Since we’ve last talked, Andrew and I have traveled in France, survived daylight savings time, hosted visitors from the US and experienced a general workers’ strike. This is all in addition to our regularly scheduled programming of class in the morning and private lessons in the afternoon.

I can’t say enough about how much we’ve enjoyed the time we’ve gotten to spend in France. Customer service is par none, the food is delicious, the wine exquisite and English is widely (and happily) spoken. Not to mention the cities, towns and countryside we’ve visited are all spectacular. Add to all these positives balmy spring weather and you’ve got a wanderer’s paradise.

On our last venture to France, we left Laredo around 7:30am and drove directly to Bordeaux. The drive from Laredo lasts about 4 1/2 to 5 hours and unfortunately it is quite curvy, although scenic, in Spain, but becomes flat and boring in France. The route takes you through the largest pine forest in Europe, Les Landes. Built in the 1700’s to prevent erosion, the forest still produces timber for numerous projects and purposes today. Once out of the forest, one arrives almost immediately to the outskirts of Bordeaux. Although the ring road circling Bordeaux can be a little tricky at times, we, thankfully, arrived smack dab in the center.

Bordeaux is an ancient city of the bourgeoisie, drawing Paris’ elite for a getaway and thriving on wine trade. Today it still has a distinct posh feel in the historic center, but also is home to a bustling immigrant community. It is situated on La Garonne, a wide, muddy mess of a river.

Spending a day exploring in Bordeaux is highly recommended. The main plazas and landmarks have been painstakingly restored and buildings made of the characteristic blonde stone of the region are spotless. Some sights to take in are the medieval gates that create impressive entrances into the city, the hidden plazas, which are perfect for an afternoon coffee, the Place de la Bourse and the church of the Holy Cross. For me, the better part of 5 hours was enough to get a decent feel for the city, to peacefully have a coffee and see the major sites. It does boast some Roman ruins, but we decided to forgo those in lieu of a more relaxing experience.

Marveling at the grand rues and charming side streets in Bordeaux is reason enough to visit. Boutiques and eateries line the streets, pastisseries and bakeries are innumerable, and the store fronts are impeccable. Bordeaux has a unique bohemian feel that I really liked as well. It wasn’t a grunge feel, rather a sophisticated, original vibe that defines bars and shops.

I’ll never get bored watching effortlessly beautiful French men and women glide gracefully along the promenades, to work, to lunch, alone, with friends or lovers. They seemed so refined compared to the noisy, stroller filled sidewalks in Spain. One detail that really struck me about French life this last time was how quiet the people were. They spoke to one another, of course, but they spoke in low, respectful tones. Instead of being bothered by an intrusively loud conversation coming from the table next to you in a café, only a quiet murmur was emitted from our neighbors. This is in contrast to Spain, where folks will holler to one another while walking down the street, making sure the entire vicinity is privy to their conversation. We didn’t eat much here, just ham and cheese on a baguette (my favorite!). We’ll be back with more on France soon!

Next up: St. Emilion!


The weekend: An update

Andrew and I had a nice Spring weekend in and around Cantabria. We took another hike to the top of the Monte Buciero in Santoña. The view from the top back towards the marshlands offers a complete picture of the landscape surrounding Laredo. Besides spotting the normal livestock, we got to see lambs and calves dotting the hillsides as well. After all, it is the time of year when new life naturally begins!

On Sunday we visited Bilbao and went to the Museo Vasco, a museum that chronicles Basque history, life and geography. I would recommend it for Hispanophiles, Spanish speakers and persons interested in geography. One of the most interesting exhibits was about life in coastal fishing towns one hundred years (or more!) ago. Talk about a hard, isolated life! Also noteworthy is a model of the geography of the province of Vizcaya that is interactive.

We finished our weekend off in style with another round of chocolate con churros and the movie Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, which is disturbing and only recommended for true movie buffs since the acting is impeccable. We’re off to a good start of the week here, planning for classes and trying not to think too much about our Spring Fever! Have a great week.


Disenfranchised Ron Paul Supporter

To my great consternation, I found out today that I will not be voting in Tennessee’s Republican primary. Despite having solicited an absentee ballot over six weeks ago, government employee incompetence failed to deliver. More specifically, they failed to deliver my ballot to me (via email per request). Instead, on further investigation, they admitted it was emailed to an unknown person in an unknown location with an email address that happens to be one letter different from mine. In short, clerical error cost me my vote. “Sorry, there is nothing that we can do now,” was the reply the incompetent desk lady gave. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I really surprised that government bureaucracy could make a disenfranchising clerical mistake? Not at all.

Governments often do many bad things. They start unjust wars, deliberately lie to citizens, and steal through taxation and currency debasement. But for all the intentional bad that governments can do, they also act with a good amount of incompetence. Sometimes I’m actually glad that governments act incompetently, especially with all the totalitarian legislation coming out of Washington these days (i.e., Patriot Act, NDAA, etc.). But in this case, simple incompetence at the county level frustrated me by keeping me from voting for a candidate I really believe in, Dr. Ron Paul.

Congressman Paul is probably not going to win the Tennessee Republican primary, with or without my one vote. Unfortunately, most state Republicans will choose the candidates who supported the raising of the federal debt limit, bank bailouts, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, the unsustainable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the wisdom of the Federal Reserve.

While a majority of Tennessee Republicans this primary may not support the message of Dr. Paul, I am increasingly optimistic about the vitality of the liberty movement he has created going forward. Ron Paul has the rare ability to connect with people and not just garner their vote, but also change the way they think politically and economically. He doesn’t just get people to cast a ballot; he gets people to become liberty activists. It’s incredible the way young people are supporting Paul and his ideas of sound money, individual liberty and non-interventionism. Just two days ago I found out about a friend who, while formerly a Ron Paul skeptic, is now an all-out Ron Paul supporter and actively encouraging others to vote for Paul. Ask anyone under 30 about Ron Paul and they most likely will be supporters. If the GOP was really aiming to get a candidate that can attract young people, they have found their man.

So for my fellow Tennesseans reading this post, I encourage you to think once more about which candidate really represents your values before voting tomorrow.