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I Went to France and Thanks to Fodors I Know Why Europe Is So Expensive or Indytravel Went to Bordeaux. :-)

I Went to France and Thanks to Fodors I Know Why Europe Is So Expensive or Indytravel Went to Bordeaux. :-)

Dec 20th, 2004, 07:38 AM
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Hey ira, I know the eating did border on the obscene that day. It wasn't supposed to be like that. The plaza in the morning was my breakfast. I walked along the ramparts a bit in the rain and saw a church or two and a couple of monuments. Lunch was late almost 2:00pm. That was going to be the end of my eating for the day. The problem was I didn't know there were three other plazas filled with the event. I really didn't eat that much more for the day. Honest!

Hi Nikki! I did know the festival was there but had no idea what it was about. I tried the web site but it was French only. The subtleties of whether or not it was a paid venue, a pay as you go venue or open to everyone were lost on me. If some is a foodie I'd give it 3 stars for a must see.

LoveItaly this trip cost me 5 pounds. Luckily I had lost the 5 from Greece & Lille in early October and almost another 5. I think I'm back where I started but that's still too much. Too much food, too little time, too small airline seats... sigh.

Art, my Dad loves the "casual" nature of whizzing in France.

Sue4 I think it would be fine to rent a car in Angoulême. You'd want to drive down hill from the train station. That way you wouldn't go into the city center with small streets and no stop signs.

Thanks everyone else for you kind words!
indytravel is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 09:03 AM
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I caught the 7:45am train to Saintes. Before the train departed I was handed a questionnaire by the conductor. This was a first. I tried to say I was a tourist but he moved on.

What the heck. It's easier for me to read French then speak it. It concerned changing the departure time of the train to an hour earlier. They wanted to know if it would make you take a different train or use a different station to catch that train. I filled it out and wrote the comment that I was a tourist and not a regular commuter on the train. At least that's what I think I wrote in French.

I arrived at Saintes and walked to the Hôtel du Centre. Being well before noon I was allowed to put my suitcase in my room which wasn't ready yet. I glanced around before getting out of the maid's way. Only one very tiny trash can, the kind that a single pop bottle would overflow. The bathroom fixtures were gold with blue wall paper. It looked like I was at a Michigan football game. There was a small balcony that looked over a street and small plaza. It was a decent little hotel for 2 nights at 36euro a night. At the small price as the Etap, it was a much more comfortable bed.

I asked for directions then proceeded to the tourist office. With an official walking map of Saintes in hand I started towards the Roman amphitheater ruins on the west edge of town.

Along the way I stumbled upon a persimmon tree absolutely sagging with orange persimmons. The persimmons in Indiana fell the middle of October. Here it was the very end of November and the persimmons were just starting to drop. It got me thinking about growing zones.

After checking the Internet I live in Zone 5 in Central Indiana. The zone for the Bordeaux region is 8. That's equivalent to southern Georgia, northern Florida in the US. Yet Bordeaux is on a latitude with Ottawa, Canada which has a growing zone around 4. No wonder I see the occasional palm tree in France.

The ruins were pretty. You could see the distinct shape of the amphitheatre with several arches, many steps and some seats still in place. Modern day homes ringed part of the ruin as it was built in a natural hollow. It would be cool to look out your window and see 2,000 year old ruins all the time.

I continued walking to the Romanesque St Eutrope church, past an old washhouse, down to the Charente river to cross a pedestrian bridge and come to the Arch Germanicus. It's a Roman arch that was used to mark the old Roman bridge over the river. Now it sits restored just a few feet from the water's edge.

Having walked that far I went back across the river into the pedestrian part of town for lunch. I had a very nice pizza margarita with ham, cheese & sauce and a 50cl of rosé wine for 10.70euro. The pizza was big enough I didn't quite finish it.

Pizza Bojo had oddly named pizzas. I'm used to a pizza margarita being cheese & sauce with tomato slices no ham. Usually what I order is a pizza reine but their's had anchovies on it. 'Til now I've thought pizza names in France to be pretty consistent. I'd better be more careful in the future.

After lunch I wandered up to St Vivien church. Girls were cowering in the entry way hiding as they puffed on cigarettes, sad really. I went on in to find it very dark and very cold. I could see my breath. I poked around a bit then went up to the ruins of Roman baths. You could make out the fireplace for the caldera (hot) bath fairly easily.

Next door was a city cemetery. It was beautiful in a mournful way. Many tombs were heaped with cut and potted flowers. Potted chrysanthemums were everywhere. Some of the tombs had beautiful ceramic flower arrangements on them.

As it was open that Monday afternoon I went back across the Charente to the archeology museum. Along the way I passed a young man who had his pet rabbit in has arms. Do rabbit owners usually take their bunnies out for walks?

A pass for all 4 small museums was 4 euro. The archeology museum had a small indoor exhibit with old pottery and glass. Outside was a covered area that had all sorts of large carved blocks of stone from the area: columns, cornices, statues, lintels, etc.

It was free to visit the Abbaye aux Dames. I heard students practicing their musical instruments as I went through the building. I finished by climbing their tower for the view. It would have been nicer if the view at your feet wasn't wall-to-wall pigeon poo. Nasty rats with wings that they are. I also went into the attached Eglise St Pallais.

The day was cooler and overcast. It probably reached 45 tops. Thankfully it didn't rain.

I stopped at the hotel as it was on my way across the river for dinner. Ordering a kir I asked the young man where I could get foie gras with my dinner. He said they had a salade périgourdine that came with shavings of foie gras. What the heck. I was tired and it was turning colder.

I ordered the salad and loved it as an hommage to duck. Shreds of duck meat, pieces of gizzard and bits of heart were olive oil sautéed with croutons and bell peppers then spilled onto a chilled bed of delicious and varied greens. Shavings of foie gras were applied to the top and were ever-so-slightly melting into the amazing mixture.

This was followed by a decent steak (by French standards) with veggies, two potato cakes and a freshly grilled tomato half. Dessert was a cheese plate: small salad, cantal, blue, hard parmesan and chèvre. This was 27euros. 1/2 bottle of côte du rhone red added 7.5 euro. The salad alone was 10.50. Once again my quest for foie gras pinches my pocketbook.

Background music for the dinner was a Bill Wither's CD playing everything from "Lean on Me" to his soulful version of the Lord's Prayer. Once again rather odd music IMHO for dining. At least it wasn't the Club Nouveau version of "Lean on Me."


Tuesday was another cool almost cold overcast day. I decided to stroll the market. That day it was set up at Place Nov. 11th. I first had to find my way out of the hospital complex I wandered into. It was on a slight rise so the view over the town & Charente was nice.

Just another typical market with lots of seafood, pétoncles, langostines, fish etc. Late season root vegetables so fresh there was still dirt on them. Fruits that came from Africa and other more tropical climes. I never seem to tire of the markets with all the vendors and patrons bustling about. Maybe it's because I dream of amazing dishes that the raw materials will be used to make.

Walked over to the musée Dupuy-Mestreau. It's a collection of regional stuff collected by a wealthy 1700's merchant. The town has continued to purchase things and add slowly to the collection. When I arrived the lady stopped reading, locked the front door and took me on my personal tour. The tour is only given in French. At my request she graciously kept her French very simple.

There were some incredible examples of lace and bead work all done as hobbies by the wives and daughters of wealthy men. There were several beautiful examples of tortoise shell combs. One was the biggest, most elaborate I've ever seen. Swords, firearms, billiard tables converted to display cases, paintings, books, a small chapel, some antique children's toys, it was a fascinating museum to me.

Lunch was at the recommended Bistrot Galant. Beautifully decorated in soft and pale yellows and blues with linen napkins and table clothes it was the pleasant complement to my University of Michigan decorated hotel room.

I started with a chicken liver mousse. It was served hot over carrot and celery shreds in a tangy sauce. A bit of salad, olives and tomatoes came along for the ride. Spread on baguette slices it had plenty of the delicious liver taste.

The main was faux tournedos of dinde. I knew that dinde was turkey but the faux part had me concerned. There was no need for the concern. The tournedos were faux because they had taken chunks of white turkey meat, glued them together with a wonderful pesto then wrapped them in bacon like a filet mignon. Grilled to perfection the faux filets were served with beets & carrots and pasta with a red wine pepper sauce it was excellent.

I was having problems twirling the pasta with the fork in my left hand European style. I'm not quite that coordinated. I watched people at another table. They didn't twirl their pasta. They would spear some with a fork then use the knife to wrap the loose ends around the fork. That I can do and did.

I finished off with a cheese plate of camembert, chèvre and murôtt (spelling?). It was an excellent menu price of 18.50euro that included a glass of white wine and a café.

Music playing during the meal included the 8 minute version of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Rod Stewart's "If You Think I'm Sexy." OK, I'm getting a little sensitive about this music thing. I'm also starting to develop a hypothesis.

Post lunch and off to the musée Présidial of 3 floors and 5 small rooms. Paintings from the 15th to 18th centuries were on display along with some ceramics. Nothing famous but nice stuff anyway.

This was followed by the musée Echevinage with 2 floors mostly paintings. I liked "Cigale or the Mandolinata" by Georges Moreau de Tours.

I wanted to buy my train ticket for the next morning so I worked my way out east of town. I walked all the way around the "National Stud" horse farm compound. In knew it was closed but I was able to look through a few breaks in the wall to see some of the Poitevin draft horses. I also saw a mound of straw 15 feet high steaming merrily away in the chilly late afternoon. I bet the neighbors love that aroma wafting over the wall towards their homes.

I bought my train ticket at the SNCF station then took a different route back to the center of town. I went by a big Crédit Agricole complex that had an auditorium. It must be a regional headquarters. Standing in the main drive was a man getting off work whizzing into the bushes as he chatted with a co-worker who walked by. As often as I've wanted to whiz on an employer's landscaping I've never actually done it. You'd think you'd go before you left the building.

I wandered the town with my camera to take some night pictures. A few came out pretty well. BTW, I'll eventually fire up my scanner and get some photos on Ofoto.

I grabbed a dessert crêpe for dinner as I wasn't very hungry. A couple of euro for a warm crêpe filled with Nutella and topped with whipped cream.

I entered my hotel's bar around 9:30. I read their copy of the Sud-Ouest newpaper. After a bit the young man working the bar introduced me to a gentleman who had appeared at the bar. It was the chef who'd made my salade périgourdine the night before. I told him how much I liked it and we discussed food a bit. As lousy as my French is I seem to be able to carry on a decent conversation about food. Surprise, huh?

Later a regular guest who was at the hotel arrived, started drinking vodka with strawberry syrup and joined the chef and me. Before I knew it, it was 10:30pm, the bar was closing and I was heading to a late bar across the river with the chef and the geologist from Dijon.

Maybe the alcohol was helping, as I was not innocently sipping soda water whilst the others imbibed, but we seemed to converse decently enough. Bits of background, travels, world affairs and politics, it was all very graciously discussed. I thought it funny I'd been to Dôle in May just a few minutes from Dijon. The geologist from Dijon had never been.

I'm not a night owl so my 1:30am return to the hotel was insanely late for me.

indytravel is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 05:45 PM
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I'm still enjoying this so much, IndyTravel. You seem to get so much out of your travels - not just the food! By the way, after your description of pigeons, I don't think I'll go for any "roasted pigeon" on the menu. Have you?
Sue4 is online now  
Dec 20th, 2004, 06:59 PM
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Indytravel, your comment made me smile, "maybe the alcohol was helping". My Italian is terrible but after a few glasses of wine it is amazing how much it improves!!

Again, a most interesting a fun report to read, you obviously had a fantastic journey. Happy holidays!
LoveItaly is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 01:39 AM
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Another "foie gras" addict???
This is the right way to make the final bill quite expensive....
And then you write in the title that Europe (i.e. France in that case) is expensive !!! LOL
Joelle is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 03:09 AM
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We spent a few hours in Saintes last summer. We had intended to attend the language school in Bordeaux but it didn't work out so, last minute, we spent the time meandering upwards towards the Loire, booking the next accommodation before leaving the last one.
The roman amphitheatre was just lovely and the entire town seemed a really charming and friendly place.
We did make it to Bordeaux this October and had an absolutely wonderful experience.
Can't wait to read about yours.
Kavey is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 03:27 AM
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Hi Indy,

You made Saintes come alive.

ira is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 07:58 AM
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Actually Sue4 I have had pigeon a couple of times. I think of it as revenge.
indytravel is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 08:05 AM
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Thanks to my tomfoolery the night before I didn't make my scheduled 10:30am train to Bordeaux. The back-up from my cheat sheet was at 12:20 so I took my time that morning.

It was a bright sunny day so I took a few more pictures before walking to the train station. The agent said no need to re-book just compost and use the full fare ticket I already had. I boarded the train on time and it sat for 20 minutes. Seems they'd discovered a problem with one of the cars. We were told to get off. They went about unhooking the one car. By the time everything was sorted out they just put us all on the 12:59pm.

With a complete seating free-for-all I ended up in a compartment car, the kind with 8 seats in a cabin and the corridor down one side. I'd forgotten how much I like them since I'm rarely on that style of train in France. Most of the trip I stood in the corridor and watched for happy cows in their pastures.

At one stop I saw rail cars on a spur that had little houses on them with laundry hung out to dry. I asked a gentleman in my compartment if they were really houses. He said they were and were for railroad workers to take their families on-site for extended repairs.

Researching on the Internet I had previously determined I'd buy a 7 day public transportation pass for 8.50euro. It was only .10euro more than the 3 day pass. I could then use it 5 days which included Sunday morning for the tram ride to St Jean for my TGV to CDG.

I validated my pass only the first time to activate it and rode the tram to Quinconces. Still a pretty day I walked to Hotel Bristol just off Place Gambetta.

Another 2 star it had a small elevator. I was on the first (European) floor over a bar so it was a bit noisy until 11:00pm, higher up would be nicer if you're a light sleeper. A fairly spacious room with a small table and two chairs, a double bed and high ceilings. The bathroom had a shower and only one trash can. But the trashcan was huge. 40euro a night.

I asked at the desk and was directed to a laundromat a couple of blocks away. 8euro and an hour later I was in possession of enough clean clothes to finish my trip.

I started out going to alées de Tourney. A long plaza it had a double-decker merry-go-round and live pony rides at one end, Christmas trees for sale at the other and 3 long rows of Christmas market "chalets" selling all manner of things: warm wine, pretzels, beer, crafts, foods. Unfortunately this wasn't like the tents in Angoulême where free samples were distributed. This was pay-as-you-go.

As I continued walking I came upon Place des Grands Hommes. Though modern it's made of painted steel and glass in a Belle Époque style. With a Champion supermarket in the basement it has quite a few stores. The neighborhood seemed to be high-end though. Other stores in the area were Gucci, Cartier, etc.

In the area I'd walked by the Landes Restaurant earlier and liked the menu. I stopped for dinner at 7:30pm. I took the set menu and started with a chicken gizzard salad. The gizzards were sautéed with pine nuts and a vinaigrette then poured onto a bed of greens. My main was a duck breast with forme d'Ambert blue cheese sauce. I was worried as blues can be so overwhelming. The duck breast was perfectly done. Medium rare and warm inside, the outer coating of fat was golden and crispy. The heavy cream sauce had just a taste of blue cheese that went well with the duck. It was a refreshing change of savory compared to all the duck that is served sweet with orange or cherry sauces.

The accompanying frites were hot and crisp. I forgot where I was for a few minutes and actually grabbed a few french fries with my fingers and ran them through the blue cheese sauce. Mon dieu! I'm such a country bumpkin! After a few glorious minutes of dipping fries I did come to my senses and start using my fork.

I had a cherry crêpe with tangy cherry sorbet for dessert. The menu was 15.50euro. A kir added 3.50 and 25cl of red wine added another 2.50 for a total of 21.50.

I made my way down towards the cathedral to discover an ice skating rink in the plaza. I watched the skaters until I became cold then ducked into a bar. I read a copy of the Sud-Ouest newpaper paying particular attention to the weather page. Thursday was to be overcast. Rain was predicted for Friday. In my mind I switched my St Emilion day-trip to Thursday for the better weather.


I awoke to the sound of rain Thursday. Seems like French weather prediction is as lousy as the US. I decided to stay in Bordeaux to museum hop and go to St Emilion on Friday hoping the weather would be better.

Close to my hotel I drifted into the decorative arts museum. Surprise surprise, they did not sell the museum pass like the Tourist Office Annex had assured me. Sigh. That's what the tram pass was for. I went over to the main Tourist Office where I bought a pass, 15.80euro for 8 museum accesses. If I understood correctly I could go to the same museum 8 days in a row or mix it up.

The decorative arts museum had a special collection of Japanese fans on display. They also had rooms of furnishings, ceramics & art.

I popped into a café to warm myself on the way to lunch. Kylie Minogue's "Down Under" DVD was on the tube. I was able to see things at the bar that I never want to see. Triple sink for dishwashing, wash, rinse, sanitize? No way. Just a wash and a towel dry. Hand washing by the chef after a smoke break? Why bother? I do firmly believe that anywhere in the world "ignorance is bliss" when it comes to food preparation.

For lunch I had set menu at Le Globe on Place Gambetta. It was good but not stellar. A usual French cut of beef, with frites, green beans, filled tomato half and a tiny salad, crème brulée for dessert was 11.50euro. 50cl of nice red wine for 4.80. When I went to settle up the young waiter said, "You pay en bas." That's my kind of Frenglish.

Next wasthe fine arts museum. A special collection of Christine Viennent ceramic pieces were set up in the middle of several galleries. She does the most spectacular ceramic representations of foods. It's like the best still life paintings but done in clay. The art was varied, Warhol, Delacrois, Renoir, Seurat, Rodan.

After this I crossed the street walk around the Mériadeck shopping mall and caught the tram. There was a huge Auchan along with many other stores.

I took the tram to the Aquitaine Museum. Lots of Roman stuff on into the Middle Ages and 1800's. Stuff about wine making. Had a room set up with 1950's things like a Thompson TV, real dial phones and old cameras.

Too early for dinner at 6:00pm but dark out I decided to ride the blue tram line out east. It went over the Garonne river bridge with all its pretty iron streetlights. The next plaza had trees filled with white Christmas lights. I continued to see glimpses of pretty lights and Christmas items as I rested and rode.

Dinner ended up around 8:00pm at Claret's. A thick slab of terrine de foie gras came very well-marbled and had the golden layer of fat along one edge. It had a different and delicious hint of parmesan cheese taste to it. It came with bread and a warm cardamom applesauce almost apple butter to provide that incredible sweet contrast to the foie.

My main course was slices of medium rare lamb served with a fiery, peppery bordeaux wine reduction sauce. Each bite was taken with a ragout of translucent onions, red bell pepper and mushrooms sautéed with butter and finished with a touch of cream. The pepper sauce had been born to be sopped with thick slices of baguette.

For dessert Basque cheeses came with a dollop of cherry preserves. This was 23euro. Add 3.50euro for a kir and 6.00euro more for a half bottle of nice Hauts de Goëlane red.

While I was in my food reverie tribal dance music was tumultuously thumping in the background. My goodness the music did not match the food. What went wrong? Had I mistakenly ordered the zebra again?

On the way to the hotel I saw the most wonderful machine. Following a garbage truck was another truck manned by a "green team" clean-up crew. They would set 2 empty garbage cans on the back of their truck. It would take them inside, run a dishwasher cycle and spit them out wonderfully clean. Wow! I have to do this myself at home. It's a real pain with a bucket of soapy water, a hose and a brush.

I saw this while working my way back to the hotel so I could stuff my shoes with newspaper to get rid of the day's rain.
indytravel is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2004, 12:52 AM
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Dear Mr Indy!

You make me hungry with all these delicacies, but I think you will have to disclose on this forum how many pounds you put on after all these gastronomic treats!!! LOL
Joelle is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2004, 06:02 AM
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Hi Indy,

As I have been reading your reports, I have had to go from one to two Lipitor a day.

Keep it up.

ira is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2004, 07:57 AM
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I adore your writing , and your travel style.

Your salade gourmande story reminded me that this was my foodie husband's first meal on his very trip to France. A salade covered in duck innards-it was love at first bite.

As for drinking at 11:30, does anyone know if there are laws for when alcohol can be served in france? When we were in Rheims a few years ago, we had a Croque Monsieur and a beer fora second breakfast every day at the Kanterbrau cafe. No one raised an eyebrow when we ordered this around 9 am. It was a fantastic way to start a vacation day!

I am envying your time at the Angoulême gourmet festival. It sounds blissful!!

More please!
BlueSwimmer is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2004, 08:35 AM
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indy: interesting for me to hear about the Bordeaux tram system - when i was there a year and a half ago they were building it, and most of the main streets were all ripped up and under construction. Terrible time to visit Bordeaux but i enjoyed it anyway! maybe i should go back someday...
abbynicole27 is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2004, 01:52 PM
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When we were there in October (this year) we enjoyed a few journeys on the tram. But it was frustrating to find ticket machines sometimes not working, trams sometimes not working. Locals told me that the trams often break down or something else goes wrong and part or all of the service is unavailable.

It's also worth noting that older maps of Bordeaux will be inaccurate in terms of one way roads - we had a right job getting to our hotel and ended up circling nearby about 4 times till we figured out that several had changed from our map. The hotel staff explained that, at one point, the direction of one ways was being changed almost daily and they weren't sure it had settled down yet. When it did they would finally update the map on their website.
Kavey is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2004, 06:31 AM
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>..does anyone know if there are laws for when alcohol can be served in france?<

The cafe on the corner where I had my first morning coffee opened at 06:00.

Two regulars stopped in at about 06:15 each morning for a beer.

ira is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2004, 06:44 AM
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If you get up before dawn in any fishing port in France you will find scads of fishermen quaffing wine and other alcoholic substances well before 5 a.m.
StCirq is online now  
Dec 24th, 2004, 04:25 AM
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or building workers, shopkeepers, etc... starting very early in the morning with a glass of wine or a beer...

I honestly don't think there is any law preventing the alcohol sale at specifif hours....

Ah ces Français!!!!
Joelle is offline  
Dec 24th, 2004, 04:35 AM
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"quaffing wine and other alcoholic substances well before 5 a.m"

This reminds me of my parents stories of the dockworkers in South Baltimore where they grew up stopping into the ubiquitous corner bars in the early morning for a shot and a beer before the day shift or on the way home from the night shift.

And here I would never have thought that France and Baltimore would have anything in common...

Happy holidays everyone!

Great thread, Indy. I was just in Indianapolis for work and had the most expensive sushi of my life- more expensive than San Fran, Hawaii, DC, NY... We were shocked at the prices. The place was near the convention center, so I guess it was targeted at unsuspecting travellers. We LOVED the Steak and Shake, though! Just like going back to the 50's. I am ashamed to admit that we each had a double steakburger every morning for breakfast
BlueSwimmer is offline  
Dec 24th, 2004, 05:05 AM
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Hey David,
Reading your trip report is giving me severe foie gras withdrawal! Luckily I'll be able to do something about it in a couple of weeks.

I'm an Indy resident-- was the sushi at Mikado? It IS expensive there. If you're ever back in town I'd be glad to direct you to my favorite sushi spot. It's not right downtown, though.

I had to laugh about Steak & Shake! I have a good friend from NYC, and every time he comes into town he HAS to eat at Steak & Shake. They do have terrific burgers, fries, and shakes. Their chocolate malts are to die for!
marcy_ is offline  
Dec 24th, 2004, 11:18 AM
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We are turning this into The US board! It WAS at Mikado. I couldn't believe the prices, and it was PACKED! Thanks for the offer of an alternative, but I don't know when I'll be in Indy again.

We were sorry we hadn't made our second visit to the Steak and SHake that day instead. Malteds...yum! If the Steak and Shake company is reading this, I wish you would open one in D.C.
BlueSwimmer is offline  

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