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The “God’s Hospital” in Beaune, France. Built in 1443 by a wealthy burgher to house the town’s poor and infirm. Submitted photo.

Woodworking: Did the wrinkly wrist get it right?

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By Dave Wood, columnist

My wife is proud of her wrists. They are indeed elegant, but that’s not why she’s proud. It’s because she’s a devotee of palmistry and will read your hands at the drop of a hankie.

And the wrists? When she bends her hands back toward her wrists, she can tell whether or not she’s a lucky traveler. And boy does she have a lot of wrinkles there!

And so, for 43 years we’ve taken about 43 trips overseas and always without a problem. “It’s my wrists,” she explains.

This year we planned a trip to cruise down the Rhone and the Soame rivers in southern France.

Years back we had taken a Russian River cruise on a Viking Company ship. It was fabulous and inexpensive, including fine dining and fairly luxurious accommodations.

So we consulted with Viking Cruises, only to find that a cruise in France would cost twice as much as had the Russian adventure. So we nixed that plan.

Ruth got back on the computer and found “Gate One” a booking company that offered a cruise similar to Viking’s for half the cost.

How could that be? Old boat? Hardtack and water for breakfast?  Nevertheless, we signed on with our longtime traveling companions Grace and Ralph Sulerud of St. Paul.

Still, I wondered, could this be for real?

After signing on, we got very little information about details except for the repeated information the company provided “unlimited free wine for all passengers.”

Even that sounded a bit fishy, because on the Viking cruise wine was extra. We anxiously awaited our departure five months hence, waiting and worrying, worrying and waiting.

September rolled around and we flew to Paris and then on to Lyon, our embarkation point, where we took a suburban motel. But where in Lyon, the country’s third largest city, was the question.

So we asked Marie, the helpful motel clerk, where the cruise ships docked in the city. “Je connais pas!” she replied and said she’d lived in Lyon all of her life and never heard of a cruise ship coming to Lyon.

At this point the beautiful woman with the wrinkly wrists turned ashen gray. “No dock?”

“Non, madame, but I will call the tourist bureau.” No luck there, either.

Then I turned ashen, a gray day in sunny Lyon. It looked as though we had been scammed and faced seven days without a place to rest our tired bodies. 

As I created scenarios of the “Gate One” crooks spending our hard earned money in Morocco, Marie called “Gate One” and was answered by a crabby woman who said she didn’t have time to talk.

So then Ruth called and got an uncrabby woman who said it would leave tomorrow morning from pier number so and so.

Whew! On the morrow we dropped our luggage off on the pier where our ship, the “Amadeus Symphony” was docked, and went out to lunch at Jura, a fine restaurant where we ate an “organ” luncheon. (See sidebar)

Then it was back to the pier. Our luggage had disappeared! Sergio Calabrese, the boat’s manager explained that our luggage had been taken to our staterooms.

That was a new wrinkle. On Viking we had to wrestle our own luggage.

Turns out the “Amadeus Symphony” was a new boat owned by an Austrian cruise line. Our room was twice the size of our Viking stateroom, had a flat-screen TV and a shower you could turn around in.

At an orientation in the beautiful Promenade Bar, Andrea, the ship’s travel arranger, told us we were 140 in number and would be waited on by a staff of 40 young men and women from places like Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia. And that a gala dinner would be served at 7:30 p.m.

As the “Amadeus” headed for Macon, we got acquainted with other English-speaking passengers, like Judy Sams, a jolly nurse from Tucson, Ariz., who dispensed over-the-counter pills to the ailing and good conversation to the lonesome.

Or Tom and Yolanda Sutyay of Parma, Ohio, who shared Ohio stories with us when they found we had met at school in Ohio. Or Marilyn Livingston of Tucson, who learned that truffles weren’t just chocolate candies.

Or Pat and Russ Crutcher, a scientist from Redmond, Wash., who knew lots of stuff and shared it with our merry group, but only when asked.

The guide for us “Englischers” was the handsome and knowledgeable Lorin Drogon, who took his meals with us and told us what to expect. (“Don’t expect people in southern France to be like Parisians. In the south they’re very friendly.”)

Then came dinner. I began with a pot of foie gras, accompanied by exotic garnishes and toasted brioche. Following was a luscious cream of vegetable soup spiked with Pernod. Then came salad.  Then came a loin of pork wrapped in cabbage, which was then wrapped in puff pastry.

I passed on the chocolate mousse, but then dug into an assortment of cheeses and fruit. All was done with great panache and sort of like stumbling onto the set of “Grand Hotel.”

And let’s not forget about that “unlimited free wine,” which our servers Yurgen and the lissome Latvian Liene (both of whom wore different elaborate uniforms each day) poured and poured every night, as we devoured four-course lunches and five-course dinners.

Breakfast was elaborate, with smoked salmon, herring, cheese, sausage, eggs cooked to order if you were lonesome for home.

I am proud to report I did not drink champagne for breakfast as many of our German neighbors did. After dinner, we retired to our staterooms to watch a showing of “Key Largo” with Bogart and Bacall.

Days were filled with exotic stops in places like Avignon, Arles, and the elaborate “poor people’s hospital” in Beaune – see photo.

All these stops were fairly expensive (between 30 and 50 Euro), but they were all optional. Management encouraged us to go ashore and do our own touring if we chose not to take the guided tour.

That’s one reason the tour, which cost $1,600, was so inexpensive.

Apparently my wife’s wrinkly wrists were still in working order.

When in France, dine like a Lyonnaise

Lyon is known as the culinary capitol of France and on our recent cruise we were determined to have at least one meal in the town that gave the world Lyonnaise potatoes.

Our friendly hotel clerk advised us to eat at Bouchon Jura, which served “typical” Lyon dishes. Bouchon Jura is located in a stretch of restaurants that line a street in Lyon’s old town.

It’s an unpretentious place with indoor and outdoor seating and featuring a century-old Frigidaire housed in a well-worn wood frame, its doors hung from giant hinges of brass. It’s plunked down in the middle of the dining room and you can’t miss it on your way to the spotless unisex toilet.

We opened with a “pot” of wine, a Lyon specialty, a heavy quart jar siphoned out of a cask in the restaurant’s kitchen. Ten Euros or $12.50, a bargain.

I ordered an “appetizer,” two giant slabs of Pate de Canard, or duck liver paste and hearty coarse bread, accompanied by lettuce salad and sour pickles, followed by a supreme cheese plate. If you’re tired of bland, under aged brie, just move to Lyon.

Ruth ordered Rognons de Veau avec sauce Moutard -- veal kidneys in mustard sauce.

Grace and Ralph ordered what the waiter described as “chicken liver pudding” and vegetable-stuffed ravioli in cream sauce.

I call that an all guts-luncheon. It took intestinal fortitude to order guts, but we were rewarded with by three wonderful and imaginative preparations.

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