruise on the Moselle and Main rivers through Germany, and capping it off with a visit to Italy where we’ll see Florence, Sienna in the heart of Tuscany, and the wonders of Rome.
Stay tuned, it’ll be a fast and furious good time.
For LIVE photos, video and updates, follow me on Instagram.

 

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Southern Hospitality Rediscovered: Barbecue, Breakdowns, and the Unexpected

Southern Restaurant "Peace-N-Hominy"

Travelers well know the charms of iconic southern spots like Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans. Beyond the pages of the well photographed plantation homes and the gentile invitation of historic coastal row houses, I rediscover southern hospitality on a recent weekend getaway. In the process I realize that the south has many surprises to offer in unexpected places. Fear not, the south is living up to that famous saying, and then some.

A new baby nephew sparks the family to pile into the car and head from Atlanta to Charlotte, NC. Save a few glimpses of beautiful Lake Hartwell just across the Georgia-South Carolina border and numerous billboards promoting a burgeoning moonshine industry – yes, this is the south – the drive between Atlanta and Charlotte is largely unremarkable. The first sign that we are getting close was the Peachoid, a gigantic water tower that is both shaped and painted to look like an over-ripened peach.
We plug on, and eventually arrive to the outskirts of Charlotte where we are greeted by our family at their new home and set in to spend time with their new baby boy.
Babies are cute, and as the father of three girls I am fascinated to play with my three year old nephew (and his toys – sadly my girls aren’t into Iron Man) while my wife held the new little guy. With the new baby and all, we decide to order in. “Barbecue? I’m asked by my sister-in-law. Um, Yes, please! It isn’t a grand to do, nor a special search for the best barbecue in North Carolina. We just seek out the nearest local barbecue joint – and those are just the kind where you can discover something unexpected.

Peace N’ Hominy

My brother-in-law and I head to pick up the order from Peace N’ Hominy, where they describe their love of barbecue as “the peaceful coexistence of all bbq and corn, be it hominy, maize or grits,” a clear tout to their corn bread, creamed corn and cheesy grits. Here I discover the first great surprise of the overnight trip. Barbecue, generally speaking, is a culinary conundrum. Styles and variations pervade this great country from east to west and each has their own signatures that should not only be appreciated, but outright honored. North Carolina’s take on southern barbecue, has two predominant styles: Eastern style and Lexington style. True to their name, Peace N’ Hominy throws the rule book in the smoker, and pursues fantastic flavor, the rules be damned.
In the world of southern barbecue, preparation, cooking style, and serving are each, on their own, relatively straight-forward (although not easy to execute). Taken together though, they present a challenge that can only be conquered by someone who’s earned the pitmaster title through years of blood, sweat and smoke. The quality of the ingredients used is paramount to good southern barbecue and their absence can be detected, even by a novice, more so than almost any other style of cooking. Fortunately, Peace N’ Hominy has us covered.
We arrive to Peace N’ Hominy, an unassuming little building with patrons buzzing about (a good sign to be sure). We walk in the rear entrance, a little back porch offering a spot in the shade with a few small tables. Maybe on my next visit during the fall, I think. Making our way inside, the small interior is full and we saunter up to the counter to secure our order. After the usual pleasantries, payment, and a brief exchange inquiring about an extra side of hot barbecue sauce, we thank them and are stopped by a young man as we turn for the car.
Nevermind that we’re two capable, grown men, he informs us that he will carry our takeout box to the car, no, he insists. While walking to the car we explain that we really can carry the box, that it is an unnecessary jesture. We are quickly informed that their policy is both clear and strict – customers with large take out orders are to be helped to car. There is no room for interpretation. We thank him again and I can’t help but wonder if this would happen back home in Atlanta. Sure, Atlanta is still most certainly the south, but it is increasingly an international city (mostly for the good). While there are pockets of old southern charm, it isn’t something you encounter everywhere you go. This experience at Peace N’ Hominy is the south – and I like it.
We make the quick drive home, the smell from the backseat taunts us to press the pedal a little faster. Into the house and a quick impromptu buffet setup later, it is time. The amazing spread is anchored by pulled pork and carved brisket (that’s beef for those of you in Bar Harbor), smoked in a blend of apple and hickory wood. The mains are surrounded by a heart-stopping assortment of side dishes: creamed corn, 6 cheese mac & cheese (um, for the kids, just for the kids), an additional style of chili-mac, because in the south one mac & cheese just won’t do, bourbon beans, and crowned with a pan of corn bread and rolls.

The Peace

The pulled pork is well prepared and very good. Though, in a head-to-head battle, the carved brisket delivers a knock out and takes home the title. The flavor of the bourbon beans oozes with brown sugar molasses and pork. The contents of my plate begin to intermingle as the meal moves on and the brisket, beans and the sauce unite in an exceptional song of southern barbecue goodness.

The Hominy

I like corn bread, sure. It isn’t a food that I would normally write about though. This cornbread, however, makes we wonder if Aunt Bea from Mayberry might have been squirreled away in that kitchen (interesting note: the real town of “Mayberry” made famous by the Andy Griffith Show is located a little more than an hour up the road in nearby Mount Airy, NC). Sweet, not overly dense, and full of real corn flavor, it is a great execution of an old favorite. So skip the rolls and go straight for the corn bread.

The Southern Barbecue Surprise

The big surprise of the meal is the chili mac & cheese. My brother-in-law insists we try it and I oblige. I’ve had chili mac before mind you, and it has never been my cup of tea. Like Jack Nicholson’s show-stealing performance over lead actor Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, this side dish, turn superstar, takes the spotlight. No kidney beans or thick tomato sauce here, this is more aptly titled Beef Mac. The ground beef is beautifully minced with a wonderful blend of spices, and just a hint of heat, then chunks are slightly layered into the mac & cheese. Enough to get a good bite of the beef, but not enough to overpower the penne-style noodle. It is simply fantastic.
To a purist, the spread from Peace N’Hominy isn’t traditional carolina southern barbecue, but I am never one to get caught up in rules and formality, and besides, this sure is darn good barbecue.
One evening in, a few great southern barbecue surprises, delightful southern hospitality, and a sleeping baby. This is shaping up to be a great weekend.

The Peachoid

We wake to a nice breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls, bacon and Davis Special (a simple traditional family recipe from my wife’s side of the family consisting of pan-friend sausage and scrambled eggs that undoubtedly goes by a thousand different names in a thousand different families, but is nevertheless tasty). We spend the morning with the kids at the pool, sit and talk some more, then pack into the ol’ family truckster around noon to head back to Atlanta for work on Monday.
Remember the big Peach-looking water tower?
Apparently the kids didn’t get enough to eat at breakfast, and okay, I am hungry again too, so we stop about an hour into our drive back for lunch at a chain restaurant that sat underneath the Peachoid. We put the car into park, and well, it doesn’t park. The car is stuck in gear and the gear shifter just flops around (if this is happening to you right now, it is a broken shifter cable, yes, that’s a thing). Making this doubly frustrating, we had this exact problem repaired in Atlanta just three days earlier. On the verge of a hangry group, we decide to put the parking break on, turn off  the engine and head in for lunch. We’ll sort it out while we grab a bite.

Gaffney, SC

The small town of Gaffney, SC sits about half way between Charlotte, NC and Greenville, SC. Not to be the condescending city folk type, but there isn’t a lot going on in Gaffney, especially on Sunday. We walk into the restaurant with limited expectations, just glad to be in the air conditioning, and inform them of our car trouble. The manager greets us genuinely, and warmly, assuring us it is no problem, that we should come on in and sit down. Our minds race with worries of rescheduled appointments, canceled kids’ activities, and figuring out how to get our car fixed and it and us both back home. The manager’s gentleness helps to diffuse the stress of the situation.
We sit down and our server picks up where the manager left off, bringing us some cool drinks with a warm smile. We order and begin to make phone calls. First, the repair shop in Atlanta explains that they can’t do anything about their shoddy work unless we get the car back to them. Unfortunately, that is 180 miles away. We quickly discover that in Gaffney, SC very little is open on Sunday.

Meet Warren, Southern Hospitality Personified

My wife connects with the owner of a local repair shop, Warren, who can’t help us at the moment (because it is Sunday, and they are closed, and he is about to into a movie with his family – and we remember why all businesses used to be closed on Sunday). Warren gives us the name of a towing service that can take the vehicle to his shop and promises to check back in with us in a few hours to make sure everything is worked out. We aren’t interested in a local tow, we need to get the car to Atlanta (so the local mechanic can fix his errors). We call the towing service, who again, is very kind, but unable to tow it that far. They give us another name and we call. They’re open, but it sounds pretty clear that they don’t have full staff on Sunday. A 180 mile tow job would be a stretch. They kindly ask if they can check with their staff to find a driver and call us back. Pinned down like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but resigned to get home, we have little choice but to agree and hope that we fare better than Davy.

Edward To The Rescue

A short while later we receive a call back. Edward, the owner of the tow service would make the trip and get us home, personally. Relief, we’d be late, but we’d get home tonight, much to the childrens’ disappointment who thought that a night in a hotel sounded like a great adventure. Note: To be fair, my 13 year old daughter wanted absolutely nothing to do with us or another night away from home and her laptop.
We enjoy our lunch and the great service and conclude just as Edward pulls into the lot with his honking big F-450 flat bed tow truck. The rescue is here. Introductions complete, Edward positions the truck as we explain that the car is stuck in gear. After a few head scratches he simply says “well… they didn’t tell me that.” Uh oh. Long story short, this throwback to a time when men were men puts his body on the line to manually disengage the gear under the car while I stand on the brakes. He states without emotion, “the worst that will happen is that it will roll over my arm.” This is insanity. My wife is near panicked at the thought of him being crushed. We all pray the car doesn’t roll down the slope of the parking lot, crushing Edward, once the gear is released.
The breaks hold. Once he is free from the undercarriage, I slowly guide the car, rolling backwards to line it up with the tow truck bed.

We all cram into Edward’s hulk of a truck and say goodbye to the Peachoid, the odd peach water tower landmark that many have passed, but few have actually sat underneath (for several hours). Wanting a bit more space for the family to make the drive home, we plan to stop at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport about 35 miles down the road where a rental car is hopefully waiting for us (again, nothing open on Sunday in Gaffney). Barreling down I-85 in Edward’s black beast, the smell of Marlboro 100’s is thickly fused into the upholstery. While brave, and courteous, Edward wasn’t much for conversation, simply responding to my wife’s curiosities with a polite Yes, Ma’am or No, Ma’am.

The Wizarding World of Car Rentals?

Normally, the prospect of going to the airport to pick up a rental car ranks somewhere between a root canal and watching your wife try on clothes. You have to do it, but you aren’t going to like it. I’m sure this will be an hour long exercise in frustration. Yet another surprise – this airport isn’t a nightmare – at all. A lovely tree-lined drive that easily, and without fanfare, brings you to the terminal building marks the approach to Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. We approach the terminal and I jump down (literally) from the massive truck and head into the parking garage to find the rental car counters while my wife settles up some payment details with Edward. The distance from where I launch myself from Edward’s truck to the rental car counter is about a 40 second walk. Wow, that was easy.
I approach the Enterprise Car Rental counter and Drew, the Manager, offers a friendly welcome.  Drew pulls up my reservation as I share some of our misfortunes, thankful a vehicle is available on such short notice. As if a graduate from a some mysterious school of wizardry and manners, Drew couldn’t be nicer or more engaging. Sometimes, plain old friendliness, is the hallmark of southern hospitality. He lists a few vehicle choices that he can make available to me for the same rate, and one sparks my interest. Yet another surprise. He happily and efficiently completes the rental and directs us to our vehicle – a Ford F-150. Awesome, I’ve always wanted a pick up truck, but have never bought one. The day is finally looking up. Our car is being towed home and I’m sitting in big, bad, slightly jacked up pick-up!

Southern Hospitality In Action

We cruise down I-85 in our sweet pickup (that is surprisingly smooth) and meander through town towards home. The phone rings, uh oh. Phew, it’s one of my daughter’s friends asking if our car is on a tow truck. Good, Edward still has it! Just as we turn onto our street the phone rings again and my stomach sinks a touch. My wife answers and it is Warren, his trip to the movies with his family no finished. He wants to check back in to make sure everything is under control. We thank him for the follow-up and assure him all is now well.
We make it. The family piles out of the Ford and into the house, the welcoming sound of barking dogs signal the road trip is complete. Just as we begin to settle in, Edward pulls up to the house. As he lowers the car into the drive, we offer thanks for the bad day that turned into one full of good surprises .
Southern barbecue, southern hospitality and two kick-butt trucks. I do love the south. If you are ever rolling down I-85 between Charlotte and Atlanta, I recommend a visit to Gaffney, SC, even for a quick bite, to enjoy what southern hospitality looks like in the real world.

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Bordeaux, France Beyond Wine

One visit to Bordeaux and I am hooked. Even if the vineyards disappeared, the chateaux dotting the countryside vanished and the wine merchants across the city center started hocking imported American Cabs, Bordeaux might still be my favorite city in France, if not the entire world.
To the uninitiated, the simple six-letter word France evokes images of love, wine, and food. Young couples kissing on the Eiffel Tower and rolling countryside hills of golden wheat. All of that is true and I’ve probably seen too many couples who think social norms need not apply simply because they’re in France.
To those who truly love wine, not just drinking it, but knowing it, each region of France has its own lifetime of secrets to uncover. From the famed Loire Valley to the lesser known Jura, France, food, wine, and love are synonymous. For me, you can’t top a chilled glass of Sancerre on a warm spring day, but for most, the Bordeaux region of France sits like the Sun King inspired by the heavens, on top of them all.
When you say Bordeaux, you may be referring to the wine producing region in the southwest of France made up of several towns and villages surrounding the cultural and economic hub of Bordeaux. For today though, I’m referring to the actual city of Bordeaux. It has that certain feeling for me that it is just meant to be. Going beyond the wine, you’ll find that Bordeaux is a city with rich culture, incredible architecture, with a vibe that I’ll call Continental-Casual: comfortable, but just sophisticated enough to remember where you are.
In short, it is the amazement of Paris, without the hype. It is the good kind of crowd, the kind that only pops up in places where you want one. This is my Bordeaux, but here’s a secret, it can be your Bordeaux too. Maybe even our Bordeaux?

Getting to Bordeaux

Arriving to Bordeaux is easy enough. The airport receives air service from most major European hubs (Paris, Amsterdam, London, etc.). I last arrived by train after a few days’ stopover in Paris and found it to be the best experience. From Paris’ Montparnasse station to Bordeaux St-Jean, it is about a two hour and fifteen-minute journey, just enough time for a snack, or for me, a snack and a cocktail. The French TGV is efficient and the countryside views and brief chats with the overwhelmingly local crowd on board made for a really enjoyable journey. Once you arrive, there are taxis waiting outside of the station to take you to your hotel, apartment rental, river cruise ship or anywhere else you may want to go.
bordeaux-street_worldvia
Word of warning: pay attention when your departure time nears. They only give you about ten minutes from announcing your train platform number until the train begins chugging away from the station. Don’t miss it!

Loving Life Like The French

Bordeaux offers a wealth of options to pass the day, but on my first day (in almost any city), I find there are generally two things I like to do and Bordeaux had me covered either way I choose: get a lay of the scene hanging out for a spell at a local cafe or restaurant or hitting the local market—the very best way to immediately immerse yourself in local living. Call me nosey, weird, or even a culinary voyeur, but I find that a stroll through a market examining the contents of the shopping baskets tells me more about local life and the differences from my hometown than almost anything else.
Today though, cafe first. Bordeaux has loads of spots to just sit, be present, and watch the people. Whether you’re traveling alone, as a couple, or in a group, a street-side cafe table at Le Regent on Place de la Comedie is a fine spot to get your bearings. Many years ago, during my first visit, I discovered that ‘un cafe’ in France is not a coffee. It is essentially an espresso, served in a small cup, black with no cream or sugar, and simply wonderful. (Note: for a full espresso ask for ‘Un café serré‘).

Enjoying my table at Le Regent, I pass an hour or so, enjoying conversation and the sights of French living. Just across the street is Opéra National de Bordeaux, a charming square with shoppers strolling along, and just a few steps in the other direction, the mouth of the famed Rue Sainte-Catherine—the longest shopping street in Europe.

Visit Bordeaux’s Rue Sainte-Catherine

A few tourists dot the immense crowd of this famed street, but generally, it appears to be mostly locals. As the economic hub of the region, the French version of the county seat if you will, many inhabitants from surrounding towns make their way into Bordeaux for shopping. There are a lot of people on the street, a lot, but somehow it doesn’t feel too crowded. This is one of those good kinds of crowds.
My first stop is Galleries Lafayette, a French department store. Similar to visiting the local market, department stores are like a looking glass into the culture of everyday life. I peruse the men’s department and make a few mental notes of what may be fashionable back home – in two or three years. Moving on to the homewares, I’m delighted to find an entire display of different varieties of foie gras, a fattened duck or goose liver, and wonder why they don’t sell foie gras back home at my local Target (dear Target legal department, no need to respond, I know why you don’t sell it, but it is delicious).
And we’re moving, I step back onto the busy street and make way past a cool variety of international fashion labels, local specialty merchants, and yes a few American fast food joints. Rue Sainte-Catherine is a street buzzing with activity and you can spend several hours just walking around watching the families do their shopping.  Little vein-like streets and alleys jut off Rue Sainte-Catherine to the left and right and I duck into one to see what kind of trouble I can find.

Trying to Get A Little Bit Lost

Bordeaux is the kind of place you can wander the streets and find it pretty hard to get lost, as long as you remember which way the river is. Trying to get a little bit lost is a great way to explore the city. Off Rue Sainte-Catherine I head west on Rue des Trois-Conils and wander in a short zigzag, spotting what I soon discover to be the spire of Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux. Constructed about 1,000 years ago, the Romanesque cathedral sits and watches over much of Bordeaux. Still in use today, the Cathedral is a great landmark to regain your bearings. I meander through the city, stopping occasionally to pop into a store or two, generally without agenda or care in the world. This is what is meant to be living in France and all in all, a great way to spend an afternoon.

Marches des Quais

It’s Sunday and that means market day in Bordeaux. The smell of freshly baked bread will lure you in, and then, you see it and you’re hooked. Along the banks of the Garonne River atop a recently revitalized river walk, over 70 vendors display the many fruit of the land and sea. Cheese from local producers, oysters and other ocean delights fresh from the mouth of the Garonne River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, simmering escargot, a merry-go-round of fresh and smoked meats, fresh produce and Caneles, a decidedly fantastic Bordeaux pastry creation made with rum and vanilla that has a caramelized crust with a soft and tender custard center.
Check out this great, easy recipe for French Mussels in white wine sauce inspired by most recent visit to France.
I enjoy a plate of fresh oysters with lemon and baguette capped with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The sun is shining, the merchants are friendly, and the crowd of locals and tourists are smiling (and eating and drinking). What’s not to love? At one of the boulangerie carts offering an amazing assortment of breads and pastries, I chat with Appoline in half broken-French mixed with English and learn that her family has been in the baking business for over 100 years. Well Appoline, it shows. If you are lucky enough to visit Bordeax on a Sunday, the Marche des Quais is your must-stop destination. Explore the market and you’ll find your own treasure—that I can promise you.

Bordeaux is to France as Tuscany is to Italy

bordeaux_landscape_worldviaPop culture elevates Tuscany to be the romantic, wandering Neverland that all of us should aspire to set foot to its gravel roads at least once in our lives. Tuscany is terrific and the many books and movie portrayals don’t have it entirely wrong, but I think over the coming years you’ll hear more about the little big city of Bordeaux. I’ll go out on a limb here and say to you that before you leave this spinning rock for the farmer’s market in the sky, be Bordelais at least once.
For more on the sights and experiences in and around Bordeaux, check out the upcoming articles on Bordeaux’s Architecture and History, and Local Events.