Today was mostly spent traveling. We had an EARLY train (4:30 AM) to the Geneva airport, a flight to Bordeaux, a bus to the Bordeaux train station, a train to Saintes, and a taxi to St. Sauvent, just outside of Cognac. Saintes was really charming and sleepy, so sleepy that the taxi stand at the train station didn't have any taxis, just a list of the cell phone numbers of the five taxi drivers in town.
We didn't really know what to expect at our hotel as we had never seen it before, but we were very pleased upon arrival. The hotel is called the Design Hotel Francs-Garcons and is a very cool juxtaposition of modernity and history. A local architect and his restauranteur wife restored a crumbling, decrepit building and transformed it into a luxurious boutique hotel. They enlisted the numerous ex-pat architects who have houses in the area to help. Each architect took ownership of a room (There are only seven.) and lent it his/her particular style. Our friends from Rice, John Casbarian (Class of '69 and Associate Dean of Architecture) and Natalye Appel (Class of '80), former masters of Lovett College, recommended the hotel to us and were two of the architects who participated. Natalye designed the bar and John did one of the rooms--the very room where we stayed. Suffice to say that the hotel was beautiful and I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone looking for a few days of getaway in the French countryside.
We asked Florence, the proprieter, for a lunch recommendation. Given how many restaurants were closed for Bastille Day, we were told we would have to head back into Saintes if we wanted any "chic" cuisine. However, there was a restaurant down the road with "simple" food, which sounded A-OK to us. We wandered down the farm roads in the beautiful weather and popped into the restaurant, where the cuisine was anything but simple! It was fresh, delicious, and innovative--I can't wait to see what constitutes "chic" cuisine!
After our late lunch, our travel companions, Ron and Kathleen Moore, arrived. I know Ron through the Wine Committee of the Petroleum Club of Houston and we were excited to share this trip with them. We walked around the 12th-century church just outside our hotel window, wandered around farms and vineyards, and finally returned to the hotel for dinner. Florence offered to prepare dinner for us as well as for John, Natalye, Claudia (elder daughter), Dana (elder daughter's friend), and Julia (younger daughter) since everything was closed for Bastille Day. That turned out to be fortunate for us because Florence's cooking was incredible. Muscles, oysters, fresh tomatoes, fish, pizzas, beef, homemade ice cream, great local wines . . . not a bad opening dinner!
The best part was catching up with the John and Natalye family. Claudia, who was 10 when she moved into Lovett (my senior year), is now headed to Rice herself. Julia, who was only 2, is now a young lady. Time flies!
At Rice the master of each college announces the names of graduating seniors at Commencement. At Lovett we traditionally announce the college president's name first and then the rest of the seniors in alphabetical order. As I had been the previous year's president at Lovett, my name was to be announced first in 2001. As John had never been a college master before, these were to be the first graduating names he had ever announced. Hence, I was to be the first name he ever announced at Commencement. He took this task seriously and consulted with me about the exact pronunciation of my name, rehearsing for a full week before the ceremony. When the time finally came, "Bryan. Guido. Hassin. President of Lovett College," came off his tongue as if he had known me for years. He showed all of the other graduates the same courtesy. As I had most of my family in town, I really appreciated that. When I finished my master's degree, the woman announcing graduates butchered my name horribly--just not quite the same!
So it was wonderful catching up with Ron and Kathleen and the John/Natalye clan. As we're so close to Cognac, we finished the evening with some fine XO while the Bastille Day fireworks were going off. Now that it is finally dark (which only happened about 11 PM), we are turning in to rest up before a big day of wine tasting!
Pictures are in my facebook album.