Below is another post from Australian journalist, Stuart Gregor, who is currently sailing on Marina:
BORDEAUX AND BEYOND
So we left off somewhere in the west of France. I had not yet fully received my sea legs, but now, some five days later I am a veteran. I even crashed a party last night being hosted for Oceania Club legends who have cruised more than 10 times. Cool group, one day I suspect it will be me entering the main door, not slipping around the back when no one is looking.
Let’s go back to Bordeaux. Stu’s lesson for cruising novices: Always check that you have the details of the port right. Saying you are going to dock in Bordeaux is in fact infinitely different from a port about 100km away… as the kids would say, my bad. But all was sorted out, and a day amongst the vines, tasting great wines, is not such a bad way to while away Ascension Day, August 15. Bad luck that, too, lobbing in the world’s wine capital on a public holiday . . . and as my seriously good onboard concierge Daniel said, “They take their holidays very seriously in France.” Top day, bought some great wine – in fact two bottles of Comtesse Baron (CH#) from 1999 and 2004 and drank them the next night in the seriously delicious Polo Grill, which is currently leading the field in the “which one of the restaurants is our favourite.” We like them all, of course, but one thing you Americans do really, really well is an upmarket steakhouse.
Talking of food, we must of course touch upon last Tuesday, one of the most memorable gustatory days of my considerably gustatorial life… lunch at Mugaritz. If Mugaritz means nothing to you, that’s fine but you don’t take food or your restaurants very seriously. Mugaritz is a restaurant in the hills behind San Sebastian. It is owned and run by Andoni Adurriz, a former disciple of the great Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Mugaritz is currently the number three ranked restaurant IN THE WORLD. And we were going… once we found a cab in St Jean de Luz. This was not easy but it added a certain frisson to the day’s adventure. That’s if you consider a frisson a mild, blind panic by an overwrought, overweight and slightly hysterical man, who could see his reservation at THE NUMBER THREE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD being given away because HE CAN’T FIND A BLOODY CAB IN ST. JEAN DE LUZ. It came, of course, with enough time in the tank to have a quick wander around the streets of San Sebastian. That means of course, we headed for what I straight away declared as the best tapas bar I have ever seen. A quick beer, some anchovies and a bit of drool coming from the mouth at all the spectacular food and divinely rude, but spectacular bartender… I could have stayed all day. However, I had a RESERVATION AT THE NUMBER THREE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD. So we go to Mugaritz, and it’s a humble brown, brick building surrounded by the most beautiful garden. I am seriously as excited as a grown man could be without his team being in the lead five minutes before full-time in a final. And then they smile, they ask us if we would like to have a drink in the gorgeous terrace, they bring out a bottle of beautiful cava that a friend back home has organised, we start eating, laughing and drinking and so begins one of the greatest lunches of my life. The food? Well it was weird and wacky, some sublime, some confusing, all a sensory challenge. But it was WAY more than food. It was superb and friendly service, it was the sense of whimsy and delight on the plate and in the restaurant, it was the sheer thrill of BEING THERE that made it so wonderful. And the four bottles of wine helped, too. There were four of us, and no that doesn’t include the cava so I guess I should be honest and admit to five…
If someone were to ask me what the highlight was, it was the sense of humour, the great fun we had being invited into the kitchen and talking with Andoni, who of course speaks no English and I speak no Spanish but who cared. We did lots of thumbs up, we had Oswaldo the interpreter and it was brilliant. Bloody brilliant. And the restaurant itself was beautiful, austere but characterful and totally unlike stuffy, formal top restaurants in France. I could go on and on but I fear I have already.
The rest of the day ends in something of a blur. Of course, there was the obligatory sprint (well shuffle/jog) to the tender at St Jean de Luz, another fine meal at Red Ginger with an extra couple of bottles of wine we most definitely did not need, and another encounter with Viya the Ukrainian croupier on the craps table, who by now I am seriously falling deeply in love with. She might be the funniest and shortest croupier on the seas. She reminds me of Natasha in “Boris and Natasha,” and she treats me equally poorly, but I keep coming back for more. Those Ukrainian blokes must live in a constant state of fear if there are more like her around!
The next morning, remarkably, I feel the need to exercise. I have taken on about 15,000 calories the previous day so I hit the treadmill for an hour. There is a fantastic gym on board, I just can’t change the miles to kilometres on the screen, so I go for 5 miles and spend most of the hour multiplying things by 1.6. It’s quite a clever diversion. Anything to keep my mind off the panting and the ugly silhouette.
The next day is Bilbao and the Guggenheim. Much has been written about this and I know less about modern art than I do about moderation and abstinence, so suffice to say, it’s a drop-dead wonderful experience. I understood as much about the art as I did most of the dishes at Mugaritz, but I just loved being there all the same and what a building. Great architecture can transform cities. I just wish a few of our local urban planners in Australia would learn that lesson.
Another night onboard and a marvelous, relaxed dinner on the terrace of the Terrace Cafe, just me and the wife, her hair blowing in the breeze. It was almost romantic. As close as an old married couple will get… until she spoils the moment by telling me I have sauce on my face.
La Coruña is next and this is a wonderful city, which I see for exactly 8 minutes as the day is all about golf in the hills at Real Club de La Coruna. Only 15 minutes in a cab from the ship and a glorious morning playing (and winning on the 18th) with a great mate from Oz and a couple called Antonio and Jules. I learnt all sorts of new Spanish words for “fore” and “look out I have a horrible slice” and “I don’t think you should stand there” and “Oh bloody hell Stuart that’s a terrible putt” and “lost” and “trees.” Antonio also lets me know, after he drills a 30-foot putt for a birdie on the 14th that Spanish for birdie is in fact “birdie.” A great day. And much more to share, but Cadiz arrives to my starboard and an afternoon in Seville beckons.
This cruising thing is good.
I’ll be back for that party real soon…