Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beer, Chocolate, Brugge...

Where's Christi? Can you find me?

After everyone returned home to Canada Andre still had a few days off, so we decided to have a little getaway in Brugge. We took the train Tuesday morning and stayed over for one night. The Lamirandes had been to Bruges while they were here and left us the guidebook they used for sightseeing. We hit all the “hotspots” that interested us in the book, including a small statue of the Virgin Mary by Michelangelo, the lace makers club, and the blood of Christ. It was our first time bringing such a little guidebook around with us (we usually look into what we’d like to see on the web before we go) and it gave us a fun and different perspective not only because of the interesting “hotspots of Bruges” but also because every other tourist we saw had the same book!

View of the Canal and a packed Boat Tour

When we arrived we walked around the city, saw the aforementioned statue, and went on a Brewery tour. The De Halve Maan Brewery is the last family Brewery left in Brugges since the end of the Second World War. The tour was wonderful; our guide was an incredibly passionate elder man, and near the end of the tour we were taken to the roof for a beautiful view of the city. We were also given a delicious pint afterwards of their award-winning brew.

View from the top
After our pint we walked around the grand place and visited the chapel with Christ’s blood before continuing along the canals to the lace-making club. It was a very interesting spot somewhat like your typical Canadian Legion, but you pay to get in and see little old ladies making lace. It was a bit of an odd thing, even more so with the adjacent church modeled after one in Jerusalem and housing a replica of Christ’s tomb.

To see lace makers in action you can watch a clip on youtube

We then stopped for a snack at a café along one of the canals to watch the swans and try more of the award-winning De Halve Mann brew. We also made a pit stop to buy some delicious Belgium chocolate.

For dinner we went to the Grand Kaffee de Passage. Andre had a rack of ribs and I had a carbonade flammande; my favourite regional dish en/fr. We completed our dinner with a café; too stuffed for anything else. We spent the rest of our evening trying to walk off our dinner along the canals, which are beautifully lit up at night.

The next day we went to the local market in the grand place and grabbed a waffle and a café. We had just enough time before our train home to check out the Minnewater gardens and nunnery on the edge of town.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saint Malo – the long awaited conclusion

I can’t believe its already nearing the end of September, and I am only now posting on the conclusion to our vacations in August! Its all rain and cloudy skies in the forecast for Arras so hopefully I can spend the next few days finally catching up.

And so to conclude with our Vacance en août:
The next day we went to Saint-Malo for a day trip. We all had breakfast together at the house before heading out in our rental cars. Saint-Malo is in the Bretagne region of France. I went to Saint-Malo in July to visit my friend Carly who was living there with her petit ami Clément. She was still living there at this time and we were able to meet up once more before she returned back to Canada.
We arrived in Saint-Malo around noon and parked our cars to walk into the old city surrounded by its ramparts. The walls or ramparts of the old city have walkways for pedestrians. With that in mind, and after finding some food, we all went about seeing the town via the ramparts and the winding streets within.

I hadn’t realized that Jacques Cartier was buried in the town, Louise and Ann discovered the burial tomb and pointed Andre, Bob and I in the direction of the church its located in.

We then all reconvened for a pint/coca/verre de vin before continuing out to the beaches and islands that can be walked to at low tide.
Many of the old forts on the islands that once protected the town are now open to the public as museums.

We returned to our little rental house for our last night of good food, wine, and a little spontaneous improv karaoke.
After returning to Arras the Lamirande family flew back to Canada. Bob, Louise and Anne were able to stay on for the Andouilette festival before catching their train to the airport.
We had a wonderful August of family and guests, thank you to everyone who came to visit us! À bientôt & Gros Bisous!

Click the play button to watch the video

Thursday, September 9, 2010


A pond near the house, with Mont-Saint-Michel on the horizon

We all arrived safely at the house rental. We had burgers and chicken for dinner on the very French charcoal barbeque and spent the night playing Shanghai Bridge. The next morning we went to see Mont-Saint-Michel.

Mont-Saint-Michel is a tidal island connected to the mainland by a causeway built in 1879.When the tide goes out there are walking tours from various points on the mainland walking across to the island at varying distances. We opted to drive and park in the lots along the causeway.

People have made the pilgrimage to the large Abbey located at the top peak of Mont-Saint-Michel for hundreds of years. The legend (and audio guide) goes that the archangel Saint Michel appeared before the bishop of Avranches, St. Aubert, instructing him to build the Abbey at the location. The Abbey was to hold a piece of the archangel’s gold cape and some of the rock that he had touched over in Eurasia.

We made our tourist pilgrimage up the winding street to the Abbey along with the hundreds of other visitors. Although there are plenty of little shops, small museums, and restaurants on the route to the top, the Abbey is something spectacular to see. Four of our group got the audio guides and passed them around as we walked through the various quarters of the Abbey. There aren’t any descriptive posters or display boards to detract from the aesthetic integrity of the abbey so the audio guides were very helpful. Unlike the pilgrimages of the past, today one is able to explore quite a lot of the Abbey as well as the Church at the peak.

After exiting the abbey the path back around is on the other side of the mount with views of the ocean and somewhat of a garden. It also poured rain as we walked back so we stopped for a nice lunch in one of the restaurants. A few of us had the Croque-Monsieur, a grilled sandwich of cheese, egg and ham. It is something that you can’t really go wrong with in France, or so I am told, it has a lot of cheese so I haven’t tried it.

Back at our house rental we went for a swim, played charades and had a nice spaghetti dinner al-la-Grace.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

En route to Mont-Saint-Michel

It has been a pretty busy past few weeks, there’s quite a bit to catch up on. And so to begin “catching up” I will start with the long awaited conclusion to the Robitaille, Bourgeois, Lamirande vacation… but divided into three parts, since there is still so much to cover!

So to begin where we last left off:
the Lamirande family had made their way back to Arras after
sight seeing along the French boarder in Belgium and the Netherlands. The morning after they returned we all headed out in our two rental cars in the direction of Normandie with the final destination of Mont-Saint-Michel. Andre drove us up to the coast for a nice stop in Dieppe. We had crepes in one of the cafes along the harbour before walking along the beach to the Canadian Memorial Garden.

At the top of the cliff behind the Memorial Garden is le Château-Musée de Dieppe. The museum had a visiting exhibition celebrating the impressionist painters; who were inspired by the colours and landscapes of Normandie. We made the climb up to visit the château museum and for the beautiful view of the beaches and Dieppe.
Above Center: Dieppe Beach
Above Right & Below: View from le Château-Musée de Dieppe

Click here for le Château-Musée de Dieppe website (français)

Once back at sea level we piled back into the car to make our way across le pont de Normandie. The pont or bridge is immense and crosses the mouth of the Seine river that winds its way to Paris.

We had decided to cut our trip to Mont-Saint-Michel in half; so that night we stayed in Honfleur. Back in June we had been advised by a waiter to go to Honfleur and it just so happened to be the half-way point between Arras and our rental house near Mont-Saint Michel. It also happens to be the departure port of Samuel de Champlain on route to Quebec City!

We all met in Honfleur and had a lovely dinner of Mussels in one of the restaurants in the harbour. After dinner we walked around the old city getting chocolate and miniature candy apples filled with Calvados. I do have to add though that one should always be careful with mussels, one bad moule can really spoil the evening. I know from experience…

The next morning we went to the Château du Breuil; a Calvados distillery on our way to Mont-Saint Michel. Calvados is an aperitif unique to Normandie and is distilled from apples. Apple cider is the lighter beverage, and then next is Pomeau followed by Calvados which around 40%.

We did a tour of the distillery, but you can’t go into the château. It’s a very beautiful spot and the tour ends with a taste of Pomeau and Calvados.

Calvados Aging in Oak Casks

From there we drove all the way to our house rental….