Back on our mission to Cognac , we went straight to the Royal Chateau de Cognac, which was once owned by King Francis l and later established as a Cognac house by Baron Otard. There are many Cognac distillers in the area offering tours, however I chose this one because it provides a history lesson on French royalty, a tour of the 10th century fortress (now 15th century chateau) which was built to repel Viking invasions and of course a lesson on Cognac production. We got there at 11.00 but the next English tour wasn’t until 1.30pm so in the meantime we went geocaching and to McDonalds, purely for the free wifi, yeah right.
Ordering a happy meal in France was quite an ordeal in 2007, however now they have handy ordering machines in English, but getting a happy meal can still be a lengthy process. Follow the simple steps:
Do you have a McDonald’s card?
Do you want to pay in cash or credit card?
What do you want?
What meal would you like? – There are 5 meals as opposed to NZ’s 3. If you choose a burger you can subtract items you don’t like, such as onions and pickle.
What accompaniments do you want? – NZ has chips; France has chips, wedges, apple slices
What sauce do you want? In NZ there is normally no sauce unless you ask.
What dessert do you want? – There are 5 choices (no dessert in NZ)
Do you want your desert served now or later?
What drink do you want? There are 10 choices for kids and 11 for adults as you can get a beer. If you choose a hot drink you then get asked if you want it now or later.
What toy do you want?
Eat in or takeaway?
If you eat in the next question is whether you want to wait at the counter or at your table. Some restaurants want to know where you are sitting others want to know what table number you took. By time you do all this and go to the counter to pay your meal is normally ready. How is that? Well at lunchtime there are 9 staff on the front area and they make burgers continuously, not to order. The 9 staff all had their roles, for example just pouring drinks, making desserts, etc. But, there is always a but, unlike 2007 they apparently make shit coffee; that’s life Roger.
After lunch we did 3 geocaches, taking us to the beautiful river area of Cognac, the town hall gardens and the Lieutenant’s house.
Back to the Cognac tour, we had a choice of 5 tours ranging from €11 to €120 each. The only difference in the tours, apart from the price, is the age and amount of Cognac tasting you do. Not being a liquor drinker, I chose the cheapest option which meant we only got 2 drinks, one aged 2 years (VS, very special) and one aged 4 years (VSOP, very superior old pale); none of the 60 year old stuff for tight tourists. Lucky for us we were the only people on our tour so we had the lovely English speaking guide with the French accent to ourselves. The French history lesson was interesting, the Chateau amazing and the Cognac production and barrel making tour was informative. We did a lot of sniffing of different aged Cognac and tasted our two young drinks; mine was watered down with tonic water. My driver didn’t have his 40% to 60% alcohol drinks watered down though. We didn’t partake in the shopping experience, and were very careful not to knock over the NZ$7000 bottle of old Cognac with a crystal stopper. The chateau would get a serious dose of Wet and Forget if I owned it and no Roger, we won’t be hiring it for your birthday.
The next town we went to was Saintes, an old Roman town from centuries ago. We did a self guided tour unfortunately with a hand drawn map off the internet, which was a bit challenging especially when workmen park their vehicles in front of the signs. Not that the signs were entirely useful as they take you the long scenic route and have no indication of how far you have to walk in the extreme heat. So in no particular order below are photos of the river, with rowers, the Arch of Germanicus, St Pierre Church, an old library, and Roman Amphitheatre. Saintes also has some nice cobbled paved shopping alleys and eateries.
Today’s French dining experience was of course brought to you by McDonalds. Our French word is Eau-de-vie, pronounced “oh duh vee”, water of life. This is what they call the spirit that comes out of the distilling coppers before it goes into barrels, 72.4% alcohol content, 148.4 proof, and it’s all you can smell walking around the factory. If Cognac is “water of life” I may not be long for this world as it wasn’t for me, the angel that gets the 2% evaporation from the barrels, known as the angel’s share” can have my portion.
A couple of people who decided to try living in France for three months, to absorb some of the culture and to try a diet of Baguette, cheese and wine.