Sunday, July 24, 2011

Châteaux et une maison bien connue...

The next day we visited three Chateau. The first was the Chateau d'Amboise. Within the Chateau's fortified walls lies the Chapel of Saint Hubert, housing the tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci. From there along the terraces, a panoramic view overlooks the Loire Valley, and the old buildings of the village built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Chateau that remains is only one fifth of the original palace built by Charles VIII.

After the castle of Amboise, we visited the Chateau Clos Luce, the last home of Leonardo Da Vinci. In the castle and surrounding the park they rebuilt some of the machines from drawings by Da Vinci.

We ended our day at the Chateau Chenonceau. The castle is surrounded by magnificent gardens and the river Cher. It was a beautiful day and the end of our little vacation.

The next day we left the Loire Valley. On our trip home we took a detour to see Monet's house. It was a dream for me, I have always wanted to go...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Châteaux et vélos

 The first château we went to see on our Loire Valley vacation was Azay-le-Rideau. It was highly recommended by my French tutor and some of our friends. The beautiful château and peaceful natural gardens are surrounded by a small moat. At the centre of the château a large open stairway from the early Renaissance gives access to each level. We had a light lunch menu within the château grounds before heading out to our château where we would be spending the next two nights.


 We stayed in the hotel Château des Tertres; a small chateau with a few rooms, quaint breakfast hall, and a lovely terrace. A highlight was the bicycles, with which we rode around the nearby village Onzain.

It was a wonderful second day, and we finished it off with a terrific four-course meal at the restaurant “La Croix Blanche.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


With a few days off we went to the Loire Valley. We started our three-day vacation in Chinon. Arriving in the evening we checked into the hotel Plantagenet, and walked along the Vienne River and through the old city streets. We ate dinner at the small restaurant, La Maison Rouge where we were served a delicious plate of several small appetizers including the regional goats cheese and Rillettes.  Chinon is a beautiful starting point to a vacation in the Loire Valley; the lovely small town with its old buildings were beautifully illuminated at night from the high panorama look out point of the chateau fortress.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Main Square 2011

Fleet Foxes, Greenroom 
In early July we went to the annual Main Square Festival. We bought the three-day pass to see some of our favourite bands on this year’s line-up including the Fleet Foxes, The National, the Arcade Fire and Coldplay.

On the second day we went to see the Fleet Foxes, who played very well. They had some technical difficulties with the acoustics, but they were still very good. The National was also terrific, but the Arcade Fire easily stole the show.

The third day was Coldplay. They played late into the night with a dramatic lightshow. I love concerts, especially festivals. The atmosphere of the Main Square festival now held in the beautiful old citadel of Arras with people from all over the world is incredible. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Day in Douvres

 In June I took a daytrip with the guides P&J across the English Channel to the port city of Dover. We rented a car for the trip and took the Ferry. It was a great daytrip; we had a brunch on the ferry on the way over, and spent most of our day at the castle. The castle grounds of Dover also have tunnels constructed during the Napoleonic area and used during the Second World War. We took a tour of both the Operation Dynamo and the Underground Hospital tunnels before going up to the castle rooftop for the magnificent view.  We finished our day trip walking along the white cliffs before re-boarding the ferry home.

Cinque Terre

  Our last destination on our trip to Italy was along the Cinque Terre. I first heard of the Cinque Terre from a professor who gave a presentation detailing the slow deterioration of the terraced vineyards that run along the steep cliffs of the Mediterranean. These terraced vineyards are supported by stonewalls built and persevered over generations of wine growers who worked the land. The extent of these stone terraces is equivalent to that of the Great Wall of China.

It was absolutely wonderful to end our vacation in the seaside villages of the Cinque Terre. Our first day was spent eating focaccia and lounging on the beach in Monterosso. We stayed at Manuel’s guesthouse. A beautiful location over looking the small village, with a terrace where one of Manuel’s buddies would serve beer and wine from the tap along with some mixed nuts. 

Up the stairs to Manuel's

Not there yet... the path is well marked!

Our second day we headed out to hike the Cinque Terre. With a pass to the trails and train lines we walked the length of the open trails from Monterosso to the villages of Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The trail between Corniglia and Manarola was closed due to mudslides so we had to take the train to the last segment; the Via Dell'Amore (lover’s walk) ending at the final village Riamaggiore. The lover’s walk is a pleasant ten-minute stroll along paved walkways, while the trails between the other villages are quite the hike. It was about a four-hour hike over the course of the day, not including a stop in Vernazza for some slices of pizza, gelato in Corniglia, and a swim in the lagoon like port of Manarola.

 Along our trip we met a number of Rick Steves enthusiasts travelling with his Italy book in hand. It turns out that the Cinque Terre is one of his preferred destinations. We even heard his name mentioned a number of times along the hike, my favorite was: “I gotta write this Rick Steves a letter, there needs to be some serious upgrades, I mean have they never heard of an escalator?”

The next day was the end of our trip. Before catching our plane in Pisa we raced to the old city centre so I could have a glimpse of the leaning tower before boarding the plane back to France….

Monday, July 11, 2011


We arrived in Florence by mid-day and checked into the hostel Ostello Gallo D'Oro. On the reception's advice we headed to the covered market for a quick and delicious lunch and some dried porcini mushrooms to bring home as a souvenir. Once satiated, we headed to the Piazza del Duomo to see the cathedral and famous Baptistery doors by Ghiberti. We continued to the Palazzo Vecchio and escaped the heat in the inner courtyard with Vasari's frescos. 

Left: "Perseus Slaying Medusa" by Cellini, outside the Palazzo Vecchio

Crossing the Ponte-Vecchio we found a wine bar with a selection of meats and cheeses to accompany their selection of Italian wines. We finished off the mid-day snack with some Gelato before heading back to the hostel for a siesta. 

That night we wandered up to the Palazzo Della Signoria to see the David copy and the view of the city at night.

The next day we did a museum tour heading out early in the morning to see the real David in the Galleria dell'Accademia. We also went to see the beautiful frescos of Fra Angelico in the old San Marco monastery. 

We spent the afternoon eating gelato at the annual Gelato festival sampling a variety of flavors ranging from olive oil to red wine, surprisingly delicious.  For dinner we went to the highly recommended Volume. It’s more of a tapas bar, but after ordering two beers and having two large platters brought out for just the two of us we were too full for another meal, not to mention all the gelato we’d eaten.

The next morning we left for our final destination, the Cinque Terre…

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Our next trip was to Italy, where we started our vacation in Rome. We stayed in B&B Laocoonte near the Citta de Vaticano. Along the way to the B&B we saw the Pantheon, and eat a delicious pizza lunch while taking short reprieves by the Trivy Fountain and those in the Piazza Navona.

The Pantheon took my breath away...
Right: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

That night we relaxed and walked around St. Peter’s Square. The next day we thought we’d head out early to beat the rush to the Vatican Museum. However at 9:00 AM the line-up was already out the door and around the corner. Instead we went to Saint Peter’s Basilica. 

 Afterwards we walked along the Tiber and through the old city streets to the Spanish Steps.

By the time we were back the line-up was completely gone and we walked right in to the Vatican Museum! The highlight was of course the Sistine Chapel (below right) but the Gallery of Maps (below left) was also very beautiful.

For dinner we returned to the old centre, Campo Marzio for some fresh pasta and dessert at a small wine bar.

 The next day we walked to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. After reviving ourselves on some gelato we headed to the Trastevere section for lunch.

Crossing the Tiber River to the Trastevere

Rome was absolutely beautiful, and was a wonderful start to our holiday as the next day we took the train to Florence……

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mother's Days in France

Mother's Day Breakfast in France
In May my Mother came for a second visit, her third time to France, but her first time travelling here alone! I met her at the Charles de Gaulle airport and from there we took the train to Lille stopping off for lunch and then catching the next train to Arras. 

My Mother arrived just in time for the Gala de Danse. The Ballet School I’ve been taking classes with finishes every year with a gala in the spring. The dance teacher created a wonderful ballet with 28 dance performances connected by the story of a blue fairy bringing colour to the pallid world of four orphan sisters. 

Saturday before the Gala we went to the Market. The Sunday was Mother’s Day! And she came to both performances!

Both Andre and I had to work during her visit so she spent a few days exploring Arras and practising her French with the locals!

Luckily we were off and at home on Tuesday when there was a gas leak! The whole neighbourhood was evacuated so we had a spontaneous picnic before going to Lille for the afternoon.

We did a day trip to Paris too. We did a quick tour of the Tuileries gardens and walked along the Seine before taking the train to Versailles…

Back at home Mom had another day or two alone, which she used to become aquainted with Monsieur Nicolas Sarkozy. She also took her spiffy rental car to visit me at Beaumont-Hamel and take me out for lunch!

On our next days off we went to Boulogne-sur-Mer and drove along the coast to the beach and rocky cliffs at Wimereux.

The gas still wasn’t fixed at this point and we all sorely missed having a hot shower, so we booked a hotel in Brussels for the night. After a hot shower we headed to Délirium Café to sample one or two of their 2000 beers. The next day we made sure to get some chocolate, see the manneken pis, and eat a waffle or two before heading back to France...

And with that she was gone!

Tu me manques tellement!!

To see more photos click the link: