Stop and Smell the Flowers and Fromage of France

Sometimes the best travel experiences are those that are improvised. Four of us off the river ship Viking Forseti proved that on a sunny day in the city of Bordeaux.

With a map in hand, some advice from a local and, okay, a travel writer leading the pack, we four women, ages 40 to 72, headed off in search of adventure – in this case, with French delicacies as the focus.

Because our ship was docked right near the city center, access was easy. Itinerary changes this week meant extra time in Bordeaux, which was not necessarily a bad thing.

First stop, Cadiot-Badie, an extraordinary chocolate shop founded in 1826. With Easter approaching, the shop’s displays were eye-popping – bunnies, chicks, puppies, giant eggs, chocolate fish filled with eggs. One case even held life-sized high-heels made of chocolate. In the back were samples, so you could compare the Mexican chocolate with the Peruvian, and so forth.

Next door, the flowers at Sadia Fleurs were so colorful and beautifully displayed, we stopped to chat with the owner and bemoan the fact we don’t have such flower shops in our hometowns.

A search for edible souvenirs brought us to the gourmet shop, Servan, for take-home supplies of Dijon mustard flavored with cassis and tarragon, and supplies of peppercorns.

Down the way, bottles filled with amber liquid caught our eye so we ducked inside the Cognac Only Boutique, where the friendly proprietor provided a primer and even a taste of pineau, the cognac-fortified wine.

Fortified ourselves, we headed around the corner where we ducked (okay, bad pun) into Lafitte Foie Gras et Gastronomie Landaise, for some potted liver to eat here since, drat, you can’t take it home.

We breezed through the lovely, upscale Marché des Grands Hommes indoor market… but didn’t leave until one of our compatriots snagged an éclair at a pastry shop where the displays literally glistened.

Across the way, opening the door of the Jean d’Alos cheese shop, the aroma itself was the stuff that French dreams are made of. We picked up some aged Comté, some butter flavored with pimento to go with our foie gras – and some crusty bread.

Now all we needed was wine. Near the historic Grand Theatre, the L’Intendant wine shop is deceiving. The famous shop looks small, but walk inside and a circular staircase leads to four floors and thousands of bottles of regional wine. The staff was as friendly as they are expert, and did not scoff at all when asked for a recommendation in the, ahem, “reasonably priced” range.

The thrill of the hunt complete, we celebrated our good fortune with a feast.