2022 Spring in Europe – BARCELONA, SPAIN

BARCELONA, SPAIN

This year we flew through New York to Barcelona and stayed at Catalonia Hotel near the port of Barcelona.  It was a beautiful day and as it was nearing lunch we wandered towards the port and over to the old area called Barceloneta.  This is the area where the fishermen come in each morning with their catch.  We left the tourist restaurants on the port side and walking inland we sat down at a local’s restaurant.  The mussels were delicious as were the sliced sausages we bought in the adjoining market after being served a sample.  Back at the hotel we stopped for a glass of wine at the small bar by the lobby. We then took our glasses up to the pool deck, a great way to relax after our long flight hours.  After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to explore the city.

La Rambla, the famous walkway and only a block away from our hotel, is where we started our day when we “rambled” along with no agenda.  Antoni Gaudi is Barcelona’s artist and architect leaving his mark on the city, especially on the Sagrada Familia Basilica, still unfinished, and also seen in his houses and in Park Guell. As we were walking, we saw a statue of Gaudi, all in green, with a can on the ground in front of him.  A young girl tossed a coin in the can and he became alive and hugged her!  What fun this day was going to be.  We stopped in Park Reial for a light lunch, and it began to hail!  Fortunately, we were covered by an umbrella and were able to enjoy our tapas.

Some great music was coming from inside the restaurant, so we stepped inside and were delighted with the lively music from the band accompanied by a great female singer.  The patrons were dancing besides their tables. Further up we continued our rambling and entered Supermercat Boqueria, has to be the one of Europe’s largest inside farmer’s market.  You could spend hours there and you might get lucky enough to get a seat at one of the several bars but tasting as you roam from one stand to the next is just as fulfilling. Continuing our walk on La Rambla  we stopped at the Bibe Catedral Restaurant for a couple more tapas, resting up before walking through and enjoying the winding roads and the ancient buildings. Next to our hotel is a pastry shop and we finished our wandering with coffee and a chocolate croissant.

 

Sagrada Familia is a site that should not be missed.  Being adventurous we decided to walk the 3 miles to get there, and it was worth it, especially walking through the park with the Arc de Triomf.  This basilica was started in 1882 and Gaudi took over in 1883 as the architect.  It is an example of Gothic and Art Nouveau style.  He devoted his life to it and is buried in the crypt.  The construction of the basilica is still ongoing.  There are tours of the inside but after that long walk and taking many photos of the outside we decided on a taxi ride back to Barri Gôtic (Gothic Old Town area) to Santa Maria Catedral.  This beautiful cathedral required more photos. Then we wandered over to a plaza ready for more tapas and good Catalonian wine. It was time for an afternoon rest by the pool.  That evening we sat at a nice restaurant on La Rambla sipping Spanish wines and enjoying watching the people strolling by.

   

Our last morning in Barcelona was spent visiting the Maritime Museum of Barcelona.  It is located in the Royal shipyard opposite the 60-meter Monument to Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla.  The museum traces the history of the port’s shipyard going back to the 13th century that originally was used for building warships. It is an exhibition of the culture of the maritime history of Catalonia.  Housed are models of the ships, navigation instruments, figureheads of the sailing ships with interactive activities.  Of great interest is seeing the full-sized replica of the 60-meter long Royal Galley from the 16tth century which defeated the Turkish armada.  You can walk around it on different levels.  It is an awesome sight. There is an attached great restaurant to visit afterwards.  That afternoon we wandered around the port and viewed the boats in the marina.  There are bicycle riders with chariots attached to take you for a ride around the port.  Be careful and check before you get on for the price and destination.  There is a lot more to do in Barcelona but not enough time on this trip.

View some videos from our trip here.

2022 Spring in Europe – MARSEILLE, FRANCE

MARSEILLE, FRANCE

When flying into Spain we were required to fill out a health form which is also accepted in other Europe countries.  So, when we flew to Marseille France, we were not required to present any more documentation.  It was a pleasant taxi ride to the center of Marseille even during rush hour.  We stayed at Hotel Carré Vieux Port, one block from the harbor.  We headed out and stopped at a sidewalk bar for a glass of Pastis and then we knew we were in Province.  That was followed by a wonderful pizza enjoyed with a wonderful French red wine.

The next day we walked to the oldest district, Panier Quarter on the north side of the harbor.  Le Panier consists of hilly streets that provide great photos for the vistas looking down through the stairways to the lower level of the port and across the harbor to Notre Dame de la Garde.  It is an area home to artists whose works are displayed on the sidewalk walls with bright street art. We also photographed Vielle Charité, a former almshouse, hospital, barracks, now housing various museums. Church Accuelle has a bell tower which announced to us it was lunchtime. Down at the harbor we stopped at Cuisine du Beurre for some fresh oysters and mussels.  The original owner was a well-known actor with memorabilia of his life during those days displayed inside on the second floor.  Next, we headed to the south side along the Quai de Rive Neuve to Fort Saint Nicholas hoping for a great view of Marseille harbor, but it was closed for renovation.  Just a little further up hill is Palais du Pharo which had the same view of the harbor and the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, also a good view of Cathedrale de la Major on the south side that we had missed.  We walked some miles that hot day! There is always available nearby an outside café with a nice cold rosé.

  

Rue Canebière is the most famous street in Marseille.  We walked along the street looking for Maison Empereur, the oldest hardware store in France, which has everything you might need from the very old to the new. We were now in the district of Noailles, an area of narrow streets and alleys with a daily market selling North African fabrics, baskets, cookware, etc.  The restaurants were selling kebabs, flatbreads, couscous, and teas of that heritage.  We had no agenda so just kept walking and enjoying the sights and smells.  We passed the Palais des Artes and Couer Julien, a restful park with a fountain, a nice place to cool off on this hot day. After lunch we strolled along the Old Port of the harbor.  There is a pavilion creating a sheltered area for events.  The pavilion is a mirrored roof structure where pedestrians walking underneath can look up and see their reflection. It is strange to see yourself like that.  We also took a ride on Le Petit Train which took us around the harbor up to the top of a hill to Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. From here you have a panoramic view of the city of Marseille, the islands and the sea.  It is dedicated to the sailors and fishermen, with many ship sculptures and paintings inside.

  

2022 Spring in Europe – L’ISLE SUR LA SORGUE

L’ISLE SUR LA SORGUE AND NEARBY VILLAGES

It’s time to take the train to L‘Isle sur la Sorge, but before going to the train station we walked to the harbor and watched the fishermen who have just arrived setting up and selling their catch of the day.  This is the best way to get fresh seafood for your table at home.

It is nice to be in our own apartment and to go around seeing people we met last year.  Our friend Tracy drove her car down from her home in Brittany (12.5 hours) for a visit with plans for us to venture out and visit the nearby villages. Roussillon is one of many “Most Beautiful Villages” especially known for the Ochre, a yellow to red soil which was used for dyeing fabrics and seen in the walls of the buildings.  This town is quite colorful and home to many artists and their galleries.  As you ascend the winding roads enjoy the panoramic views and the colors of the village. You can even see the white capped Mont Ventoux in the far distance. There are also restaurants having panoramic views while enjoying delightful lunches.

That afternoon we visited Goult another village perched on a hill.  This village also has winding streets and tree lined squares surrounded by cafés.  We didn’t have time to visit the churches, but we will return to this village another time.  We drove up a very narrow street to the Jerusalem Moulin (Mill) and photographed the surrounding areas with again awesome panoramic views.  Driving back to L’Isle sur la Sorgue we passed bright red-orange fields of poppies and purple irises growing alongside the roads.  It was a beautiful Provence springtime day!

Our next journey was passing around Avignon towards Nimes and Uzes.  We were on our way to visit the Pont du Gard Aqueduct.  This aqueduct has been listed as a UNESCO SITE.  The aqueduct was originally built in the first century to overcome the obstacle of the flooding of the Gardon River in order to bring water from the Uzes to Nimes, a Roman colony. We visited the museum nearby which traces the construction by using artifacts, exhibitions, and films.  There is also a restaurant attached.  Walking towards the aqueduct we passed a thousand-year-old tree, still thriving!  It is the highest known aqueduct in the Roman world. Standing on it you realize the marvel of the construction.  There are three levels with 6 arches on the first, 11 arches o the second level and on top there are 35 arches.  It has been written that it is the most visited ancient monument in France. We were glad we visited.

    

Our next day’s journey was in search of  the Abbaye de St. Hilaire, so we followed directions towards La Coste.  Ending up on a rutted dirt road that seemed to be a dead end we turned around and decided to visit Bonnieux instead, another one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”.   Bonnieux is an impressive hilltop village.  We walked up winding roads and up old stone stairways until we came upon a lovely restaurant, Le St. Andre.  We were just in time for a leisurely lunch.  With our energy replenished we walked up further to the old town, passing some beautiful homes.  The old church “Vielle Eglise” is at the top.  From there we photographed the panoramic vistas of La Coste, Mont Ventoux and the surrounding vineyards.  It was worth the climb.  Returning down the cobbled road we saw a wine store named Le Wine Club displaying in the window a bottle of a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Seeing that beckoned us to rest inside with a lovely glass of this fabulous wine.

 

Ménerbes became the next day’s destination. This is another one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”.  Ménerbes has attracted many artists and writers.  Peter Mayle lived here and after he wrote “A Year in Provence” the village attracted many visitors. Ménerbes is also perched on a hilltop with commanding views. Being later in the afternoon there were few people around.  We strolled the roads of this charming village admiring the beautiful homes, the old ancient walls of protection and the picturesque scenes below the ramparts. Leaving we noticed another sign for the Abbaye and decided to return another time for that visit.

We have been curious to find the source of the Sorgue River that encircles L’Isle Sur la Sorgue and the canals throughout our island.  So, we drove to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Vaucluse is translated from the Latin phrase Vallis Clausa which means closed valley. The source is the largest spring in France.  Jacques Cousteau dove it down to 80 meters in 1957.  There were other attempts to reach the bottom and finally in 1985 a robot reached the depth of 308 meters.  After passing under an aqueduct we arrived in time for lunch, as usual, and enjoyed another delicious meal at Fontaine des Glaces situated on the river.  Then we had the energy to walk toward the spring.  On the way we were hoping to stop into Le Musée d’Histoire, a museum dedicated to World II and telling the story of what life was like in Vaucluse during the occupation and the activity of the Resistance here.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  We kept walking along observing the river streaming over the rocks to our right.  When we reached the end Frank climbed down for a clearer view.  On the way back we visited the Paper Mill and were shown how paper used to be manufactured in Vaucluse. At one time there were 7 paper mills here all powered by water wheels.  We continued back to the center of the village enjoying the tranquility. Near to the Saint-Marie-Saint-Véran Church we noticed a statue of Saint Veranus.  Legend has it that he defeated the dragon that terrified the people by wrapping it in chains and dragging it away. We are looking forward to return to visit the museum of the Resistance and another museum called Le Musée Du Monde Souterrain.  This museum exhibits the abysm, the underground river and cave paintings.  This ended our wonderful adventures with Tracy.

We enjoyed our few weeks staying in our apartment and going out each day to discover more of our island.  Last time while we were here we didn’t visit any museums so that was on our list.  We visited Musée du Jouet et de la Poupée Ancienne, a museum of Antique Toys and Dolls dating from 1880-1920. It is a private collection created by Madame Huguette Jeanselme.  Some were even animated when wound up such as the carousel.  We are saving the Compredon Centre d’Art for next year now that we have found its location.  There are also a lot of music events that take place there.   We had been introduced to a couple who have an apartment across the road.  We also connected with friends we met last time.  Another day we walked up to Musee La Filaventure – Brun de Vian-Tiran.  This is a specialty museum showing the history of the weaving industry, especially the Brun de Vian-Tiran brand products.  There is a store in front with these beautiful woolen products.

  

To discover L’Isle sur Sorge from a different perspective we took La Petit Train.  During the 35–40-minute tour through the streets we learned about the cultural and industrial heritage of this village. Halfway, the train stopped at a beautiful area at the end of le Partage des eaux to enjoy the scenery. We had previously walked up this passage watching children during a kayak lesson, but only went partway and were glad we finally reached the end to see the restaurant Le Pescador and the park on the river.

2022 Spring in Europe – STRASBOURG, FRANCE

STRASBOURG, FRANCE

It was now time for us to continue on our spring vacation to the next destination.  We took the local train to Avignon where we would then continue on to Strasbourg.  Avignon is always a good place to spend a night.  After a great dinner and a good night’s sleep we were ready the next morning to continue.  To get to Strasbourg we took the TVG to Lyon airport.  The NH Hotel is located across from the terminals and because Lyon, being the gastronomic capital of France, it was imperative we have lunch there and it did not disappoint us.  That afternoon we flew to Strasbourg in the northeast part of France on the border of Germany called Alsace.

Strasbourg over the years has changed ownership between Germany and France now a part of France .  You can see the German influence in the architecture with the half-timbered houses and in the food, such as pretzels.  Also, all the street names are in French with the German name just underneath.  We stayed at the Tandem Hotel, an eco-friendly boutique hotel across from the train station.  The location was ideal.  It was a 5-minute walk to the trains and a 10-minute walk to the center of Strasbourg.  There were wonderful restaurants nearby.  The hotel has a bar with bio-dynamic wines and a delicious breakfast.  You can also rent bicycles at the hotel.

We were ready to explore Strasbourg after reading the literature on the sights of the city and using the map from the hotel.  The historic center of Strasbourg is known as the Grande Ȋle (Large Island) as it is surrounded by the canal of the River Ill.  We crossed the canal and entered the Grande Ȋle.  Our first stop was to visit St. Pierre le Vieux.  It is both a Protestant and Catholic church built in the 12th century, showing renaissance paintings and scenes of the life of St. Peter.  We continued on until we came to a large plaza, called Place Kléber, the central square of Strasbourg.  It is a large open square surrounded by stores and the length of one side is the L’Aubette.  This was built in the 18th century, destroyed in 1870 and rebuilt in 1926, designed by three avant-garde artists. The lower floor is a modern art museum.  It once housed soldiers and there is a statue in the center of honoring General Jean-Baptiste Kléber and contains his remains. Our next stop was at Place Gutenberg.  In the center is a statue of Johannes Gutenberg with engravings of the history of the printing press around the base.  Also in the square is a pretty carousel.

We were headed then to Strasbourg Cathedral.  We passed an alley that beckoned us with the sight of an interesting church.  We came across a small square dominated by Eglise du Temple Neuf. Originally a Dominican church built in the 13th century it was destroyed and rebuilt in the 20th century.  It was quite impressive but also closed.  We backtracked and walked to the Strasbourg Cathedral and plaza.  Originally it was designated Our Lady of Strasbourg and can be seen from anywhere in the city.  Frank was quite impressed by the solid bronze doors.  Also towards the back is an astronomical clock.  The cathedral was finished being built in 1439 on top of an ancient Roman sanctuary. It began as Catholic and switched to Protestant and then back to Catholic, therefore there is a variety of  Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. The cathedral dominates the square. There are also many surrounding outside cafés. The Tourist Office is also in the square where you can purchase tickets for museums, the Batorama boat ride and the Mini Train Tour. Opposite we saw the Palais Rohan.  This palace was built in the 18th century and now houses three museums.  It started to rain and so we skipped this visit in search of a café to wait for the rain to pass.

  

We had one more area to visit and that was Petite France.  There are four canals here, some with locks. As we strolled along the canals, we watched the Batorama tourist boats pass through the locks. The half-timbered buildings along the canals were picturesque.  We stopped for lunch in Tanner’s Quarter. It is called the Tanner’s quarter because in the 16th century it housed tanners and millers.  After lunch we strolled along the canals sightseeing and shopping, then stopped at one of the many peaceful outside cafés along the canal to enjoy the surroundings. The entrance to the city was guarded by four towers connected by covered bridges over the River Ill.  We walked over to the Vauban Dam and climbed the stairs for a panoramic view.  It was a relaxing afternoon in Petit France.  That night we ate dinner at Le Schnockelock for the Alsace specialty done the old-fashioned way, choucroute ( a dish prepared with sauerkraut, sausages, other meats and often potatoes), and savored with a glass of Riesling.  The restaurant had that old-fashioned ambiance. The food was delicious, and everyone seated next to us agreed that it was too much food, but we all had some good laughs about it.

 

2022 Spring in Europe – COLMAR, FRANCE

COLMAR, FRANCE

Colmar is a fairy tale town just a short train ride from Strasbourg.  Next morning we rode the train and then walked a short distance to the center of town.  It was definitely a fairy tale town with timber-framed brightly colored buildings with a canal that runs through the center of town.  It has been said that it was the inspiration for the movie “Beauty and the Beast”.  We stopped in at the Visitor Center and took a map with a walking tour to follow.  One of the houses is decorated for the season, such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas.  Another  house we passed by had watering cans hanging from the windows and most houses have bright colored flower boxes.  We passed by Saint Martin Collegiate Church constructed in the 13th century and covered with red and gold stones.  There are many museums in Colmar. We passed a courtyard that had a statue in front, this was the entrance to the museum dedicated to Frederic-August Bartholdi. He was the creator of the Statue of Liberty.  Further on was the Pfister House with its octagonal turret and wrap-around balcony.  Around each corner we discovered another “District”.  The “Tanner’s District” had buildings of the tanner’s houses with roofs that had several hooks used to dry hides.  The “Fishmonger’s District” along the Lauch River had the half-timbered houses of the boatmen and fishermen who put their traps in the river.  Following the Rue de la Poissonniere we reached “Little Venice”. Here the houses are painted in pink, yellow and blue. Winemakers, gardeners and boatmen lived here and transported their goods to town in flat-bottomed boats, similar to gondolas.  There are boat tours if you want to ride in one.  The Covered Market is on the other side of the river in a brick building where traders sell fresh quality foods. It was time for a late lunch, and we enjoyed a wonderful German beef stew at Wistub La Petite Venise.  From there we wandered along more meandering streets back to the train station. We almost missed the Schwendi fountain, designed by Bartholdi in 1898. It is very small and easy to miss. Lazare de Schwendi was a general under Maximilian II from 1564-1568 fighting the Turks in Hungary from where he would have brought the grape variety from Tokay. The statue was destroyed in 1940 and then rebuilt after the war.

The Alsatian Wine Route is located between the Vosges Mountains in France and the Black Forest in Germany.  It starts at Strasbourg and ends at Milhouse not far from Colmar, 170 km long with 70 wine growing villages with 51 Grand Crus. We took a full day tour from Viator.com which left in front of the Visitor Center in Strasbourg. Pauline was our guide driving her van and we were accompanied by a lovely couple from Bombay, India. As we were heading south Pauline explained the location of the wine route, it’s micro-climate producing great wines, mostly white wines with an occasional Pinot Noir, farming of vegetables, especially cabbage for Alsace Choucroute, and berries.  Our first stop was near Barr in Heiligenstein at the Klipfel Winery.  Here we got an initiation of the wines of Alsace.  The wines take on the name of the grape not the vineyard.  There are seven white varieties: Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Klevener.  Their wines consist  of Alsace Grand Crus and Crémants. Inside the Family House is the tasting room with a large wooden table set up for tasting with pretzels.  Also, there was a huge old wine press.  Our next visit was in Andlau to a biodynamic vineyard.  Here we were entertained by the wine maker.  He showed us his organic method of growing his vines.  He is lovingly called a “hippy and mad scientist” and we enjoyed his enthusiasm and tasting his wines.  He produces 3 Grand Crus, but also many types, including apple juice and a wine similar to grappa. Pauline drove through many small villages, such as Itterswiller where there is a flower competition seen throughout the town.  Further on she pointed out sighting a red heart or a bottle on the roof signified a home where a single woman or man lived, an earlier era dating app?  She also went on to explain that if a woman left a sugar cube on the windowsill and the stork took it during the night that meant she was going to have a baby.  We were on our way to Ribeauville to stop for lunch.  Alsace has both French and German influences in the foods and she suggested we might want to try Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche), similar to a flat bread pizza but with a layer of crème fraiche instead of a red sauce.  Frank and I wandered the village and stopped in at Le Giesberg a quaint little restaurant and ordered Tarte Flambée followed by apple strudel for dessert.   Walking back to our van we spotted a stork’s nest on top of one of the building’s roofs. The stork is a symbol seen throughout Alsace. Our third and last winery of the day was in Zellenberg at Jean Huttard winery.  This is a family that is committed to sustainable environment and ecological viticulture.  It was a more modern setting. Our wine tour was greatly enjoyed having visited three distinctly different wineries each with different presentations and seeing all the villages along the route. And especially learning about the wine route from our host Pauline with her little local stories about the area.

 

2022 Spring in Europe – BRUGES, BELGIUM

BRUGES, BELGIUM

We flew from Strasbourg to Amsterdam and then on to Bruges by train.  We arrived at our hotel, Duc de Bourgogne Hotel-Restaurant just in time before the end of the lunch hour in the hotel’s restaurant.  This Restaurant dates back to 1648.  It is located in the historic Tanner’s Square.  You can see carvings of the tanners at work in the alcoves above the windows.  After a leisurely lunch we strolled across the canal to the Burg, the central square once surrounded by walls and used as a fortress.  Now it is surrounded by the beautiful City Hall (Stadhuis), Saint Donatian’s Cathedral, the Basilica of Holy Blood and a park  We wandered a little further into the Markt, the central marketplace.  It is surrounded by step-gabled guild houses, the Provincial Palace, restaurants and the impressive Belfort Tower, which you hear frequently throughout the day. If you want to climb up 366 stairs, you would be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the town. There are 47 carillon bells rung by a mechanism installed in 1748. Wednesday is market day with stalls of  fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses and snacks. Here you might want to take a horse-drawn carriage tour .It had been a long day, so we slowly meandered through the narrow streets and back along the canal on which our hotel was located.  Opening the window in our hotel room we were able to watch the swans in the canal.

   

The next morning our breakfast was included in the magnificent dining room with windows opening to watch the swans and the occasional duck.   This was a great way to start our day.  Within walking distance is the Choco Story Brugge, a multiple-storied museum of the history of chocolate, starting with the Maya and Aztecs. There were audio guides and interactive displays with a lot of information about the history of making chocolate, how it was used and served.  At the end we were treated to a demonstration of the making of some chocolate pralines which were offered to us.  And there was a dispenser with dark chocolate rounds, yum! Even after all that chocolate we enjoyed our lunch in a small square near the Markt. We were not using a map so just wandered the cobble stone streets to see the architecture, the stores, the restaurants and frequently small parks, and of course a place to just stop for a glass of Belgium beer. There was a small store we stopped to visit selling handmade Belgian lace that was made during the pandemic using the bobbin method. Following the canal we made our way back to our hotel.

The next day we walked in a different direction hoping to find Minnewater Park.  We were in a local area with no tourists and ate a wonderful lasagna and chatted with the man who sat next to us.  Everyone was very friendly and most spoke English as their second language.  He and Frank shared some of the same views of life in the world today.  From there we stumbled onto a lovely park with a bandstand, later learned it was called Queen Astrid Park.  But we were in search of Minnewater Park and discovered we were going in the wrong direction.  About face and another half hour later or more we found it.  This is also called Lake of Love park.  The lake and the park is tranquil with surrounding trees, flowers and benches for sitting as a place to relax.  This lake seems to be the home of all the swans. The swan is one of the symbols of Bruges. The Lake of Love bridge is a perfect place to take a photo.  On our way back we stopped at a candy store that also served wine, beer with little sausages and cheese.  It had been a well-liked small restaurant but during the pandemic restaurants were not allowed to open. The owner converted it to a candy store, since stores could sell food, and renamed it Brown Sugar also called Marzipan  & Nougatshop. It was a lovely place at the intersection of three streets and we stopped there a few times.  The young girl running the store was friendly and with a great sense of humor.  Across the street was O.L.V. (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) Church of Our Lady, a catholic church and dominates the skyline as the tallest structure in the city. We did not take the tour, but we could walk around the nave admiring the vaulted ceiling, the sculptures and the paintings.  One of the treasures to be seen on the tour is the Carrera marble sculpture by Michelangelo of the Madonna and Child. It was the only sculpture to leave Italy in his lifetime.

Our last day we had tickets to visit the Gruuthusemuseum located next to Church of Our Lady.  It was the palace of the Lords of Gruutehuse, wealthy merchants.  The museum shows life during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  There are over 600 collections or artifacts from the homes of the merchant classes.  Included are musical instruments, handmade lace, exquisite tapestries, stained glass windows, silver, porcelain, textiles, weapons, and paintings. On one of the floors there is a oratory overlooking the portion of the church, containing the choir, of the Church of Our Lady.  It was a day to spend time relaxing so we walked back to Queen Astrid Park. That evening we ate a delicious dinner at our hotel.  We packed and were ready for our travel to Brussels.

 

2022 Spring in Europe – BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

Friday we took a pleasant train ride to Brussels and a short ride to Hotel Alma Grand Place.  The location was wonderful as it was one street away from Grand Place, the focal point of Brussels.  After checking in we learned that our flight on Monday morning to Amsterdam was canceled.    There was a train scheduled to get us there and so we booked it.  Then we walked down the cobble stone street to Grand Place.  This large square has been for centuries the economic and cultural center.  It was surrounded by the gilded buildings of the town hall (Hôtel de Ville) and former guild houses of boatmen, butchers, haberdasheries, and brewers. Not only were the buildings gilded but there were also statues of gold of special significance to the guild. Le Cornet was the guild house of the boatmen where the top story resembles the stern of a ship. Maison des Brasseurs was the guild house of brewers and Le Cygne (the Swan) was the guild house of Butchers which later became a café where Karl Marx held meetings of the German Workers Party.  Le Renard (the Fox) was the Guild of haberdashers, displaying the fox above the door.  The golden statue of Saint Michael killing the devil is at the top of the Hôtel de Ville steeple.  Today within these buildings are housed many restaurants.  We stopped in at Chaloupe d’Or, a historic brasserie for a quiet meal.  On our way back to our hotel we stopped at an outside café for a Kwak beer at Golden Bar.

Saturday morning we were emailed that our airline has found us a different flight, so we canceled our train.  Today we wandered the streets exploring the area surrounding the Grand Place. We noticed so many restaurants serving food from different countries.  We also stopped by a store of old stringed instruments.  There are many museums in Brussels including museums of music, artwork by great names in history, architecture, and comics.  There was just not enough time to visit these museums.  That evening we had a wonderful pizza at Ristorante Giannino on the outside, followed by a short walk to Cave du Roy in the Grand Place for a glass of wine.

Sunday, we decided to relax in the Grand Place and people watch.  This plaza was once used for fairs, jousting, even executions, but today it was used for a reenactment of an historical event.  There was music and dancing with the players in costume.  It was starting to rain so off we went to find a restaurant for lunch.  We thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance, the service and the seafood at Au Coin Gourmand one block away.  Later when the weather got a little chilly we stepped into a chocolate store/bar and ordered a hot chocolate.  That evening we went back to Ristorante Giannino for a lovely Italian dinner inside while sitting by the window.  Our time in Belgium was now complete having bought some handmade lace, tried some great Belgium beers and tasted the yummy chocolate. We thought we were ready to leave the next day late in the morning but received another email saying our flight is now changed to 6:00 a.m.  After finishing packing and hiring a taxi for 4:00 a.m. and setting our alarm for 3:00 a.m. we went to bed early.  During the night while we were sleeping we received another notice that our flight was canceled. So, now at 3:00 a.m. we had to find a train and we did find one leaving at 5:45 a.m..  There was an airline strike.  We did get to Amsterdam by train in time to get through checking our bags and going through security, which took four hours, to reach our gate.  We made our flight out of Amsterdam to Boston!!

L’isle sur la Sorgue 2021

L’ISLE SUR LA SORGUE 2021
13 DUCKS!

In year 2020 we rented a Provençale apartment in the historic center of L’Isle sur la Sorgue for the month of May, only to learn that it was now being sold. After some thought we reached out to the owner and her real estate broker and began the process of purchasing this apartment. However, along came COVID-19 and France went into lockdown. So, we were unable to stay there. We continued anyway with the purchase and became owners in July 2020. After many lockdowns, travel restrictions and changing our flights four times we arrived on September 29, 2021. This Provençale apartment was everything we were expecting.

We landed in Marseille late afternoon and without our luggage we were smiling. Our property manager scheduled her driver to meet us and drive us north to the village which took about one hour. After opening the doors and seeing a potted plant of white roses on the table and a refrigerator with food and a bottle of rosé we couldn’t have been happier. However, we were hungry, and we didn’t have to walk very far when we discovered L’Alcyone, a lovely restaurant with outside seating by candlelight. It was our first of many delicious meals. Three days later our luggage arrived at 9:30 p.m.!

The old town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue is actually an island surrounded by the Sorgue River and canals throughout the village. The river is lined with many cafes and restaurants to enjoy lunch, dinner and people watching. Also, on the river and on the canals throughout the village are many operating waterwheels which once were the source for silk, wool, and paper manufacturing. Throughout winding roads, you will find small gift shops, art galleries and museums.

    

Each day we walk along different roads exploring a new site. We would also include time to stop for the Plat du Jour, the specialty meal of the day. Cocktail hour was time for people and dog watching. Eventually we returned to the same couple of spots the choices dependent on the weather. And the special people that worked there. One place was Café de France located in the center of the village across the Collegiale Notre Dame des Anges, a beautiful baroque style church. There we chatted with Tristan, Frank and others. Another one is Grand Café de la Sorgue, along the riverside. There we had fun with Marion and Lauriane and a few others. That was our time to relax with a Pastis or a glass of Rosé and at Grand Café we were always supplied with small bowls of cacahuetes (peanuts) – Thanks girls!

Each Sunday and Thursday throughout the town we would stop to buy fresh foods whether it be saucissons (sausages), fruits and vegetables, fish, cheeses or even barbequed chicken and paella. The Sunday market is well known for all that food plus clothing, flowers and especially antiques. On the other side if the river are outside stalls set up along with the arcade buildings. We strolled in and out of all of these buying a few small items and paintings to hang above our couch. There is also a twice-annual International Antiques Fair and Flea Market with over 500 vendors with about 50,000 visitors. We decided we needed a chair for our bedroom. And we found just what we wanted, a Louis XV style bedroom chair. Of course, that meant it was time for bargaining. Even with limited command of the French language Joanne had success!

  

That was one way to deliver the chair back to our apartment!

One of our earlier strolls was across the riverbank to Parc Gautier. It was a beautiful park for picnic with a skate park petanque court and children’s playground. In the middle was the Gautier chateau, donated to the city, hosting many festivities. The Public Park is also beautiful.

We stopped in the Tourist Office and got information about bus and train schedules and a pamphlet for getting our train tickets online which we used successfully. To familiar ourselves with the train station (Gare) we walked there which was a 10-minute walk. We also explored the surroundings and found a very nice restaurant. Le Terminus, a fitting name being across from the Gare. It was cozy and mostly patronized by locals. It became one of our favorite restaurants.

We still had tickets to fly to Bordeaux, which we had originally scheduled. So, on October 15 we flew into Bordeaux and took a taxi to the center of the city to stay at Brit Hotel des Grands Hommes. The hotel manager did not speak English, but he managed to understand that we wanted a nice restaurant to eat at. So, he beckoned to us to follow as we left the hotel unattended, and he led us down the street around the corner to a Bistro Montesquieu where we then sipped on a nice glass of red Bordeaux on the outdoor terrace until the restaurant opened for serving dinner. Their specialty of the day was Boeuf Bourguignon, and Frank ordered that. The meal was delicious but was not prepared the way we had ever seen in recipes. It was not a stew but a nice cut of beef on top of rice with a nice brown sauce. Joanne’s chicken dish was fabulous. And of course, that meant a bottle of a red Bordeaux wine was needed for a wonderful dinner to start off our tour of the city of Bordeaux.

The hotel lobby had a map with a UNESCO Heritage Tour of 15 places to see that we decided to follow on foot. Our first stop was in front of the Grand-Theatre, an impressive architectural masterpiece built in 1780 with columns supporting a portico with twelve stone statues (nine muses accompanied by Minerva, Venus, Juno). It is an opera house located on the Place de la Comedie.

We continued walking to a tree-lined esplanade called Quinconces with two columns at the Riverside celebrating commerce and seafaring. At the other end is the Monument aux Girondins. This is a tall monument as a tribute to the inhabitants of Gironde lost during the FrenchRevolution, and on top stands the statue of Liberty Breaking its Chains. There are bronze
fountains at the bottom.

It borders the Garonne River and so we strolled along the Quays which include green spaces, boutiques, cafes and play areas for children. We stopped at the Place de la Bourse which is Bordeaux’s opening onto the River Garonne. It is a city square comparable to Versailles. It is also called Stock Market Building as it was the place where trade prices were set in the 18th century. In the center of the square is the Fountain of the Three Graces. Of course, we found a small square just pass the Place du Parlement and stopped for lunch in the square facing Eglise Saint Pierre. This square and the streets surrounding it make up Bordeaux’s old town. It is always time to sit outside and enjoy a plate of chacuterie and quiche with a glass of white Bordeaux wine. Walking a little further we stopped at Porte Cailhau to cool off with more great Bordeaux white wine. This Porte or Gate is the former defensive gate dedicated to King Charles VII, who won the Battle of Fornovo (Italy). Frank walked into the gate and climbed the stairs to the top for the view. When we returned to our hotel, we decided to pay a visit for a night cap at Bistro Montesquieu with a wonderful red Bordeaux..

The next day we continued past Quinconces along Rue Notre Dame into the Chartrons area. We stopped in at the Musée du Vin et du Négoce. And took the self-directed tour in the former dwelling of a wine merchant which included walking through vaulted cellars. This is the area where many worked in the wine industry. We viewed a collection of past and current objects and documents tracing the wine trade to the present day. At the end of the tour there is a instructional area set up to taste and to learn the difference between the wines, the 1855 classification system and what makes Bordeaux wines so special. On our way back we stopped at Oncle (Uncle in French) Bob’s for lunch which had an Asian influence. Asian food goes really well with Bordeaux Rosé wines. With only one more day here and there was still so much to see we decided to extend our visit for an extra day.

Today we headed in the opposite direction. We passed through Porte Dijeaux, the gateway into the city from the west. We had no set agenda and just strolled along sightseeing. We passed the Hotel de Ville, the Musée ds Beaux Arts and passed Cathédrale Saint-André & Tour Pay-Berland. This Gothic style cathedral hosted two royal marriages, that of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future king Louis VII and that of Anne of Austria and Louis XII. The Pey Berland tower is a bell tower built in the 15th century separately from the cathedral. The Royal Door, constructed in the 13th century is decorated with remarkable sculptures. With all that walking one gets thirsty and hungry. We stopped across from the Theatre and split a croque monsieur, which is a big grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and listened to some lovely classical music piped in from the theatre. Up the street we found a very nice place for a glass of wine and some chacuterie called Bar à Vin which completed our day.

   

Our last day in Bordeaux we headed in the direction of the subbase. It was a hot day, so we stopped early for a nice light lunch at Le Mirroir. We realized that subbase was quite further than we thought, so when we saw Molly Malone’s we thought it would be a good idea to have a Guinness and Irish Coffee to keep us going. We then decided that we would save this adventure for another visit and headed back to Bar à Vin for one more plate of chacuterie and wonderful Bordeaux wine.

The only train to Avignon was the city train that took us down to the Mediterranean and back north to the station in Avignon. It was a 6.5-hour train ride that went by quickly. We enjoyed the changes in the countryside, seeing the sea, reading and having something to eat. Our reservations were at Hotel L’Horloge (the clock) in the center of the old part of the city. It helped coming into our room and seeing a nice bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape awaiting us. That primed us for exploring our surroundings, listening to the accordion playing, people singing and just watching the night life in the square.

Avignon is a walled in city. We walked out through the wall to the Rhone River in search of Pont D’Avignon, also known as Saint Bénezet Bridge. It is well known because of the children’s song “Sur la Pont D’Avignon” and is also a UNESCO Heritage site. The story is that a young shepherd from Ardeche named Bénezet heard a voice telling him to go to Avignon and build this bridge, which was completed in 1185 and was the only connection between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. However, the flood waters washed out the bridge many times and after being rebuilt many times it was abandoned in the 17th century with only 4 out of 22 arches remaining. Tourists are allowed to walk on the bridge, for a small fee.

After a lovely lunch we visited the Palais des Papes. This Gothic Palace was completed in the 14th century, and it is the biggest one in all of Europe with 20 rooms. We took the self-guided tour through many rooms highlighting the historical events that took place, the paintings of Italian artists and the popes’ private chambers.

Leaving there and heading back to our hotel we first stopped at Restaurant 46 Bar a Vin and enjoyed sharing escargot, cheeses, fresh bread and a nice bottle of Province rosé.

The next day Frank wanted to buy some supplies to make minor repairs to our apartment. Mr. Bricolage, a DIY hardware store, had just want he wanted. In the square, Place Pie, we saw a vegetal wall covered building. This is Les Halles, the covered market with 40 vendors, that is open every day from 6:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This is where everyone, including restaurant chefs, come to buy their exceptional produce, specialty foods, eat oysters and stop at the bars. What fun and what great wine for 2 euros a glass! Next to our hotel was Brasserie Lou Mistrau, a wonderful restaurant where we dined twice, even had French Onion Soup, one of Joanne’s favorites. Our last day in Avignon we just wandered around streets we hadn’t seen and came across a vendor who was roasting chestnuts for sale at the intersection. We bought a small bag and they did not last too long, YUM!

It was time to return to L’Isle to our apartment. The train ride lasted 24 minutes and cost 7 euros for both of us, you can’t beat that deal. It was market day and just about closing time but time enough time to buy a nice round of camembert. That was going to be part of our lunches at home and snacks. We usually ate out once a day, usually lunch. One of our stops was at Crok Isle which was a roadside stand that sold lunches for takeout such as quiches and a hot dog! It was a long hotdog stuffed in a baguette, toasted with cheese of course. While walking we always find a new place we should try. Troc Café is very small with a few outside tables, but they serve the best fish and chips, omelets and moules frites (mussels, French fries). Of course, we frequented Café de France since we enjoy speaking and joking with the staff, and we were given a diner’s punch card. When we have a return trip, we will have to get our free meal. On one walk Joanne noticed the Plat du Jour was Lapin. Frank’s Polish grandmother would make a rabbit dish that he has never been able to find anywhere. This was it and it was made by the chef who was from Poland!! Le Bellevue became another one of our favorite dining spots. Jerome spoke some English so that was a help. And, if you have a sweet tooth for some good chocolate there is a chocolatier around the corner from us. You can watch as the chocolates are being made. There are a variety of handmade chocolates, so it is difficult to decide what to choose and that also the salesgirls with make nice boxes of whatever you want making nice gifts for friends.

There are two small grocery stores that we frequented for buying wine, breakfast food and whatever Joanne decided she wanted to cook. One day she saw green lentils and so it was going to be lentil soup for dinner. She has never seen green lentils in the stores in St. Thomas and the soup recipe always recommends using green lentil. It was worth buying. We also discovered that nobody ever heard of meatloaf. The ground beef had absolutely no fat, so Joanne improvised and broke up some sausages and added to the mixture. It was delicious. Improvising was the key word when cooking without all the ingredients one is accustomed to having close by. Another time Frank thought he was getting a deal on a package of cheese called Raclette. Joanne looked it up on the internet and discovered a recipe she just had to try. Raclette is a cheese you melt, often used in fondue. The recipe needed an oven, oops! How to use it, all being in symbols and Celsius! With that challenge overcome she made a recipe she found that is melted cheese scraped over boiled potatoes, topped with prosciutto served with water cress and serve alongside with olives and gherkins. It was as tasty as it was pretty to look at.

We began to think it would be nice to have a bigger piece of furniture to put our television on with all the cables and remotes on a separate shelf. Also, it would be nice to have a couple of closed storage doors below. So, on one of our walks we made a stop at a woodworker’s shop. Frederic didn’t speak any English, so this was a challenge. Eventually Joanne drew what we wanted for him and with some limited French we managed to settle on the type of wood, keys, etc. We then waited for an email with his estimate. In the meantime, Frank is doing touch up on some cracks in the walls in the apartment which needed paint to cover it. So we found the route to Mr. Bricolage in our village and off we went. It was about a mile away. Frank also needed to replace the plug on the Hoover (vacuum cleaner). After those items were purchased, we walked a little further on looking for the location of a car rental facility. On the way back we stopped at Pyramide and ordered an Italienne pizza. It had pesto on it and it was the best pizza. Continuing on we stopped at a Boulangerie and bought a round loaf of bread which the salesgirl sliced for us. We will definitely go back there. It is the flour that makes the difference. A short video of the cultivation of the wheat in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue used for the baguette flour will be produced soon. Visit the trailer @: https://youtu.be/MJoJs3QWOcU

One day when we were walking around the village, we followed a map from the Tourist Information Center showing the location of the remaining 15 out of 66 waterwheels. We still have a couple more to locate. One of the waterwheels was on the end of the Canal Arquet. It was cold and the Arquet Bar was just waiting for us to warm up. Another time when we were walking toward the Le Bassin we discovered an architectural dig in process. The workers were hard at work in the mud. We went by there are few days later and it had dried up and looked very different.   On almost all our walks as we are strolling along the riverbank, we are watching the ducks, either swimming, diving for food or sunning themselves on the concrete levees. Since the street number of our apartment is 13 we made a game to see if we could count 13 ducks in each section, not easy. And one day we watched a dog on a leash jump in. The dog enjoyed swimming around, but the owners had a bit of a time trying to get the dog out. That was when we walked away before the dog shook off the water, a smart move on our part. The public park is peaceful and with benches for resting and lots of chestnuts on the ground. At one end of the park is a restaurant called O & R (Olive et Raisin). It is a boutique selling exceptional products of the local artisans, i.e. tapenades, charcuterie, fine cheeses, olives, olive oils, artisanal beers, cookies and it provides baskets for picnics. There are menus for two people to share not only for a picnic but also to enjoy there. We liked to order and sit at a table by the window watching the ducks in the water.

Halloween is a holiday never before celebrated in L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Paper pumpkins were attached high up in the trees, bollards were wrapped in black and orange, inside the back of the church children lined up to see the monster that stole all the candy, mocko jumbies were dressed up in scary costumes and even jumping rope, jugglers were performing their skills and the restaurants and bars were waiting for the children to give them some candy. We don’t think the children understood what “trick or treat” meant, they were just having a lot of fun.

    

Another day we took a walk to the cemetery. The tombstones were big and decorated with real flowers but also attached were porcelain flowers. Many people were bringing baskets of flowers since Armistice Day was that week. We walked back for the 30-minute ceremony on November 11. There were speeches by elders and also by students. Then students brought up baskets of flowers to be placed at the memorial honoring all those that lost their lives in the wars. A small chorus of young children sang as the band played and it ended with the singing of the Marseillaise. Frank wore his combat aircrew wings on his blazer.

It was the third Thursday of November, the day that Beaujolais Nouveau is released. At lunch we asked where we might find a glass but we were not having any luck, so we headed back to our apartment and on the way just before leaving the waterfront there was a bottle of it on the table outside of Chez Ju, a restaurant we hadn’t tried. We met Margot, who worked there, and she told us her mother lived in Martinique. Most people in France don’t know where the U.S. Virgin Islands are located but she did. She had also lived in Tennessee for many years so spoke fluent English. Beaujolais Nouveau it was!

Our friends, Robert and Joanie who live in St. Thomas, took the train from Paris and came to stay in our village to visit with us for a couple of days before we left. Our property manager helped with finding for them one of her apartments that she also manages. They loved the apartment. It was fun meeting both at the train station, lunch at Terminus and then walking through the streets to their apartment. We met the next day at the Sunday Market and wandered all around the vendors’ stalls. It was Frank’s birthday, so we met up later at Chez Ju for a wonderful meal, followed by a drink at Café de la Sorgue and at Bar L’Arquet. It was wonderful seeing Robert and Joanie and sharing with them our village with the waterwheels and the ducks. The Christmas lights in the streets and across the river had been installed. The next night, our last night in L’Isle, we were drinking our last glass of rose with Marion at Café de la Sorgue when they came in to let us know the lights in the town were turned on. It felt like they were turned on just for us

Elayne Murphy is our property manager. She was always ready to assist us with what we needed, such as a new name plate for our door, taking us to stores to look for the television stand, the Super U for super grocery shopping, and ordering us a new Nespresso coffee maker and blender. She also arranged for our 5G internet to be installed. The sign in number was much too long for guests to use so she arranged for Chris to come over to change that to something simpler using 13 Ducks in the password and to set it up for French speaking guest to watch French TV.

When we got the email with the estimate from Frederic, woodworker, it was astronomical, so we went online to find something suitable and for a tenth of the price. We were frequently back and forth to her apartment and this time it was so that she could place the order. We were leaving in a week, and it was delivered in just 5 days, two days before we left. We also have a beautiful armoire and decided we wanted to lock one side so that we could leave some of our personal belongings in it. Elayne managed to get the key man to come over to remove the old lock which no longer had a key, put in locks on our new television table doors and add an extra lock on our door for our use only.

We feel very fortunate to have Elayne working with us. The first week we were there she invited us to a lovely restaurant at one of the Antique buildings. Another time she invited us over for a typical French meal, with all the various courses and wine. One evening she invited a couple that had been living in the States to cocktail hour so we could meet them and hopefully get together in the future. They bought an apartment near to us three years ago and never left. They have made many friends and are willing to introduce us to them.

There are many museums in the village that we did not have time to visit. There is still more for us to see when we return.

We hope to return soon and reconnect with so many people that made living there an enjoyable experience. To those “À Bientot!”

AU REVOIR

You can view our little pied-a-terre by going on VRBO and putting in reference number 1938031 or 1938031 at the link below.

https://www.vrbo.com/1938031a?noDates=true

 

Cartagena Lights

December 6, 2019 – January 3, 2020

After landing in Cartagena Frank, Joanne and Kathie took a taxi to the apartment at Los Balcones in the San Diego area. We were met by the owner’s parents who showed us around the apartment. Efraim walked us to the corner to see where a grocery market was and some good restaurants. Grocery shopping was first on our things to do. Since our friend Kathie had never been to Cartagena, we walked to San Diego Plaza and then further on to the corner bar/restaurant that we had frequented last time to meet our friend Alex. After lighting up our friend’s face we continued to another corner bar called KGB, and as you can imagine it is a Russian themed bar. Gustavo, the owner, was not present so we got reunited with some of the employees we had met before. We did get to see Gustavo a few days later and we had smiles and hugs. Since this is not a restaurant and we were hungry it was time for a pizza.

The next day we walked to the other side of Cartagena called the Centro area. We passed by the Clock Tower, Plaza de la Aduana, and Plaza de San Pedro Claver, noting the amazing metal sculptures symbolizing everyday life, such as someone at the sewing machine, someone on a bicycle, men playing cards, etc. We were getting hot but knew a great restaurant called Santa Maria del Mar and stopped outside under an umbrella for some refreshing cocktails. The Museo Naval del Caribe, next door is a two storied colonial building portraying the history of the Colombian Navy. There we were treated to a dance group performing in the auditorium. Being hungry we headed back to Santa Maria del Mar for a delicious lunch inside. The waiter had to smile when he remembered us from before when he found us a corkscrew for our wines in our room. It was time to head back to our apartment for a nap. At the top of the wall there is an outside restaurant with seating for over a hundred revelers who go there to watch the sunset. Leaving there we walked back to the Clock Tower to view the lights at night.

Behind the Clock Tower you can see the Catedral lit up also. And directly across the road are more lights leading to Getsemani

After getting lost in Getsemani we finally wandered up a street and found a restaurant we had read about called Lunatico. There was no lunacy in the restaurant, yum, yum.

Our usual day was walking around discovering various restaurants for lunch or an afternoon glass of wine to cool us down. There are so many places it is impossible to try them all. They range from upscale places to little local restaurants that only take cash and various styles of cooking. It might be an upscale restaurant such as Monte Sacro at Plaza Bolivar where a filet mignon will only cost $16USD, or as low as $4 USD at the lower end of the spectrum. No matter which you choose the meal always consists of a bowl of soup, the main dish with rice or potatoes and a frosty lemonade. At Única we met the owner who is Mexican. We were so impressed with Dino that we made reservations for New Year’s Eve. Another wonderful place was Parilla Quebracho, an Argentinian restaurant. A whole pig was being roasted in a stand-up roaster, at least an eight-foot-tall spit where the pig rotates around the coals head down. Another Argentinian restaurant is Parilla Marzola. We also had a wonderful lunch at Espiritu Santo, a very popular spot that extends way to the back of the building with very tasty comida. Other places that we enjoyed were Bar Estrella where our friend Alex worked, Restaurant/Bar Totopo, Los Hijas de la Tostadas with live music, and El Bistro. For just drinking we chose Harry’s Sasson Bar at Hotel Charleston and KGB. Most evenings we cooked at home.

La Vieja Guardia became very special to us. It is a small restaurant attached to our building. We frequently ate lunch there and quite often stopped there on our way out or on our way home to enjoy a bottle of wine. The servers: Yurani (female), Elkn and Andres (Males) were so attentive and thoughtful. The place always lit up with their smiles.

 

 

We signed up for a Chocolate Workshop at Choco Museo. Here we learned the history of chocolate production. We started by roasting the beans, skinning them and making chocolate tea and milk the way the Maya and Conquistadors did. After that we turned our beans into thick chocolate and with that made our own chocolates, customized by the addition of nuts, candies and even hot peppers. These we took back to our apartment and enjoyed, none left to take home.

Across from KGB is a beautiful church, Iglesia de Santo Toribio, where we watched three weddings, each having a different motif as seen when the bride and groom emerged from the doors. Sometimes there were musicians, lighted bushes and dancers. Some left in a “55 Chevy Ragtop or a horse drawn carriage.

 

After this wedding we were treated to observe a horse parade with over a hundred Colombian Paso Fino horses that have a “four-beat lateral ambling gait” that made them look like they were dancing. This parade occurs only once every December.

One of the things we liked doing at night was observing the holiday lights. They were so beautiful in Parque Fernandez de Madrid, a park across from the church in San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

We decided to take a horse drawn carriage to see lights in the Centro.

Plaza de Bolivar

The Cathedral

We preferred to stay in our area of San Diego. So, to watch the sunset we walked up to the top of the wall to the Restaurant Café del Mar. It is outdoor seating of heavy wooden couches, chairs and various wooden tables seating a couple hundred people. Once the sun sets the music begins.

For some fun and good Cuban music we stop in the corner restaurant, Cuba 1940.

 

 

And at another corner bar named La Esquina Sandiegana we enjoyed salsa music and dancing.

The owner has an enormous collection of salsa CDs. We had our own salsa teacher.

We love the architecture. You can see in this photo and the previous one the tiled roofs, flowers flowing over the balconies, and the streets are impeccably clean.

Another street scene involves the early morning fruit vendor. She would come down the street starting around 6:30 a.m. singing out the fruits of the day for sale. Frank would meet her outside our apartment and buy the best she had to offer, and the melons, papayas, avocados and passion fruit were delicious.

She was full of life and that is the way to light up your morning. One time she even knocked on our door to make sure we got something special that day. Hope you can listen to here singing about her wares.

We also discovered on our walk along the wall is the renovated bull fighting ring. It is now a mall with upscale shops and restaurants. It was also named over the front entrance “Circle Theater”.  A big New Year’s Eve celebration took place there.

The two biggest celebrations for us was Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For Christmas we had a wonderful Argentinian meal at Parilla Marzola. We dined on tri-tip roast, lamb and a variety of roasted peppers, onions and potatoes. Of course, a bottle of their wonderful red wine completed the dinner.

And because we did not receive any presents our server Yurani at La Viega Guardia gave us each a small bag with a Mexican style hat key chain and Kathie and I also got a small bracelet, mine with butterflies and Kathie’s had shells. Frank got a bottle opener that was attached to the top of a miniature full mug of Club Colombia beer.

New Year’s Eve was an extravaganza. Some of the streets were blocked off and tables and chairs were set up with white tablecloths and good china and glassware. There was music everywhere. Our Mexican dinner at Única include a Mariachi band. What fun!

Since the roofs are tile and therefore in no danger of catching on fire from fireworks they exploded in the air in all directions. AWESOME!

 

It was time to say good-bye to our friends at La Vieja Guardia. We had just recently met the

co-owner Néne. She is also a chef and we had some good laughs with her since she spoke good English. She operates a wonderful and friendly little place. Each table has dominoes and a deck of cards. You do not feel obliged to eat and run. Néne is a very busy person and has accomplished a lot and will continue to do so.

It was a wonderful 28 days. We were sorry to leave and hope to re-visit again to see old friends and new friends.

La Ciotat & Brittany France

May 25-June 8, 2019

Frank and I flew into Marseille Airport and headed off to our apartment in La Ciotat in Provence on the Mediterranean. Entering our apartment, we knew we were going to enjoy our two week stay. Michelle, the resident on the first floor, was delightful and we had many chats and laughs together during our two weeks. But now we are hungry and in search for a bite to eat. While exploring the many narrow streets we stopped at Plaza Carnot to watch a fashion show with moms and daughters wearing the outfits from a store in this plaza. We took a table at La Palette and enjoyed the Planche du Sud, a chacuterie platter. After eating we stopped in at Hemingway’s and the girls fixed us a customized chacuterie platter and sold us bottle of Bandol Rose to sip along with it later on back in our apartment.

Since we had not stopped for groceries, the next day we were in search of a Patisserie for breakfast. We found Maison Lêvêque just up the street. We sat at a little table and were served our choices of vanilla éclair and pain chocolate (chocolate croissant) along with a great cup of coffee. This became our go to place for breakfast every other day.

Joanne with Madame

Yes, we are back in France and back in Provence. We weren’t sure where in France we wanted to go this year. We had been on the east side of Provence, Marseilles and the surrounding well- known villages such as Nimes, Arles, Aix en Provence, on the northern part from Avignon to Gordes across the gorges and back down to Nice. The part of Provence we overlooked was the villages on the Mediterranean between St. Tropez and Marseilles. Since 2007 I have been reading a blog three times a week called “French Word a Day”, written by Kristin Espinesse.

She has also written four books which I have purchased. She writes wonderful stories about living in France, after leaving Arizona, marrying her French husband and bringing up her son and daughter. They are stories of her everyday life, it’s ups and downs, but always with a positive slant. I felt like I knew them personally and then she wrote that they were moving to La Ciotat, one of the towns we had overlooked on the Mediterranean coast. That was the deciding factor and I hoped to be able to meet her. And we did. Kristin met us at L’Indiana, a beachside restaurant, close to where she is living, and we spent over an hour chatting about our lives. I brought along one of her books and she graciously autographed it for me.

Kristin & Joanne – Book: FIRST FRENCH ESSAIS Venturing into Writing, Marriage & France
In this book, as in all her other books and blogs, she slips in French words with the translations at the end. The book cover partially shows one of the precious friends she has made. In a year’s time he shared with her his knowledge of the plants of Provence. There is a special chapter at the end explaining how that friendship developed.

Yesterday was the Sunday market and a good time to buy some fresh produce. I bought some beautiful leeks and then at the marche (grocery store) purchased what else we needed to make vichyssoise; our first home made meal in the apartment, which I put in the refrigerator for our evening meal. Later that day we strolled along the Vieux Port and stopped to enjoy an outside lunch of andouillette, a Classique omelet and a pichet (carafe) of cold rosé. We also stopped into a cinema to see what was playing and if it would fit into our schedule. We decided each day we would eat our lunch (Plat du Jour) in town, and of course, that always included a pichet of cold rosé (2 glasses each), typical cost for two was $32 USD. Our evening meal we ate at home.

We loved walking around all the winding streets and discovering a variety of stores, restaurants while noticing the architecture of the buildings. We loved seeing these cans filled with flowering plants.

 

 

At cocktail time we discovered a little bar/restaurant called L’appart Café around the corner from our apartment. After going there most evenings we felt like we made some friends, especially with the owner, Laurent, on the right.

“I prefer to drink with my friends than to drink with moderation” (Translation of below

Across the street is a walkway to the Cinema. The architecture is like that used on the Eiffel Tower.

After a delicious lunch of lamb chops and chicken with mushrooms at a Bar Tabac named La Petite Mousse we wandered around the quay, noting the Church, Église Notre-Dame de-l’Assomption, on the left side of the harbor with the museum at the end. When the Museum opened, we spent some time inside with the ancient history of La Ciotat on display. The boats in the photo are called pointus. The shipyard caters to mega yachts and that is on the right side of the harbor.

Church and Naval Museum in the distance.

Right side of harbor with shipyard in the distance. for more images: https://www.laciotat-shipyards.com/fr/

Musée Ciotaden after several wines.
The next day we planned a visit to Parc du Mugel, so we needed picnic food and found what we wanted at our patisserie along with some Compte cheese, olives, bottle of rosé and bottles of water. Off we trotted but quickly slowed down as we continued going uphill. Once there, WHEW! we followed a trail to a fountain which seemed a good place for our picnic. Then we hiked up to the top to the dome for a good view.

The following link will show more pictures and description of this pretty park in the Calanques.

The next day an Uber driver named Christophe drove us in his black Mercedes along the scenic Route de Cretes to Cassis. We stopped to view the awesome maritime cliffs of the Calanques. We stopped for coffee on the beach and then strolled around the village.

It is a beautiful village! We ate a delicious pizza at La Girandole enjoyed with a bottle of Cassis white wine from the Bodin Vineyard, as recommended by Kristin’s husband. It was market day with very busy vendors.

More pics of the area:
http://www.calanques13.com/en/mugel-park.html
Flowers for Sale at the Market
Sunday was another market day and on our way there we stopped at Eden Theatre. This is the world’s oldest operating movie theater where the Lumière Brothers screened L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat in 1895. It showed a steam train pulling into the station at La Ciotat. It was so realistic that it has been said that some viewers were so scared that they ran out of the hall.
“Eden” World’s First Movie Theatre
On Set – WHEW! Just missed me. A little further on we stopped at the Chapelle des Pénitents Bleus. The beautiful chapel was built in 1626. Inside were many photographs from local artists.

Chapelle des Pénitents Bleus
Today was less windy so we took a fifteen-minute bateau ride to Lile Verte, this is part of the Calanque national park. We hiked up the trail to the top to Fort Saint-Pierre. This is the highest point of the island and taken over and strengthened by the Germans in World War II. It was later heavily bombed, and you can see the craters in the ground and some of the remains of the buildings. Also, from these trails you can see the Cap d’Aigle (Eagle’s beak) opposite in the national park.

Back at the Vieux Port we stopped to refresh with a glass of wine at Le Bar Crystal. We struck up a conversation with the bartender/sommelier whose name was Vino. He looked familiar to us and we then learned he once bartended in St. Martin in the Caribbean back in the earlier years. We would fly there frequently in those earlier years and stay at a little place next door to L’Amandier where he was working. All three of us had a lot of a laughs as we recalled some of the same places we visited and some of the same characters in St. Martin that we knew.

Frank Vino Joanne
The next day we strolled around the town. It was market day in our neighborhood, which was disassembled by noon. We ate lunch at L’appart Café. After lunch we walked to Grand Plage walking along the park-like promenade Voie Douce, tracing the old railroad, allowing passage of the village. On the way back to our apartment we stopped to listen to some local musicians in the plaza in front of our patisserie and the cinema.

Another interesting stop that day was the Cemetery. The tombs had photos of the deceased encased in glass.

Wednesday, we walked back to L’Indiana to visit again with Kristin Espinesse. We wanted to see her again and let he know we really enjoyed La Ciotat. We promised we would keep in touch.
On our way back to our apartment we were in amazed to see that the trash collectors were young females. Just imagine this ever happening in St. Thomas!

Our last day in La Ciotat we revisited some of our familiar places: breakfast at Maison Lêvêque, lunch at Le Petite Mousse, wine at Le Bar Crystal to see Vino who told us where to buy a bottle of Condrieu (my favorite white wine), visit L’appart café to see Laurent, the restaurant was closed but we knew he would be across the street at Cercle de la Renaissance bar with other friends.

Frank and Tracy
The next day was Sunday and Tracy drove us to Concorneau, a seaside resort village. There we walked across the bridge connecting the mainland to the walled in town. We entered the Musée de la Pêche, a museum where we learned about the history of the fishing industry in this village. A tuna cannery was started here. At one time it was the arsenal and it also served as barracks. We also learned about the fishing techniques, shipbuilding, navigation and rescue operations. We boarded the M/V Hémérica, a fishing trawler in use until 1981. We wandered along the narrow streets with many shops and restaurants where we stopped for lunch at a creperie. Afterwards we walked along the wall to get a good view of the mainland. Tracy also drove along the seashore or our way back to La Chaland. We walked on the bridge over the canal. Click on the following link to learn more about this village and see some nice photos.

Joanne and Tracy
View of Concarneau mainland from walled in village

Monday Tracy drove us to the village of Huelgoat (pronounced Wellgwat). The village square is
surrounded by shops and restaurants. We couldn’t resist stopping in at a patisserie for a delicious pastry. Further on is a watermill and which leads into trails among moss covered boulders along the stream. There is even a one called Trembling Boulder and supposedly if your find the right spot you can make it tremble. It started to rain so we headed back into town and stopped at Creperie Des Myrtilles, a nice cozy spot for lunch. See more in the following link, and the following photos of Huelgoat boulders with Tracy and Frank.

Our next village we visited was Playben well known for the church Eglise St. Germain. The church was surrounded with scaffolding so we could not go inside. It is also well known for the elaborately carved Calvary in front of the church. It depicts the story of Easter.

The Calvary
This was our last night with Tracy. The next day she drove us back to Brest where we had rented a lovely room at Abalys Hotel. After checking in we all went to a restaurant on the next corner called Relais D’Alsace. We ate a wonderful meal of hake and chicken, Plat du Jour specials, and Frank had his favorite, Magret Canard (duck breast). With a Badoit Rouge (special water), a pichet of rosé, two coffees the meal for three of us came to USD $56.40. It was the best meal we had eaten, and the restaurant was elegant.

Nearby was the office of tourism. It was suggested that we stop to see Les Ateliers des Capucins. This place was once the naval dockyard where the ships were manufactured and repaired. It has since closed and restored as a cultural place. Inside are displays of some of the machinery that was used in the manufacturing of ships, parquet flooring for dancing, a media library and restaurants. You can also access it by cable car across the Penfeld River. We chose to walk the distance by strolling down the Rue de Siam, the commercial thoroughfare and walking across the vertical-lift bridge over the River.

We bought tickets for vising the Naval Museum. Retracing our steps, we stopped to visit the Tanguy Tower. It had just closed for lunch, so we looked for a restaurant nearby. Just below the Tower was a restaurant called L’abordage at the docks. It surely was a bar/restaurant for the pirates of years gone by; In fact, it probably still is. Once seated we were shown an assortment of salads buffet style. We tried everything and thought that was the meal of the day. However, we were then presented a plate of pork in onion sauce with small roasted potatoes. On the table was already a carafe of red wine and were told to help ourselves. That wasn’t all, because we were then offered our choice of chocolate cream parfait or chocolate mousse cake. The tower was still not ready to re-open, so we ordered another carafe of wine. All of that for the two of us came to 37.5 €!

Frank and Joanne at L’abordage Bar and Restaurante
Tour Tanguy is a museum of old Brest shown using dioramas and photos. The first floor has exhibits of major events and the second floor shows the streets and people in the area called Quartier de Recouvrance, just as it was in the past. This used to be a run-down district of families of fishermen and naval dockyard workers.

Across the river is the Naval Museum. You can see if from the Tour Tanguy. We had purchased tickets to tour this museum but when we got there it was closed, because it was Wednesday. We were refunded the purchase. This was a great disappointment for Frank.

On our way back to our hotel we walked along the promenade named Cours Dajot. It was built on a cliff and is nearly 500 meters long bordered with elm trees. From there you can view the commercial port. Along the walk we came across the American Monument, also known as the Rose Tower, commemorating the reception of the Americans in World War I.
After our big lunch we settled for just some snacks at a bar close to our hotel. In this photo you can see Frank with a locally made beer and wild boar sausage. That was just perfect for him.
Frank, beer and wild boar sausage

Tracy’s House:
Joanne preparing the potatoes and leeks for vichyssoise
In 1910 the game of boules was developed in the town of La Ciotat. It is a type of lawn bowling also called pétanque. We walked pass many people playing this game and Frank was invited to play.

 

Attached is the photo where Frank not only played but won.