Friday, November 26, 2010

La Grande Finale, avec Champagne!

After a day’s relaxation (shopping) we began packing our things for the Champagne region. My Mother and Granny Jill would not be returning to Arras so we packed all their things and the four of us into la petite voiture and headed out on the open road, this time Granny Jill could finally relax with Andre in the driver’s seat.

Laon Cathedral

Laon Cathedral was on our route to Reims and Epernay where we would be spending the night. The Cathedral was magnificent as was the old city walled within the hilltop. Winding our way up the hill 
we parked directly beside the 
cathedral and headed in to see the
 centuries old stained glass and 
luminous white stone interior.

Walled City Gates, Laon

We drove through Reims to the Tattinger Champagne house. We caught the last tour for 4:45. The tour took us down a winding staircase into the caves where the bottles of Champagne ferment. Some of the caves are from the Greco-roman times and have graffiti etched into the walls depicting faces, elements, and mythical creatures.

We ended our tour with a glass of champagne, santé!

 That night we had dinner in our Epernay campanile hotel room, courtesy of Leclerc the nearby grocery store. Complete with two bottles of champagne of course! The next morning we drove around Epernay and the vineyards, our toy car barely making it up the rolling hills.

We went into Reims to see the Cathedral and stained glass of Marc Chagall, whose work my Granny Jill adores. We also visited the Palais de Tau where the French Kings would prepare and celebrate their coronations that took place in the Cathedral.

That night we all stayed at the airport hotel to see my Mother and Granny Jill off the next morning. Thank you for a wonderful week!

Vous me manquez! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cow Patties and Potholes

Before writing on our trip to Champagne I have to make a quick post for the ridiculous journey we had returning from Sint-Niklaas to Arras.  Granny Jill was behind the wheel and Martha (the GPS) navigated our route. The pouring rain and four lane highway was proving far too difficult for our petite voiture so we veered off course to take the back roads home. We had quite the adventure driving through small Belgian villages. Specifically one much bigger than we expected where we took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of a farmer's field avoiding pot holes and cow patties!

Granny Jill got us home safe and sound to dinner and a glass of wine, we all needed it after that drive!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Family in Sint-Niklaas

Three Generations + Anthony
After spending the night in Bruges we continued our journey to our final destination and the real reason we went to Belgium; to visit the gravesite of my great uncle, Bob, who perished in World War Two. He was the Air Bomber in a Lancaster which crashed near Sint-Niklaas killing the entire crew. We were also in Belgium to meet the family who tended the graves which had fallen into neglect years ago.. . We met Anthony and Rieke at their home in Sint-Niklaas. Anthony’s mother discovered the neglected war graves of the Sint-Niklaas cemetery and tended to them for many years before the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) recognized their responsibilities.

We arrived in Sint-Niklaas for a wonderful lunch at Anthony and his wife Rieke’s home. After getting acquainted and looking over family photos we enjoyed a fabulous traditional Belgian dish of endives wrapped in ham and covered in cheese sauce. Délicieux!

To see a recipe click here. I made my own imitation last night, and even though Andre isn’t particular to endives he admitted it was very good.

After some coffee, cookies, and more Belgian chocolate we drove to the cemetery. We were all very moved by the care and attention the CWGC and the city dedicates to the small row of mostly Canadian war graves. I have seen many such grave markers since arriving in France, and it was very different to see one that belonged to a family member, who although I never met, meant a great deal to those I love.

We are forever grateful to Anthony, his mother, and Rieke. There are no words to describe how much their care has meant to my family. Thank you for your hospitality and compassion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Three Generations go to Belgium

Tuesday morning my Mom, Granny Jill and I packed our bags and headed into Belgium. We drove to the city of Bruges to see its historic city centre and buy some chocolate. The historic centre of Bruges is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The recognition could largely be considered to be for its architecture yet it’s interesting that the designation also states the importance of the city’s role in the birth of the School of Flemish ‘Primitives’ painting. 

To read more about the designation and see a video on Bruges click here.

Andre and I did go to Bruges before, at the end of the summer. The canals and architecture are so spectacular I thought it would be wonderful to spend another night again, this time with my Mother and Grandmother. We arrived at Hotel Floris Karos by noon and were able to check in right away. After a short reprise, and a bit to eat, we headed down to see the old city. We walked around the winding streets stopping in some shops along our way to the Grote Markt. We stood gapping at the immense brick Beffroi and went in the Chapel to see Christ’s blood before continuing on to the chocolate shop around the corner.


Whilst moseying along the canals to the chocolate shop we came across a weaving loom in action. In the arcaded square around the corner from the Grote Markt artists sell their creations; the loom weaver and his wife sell the scarves they make on the loom shown in the video below: 

From there we continued on to last Brewery that remains within the city centre limits; De Halvee Maan. Sitting by the fire we enjoyed a few brewskies. It was time for dinner by that point so after we finished our drinks we walked from the Brewery to the restaurant; Grand Kaffee de Passage. The restaurant serves fantastic regional dishes, of which we each ordered a different one and sampled each-other's. With no room for dessert we went back to the hotel for some tea, chocolate, and an early night’s sleep.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Three Generations, Two Counties, One Week!

Now to begin the real posts for my Mother and Grandmother’s, vacation in France. It was a wonderful arrival Saturday, close to noon for lunch and after unpacking and a quick nap, we all headed out to take a little walking tour of the town. We wandered up to the Petite Place, to have a tea and café before visiting a few shops. We had Galettes for dinner when we got home and called it a night; after all the excitement we were all pretty tired.

Our rental car!

The next day we took the car out to see the Vimy Memorial, we walked around the monument taking photos and then piled back in our tiny car to go see L’abbaye du mont Saint-Éloi. The ruins of this abbey are very impressive, only the cathedral and parts of the original wall that would have surrounded the complex remain.

Front of the Monument
Mother Canada - Vimy Memorial

Mont Saint Eloi

Arras Cathedral
When we got back to Arras we went to see the town’s large Cathedral. It is immense with large faintly coloured stained glass windows.

For dinner we went to the Assiette au Boeuf where we all had a plate of beef and a large helping of fries. Dessert is included for the month of October so we all heavily indulged ourselves!

Monday we went to Amiens to see the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, and the head of Saint John the Baptist. On the drive back Granny Jill saw a sign for a Menhir, so immediately we pulled a U-ie to find it. It was very cool to wind around the old tractor roads and discover a pre-historic upright standing stone alone in the middle of a farmer’s field.


We returned to Arras with enough time to shop before calling it a day. We had an early start the next morning; Tuesday we went to Brugges....