Aix en Provence and surrounding areas

On our way to Aix en Provence we stop at Avignon, a small town that is best known for it bridge Pont d’Avignon which goes to nowhere, well the middle of the river.  It was built in the 12th century originally, and then was fully rebuilt with 22 arches, but due to the cost to maintain it was abandoned in 17th century, today only 4 arches remain, this has been restored and made a world heritage site in the late 90’s.

Explaining to Luca about castles and knights as we explore the town Centre, what a great life and learning experience for a 5 year old (5&11 months if you ask him his age).

Luca took this photo, pretty good I think

We arrive at our apartment for the next 5 days……with a pool of course and settle in, this will be the longest I have stayed in one spot this trip, and I could do with the down time, not to mention not having to repackage my pack for 5 days!!

We head out next day to check out Aix en Provnce, it’s well known for its markets, so we head to check them out…..gourmet sausages, cheese, bread…..yummm, putting on weight just looking at all of this food.

It was a hot day and poor Luca was getting tired and so wanted to be carried the last bit back to the car.

On another day we did a trip to Pont Du Gard an ancient Roman aqueduct built in the 1sr century and is part of the Nimes aqueduct that is 50km long. Wow it was rather amazing, you could also swim in the river running underneath it.  First pic was by our 5 and 11 month old photographer.

While driving we crossed a bridge in one of the towns we drove through and all these people where looking over it into the river, just managed to see as we drove by, a group of cowboys on horses where rounding up some Bulls along the river bed…..yep not seen that before.

Be rude to visit the south of France and not go to the beach, we drove to Cassis beach, yep the Mediterranean Sea is beautiful, still don’t like rock beaches, but sun, water and a picnic…..pretty hard to complain. 

 Luca’s swimming has improved in leaps and bounds this trip with all his time in the pool, so was great to watch him swim in the medeterainan sea, lucky kid I didn’t get to do that until my mid 20’s….so obviously this was also my fist swim in the med….lol

Needless to say we spent time by the pool at our apartment…….these moments make the tough days of traveling all worth it, reading a book by the pool, watching Luca master his swimming and playing Uno with him, such great memories.

We spent most nights relaxing at home with cheese and meat boards, wine, beer and our final bottle of champagne.  Oh and of course I was updating my blog, below is my set up, red wine, small piece of nougat and my iPad, beats some other spots I’ve done my blog, like this one I’m currently in an airport departure lounge! (I am wearing a strapless dress, I don’t write my blogs in the nude….well not all of them anyway, especially this one in the airport, lol)

Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to Claudia and Luca, so we head out for one last meal together.  Claudia and I had agreed we would both try escargot on this trip, so tonight’s the night, we prepared Luca for this and hoped he’d also try…..and he did, not a second of hesitation….and he loved it, so too did we.

I dropped them off at the train station the next morning as they headed off to Paris, sad to say goodbye, cuddles from Luca and one last run back to the car to wave again……so georgous, going to miss them, but my next adventure awaits, Nice.  Some mixed emotions with heading there not long after the attack, but as cliche as it sounds, can’t let terrorism win!

Montpellier and a villa somewhere in the hills of southern France 

On route to see our friends in the hills of southern France and importantly Claudia’s little boy Luca, we stopped to check out Montpellier, a town about 10km inland from the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France. 

While I thought it was a pretty town, very cosmopolitan with elegant buildings, had some cute narrow lane ways along with a pedestrianised hopping street, Claudia was a little under welmed, but that all changed when we rounded a corner and found her favourite ice cream shop….I have to admit it’s now mine, I had a chocolate and hazelnut milk shake with chantile cream……omg, died and  gone to heaven. Gina eat your heart out, this is our second time here so far this trip, lol

Next was a short drive into the mountains to our friends villa, this was a gorgeous drive, along narrow country roads, through quaint French villages, through the mountains and along the river, seriously one of the lovely drives I’ve ever done, sadly no photos as I was driving.

We arrived at the villa our friends and there family were staying at….Luca was VERY excited to see his mummy.  They are staying in a 200 year old farm house that’s been renovated, it was just amazing, especially the pool.

The area surrounding the farm house was beautiful, mountains, farmland, horses and you could see a village along the hill side from the second story window, wasn’t a bad spot to sit in the pool and admire the scenery.

We were literally in the middle of no where, which was just as well, as the four of us, who haven’t all been in the same place together for 10 years had a very very very big night, which included beer, wine, wine and yep more wine.  We decided that a midnight dip in the pool was required at about 2am….it wasn’t exactly warm, so we got the bbq out and warmed ourselves by coal and kindling….many laughs and fun was had, and yep photos where taken, but they not making it here…  These are early in the night!

Needless to say we all had sore heads the next day, but nothing a dip in the pool couldn’t sort out.  As Luca was there with his Scottish family and it’s his bday in a few weeks we had a party for him, he got totally spoilt, with each present he opened I thought doh that’s the spare space I was hoping to use in Damian’s suitcase taken, lol

Needless to say after kids in bed and the other adults left, the four of us toke off from the night before, this time I got a photo of all of us before it all got to crazy…..and yep we went for another midnight swim.  Was awesome to be all together again, just like old times, now we just need to get Jason to move to oz and this could be a regular event….mmmm maybe he should just stay in England, lol

It was a full moon so our midnight swim was by moonlight, some might say how romantic, until Jason decided the night needed two moons…  Yes it was captured on film, no none of us took it, in fact we had gone inside at that point, but he did post it on facebook, so I figure it’s public property now, but I thought better to not post on my blog, lol

Exploring the fortified city of Carcassone

With our car full of wine we made our way to the medieval citadel of Carcassone in the south of France, with its 53 watch towers and double walled fortifications.  This was our view of the city as we approached.

We stayed inside the city walls, only a few places to stay within the walled city, so at night time it was pretty quiet, so as we arrived in the late afternoon, after we had dinner we went exploring the city including walking around between the two walls of the city.

Next morning was time to explore by daylight, wow this place is so amazing, the streets are tiny, it’s strictly authorised vehicles only but we do know some friends that followed gps right across the draw bridge and into the city a few years back….having now visited, we still not sure how they a) drove in, and b) drove through the streets with all the people, shops and restaurants, lol).

Given its a medieval city, the common theme in restaurants, shops and in town was knights and medieval times.

Also visited the Chateau Comtal, which is the castle atop the hill in the city, we walked along the walls of the ramparts, it’s from the 12th century and parts have been restored, but it’s cool fun walking around and imagining when it was an actually lived in.

Given the height of the castle and the city it means you can get some amazing views of the town outside the city walls and the surrounding countryside.

It was a pretty small town, so it didn’t take long to explore it all, but was well worth stopping here for a night, highly recommend it.

Bordeaux – wine more time!!

Thank goodness our drive to Bordeaux was free of traffic and we arrived in the time Shazza estimated, (oh that’s the name we gave our gps lady, we also have named our car…..its Dazza, so Shazza and Dazza, lol). So the motorways here have a speed limit of 130km, woo hoo!!  They charge you here to use the A roads, main highways between cities, you collect a ticket at the start of the toll way and when you exit you insert ticket and it calculates what you owe.  We had travelled about 400km to Bordeaux, put our ticket in the machine…..€32.30…….whattttt the fffffffaaaarrrrrkkkkk!!! as I picked my jaw back off the floor I said to Claudia we need credit card for this toll!!

After recovering from the shock road toll, we found our hotel and then headed out to explore, we are staying about 1km from Centre of town, the streets were very quiet, it was a little weird, we got into town and noticed lots of shops where closed, we later realized it was due to the France having 3 days of mourning after the attack in Nice only the day before.  So with not much open, we got a quick dinner and take home wine and relaxed back at our B&B.  This was the bottle we took home….lol

Next day, we headed to the local market, certainly more people around today and all the shops etc where open again

Yep they are sea snails…..I’ve not tried escargot, I have put the challenge to Claudia that we will try before we leave France.

We then did our own walking tour of Bordeaux, a pretty little town, they even have trams, same ones as in Melbourne, even the warning ding thing is the same, ahhhhh reminds me of home.  

You can see in this photo that the flag is at half mast in respect of the victims of Nice

All this walking is making us thirsty, oh look we just happened to finish our tour at a wine bar……Bordeaux is famous for wine, so really we continued our tour in the wine bar.  And it’s France so have to have cheese!

After a few samples we headed down the longest pedestrian road in the world, Rue Saint Catherine.  Mmmm shopping after wine, this will be fun!  Yep, two pairs of shoes later, we instigate some shopping rules….I am banned from scarfs and shoes, Claudia from anything white……but rules are always made to be broken, hee heee!

Right, after a brief look at the shops, truly I purchased two pairs of shoes in 10 mins from separate shops, we found another wine tasting shop, this one was much pricier than the last, they had these automatic wine pourers, sounds good in theory but you have to inert card and press button and it measures out a perfect measure….no chance of an over pour here….mmm needless to say we didn’t stay long.

Next on the tour we happened across another wine bar….ok ok we may have put it into google and found it, but either way, we arrived… “wine more time”, this is my new saying now, instead of just one more, it’s now ‘wine more time’.

Oh dear is that the time, better eat something more than wine and cheese…..its ok we still had more wine with dinner.

Next day we headed out of Bordeaux with the plan to stop at a winery and wine cellar on the way to our next town.  Unfortunately, we missed the tasting at the first, poor info from tourist information (ok we may have also not remembered), but still walked around the property.

Bloody siesta caused us more problems as the next place we got to at 12:10, and even though the lady was still in the cellar/shop and we had walked in, she said closed until 2…..grrrrr.  Lucky we found a cute French restaurant just up the road, I had confit of duck and creme brûlée…..yumm

Back in the shop and we purchased a ‘few’ bottles of wine in preparation for two nights time in our trip when we see some friends at their villa. (Be ready boys we are on our way loaded with vine).

The lady told us that the wine should not be drunk until after a week cause we driving so far with it……mmmm we just said ok politely and looked at each knowing that wasn’t going to happen, lol!!

Loire Valley – escape to the country

Bloody siesta, closing down between 12-2, car rental place was closed when we had arrived so we had to go back and collect after our champagne tour, which put us behind schedule for our 3 hour 40 min drive to where we are staying in the Loire Valley.  

Half way, all good, then we hit Paris traffic…..mmmm maybe we should have avoided Paris traffic the night before a public holiday and for some a 4 day long weekend at 6pm….mmmmm how bad could it be?  OMG, nightmare doesn’t begin to discribe it.  We have off line google maps, so all it does it give you time estimate based on distance, no allowance for traffic, so for about 2 hours it kept say the same time to our destination ……..arghhhhh faaaarrrrrrkkkk!!

However, as we finally got closer, we ended up seeing at least 3 different fireworks displays for Bastille day (it was the eve of), so that at least put smiles back on our faces.  We stayed at a tiny little town which meant that at 11pm as we left the main motor way we ended up on lots of very narrow country roads in the pitch dark, thank god for google maps!!  The poor man at our B&B had to stay awake until we finally arrived at 11:40pm, exhausted after a 7.5 hour journey, instead of 3 hours 40!!!

Next morning, sun was shining and the b’fast at our B&B was amazing….right it’s a new day, yesterdays nightmare almost forgotten, almost!  But a freshly baked crosaint for b’fast certainly helped, lol.

We are staying in a tiny town called Oisly, about 40 minute drive from Tours, in a 200 year old farm house, was gorgeous.

Our friendly B&B host gave us some recommendations for chateaus to visit in the area, weather is looking a little overcast, but better than being stuck in traffic!  First chateau we head to is Chateau de Chaumont, it’s from the 10th Century, but was destroyed but later rebuild in the 15th century.  We picked this one as it has a beautiful facade but also cause the gardens had some interesting sculptures and art installations in it.

The weather reminded us of Melbourne, sunny and hot one minute, raining the next…..jacket on, jacket off, umbrella up umbrella down!! Rain pic for my friends in a cold Melbourne winter at the moment, see it’s not all sunshine everyday, heee hee!

After lunch we drove to another chateau, Chateau Chambord, this is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley, it was build over 30 years in the early to mid 1500’s, this one we picked as it was meant to be very impressive both inside and out, it did not disappoint.

Inside it has a double helix staircase, so two people could start at the bottom of each stair case and both walk to the top floor but never pass each other, but you could see each other through windows in the central column….naturally we did this!

The view out across the grounds from the top terrace was almost as impressive as looking at the chateau itself

The countryside around where we are staying is amazing, you drive through tinny towns, with about 20 buildings, then you see fields and beautiful old stone buildings, it reminded me of the scenes you see when watching the Tour de France.  Was really hard to get pics, either was driving or no where to stop.

We had dinner in literally the smallest town, it had one restaurant in it, it was Bastille day, so not much, if anything was open anywhere, all the towns looked deserted, probably cause they all stuck in traffic near Paris, lol!  After a long two days, and given we not really near much we went back to our B&B and drank some vine we had bought that day from Chateau Chambord and watched the Bastille day celebrations in Paris on tv, later hearing about the tragic event in Nice. (It’s a few days since now, as I am always writing these posts a few days after I’ve been somewhere, but we have not had any issues where we are in France, safe with no concerns.  I am due to visit Nice in a week, I will be monitoring the media before going).

The next day we where driving to Bordeaux, on our way we stopped at another chateaux, this was is from the 16th century and is built across the River Cher, and is one of the best known in the Loire Valley.  It had some bueatuiful and well manicured gardens on either side, it’s the second most visited chateau, it was a Friday when we went, day after the public holiday and it was ridiculously busy, so glad we didn’t come yesterday.

Inside was crazy, very narrow passages between rooms so was hard to get around the place, most rooms had tapestries and furniture, some of the wooden carved pieces of furniture where amazing.

Wow what a beautiful area of the country is the Loire Valley, loved it here, we hit the road again, destination, Bordeaux and ……wine!

Croissants, crepes and champagne….love france

Love catching the train, we took the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris.  Such an easy journey, I don’t know why more English people don’t do it.

We some how managed to time our one night in Paris to coincide with the final of the Euro Cup final, which France was in, so we drop our bags at the hotel and head out to watch the game.  They had a Fan zone where they had set up big screens to watch the game under the Eiffel Tower, so we thought we would head there.  The area had a capacity of 90,000 people, when we arrived it was full, doh, a fair bit of security where guarding the fence, wearing riot gear and police carrying big guns…that’s one fence I not going to jump!.  So we figured we’d just head up to the Eiffel Tower end of the zone and check it out, assuming we’d also not get in there either but thought might at least find a bar to watch it in.

Ahh the Eiffel Tower, scorer final or not, we had to stop for photos!

We managed to get a few photos, then we noticed that there was stuff on fire in the middle of the street, and that people in the crowd where throwing bottles at the police…..mmmmm this not great.  Then looking more closely, we could see riot police pushing in towards the crowd and throwing tear gas and smoke bombs…..mmmmm lets get out of here! 

As we started to make our exit, we heard a commotion behind us, we looked back to see the crowd running towards us….shit, lets run…..after a bit we stopped and thought let’s just find the metro and get out of here.  Seriously, it’s just a game of football!!!

A little further down the street and it was a totally different story, people where standing outside restaurants that had a screen and trying to get any vantage spot they could to see the game, we still got on the metro and headed back to the Latin quarter.

We got back to Latin quarter and managed to find a vantage spot watching the game in the street and drinking some beers, this is much better than rioting idiots.  Was such a great way to watch the game, a mix of both French and some Portuguese fans, all watching together, no issues at all. Our biggest risk here was buying warm beer from random guys on the street out of shopping bags, lol

Sadly, as you will know, France lost, but they took it well, of course they all looked very disappointed, when some Portugal fans where celebrating and dancing in the street, all the French fans did was just laughed or shock there heads in disappointment, exactly how it should be.  Late night snacking in the Latin quarter, kebab and crepes!

Next morning, we read that the situation at the Eiffel Tower escalated and rioters set fire to cars and that the police also used water cannons to control the group, 40 where arrested and cause of all the damage the Eiffel Tower was closed for the day, I’ll say it again, seriously it’s just a game of football!

Anyway,  we went for a meander around Paris, we have both been here before so we didn’t need to do touristy stuff, (lucky cause Eiffel Tower was closd), we could just walk around and enjoy the city, first stop was b’fast…..mmm crosaint or crepe…..Nutella crepe today….tres bien.

Just a beautiful city is Paris, the buildings are just beautiful, we walked past Notre dame, the louve and some beautiful buildings, just love this city.

Oh did we just stumble across a shopping area….oh well, I’m here… my scarf collection has now grown by another 2, but seriously we didn’t shop much, we out did ourselves in London. 

That afternoon we caught the train to Epernay, the heart of the Champaigne region, oh yeah baby, real deal champagne here we come.

Before we start our day tasting champagne, we need some b’fast….ah yummm crosaint, I’m in heaven

In Epernay you will find some of the famous champagne houses, Moët & Chandon and Pol Roger.  Along the famous Avenue de Champagne, a beautiful UNESCO area, you can walk past all the houses, some allow tastings, others are closed to the public, but they are beautiful buildings.

We did a tour of the Moët & Chandon house and cellars, which included tastings….is 10:30am too early for 2 glasses of champagne….no it is not! Lol

The cellars are a series of tunnels and caves under ground, in fact in Epernay, they have around 110km of tunnels under the houses storing approximately 200 million bottle of champagne…..I know where I’m going if the world is ending!
We pop into another house to do a tasting, champagne is so cheap here, it’s such a shame my pack is already full, oh well we will just have to drink it all before we leave France, yep tough life!

We then jump in a taxi and head to a tiny town not far away called, Hauteville, omg was just the cutest little town ever.

Of course we also try some champagne from the local producers.

A full day of champagne drinking in France, yep life is pretty bloody good right now!

Next day, we try go to the Pol Roger house for a tasting, but tourist info steared us wrong, they don’t do them,so I just got the photos, lucky I’ve had this a one a few times so know what it tastes like already, lol.

We jump on the train and head to Reims, a larger town in the champagne area, also with some of the top houses, Mumm and Verve, we had arranged a tour of verve.  Similar to Epernay, they have km’s of tunnels and caves under  the town filled with champagne.  Originally the chalk was mined out to build the town, then they realized it was perfect for storing champagne. during  the war it was used to house and  protect the local people, but they never stopped making champagne, love it!

The stairs list the years that they have had a vintage year. Bottles are stored in the cellars for years in the bottles that we eventually buy them.

They ask for a volunteer to open the bottle…ok I’ll do it,  mean I’ve never done it before, lol, well not in france!

Yep tastes petty good, must have been the expert opener!

Next we collect our hire car and start our road trip around France.

Note: we are not heading towards Nice next, so we not near the attack that occurred, I will be in Nice in a week, I will monitor media before hand, we are safe and after the riots in Paris and what’s happened in Nice, we are being smart about our choices.

Summer in England… my umbrella, I’m ready!!

Caught the red eye from NYC to London, left about 7pm and then arrived at 2am NYC time, but it was 7 am in England, not a wink of sleep!  My beautiful friend Jade was up early and at the airport to meet me…….road trip here we come.

Set of for Cornwall, a beach side area down in the far south west of England, we drove past Stonehenge on the way, but didn’t stop or get any pics….but I can say I’ve seen it.

The drive down once you get to the Cornwall area is beautiful English countryside, with thatched houses and brick cottages dotted along the road.  The roads are narrow with bushes right up to the roads edge, in some parts the road it just wider than one car.

Had to do a slight detour to get to a branch of my bank from when I lived in England so I could get my money out (they had closed my account), turned out they can’t give it to me, they will send a cheque……mmmmm that’s not helpful!  Anyway, meant we stopped in a cute town called Truo, had a beautiful cathedral.

Next stop was a town called Marazion, which is known for St Michaels Mount, which is a castle on a small island, you can walk out to the island at low tide via a path, you can just make out the path in the photo below.

We are staying on a diary farm a few miles out of St Ives, the roads are literally the width of a car, we are surrounded by beautiful countryside.  That night we head out to a local pub for dinner, called Bucket of Blood, a very traditional English pub, the roof was low, if you over 6 foot, you’d have to duck.

Next morning we caught the train into St Ives, as parking is a nightmare, plus it’s a lovely costal train ride, so had some stunning views of the beaches…..who knew England could have such beautiful beaches, lol

I’m in Cornwall, I have to have a Cornish Pastie……was really yummy, was like every second shop was a bakery selling pasties, or it sold some form of food that was then Cornish, eg Cornish ice cream, Cornish Fudge, Cornish lollies. 

St Ives itself is a really cute little sea side spot (cause it would be much better with the sun shinning), the narrow streets wind up a step hill, with limited access for cars.  The harbor area was lacking water when we visiting, clearly the tide was out, but still beautiful, even though it was overcast

We saw this man on the beach balancing the rocks, if I hadn’t seen him do it I wouldn’t have believed they are literally just balanced on each other. He is balancing 3 in the first pick which you can see in the second pic.

I was advised by some English friends that I had to have Cornish Tea while I was here, which is tea and scones with clotted Cornish cream, which is famous from the area cause of the cows here, yummm, milk must be produced in Cornwall and at least 55% fat, no wonder it tasted so good.

Our drive back to London……correction, our slow crawl through a very long car park the English like to call the A30 highway, meant that a 3 hour drive from St Ives to Bristol took 5 and half hours……yuck!!

After that crawl, I then got the train to London.  Then it got delayed at Reading station, when we went to leave, apparently the driver couldn’t get the train to go forward…..mmmmm, so we had to switch to another train, so two train loads of people jammed into one train, oh England how I have missed you, mmmm maybe not!!

But finally in London, short tube ride later and I catch up with my best friend Claudia…….woo hoooo, we are back in London together again.  Both feeling the effects of our travel, Claudia just flown in from Melbourne and me still recovering from losing a whole nights sleep and the time difference from NYC and a day traveling, we drag ourselves out to walk the streets of London, oh all the memories.

So we both lived here for many years, don’t have any tourist things to see…..oh well, lets do a little shopping, but not all day.  Mmmmm where did the day go, did sort of see a few tourists sites, if they coincided with our shopping, lol

That night we headed out for dinner in Fitzrovia, area near soho, found a very cool restaurant, but had to wait for a table, ok we will sit in the bar….cocktails baby!  Very yummy food and cocktails, so we tried some, and some others…and repeat!

Slight sore heads next morning, it seems London is looking as we feel, grey and dreary, and raining….ah yes it summer time.  We headed to Bourgh Market, it find that most of it was closed, but still managed to find some food stalls open and enjoy a yummy lunch and dessert.  It was all French themed in honor of Bastille day soon, very appropriate given we head to Paris that afternoon.

After we went for a walk along the Thames River across London Bridge and Tower Bridge, the city skyline has changed heaps since I was here, not sure I a fan of some of the new buildings.

Next we are on the Eurostar to Paris, and as luck would have it its the Euro Cup Final tonight and France are playing, expecting a big night in Paris.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers